By: Cat Kane | Other books by Cat Kane
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Jun 30, 2010
ISBN # 9781595787262
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Jun 30, 2010
ISBN # 9781595787262
Word Count: 35,700
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket (.prc), Rocket
DescriptionWhen a heat wave wrecks Nolan Brooks’ rental car, leaving him stranded in a sleepy little Tennessee town, the goal of spending the summer running his best friend’s beach-side bar begins to flutter out of reach. He’s trying to be responsible and ambitious for the first time in his life, and spending the weekend at a local festival celebrating the migration of the Purple Lacewing butterfly doesn’t fit into those plans.
But he’s stuck for the duration, and making the best of a bad situation doesn’t seem so difficult when a shortage of hotel rooms means he’s spending it with the charming, if mysterious, Gray Ashton. Gray isn’t too fond of tourists, but despite his misgivings it seems he’ll make an exception for Nolan.
When Nolan succumbs to the charms of the town, the butterflies and Gray, he has to re-evaluate what he really wants. But the secrets in Gray’s past and the obligations in Nolan’s future won’t make that any easier than chasing butterflies.
Content Notes: Contemporary, GLBT, M/M
Reader Rating: (3 Ratings)
For a moment, the airport seemed to fall silent. No screeching kids, no unintelligible PA announcements, no overwhelmed air-conditioning. Nolan stared across the check-in desk at the impassive assistant. Her name badge read Tanesha and her face read “I couldn’t care less.”
“You’ve got to be kidding...”
She blinked slowly. “I assure you, sir, I’m not. All departing flights are running severely behind schedule, and,” she glanced at his ticket as she pushed it back across the counter, “you’ll be lucky to get out of here before tonight.”
“Tonight? It’s not even noon!”
“I’m aware of that, sir. But unless it rains in the next couple hours,” the blue skies peeked through all the high terminal windows just to mock the words, “and if our attempt at getting flights out doesn’t work, we won’t be moving most flights till sundown.”
What the hell was this--Medieval Airways? Since when did a heat wave shut down an airport? “What am I supposed to do in the meantime? I have to be in Savannah by tomorrow.”
Tanesha looked at him. “You’ll be lucky if you’re outta here by then, sir.”
He took back the ticket and sighed. Fine, so he didn’t need to be anywhere in that much of a hurry, but it wasn’t as though he had anywhere to go back to either. “You know, you could seem a bit more torn up about it.”
“I am, sir. I’m crying inside. Next!”
The passengers behind him, a grumbling middle-aged couple, thin and wilting in the heat, began stepping toward the counter. They glowered at him for wasting their time even though they knew they weren’t going anywhere fast.
“Wait!” He turned back to Tanesha, flashing his most charming smile, the one that until very recently Elias used to say rendered him incapable of saying no. “Isn’t there even a flight that goes somewhere close to Savannah?”
The couple behind him muttered and glared.
“No flights anywhere, sir.”
“Please, Tanesha...” He turned her name into a breath, a soft caress of a sigh, leaning a little closer. He dropped his gaze to the counter, tracing patterns against his ticket with one index finger before looking up at her through thick, dark lashes. “I’m desperate here. I’ve made a promise to be in Savannah by tomorrow and I’m not the kind of guy who breaks promises. So, if there’s anything you can do to help me out--anything--I’d be more grateful than you’d ever know.”
She watched him coolly, and he was about to chalk it up as a loss when she reached for a flyer from under the desk, picked up a pen, and scribbled something on it. “If you really have to get there, then take this to the rental car courtesy phone downstairs. Call this number.” She pointed with her pen at the phone number she’d circled for him. Her voice had lowered now, as if to match his, keeping the conversation clandestine. “Ask to be put through to the Covington office. Tell them Tanesha at check-in said you qualified for the ten percent promotion.” A small smile played on her lips.
Nolan grinned, accepting his useless ticket and the prized flyer. “You’re an angel, Tanesha. Total angel. Thank you.”
He was on the escalator to the lower floor when he glanced at the ticket and realized that the scribbling hadn’t just been to highlight the rental company’s number, she’d put her own phone number on the flyer too.
* * * *
Ten percent promotions, it turned out, didn’t include any cars with CD players or anything convertible. Tanesha hadn’t liked him that much.
Still, two hours after leaving the airport, most of which involved trying to catch a shuttle from the airport back toward Covington and Cincinnati, making the best of a bad situation seemed to be going well. All the windows were open, letting in the scent of the hot wind and the kicked up dust. The rush of the wheels on the asphalt drowned out the only local radio station the little economy car could pick up.
It was better than waiting. It was better than staying. The longer he had to pause and reflect, the more likely he’d be to turn tail and run.
He had nothing, no one to turn around and run back to. Davey’s beach-front bar a few miles south of Savannah was waiting for the summer, and even if his flirting with Tanesha hadn’t been quite aboveboard, he was intent on this being a promise he would keep. He owed his old friend that much. Besides, even if he’d called to cancel it all the moment the flight was delayed, Davey was in Europe by now, and Nolan had been sent detailed instructions on picking up the bar and apartment keys from Davey’s neighbor. The few belongings Nolan had taken with him after Elias threw him out were already on their way there, and the rest he’d left behind.
He should have packed himself in a box too--it would have been quicker and possibly no hotter. He turned the rear-view toward himself briefly, grimacing at the way the heat seemed to leech the shine from his dark hair--and what use were baby-blue eyes when they were hidden behind dark glasses? He was willing to bet he wouldn’t even tan, just go from pale to somewhere near chili pepper red. Good thing he was on his own when he looked this bad.
All on his own, he reflected, for the first time he could recall. There was only the highway ahead of him, the ribbon road curling up beneath the wheels under the shimmering glare of the heat.
No one sensible moved across three states in a heat wave. Fortunately, no one had ever accused Nolan Brooks of being any such thing. Elias had cited the incident with the Chihuahua sitting and the thing with charging local art students to repaint the living room orange and purple for some modern art credit as reasons for reaching the end of his tether.
Granted, his tether had lasted longer than most, but even that had to run out sometime. “Sometime” had been three weeks ago, across Elias’ polished breakfast table, the empty surface bisected by a golden shaft of sunlight. There was nothing else on the table. Nolan had once put a couple of thrift store salt and pepper shakers on there to brighten things up, but they’d long since disappeared. Elias had never approved of Nolan’s mismatched detritus, be it in his life or on his breakfast table.
“I can’t deal with this anymore,” Elias said, downing his espresso as though it was a shot of gin. Caffeine courage, Nolan supposed. “Do you ever listen to a single damn thing I say?”
“Look, I told you--”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Elias looked at him. “Yeah, I know. That’s always your excuse.”
Nolan turned to look at the orange wall in the living room. It didn’t look that appalling to him, warm and cheerful in the early summer sunshine. Maybe that was the problem; Nolan was an orange and purple sort of guy, and Elias wasn’t. “It’s not an excuse, it’s a reason. There’s a difference.”
“Is there?” Elias got up from the table and reached for his suit jacket. “Look, Nolan, I think we should take a break for a while.”
Nolan looked up at the man he’d convinced himself would be the answer to everything. “What kind of break?”
“The kind where you go and stay somewhere else for a while, and I get someone in to repaint the living room.” Elias frowned, his gaze landing on the brightly painted walls. “Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’ve smothered you so much you can’t manage on your own.” He nodded as though he’d come to a decision. “Some independence would be good for you.”
Nolan scowled. “Yeah, I think it will.”
Elias nodded, oblivious. “Good. Then it’s settled. You can leave whatever you can’t take with you today; pick it up whenever you get a chance.”
On reflection, Nolan thought Elias probably only meant moving a few blocks away, not several states, but then he should have known that Nolan didn’t do things by halves. Besides, blocks would have allowed the temptation to linger, the reassurance that he could run back to Elias and promise all those things he could never keep. Things like “I can change.”
If he was changing, then he was damn well changing for himself. He figured Elias should be proud of him for that, if nothing else.
Lawyers. So damn pragmatic. “Settle down, Nolan. Be responsible, Nolan. Chihuahua sitting isn’t a career move, Nolan. Where’s your ambition, Nolan?”
His father had the ambition. His older brother had the ambition. He’d once owned a hamster who’d doggedly built the biggest nest-ball in hamster history that also had far more ambition than he did. To Nolan’s way of thinking, ambition didn’t have to involve shitting on other people from a great height, but that was the only variety he’d been exposed to. Mostly he just wanted to be happy. He thought he’d found that with Elias, and it was still a little bitter to admit he was wrong. But that’s what he did. Chalked bad moves up to bad luck and moved on.
At least he didn’t have to think about it anymore. All he needed to worry about was getting to his destination and not melting somewhere along the way. The drive would have taken till the early hours even if he’d taken the Interstate. Elias would have scolded him for the irrational fear of busy traffic, and Nolan was glad he didn’t have to explain the need to plot out smaller highways on the wafer-thin map the rental company had provided.
He didn’t have to explain. He wasn’t answerable to anyone else anymore.
Funny that out here on his own he felt more responsible than he ever had before. Without his family or his boyfriend looking out for him, berating him for every false step, every wrong choice, Nolan thought maybe he’d be allowed to learn from his mistakes instead of just taking the blame for them.
Suffering the nightmare car seemed the first step in that; everyone knew taking responsibility involved a certain amount of suffering, denial and sacrifice. He checked them off in his mind. Suffering the experience as a whole, in denial about the fact he’d really prefer to be on an air-conditioned plane eating peanuts right now, and sacrificing speed and comfort for just getting there.
He smiled, pleased with himself. Maybe it wasn’t so hard after all.
* * * *
He’d been making decent time. His cell phone had quit registering a signal when he left the city and the tangled knot of interstates and highways behind. Nolan didn’t mind; it was easier to disappear when no one could call you up asking where you’d gone. Once or twice he’d driven past a phone booth, and considered stopping to call the neighbors in Savannah to tell them he wouldn’t be in town until the early hours and to leave out the keys. For all he knew, and as diverse as Davey’s circle of friends ran, the neighbors were older than God and wouldn’t appreciate him knocking on their door whenever he finally got there.
He’d even picked up a phone in the last gas station. He’d half dialed the number before he realized he was calling Elias instead, if only to crow about his newfound resolution of sensibility. The receiver was probably still rocking in its cradle.
On reflection, he should have taken any excuse to stay at the gas station that much longer.
When the noises first started, Nolan ignored them. It was a crappy little rental, and it probably hadn’t been this far from Cincinnati in its life. Nothing out of the ordinary in some squeaks and shudders. The persistent whine and the fine threads of smoke coming from one side of the hood required more effort to ignore, but he still managed it for a couple of miles.
His conversation with the Covington rental agent came back to haunt him. “We strongly recommend you take out our insurance with your rental. It’ll save you having to deal with your own insurance company should any claims arise.”
“Nah.” He’d dismissed the spiel. “It’s fine. I’ve got it covered.” Yeah. About as covered as a postage stamp on a watermelon.
Maybe it was something simple. Some error brought on by the heat. All Nolan knew about cars was where the key went and how to turn on the radio. The world under the hood was a foreign, frightening country full of grease and bad smells.
He cajoled the car to the outskirts of a little town that rose out of the hazy landscape. A cluster of buildings farther down the road formed the axis of a constellation of houses dotting the countryside. Houses meant people, and people meant the chances of finding someone who knew their engine from their elbow got exponentially higher. Just outside the potholed driveway to someone’s house, the car spluttered to a standstill.
“Come on, come on.” Nolan flooded the ignition again. “It’s right there, look! It’s a damn block over; you don’t die on me in front of someone’s house!”
The car ignored him, resolutely refusing to either start again or shift an inch.
A thief would need to be desperate to get the car moved, but Nolan locked it anyway and fished his bag from the trunk. He took a perverse satisfaction in slamming the trunk closed so hard it jumped out of the latch and he had to do it again.
The houses came a little more frequently as he walked, though still too sparse to be a suburb. A mismatch of single-story homes with rambling front yards, their trees offering at least a little shade from the sun. Several had trailers and Winnebagos parked out front, big metal basking whales sheltering from the heat under badly constructed carports. All the yards were parched and tinder dry, each one bleached to colors that reminded Nolan of an old straw hat his grandma owned with faded paper roses around the brim; gold, pink and green, dusted brown with the arid air.
He wasn’t twenty yards from the car before he started sweltering, the neat crisp shirt he’d worn for the plane sticking to his skin as he moved. The late afternoon had been tolerable when the car kept the breeze moving. Outside, nothing moved the still, dry air, nothing kicked up the dust gathering at the side of the highway.
A street veered off to the right once he neared the town proper, and a repair shop yard beamed out in the heat like a neon Ice Cold Budweiser sign. A mangy old hound sunned himself in front of an old pickup, only his tail flicking slowly back and forth indicating he was alive at all.
“Hello?” Nolan headed for the open doors, blinking against the sudden shock of darkness. “Anyone here?”
A weasel-faced old man scuttled out of the dark, and Nolan felt proud to have stifled the schoolgirl scream that threatened to break loose. “Ah, hello, sir. I broke down a block away, and I was hoping someone could come and take a look at it for me.”
The old man squinted at him. “You in town for the festival?”
“Festival? No, sir. I’m just heading down to Savannah.” The affable smile wouldn’t work as well on the old guy as it had on Tanesha--hopefully--but Nolan tried it anyway. “I’d just like my car fixed so I can get back on the road.”
“Martin!” the old guy yelled, still staring suspiciously at him. For a second time, Nolan almost jumped out of his skin.
“No, sir, I’m--”
He was about to put the old guy down to crazy when a door at the back of the shop opened, and a pimply beanpole of a kid shuffled out. “Ah, sorry, Mr. Wright, I was just, ah...”
“This man’s car’s broken down on Sheridan. Go pick it up.” Mr. Wright turned to Nolan. “Give him the keys.”
“Well, it’s a rental, see, and--”
“You want the car fixed or doncha?”
There wasn’t much arguing with that. After handing over the keys to a kid who didn’t look old enough to drive, Nolan spent the next fifteen minutes telling Mr. Wright who he was, why he was travelling, and what, with his limited knowledge, had gone wrong with the car.
“Could just be the water,” Mr. Wright mused eventually, scratching his chin. “Betcha didn’t bother topping it up on the drive down, didja?”
Cars needed water? He thought he’d rented a vehicle, not a racehorse. “No, sir.”
“I’ll take a look at it anyhow. Meantime you oughta go find a motel.”
“Yeah,” Nolan gestured to his bag, “I was planning on it. Can you recommend anywhere good? I don’t want to spend a fortune if I can help it.”
“Only one decent place to stay in this town, boy.” Mr. Wright nodded. “You wanna go to Pearl’s.”