You don’t expect the love of your life to literally fall at your feet. Ben Carson sure as hell didn’t. But when a mysterious stranger passes out cold at Ben’s feet after a street fight, Ben knows right away that this could be something special, that this man isn’t like anyone else he’s ever known.
Eric Green intrigues Ben from the first. The heat between them is fierce and immediate. But it’s more than a physical attraction. Ben is drawn to the sorrow and vulnerability that lie behind Eric’s hot temper and suspicious nature. Generous, open, and trusting, Ben vows to help Eric put the violence and abuse of his past behind him and heal the damage it did to him.
As Ben tears down the walls Eric has built around himself and Eric learns to trust again, the powerful attraction between them grows and deepens into a love that could last a lifetime. But the past isn’t always so easily pushed aside…
© Copyright 2005 Ally Blue
The sun was in my eyes when I woke the next morning. I pulled the pillow over my head and tried to remember why the hell I was on the floor. Then heard the toilet flush and everything came back. I sat up just as the bathroom door opened.
“Hi,” I said as Eric shuffled back to the bed and plopped down. “How are you feeling?”
He shrugged. “Okay, I guess. Little bit of a headache, but it’s not too bad. I look like I got hit by a train though.”
I grinned. He did look banged up. A big, ugly black and purple bruise spread from under the bandage on the left side of his forehead to cover part of his cheek, and his eye was swollen. The blood on the bandage had dried to a deep reddish brown.
“That is a nasty bruise, but at least the cut’s stopped bleeding.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Hey, Ben, would it be okay if I use your shower?”
“Sure, there’s clean towels in there on the shelf.”
“Thanks.” He stood and stretched and my brain promptly stopped working. Jesus, his body was perfect.
Okay, nearly perfect.
I got a better look at the scars this time, and my mouth went dry. A long, thin pink line, obviously from some kind of surgery, started just under his ribs and ran down the middle of his abdomen until it disappeared under the edge of his underwear. Several small round scars dotted his belly, and one larger than the rest puckered the skin on one side of his ribcage. But the one that caught the eye cut a long, wide, jagged path halfway across his stomach. I couldn’t even imagine what could’ve made a scar like that, or the amount of pain that must’ve gone with it.
“Did you get a good enough look?”
Eric’s voice dripped with anger, and I realized I was staring. “Shit, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well. Not too pretty, are they?”
I looked up at his face and caught a glimpse of a hurt so deep that it made me ache to see it. Then the tough-guy mask was back in place and the pain was gone like it had never been there. I knew what I’d seen, though, and I swore to myself right then to help him heal whatever wounds he still had.
“What happened?” I didn’t really expect an answer, but I had to ask. He sat staring at the floor for a while, twisting his fingers together.
“Got jumped by five guys.” He looked down at his chest. “The big scar there is where one of them cut me open with a butcher knife. Most of the rest are from surgeries and stuff. I was in the hospital for six weeks. That was nine months ago.”
He broke off and rubbed both hands over his face, as if he was trying to scrub away the memory. Sitting back down on the bed, he leaned his elbows on his knees and rested his head in his palms. He looked so lost right then, that all I wanted to do was comfort him. I stood up and went over to sit down beside him. He didn’t move. I touched his shoulder and he jumped, but stayed put.
“That explains a lot. I’m sorry. It must’ve been awful.”
He turned his head and stared at me with hope and suspicion fighting for territory on his face. “Yeah, it was. But I don’t want to talk about it.”
I nodded. “Sure.”
My hand still rested on his shoulder. I wanted to run my palm down his bare back and trace my fingers up his spine. Nothing good could come of that, so I restrained myself. Instead, I moved to touch a starburst of white scar tissue on his collarbone. It looked older than the other scars.
“What’s this one from?”
He looked startled, then his face went perfectly blank. “Accident. When I was a kid. I’m gonna shower now, if that’s okay?”
“Sure, go ahead.” He got up without a word, strode into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. I heard the click of the lock being turned.
“Fuck, was it something I said?” I muttered to myself.
I sat down in my only chair and thought while the shower ran. Eric had told me a little about himself, sure, but I still didn’t know much. Hell, I didn’t even know his last name. All I knew for sure was that he was from Alabama, and that something horrible had happened to him. The attack he’d survived couldn’t be the whole story. There had to be something else, something that terrified him to the point that he ran away with nothing but the clothes on his back.
He was a man with secrets, and I wanted to know what they were.
Eric’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts. I looked up. He stood in the doorway in nothing but a towel, with water trickling down his chest. He looked positively edible. I clasped my hands together and successfully stifled the urge to pull the towel off and lick him all over.
“Hey. Feeling better?”
“Yeah. Listen, I’m sorry about how I acted, it’s just that what gave me this scar?” He touched the place on his collarbone. “It fucked me up for years and it’s still hard to talk about it. And after everything that happened later on … I get freaked out sometimes. Sorry.”
“Hey, man, it’s okay. You don’t have to tell me what happened if you don’t want, but you know you can, right? I mean I know we don’t really know each other yet, but I’d like to get to know you better. And I’m a good listener if you ever need one.”
He gave me a smile that made me tingle from head to toe. “Thanks, Ben. Never thought I’d say this, but I’d kind of like to get to know you better too.” He shook his head and laughed. “It’s funny. I’ve never felt so comfortable, so fast with anyone except …”
He stopped suddenly and the color drained from his face. I jumped up, a little alarmed.
“Eric, you okay?” I touched his arm. His eyes focused on me, and if I didn’t know better I’d have said he was afraid; not of me this time, but for me. “Eric?”
He nodded and let me help him into the chair. “Yeah, I’m fine. Damn. Sorry. It’s just …” He stared at me, chewing on his lip. “Okay, look. I’m planning to stay in Asheville for a long time, maybe forever. And I’d like us to be friends.”
“Me too.” That wasn’t all I wanted, but I wasn’t about to say that right then.
He smiled. “Good. But listen, if we’re gonna be friends, then you need to know something.”
I gulped. “I’m listening.”
He took a deep breath. “I told you about those guys attacking me. Well, that’s not the only baggage I’ve got. There’s lots more. Lots. I get panic attacks sometimes, or I’ll see some sort of connection between the past and the present and it scares me. Like just now.”
“What was it?”
“I can’t tell you. Not yet. The shrink at the hospital said I had to work on being direct and honest and not hiding from the things that had happened to me, and God knows I’m trying, but it’s hard.” He laughed. “You have no idea what a huge step it was for me to tell you as much as I have already. Dr. Hendrix would be proud. I only got a few sessions, ‘cause I didn’t have the money to keep going after I got out of the hospital, but it helped.”
He fell silent. I wanted to ask him why he’d left Mobile in such a hurry, but I didn’t think he’d answer. And he’d just trusted me with what was, for him, a huge chunk of personal information. I had to respect that, which meant letting him take his time in revealing more.
Changing the subject seemed like a good idea. “Hey, you’ve gotta be starved this morning, why don’t I make us some breakfast? I’m not much of a cook, but I do okay with scrambled eggs and toast.”
“Oh, yeah, that sounds great! You’re right, I am starved.”
“I bet. Three days with no food is a long time. How come you didn’t eat? I know there’s got to be shelters or something where you could’ve gotten fed on the way up here.”
“Well, it wasn’t a money thing. I have money. A little bit, anyway. I just didn’t want to go. You never know who’s gonna be there.”
That didn’t make any damn sense to me. But he had his poker face on, which I was already learning meant he didn’t want to talk. So I put an iron lid on my curiosity and let the subject drop.
“All right, scrambled eggs coming right up. Go on and get dressed while I cook. You can borrow some of my clothes; I think we’re about the same size. I don’t have to go to work ‘til about four, so maybe we could head downtown after a while and buy you some clothes, huh?”
He stirred uncomfortably. “No, that’s okay. They’ve probably got extra clothes at the shelter. I can borrow some of those and get mine washed.”
It killed me that he assumed he was going back out on the street. I didn’t know if it was because he didn’t want to stay with me or if he thought I wanted him gone now that he was feeling better, but he obviously thought the one night was all he got.
“You don’t have to leave.” He raised his eyebrows at me and I blushed. “You can stay with me as long as you want. It gets old being by myself anyhow; it’ll be nice to have someone to talk to.”
He stared at me until I started to fidget. “I’d like that,” he finally said. “Thanks.”
I just grinned at him. He grinned back at me and I headed for the kitchen feeling decidedly giddy.