DANIEL MULLIGAN is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates look down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Northern Michigan, but, a city boy through and through, when Daniel arrives in Holiday, Michigan, it’s clear that this small town is one more place he just won’t fit in.
REX VALE clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his large, muscular body until it can handle anything, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people. Though he loves the quiet and solitude of his little cabin in the woods, Rex can’t help but want someone to share it with.
When Daniel arrives in Holiday, they are smitten with each other, but though the sex is intense and explosive, Rex fears that Daniel will be one more in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in could be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls that have been keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia where a secret is revealed that changes the way he understands everything.
Can a scrappy professor, an intense carpenter, and a stray dog make a go of it in their cabin in thewoods? Sometimes, you have to go to the middle of nowhere to end up exactly where you want to be.
Read an excerpt!
“What was it of?” Rex asks, yanking me back to the present.
“That first tattoo. The one Ginger gave you that day.”
“Oh,” I say, embarrassed. “It’s silly.”
“Tell me,” Rex says gently.
I unbutton my shirt, pull my left arm out of the sleeve, and roll up the sleeve of my T-shirt to expose the flowers among the other tattoos on my left biceps.
“They’re Irish primroses. They were my mom’s favorite flower. It was all I could really think to get when Ginger put me on the spot. She said to pick something small, since she was doing it for free.”
Rex’s head jerked up when I said they were my mom’s favorite. He rubs his thumb over the little flowers and smiles at me.
“Of course, my brother, Colin, saw it when he walked in on me in the shower about a month later and gave me hell for being a fairy with a flower tattoo.” I shrug. “Anyway, Ginger and I’ve been friends ever since.”
Rex’s hand is still on my shoulder.
“Um, I should—here, let me do the dishes since you cooked. Thanks again for dinner. It was amazing.”
“Leave it,” he says softly, still looking at my skin.
Rex traces the exposed tattoos with curious fingers, his hands warm and rough. Birds and a memento mori skull and some designs Ginger was obsessed with for a while. Rex reaches for the other sleeve of my button-down.
“Can I? May I, I mean?” he asks, and when I nod, he pulls my shirt off. He rolls the other sleeve of my T-shirt up, exposing the Philadelphia skyline, a wolf, and, running down my arm, the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Rex traces the line of the bridge down my arm and his touch makes me shiver.
“You cold?” he says. “Here, let me make a fire.”
I follow him into the living room where Marilyn is lying in front of the fireplace, just like she was all those months ago when we first brought her here. Rex kindles the fire quickly and the flickering light illuminates the strong planes of his face. Only this time, instead of staring at the television, all his attention is on me.
“Can I look at you?” he asks again. I start to pull my T-shirt off, but his hands are right there, sliding underneath the hem and lifting the shirt over my head.
Rex is looking at me so intently that I can’t quite meet his gaze, and I stare into the fire instead as he looks over my tattoos. He doesn’t touch me, just looks at me in the firelight. I feel like he’s reading me, reading the story on my skin. Of course, the downside to having a best friend who’ll give you tattoos for free is that you end up with a few you wish you could erase.
Rex moves behind me to look at the ones on my back and I can feel his breath touch the nape of my neck. His big hands curve around my hips and he presses a kiss to my neck. I gasp at the sudden touch.
“You’re so beautiful,” he says, low.
“I guess I’m lucky you’re not turned off by tattoos,” I say.
I turn to face him. I don’t know why, but suddenly I feel very exposed. I reach for his shirt and he lets me pull it off him. God, he’s gorgeous.
“I feel like that skinny kid I was in high school next to you,” I say, immediately cursing myself for speaking out loud. Ginger always says confidence is the most attractive quality. Guess I blew it with that one.
Rex grabs me by the wrists and pulls me into the warmth of his body. His eyes are blazing but he looks at me tenderly.
“No,” he says. “You’re so—” He shakes his head and leans in to kiss me slow and sweet, like his kiss can reassure. It’s a good kiss. A great kiss. I wrap my arms around his waist to tug him closer and then somehow his mouth is gone and I’m just hugging him. Am I supposed to be hugging him? I don’t think so, but I can’t make myself stop. His heart is pounding under my ear like I’ve startled him. Then he wraps his arms around me and his heartbeat slows. The fire is crackling and the smell of wood smoke combined with Rex’s scent is heady. He runs his hands up and down my back and then cups my ass and pulls my hips forward to meet the firm bulge in his jeans.
“Mmm,” I mumble. Rex tips my head back and kisses me again, smiling now.
“I bet you were cute when you were a skinny kid,” he says. “I can picture you looking pissed off at the world, glaring at people, only they thought it was cute because your eyes are so damn pretty.”
“Um, my rage at the world was not cute,” I insist, winking. He squeezes my ass and my knees go a little weak.
“Right there,” he says. “Your eyelids flutter and your eyes go all sleepy.” He runs a rough thumb over my mouth. “You go from mad to liquid so easy.” His voice must be hypnotizing me or something because my eyes do not go all sleepy. Do they?
“I bet you ran your hands through your hair until it stuck straight up, just like you do now,” he says, smoothing my hair back. “Right? You probably leaned back against the school with a cigarette in your mouth like James Dean and closed your eyes. I bet there was some guy you drove crazy.”
“Like you?” I ask.
“Nah,” he says, shaking his head. “You wouldn’t have even looked at me twice in high school.”
“I bet I would have,” I say.
He looks at my face, runs fingertips over my eyebrows, my cheekbones, the bridge of my nose, mapping my features like a blind man.
“I was so shy I wouldn’t have known even if you had,” he murmurs. “Never talked to anyone.” His accent comes out a little when he’s not paying attention.
“No one?” I ask, my breath coming a little quicker as his hand drifts down to my chest and finds my nipples, his rough finger pads tracing them lightly.
“No one,” he says.
About the Author:
ROAN PARRISH grew up in Michigan and lives in Philadelphia, but is always a few minutes away from deciding to move. A former academic, she’s used to writing things that no one reads. She still loves to geek out about books, movies, TV, and music—now, though, she’s excited to be writing the kind of romantic, angsty stories that she loves to escape into.
When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, wandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and cheese. But mostly cheese.