Saturday, November 12, 2011

EXCERPT: The Distance Between Us

Title: The Distance Between Us
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): eBook, paperback


When I opened the front door one Saturday afternoon, I expected to meet Kieran Frost, an applicant for the room for rent in the house I shared with my ex-boyfriend.

What I didn’t expect was to meet Kieran Frost, owner of the most stunning green eyes I’d ever seen. He was gorgeous. Simply fucking gorgeous. The tight jeans and black leather jacket didn’t help any, drawing my attention to his broad shoulders and narrow hips. I hadn’t necessarily assumed that our potential roommate would be unattractive, but I certainly hadn’t bargained for this.

Thankfully, he broke the silence before I had a chance to make a complete idiot of myself.

“I’m Kieran,” he said, extending a hand. “I’m here to look at the room for rent. I assume this is the right place?”

“Yes, this is the place.” I shook his hand. “Rhett Solomon.”

He grinned. “I suppose I shouldn’t make any jokes about Gone with the Wind.”

“You wouldn’t be the first, you won’t be the last.” I laughed. “Especially once you hear my sister’s name.”

“Your sister’s name is Scarlett?” His eyes widened.

I chuckled. “Guess what my mom’s favorite book was.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Anyway, come in, come in.” I gestured inside. As he walked past me, I couldn’t help but cast a surreptitious glance at him. A mistake, of course, because he was just as sexy from the back as the front. Lead me not into temptation

He didn’t seem to notice my staring, though, because he was more enthralled with the house.

“Wow,” he said. “This is a nice place.”

“Yeah, we like to think so.” I shut the door behind us and gestured for him to follow me down the hall. “Here, let me show you the room that’s available.” I led him down the hall, silently wondering if this was a good idea. We needed a tenant, but I was frustrated enough—for very different reasons—with Ethan still living here. I wasn’t sure I could handle being around Kieran and Ethan.

Desperate times, desperate measures.

I opened the door to the third bedroom and turned to say something to him, but he quickly glanced away and cleared his throat as if I’d caught him looking at something he shouldn’t have been. Like me. I couldn’t be sure, but even in the dim light of the hallway, I swore his cheeks darkened a little.

Wishful thinking, Solomon. I gestured toward the bedroom. “This is it.”

He didn’t look at me on his way into the room, but the sunlight coming in through the window confirmed my suspicion. There was a little extra pink in his cheeks and good God, Kieran, you must have sold your soul for cheekbones like that.

He checked out the room, and I answered questions when he had them. All the while, I tried to convince myself there was no point in looking. Nor was there any point in entertaining any kind of fantasy about what went on in his mind when he’d looked at me. We were to be roommates. He was an extra check every month to help us pay down the mortgage until Ethan and I could sell the damned place and go our separate ways.

I pressed my tongue stud against the roof of my mouth as I often did when I was nervous. This was ridiculous. From what Ethan said after speaking to him on the phone, Kieran was twenty-five. A full fourteen years my junior. Hell, he was closer to my daughter’s age than mine. He was too young, I was too newly single. Oh, but what I wouldn’t give for a night with someone that hot.

“I like it,” he said, nodding and giving the room one last look.

“I should show you the rest of the house, then.” I smiled, hoping I hid all the thoughts running through my mind. We stepped out into the hallway.

“The bathroom’s the next door down on the left.” I pointed in its direction. “Between—” I hesitated. “Between our bedrooms. We’ll be sharing that bathroom.”

He nodded, but said nothing. I quickly changed the subject before I spent too much time thinking about Kieran in the same shower I’d be using.

“You’re welcome to any room in the house besides our bedrooms. Mi casa, su casa. All we ask is that you replace anything you use in the kitchen, and we’ll do the same.”

“Fair enough.”

“We don’t care about having people over,” I said. “Obviously, the usual requests about keeping things clean and not making too much noise, but otherwise, we’re pretty easygoing about everything.”

“I work nights anyway,” he said. “I won’t wake anyone up when I get in at two or three in the morning, will I?”

I shook my head. “Ethan sleeps like the dead, and I keep fairly late hours. Anyway, let me show you the rest of the place. Downstairs, it’s mostly the garage and a storage room, plus an office that we don’t use much anymore.” I gestured up the stairs. “Ethan’s bedroom and the other bathroom are up there. There’s also a home gym.”

“Oh?” His eyes lit up. “Can I see the gym?”

“Sure.” On the way up the stairs, I added, “Not exactly sure what possessed us to drag all of this shit upstairs. I had half a mind to put the living room up there and leave all the equipment downstairs.”

“Probably got a workout hauling it all upstairs,” he said, chuckling.

I glanced over my shoulder. “You have no idea.” I pushed open the door to the rec room that had been converted into a gym.

“Oh, wow.” He wandered amidst the weight racks, treadmills and multi-purpose machines. “Damn, this alone is worth the rent.” He looked at me. “Guess I won’t bother with a gym membership, then.”

“Yeah, it all paid for itself pretty quickly. You’re welcome to use any of it.”

“Sweet.” He looked over the rack of plates. “I’ve been meaning to get into some weight training.” His eyes flicked up. “I don’t suppose I could talk either of you into showing me a thing or two, could I?”

Oh God. I coughed, then shrugged, trying to look casual. “Sure, yeah. We both know our way around the weight room, so…” Another shrug, pretending I wasn’t simultaneously thanking God for the opportunity and pleading for the strength to resist such sweet, sweet temptation.

And the more I pictured Kieran, sweating and panting in my home gym, the more I—

“Why don’t I show you the kitchen and living room?” I said. “Then we can go over all the paperwork.”

Downstairs, on the way across the sprawling living room, he stopped in his tracks. “Wow, that’s quite a view.”

I paused and turned. He was looking out the sliding glass door, so I gestured toward it. “Go out and have a look.”

We went out onto the balcony, and he leaned against the railing, taking in the panoramic view of Lake Union and Queen Anne Hill.

“So how long does it take for the novelty of seeing the Space Needle every day to wear off?”

I laughed. “You’re not a Seattle native, are you?”

He shook his head. “Just moved up here from Sacramento.”

“Trust me, you won’t even notice the damned thing after a week or two.”

“I take it you’re a native?” he asked as we walked back into the house.

“Moved here a few years ago. From Portland.”

“So you’re a Northwesterner. Washington, Oregon, it’s all the same.”

I looked over my shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “And Sacramento and LA are the same too, right?”

“Hey, those are fightin’ words.” He laughed. We stepped into the kitchen, and he whistled. “I think this kitchen is bigger than my last apartment.”

I folded my arms and leaned against the counter. “Was one of the major selling points of the house.”

“I can imagine. How long have you had it, anyway?”

“Just over a year.” Some bitterness crept into my tone, but I tried to push it back. I looked around the kitchen and living room. “I hate to sell it, but—”

“You’re selling it?” He ran his fingers along the beveled edge of the black granite countertop. “Man, they’d have to pry a place like this out of my cold dead hands.”

“Well, it’s not going up right away. Depending on what the market does, probably in a year or two.” Inwardly, I cringed, digging my tongue stud into the roof of my mouth and trying not to groan. Another year or two of living with Ethan. No matter how many times we’d discussed this, no matter how much I convinced myself there was little choice, the very thought of sharing a house for even another month was enough to nauseate me.

I shifted my weight. “Anyway, we won’t be selling any time soon, so don’t worry about us throwing you out.” Though if you lick your lips like that again, you might have to worry about me throwing you down on

The front door opened. Kieran’s head turned, and my jaw tightened.

“That would be Ethan,” I said through my teeth. Kieran shot me a puzzled glance, but, before he could say anything, Ethan appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.

I watched Kieran’s face as he drank in the sight of Ethan, and I couldn’t blame him for the catch of his breath. There were plenty of things I could have said about Ethan, but I definitely couldn’t say he was bad looking. Those devilish brown eyes were what had attracted me to him in the first place and, even after everything we’d been through, they still made my pulse jump. Though he was forty-one, his dark hair had just a hint of silver at his temples. The time he spent in the gym was evident in the powerful build of his shoulders and the perfectly flat stomach. I hadn’t seen him without a shirt on in a long, long time, but he’d had a six-pack for years, and most likely still did. Even with the button-down shirt and blazer he wore now, he was obviously fit.

Pity I could barely stand the sight of him, because he certainly wasn’t hard on the eyes.

“You must be Kieran.” He extended a hand. “Ethan Mallory. I hope he hasn’t told you too much about me.” His eyes darted toward me and one side of his mouth lifted in his trademark smirk. That look used to make my knees weak. Now it irritated me. Or maybe that was just Ethan’s presence. Either way, he was here and I wished he wasn’t.

Kieran shook Ethan’s hand. “He’s just finished showing me around the house. I still can’t believe you guys are going to sell this place.”

Ethan dropped his gaze and shrugged. “Well, you know how things happen. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.”

Kieran’s eyes shifted back and forth between us, something like alarm in his expression.

I quickly changed the subject. “So, you’re working at Wilde’s?”

He nodded. “They just hired me on as a bartender.”

Ethan’s smirk returned. “Hey, that means we can brag to our friends that we’ve got a Wilde’s bartender living with us.”

Kieran laughed. “I could think of more prestigious bragging rights.”

“Hardly.” I chuckled. “Wilde’s is the Coyote Ugly of gay bars in Seattle. If you can get a job behind that bar—”

“Let’s just say it’s not quite the same as working at one of the other local dives,” Ethan cut in. “They only hire the best.” I wondered if Kieran caught the quick down-up sweep of Ethan’s eyes. The look was anything but subtle, but if Kieran noticed, he didn’t react. Jesus, Ethan, let the guy sign the lease before you start hitting on him, would you?

“Well, I’d definitely like to rent the room,” Kieran said. “Where do I sign?”

I picked up the paperwork off the counter. “Everything’s here. Just need first and last month’s rent, and have you sign or initial everywhere that’s highlighted.” I handed him the papers and a pen.

Ethan and I left the kitchen so Kieran could take care of paperwork without us looking over his shoulder. As we stepped out onto the balcony, the cool air from inside followed us. It was warm outside, even for late spring, but the space between us was cold. We both looked out at the city. I’d long since stopped noticing the Space Needle, but it suddenly fascinated me, if only as something to look at that wasn’t Ethan.

“I’m checking into some new jobs,” he said suddenly. After a moment, he added, “Back in Toronto.”

I lost interest in the Space Needle and turned to him. “Toronto? But what about this? With the house?”

He shrugged. “I’ll keep paying my share of it. I assume you won’t object to me being out of the house as long as the money’s still coming in.”

Oh, you aren’t wrong there. “It’s your call. If you do move, we should put it on the market sooner than later.”

“If that was a realistic option, it would be on the market right now,” he muttered. “And we wouldn’t be in this situation.” He paused. “Look, it’ll cost me more money in the long run, but I’d like to be a bit closer to my family. I don’t exactly have a reason to stay here.” The bitterness in his voice set my teeth on edge.

“I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to move back to Portland any time soon,” I growled.

He rolled his eyes. “If you were, you haven’t said a word about it to me. I’m not planning my life around yours anymore.”

“No, we’re both planning our lives around this fucking house. You just found a way out before I did.”

“Look, the sooner we go our separate ways, the better,” he said. “We’ll be out of each other’s hair. Once we get rid of the house, then we can truly be done with it, but that’s out of our hands right now.” As much as I didn’t like being saddled with the house after he left, at least he’d still be paying for it, and he was right. We’d be out of each other’s hair.

“Well, just let me know what happens then.”

“It’s not set in stone,” he said. “I’m sending my résumé to a few places, but I haven’t even gotten any calls. It’ll be at least a couple of months. But I wanted to let you know.”

“Much appreciated,” I said dryly.

He glanced over his shoulder and the smirk—along with my annoyance—came back. “I have to say, I think I’ll enjoy this view for the next few months, though.”

My annoyance turned into something else, tightening in my chest and throat as I tapped my tongue stud against my teeth. Was that—no, it couldn’t be. I’d only just met Kieran and I was eagerly awaiting the day Ethan moved out. Why the hell was I jealous?

The sliding glass door opened, and we both turned.

“I think this is everything.” Kieran handed me the paperwork. “Is a check okay for the deposit?”

“Check is fine.” I flipped through the pages to make sure everything was signed and initialed as it needed to be. “Yeah, looks like we’re all set.”

“So when’s he moving in?” Ethan asked.

“Lease technically starts on the first.” I looked at Kieran. “But when works best for you?”

“My nights off next week are Wednesday and Thursday,” he said. “It would be a day or two early, but—”

“Works for me,” Ethan said. His smirk turned into a grin. “The sooner the better.”

Kieran smiled at him. “Why don’t we make it Thursday, then?”

“Sounds good,” Ethan said. “I’ll take the day off and help you move in.” To me, he said, “I assume you’re okay with this?” From his tone, I didn’t imagine he cared about my opinion either way.

Day one, and you’ll already be alone in the house with him. Nice. I forced a smile. “Thursday sounds fine.” I reached out to shake Kieran’s hand again. “Welcome to our house.”

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