You may notice that we open on the night of "Tag" and Ezra's disastrous hookup in the first chapter of MAYBE THIS TIME (Belonging #2). I wanted to show what happened that night from James's point of view so that I could explore his head space in those moments. The book also has some overlap with events in MTT, as well as STAND BY YOU, so look for some familiar faces.
GETTING IT RIGHT releases March 16, 2015!
Never said I’d let you fuck me… Get off… Let go!
Ezra's words chased themselves around James Taggert’s mind as he stalked down the sidewalk, away from Pot O Gold, desperate to stuff his hands into his too-tight jeans pockets to keep them from trembling. Never in his life had he acted like such a selfish asshole and allowed a situation to get that out of control. He stopped a few blocks from the bar he’d abandoned and leaned against the cool bricks of a closed Mexican grocery store. He needed to apologize to Ezra, but he was too embarrassed and too drunk to make it as genuine as Ezra deserved.
His phone was at his ear, the other end buzzing.
“Jay?” Nathan Wolf’s voice was a balm to his frazzled nerves. “What’s wrong? It’s after midnight.”
“Price is getting out.”
“Shit, when did you find out? Where are you?”
Having a best friend who knew all of his sordid backstory made times like this so much easier. “This afternoon. I’m outside the Pot. I’m fucked up, Nate, and I did something. Something bad.”
“Stay put. I can be there in under ten.”
The phone call ended, but the calm of talking to Nathan was taking some of the edge off of his panic. He tapped a cigarette out of the crumpled pack in his back pocket. Thumbed the lighter. He took a long drag, letting the smoke fill his lungs to choking before releasing it hard through his nose. The stinging helped sober him up a bit more. He stared at the smoldering end of one of his worst habits.
I really need to quit. Again.
He’d quit five times in the last ten years, but kicking a habit he’d picked up at fourteen was hard. And not even a serious consideration when the cigarette in his hand was the only thing keeping him from pacing like a luncatic while he waited for Nathan. He shouldn't have come out tonight at all, not after the news he'd gotten, but what else was he supposed to do when he found out Stephen Price had made parole? Sit home and stew until the anger made him crazy? He’d dressed up, splashed on his best cologne, and come down to his favorite watering hole for peach mojitos and cock. Irish pub by day and popular gay bar by night, Pot O Gold was his preferred destination for both.
He had walked in, ordered his first drink from Riley, one of his favorite bartenders, and then perused the pickings. A lot of familiar faces. A lot of guys he’d already fucked. He didn’t have a rule about fucking someone only once, but too many repeat performances and some guys got a little clingy. He wanted sex, not a relationship.
Ezra Kelley had caught his attention immediately. He’d seen Ezra around the Pot on and off for the last year or so, sometimes alone and sometimes with other people. Bar chatter said Ezra was a good fuck. James had taken in the tall, lean body, the spiky blond hair and silver stud in his eyebrow. Even the purple sleeveless top that matched the strange purple contact lenses had turned him on. Perhaps because Ezra was the exact physical opposite of what James really wanted and could never have.
He had claimed Ezra quickly. Dancing with him, drinks in hands, practically fucking with their clothes on. James downed more mojitos than he usually allowed himself, because the rum brought numbness. Numbness from the pain of today’s news, the pain of old loss, and the violence churning inside of him, aimed directly at Stephen Fucking Price and everything he’d taken from James’s family.
Alcohol, adrenaline, and Ezra’s wood had made James temporarily lose his mind. They’d walked into the bathroom stall together. That had definitely been mutual. And Ezra hadn’t minded that blow job one bit until James had put Ezra against the wall and pulled the guy’s pants down to fuck him. He’d been too damned drunk to see the surprise in Ezra’s eyes, or hear the real fear in his voice. And then James had been an asshole, trying argue with him about what they were going to do. Accidentally scaring Ezra into barfing up all of his night’s drinks.
And like a fucking coward, James had fled. Fled down the sidewalk to this spot to wallow in his shame and try to keep the acid in his stomach from erupting.
He dragged on the cigarette, watching the tip flare orange. The whole world still listed a bit to one side. He’d moved all of his morning appointments to the afternoon, clearing his schedule until noon, but drinking himself into a hangover on a weekday was idiotic.
Then again, how often did he find out that the bastard who molested his sister when she was thirteen was being paroled? None of his psychology textbooks had given him an answer for how to react to that kind of news, so he’d done exactly what he always advised his patients not to do—mask the pain. His mask of choice was alcohol and sex.
Except he’d overdone it on the alcohol, and he’d hurt Ezra in the process.
I am a douchebag.
He smoked his way through two more cigarettes before Nathan’s beat-up Ram pickup pulled alongside the curb. For a city cop, he was still adorably country. Nathan leaned across the console to shove open the passenger side door, and James gratefully slid inside. The simple, familiar presence of Nathan nearby made James’s nerves unfurl a little bit more. Nathan was the one thing in James’s life that had always made sense. Always been easy.
Weariness settled into his bones, turning his drunken daze into extreme fatigue. He wanted to pass out and soon.
Nathan shoved a bottle of water at him, then eased the truck back into the street. He cracked both of the front windows, probably because James reeked of smoke. Nathan had never been shy about telling him how gross his habit was. Nathan was also smart enough not to engage in conversation until they were shuffling up the short sidewalk to Nathan’s half of a two-story duplex. Nathan slung an arm around James’s waist, and the heat of the other man’s body so close felt amazing. Real. Not like the fake closeness of dancing with strangers in a crowded bar.
He finally got a good look at his friend as Nathan crossed the narrow living room to the kitchen in the rear. Flannel pajama pants and a spring coat. James had woken him up.
Yeah, I’m a douchebag.
“You hungry?” Nathan shouted from the kitchen.
“No.” In the familiar, somewhat cluttered warmth of Nathan’s home, he had a safe place to wallow in the shame still burning in his gut.
Nathan’s place was the definition of a straight bachelor’s pad—which worked since Nathan was a straight bachelor. Dark leather furniture right out of a magazine’s page, decorated exactly the same because he couldn’t be bothered. A monster, sixty-inch flat screen mounted on the wall over an entertainment console boasted two gaming systems, alongside a BluRay player and hundreds of movies. Only a handful of photos hung on the wall, mostly of his rather large extended family that lived in southern Delaware.
James paused to stare at a familiar photo of himself with Nathan, taken right after Nathan had graduated from the police academy. They were both grinning, arms slung around each others’ shoulder. Nathan so handsome in his uniform, James in a gray suit that hadn’t been stylish in a decade. Because that’s how long it had been. Nathan had made detective last year, so he didn’t wear his uniform anymore. James sort of missed it.
Nathan came back into the living room sans coat, a white wifebeater showing off his muscled arms and flat stomach. He was one-eighth Nanticoke Indian on his mother’s side, which gave his skin a lovely golden hue. His short hair was shiny black, and was always soft on the rare occasion James had a reason to touch it. Dark brown eyes that often seemed to be smiling at him, even when things were serious, like right now.
He was carrying a bamboo tray loaded down with two shot glasses, a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, and a bag of barbecue potato chips. He settled the tray on his magazine-covered coffee table, then poured them each a shot.
James sank onto the couch next to Nathan and accepted the glass. After a silent toast, he threw it back. The harsh, smoky liquid burned its way into his stomach.
Nathan refilled both glasses. “Does your mom know?”
“She’s the one who told me.” Grace had been sobbing when he answered his cell, and it took more than five minutes for him to understand what she’d been babbling. “The bastard is getting out.” The statement had punched him in the balls and tipped his world upside down.
“How is she?”
“Took it like a champ.”
James downed the second shot, thankful for the burn. “She was a mess. I stopped by to bring her dinner, because she doesn’t feed herself when she gets depressed. She wouldn’t get out of bed. She still fucking blames herself for what happened to Laurie, and it’s been almost twenty years.”
“And you don’t?” Nathan shot him a pointed look before knocking back his second drink. He poured them both a third.
“I was her big brother.” James picked up the shot glass, mesmerized by the amber liquid. His mind was soft again, a gentle fuzziness very different from earlier. The fuzz wrapped around him like silk, coddling him, relaxing his tongue because this was Nathan, and Nathan was safe.
Nathan is everything. “I didn’t protect Laurie.”
“Yes, Jay, you did. You stopped Stephen that day. You stopped it from happening again.”
His eyes burned. “Shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Fucking piece of shit.” Third shot down the hatch. A fourth sounded nice, but his hands were shaking and he’d already fucked up once tonight because he’d drank too much.
Nathan pried the shot glass out of his hand, then angled his body toward him and put a warm hand on his knee. “The only person to blame for what Price did to your sister is Price. He pretended to love your mother. He pretended to be a friend to you and Laurie. He violated your trust because he’s a sick fucking pervert who deserves to rot for touching her.”
“I wish I’d killed him.”
“Don’t say that.”
“I could have. A quarter-inch to the left, and I’d have killed him. The doctor said so.” James flinched away from the memories bombarding his liquor pickled brain. Coming home from tenth grade early because it was a half-day. Stephen’s car in the driveway when he should be at work. Laurie had stayed home with a sick stomach, so he went to check on her right away, only to find Stephen in her room. In her bed. On top of her.
A harsh noise tore from his throat, leaving it raw. His eyes stung, and he blinked against furious tears. “After I left Mom’s place, I headed home and got dressed up for the Pot. I wanted to dance and to get laid, and I thought if I could channel my emotions into that, then it wouldn’t hurt so much.” He sounded hoarse, like he’d gargled sand.
“What happened at the Pot?”
“I targeted my guy, danced, and drank way more than I should have.” Shouldn’t have been drinking at all. “I practically dragged him into a bathroom stall.” Douchebag. “Sucked him off. After, I wanted to fuck.”
James’s throat hurt as though the words themselves were laced with razor wire. “I shoved him against the wall. He started protesting, and I was too drunk to really hear him at first. Then he freaked and said no and I finally heard him. I stopped, but fucking Christ, Nate.”
The hand on his knee squeezed. “You stopped.”
He never had to explain things to Nathan because Nathan always got it. And he never got weird when James talked about sex or other non-straight-guy things, because that was Nathan. “What if I hadn’t? I was so close to doing it. So fucking out of my mind I almost—”
“You. Stopped. You didn’t do anything irreversible. You definitely owe him one major apology, but you didn’t have sex with him against his will.”
Nathan’s hand flew from his knee to his cheek. “You did not become Price tonight, you hear me? You’re still you, Jay. You’re you.”
James shuddered. Arms wrapped around him, pulling him forward, and James went. He pressed his forehead against the hard line of Nathan’s collarbone and wept. Harsh, angry sobs that shook his entire body. Nathan held him together, hands rubbing his back, touching his hair, whispering comforting words that made no actual sense. James clung to his best friend, needing the comfort. Needing the familiar body and heat and scent of Irish Spring soap.
“I’ve got you,” Nathan whispered.
“Please.” James didn’t know what he was asking for. The bourbon was making his brain soft, his actions slow. Instincts were taking over, urging him to find the comfort he’d sought out earlier. The logical side of his mushy brain was trying to argue that this was Nathan.
His very straight best friend Nathan, whose hand pressed against the back of James’s neck. A thumb stroked firm circles against the skin, over the bumps of his spine. Tense muscles relaxed, allowing blood to flow more freely, and a flash of arousal warmed his gut.
Something prickled up James’s spine, and he gasped. He’d been attracted to Nathan for years, ever since their junior year in college when they’d played Truth or Dare at a party, and Nathan had been dared to kiss James for a full minute.
The dare had been a joke perpetrated by Nathan’s then-girlfriend Paula, who’d insisted it would be hot seeing her boyfriend kissing his gay best friend. She'd then whispered something into Nathan's ear which, he’d told James later, had been a promise of oral sex later that night. Maybe the whole thing had been about getting laid for Nathan, but the kiss had meant so much more to James. He’d wanted Nathan badly afterward, so naturally he’d gone out and fucked the first willing guy he could find. He’d still gone home with the taste of Nathan’s lips lingering in his mouth.
Nathan’s other hand drifted from his back to his waist, then up again, as if it wasn't certain where to linger. James straightened enough to see Nathan’s face. To see the concern and confusion in his coffee-colored eyes. Nathan licked his lips, probably without meaning to, and James’s pulse raced.
This isn’t real. He’ll do anything for you, because you’ll do anything for him, so don’t take advantage, you giant douche.
He told his conscience to take a flying fuck, and he did the exact wrong thing. He pressed his lips lightly against Nathan’s and stopped. Waited. Instead of pulling away, Nathan held steady, just like he had in college. Except no one had dared him this time, and they were alone. Nothing to prove to anyone.
Adrenaline and arousal zinged through James, wrapped up in the fog of alcohol, demanding he take this further. Turn it into a real kiss before his chance was gone.
Just one real kiss.
James closed his eyes and slanted his head for a better angle. Nathan moved, warm lips whispering against his. Reacting to the most natural act on earth. James parted his lips and gently flicked his tongue against Nathan’s mouth. He caught the faint flavor of bourbon and chips, and something behind that. Something all Nathan. His gut tightened with want. He clutched the back of Nathan’s thin shirt, part of him wishing they were naked in a bed somewhere so he could taste every inch of Nathan. Lick him until he was moaning with desire. Swallow his cock down. Suck him. Make him come so hard he’d never want another lover.
Nathan gasped into his mouth as if he’d heard all of James’s plans. He clutched James’s hip, then let go, uncertain. James fumbled for Nathan’s hand and gave it a firm squeeze before putting it back on his hip, liking it there. James slid his right hand down over soft flannel to grab Nathan’s ass. Nathan groaned and jerked, his free hand threading into James’s hair—to pull him off or keep him there, it didn’t matter, because Nathan tasted so good and James didn’t want it to end.
Except Nathan ripped away from him, his cheeks flushed and his lips wet. He pressed a palm to James’s chest.
“You’re drunk, Jay,” Nathan said. “You’re drunk and you’re hurting, and this isn’t what you want.”
“I don’t?” He was pretty sure he did, but only if Nathan wanted it, too, and he didn’t look like he did anymore.
“No, you don’t. You can’t.”
“But you feel so good, Nate. Taste good, too, and not just like bourbon.”
Nathan lifted a hand toward his face, and James leaned into the touch that never came because Nathan dropped his hand. “I think you need to go to bed and sleep this off.”
“Bed sounds good.” He reached for Nathan again, all spaghetti arms and determination, and he got a solid face-plant on the sofa. Being horizontal started shutting down some of his higher brain function, because he suddenly couldn’t quite recall why he was on the couch and not in a bed.
“Jesus, you’re wasted.”
“I know you are but what am I.”
“For fuck’s sake.”
Arms rolled James onto his back. He reached for the shape looming over him, only to get the corner of a blanket in his mouth. Flat on his back felt nice. Swimmy. Everything all swirly and floaty.
“Nothing happened with us tonight, Jay,” Nathan said. “It was all a really nice dream.”
James tried to protest, but the light went off and Nathan was gone. He was alone again, on the one night when he didn’t want to sleep alone.
Moonlight glinted off the bottle of amber liquid left behind on the coffee table. His sister’s cries filled the too-quiet room.
Just one more shot…