Loving History releases on January, 17th. You can preorder it for 0.99. The price goes up to 2.99 on release day, so better hurry up 🙂
Fifteen years ago, they lost each other. Can they find their way back together now?
When they were teens, James Pearson and Michael Hawthorne had been lovers.
But James left their hometown to study archeology. Michael planned to do the same, but life got in the way.
Now Michael spends his days guiding tourists through the ruins of the ancient buildings of the Hohokam; not knowing that James, now Dr. Pearson, just came back to Arizona to work at the same museum.
They once shared a love story, but can they find it again and rekindle its flames? Flames that are strong enough to burn through a fifteen-year-old gap?
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Here’s the first chapter:
Michael raised his hand over his head, indicating that the group of tourists from Seattle should follow him. They groaned under the hot Arizona sun, but he couldn’t do anything for them. They’d known how hot it would be, but they somehow always thought it would be cooler, even though they were in a fucking desert. And when it finally rained, they hated it because it poured and they came here to have sun, not storms. It was even worse when a sandstorm hit, but they should expect it. He’d never understand them.
His job didn’t entail providing them with shade, though. He got paid for showing them the ruins and sources of the artifacts, just as he’d been doing nearly every day for the past two years on the job.
Back then, showing the buildings to other people, explaining the ancient culture of the Hohokam, the earthenware, their funeral rites, lifestyle habits, and whatever the scientists could read from the remains, seemed glamorous. He and his boyfriend James had been amazed by the culture back when they’d been teenagers, but he’d never managed to actually work with the ruins. This was as close as he’d ever get to them.
Quite the opposite was true for the visitors he led around, though. And like his thought had been a cue, a man with large, dark spots on his shirt asked, “When can we go inside of one of the buildings? It’s too hot out here.”
Michael forced his lips into an understanding smile. “I’m sorry, but we can’t go inside. That’s forbidden to preserve the buildings.”
“There was nothing about that on the Internet. I won’t just stand outside and not see the inside. You can even visit the tombs of the Pharaohs in Egypt, and they’re much more interesting. So why can’t I just take a quick look?”
“Because it’s forbidden. I’m very sorry, but that’s the rule.” He worked hard to keep his voice firm and steady, and not yell at the damn tourist. The tombs in Egypt were suffering because of the thousands of visitors, but that wouldn’t matter to the man anyway. And Michael was not going to lose his job because of that.
“I want to see them. Period. I will complain to your supervisor, if you don’t allow me to look inside. I paid for this visit, so I want everything.”
Now the entire group had fallen silent, all eyes on the guy and Michael.
He ground his teeth. “You’re welcome to complain. We have forms in the foyer to fill out, but I can assure you, that will achieve nothing. My supervisor made the rule, so I doubt he will make an exception.” Louder he said, “If you could please follow me, I will show you the next building, a fire pit…”
For the thousandth time, he cursed himself. Waiting tables sounded more tempting every day. Scratch that. Nearly anything would be better than dealing with a large group of sweating, complaining, loud tourists three or four times a day. Okay, not really. He still loved the job. Just not the people he had to deal with sometimes.
Michael looked around, trying to see the large, ancient village through their eyes. Adobe buildings with small holes in the walls for windows surrounded them. A fine layer of dust hovered in the shimmering air, stirred up by their feet. Smog hung heavy in the air, which had increased due to a recent sand storm. The typical mixture of desert-smell and fumes polluted the air. Unless it rained, it would stay that way.
The visitors usually didn’t know much about the culture, so they wouldn’t see the beauty of the compounds or pit-houses. And what he told them wouldn’t bring them closer to the culture, not when they weren’t interested in learning. Everything from the entrance area of the Hohokam Museum to the path leading through the finding-site had been designed to give the visitors as much information as possible, but only if they wanted to learn.
With a deep, inaudible sigh, he stepped forward. The group of about twenty people followed him.
Michael stopped short. Someone had just stepped inside one of the larger compounds, obviously ignoring the ban on entering. This one wasn’t protected by a wooden door, as were the others. Maybe the archeologists needed to fix something inside, but nevertheless, the buildings mustn’t be entered, even if it wasn’t closed. Just as he’d just explained to the obnoxious man.
Another deep sigh left him. Just what he needed now: another discussion with some wise-ass who didn’t believe rules were made to be followed. This day had started badly and hadn’t improved one bit. He’d spilled coffee all over his work t-shirt, and had to run home to get another one and promptly been late, which meant all the good employee parking spaces were taken and he had to walk farther.
And now he had to deal with the nosy visitor, who most likely wouldn’t understand why he couldn’t enter the building. Michael ran his hand over his face, adjusted his baseball cap with the ‘Hohokam Museum’ logo, and cleared his throat.
“Dear ladies and gentlemen, would you please wait over there and enjoy the view over the village? I just need a second to check on something.” He indicated a spot where the visitors could clearly see the ruins in front of them, which should occupy them for a couple of minutes.
For once, they did what they were told, and he turned around to hurry over to the house into which he’d seen the man vanish. “Hello? Please don’t enter the buildings. It’s forbidden because they need to be preserved. I have to ask you to come out. Now,” he called inside, hoping the man would follow his orders. He didn’t want to go inside and leave the group out of his sight, even though the house itself wasn’t large by any means.
A second later, a man appeared back in the doorframe, a pissed expression on his face. “Excuse me, but what did you just say?” he asked, annoyance dripping from every word.
What the fuck? The blood in Michael’s veins froze. “James? What are you doing here?” he whispered, his eyes on the face of the man he never thought he’d see again.
“Fuck. Michael. I’m working here.” Recognition dawned in James’ eyes. “I’m working here as an archeologist—“
“I have to… I have to go. Shit.” His mind racing, Michael turned and rushed back to the group. What the hell? He couldn’t even think straight anymore. Everything in him screamed to run and hide, until the man was gone. James Pearson was the last man he ever expected to meet again. The last man he ever wanted to see again.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. It still hurt. He’d just never known how much, until the moment when he stared into those blue eyes, and all the pain and hurt rose again as if it were yesterday. It robbed him of his last coherent thoughts and his breath. They hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years. When James had done the right thing. When he’d simply walked away, leaving Michael behind like an old, no longer needed toy. Like baggage. Something that stopped him from reaching his dreams.
He arrived back at the group, who thankfully waited for him. Michael put on something resembling a smile and continued to show the group around while his mind swirled. What was James doing here? Working? For the museum? Michael couldn’t wrap his head around that. What were the odds? A fine sheen of cold sweat crawled over his back, and his hand shook whenever he raised it to point something out to the tourists.
He finished his tour, only his experience and the uncounted times he’d recited the same words saving his ass. If the tourists realized something had shaken him, they didn’t let on. Fortunately, though, the group didn’t pester him with unnecessary questions, and he managed to send them on their way without any incidents. Even the guy who’d complained seemed to be quieter now.
He kept an eye on the ruins all the time to make sure James didn’t approach him, but he didn’t spot the man again. All the better. He never wanted to see him again. He could do another fifteen years without him.
He had one more tourist tour today, then he could go home to his cat Archie, have a cold beer or some wine, and forget about those blue eyes that had haunted him for years. He’d managed to forget about him once, which meant he could do it again.
After three days, something had to give or Michael would go crazy.
When James had broken up with him fifteen years ago, claiming he’d allowed them to be free to follow their goals and dreams, he didn’t expect it to hurt so much. Yes, James had been his first love, and it had taken him a while to get over James’ decision not to have a long-distance relationship and the events that followed after, but he shouldn’t be so unsettled by James’ sudden appearance. And now Michael couldn’t get James out of his mind. Nothing helped. No beer, no wine. And he’d tried.
Either he’d start drinking seriously, which he really didn’t want to do, or he’d face his demons once and for all. If James’ words were true, then they’d see each other frequently because their workplaces were so close to each other. Until now, he’d been lucky, but he spent every second at the museum looking over his shoulder and expecting James to step out of one of the ruins. He’d messed up two tours already, telling the wrong facts to the tourists, even though he caught his mistakes and corrected them. If he continued like this, he’d lose his job. And his sanity.
Michael scrolled through his phone. Andrew picked up after the second ring. “Andrew here.”
“Hi… it’s Michael… from work… I—“ Damn, what did he want to ask? He wiped his clammy hand on his trousers. “I—um, how are you? I mean, we haven’t seen each other at work, and I wanted to ask…” Fuck. They weren’t working together, Andrew was an archeologist, for heaven’s sake. Of course they rarely met outside of team meetings with the whole company.
“That’s true. So, um…”
“Yeah, the reason why I called… I—is it true you have a new coworker? I mean, I thought I heard something, but I’ve not gotten anything official.”
“That’s true, yes. His name is Dr. James Pearson and he’s taking over some of Dr. Castellanos’ duties.”
“Ah, so it’s true. Listen, I… I’ve had an encounter with a customer today, about which I would have to talk with Dr. Castellanos… or better, with this man who’s taken the duties. But it’s… kinda important and urgent.”
“I—sorry, I can’t talk about that right now. It’s kinda—embarrassing.” Damn, he just hoped that Andrew wouldn’t catch the lie.
“Oh, I see. I can give you the details on Monday, if you want.”
“Can you… can you maybe do that now? I mean, do you have any contact details for me? I’d rather not wait until Monday, to be honest.”
“I’m not sure. I really shouldn’t…”
“I know. Please. I won’t have a second of peace until I’ve talked about it, that’s the problem.”
“Maybe you should call Dr. Castellanos directly, then. I mean, he’s the curator after all.”
“No! I mean, no, I really don’t want that… He’s always so stressed.” Damn it.
“It’s just your luck I’ve known you for a couple of years now. I can give you the contact details, since I have the email Dr. Pearson sent me. But promise that you didn’t get it from me if anything happens…”
“Yeah, understood. Thank you.”
“Okay, here we go.”
Michael wrote down the details of the hotel, an uneasy feeling in his gut. What if someone found out? He’d probably be without a job faster than he could say ‘Dr. Pearson,’ but if he had to wait any longer, he’d go nuts.
Two minutes later, he said goodbye to Andrew, grabbed his keys and hurried to his car.
The hotel wasn’t far away, about fifteen anxious minutes of driving.
But then he sat there, in front of it. The entrance taunted him, daring him to go in, but somehow he couldn’t get out of the car. Something held him back, chaining him to the seat. He’d lied to his co-worker, broken quite a few company laws, and now… now he couldn’t work up the nerve to actually do something. It was fear. Plain old fear.
No matter how many times he told himself that he needed closure, he couldn’t open this door, step out into the heat of this Phoenix evening and go inside. A weight he didn’t know still existed clung to his heart and his legs, stopped him, dragged him down, and forced him to stay in his seat.
Dammit. His fear couldn’t win. What could he lose? Nothing. He’d lost everything when they split, and now he simply wanted closure. He’d pined after James for years, tried to figure out what had driven him away, what he could’ve done differently, but he didn’t find anything. While the reasons were clear and understandable, it didn’t make the hurt any more bearable. Now he finally had the chance to talk to James again.
Then he might finally be able to move on and find someone to settle down with. At thirty-three, he wasn’t getting any younger, and if he didn’t want to end up being alone with his cat the rest of his life, he needed to find someone rather soon. Not that he lacked choices or opportunities, but somehow, none of the men he met and dated seemed to be candidates for something lasting.
He stopped that certain train of thought. It didn’t help with the problem at hand. Or rather, in the motel. He sighed deeply and cut off the engine. Sitting here wouldn’t help him at all.
The warm air greeted him, surrounded him, hugging him like comforting blanket, something he’d known all his life. How many nights had he driven outside of the city limits to sit and look at the stars? When they were younger, James had usually joined him, and they’d watch the sky together. They had to drive out quite a bit, until the dust and smog over the city didn’t pollute the sky, but then it’d been awesome to sit there, breathe in the much cleaner air and just relax. Sometimes, they’d even made love beneath the stars.
Michael pulled himself together. He stood in front of the motel for exactly this one reason. James. The history they shared refused to be ignored, so he needed to talk to him. Michael squared his shoulders, took a deep breath of the warm evening air, and allowed his gaze to roam over the nearby hotels and two-story houses. Show time.
He tackled the stairs to the one-room apartments. At least the entrances lay on the outside, and he didn’t have to deal with a clerk in the lobby. This motel was designed for longer stays, so it provided a bit more of a homey feel.
Breathing heavily, which had nothing to do with the stairs but everything to do with his shaking hands, he stopped at room number 241.
Dammit, you’re thirty-three years old. Not eighteen anymore. Stop being so fucking scared! But his pep-talk didn’t help anything. His hands shook, his throat closed off, and he couldn’t bring himself to knock.
Fucking shit. He’d not called a friend about a guy, driven through half of the city, waited half an hour in his car to work up the nerve only to turn around now. Nope. He would get through this. Once more. One meeting. Then he finally could walk away and leave all the memories behind where they belonged so he could make room for someone new.
He raised his hand and knocked. Not too hard, but the sound rang loudly through the air around him until it got swallowed by the noise of the cars driving by. Nothing happened. No one answered. He knocked again. Still nothing. How could he have such bad luck? James didn’t seem to be home. Fuck. Frustrated beyond words, Michael ran a hand through his hair. The tension in his body left, and the shaking finally lessened.
His shoulders sagged in defeat, and Michael turned around, ready to leave, when someone yanked the door open.
“Michael? What are you doing here?” James asked, disbelief lacing his voice.
Michael turned back to face him. It took him a moment before he found his words because his brain refused to come up with any kind of answer. But then he said, “I came to see you again. After the meeting a couple of days ago, I thought it would be good to talk about a few things. And I wanted to apologize.”
James seemed to consider simply closing the door again without even speaking one more word. But after a couple seconds of silence, he finally stepped back and nodded. “Come in. I think you’re right. We should talk.”
Michael smiled, even though his lips felt frozen, and stepped through the door.
Michael walked into the small room, with James on his heels. A king-size bed dominated the room, a dresser stood to the side, and there was a large cupboard on the wall opposite the bed. An open suitcase lay on the bed, with some trousers visible. A single window and a painting completed the picture. The room definitely didn’t feel like a real home.
Michael turned to James, suddenly noticing how his sweats and well-worn T-shirt clung to his muscular frame, which highlighted how much he’d filled out during the past fifteen years. Damn. He shouldn’t notice that. Neither should he see that James’ glasses gave him just the right amount of professionalism and sexiness, if that was possible. Not with everyone, but James… James had it down, probably without knowing it.
“Do you want to get something to eat? I was going to order take-out, but if you want, we could go to a restaurant. There’s one just around the corner if you don’t mind walking.”
“Not at all.” The temperature had already started to drop, and being outside would be much better than sitting in the small, stuffy room. The walls already started closing in, and they’d barely said a word. What would happen when they talked about their past?
“Just let me change into jeans, then we can leave.” James bent to retrieve jeans from the open suitcase, which highlighted his ass even though Michael would never admit that. With a last, insecure smile, James went into the bathroom.
He’d always been handsome, so much that Michael had even called him beautiful, which hadn’t changed. He still was. And Michael couldn’t stop himself from being attracted to him. Yes, he’d changed over the last decade. They both had. But his presence and his smile still made Michael’s blood boil. They were going to talk, not heat up the sheets. The hurt deep inside his heart still gripped him with its iron fist, but he couldn’t force his eyes away from the bathroom James had closed behind himself.
They were just going to have dinner. Then Michael could walk away.