What would you do if you lost five years of freedom? If everything you’d ever known was torn away from you, all because the one person you counted on to save you didn’t come through?
This is the cruel reality for Gabriel “Red” Thatcher, convicted at age nineteen for the murder of his father. Now twenty-five and eight months out of prison, Red has nothing to his name and no one to help him through the horrifying memories of his past.
Then he meets Silo Winters, a man so much like him yet so different that it drives Red crazy. How could someone who went through the same trauma he did in prison still look at life so cheerfully? And though Silo tries to show Red that life after hardship isn’t bleak and meaningless, Red finds it difficult after all he’s been through to let anyone in.
The Flower District was named for what many men lost there—that moment when the lily white of a pure man’s soul turned red with his first taste of carnal lust. This was not my case, however. I’d lost the purity of having an untouched body years ago, and to a man I didn’t even love—or want.
I sat in the district’s most renowned bar, Divano Messia. I could practically feel patrons’ gazes cruising over me, but I paid them no mind. I felt bad for the first guy who’d offer to buy me a drink, because I was that one-in-a-million man who wasn’t looking to get laid in a place meant for people looking to get laid. I just wanted to be left alone to drink.
Despite this, I let my gaze wander. I hadn’t gotten any in more than eight months, so I at least let myself have some eye candy. Those times in prison didn’t count. I didn’t exactly find the idea of being forced against some concrete wall by a man I hardly knew a good time. If I wanted, I could have one of these men on my arm in an hour’s time, but because of the past, because of prison, I didn’t. I would never take a one-night stand—that was the promise I’d made to myself eight months ago on my first day outside my prison cell, my first day of freedom.
Besides, I didn’t have much money to buy a guy a drink. All I had in my wallet today was a twenty, enough for two drinks at most, and if I was lucky, a taxi ride home.
I looked down at my reflection in the bar top and sneered. The twenty wasn’t even mine. I hadn’t been able to find work since I’d gotten out of the doghouse, and it stung worse than a rough first time that the money I did have I was leeching off my sister. I had been for eight months for rent, food, and now alcohol. But as much as I hated being out on the town using my sister’s money, I desperately needed the booze, because if I penned through another to-be-ignored job application sober, I knew I’d blow a gasket.
Thus I ordered the driest cocktail Messia served—a Stinger. It hurt my throat to swallow it, but I sucked up the burn and smacked my lips. It wouldn’t get me drunk, but twenty bucks wouldn’t anyway, so at least I could take my mind off all the shit going on in my life by scalding my tongue.
When I grimaced at my second sip of the cocktail, a man a few seats away from me laughed. I looked up at him, but he wasn’t looking back. I wondered if his laughter had even been directed at me as I profiled his average build and cleanly shaven skull. What most attracted my gaze to him were his ice-blue eyes. I only caught a glimpse of them when he turned to look behind him, but they were astounding. A pale winter-blue, almost stark white, just like icicles reflecting the color of the sky. I could almost smell the clean air and feel the frigid chill of winter when I saw them.
Realizing I was staring, I lowered my eyes. Then I caught sight of an array of black bars on the underside of the man’s wrist. A barcode… I gazed back up at his shaven skull and understood, and that was when he looked at me.
He smiled. His teeth were straight and perfect.
I turned my gaze away from his face, finding his tattoo again and staring. He must’ve noticed, because he folded his arms to conceal it when I brought my gaze up to his face.
Now, it could have just been a meaningless tattoo. I’d heard of teens getting barcode tats just so they could scan themselves at stores. He could’ve been inked just for shits and giggles, but I didn’t think so. The way he hid his tattoo from me when he caught me staring… the seemingly pained look in his eyes when he’d folded his arms… his ink was personal. Too personal to have been done for kicks. After all, lots of guys who’d been in prison got tats of their prisoner ID. I knew—I was one of them. Only I didn’t do it to make myself look like some badass, or to brand myself as a rebellious stray lamb. I did it to remind myself that no matter how rough life got, I’d been through worse. Much, much worse…
“Silo Winters.” The tattooed man called across the bar. “That’s my name. Yours?”
“Red…” A large part of me didn’t want to talk to him, because I knew what he was after. A larger part of me realized from the ink on his wrist that he might have been through the same type of hell I had been in prison, and that he, like me, could possibly want a shoulder to lean on to get away from it all. But I wasn’t about to kid myself. This was the Flower District’s most popular gay bar, after all.
“Red, like the crayon color?” He rose from his seat and took the one next to me instead.
“I guess.” I sipped my drink again and cringed.
“Why drink it if you don’t like it?” Silo set his elbow on the bar and his chin atop his palm.
“Because I want to.” I drank again, noticing the way he kept eying my cocktail.
“Care to offer me one?” He grinned at me stupidly, with his lips crooked and his eyes squeezed shut.
And though I kind of found it cute, I shook my head and said, “No.”
That quieted him for a minute.
“Well, I won’t make you woo me, if that’s not your thing. How about you just take me home and we skip the formalities?”