Rey left home at seventeen after an event that shook him to the core. He didn’t see a way to feel safe anymore, so he panicked and ran to the streets. He got lucky when two friends, Lake and River, found him and took him in, becoming big brothers and a new family when he had nobody.
Moving with them from New York City to Joliet, Illinois was a big change, but when Lake inherited an animal rescue, there was no way he and River would leave Rey behind. Suffering from agoraphobia that makes him unable to go outside makes life difficult for Rey, but he has an understanding found family and things to occupy his time.
Everything looks great, and then Cook comes home.
For Jack Cook, life hasn’t been exactly kind, but he deals with the physical and emotional baggage from his childhood and his days in the Army just fine. He’s made a great career as a private chef for wealthy clients, and he has a home base at the Twin Star Rescue while he’s in between jobs.
At thirty-six, he enjoys his life and doesn’t get surprised by much, but then he meets Rey.
There’s an instant connection, a camaraderie between two people who enjoy cooking and taking care of their loved ones. Gradually, that connection grows into something deeper, something different.
Both Rey and Jack know that they don’t want anything to happen between them before Rey turns eighteen. That feels wrong, and not just on the legal side.
But dealing with the emotions swirling between them becomes too much, and distance is the only way Jack can deal with it all. While he runs to his blood family to figure out how to move through his past and heal enough for a future, Rey stays at the rescue and soldiers on.
Rey can be patient when need be, but when he turns eighteen and Jack isn’t back yet, he decides to tempt fate to move things along.
Invoking his past might not be the best idea, but Jack will come home to keep him safe, right?
“I have a proposition.”
“Are you saying that you’re propositioning a minor?” I asked, smirking, before I could even think what I’d said.
His eyes widened before he busted out laughing. “Oh gods, don’t even ...” He wheezed and leaned forward, his huge hands on his knees as he tried to control himself. “Holy shit, Rey.”
I felt pretty proud of myself and grinned. Jack was friendly and kind, but I had a feeling he didn’t belly laugh often. I felt like he needed more of that in his life.
“Okay, so what’s your ... suggestion?” I asked once he was done laughing.
“Do you think we could walk by the wall? I could walk on your other side. I’m tall enough to be a bit of a barrier, right?”
I looked him from head to toe, trying to concentrate on the discussion and not making it about checking him out. Especially after my previous joke. There would be no propositioning minors happening here.
“Let’s try?” I would’ve liked it more if it didn’t come out as a question, but beggars and choosers and all that.
“Sure.” Jack looked at me expectantly.
“Oh.” I glanced around again, this time realizing that what he’d said was true, it was hard to tell when you were actually closer to the door, so I just pointed right. “That way.”
He came to stand next to me, hands in his cargo short pockets, like he didn’t have a care in the world.
“So, you ever have pets before coming here?” he asked casually.
I took a step toward the loungers, knowing I’d have to go around them. “No, my mom was allergic, and then ... later, I just ...” I shrugged. “I was too busy.”
“Huh.” He took one step to my two. “We normally had cats and a dog, when I was a kid.”
“Where did you grow up?”
I stopped and looked up at him. “Alaska? Really?”
He gave me a sarcastic look. “Yes, people are born there each day, I’d assume.”
I rolled my eyes and took another step. “No, I mean -- you know, never mind.”
“You’re from New York?”
“Brooklyn,” I said out loud for the first time since before I’d ran away to the Bronx. I didn’t even want to think about it any closer than the boroughs. They were divided into neighborhoods, which I’d found that some people didn’t know.
“Where did the guys find you?”
“Close to where they lived in Bronx.”
“You got pretty far,” Jack said thoughtfully.
I snorted. It wasn’t that far.
“I meant that it’s a whole other world, if you look at it like that.”
“Twenty-one point three miles,” I murmured.
“Well, there you go. That’s far in my opinion. Besides, it’s easy to get lost in a city with that many people.”
I’d checked the distance from dad’s place to the guys’ apartment the first thing I could.
“You ever had to run?”
One step after another. I clutched the corner of the house.
“No. Not like that. Wanted to many times though.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I had my younger siblings to think about.” He sighed a little. “I’m six years older. When things went to shit at home, they were ten. We were taken away from there, put into foster care and so on.”
I looked at him, trying to ignore the stretch of sky behind him. “That’s shitty.”
He shrugged. “It was better. Safer at least, in the long run. Kind of. It’s ...” he trailed off, waving his hand dismissively. “Complicated.”
“You’re right about that.”
I inched forward along the dark brown wall. “How many siblings do you have?”
“Three older, two younger.”
“What are they called?” I asked almost off-handedly, trying to beat back the first feeling of my heartbeat picking up and my throat closing up a little.
Jack snorted. “So that’s a story and a half,” he started, immediately taking my attention and making it latch onto himself. “We’re all named after songs.”