The Carpenter

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Broken-hearted Grant retreats to a cabin in the woods to work on his master’s thesis and escape the sadness of a recent breakup. A blizzard is on the way, but Grant has food, books, and a cozy fireplace. But when a loud knock jolts Grant from his chair, he’s stunned to see his intense ex-boyfriend, Adam…

Adam wants to win back Grant’s love, but it won’t be easy. Harsh words were spoken during their breakup, and Adam’s struggling to heal from his wounded past. Grant wants to start a family, but Adam can’t imagine being a father…

The men cooperate to stay safe and warm during the blizzard, but they can’t deny their feverish attraction. They discuss a future together, but old hurts surface. Can Adam and Grant resolve their differences and have the future they always planned, or will this weekend be their final goodbye?

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Publisher: Summer Night Publishing
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Chapter 1

Driving into a blizzard two hours from home wasn’t the best decision I’d ever made.

Dark clouds lined the sky, and snow pelted against the windshield in a mesmerizing pattern. The flakes fell in one direction, then shifted to another with the wind. The wipers went whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh, lulling me into a stupor. I hadn’t slept well, and the coffee I slugged at my desk had worn off.

I blinked and took my hand off the wheel for a second to rub my face.

Wake the fuck up. Pay attention.

When the snowstorm was upgraded to a blizzard, I canceled my afternoon meetings and raced home to grab my bags.

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I tuned the radio to a news station and listened to the report. The weatherman predicted heavy wind gusts and snow turning to sleet.

I was born in Vermont, so I wasn’t afraid of bad weather. But if I didn’t reach the cabin before the snow turned to sleet, I’d get in trouble on the rough back roads.

I grew warm inside my jacket and turned down the heat. A paper map lay across the passenger seat. The village of Carlton, Vermont was so small it wasn’t listed on the GPS. My exit came up, and I let out a long breath. It wasn’t far now. Less than ten miles.

I passed through a small town center with a steepled church and a post office. Large brick and stone houses lined the road. Sleet started plinking against the windshield as I turned onto a dirt road.

The road was bumpy, and my air freshener swayed on my rearview mirror. Adam had picked the scent: a manly, woodsy smell, like the one that clung to his flannel shirts. My center console held some of his favorite CDs. A pair of his work gloves were stuffed into the glove compartment.

“Grant, this is a dumbass idea,” he’d say. “Driving in a blizzard. What if you got stuck?”

I had daily conversations with him in my head. Arguments. Things I wanted to say. Replays of boring conversations, like what to have for dinner or whose turn it was to load the dishwasher.

I heard his voice twice a week when he left long, rambling phone messages in his deep timbre. I never picked up, wanting a clean break. Hashing things out after a breakup just prolonged the pain, and I couldn’t go through that with Adam.

But I still sat on the couch and replayed his messages, letting his voice fill my ears.

“Call me back. Please. I miss you.”

Sometimes his voice cracked. He talked and talked until the message cut off. Then he’d call again, picking up where he left off. His words slurred on the last message, like he was drunk.

We were still in the no-man’s-land of a breakup. Phone messages. Possessions left at my apartment. Friends gave me long hugs and pitying looks. Call if you need anything, they’d say, as if there’d been a death. I refused their dinner invitations, saying I needed to be alone.

I went to work, came home, and sat in front of the TV. I ate cereal over the sink for dinner, then walked around the apartment, looking at Adam’s things. His paperbacks, piled on the end table in the bedroom. A pile of coins on top of the bookcase. And shirts, still hanging in the closet.

Nights were long. I stared at the ceiling for hours before falling into a restless sleep.

It was February, my least favorite time of year. The depression I fought came back during the heavy snow and long, cold nights.

Five weeks ago, Adam stood in my doorway in his favorite red flannel shirt, worn jeans and work boots. Two bags and a large box sat at his feet in the hall outside my apartment.

My eyes were puffy and my t-shirt was damp. Adam put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. The slightest touch used to make my skin heat, but I felt dead inside, like every nerve ending had been singed off.

“It’s too late,” I said.

“No.” His voice was gritty. “It’s never too late to fight for what you love.”

I shook my head. “We’ve talked this to death. I’m not changing my mind.”

“Maybe I’ve changed mine!”

When I didn’t respond, he bent to pick up his bags. I moved to help him.

“Don’t.” His voice was hard. “I’ll get it.”

It seemed to take him forever to go to his truck and come back. He wouldn’t look me in the eye when he came back for the box.

“Adam…”

“I’ll come back for the rest,” he muttered, but he never did.

My throat burned at the memory. I gripped the wheel, focusing on the road so I didn’t miss the cabin. I squinted at the numbers on the mailboxes. Forty…fifty-two…a huge bump in the road sent me bouncing, almost jarring my head against the roof of the car. Fifty-four. I tapped the brakes and turned into the long driveway, relieved to see the cabin from the rental site.

It was small, but it didn’t matter. I wanted some quiet time to work on my Master’s thesis. It was rough taking classes, writing my thesis, and working full time.

Not to mention fitting in the breakup of a four-year relationship.

I turned off the engine and opened the car door. An icy gust of wind blew against my face, stealing my breath. Snowflakes and ice pellets cooled my face and coated my eyelashes. I grabbed my bags and climbed the front steps.

The porch door was unlocked. I walked in, scanning the stacks of fresh-cut wood lining the walls. The door to the cabin was unlocked, too. I shook my head. Country people were so trusting. I put down my bags and made a second trip to the car for the rest of my supplies.

When I got inside, I locked the door out of habit. A pile of logs, matches, and kindling sat near the stone fireplace. Steve—the owner—went over a few things on the phone. He was heading to Florida to visit relatives, so I was on my own.

I looked through the glass in the door and checked the big stacks of wood on the porch. Steve said there was more cut wood in the big shed out back.

I tugged off my gloves and built a fire. The flames flickered and spread. Heat slowly rose from the fireplace, warming my face and the room. The cabin had heat, but the fireplace helped during the winter. I sat in a chair, watching the flames dance. Not rushing. Not moving. What for?

When the flames grew, I took off my coat and looked around. The cabin was slightly worn around the edges, but clean and comfortable. The furniture was a bit dated. Navy curtains lined the windows, and braided rugs warmed the floors.

The kitchen was too small for a table, but had a counter with two stools. I put away my food and headed upstairs with my bag.

At the top of the stairs, a small landing overlooked the living room. Bathroom to the left, bedroom to the right. The bedroom was cozy. A thick patchwork quilt covered the full-sized bed. Plenty of room for me, but Adam wouldn’t fit.

Stop that.

I tried not to think about Adam and beds while I unpacked my clothes. I set up my laptop on the small wooden desk and looked out the window. If I leaned back in the chair, I could see the fireplace.

The cabin had a stunning view of the snow-capped mountains. I looked forward to working in the quiet. My apartment was on a busy street corner in our small city, near shops with lots of foot traffic and loud delivery trucks.

Here, the silence was so loud, my ears ached.

I took two pictures out of my bag and propped them on the desk. The first picture showed my baby nieces, Lucy and Anna. They were wrapped in white blankets, sleeping together in one crib. I loved their pink cheeks and their matching bowed lips. I fell in love the moment I saw them.

Kate and her husband Bill were so proud of their girls. We took turns holding them, kissing their foreheads and brushing our fingers over their soft cheeks. I rocked them in my arms, inhaling their sweet powdery scents until my chest ached with want.

The edges of the second picture were smudged from being handled. Adam and me on a trip to the beach, with our arms around each other. His brown hair flopped over his forehead, and his skin was dark from working outside. The day had been a scorcher. We’d spent hours lying on the beach, reading, and playing grab-ass in the water.

I never thought I’d fall for a guy with a beard, but on Adam it was hot as hell. Sometimes it was cropped really short, but he let it grow a little longer in the winter. The first time we met, he pushed down his sunglasses and stared at me with his intense blue eyes.

Next to him, I just looked…plain. I had brown hair and blue eyes, too. I was a few inches shorter, and I kept myself in shape at the gym. Adam’s body was lean and muscular from his carpentry job.

I never had to work hard to find a date, but next to Adam, I was average. Adam was more. Better looking. Funnier. Always more.

People gathered around him at parties, laughing at his jokes. I’d hang out in the corner, watching, but never jealous, since he always came home with me.

I noticed the tattoos showing beneath his shirt cuff immediately. The first time we got naked, I explored every inch of the ink that covered his arms, upper back, and chest. Dragons, vines, and animals. Scenery from places he liked. Every image had a story. I tried to push the memory of Adam’s naked body from my mind. The tension from the drive was finally easing from my muscles.

I turned on my computer and opened some files. I read a few notes and started typing, easing back into the world of architecture. My body relaxed into the chair, and I worked in the silence, the only sound the clicking of my keyboard.

Someone knocked on the outer door, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. The outer door opened, and heavy footsteps crossed the porch. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.

Who the hell was it?

Bang. Bang. Bang.

That knock sounded familiar. I went downstairs and saw Adam through the glass in the door, dressed in a heavy coat, scarf, and hat. My stomach clenched.

“Grant? You gonna let me in?”

I unlocked the door, and Adam burst in with a gush of cold air. I shut the door quickly and locked it again. He dropped his duffle bags to the floor and unzipped his coat, taking me in with his bright blue eyes.

“Jesus, Adam, you scared me.”

My heart thudded against my ribcage. I was happy to see him, but why did he come?

He took off his coat and unwrapped his scarf, revealing his mouth and his beard. The hat came off, and his hair stuck up in places. His skin looked pale, with dark circles under his eyes.

“Kate told me where you were,” he said. “I was worried about you.”

My sister, the traitor. I made a mental note to scold her the next time we talked.

He untied his boots and dropped them to the floor with a thud. The heat and his nearness made me light-headed. He worried about me, and drove into a blizzard to find me.

Adam crossed his arms and looked me over. A long-sleeved flannel shirt clung to his chest and arms. Faded jeans outlined his thighs. I’d seen those clothes draped over my furniture and on my bedroom floor.

The fire crackled, sending a cinder into the air that fizzled on the hearth.

I crossed my arms and straightened my spine. I had stubborn moments, but nothing compared to Adam’s pigheadedness. We could stand here for a week staring each other down.

Adam licked his lips, but I tried to keep my emotions in check. If those lips came anywhere near me, we’d end up in bed. But I couldn’t send him back into the storm, and he knew it.

A slow grin spread over his face.

“You gonna talk to me?” he asked.

“I suppose I have to.”

“So tell me something.” His mouth quirked. “How big is the bed in this place?”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Soccergypsy on Goodreads wrote:

"...This tale was able to be both genuinely sweet and feverishly hot. The tender romance was endearing and the erotica oh-so-enticing."

avid reader on Amazon wrote:

"This is a good make up story. Both characters are likable and the author gives us just enough background to give this story a bit of meat. The sex is very well done and quite hot. The actual making up is understated and not drama laden...I could feel the love coming off the pages."

Melanie S. on Amazon wrote:

"Grant and Adam are both believable and likable. They work through things the way committed lovers do. They consider things from the point of view of a life together, rather than 'what's in it for me'. Their love/sex scenes are beautiful, sweet and scorchingly hot, perfectly described by the author's spare and evocative prose. Robin Stone writes some of the most moving and engaging erotica out there, and The Carpenter is one of her very best."