Elle Keaton has a new MM Romantic Suspense book out:
No one ever said it would be easy.
Running away from his messy divorce did not bring Ira Fragale the peace he sought. If he is going to get his life together he needs to pull up his big boy pants and take care of business. He’s been hiding out licking his wounds in Skagit for two years now, keeping his head down (except for the trail of twinks he’s left behind). Something’s going to give.
Cameron McCulloch needs to knock Ira off the pedestal he’s placed him on. Because he’s older doesn’t mean Ira has any clearer idea about life and the universe than Cam. Cam needs to focus on his own needs and forget about Ira, but he can’t. Bartending at the Loft is easy and he likes the community he’s fallen into since his family rejected him, but if he wants more out of life he’s going to have to go out and get it himself.
Ira didn’t choose Skagit at random, he came to the small city because events twenty years ago set him on his path on today. The mystery of his father’s murder may never be solved but Ira would like to lay his spirit to rest.
None of this explains the upswing of possible hate crime in Skagit. The small town has its share of trouble but someone, or someones, are on the prowl, harassing the LGBTQ community, and Cameron is in their crosshairs.
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Ira supposed as he had many times, that his job wasn’t much different than Cameron’s. Cam of the golden brown hair and deep amber eyes. Cam who was so off limits that Ira shouldn’t even be thinking his name. Too young, too smart, too quick to find Ira’s soft spots. Ira’d had a moment of weakness and they’d a freakishly pleasant weekend together but he hadn’t let it continue.
And, yeah, Ira couldn’t stop himself from going to the Loft where Cam worked, but at least he hadn’t gone home with him again. A win for the team.
The door burst open again and, shit, it was the kid from the other night. Ira should have known better, but Ira’d wanted company and he’d made himself very available. Too late Ira realized he had starry eye’s and boyfriend practically tattooed on his forehead.
“Hey, Ira.” He had his hands shoved in the back pockets of his jeans, his hips cocked in what he probably thought was a cute pose. At the Loft, Ira’d thought he was thirtyish. In daylight, he was adjusting that estimate down to barely twenty-one and cursing himself. Ira liked younger men, he enjoyed the enthusiasm, in bed and out, and their worldviews – so different than the scary gay-aids world of the 1980s and 90s that Ira had experienced first hand. The problem was not they were too young but that Ira was too old.
Ira searched his memory, they’d gone to the kid’s apartment and had sex. Ira had left regardless of him telling Ira he could stay, he couldn’t remember his name. Kevin? Shaun? No. Colin?
He finished cleaning another table then made his way to the front counter to help make drinks and dole out pastries. “Did you need something?” he asked Cary – he was sure of it – on his way by.
Cary’s pale complexion flushed a rosy pink. “Oh, uh, not really,” Ira could see him scrambling to come up with an excuse for having stopped by. “I was just in the neighborhood.”
He walked behind the counter where the counter kid was staring at the influx of newcomers, “Sebastian you want to make drinks or take their money?”
“Uh,” Sebastian stared at Ira through the thick lenses of his glasses, stalling out. Ira watched Cary leave without ordering anything. Wonderful, his reputation as a complete and utter asshole was untarnished.
“I’ll do drinks,” Ira said and pushed past Sebastian to get to the machine.
Ira should’ve asked Sara for the day off but he’d hoped an extra shift would keep him distracted, and anyway he had days ahead of him to brood. Nothing could distract Ira from the fact that this was the month that his father had been murdered nearly twenty years ago, and two years since his life fell apart a second time. Over two years since he’d talked to any of his remaining family. To Simon.
The squeal of the steam wand and hiss of the heads as hot water was forced through the portafilters lulled Ira into a kind of calm. He made several espresso drinks, chatting mindlessly with the uniformed cops who were waiting for their caffeine.
A familiar voice insinuated itself past his shell of serenity. Ira had to force himself not to turn toward the sound of Cameron McCulloch ordering a drink. Cameron was at the end of the line, saying hi to a cop standing in front of him. Ira snuck a look to see if he was with anyone. Cam waited, rocking back on his heels with his hands in the pockets of his worn jeans, not talking to anyone else. On his own then.
As he often did, Cam had his long brown-blonde hair tied back in a messy knot. Ira supposed it was a man bun or whatever but on Cameron it was natural and incredibly sexy. Cameron had an air of friendliness, which probably came from being a bartender, or his naturally sweet personality. But he also had a sadness about him, an invisible cloak giving him a shadow. He hid it well, but Ira saw it. Was afraid to learn more about it, knowing that the more he knew the harder it would be to keep him at arms-length.
Cameron saw Ira glance over at him but didn’t crack a smile. He acted like they didn’t know each other. Yep, Ira was an asshole and a hypocrite. And maybe he didn’t have to worry about keeping Cam at arms-length anymore. For reasons he didn’t want to examine, he found the thought unsettling.
Cam claimed his Americano muttering a terse, “Thanks.” Then he went and sat at the farthest open table from the front. Ira went back to what he was doing but he had Cameron radar. He knew exactly where Cameron was in the room and, exactly when another man came and sat down at his table.
Ira felt anger rise, hot and heavy. Cameron greeted the stranger with obvious pleasure, first a handshake before the other man pulled him into a hug. Was it unreasonable to expect that Cameron wouldn’t meet dates where Ira worked? Hypocrite.
The line continued to grow, and Ira spent the next hour with his head down making coffees as quickly as he could. He knew when Cameron and his friend left and forced himself to focus on what he was doing, to not look up and watch the two of them leave together. He was the one who didn’t want anything, who’d seen the compassion and caring in Cameron’s eyes. He was the one who was broken and would make a nice guy like Cameron miserable in the long run.
Much later, after his extra-long shift at the Booking Room finally drew to a close, Ira half-heartedly tried to convince himself not to go to the Loft for a drink. It was a Friday though, and he had the next few days off. Cameron had shown up at his work, no reason he couldn’t go to Cameron’s.
Tomorrow he would quit showing up at the Loft, and stop picking up men young enough to be his kid. Stop thinking about Cameron McCulloch. The weekend they’d spent together. God. Ira was such a shit. Yeah and tomorrow he’d get his act together enough to pick up a paintbrush and actually do something with it.
Their weekend together had been incredible. Ira’d been relaxed, happy, comfortable with himself for the first time in years. He’d enjoyed the sex, of course, but he’d also soaked up the conversation, small touches, and Cameron’s genuine caring personality. They’d binge-watched stupid TV shows and compared music playlists. Ira’d teased Cameron about his ratty collection of Jane Eyre novels until Cameron had pulled one from the shelf and started reading aloud to him. Jane Eyre was forever going to be on Ira’s top ten.
They’d snuck out for food, Cameron’s small refrigerator laid bare after a couple rounds in the sack, they’d both been ravenous. Pretending the weekend could turn into more had been far too easy for Ira to imagine. Which is why he’d ended it before it went too far. Ira was damaged goods, somehow Cameron would learn the truth about him. If he let Cameron in Ira didn’t think he could knit himself back together again after he left.
Those two magical days had been a vacation from the unadulterated fuckery that was Ira’s real life. When Sunday evening finally rolled around reality had set in. Ira’d messed up enough lives, he needed to make sure Cameron didn’t think Ira was able to give him anything. So, he’d been an asshole. Yeah, Ira.
He rubbed his chest, it was like he had actual physical pain when he thought about what he had done and the pain he’d caused. He missed them both, so much. The tears caught him by surprise.
Author/imaginator & photographer (also rare Pacific Northwest Native), Elle grew up in Seattle, WA., with the Cascade Mountain range to the east and Olympics to the west.
Elle shares her life with between three to five cats (depending on who’s counting), an extremely patient fiancé and a flock of young adults. She’s lived in four US states, London England, and Hong Kong; always knows what time it is, and has little problem finding parking even in the most difficult places.
Elle’s series made its debut spring of 2017. Accidental Roots is set in the Skagit Valley of Western Washington. Writing has always been a passion but not something she was able to take seriously until recently. Some journeys are longer than others. Now her head is full of ideas and not enough time in each day. As far as we know she wasn’t actually raised by wolves.