Ever since he was a child, Steven Aristidis knew he had some very complex feelings for the much older Timothy Clayborn. To keep these feelings under wraps, he left Castledowns. Years later, he is an ex military officer turned stripper. Life hasn’t been kind to him, and he’s so over fighting back. He settles into his mundane existence doing what he can to pay the bills. When he walks into his change room and sees Timothy Clayborn, he almost loses his mind. Then Timothy makes him an offer he wants to refuse but can’t.
Vice cop Timothy Clayborn hasn’t seen Steven since he was some lanky kid his father brought home a couple of times. Then all of a sudden, years later, cancer claims his father, who leaves instructions in his will that are confusing—find Steven Aristidis, take him to Greece, and ensure he fulfils a life-long dream. When Timothy finds Steven, it isn’t in a place he’d ever thought of. Can he handle the raw emotions that flare up instantly?
The stench of a hospital was something Steven would know anywhere. Before he opened his eyes, he took stock of everything—from wiggling his fingers and toes to moving his head from side to side. So far, every limb seemed to be in order, but they’d always explained to him about phantom limbs. Steven’s eyes snapped open and he looked down to ensure he did in fact have everything. It wasn’t everyday he fell from the sky like a sack of potatoes.
His left leg wasn’t moving like it should, and for a second, he freaked out. The machines around him beeped fiercely as a doctor darted through the door.
“No! Don’t move. You’re going to pop the stitches!”
“I need to know what’s going on with me!”
“You were shot down over Kandahar.”
“I know all that. Why is my leg so stiff?”
The doctor’s expression changed. It was as though a dark cloud came over him. The panic on his face quickly vanished. He walked in close and sat on the side of Steven’s bed, then rested a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“I have some bad news.”
Steven sucked in some air, but nodded. It was wishful thinking even to pray he would have escaped a plane crash with just some scrapes and bruises. “Help me sit up?”
The doctor helped him as best he could without the base of his spine hurting as if a hot fork was stabbing him.
“We gave you something for the pain, but in your left knee…you have what is called a medial meniscus tear. We didn’t go in and fix it while you were under because this injury is…”
“Career ending,” Steven finished for him. “Damn. Do we have to do surgery?”
“Not always. If it was a minor tear, physio would work, but yours is severe. You fell out of the sky, Lieutenant. It’s a miracle you only have a few major injuries.”
“It doesn’t feel like it. So, either way, my career in the Air Force is over. What am I supposed to do with my life now? I’m not remotely good at anything else that could help me make a living when they send me home.”
Steven agreed to the surgery, and the next day, around lunch time, he was being wheeled out of the O.R., groggy and angry. He was still young and should still have years left in his career, and just like that, it was over. He slipped in and out of sleep for a while and when he was finally lucid, it was to see his friend Kevin standing by the window.
“You didn’t have to fly here,” Steven said. His throat felt like he’d swallowed sand.
Kevin turned and smiled. He walked to the bed and sat on the side. Without saying anything, Kevin picked up a cup from the table and fed Steven some water. He took a breath and focused on Steven. “They called me when you got shot down. I’m on your papers as next of kin, remember? And of course I’d come. What a thing to say—”
“Kevin. I’m fine. There’s no need to get nervous.”
“Who says I’m nervous?”
“You babble when you’re nervous or worried.”
Kevin sighed and fell against Steve’s chest, hugging him tightly until he grunted from the pain of the added weight on his spine.
“Sorry.” Kevin sat up. “I was so terrified. When they told me your plane got shot down, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
“But I’m fine.”
“The doctors told me you can’t fly anymore. Is that true?”
Steven nodded. He couldn’t get himself to voice it. “I messed up my knee. They say I’m lucky to be alive. But I don’t feel that way. It’s not that I’m being ungrateful. It’s just that I’m not remotely good at anything else.”
“You have a guitar with your things. I know you’re good at music. Remember those times you would sing to me at home? I was always jealous of you for that.”
“A music career is expensive to start up, Kev. I need something a little more realistic, something that will make a living for me so I can have a roof over my head. I’m too old for flights of fancy.”
“Don’t focus on that now. We have to get you through therapy and back on your feet. After that, we can figure out what’s next. The doctors say they won’t let you out of here for a few months, so we have time.”
“What’s this we you’re talking about?”
Kevin rolled his eyes dramatically. “You’re the closest thing I have to a brother, Stevie boy. So you’re not going through this alone. I will have to leave because of work and that sort of thing, but other than that, I will be glued to your ass like a boil.”
“What if I don’t want you here?”