Gabriel Luz left town ten years ago to keep his family from killing the person he loves most in all the world. Now that his family’s left town and Gabe is honorably discharged from the Marines, he heads back to Ruidoso, the last place he was happy. He’s learning to live with his PTSD and the fact that he can never forget the boy who meant more than the world to him.
Martin Klein used to be a nerdy high schooler who wanted to move far away from Ruidoso and never look back. He expected to run off to California with his best friend and high school sweetheart Gabriel, but the day after graduation Gabe left with a few cruel words, never to be heard from again. Martin’s world crumbled, but since then he’s built his own salon in the heart of downtown and become an important member of the Demon Dogs Search and Rescue team. There’s just a part of his heart he can’t regrow.
When Gabe walks into a salon to get his hair cut, he can hardly believe that it’s Martin he locks eyes with. Fate has given them a second chance at love. Are they brave enough to take it?
Ten years of longing compressed itself into the clumsy press of Martin’s lips against his. Gabe had known when he’d returned home that he might eventually run into Martin, but not the day after he arrived and he hadn’t believed he’d ever get to taste him again. Martin hadn’t changed that much, except to become even more handsome with his perfectly tousled hair and biceps that strained the arms of his V-neck.
There should probably be more thinking involved in this moment. Martin probably has someone. He has to, he’s too amazing to be single. That’s the narrative Gabe has told himself for ten years, that Martin would quickly forget about Gabe and move on to find someone worthy of everything Martin has to offer.
But this messy mash of lips and teeth and tongues is too good to stop. It’s strange and familiar and as necessary to Gabe staying alive as his own heartbeat was. Martin whimpered and Gabe swallowed the needy sound down, wanting so much more.
A brick wall slammed into Gabe.
It knocked him to the side and away from Martin. He ended up on the floor, the breath knocked out of him. His brain scrambled to figure out what was happening. Had a bomb gone off?
Was Martin okay? Gabe tried to push himself up.
A huge, tan, furry face with amber eyes and barred teeth swung into view. It growled, low and menacing.
“Hugs!” Martin scolded. “Hugs, leave him alone, he wasn’t hurting Daddy!”
Hugs appeared less sure about that. He huffed and glared harder at Gabe, who wasn’t even sure Hugs wasn’t right. Gabe probably was hurting Martin.
“Hugs, you leave him alone or there’ll be no shredded cheese on your dinner tonight.”
Hugs’ massive head raised with an alarmed look on his face.
Martin put his hands on his hips. “On your pillow.”
After another huff, Hugs walked right over Gabe, somehow managing to step on him with all four paws.
Martin kneeled beside Gabe. “Sorry, he’s protective, it’s kind of what he does. I’ve had him since he was a pup.” Martin awkwardly patted Gabe’s shoulder. “Um, are you okay? Dante’s asleep upstairs because he’s working a night shift, but I can go get him. He’s like a doctor.”
“What? No, I’m fine.” Gabe pushed himself to a sitting position. He was fine, mostly. Physically, anyway, but he couldn’t stop his brain running through the endless checklists that’d kept him alive as a Marine in an active war zone. They were all useless here, of course. He had no air support, no squad members to keep track of, no ... anything. Gabe didn’t miss his time in service -- even if he sometimes missed the people -- but his damn brain refused to let huge parts of it go.
He looked up into Martin’s face, a face that he’d missed and dreamed of for a decade. He’d ripped his heart out ten years ago so that it could keep beating. PTSD is what his therapist called the thing Gabe had to deal with for the rest of his life. It wasn’t like the movies. He didn’t hear a car backfire and then think he was still in the desert. He just couldn’t turn things off, like all his survival checklists, or, oddly, the taste of certain kinds of MRE meals.
He opened his mouth, maybe to tell Martin that he’d come back to him broken, but instead, all that came out was “Dante?” Had Martin said he was a doctor? Shit, upstairs? A boyfriend? Martin had some perfect, doctor boyfriend. “Who the hell is Dante?”