Colin Hartman can now add college to his list of failures. On the coast-to-coast trek home from California, Colin stops at a gas station in the Nevada desert, and can’t help noticing the guy in tight jeans looking like he just stepped off a catwalk. When he realizes Catwalk is stranded, Colin offers a ride.
Riley only intended to take a short ride in Colin's Jeep to the Grand Canyon. But one detour leads to another until they finally find themselves tumbling into bed together. However there are shadows in Riley's eyes that hide a troubled past. And when those shadows threaten to bury the man whom Colin has fallen in love with, he vows to get Riley the help he needs. For once in his life, quitting isn't an option…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Is that your real name? Riley Sorenson? I really like it. Suits you. Okay, that was probably a really bad way to start an e-mail and you most likely get a lot of creepy people contacting you. Let me start over. My name is Landry Jacobs (which isn’t nearly as cool of a name as Riley Sorenson, just saying), and this is going to seem really weird to write to you about this. But my therapist said I need to start closing chapters and opening up new ones.
I guess this e-mail is a little bit of both.
See, I had a crush on my best friend forever. But he’s a guy. And I like guys. I mean, I like girls, too, but I want to kiss guys. Anyway, my guy friend was straight (or so I thought— hold on, I’m getting to that) and I made up a fake boyfriend so I didn’t have to date other guys.
And well . . . you were the fake boyfriend. I found your picture online and you have a nice face (excellent bone structure) and I thought, what the hell? And I called you Jud and showed my friend Justin pictures of you.
And it was all fine until Justin told me he likes guys too, as in, wants to kiss guys, and in particular wanted to kiss me. And then I had to confess you were fake so I could finally kiss the boy of my dreams.
So . . . that’s it. Here’s a picture of us.
That’s what Justin does. He takes pictures. He’s good, right? Anyway, I wanted to say I’m sorry. Even though you didn’t know that all this was going on, it just feels weird that I used your picture and pretended we were a couple.
And I thought . . . well, I thought everyone can always use a friend. So, hi. I’m Landry and I like art and tattoos and hot guys. Want to be my pen pal?
I tongued the toothpick in my mouth, squeezing it into the small gap between my front teeth before shoving it into the corner of my mouth.
Leaning against the rack stocked with beef jerky and peanuts, I crossed my arms over my chest. I could have been out of here by now if this fucking gas station outside of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert took credit cards at the pump. Instead I was stuck in this shack, surrounded by overprocessed snack food, waiting in line to pay for my gas before I continued my cross-country trek.
I was heading home. To North Carolina.
Because I’d done what I always did when things got tough—I’d quit. I chalked up “failing out of college” on Colin Hartman’s fail list. A list which was getting a little too long.
I sighed, letting out a slow exhale. The guy in front of me at the counter wore tight jeans, some fancy boots that looked anything but functional, and a blue button-down shirt. Like clothes on a catwalk or something. I didn’t know shit about fashion, but even I could tell Catwalk had money and class. I had a little of the former and not much of the latter.
“Look, kid, I can’t have you loitering here.” The older man behind the counter scratched his beard, his eyes hard and judgmental.
“I’m sorry.” Catwalk’s back was to me so I couldn’t see his face. But when he talked, his voice shook and his left hand lowered to grip his thigh. His fingertips turned white at the pressure. “But the truck driver I was riding with told me there was a bus stop here.”
I stared at the back of Catwalk’s head as the fluorescent lights overhead shone on his thick brown hair. It was a deep, rich brown. I’d never seen hair that color, and I wondered if he dyed it.
The man behind the counter—his name tag said “Jack”—pointed outside and my gaze followed to a rusted bench. “There used to be a bus service that came here years ago, but not no more.”
Catwalk made a sound in the back of his throat like a whimper.
I straightened, and my elbow knocked a bag of peanuts to the floor. The smack as it hit the stained tile was loud in the small space. I picked it up and put it back on the shelf. When I raised my gaze, Catwalk had turned to look at me. And my breath froze in my lungs.
So Catwalk didn’t just have the clothes. He had the fucking face, too.
And goddamn, what a face.
The square jaw. The high cheekbones. The full lips and the wide, deep-set eyes. Perfectly arched eyebrows.
Fuck me running, Catwalk was model-gorgeous.
He blinked long lashes over brown eyes, studying my face for a minute. I self-consciously rubbed my hand over the stubble along my jaw. His gaze dipped for a minute to my hand, then he turned back around to Jack.
“Look, I can call a cab or—”
“Ain’t no cabs around here—”
“Or wait for another truck, or—”
“I told you I don’t want you loitering here—”
And that’s when I opened my mouth. “I’ll give him a ride.”
Catwalk twisted at the hip, his mouth open, his brows furrowed. I stared at those brown eyes and swallowed.
“Great!” Jack said, smacking his palm on the counter. “There ya go, kid. Now you have a ride.”
Catwalk hadn’t moved. He blinked at me a couple times, then slowly closed his mouth.
Well shit, couldn’t back out now. I pulled my wallet out of the back pocket of my jeans and gestured to the counter. Catwalk took a small step to the side, watching me as I stepped up to pay for my gas. I could feel his gaze on the side of my face as I handed over the money to fill up my Jeep.
And then with a nod to Jack, I turned to Catwalk. “Ready to go?”
His lower lip hitched, twice, like he wanted to bite it but resisted. “How do I know you’re not a serial killer or something?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Jack groaned.
I shot him a glare. He rolled his eyes and sat down on a stool, flipping open a magazine with a girl in a bikini on the front. Not my type of magazine.
I turned back to Catwalk. “You can check my Jeep for heads. But other than that, I guess you’re just going to have to take my word for it that I have no plans to kill you and dismember your body and leave pieces scattered in the woods.”
His left hand gripped his thigh again, in what I could already see was Catwalk’s nervous gesture. Damn, I was noticing a lot about him. He was probably straight as an arrow, too. Although those jeans were pretty damn tight.
“That was a pretty specific list of all the things you’re not going to do to me.”
I opened my mouth to snap back until I saw a small twitch at the corner of his lips, like the beginning of a smile. He was putting me on, the hot little fucker. I cocked my head. “How do I know you’re not a serial killer?”
His gaze roamed my arms and chest and then his eyes met mine again. “I think I’d have a hard time overpowering you.”
We were about the same height, but I definitely had the weight advantage in muscle. Actually, Catwalk looked downright skinny. I pointed a finger at him. “Never underestimate the thinner guys, man. They can be scrappy.”
That twitch turned into a twist until a grin cut through the nervousness. A beautiful, sexy grin. “Okay.”
My gaze shot to his. “What?”
He nodded, his face set like he’d made a decision. “Okay, I . . . I’d like to ride with you.”
“Great.” I shoved my wallet back in my pocket. “Let’s go, then.”
I started walking, and I knew he was following me from the sound of his steps. The bell over the door rang as I opened it and again when it slammed shut behind us. I was more aware of the condition of my beat-up green Jeep, which I called Butch, now that I had Catwalk with me. And were there about five more rust spots on it than when I walked into that convenience store?
I glanced over my shoulder at Catwalk, wondering if he was looking at my poor Butch with horror, but his eyes were on the road, his gaze pensive.
He had a black leather duffel with two straps, which he held over his shoulder with his fingers like a suit jacket. A messenger bag slapped against his hip as he walked, the shoulder strap crossing his chest. I motioned to his bags with my chin. “That all you got?”
He sucked in a breath and his nod was jerky. “Yeah.”
I shrugged. “All right, just throw it in the back with my shit.”
He opened up the passenger door and tossed his duffel into the backseat. Then he slid into the car, set his messenger bag at his feet, and clicked his seat belt in place. As I got settled in the driver’s seat, my eyes were drawn to his hands. They were thin and bony, veins visible. They were almost delicate, which seemed odd on a man. I had always been into guys that looked more like me. Broad and muscular. Chest hair was a plus.
But Catwalk . . . he was almost pretty. He had the kind of face that if one feature was changed slightly—thinner lips, weaker chin, narrow eyes—it would have thrown everything off and made him ugly.
The way he was put together, though . . . he had a face I couldn’t look away from. But I had to, because I had to drive, and I didn’t want him to think I was a creepy serial killer.
I turned the key and pressed the clutch so that Butch rumbled to life. I turned to my passenger, who sat still and silent, staring straight ahead at the windshield.
I turned down the radio, which was blaring a country music station. “What’s your name?”
He turned to me, that grin playing at his lips. “My name is Riley. And I’m a Pisces.”
I squinted an eye at him. “You’re a what now?”
“Pisces,” he said with a laugh. “The zodiac sign?”
I grunted. “I’m Colin. And I’m ready to hit the road.”
He leaned forward, a little in my space. “When’s your birthday?”
“May second.” I wondered how old he was. I was twenty-one, and he didn’t look much older than me.
His eyes gleamed. “A Taurus, then.”
“That bull thing.”
“Yeah, that.” His eyes stayed on me, studying me until I wanted to squirm.
“You ready to hit the road now, Riley ‘I’m a Pisces’?”
Riley nodded. So I put Butch in gear and took off down the road.
We sat in silence for about a half hour, the only sound the dull roar of Butch’s engine and country music softly lilting from the speakers. Well, one speaker because the one on Riley’s side was blown out. He stared out the passenger’s-side window the whole time. I snuck glances at his profile, still not able to believe I had a guy who looked like this in my Jeep. I was a gay hick from the South who was headed right back where I came from. I wasn’t really depressed about it or anything. Hell, that was what I’d come to expect from myself.
It was what it was. I’d help my parents at their restaurant, which is what I should have done in the first place rather than waste three years in California trying to be something I wasn’t.
My parents didn’t even seem surprised when I told them back in March that I couldn’t hack it. That at the end of the semester, when I made the biannual cross-country trek with Butch, it’d be for the last time. So here I was, blinking behind my aviator sunglasses as the May sun beat down on the black road stretched out in front me, disappearing into the blurry horizon.
“Where ya headed?” I asked Catwalk . . . er, Riley. Whatever.
He didn’t move. Not even a twitch to acknowledge that he heard me.
I frowned. “Riley?” He still didn’t move, so I took my hand off of the gearshift and touched the back of his hand.
He gasped and flinched, jerking his hand away from my touch. His eyes were wide as he stared at me. I tried not to act alarmed at his weird reaction. I held up my hand in a no harm gesture. “Hey, sorry, Ri. Called your name a couple of times and didn’t think you heard me. You okay?”
His mouth formed an O as he blew out a breath and relaxed his shoulders. “Sorry about that.”
“S’cool. Where were ya just then?”
He waved a hand. “Just . . . thinking.”
I cleared my throat. “So where ya heading?”
He paused, then squinted at me. “Where are you heading?”
I barked out a laugh. “I’m driving all the way home to North Carolina, Catwalk.”
His brows furrowed. “What did you just call me?”
I froze and my foot stuttered on the gas pedal. He was totally gonna think I was a serial killer. “Um . . .”
“Did you just call me Catwalk?”
I shook my head. “Nope, totally did not just call you that.”
“You totally did.”
I stuck my finger in my ear and wiggled it. “You need to get your hearing checked. Making shit up over there.”
A grin slashed across his face, quick and sharp, and then he threw back his head and laughed. When he lowered his head again, his brown eyes were warm and wet. “You’re so full of crap.”
I threw up my hand and let it smack down onto the gearshift. “I think you look like you walked off a catwalk with those fancy clothes, okay?”
He didn’t say anything for a minute, and I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. His face was soft, his eyes studying me. “You think I look like I just walked off a catwalk?”
I huffed an annoyed breath. “You don’t have to make a big deal about it. I nickname people, is all. Came up with that one in the gas station.”
“You think I look like I just walked off a catwalk,” he repeated, this time not as a question but as a statement.
I bit my tongue and nodded. If this guy was straight, he might ask me to drop him off by the side of the road. I waited for his next response.
“Guess I should take that as a compliment?” he said next.
“You can take that any way you want to.”
“Compliment, then.” He was teasing now; I could hear it in his tone.
I glanced over at him, and his full lips were twisted into a sexy smirk.
My cock twitched, and I jerked my head away. No, no way. He was Catwalk and probably straight and I was Colin the fuck-up and no way was anything going to happen. I gripped the steering wheel with both hands, thinking about NFL statistics while I told my libido to shut the hell down.
Riley didn’t say anything else, instead returning to stare silently out of the passenger’s-side window.
An hour of silence later, I realized he still hadn’t told me where he was heading.
And I didn’t ask again.
Well, I did it. I got out. I terminated my contract and I walked away with my head up. I told Trinity to sell all my clothes. I don’t need all that designer stuff anymore. And now I’m . . . well, I’m hitching rides. I can hear you in my head yelling at me, so calm down. I can take care of myself. I’m a big boy. I want to get this list done and I hate buses.
Right now I’m in a loud Jeep with this cute Southern boy. He said he’s from North Carolina. Oh Lord, Landry babe. You should hear his sweet little accent. Kinda gets me hard, which is awkward because he’s guaranteed straight as an arrow.
Here’s a picture of him. I snuck it with my phone.
See? Cute, right? His eyes are killing me. These pale blues under long dark lashes. Don’t tell Justin I’m sending you pictures of hot guys. He might come after me with a baseball bat.
How are you guys? I love the picture of you two that you sent in your last e-mail. Nice new Winnebago!
So anyway, I’ll see how long Colin lets me tag along in his Jeep. He . . . called me Catwalk. He doesn’t know . . . well, he doesn’t know. And he came up with that on his own because of my clothes. I thought for a minute he might have been flirting, but . . . nah.
And anyway, I can’t get involved with anyone.
I’m going to stop tapping away at my phone now, because Colin’s done pumping gas and I don’t want him to see these e-mails.
I opened my eyes and blinked at the bright shaft of light peeking through the middle of the drawn motel room curtains. There was a large stain at the bottom of the right curtain, and I stared at it, wondering how the hell it got there while also telling myself not to think too much about it.
I’d driven until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I told Riley I was pulling over to get a motel room, preferring to sleep in a bed than hunched over in my car. I’d learned that the hard way after freshman year. I’d stopped at a truck stop to sleep in my car, cracking the windows open. I woke to some drugged-out guy wiggling his fingers in the opening of my backseat window, eyes on my bags.
Now I coughed up the forty or fifty bucks to stop at seedy motels along the way. Sure there were mysterious stains and bad mattresses, but at least there were locks on the doors.
This was one of them, a forty-five-dollar-a-night hotel right along the Nevada/Arizona border. When I told Riley I was stopping, all he did was nod. We split the cost on a room with two double beds, the decision made in as few words as possible.
As I fell asleep, he’d been on his laptop, typing away, his face illuminated by the glowing screen.
I rolled over onto my back and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my palms. I actually didn’t mind the drive a whole lot. I listened to music and took different routes every time. Sometimes I stopped at stupid little trinket shops and bought something for Mama. She collected pigs. Well, not live ones. She liked stuffed ones and ceramic ones. Pictures of pigs and framed cross-stitches of pigs. Anything pig-related you could imagine, my Mama probably had it. She even had a cookie jar in the shape of a pig. It oinked when you opened the lid, which annoyed the hell out of Dad because then he couldn’t sneak his sweets.
Since this was the last time I’d be taking this trip, I should probably stop and buy her a real one or something.
I ran my hands down my cheeks and then looked to the bed beside me. Riley wasn’t there. Our room was tiny, just two beds, a dresser with a TV, and a bathroom. The bathroom door was open and the light was on. There was a mirror on the bathroom door, and reflected in it was Riley in the bathroom, shirtless, staring at himself in the mirror over the sink.
I squinted my eyes, feeling like a voyeur but unable to look away. I could only see the back of his right side. He ran his hands from his hip bone over his side, up to his armpit, then back down. He fingered his ribs, his mouth moving like he was counting them.
I’d thought he was thin before, but seeing him shirtless, I was shocked at how little body fat he had. Not in a Oh, that’s super hot way. But in a Get that dude a cheeseburger kind of way. His hip bones jutted sharply over top of his low-slung jeans. His collarbone was well-defined below his neck.
And yet . . . as he touched his skin, I wished those were my fingers. I wished that were me feeling the smooth skin, the muscle and bone under the surface.
I shook my head. Ridiculous. He was a guy who needed a ride. That was it. And I had to get him out of my head. It hadn’t been that long since I’d been with someone. A couple months or so. I’d had a boyfriend for most of my junior year back in college. But when we found out I was heading home . . . I just let him go. Shame, too. He was cute and funny, and his tongue was . . . eh, what was the point in thinking about that now? Brad wanted me to fight for him. For us. But I didn’t. It was easier this way than trying to have a long-distance relationship from opposite coasts.
That relationship with Brad was just another thing to add to the fail list.
I thrashed around in the bed a little, then dropped my feet to the floor with a thud, making as much noise as possible to alert Riley that I was awake.
By the time I stood and stretched, he was out of the bathroom, a shirt covering all that smooth skin. He leaned a hand on the dresser and stared at me, biting his lip.
I lowered my hands and scratched my stomach, now aware that I was wearing nothing but boxers and I had morning wood.
Well, fuck it. He was a guy, so he knew how it was.
His hair was damp, and I gestured to it. “You shower already, then?”
He nodded, still biting his lip, his eyes locked on my face like he didn’t want to look away.
“Can’t believe I slept through that.” I walked to the side of my bed, digging through my bag for some clean clothes. “All right, give me five so I can shower and then we’ll grab some breakfast.”
He nodded again. No I’ll get another ride from here. No Thanks for the ride this far. I wondered how long he’d Velcro himself to me and Butch. And then I decided I didn’t care.
With a fresh set of clothes in my fist, I walked by him and gave him a small two-finger salute, then closed the bathroom door behind me.
My shower took more like seven minutes because the water pressure was damn good for a cheap hotel.
When I walked out of the bathroom, dressed and running my fingers through my wet hair, he was sitting on the edge of his bed, reading a crumpled piece of paper. He shoved it in his pocket and then stood.
I was wearing an old set of jeans, which were frayed at the ends, a plain white T-shirt, and my boots. Riley, though? Catwalk was wearing another set of tight jeans and a sky-blue V-neck T-shirt that sure as hell didn’t look like Hanes.
I stopped and faced him, hands on my hips. I figured we needed to get a couple things out in the open. “So I’m just going to say this. I don’t care how long you ride with me. I’m heading to North Carolina, and you’re welcome to tag along. I don’t mind going out of my way to drop you off somewhere. I just need you to tell me.”
He licked his lips and his hand gripped his thigh. “I’d like to ride with you into Arizona. Then I can find another ride where I’m going.”
I cocked my head. “Where ya going?”
He hesitated. “The Grand Canyon.”
I tongued the inside of my cheek. It was a little out of the way, but truth be told, I’d never been there. After I got home to North Carolina, I’d probably spend the rest of my life standing over the smoker in the back of Patty’s. Might as well get some sightseeing done now. I never spent much money, so I had a decent amount of savings to make this trip stretch a little. So I shrugged and walked past him to grab my bag. “Cool, I’ve never been. Less than five hours, give or take. I’ll take ya there.”
I slid my sunglasses over my eyes and put my hand on the door. “Ready?” I turned back and he hadn’t moved. “Ri?”
That jolted him, and he licked his lips. “You don’t have to do this. I can grab a bus or another ride—”
I took my hand off the doorknob and waved at him. “Hey, if you don’t like my company, I won’t be offended. My Jeep might, though. It can be sensitive.” I cracked a grin to ease any tension. “But if you want to head there by yourself, that’s okay, too. Thought I’d go along. S’okay if you want to go it alone, though.”
I smiled to show him I wasn’t offended. Maybe he was a loner. Maybe he was meeting a friend or lover there. None of my business, really. “Forget I said anything. I’ll drop you off in Ari—”
“Thank you.” He cut me off, his eyes a little wide.
I paused with my mouth open. “What?”
He nodded sharply and grabbed his packed bag off of the bed. “I . . . A ride with you to the Grand Canyon would be great. If you don’t mind.”
I let my hand rest on the doorknob again. “You sure?”
“Last chance to change your mind.”
He grinned at that and I grinned back. Then I jerked my chin toward the door. “Well then, let’s go. I’m hungry and need coffee.” I opened up the door and waved my hand toward the opening. Riley ducked his head, a slight blush stain on his cheeks, then walked through ahead of me.
I did not look at his ass encased in tight denim as he walked ahead of me. Totally did not do that.
Okay, so I did.
As we checked out of the motel, I spotted a greasy spoon across the street. So we stashed our bags in Butch and cut across the highway to get some grub.
As we walked inside, a bell dinged over the door. I looked around, noting that the place was mostly half empty and a typical diner—pleather booths and Formica countertops. A sign told us to seat ourselves, and a waitress at the kitchen window waved to us over her shoulder.
I found a booth in the corner and slid into one side, while Riley took the one opposite.
I grabbed the menus tucked behind the ketchup jar and salt and pepper shakers. I ignored the sticky substance on mine and opened it up. There was a handwritten sheet inside announcing the day’s specials. They had huevos rancheros, which was what I’d been hoping for. So I slapped the menu shut and dropped it back in its place. I watched Riley across from me, perusing the menu. His brows were furrowed.
I tapped the top of the menu. “Hey, this isn’t a chemistry textbook, you don’t have to look so intense.”
He looked up, startled, and I grinned so he knew I was kidding. He chuckled softly. “Yeah, I just . . . I’m not that hungry, I guess.”
The waitress came and took our drink orders. I got a coffee and a large orange juice. Riley ordered coffee and water.
“When did you eat last?” I asked him, grabbing a packet of sweetener from the small plastic container on the table.
He shrugged and looked away from me, eyes scanning the diner.
I didn’t prod. I wasn’t his mother. Hell, I was barely his friend.
He drank his coffee black, and quickly. I’d barely had two sips of mine before the waitress was back, filling up his mug and taking our breakfast orders. Riley ordered a bowl of yogurt and asked if they had granola. The waitress looked at him funny, pencil hovered over her pad. When she didn’t answer, he mumbled “Never mind” and instead went with a fruit cup and an egg-white omelet. No cheese or bacon or sausage in it, either. Just . . . egg whites. The waitress kept glancing at him like he was going to grow a tail, but he busied himself arranging his silverware neatly.
When she dropped our orders at the window, I heard the cook bitch about separating the eggs. I knew Riley heard it, because I could, but he pretended like he didn’t, running those long slender fingers of his down his knife.
“You a health nut?” I asked.
I waved toward the waitress, who was hovering at the kitchen window. “You like healthy food?”
He blinked at me. “Yeah, I guess so. I’m particular about what I eat and how much.”
I ran my hand over my chin, my stubble rasping along my knuckles. I hadn’t bothered to shave. “Huh, well maybe you can teach me some things.”
He eyed me. “You look like you eat just fine.”
“Well—” I cut myself short, about to tell him that the only reason I was in shape was because I had to be to play collegiate football. Instead I just said, “I think I could eat healthier.”
He raised an eyebrow. “After you down that heart attack on a plate you just ordered.”
I laughed. “Sure, after that.”
We lapsed into silence until I spoke up again. “So . . .” I scratched my head. “Where ya from?”
Riley glanced up and dropped his hands in his lap. “Back East.”
I waited to see if he’d elaborate, because that was a pretty broad answer. But he didn’t, and instead blinked those wide brown eyes at me.
So I shifted in my seat and starting talking. Which wasn’t really like me. I was usually the quiet one, content to sit back and let others guide the conversation. But something about Riley made me want to talk and share.
So I did. I told him all about my parents’ restaurant, Patty’s BBQ. And how I grew up smelling like smoke. I told him what kind of rub we used on the pork, which cuts were the best to use.
I told him about my mom and her pig collection. I told him I rarely wore shoes until I turned six and had to go to school. And even then, I kept taking off my shoes and socks on the playground and getting in trouble for it. My dad threatened to tape them on with duct tape if I didn’t knock it off.
I still hated shoes.
And Riley was a good listener, too. He kept all his attention on me, occasionally sipping his coffee, nodding at appropriate times and asking questions. He acted like he was genuinely interested in my life. And it could have been an act, I guess. But . . . it didn’t feel like it.
I didn’t tell him about why I was leaving California. I didn’t tell him about how I tried to make a go of being a fancy businessman, but it wasn’t for me. How I would zone out during class and wouldn’t come to until everyone stood up to leave. How my last transcript had a horribly low GPA, along with a letter that I was kicked out.
It wasn’t that I was embarrassed, but Riley seemed more interested in barbecue, so I talked about that. It was a hell of a lot less depressing, anyway.
When the waitress delivered our food, I quieted down. Because the whopping plate of huevos rancheros deserved a moment or two of silence.
I dug in, barely looking up until I’d finished three-quarters of it. Riley ate most of his fruit and about half of his egg whites—cut into tiny pieces. He shoved his plate to the side and sipped his third cup of black coffee.
“You—” I realized my mouth was full and swallowed. I didn’t want him to think I was lacking in manners. “You done already?”
He eyed me over the rim of his cup. “Told you I wasn’t that hungry.”
I stabbed a piece of tortilla and swirled it in some salsa. “Yeah, guess ya did.” I took a bite. “So how’d you get to that little gas station in the middle of nowhere?”
He blinked at me and then slumped forward with a sigh, bracing his forearms on the table. “I hitched a ride and that’s where the guy left me.”
“Where’d you hitch a ride from?”
He chewed his lip. “California.”
I smiled. “No way! That’s where I came from.”
“Why were you in California?”
I cleared my throat and focused back on my food, gauging whether I could shove any more of it into my stomach. “I . . . uh . . . was in college there.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You left North Carolina to go the whole way to California for college?”
Yeah, I wasn’t hungry anymore. I dropped my fork on my plate, pushed it to the end of the table, and wiped my mouth with my napkin. “Yeah, dumb idea.”
His furrowed brows were questioning.
I took a deep breath. What did it matter if he knew? “I had a scholarship. Guess I’m pretty good at football and stuff. So when my coach in high school told me I was wanted at Granger University and they’d pay my way, I thought, okay then. So I went, but college wasn’t for me. I failed out, lost my spot on the team along with my scholarship, so now I’m coming home about thirty credits shy of a bachelor’s degree.”
His face softened. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
I shrugged. “S’okay. I have work back home with my parents, so it’s no big deal.”
“Are you okay working with your parents? Is that what you want to do?”
“It’s nice to help out the family. Been doing it since I was a kid, so at least I know what I’m doing.”
“So it’s easy.”
He studied me and I resisted squirming, glad when the waitress came over with our bill and his attention was diverted.
After we paid and as we were walking toward Butch, I squinted at him in the morning sun. “What did you do in California?”
He darted his head toward me. “What?”
“What’d you do in California?” I repeated. “Like, for a job?”
He scuffed his shoes on the ground. “Oh, odd jobs here and there, whatever I could find. Mostly bartending.”
He didn’t look at me, and his voice was low, a little too low. And I wondered if he was telling the truth or if there was some deeper meaning to his words. When we reached Butch, I placed my hand on top of the passenger door, preventing him from opening it. His gaze jerked to mine. “Look,” I said. “I don’t really care what you did or where you’re going. That’s your business. We’re practically strangers. I just want to make sure you’re not mixed up in anything illegal. Anything that’s gonna blow back on me.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Colin is such a likable character it just makes you want to keep reading more. I felt the depiction of Riley was realistic. After the first book in the series, I was worried about another road trip being repetative, but it wasn't. Very different characters and plot. Better than the previous book in series (which was still good). Well written. While deep and sad at times, this book was very enjoyable to read.
I haven’t read a Megan Erickson book in a while. I may have even taken too long of a break from Erickson’s writing. I say this because after finishing Focus on Me, I realize that I’ve missed her great books. I read the first book in the In Focus series, Trust the Focus, and loved it. It was one of my first M/M romance books. Focus on Me is the follow-up and didn’t disappoint. It had much of what I enjoyed from the first book, but had an appeal all its own that set it apart. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book was that I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I didn’t know where the relationship between the characters was headed. I know ultimately in a romance novel things work out. But Erickson doesn’t give up the conclusion that easily. The conflict that real, it was strong, and it was emotional at many points. Not only was the conflict raw and pulling me along, the characters had so much depth to them. It wasn’t easy to figure them out and they were growing until the very end, and probably beyond. Characters are one of Erickson’s strength and keep me coming back to her books. A nice surprise was how she tied this book in with the first book. While they both stand alone on their own, they way they connect was a nice touch. I think I see how this one will tie in with book 3, but I’ll have to see if I’m right once I get to that part of my TBR. For now, I’ll have to wait. I just won’t wait as long. Book 4 comes out in a few months!
Colin and Riley meet at a gas station. Riley needs a ride and Colin is heading out his way. Colin has failed out of college and is headed home to help with the family restaurant. Riley seems to be running away from his career as a model. Colin and Riley are attracted to one another right at the gas station. Colin is afraid to say anything since he thinks Riley is hot enough to be on the cover of a magazine, he would not want him. Also, he believes he is straight and would not be interested since he is a guy. Riley has a lot of his past to get away from. He also has a bucket list he is trying to check off. Thinking he will end his life at one of the stops - he is not very careful. Colin picks up on this and confronts him. Now that they are friends, he takes this very seriously. Riley and Colin fight and Riley leaves. Colin is depressed and goes to find some company for the night Upon return to the hotel room, he gets the surprise of his life! This is such a sweet story about love and loss and help. I found myself eager to turn the page. Every scene with Colin and Riley is worth reading. I could not put it down!
Okay. Okay. Remember when I read TRUST THE FOCUS and totally loved it? And then the cover for FOCUS ON ME was revealed and I basically stared at my screen forever? You guys, this series is quickly becoming one of my favorite NA romance series, like, ever. After reading TRUST THE FOCUS, FOCUS ON ME was everything I hoped for and more. I devoured most of it on a train ride to and from Chicago and sat huddled in my seat, flipping through the pages, my heart totally breaking for Colin and Riley. I can’t tell you how quickly I got attached to these guys and while I still haven’t cried reading a book…this one came close. Colin and Riley’s romance is steamy, adorable, heartbreaking and real. Erickson tackles some really serious issues (depression and an eating disorder), and while I can’t speak for the accuracy for either of them as I don’t have enough expertise, I can say that at least from my perspective, it seemed to be handled really respectfully. I especially loved that there wasn’t a magical cure (or magical healing love interest either, for that matter). I love this book and I love this series and I can’t wait for the next one. If you’re looking for some great m/m NA romances, I couldn’t recommend the In Focus series more. Diversity note: This is a m/m NA and both the love interest and protagonist are gay. One of them also suffers from depression and struggles with an eating disorder.
This is a sweet college age romance, but it's also much deeper. Like book 1, it's about a road trip, but instead of dealing with coming out as gay and the death of a parent, it has the hard issues of mental illness. Colin is headed home on the other side of the country and sees a hitchhiking Riley when he stops to get gas. This begins their cross country trip together. Colin is the athletic good ol' boy type. School didn't come easy to him. Sports and taking care of others did. He's close with his family and happy to live a low key life. Riley is the pretty boy with demons type. He's running from himself, but no matter where he goes, his troubles are always there. The reader takes the trip and makes the stops with the guys while getting to know them as they get to know each other. There are a few ups and downs and revelations along the way. When they made it to the other side, I was definitely hooked on this relationship. Megan Erickson does a great job of making realistic characters and addressing real people problems. And I have to add that I love Colin. He is the greatest person. He may not be a billionaire, but he works so hard and cares so much. No one could hope to find a better friend or lover. In short, I was moved by the story and highly recommend it.
Sometimes the Journey Home Takes an Unexpected Turn. ** Provided by Netgalley in Exchange for an Honest Review. ** -- MY THOUGHTS -- Judging a Book by it's Cover: A shirtless young man is seen through a rainy window or lens (or so it appears). No clear focus on this one, just on the outskirts of focused, but it makes the eye look harder to find detail and characteristics that may or may not draw us in. The synopsis is a little more vague that the first book in the series, no less interesting. Looking Deeper: First person POV, from Colin's perspective - except the emails... those are written to Landry from Riley. In a wonderful surprise, Landry's fake boyfriend is afforded his own story. The intro (prologue) was superb; LOVED IT! Although FOCUS ON ME can be read as a stand-alone novel, I'd suggest reading TRUST THE FOCUS first to fully understand the background and history between Landry and Riley, but the email exchanges are a fun treat to those who've read the first book. Colin finds Riley at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and offers him a ride as it seems Riley's been stranded. They begin an epic cross-country road trip, filled with detours, that allow to strangers the time and opportunity to become more - if they allow it. Once again, Ms. Erickson delivers a story packed full of raw and turbulent emotions while throwing some fun elements and quirks into the mix. The chemistry between Colin and Riley was not quite as magnetic as Justin and Landry's, in my opinion, but it was still good. Speaking of... Jus and Lan do have a few scenes in this book other than the emails that Ri send to Lan. There were not a lot of significant secondary characters, other than them, but Jess is a wonderful addition to the cast - providing a little insight and advice as only a sibling can. The plot was pretty good and it flowed quickly and smoothly. There were several conflicts along the way, but many of them were only patched if not ignored. The predictability was relatively minimal. There is not an "Epilogue" persay; however, the last chapter does serve and read as a closing document. ---------------------------------------------------------- Heat Level: 3.75 ~ Score: 4.0 ~ Stars: 4 ----------------------------------------------------------
I want to thank Intermix for providing me with a copy of this book to read and give an honest review. Receiving this book for free has in no way altered my opinion or review. I am a true fan of Erickson. I loved her Bowler series. And I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Trust the Focus. So given the opportunity to read about another of her smexy couples, I jumped on it. And I was not disappointed. This book was sweet and at the same time addresses issues that are so much more prominent in society than most think. I really love Colin. He's sweet and he's focused. He knows what he can and can't do, and college is one of those can't dos. He sees himself as a quitter, but deep down he wants to find that one thing that he sticks with. When he crosses paths with Riley at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, he finds his chance. Riley is everything Colin thinks he can't have. Why would a guy who looks like he's stepped off the catwalk want a Southern boy who can't even finish college? And Riley is running away. He's running away to find something that will make him feel again. Everything he tries seems to fail him, except for Colin. This story touches on mental illness and eating disorders, things that are not necessarily easy to deal with. And yet Colin wants to stick with Riley and help him through whatever hard times he is to endure, because that's what you do for those you love. I will say the romance was a bit quick for me in this book. I felt like the characters really needed to get to know each other better. In the short time they spent together. I did like how their secrets were revealed to each other, although Colin was much more open about who he was than Riley. There was quite a bit of angst in the book, with both guys doubting that the other could love them back the same way. The theme through this book: Unconditional Love. And you feel it. You see it with Colin and his sibling. You see it with Riley's parents. And you see it with how Colin devotes himself totally to Riley. If you were a fan of Megan's first book in this series, or are a fan of her writing in general, you will not be disappointed with this love story.
This is an emotional and sexy story of two men, finding each other on the road to their uncertain futures. Colin has quit school and is heading home. Along the way he picks up Riley, a hitchhiker with one goal - to get to the ocean, while hitting a few landmarks along the way. The attraction between them is visceral and it's not long before they are taking advantage of their alone time together. But Riley has problems, and they aren't the kind that Colin can fix. Will they be too much for this new couple to handle? I really enjoyed this story. It's the second in a series, and has a more emotional kick to it, with the topic of depression and its effects a key part of the plot. The story is told from Colin's point of view, with the occasional voice of Riley heard through his letters to Landry (a character from the first book in the series, Trust the Focus). It's obvious to the reader, and to Colin, that Riley is having issues. He's happy one moment, quiet the next and it's clear that things are not going well for him though he tries to hide his emotions from Colin. He uses sex as a distraction, one that Colin isn't above participating in and the result is some hot and heavy scenes between them. But there comes a point in the story where the Colin knows that sex isn't going to solve Riley's problems and makes some decisions that have a key effect on their new and burgeoning relationship. At times, this was definitely a tearjerker, and I felt for Riley in his depression. I thought the way the topic was handled was very adept and that the story went along a realistic path for Colin and Riley in terms of how it affected their relationship. Seeing as it's a romance, we get our happy ending of course, but with the reality that there is no magic fix for mental illness and that patience, love and understanding will be needed for their relationship to last. There were some nice cameos of Justin and Landry from the first book in the series too. 4 stars for this touching and emotional story.
Colin Hartman is officially done with the college experience. And by officially done he means he has officially dropped out. Schoolwork was never his strong suit and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t focus enough of his classes to maintain his grades. And without good grades, no football. And without football, no scholarship. So yeah. He’s moving on to his next stage in life. That next step would be travelling back across country and helping his parents manage their successful restaurant. But his plans are slightly delayed when he meets Catwalk (his nickname for this model-like creature) at a gas station. Riley (Catwalk) thought the trucker giving him a ride was dropping him off at the next bus stop. Unfortunately, the gas station hasn’t been on the bus route in ages and Riley is stuck. Until Colin offers him a ride in his old Jeep. With so very few options, Riley takes Colin up on his offer. Riley is obviously searching for something and Colin is in no hurry to get home so what starts out as a single ride becomes an extended cross country trip. Day by day their relationship grows. And destination by destination Colin realizes that even though Riley is bright and fun and loving, there is also a dark side that becomes prominent as the days go by. With every stop Riley seems to become more disenchanted, disappointed and emotionally unstable. Colin realizes there is something wrong but can't quite pinpoint what it is. What he does know is that Riley needs help. This was a beautiful and emotionally realistic love story. Colin is such a normal guy. He just wants to bring home a paycheck and live his life. Finding love along the way is a bonus that he'll happily embrace. And Riley? Riley is searching for something that will ease the darkness that is becoming increasingly difficult to keep at bay. Colin brings him moments of brightness but it isn't enough. In the end, Colin has to learn that he is strong enough to help the guy he's fallen in love with and Riley needs to learn that he has the strength to help himself. Megan Erickson's empathetic portrayal of Riley's mental illness was spot on so it's no surprise that this story has its dark moments. But it's not so dark that there is no hope. Colin brings stability and earnestness to the story. And if you read Trust the Focus, you will love how Landry and Justin factor into Colin and Riley's eventual happy ending. I first fell in love with Megan Erickson when I read Make It count, the first in her Bowler University series. I love each of her books more than the last. Focus on Me is by far my favorite and I can't recommend it enough. Nat
This is the second book in the In Focus series and it is absolutely as emotionally charged and gripping as the first (Trust the Focus). This m/m love story deals with issues that affect people of all backgrounds and is a great lesson in trust, hope, and the power of love. Colin and Riley first meet in a convenient store/gas station of all places and start a cross country journey that will change both their lives most definitely for the better. This is a great book and one I highly recommend.