When your childhood best friend reappears suddenly in your life, it can mean a second chance -- a second chance for him to be oblivious to you being in love with him.
River Lynch’s best friend Lake inherited a horse rescue and moved their little found family to Illinois. While the rescue is amazing and River loves everything about it, finding a job as a nurse is tricky, especially when you don’t want to hide your queerness from anyone and most of the local clinics have more crosses on the walls than average churches.
Seeing Lake and his new beau Theo fall in love is great, but it also makes River feel like maybe that sort of thing just isn’t in the books for him. River has been in love once when he was a teenager, and he never quite shook that love, even when they were separated by circumstance.
Ben Harries is a professional editor and used to work for Lake’s author aunt Ruth. Now that Ruth is gone, Ben is employed to help Lake finish Ruth’s last manuscript. Finding his best and maybe only friend River at Twin Star Rescue shocks Ben to the core, especially when River’s reaction is less than stellar.
At first, Ben doesn’t understand, but then he figures that River might be interested in him romantically. That might be a bit of a problem, because Ben has never really felt attraction to anyone and doesn’t really see what the fuss is about. The last thing either of them wants is to hurt the other.
While River is coming to terms with the fact that some secrets of the past might have to come to light, Ben tries to sort out his own feelings. He knows he’s asexual, but how does that fit with the fact that for the first time ever, he suddenly has a crush?
“Hey, Bucky,” I told Theo’s dog when he came to greet me. “Who’s a good boy?”
He looked happy as a clam while I scratched him behind the ears. I gave him a final pat and sent him off, then grabbed my bag and walked to the house.
As I opened the door, I bumped into -- “Ben!”
He took hold of my forearms and steadied us both. “Hey, sorry, I wasn’t looking --”
“No, no, it’s fine. I’m ...” I looked up at him and got stuck when our gazes locked.
Ben licked his lips, and we stood there for a few seconds, just staring at each other.
Then he suddenly let go of me, as if my hoodie had caught on fire, and stepped back. “Sorry, sorry. I was going for a walk. Dinner’s ready in about an hour, I’ll just ...” He gestured past me and slipped out as soon as I stepped further inside.
I watched him leave and wondered how I could still feel the warmth of his hands where he’d touched me through the hoodie.
“Well, that felt loaded,” Lake murmured from the kitchen doorway.
“I really need to try to talk to him again,” I admitted out loud.
Lake laughed through his nose, turned around, and returned to the kitchen.
Yeah, I agreed with him.
I went to take a shower first, getting the day off my skin. For some reason, when I’d tried to talk to Ben once a handful of days ago, he’d retreated into his room. I wasn’t sure why he was running now, but it was getting tiring.
Knowing I still couldn’t tell him everything sucked, but I was getting used to being around him again and I wanted to get even closer. However, I was old enough to know that things weren’t that simple. I was sure I’d caught Ben looking at me wistfully a couple of times, but he’d turned his head immediately when he’d seen me.
The thing was, I was nowhere closer figuring out if he even liked men, and that was the kicker.
After my shower, I had some time before dinner, so I went to see how the kittens were doing. When I heard Ben’s voice from the stairs, I had a completely Pavlovian response to the sound.
Rey held out his hand and I gave him the still slightly hissy kitten I’d been holding.
“See you downstairs in a bit,” I told him as I scrambled to my feet.
I saw Ben’s door close on the other end of the hallway and walked there briskly so I didn’t have time to talk myself out of it.
I took in a deep breath and opened the door, then stepped inside.
Ben look startled, but he didn’t tell me to leave.
“Benji,” I started. And then I didn’t know how to continue.
“I know.” He sighed and went to sit on his bed that was neatly made unlike mine at the other end of the hallway.
I leaned on the closed door and watched him. He seemed tense, but also kind of ... resigned?
“Hey, I don’t want you to feel bad about anything,” I said quickly. “It’s not --”
“I don’t know what I am.” His voice was so quiet I wasn’t sure I heard him right.
“I’ve never known what I am,” he said more loudly. His gaze was on the floor somewhere between us. “I’ve been living here for a while now, and I see all you guys be so open. Happy about how you identify. Even Rey tried to talk to me yesterday --”
“I didn’t know that; if he crossed any lines --”
“River, no. He’s fine. He’s a good kid. Young man, really.” Ben sighed again, then he looked at me. “I realized the other day that you’re attracted to me.”
Now it was me who dropped my gaze and wanted to slide down the door and onto the floor.
“I always was, on some level.” Might as well confess as much. To get the ball rolling. “When we were kids, I had the biggest crush on you, but you never noticed.”