I can’t describe what it’s like to want to scream every minute of every day.
Two years after a terrifying night of pain destroyed his normal teenage existence, Aaron Downing still clings to the hope that one day, he will be a fully functional human being. But his life remains a constant string of nightmares, flashbacks, and fear. When, in his very first semester of college, he’s assigned Spencer Thomas as a partner for his programming project, Aaron decides that maybe “normal” is overrated. If he could just learn to control his fear, that could be enough for him to find his footing again.
With his parents’ talk of institutionalizing him—of sacrificing him for the sake of his brothers’ stability—Aaron becomes desperate to find a way to cope with his psychological damage or even fake normalcy. Can his new shrink control his own demons long enough to treat Aaron, or will he only deepen the damage?
Desperate to understand his attraction for Spencer, Aaron holds on to his sanity with both hands as it threatens to spin out of control.
Excerpt # 2
SPENCER THOMAS pulled the garbage can from beneath the sink and took inventory. Six empty Samuel Adams bottles and one Jack Daniel’s bottle. He knew that the Jack Daniel’s bottle had been mostly empty from the weekend binge, but it still didn’t make him feel any better. He needed to have a talk with his father. Since the good doctor let his practice go, the drinking had gotten worse. The nightmares had gotten worse. Their lives had gotten worse.
With a sigh, he closed the cabinet door and left the alcohol graveyard in peace. It would be hours before his father emerged from the dark cave he called a bedroom, so Spencer ambled down the hall and into the rec room. He picked up his mother’s framed picture from his desk and looked at her face for the millionth time. Miranda Thomas died about three months before she was supposed to deliver her son, whom she left premature and in the hands of his father, Henry. Spencer had heard stories of his mother from his grandparents and from his aunt Nelle, but never from his father. No one had to tell Spencer he’d gotten his shaggy brown hair and introspective hazel eyes from her. Even his freckles and pale complexion were a gift passed down to keep his mother alive in him. From his father, he’d inherited a small chin, a button nose, and an ingrained lack of self-control. They made for an interesting combination.
The phone in his pocket vibrated as he dropped into the plush leather chair in front of his desk. He pulled it out and checked the display.
The message might have seemed cryptic to anyone else, anyone that could hear and didn’t get a text message from the front door. After he jumped out of the chair, he retraced his steps and jogged back up the hall. Instead of turning right to head into the kitchen, he turned left at the end of the hallway toward the living room. A silhouette stood just beyond the door’s frosted glass. The rug slid under his bare feet as he skidded to a stop and turned the handle. A hot young delivery guy in shorts waited on the doorstep with a large box balanced on one arm. Spencer stared for a long moment at the man’s muscular frame, perfect skin, and impish grin before the movement of sweet lips broke him from his musings.
“Spencer Thomas?” the guy asked, and Spencer found himself distracted by the sensual way his mouth curved around each letter as he spoke. A dark pink tongue flicked out to lick thin yet carnal lips—the edges of which turned up in a smile when Spencer nodded.
“Well then, Mr. Thomas, I have a package for you,” he said brightly. Spencer took a long moment to deliberately look up and down the man’s toned body. A shock of black hair peeked out from under his awful royal blue baseball hat, which matched the rest of his bland uniform. Spencer saw that the name patch across his left pec read “Nick.” He dragged his eyes back up from the man’s crotch to see the interest brewing in steel gray eyes.
Nick handed Spencer an electronic device and asked him to sign for the package. Like a bad porn flick, he licked his lips and watched as Spencer, who stood there in nothing but faded pajama pants and a smile, signed his name. Spencer handed the device back to the delivery guy, who then relinquished the package. Glancing at the return address, he saw it was from Dell—his new laptop for school. Excellent. Right then, however, he had a different toy in mind that he wanted to play with. The thin fabric stretched over his hardening cock. Spencer watched Nick’s face as he stared at the bulge with increasing fascination, the conflict apparent.
He put the laptop down on the floor out of the doorway and stepped closer to the hot little delivery guy. Nick shifted the signature device to his left hand and used the right to scratch the back of his neck. Nervous, how sweet. Reaching out slowly, Spencer took the small machine from Nick and set it on top of the computer box. They were almost touching. Spencer hadn’t gotten laid in months. That kid in the school bathroom after finals seemed like ages ago, and he’d been intimate with his hand for far too long.
“Is… is that my tip?” Nick asked. Bingo. Spencer took Nick’s hand and rubbed it against his swollen dick with a slow, easy nod. Nick added softly, “You’re a quiet one, aren’t you?” Spencer entwined his fingers with Nick’s and pulled, silently asking the other man to follow him. He knew from too much fucking experience that if he spoke, it would be over. Nick would think he was retarded and lose his hard-on. The sweet little delivery boy followed him down the hall to the spare bedroom without another word. He didn’t particularly want to fuck in the flowery, overly feminine room that his aunt used on her visits, but Spencer didn’t want to take the kid up to his room. He didn’t want to risk Dad waking up to ruin his fun. His father wouldn’t care about Spencer being sexually active, but it was hard to fuck wondering if your dad could hear. Grabbing a condom and the bottle of lube he kept hidden in the bathroom across the hall, he put them both on the lace-covered bedside table for Nick to see. That generally forestalled any awkward conversations about safe sex.
Their mouths collided as they met in the middle of the room. Nick toed out of his shoes as Spencer felt him moan into the kiss. He flipped the hat off Nick’s head and ran a tender hand through the soft, messy locks suddenly freed from their prison. It felt like damp silk beneath his fingers. Spencer’s mouth melded over Nick’s as he unbuttoned his uniform shirt and let it slide down tanned, muscular arms to pool on the floor at their feet. He slid his fingers languidly along the back of his new lover’s neck with a leisurely stop at one tender shoulder. Nick broke the contact and trailed sweet kisses along Spencer’s jaw.
A moan reverberated up from Spencer’s chest, scratching his throat as it escaped. Moving his hands between their overheated bodies, Spencer flicked open the button on Nick’s uniform shorts before dragging down the zipper. He could feel Nick’s erection pressing against the fabric, straining to be released, so he obliged. He slid his hand into the tight polyester shorts and then dug into the cotton briefs beneath as he felt Nick’s hot breath on his neck and his lips vibrate on Spencer’s neck.
God, it felt good.
The back of Spencer’s knees hit the bed and he pulled Nick on top of him. The billowy pink comforter surrounded them as they kissed with a passion bordering on aggression, and Nick ground his hips against Spencer’s in an ageless, graceless rhythm. Their heavy breaths mingled as he grabbed Nick’s ass, and his cock strained against his sleep pants. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, his impromptu lover slid the material out of the way and palmed Spencer’s dick. The old oak bed shifted as they moved, hard and hot against each other. With one particularly enthusiastic grind, the headboard smacked against the wall and jolted them. Spencer looked up above his head, always attuned to strange vibrations, but didn’t see any damage.
Wrapping his arms tightly around Nick, Spencer rolled them and knelt between his lover’s knees. Strong legs came up around his hips, heels pushed into his ass to draw him closer. Oh yeah, the kid was a total bottom. Thank God. He hated having that conversation. As much as Spencer wanted to go slow, to cherish every shared moment, he didn’t let himself go there. He didn’t open that dark place in his heart where hope lived—hope that he could find someone who would still want him even though he was different.
Another practiced moan, one with true want behind it, because grinding against Nick, eager, excited Nick, had his dick hard. The boy’s throat vibrated under Spencer’s lips. He pulled back and watched the heady arousal in his face.
“Please…. Suck me,” Nick said. Shit. Did he say “suck me” or “fuck me”? He’d thrown his head back as he spoke, so Spencer couldn’t tell. But yeah, did it really matter? The meaning was pretty damn clear. He grabbed Nick’s uniform shorts and pulled them down over white ankle socks. Next, he jerked the briefs down those long muscled legs and slid a hand along Nick’s flank as he did so. The guy pulled his feet loose from the confining fabric and spread himself for Spencer’s approval.
Spencer certainly approved.
The uniform hid a fantastic body—sculpted arms, strong and thick from moving boxes for a living, a six-pack that made Spencer feel almost flabby in comparison, and a thick cock pointing his way home. He hooked his thumbs into the waistband of the faded green pajama pants and pulled them down over his ass as he leaned forward to suck Nick’s cock. The feel of it, the decadent weight on his tongue made Spencer throb. Carefully, he lifted first one knee and then the other to get the pants down to his feet before he kicked them off. Pushing Nick’s legs farther apart, he decided all that mattered in the moment was the hot guy spread out before him.
He traced the ridges of the cock head with his tongue, as he stared at the tight abs in front of his eyes. Spencer never closed his eyes during sex, not once. He couldn’t afford that kind of vulnerability, especially with someone he didn’t know. A tender hand stroked the side of his face, and he leaned into it. The unexpected affection was so foreign to him, his chest tightened with the feeling. Then he imagined the look on his new friend’s face if they tried to have a conversation, and the tightness went away. It was a rough and tumble fuck—nothing more.
Watching Nick’s face as best he could from between the boy’s legs, Spencer held up that pretty cock and licked lower. He sucked one of the well-groomed balls into his mouth and traced the sensitive, bumpy skin with his tongue. Nick drove his head back into the pillow, and while Spencer couldn’t see his mouth, he assumed nothing intelligible was being said anyway. The smell of sweat and musk and some kind of scented soap filled his nostrils as he buried his face deeper between Nick’s legs and licked the crevasse between hip and thigh. The hand on his head became more insistent, so Spencer dragged his pointed tongue from base to tip before swallowing the impressive dick. He tried not to gag as the head slid to the back of his throat with a jerk of Nick’s hips.
He pulled back and used a hand to stroke the inches not between his lips, almost kissing his hand with each bob of his head. A slick twist of his hand over the head had Nick writhing. God, it was hot. Looking up again, he still didn’t see any discernible speech, so he relinquished the dick from his mouth and grabbed the condom and lube. Holding them up, he waited for something, a “yes,” a nod, something to tell him to continue.
Thankfully, he got both.
“God yeah, man. Fuck me,” Nick said with an almost violent nod. Apparently, he was too far gone into a blissful haze to notice that Spencer still hadn’t spoken.
While he knelt up and opened the condom, Nick tried to roll over onto his stomach, but Spencer stopped him with a hand on his chest. He had to be able to see the guy’s face in case he wanted to stop. Spencer had only facial expressions and mouthed words to guide him. His partner didn’t fight it, but merely pulled his knees up to his chest so that Spencer could lube up his ass. No muss, no fuss.
As he pressed the blunt tip of his cock against the tiny opening, he watched Nick’s face for some indication that he’d changed his mind. When none came, Spencer pushed forward and felt the muscle give as he buried himself in Nick’s body. The groan seemed to start at his feet and drive its way up and out between his gritted teeth. Hot and tight, Nick felt so fucking good around his cock. Slowly, he moved forward until his thighs met the boy’s skin. The kid trembled beneath him with need and want, and Spencer didn’t have to hear him to know what he needed.
Nick slammed his eyes shut as his back arched and forced Spencer’s cock to keep contact with his prostate as he thrust deep. Spencer reached up and grabbed one of the pillows. Shoving it under Nick’s head so that it raised a few inches, he leaned down and kissed the boy hard. When Nick dropped his legs around Spencer’s waist, the encounter took on a level of intimacy that Spencer wasn’t used to, but he clung to it nonetheless.
He rocked his hips and made sure to keep the angle of his thrusts consistent to nail Nick’s sweet spot as his lover reached down to stroke himself. A fine sheen of sweat broke out over Nick’s body, and the sweet smell of it filled Spencer’s senses. He loved watching the lines of the boy’s throat when he threw his head back in pleasured abandon. The hand on his bicep squeezed, and the body beneath him trembled as they raced toward that glorious orgasm that crested just ahead of them both.
“Clothes…,” Nick said, and it took Spencer a minute in his lust-filled haze to realize that he’d said “close.” He drove his hands under Nick’s shoulders, grabbed them tightly, and thrust harder into the pliant, willing boy. Spencer gave up on watching for more words and buried his face into Nick’s sweaty neck.
A rumbling cry vibrated against his shoulder just as Nick shuddered beneath him and a warm slickness pumped onto his stomach. That’s it, baby. He thrust once, twice, and again as he tried to wring the pleasure from his partner, a boy he would probably never see again after their brief encounter. A tingling, electric feeling pulsed in his balls, and he drove harder into Nick, so close… so fucking close. His growling moan took him by surprise as his cock erupted into the condom, deep inside the boy. Deep. Hot. Tight. Fuck.
Everything in his brain focused on that single, all-encompassing feeling of bliss. Harsh, ragged breaths escaped his lungs in bursts, and without thought, he kissed the boy’s neck and shoulders and tried to show him what their interlude had meant to him. Such a pretty guy, sweet and smiling, he wished he could take him out for dinner or even coffee and just talk. Unfortunately, he knew that people generally looked at the deaf in one of two ways: as a novelty, or retarded. When he spoke, and his voice didn’t hold that same generic cadence that everyone on earth seemed to achieve as easily as breathing, people assumed he was slow or mentally handicapped. They talked louder, slower, which of course didn’t help him a bit unless he could read their lips. So they didn’t bother talking to him at all. They talked around him. They treated him like some kind of animal, incapable of rational conversation.
So he didn’t give them the chance.
“Oh my God, that was fucking amazing,” Nick said as he came out of his sexual stupor and kissed Spencer lightly. With their foreheads pressed together, he could feel Nick’s breath on his face, so he closed his eyes for just a moment to savor the feeling before he was alone again.
With a sigh against his cheek, Nick’s chest rumbled with speech that Spencer didn’t catch. He pulled back to look at Nick, but the boy had fallen silent. Spencer started to feel a little self-conscious, naked above a total stranger who just lay there staring up at him. After another long minute of silence, Nick pushed on his shoulders and tried to roll out from under him.
“What the hell, man? I said I had to go back to work. My boss is going to be pissed,” he said before turning his back to Spencer and grabbing his uniform from where it lay crumpled on the floor. As Nick faced away, Spencer couldn’t tell if he talked while he dressed, but his face seemed to be moving in a manner consistent with speech. Instead of trying to understand, Spencer simply sat on the side of the bed and waited.
“So, would you?” he asked as he turned around and looked expectantly at Spencer. God, would you fucking leave already? Spencer tilted his head to the side as he tried to figure out what the kid had asked him. He must have taken too long, because Nick said something about him being stupid before he grabbed his shoes off the floor and started for the door. Spencer leaned over and snagged his pants from the floor. With vicious jerks, he pulled them on and then pushed on Nick’s shoulder to make him look up.
“I. Am. Not. Stupid.. I. Am. Deaf., Asshole.,” Spencer told him in slow, measured speech as he had been taught from early childhood. Just for good measure, he pointed to his ear and shook his head. A look of dawning comprehension passed over Nick’s face, which was replaced quickly by regret and shame. Good.
“I’m sorry,” Nick started and put his hands on his chest to illustrate his sincerity. Wow, really?“I’m going to go.” His exaggerated speech made it difficult to read his lips, but worse, he used two fingers to mime walking and then pointed to the door like Spencer was too slow to understand that he was leaving. For fuck’s sake.
Spencer opened the door to the small bedroom and held out a hand to indicate that Nick should go first. The guy couldn’t pick up his little signature machine and get out of the house fast enough. He didn’t even say good-bye to Spencer in his haste to get away from the freak.
Spencer leaned against the door and wondered what it would be like to have a guy look past the deafness and actually see him.
This is one of those books that I will remember forever, and that will always be on my e-reader. It was definitely not an easy read. It is gut-wrenching in some parts and incredibly hopeful in others. It is real and raw and in your face emotions and Ms. Barnaby doesn't pull any punches.
Aaron is living...barely. He is a survivor of a violent crime and most days wishes he wasn't. He isn't sure he will ever make it all the way back from the dark place. To try and appear normal and to appease his family Aaron agrees to take a class at the local junior college. If he can successfully make this first step then maybe he can keep his family from having him committed.
Spencer may be deaf but that has never stopped him from getting what he wants. He is confident and cocksure, or at least that is the Spencer he lets everyone see. He is already dealing with an alcoholic father and a university that wants to treat him like a invalid by insisting he have a translator with him at all times, but now he has to deal with a study partner that is giving off all kinds of "fuck off" vibes?
Their beginning may have been forced upon them, but the potential friendship maybe be the answer that both men need to survive.
One of the things that I appreciated about this book is that the author shows us not only how hard PTSD can be on the sufferer, but on their caretakers and family as well. The anger and frustration that is felt by Aaron's family, especially his younger brothers who only want their brother to be "normal" again, are authentic.
The relationship that develops between Aaron and Spencer isn't rushed and it isn't without it's set-backs. Both young men have trust issues and while Aaron's may be more intense, Spencer's are just as valid. There are so many moments in this book that had me in tears, some of them good and some of them just so sad. The first time that Aaron touches Spencer's face and tells him that he is broken I LOST it. But watching Aaron grow more confident and start to heal was beautiful.
This isn't one of those "Happily Ever After" books where everyone is miraculously healed in just a week, but it will leave you with a sense of hope and that intense feeling of love that everyone wants to find.
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Happy Birthday J.P.!