We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world--the company of those who have known suffering. - Helen Keller
Nash has never gotten over the loss of his brother, Luke. Not even opening up the coffee shop that they'd always dreamed about has filled that missing piece in Nash's heart. So, the last thing he needs is Luke's old best friend, Tyler showing up. Worse yet, the guy is volunteering to help Nash during one of his busiest weekends of the year.
As soon as Tyler sets his eyes on Nash, he's a goner. In all the years that have passed since they've last seen each other, Nash has grown up and then some. Tyler doesn't know it's right for him to make the moves on his dead friend's brother. Yet, he can't deny the connection that's forming between them. Will Tyler be able to deny his needs? If so, will he be making the biggest mistake of his life?
This work has been previously released.
This was not the time to piss Nash off, but try telling that to his employee, Janet.
"One more week. Just give me that, please," Nash begged as he hurried around behind the coffee bar, trying to keep ahead of the morning rush. It didn't matter how hard they worked, though, the line just kept getting longer and the customers more irate.
"I wish I could, but I can't," Janet replied as she sprayed whipped cream on a mocha. Nash had the urge to take the can from her so he could console his loss with a mouthful of sugar and cream. He resisted, knowing his customers wouldn't appreciate watching the owner of the coffee shop gorge himself on the product.
"Of course it is, you can meet up with your boyfriend and his grump band later," Nash argued, as he handed off a tray full of drinks to his cashier, Colby. One of the customers, halfway back in the line, impatiently tapped her foot as she pointed to her watch. Nash gave her a small wave and what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"That's grunge band and I can't hook up with them later because they're taking my van for the trip," she explained calmly.
Nash paused, rush momentarily forgotten, as he stared at her in disbelief. "You're letting him use your van?"
Janet shrugged and Nash wondered if she'd finally lost complete control of her common sense. With mousy brown hair that she always kept in a sloppy ponytail, thick-rimmed glasses, and a wardrobe of baggy clothes, she looked like she should be dating a computer geek. Certainly not some wannabe Kurt Cobain, who still lived in his parents' basement and couldn't hold a tune if his life depended on it.
"So, after working for me for two years, you're going to take off and leave me hanging right before one of my busiest weeks?" He turned to pin her with an angry glare, only to ruin it when he yelped after spilling hot coffee on his hand. With a hiss of pain, he shook his hand several times as he hopped a bit on the balls of his feet.
The corners of Janet's lips twitched, but she didn't outright laugh at him. "Two years isn't that long to be working for somebody."
"It's as long as this place has been in business. Would it make you feel better if I said, you've been with me since the day I first opened the doors?" He quickly ran his burn under cold water.
"Yes, it would. I really am sorry, but it's not like I'm leaving you totally alone." She pointed to the register. "You still have Colby."
They both watched as Colby slowly handed change back to a customer. The cashier's lips moved as he silently counted in his head. Nash shook his head as he despaired over the problem called Colby. Despite the fact they lived in Michigan, with his blond hair, blue eyes, and movie star looks, Colby looked like he belonged in LA. Too bad he wasn't half as smart as he was handsome.
"Great, I have Colby," Nash deadpanned, as he gingerly clutched his throbbing burn. Not that he didn't like the guy. It was just that Colby wasâ€¦well, Colby. There was a reason why Nash had the kid running the front instead of working with the equipment in the back. He could live with the drawer being a buck or two short because Colby was horrible at math. He didn't think he'd ever be able to withstand having one of his employees slice off a finger or worse, and that would surely happen if he let Colby loose around sharp objects.
"I really am sorry." Janet shot him a look that was all apologies, but stubbornness as well. "I can work tomorrow, but after that, I'm done."
"Fine, but if I find out you're pulling my leg and actually leaving to work for one of those big chain coffee shops, you are so off my friends list," he grumbled, knowing there was no way he was going to talk her out of what he thought was a huge mistake.
"You know I'd never cheat on you, baby." She winked and gave him a saucy smile.
They laughed and settled into their usual morning routine of working hard and praying they could keep up. Not that Nash was complaining about having so much business. When he'd first opened Coffee by Luke and Nash everyone had been certain he'd fail. With no guidance, very minimal startup revenue and a sluggish economy, it had been a huge gamble. It had paid off more than he'd ever imagined, though. While Holly might be a small town, locals of all ages had fallen in love with his espressos, cappuccinos and flavored coffees.
It was nearly eleven by the time the rush finally finished. Nash was wiping down the counter in the back room when Colby came up from behind and tapped him on the shoulder. "There's some dude here to see you."
"Is he carrying a briefcase or pamphlets?" Nash asked. The last thing he felt like dealing with at that moment was yet another salesperson and their pitches.
Colby scratched his flat stomach as he yawned. "I don't think so."
"Okay, I'm coming." The fact that Colby didn't know whether someone was carrying something or not shouldn't come as a surprise, but Nash still shook his head.
With a sigh of aggravation, Nash threw down the towel, then followed Colby back to the register. Walking to the front, Nash swore silently if it was that same guy touting billboards again, he was going to lose it. He could barely afford to pay for a blurb in the local paper, let alone something as extravagant as a highway advertisement. As he rounded the corner, he steeled himself for the coming confrontation.
When he saw who really waited for him, Nash stopped dead in his tracks, his stomach doing a one-eighty. He could feel the blood draining from his face as his breath caught in his throat. He even blinked several times, as if to wash away the image. But nothing changed.
There stood Tyler Becker. The last man Nash ever thought would come back home to Holly.
He was just as gorgeous as he had been in high school. From his short raven hair that contrasted nicely with his dark blue eyes, to his tight muscular build that would put a boxer to shame. Add in his strong jaw, full lips, and high cheekbones and he neared perfection. Sure there was a bump on his nose from where he'd broken it during his senior year, but that only made him more appealing in a rugged sort of way.
A swirl of mixed emotions hit Nash at once--shock, confusion and even a bit of anger. A cold sweat broke out over his body and his heart started to pound so hard, he was sure Tyler could hear it, even from across the counter.
I'm not ready for this. It's too soon to talk to Luke's best friend. All it's going to do is make it hurt more.
"Hello?" Tyler said, as his brows rose in confusion.
Nash realized he'd been standing there gaping like an idiot and cleared his throat to hide his embarrassment. "Hey, I hadn't heard you were home."
"Yeah, I'm finally getting my grandmother's stuff all packed up."
"You must have just got into Holly, because none of the town gossips told me a thing," Nash joked, still trying to cover how much seeing Tyler affected him. He walked the rest of the way to the counter and shoved his hands into his pockets to hide the fact they were shaking.
"I just drove in this morning."
"Are you on leave or something?"
"I got my discharge. I'm done with the Marines. I've been living with my parents in Ohio for the past few months," Tyler replied shortly, the good humor leaving his face.
Okay, obviously something he doesn't want to talk about. Good, we can avoid that subject along with how I'm handling my brother's death.
"So are you here to stay then? With your grandma's old house, it's not like you don't have any place to live," Nash pointed out, hoping if he kept the topic on Tyler, then it wouldn't drift to Luke.
"I don't think so. It seems like it's been too long since I've been here and so many things have changed." A sadness haunted Tyler's eyes and Nash knew without a doubt what had put it there.
Luke is dead and he's never coming back.
That one sentence replayed in Nash's head at least fifty times a day. At the funeral, several well-meaning people had told him things would get easier, the pain would lessen, that he would be able to move on.
They had been wrong, though. The hurt of losing his older brother still felt like a raw open wound one year later. The despair still as fresh as when he'd looked out his mother's front window and had seen the uniformed officers walking up the drive. The anger still simmering under the surface, ready to explode.
He knew Tyler felt Luke's loss just as much. The two had been best friends all their lives, from kindergarten to high school. They had even entered the military on the same day. Now Tyler was home and Luke never would be.
Nash wanted to hate Tyler for that, but found that he couldn't. Not when it was obvious the loss had devastated him, too.
"Would you like a cup of coffee? We can sit for a while and catch up," Nash offered on an impulse.
"Are you sure? I don't want to keep you from anything important." There was no missing the hopeful look in Tyler's eyes, though.
"Positive. I'd like nothing more." Nash just hoped he could keep it together.