Tattoo artist Cory Easton has worked long enough at Raw Ink to know, just by looking at a dude, what his body art reveals, what makes him tick, what even makes him scared. Until he meets the quiet and remote Jude York—so unreadable, so unreachable, and so unlike anyone else, he can’t help but arouse Cory’s curiosity.
As captivating and complex as his ink, Jude is a mystery—and Cory’s falling fast and hard under his spell. Against his better judgment to steer clear.
The rumors of Jude’s past overshadow him—whispers of prison and an unmentionable secret that’s kept him in the protective shadows of a local motorcycle club. As Cory probes deeper, he wonders how much he really wants to know. Especially since Jude has awakened something inside him that has been buried too long—and has him feeling completely alive for the first time in forever…
Includes an excerpt of Christina Lee’s Two of Hearts.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I swallowed past the lump in my throat and leaned over to pat Chopper, the dog I’d inherited a couple of months ago from Joe, my latest asshole boyfriend. The dude skipped town without him and I didn’t have it in me to drive him to the pound.
What a damn sucker I was, because the mutt had a mind of his own, didn’t obey commands for shit, and was demanding as hell. He got along well with my older dog, Ace, when he wasn’t jockeying for position and trying to hog all the attention. Damn needy pain in the ass.
He was getting restless while I was stopped to take another swig from my water bottle. This had become my morning routine. I’d walk Chopper and Ace a couple of miles around town and always end up at Washington Park. My eyes couldn’t help but wander to the bowl, where the skaters from the hood hung out. And without fail my gaze was immediately drawn to him.
Like a damn weed to the sun. Because I’d give my left nut that Jude York was as straight as they come.
I whistled through my teeth as his lean and hard body sailed high, his knees bent in flawless formation. He landed smoothly on the far wall of the ramp, his skateboard gliding effortlessly along the curved cement.
My back was on fire again, so I readjusted myself on the uncomfortable wooden bench. Staying past last call at the bar would do that to you. At least that’s what I told myself. But deep down I knew it was due to my injury, which would always be a bleak reminder of that one tragic night.
Ignoring the discomfort, my gaze again slid beyond the statuesque trees. Jude was beautiful when he rode. Graceful and strong, the muscles in his legs taut as he climbed those hills. I never noticed him talking to the other skaters, other than with a nod, as if it was an unspoken agreement that he was simply there to do his thing.
I had no clue whether or not he knew that I watched. Might kick my ass if he found out. I always had my dogs with me, so it was a decent excuse. I’d sit on this bench, hide behind my dark shades and trusty knit cap, and refill my water bottle at the fountain behind me.
Rumor had it that Jude moved here to make a fresh start. Others said he was hiding from his past. I’d seen him around for months now, either skating in the bowl or working in the back of the shop at the Board Room. Most recently he had walked into Raw Ink, and scrolled through the portfolios in our waiting room, considering a new addition to his ink.
I’d walked a customer up front that afternoon, my gaze immediately drawn to his long fingers, rough calluses, as they flipped through the pages. Jessie gave me a look from behind the front counter. A look that told me she was just as intrigued.
Dex, another tattoo artist who spent one too many nights at the local bars, said he heard Jude was a transplant from out west. Said there was talk of a secret past, maybe some jail time, though he was hard-pressed to find anybody who had actually spoken to the guy.
Could be because Jude was quiet, kept to himself, and rarely made eye contact. But the combo of his dreads and sleeves of ink made him look threatening—hard around the edges—and that made some folks around here anxious. Add the fact that there was a darkness in his eyes, and that he seemed almost hyperaware of his surroundings. People figured he had a lot to hide.
But I didn’t see it that way. Maybe he didn’t want anyone to get close, so he performed the part. I played a role, too. After David left me three years ago, I applied for the job at Raw Ink. So little did Jude know, his darkness—which I assumed must be rooted in a pain similar to mine—only drew me nearer.
Besides, I could only imagine what had been said around town about me. I was openly gay, but understood all too well about keeping secrets. I figured Jude was a decent but silent guy, and had good reason for it.
At least that was the fantasy I kept about him in my head. Fuck, I was pathetic. But plenty of straight boys had filled my deluded brain over the years, none nearly as mysterious as him.
Hadn’t I learned early on that it was impossible to bend a straight arrow? Especially if you didn’t want that arrow to pierce your heart?
I bolted up on that thought, not wanting to feel as needy as this damn dog. Or hard up for that matter. There was plenty of fresh meat around this town anyway. Just not the kind I wanted or needed. Not anymore.
Chopper was thrilled that we were on the move again and he tugged hard on the lead. “Easy, boy. Let me get these leashes untangled.”
But as he lunged away from me, the leash cut across my shin and I tripped over the taut line, releasing my grip. Suddenly Chopper broke from my grasp and began running free. Fucker was going to get himself run over by a damn car someday. “Chopper, get your ass back here!”
At the sound of my voice, he looked behind him, his tongue wagging in an almost taunting smile. Then he kept on sailing free. Ace was barking and going ballistic beside me, so I tightened my hold on his line. As I began gaining on Chopper, my only hope was that he’d stop of his own volition.
Halfway across the grassy field, he spotted a squirrel in one of the trees and went wild, climbing halfway up the trunk, jumping and barking.
While he was distracted, I silently moved toward him, hoping to grab hold of that leash. But just as I approached, he took off again, following that same squirrel who’d taken a leap to the next large maple.
I was out of breath and now beyond frustrated. Remembering the treats in my pocket, I figured I could lure him as my final option—and it was now fast approaching. I shoved my hand in my hoodie, my fingers closing on a sturdy dog cookie.
When I looked up again, Chopper was headed straight for the skate park. Shit.
“Chopper, goddamn it,” I called in some last-ditch effort. “You don’t listen for shit.”
Unexpectedly, Jude neared the cement barrier at the entrance to the bowl. His board clenched in his fist, he seemed to be assessing the situation as the large dog charged nearer.
He left his board on the concrete walkway and stepped into the lawn. He squatted down in the grass, made eye contact with Chopper, and the dog changed course to sail directly toward him. What the hell was that about?
Some type of deep whistle emitted from Jude’s lips and instead of slamming into his chest, Chopper came to a sudden halt beside him. Like Jude was a damn dog whisperer or something. His strong fingers grabbed hold of his collar and he reached down to mutter something in the dog’s ear. Chopper sat down in the grass. Actually fucking sat down—I had never been able to get him to do that.
I became motionless as I watched them, even though Ace was eager to inch closer. At least one animal heeded my command. I wondered what it was about Jude that compelled Chopper to run toward him. I mean, I got the appeal, so maybe it was just pure animal instinct.
Except only a minute ago, Chopper was attempting to roam free, not be detained. The muscles in Jude’s forearm flexed as he stroked Chopper’s head and the dog’s tongue hung out in a happy pant. The little fucker.
I forced my legs forward because I needed to bring Chopper back home. I had a shift at Raw Ink in an hour. And besides, Jude had done enough. I couldn’t help wonder what made him come to my aid. Was he an animal lover? Did he have pets of his own?
As I walked closer to Chopper, Jude’s eyes lifted to mine. And for the first time I saw an array of other emotions alight in them. The most blatant being amusement, as if his irises contained a flicker of light. His lips tilted at the corners in an almost imperceptible smile and he looked so dazzling right then. As he held my gaze for the first time ever, something tightened like a fist inside my chest.
Shit, he was stunning. In that exotic kind of way. His hair was a mass of short blond dreadlocks, his skin inked mainly in black, and his eyes were the most gorgeous light green I’d ever seen—almost like cellophane. And now those same eyes locked on mine and held steady.
“What the hell are you doing, crazy dog?” I asked Chopper, reluctantly forcing my gaze away from Jude. “I’m sorry, man.”
Jude shook his head as if to say no problem. Even now, in this casual, inane situation, he was unwilling to speak. Had I not heard all the rumors, I might’ve thought that he was a mute. But Jessie assured me that he in fact had a voice. Used it to ask about a tattoo. But she’d said he was a man of few words.
I sprang into action because he was still holding on to my dog. What the hell was wrong with me?
“Chopper,” I reprimanded, kneeling down at his level. “Do that again and I’ll ship your ass back to your original owner.”
When Jude arched his eyebrow, I couldn’t help the junk that spewed from my mouth. The mouth he was now staring intently at. “My ex’s dog. Left town for a new job and didn’t take Chopper with him. What kind of guy does that? Anyway, wouldn’t return my calls. I didn’t have the balls to place him up for adoption.”
Jude’s eyebrows slammed together at my revelation. He was either perplexed that I’d had a boyfriend or that the guy had abandoned his dog.
When Ace cautiously stepped forward to sniff at Jude, he reached out with ease to scratch behind my other dog’s ears. I continued blathering because I couldn’t help myself. “This is Ace. Had him since he’s been a pup.”
He nodded and then opened his hand to allow Ace to lick his palm.
“You look like you’re pretty used to dogs,” I said. “What was that thing you did—that noise you made? Calmed Chopper right down.”
He shrugged, not meeting my gaze. A line of red crawled across his neck, as if embarrassed that I’d pointed it out.
“What I mean is, you seem like a natural,” I said. “Must have a dog of your own.”
His eyes snapped to mine and I saw a flicker of pain there, so brief, I might’ve even imagined it.
“None of my business,” I stammered, standing to my full height. “Thanks for helping out.”
He stood up, tipped his chin, and took a step back.
“I’d still be chasing him if it wasn’t for you,” I said, begging my brain to get my mouth to shut the fuck up. But silence had always been hard for me. I’ve always felt the need to fill up any quiet lags. That way my mind wouldn’t have the opportunity to go there, to that dark place. “He could’ve been clipped by a board or a car.”
Something changed in his eyes at that comment. Something that looked like sadness and regret. Like he could identify with that scenario in some way. His mouth opened as if to say something, but then he held himself back.
My heart was thrashing in my chest. Did he have a story of his own to share?
But then the moment passed and I realized I had kept him long enough. But damn if I didn’t want to linger longer. I had never been this close to him and I wanted to know more. To know everything. A ridiculous wish for sure.
He bent across the dog to hand me Chopper’s leash. As I took it, our fingers brushed, and I felt a jolt of electricity. I inhaled sharply and stared at him. His expression hadn’t changed but I noticed how his chest moved up and down at a quicker pace.
Could he have felt that, too? Now I was just dreaming.
I tugged at Chopper’s leash and reluctantly turned to walk the dogs out of the park. “Thanks again,” I threw over my shoulder.
“You’re quite welcome.” The shock of hearing his voice made me stop in my tracks. Not only because it was deep and rumbly, but also because it was distinctly British, and I was so not expecting that. “Aren’t you an artist at Raw Ink?”
I turned to face him again, trying like hell not to stare at his full lips. “Yeah. The name’s Cory. Saw you in the waiting room the other day.”
He gave a curt nod, like he was unwilling to say anything more.
And instead of creating another situation where I’d need to put my foot in my mouth, I turned and kept walking. My mind flashed to the day he’d been in the shop. I had never introduced myself to him. In fact, he never even looked up from the portfolios. But somehow he’d been paying attention.
“Cory,” I heard him mutter.
I sucked in a breath and twisted to look back once more. I wanted to see those eyes. But he was already walking away. I watched as he picked up his board, jumped astride, and rolled across the pavement away from me.
I was so keyed up by what had taken place at the park that I nearly floated into the shower, like I was on some goddamn cloud or something. How pathetic was that?
Even though I could’ve wrung his neck, I gave Chopper a good treat for actually being the catalyst that got Jude York to utter his first words to me. And what amazing words they were.
“Aren’t you an artist at Raw Ink?”
And then, “Cory.”
In that beautiful English accent that glided over my skin like fingers.
I was booked tight at Raw Ink today and then I’d be heading to my grandmother’s house afterward. Though she drove just fine, she had terrible night vision due to cataracts.
My grandmother was the only family I had left, so if she had to be out after dark, I tried like hell to pick her up. Since I drove a motorcycle, that took some creativity on my part, but most of the time, her trusty old Toyota Corolla got the job done.
I couldn’t help thinking about Jude in between tattoo appointments. When did he move to the States and how much time had he spent in England? I wanted to ask all kinds of questions but knowing how tight-lipped he already was, that would prove to be impossible. Instead, I imagined the way my name would roll off his tongue while he fucked me.
Yeah, I was really doing a number on myself since that day would only come when hell froze over. And even then, Jude would have to be something other than straight.
After my shift, I headed toward the door to pick up my grandmother, and waved to Emmy and Jessie on my way out. We had two receptionists up front today because we’d had such a full schedule.
“Hey, guess who made an appointment with you next week?”
I shrugged, not wanting to be late. Grandma always thought I fussed too much, but I insisted she let me drive her to and from her weekly card night with her lady friends. This had become our standing weekly date.
“Jude York,” Jessie said, and my shoulders instantly stiffened.
“Jessie says he’s British. Who would’ve thunk?” Emmy said, waggling her eyebrows.
I stood there staring off into space, wondering why in the hell Jude would want me of all people to give him ink. What exactly would he want drawn on him?
Whatever it was, I’d have to be in close proximity to him—to his skin—for however long it took. I was a professional for fuck’s sake. It wasn’t like I’d never been attracted to a client before. I knew how to keep it in my pants and get the job done.
“What’s your deal? Are you freaked about him, too?” Jessie asked because I hadn’t moved from the doorway and was gaping beyond her to the far wall. “You believe those rumors?”
When I still didn’t say anything she continued. “You hang out at the motorcycle bar for God’s sake. Can’t be any rougher than that crowd.”
“But you gotta admit the Hog’s Den serves good food,” I said, snapping out of it. I had Dex to thank for dragging me to that bar in the first place, all because of some biker chick.
“You don’t go for the chicken wings,” she said, laughing. “You like to look at all the tough and muscled dudes. Like I’ve said before, you love your beautiful assholes.”
Little did Jessie know that David had been the polar opposite. He was soft-spoken, lean, and submissive. At least in the bedroom. He liked for me to top him. But he just didn’t want to show any of that in public. And that was our biggest rift. That he’d continued to be deep in the closet.
“Can’t deny that,” I said, a little sharper than I’d intended. “And I’m not freaked at all about skater boy. Just got plenty of other things on my mind.”
Jessie’s eyes widened briefly and she stole a quick look at Emmy, who got busy cleaning the large glass window up front. She was used to my energetic, playful side. They both were because that’s what I showed everyone. But her news had unnerved me. I got my legs moving before I did something else to throw her. “My grandma’s waiting. Catch you later.”
I picked Grandma up from Rose’s house and got away before the ladies could ply me with questions and food. They had known each other for decades, had all survived their husbands, and were a lively bunch.
“The gutters need cleaning,” Grandma said, looking up at the tiny bungalow that she and my grandfather had raised me in since I was ten years old, after my mother died from breast cancer. Grandma was a survivor herself and without even speaking of it, I knew she would’ve taken my mother’s place in a heartbeat.
I’d overheard her talking to Grandpa once, her anguished voice confessing that outlasting her own child was a hell all its own. But without Grandma’s love and encouragement, especially after Grandpa passed from a heart attack when I was fifteen, I didn’t know how I’d have made it to adulthood. I had thrived under her care.
“I’ll do it this weekend,” I said, pulling into her driveway. She was getting up there in age and I cast the scary thought from my brain one too many times that she would die soon, and then I’d have no one. But I was good at staving off dark thoughts. I didn’t allow them to penetrate the protective shield I had built around myself the past couple of years.
Jessie always joked that between me and Emmy, our workplace had become a regular Pleasantville. That we were passing out happy pills at the door. Little did she know, I all but popped a capsule when I woke each morning, keeping myself intentionally busy throughout the day, until I crashed into my sheets at night.
“Did everything check out at your doctor’s appointment?” I asked after I followed my grandmother inside and accepted the peach iced tea that she offered me at her well-worn kitchen table.
“Yes, darling,” she said, placing her hand on my arm and giving it a squeeze. The same comforting thing she’d done countless times over the years. “It was only a routine checkup. You worry too much.”
She was the only person on the planet who ever saw this side of me. Well, David had, too. Before everything went to shit. Pretty much everyone else thought I was easygoing and dicked around a lot in between long and busy days of appointments. I liked the people I worked with and when I hung out with the crew from Raw Ink, Dex and I were usually goofing off, if he wasn’t too busy trying to drink everyone under the table.
“Did you have dinner?” she asked. I nodded because Jessie had ordered something in for the staff tonight. My meals pretty much consisted of takeout, and that kind of food was sure to catch up with me fast. Good thing I made it to the gym and took the dogs for a walk or run most mornings.
All of the artists at Raw Ink kept fit so luckily, nobody ever brought in any donuts or muffins and we never made it a habit to snack around the clock—there was never any time anyway. Our hands were always occupied.
Grandma smiled. “How are Chopper and Ace?”
“Chopper is still a pain in my butt,” I said and she chuckled. “He never listens. So darn hyper.”
“He’ll be a sweet dog once he settles, you’ll see,” she said and sipped from her glass.
“I hope you’re right,” I said, grimacing. I was just thankful that she hadn’t pressed me about why I had chosen to date that asshole Joe in the first place. I actually thought we had some things in common besides our sex drive. What the hell had I been thinking?
“What’s new at the shop?” Grandma always asked about the gang at Raw Ink and had always been most inquisitive about Bennett. I swear she wished he were gay so that he and I could date. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t even my type, but I’d admit he was pretty to look at. As was his smoking-hot fiancée, Avery.
“Just busy as usual,” I said.
“Will you be helping Emmy at the shelter this week?” Grandma loved when I talked about the girls at the shop and always inquired about Emmy’s volunteer work.
“Not sure she’d let me say no,” I said, shaking my head.
She was a huge animal rights advocate and was working on her veterinary degree at the university. Before I inherited Chopper, I considered fostering a dog from her shelter. Afterward, I felt guilty for not taking one of those abandoned animals, so I volunteered with her a couple of times a month to alleviate the guilt.
Emmy also lived with a grandparent, in a building that didn’t allow dogs, which was why she loved that shelter so much. Once I volunteered there, I was sold on never deserting a pet—there were enough lonely and abused animals to go around.
“Meet any nice boys lately?” There it was. I knew she couldn’t resist. Grandma was almost too involved in my love life. She had adored David. And I haven’t loved another other man since.
I shook her off. “Now who’s worrying too much?”
“Honey, I know you’ve experienced a lot of loss in your life and what happened with David really tore apart your heart . . .”
I held up my hand. “Can we please not go there?”
“Okay, darling,” she said. “I’ll just say one thing. Love is hard to find, but I know you’ll have it again.”
The problem was, I didn’t think I wanted a do-over. It just hurt too damn much.
After Grandma’s house, I went home, fed the dogs, and attempted to watch a movie, but got restless like I usually did. It was hard for me to be alone with my thoughts, and that’s what always kept me out late or on the move.
That’s why I found myself sitting on a stool at the Hog’s Den. The first time I came here was with Dex. He was hot about one of the servers, but he got his drunk self kicked out that night and was told to never return.
But I immediately took to the place. I came back because there was enough absorbing noise about riding and motorcycles to keep my brain occupied, since I was sort of an aficionado myself. Plus, nobody gave two shits about me. There was something refreshing about that. Sounded crazy for sure. But this was a smaller college town and I was beyond done with the gay bars. So lately, my nights were divided between here and Zach’s, where I hung with the other artists after work.
It was no secret that the Disciples of the Road, the local motorcycle club, owned the Hog’s Den, so you didn’t mess around in here. Rumor had it that they dealt in illegal activity, whatever the hell that meant, but I never saw anything beyond biker dudes playing pool, drinking shots, and filing in and out of some back meeting room.
Who knows, maybe I had a death wish or something. But I found the bar interesting and refreshingly different. It was a rougher crowd for sure and they didn’t put up with any bullshit, which is why Dex found himself out on his ass that night, after getting too grabby with the biker chick.
The Hog’s Den had a big-screen TV, a couple of pool tables and dartboards, and their hot wings were a favorite in this town. They also had roomy spaces out back and I never struggled to find a spot for my Triumph street rider.
The bar shared a parking lot with the Board Room, which was the local skate and snowboard shop next door. The same shop where Jude worked.
I didn’t take the Hog’s Den for Jude’s kind of scene, so when he walked through the door, strode to the bar, and tipped his chin at the bartender, I could only stare.
His fingers braced the edge of the smooth wood and as his eyes scanned down the bar they landed on mine. I schooled my reaction and then sipped from my beer to keep my mouth from betraying me again.
I studied the line of his jaw in my side view before averting my gaze completely. I’d be out on my ass faster than Jude’s aerial tricks if these guys thought I was checking out another dude.
The thing about this place was, as soon as you became a regular, nobody questioned you. But I had to prove my chops first. I’d done some of the club members’ ink but that still didn’t buy me a free pass.
I had some skeptical eyes on me that first month until I proved that I just wanted to hang, watch a game on the big screen, or play a round of darts.
But as soon as Jude stepped into this space tonight it seemed as if all the air had gotten sucked out of the room. I kept my breaths in check and stared at the TV over the bartender’s head as if mesmerized by the most interesting basketball game, despite the twenty-point lead.
“Order’s up,” the bartender named Vaughn said, motioning to Jude. When he turned his back to reach for the large brown bag, I felt Jude’s intense gaze, pressing in like a wall of heat, before he turned away.
Vaughn leaned over the bar to whisper something to Jude and he nodded slowly. As he grabbed his takeout, I tipped my glass in his direction, and then he was out the door.
“You know Jude?” Vaughn asked, his beefy forearms bracing the bar.
His tone was laced with a sharp edge and I bristled in response. Shit.
“Sure, from the shop—he’s getting some ink from me.”
Vaughn stared hard at me and my head flitted through a catalogue of reasons why he could be asking. He and I had come to an understanding over the past few months. It’d happened one night after I noticed how he’d been checking out one of the new recruits from the Disciples of the Road, nicknamed Smoke. I knew that look, couldn’t miss it. When a gay or bi man longed after somebody straight.
His gaze had met mine and he was about to spout off at me or maybe kick me out of his bar, when I gave him a slight headshake. That along with a look that said his secret was safe with me, and we’d sealed our agreement. It wasn’t like we’d become best friends since then, but we got each other now. He didn’t want the Disciples to know about him and I didn’t want them to know about me, either.
Did he also have a thing for Jude or was Jude somehow involved with the Disciples?
I held his gaze and forced myself to remain neutral. I wasn’t going to give myself away.
Apparently satisfied, he nodded and grabbed a clean glass to pour some brew.
But the message was clear: Don’t bring your shit to my bar.
I continued walking the dogs after lifting each morning. Some days I stopped at the park, but mostly I went a different route because I didn’t want to give Jude the wrong impression.
Yesterday we had walked past the Little League ball field on Briar Avenue and I couldn’t help but be riveted by some skaters gliding down the metal railing in the stands. It ended up being Jude and another dude I regularly saw at the bowl practicing their daredevil antics. Like many skateboarders I’d come across over the years, they took unnecessary chances, probably for the fun of it, which made me wonder if Jude’s risk taking was the thing that had gotten him in trouble.
But that would mean that I’d bought into the rumors. Or read more into what I had seen at the motorcycle bar.
The sun was beating down and the dogs were tired, so I had steered them under a large tree and took some pulls from my water bottle. Ace rolled onto his back panting openly, while Chopper lay near him, chill for the first time in a while.
What was that saying? A good dog is a tired dog? Hell yeah, when Chopper was worn out he didn’t struggle or challenge me—at least not as much. Problem was, it took a lot to peter him out.
The dogs needed water too so I wrapped the leashes around the leg of a nearby bench and strode to the fountain about a hundred yards away.
I filled the container and headed back to the dogs, where I took time replenishing each one from the bottle. It wasn’t an easy feat because half of it spilled on their fur but they were so hot they didn’t seem to mind at all.
As I got the dogs ready to roll again, I noticed for the first time that Jude and the guy he was riding with had already vacated the bleachers. Good. I’d hate to think we couldn’t both take up space in this town and not be casual about it.
We crossed each other’s paths all the time and I didn’t want him or anyone else to think I was watching or following him. Guess Vaughn’s question at the bar the other night had really spooked me.
I trudged through the baseball field and then out of the park past some vintage storefronts. When I heard Chopper whimper and then tug on the line, my head snapped up.
Jude and his friend from the bleachers had met up with a couple of skaters who were performing stunts using a park bench and some concrete steps. I wasn’t sure if the sound of fast rolling wheels on the pavement would always remind me of the straight English boy I had a crush on. But for now, it did the trick.
One skater was flying down the stairs and the stunt looked so dangerous, I couldn’t help but hold my breath. And then suddenly, Jude was following behind him and I thought for sure he was headed for a crash landing. But at the last moment his knees rose in the air and he landed pretty solidly on his board.
I didn’t know how these daredevils didn’t break their bones. But maybe they did and the danger of that impending doom was the thrill of it. I remember working on a dude from the Board Room last year, who told me that the bowl became a little monotonous for a skater.
He said the excitement came from figuring out how to master other obstacles, bonus stunts. Noticing the look on these skaters’ faces now, how they high-fived each other after a particularly daring trick, even made my cheeks boost in a smile.
And that knowledge helped chip away at some of that mystery surrounding Jude. He liked a challenge, thrived on skating, had maybe done this his entire life. He seemed alive when he was in the zone, almost blissful. Maybe it held his demons at bay, much like keeping myself busy kept away mine.
“Chopper,” I said in warning as he strained against the leash again. The stunts were fascinating to watch from a distance, but I continued on as if I normally would, heading toward the light to cross the street. I pushed the button to change the color to red as Chopper rotated and whined, watching Jude. “Goddamn it, dog.”
Once we got to the other side, I turned the corner and continued down the street past the Smoothie King shop, considering whether or not to tie these two up to the empty bike rack and get myself a decent shake. When I saw that the line was only one person deep, that’s exactly what I did.
I dug out my wallet as I walked to the counter, placed my order, and then waited as a guy I’d hooked up with a few months back made my drink. He was definitely cute and had a nice body, but now he just seemed too young and naïve. Besides, I had only been looking for a quickie after a long dry spell and it had worked out perfectly.
“Here you go, Cory,” he said, handing me my strawberry-banana smoothie. My ex–fuck partner winked, which told me he remembered exactly how I’d topped him that night. “Haven’t seen you around lately.”
He meant at the gay bar, called Racers. I had been a fixture there every weekend night all winter, before I grew tired of it. Hookups were fun but always left me feeling empty. And that was tough when you craved someone more permanent in your bed. And the only thing permanent I’d gotten from my last semi-steady lover was a damn unruly dog.
When I smiled back, his blush intensified and it was kind of sweet. “You headed there tonight?”
“Are you hoping I am?” There was an encouraging gleam in his eye but it felt kind of suffocating. I didn’t want to lead the guy on and that’s exactly what I’d be doing.
I shrugged. “Whatever happens happens.”
I walked out of the shop and my legs nearly faltered when I saw Jude crouched down in front of my dogs, giving them attention. His board lay upside down next to him and Chopper was practically on his lap. His tail was wagging a mile a minute, as if he’d just gotten his rocks off or something. That’s how happy that stinking dog was to see him.
I could’ve sworn I saw a flicker of the same joy on Jude’s face—the identical kind he’d just had performing tricks on his board—before it disappeared. And something seized my chest and squeezed tight. Jude seemed like such a recluse, outside of his skateboard antics. I wondered if he ever got lonely. Did he lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling like I did, before my eyes drifted closed and sleep consumed me?
“I don’t know what it is about you,” I said, without thinking it through first. I heard Jude’s breath catch as he twisted his head and stared into my eyes. As his penetrating gaze latched onto mine, I became so mesmerized by those light green orbs, I didn’t know if I was talking about the way my dog felt about my crush or the way I did. “He obviously sees something in you he likes.”
Yep, just digging myself a larger grave.
Jude’s gaze held as he shrugged. So I filled in the dead air again. “I have no idea why he’s always trying so darn hard to get close to you.”
I felt a line of heat climb up my neck so I grabbed hold of the leads to untie them from the bike rack, giving my fingers something to do. I looped the leashes around my wrist, and Ace happily stepped toward me. It was the other dog that was about give me the trouble.
I still felt Jude’s heavy gaze on me, like he was using the opportunity of our close proximity to check me out. His eyes scanned from my black Chucks to my jeans and up over my vintage Flash Gordon T-shirt. I had on my gray knit cap, the same one I always wore, and my Ray-Bans were looped over the front of my shirt.
Now I wished that my shades were covering my eyes so he was unable to read my reaction to him. So he couldn’t see how much he’d unnerved me. I desperately wanted to know exactly what he saw when he looked at me.
When I gave the leash a tug, Chopper unsurprisingly refused to budge and instead rubbed his nose against Jude’s arm. “Maybe he likes your cologne or something,” I said, sounding fucking ridiculous again. Why couldn’t I just shut the hell up?
The corner of Jude’s lip lifted fractionally and I nearly lost my breath at how pretty that smile looked. It would probably kill me on the spot if I were ever given the privilege of seeing it in its full glory. It might be as blinding as the dazzling sun.
“I read somewhere that dogs are responsive to scents,” I said, and at this point I was just making this shit up, talking myself in circles. Jude might flee just to escape my ridiculous commentary. “Maybe you have a dog or a cat and he smells them on you.”
Sadness filtered through his eyes for a flicker of an instant. He shook his head and I wanted so much in that moment to know him, to hear his story.
“Once upon a time, I did,” he said, gracing me with his gravelly voice at last. It was one concise sentence. And that had been enough for him. He seemed to think that more information would be unnecessary. Except now I wanted the specifics. I smartly kept my lips sealed shut.
He scratched Chopper behind the ears one last time before he rose to his full height, at which point I was able to catch a whiff of him. He smelled like the outdoors—moss and cedar blended together. That was the only way I could describe it. He was about an inch taller than me and all I could think about was closing the space between us and angling my mouth firmly against his.
But then I considered how badly my jaw would hurt when he punched my lights out. I glanced down at his muscled forearm and I took a backward step. The guy inside the smoothie shop was the person I should’ve been thinking about hooking up with, not Jude. At least that guy was gay.
And almost as if he’d materialized from my thoughts, that’s exactly who stepped out of the shop at that moment, with his small frame, pretty eyes, and yellow Smoothie King shirt. “Cory, you forgot your change.”
That must’ve been how badly I had wanted to get away from that counter and that conversation. I shoved the dollar bill and quarters in my pocket. “Hey, man, thanks.”
He seemed to be deliberating something else and then finally blurted out, “A few of us are probably heading up to Racers Friday night.”
I stood there struck dumb because he’d broadcasted this in front of Jude. Not that I hid who I was or where I hung out. Jude already knew that I had an ex-boyfriend who had abandoned Chopper. But suddenly I just wanted him to shut the fuck up.
“Cool, maybe I’ll see you up there,” I said to speed him the hell back inside.
When he hesitated and held out a piece of paper, I cringed. “If you want to see me before then, here’s my number.”
It was my receipt with his digits scribbled across it, along with his name. Jonathan. That was it. When I closed the receipt in my fist he bowed his head and batted his eyelashes at me before turning and heading inside.
I remained motionless but I could feel Jude’s gaze on me. When I looked over at him, there was something unreadable in his eyes. But it wasn’t disgust or embarrassment that he had witnessed a possible hookup. It was more like watchfulness or maybe protectiveness. I didn’t know what that was about, but it did make me wonder why he was here in the first place, outside of the smoothie shop.
Did he know we had headed this way or did he see my dogs by chance and stop to greet them? Or maybe Chopper had make a spectacle of himself as Jude skated by and the only thing he could think to do before the dog brought the fucking bike rack with him was give him attention.
I felt so uncomfortable from the silence and my convoluted thoughts that I needed to fill the quiet immediately. “Those were some cool stunts you guys were doing back there.”
A long silence stretched between us and then he tipped his chin as if in thanks.
“Jude,” I heard a voice call behind him. It was the other skateboarder, the one from the concrete stairs. Jude turned his head to look back. “We’re headed to the bowl.”
Jude nodded and lifted his hand in a wave. Then the guy looked at me and recognition dawned on his face.
“Hey, man,” he said. I had inked something on him last year. Some kind of Japanese anime skateboard dude on his bicep, I think it was.
“How’s the ink holding up?” I asked.
“Great,” he said, flexing his muscle so I could see my creation. It was moments like these that always seemed to throw me. The surreal fact that my art was on a person’s body and they were walking around with it permanently.
“Might consider adding something else,” he said as he began skating across the street.
“Cool by me,” I said, giving him the thumbs-up.
I met Jude’s gaze one last time as he righted his board and stepped one Vans sneaker solidly upon it. “Probably a good idea you’re headed the opposite direction or Chopper might want follow you home.”
A streak of crimson washed across his cheeks before he pushed off with his foot and sailed down the sidewalk.
Today was the day of Jude’s appointment. Normally I didn’t pay much attention to my schedule outside of having a general idea of what my agenda was for the day, but this one stuck out like a beam of light. Probably because I didn’t know what to expect.
Also because I knew I had to control my reactions around him to make him feel comfortable. I did not want to screw up my artwork over some lame-ass crush. I was more professional than that and now was the time to demonstrate it.
I was at the front desk saying good-bye to a female client who had wanted some blackbirds inked on her shoulder. As soon as my customer left, Emmy, who had been steering a tight ship of appointments today, said, “Be right back. Going to disinfect the station.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this sweet romance. Cory and Jude were made for each other. Through rough and painful times they supported each other, and the love was palpable once Jude trusted Cory enough to break his silence and finally tell him his story. I seriously connected with thse two men, and this story was both sweet and plenty steamy with a slow burn that I require in my stories. Perfect!
## I did like this book for the most part. The writing was superb and the sexy scenes were scorching. I wish it had been a little shorter. At the beginning it dragged a little with all their (h/h) encounters. Jude hardly spoke and that went on a little too long for me. Once it picked up it was a good read.
Although There You Stand is the fifth book in the series, it can easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone. I know this because that’s what I did. I have not read any of the other books in the series, nor have I read any of Ms. Lee’s other work, but I had no problem reading this installment out of order and would not have known that it was part of a series were it not listed as such. Cory Easton is suffering from a bad case of unrequited lust. For a straight man. Or so he assumes. And because aloof and stand-offish don’t even begin to accurately describe how much distance Jude puts between himself and others, Jude’s heterosexuality is a fair assumption on Cory’s part. Thankfully, it was the wrong one. While both Cory and Jude have some serious baggage from their pasts, as Ms. Lee reveals the tidbits about Jude’s past, his distance is understandable. But thanks to one seriously unmindful dog, Cory finds himself thrust into Jude’s life repeatedly – despite Jude’s best intentions. While the sex is intense, it is the actual development of the relationship between Cory and Jude that I enjoyed the most. Watching Cory navigate the waters of Jude’s past and present proved to be an interesting combination of entertaining and frustrating. Speaking of frustrating (terrible segue, I know), I’ll be honest – I wasn’t quite sure how to rate this book. I kept wavering between three and four stars and as I rarely give a half-star rating because none of the reviews sites I post on allow it, I was unsure of what to do. However, as I wrote this review I realized why I was so indecisive (me? indecisive? I know!). I often found myself as frustrated with the book as Cory found himself frustrated with Jude. But once I realized that my frustration mirrored that of Cory’s and suspected that that was the author’s intent, the decision was easy. Although I did find it harder to connect with the characters than normal, coming to the understanding that it wasn’t the writing but rather the manner in which the storyline played out made the 4-star rating a no-brainer because even though I was often as frustrated as could be while reading the book, it was Cory’s frustration I was channeling. I really enjoyed There You Stand and look forward to checking out more of Ms. Lee’s writing. I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Reviewed by Angela at Crystal's Many Reviewers!
Having never read anything by this author before, I was not sure what to expect. But, I can safely say that I absolutely loved this book! Cory is a tattoo artist who has been dealing with an injured back from a previous accident. He tries to put on a brave face but, his pain, and his loneliness, weighs heavily on his mind. Enter, the mysterious Jude. He’s British, quiet, and keeps to himself. Cory can’t seem to figure out why he is so intrigued with the mysterious man. I loved the back story of each of the men. It was well written and thorough. I loved that there was more to their relationship than just sex. It had the right amount of angst (Mmm, love me some angst) and sensuality to make the attraction believable and sustainable. Also, the secondary characters worked really well and I really want to go back and read more of this series. Overall, this is one fantastic story! I received a complimentary copy of this book for review
Guest Reviewed by Jessica and posted at Under The Covers Book Blog Jude York is a mystery. No one knows where he came from or even who he really is. Because of this it’s no surprise that he is the talk of the town and is known to be somewhat dangerous. Everyone seems to stay away from him yet Cory Easton can’t help but be drawn to this mysterious stranger. So when Jude goes to Raw Ink for a tattoo and requests Cory as his artist, Cory can’t help but wonder what makes him so special to get a visit from the enigma that is Jude York. Now, we all know I love sexual tension but wow do these two bring it to another level! Because when Cory and Jude finally meet, its sparks flying like the Fourth of July! You know how the room closes in on you and all you feel is your heart pumping and your skin buzzing? Your eyes are hazy and all you have inside is this pure animalistic urge to pounce, but you can’t because you’re in public? Yea, that’s how these two roll. Cory and Jude will have you biting your lip in anticipation for the next stolen kiss, the next brush of fingers, and the next look of raw passion. I mean my gosh I thought they were both looking at me and MY pulse was racing a bit! Christina Lee has yet to disappoint me with her ability to write such touching and realistic stories. She makes you feel like you are literally IN this book with her ability to create such likeable characters in such a lifelike world. Ms. Lee makes you wonder how it is that you can actually feel this way for two people that aren’t even real! Because as you’re reading, you WILL ask yourself, why am I panting? *ARC provided by publisher
I wanted to read There You Stand because I have enjoyed all of the other books by the author Christina Lee that I have read so far. I like her writing style as well as the romances and characters that she crafts. The main character Cory is easy to like. He had some rough stuff in his past, including losing his lover in a motorcycle crash. But he has started working at raw ink with some of the characters from the companion novels. He keeps busy to keep from thinking about his loss of live as well as most of his family. Besides his voice and out going personality, what endeared him to me the most was his close relationship with his grandma. He works about her health and she is always an open ear for him and encouraging him too find a nice guy. She has always been open to him being gay and always supportive. I has a really close knit bonds with my grandma and she also had a huge role in my life helping to raise me and being my number one fan. He has been crushing on the mysterious new guy to town Jude. He is extremely quiet and has quite the rumor mill that followed him into town. Cory has two dogs and walks them pretty much daily. On his route is the place where Jude skates all of the time. They get a crash introduction with Cory's hyper dog chopper who took an immediate liking to Jude. Cory feels instant sparks but he doesn't know if he is imagining the connection because no word of Jude's sexual preference was included in the rumors. But the two keep running into each other, at the motorcycle bar, when Jude comes into the shop to get Cory to tattoo his back. Which turns out to be covered in scars which is the first clue we get into the truth of his troubled past. Of course the chemistry builds but it is slower because not only is Jude quieter, he also is not wanting to bring Cory into his trouble. But the more they talk and keep finding each other, the more it is obvious that Cory isn't the only one feeling the attraction. This one is definitely up there on the scorching hot scale and though this isn't my first lgbtq novel, I do think it is most descriptive in the bedroom. They end up sharing their losses and Jude certainly had good reason for keeping to himself until he was sure because I didn't see the depth and complexities of his situation coming though I did guess some of the details. I was happy with the way their story ended and though I wouldn't mind another story on them I feel like the plot was pretty tied up and left them at a good place. Bottom Line: Scorching hot addition to series with two more characters I enjoyed.
I didn't want Cory & Jude's story to end! ~ Minor spoilers alert! 'He stood up suddenly and his hand darted out for me to grab. He led me down the hall and as soon as I spotted his bed, my heart climbed its way to my throat. “I still want…” he said, backing me up against the door, his hip pinning mine in place. I liked this Jude–the same Jude I fantasized about dominating me, the same assertive voice he used on my table at Raw Ink and at the quarry. “I want you to touch me all over. To show me what it could be like to have something…” “Jude– ” He placed his finger over my lips. “Don’t. I know what I want. And I want you. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted somebody more.” I loved this 5th installment in the Between Breaths series! Author, Christina Leealways delivers a fantastic story and this time was no different. Standalone series have become my preferred series type, and I always love when the series regular characters (Bennett, Jessie, Nate & Emmy) interact during the featured couple’s novel. 5 Fantastic Elements that really worked for me: 1. The angst! I sympathized with Cory tons as he worked through his escalating attraction to the British, mysterious and sexy as hell Jude. 2. I loved Cory’s unique True or False approach to peeling back the layers that surrounded Jude and how that process in turn led Cory to his newly found appreciation for the silence he experienced in Jude’s presence. 3. I loved their kissing scenes, swoon! I’m a sucker for lots of kissing so I was over the moon each time Cory and Jude locked lips. 4. Of course, their sex scenes paid off in spades and had me all kinds of hot and bothered. Thank you very much! 5. And lastly, I love romantic suspense and we got a bit of that when Jude’s secret past caught up to him in a big dramatic way. My anxiety level got a bit high for a bit, but the resolution more than made up for that. This was the first M/M romance that I’ve read by Author Christina Lee, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also really loved her heartfelt dedication to “Ski” who I believe was her brother. ‘This is for you because you showed me from a very early age that love is simply, beautifully, and unapologetically–love.’ This is so freaking true! So I have much gratitude for Christina getting me to read outside of my normal comfort zone and taking me on a romantic journey that I loved wholeheartedly. Up next by her on my WTR list is Two of Hearts (May 5, 2015), her first contemporary romance featuring a Between Breaths series regular Kai's sister, Dakota.
4 star The story has laughs, fear, pain, secrets, kidnapping, and heartbreak. This is a M/M read so if you are not into that kind of book this is not for you. This is Cory and Jude’s story. Cory works for a tattoo shop and is attracted to Jude. Jude is a skater but is quiet and reserved. Every time the past or his family is brought up Jude shuts down. Can Cory break down his walls to get him to see they could be good together? Can Jude trust Cory with his secrets? Can they try and make a relationship work? What happens when Jude’s past comes back? Can they win the fight to be able to stay together? I was able to connect with the characters and the story was a great read. I recommend this book.
Engaging and Entertaining M/M storyline: THERE YOU STAND is the fifth installment and first M/M storyline in Christina Lee’s adult, contemporary Between Breaths romance series. This is tattoo artist Cory Easton and skate boarder Jude York’s storyline. THERE YOU STAND can be read as a stand alone without any difficulty. Some of the previous storyline characters from Raw Ink play a secondary and supporting role throughout. Told from first person point of view (Cory Easton) THERE YOU STAND follows the building relationship and friendship between Cory and Jude. Cory is a tattoo artist at Raw Ink and his latest customer is the quiet, shy and mysterious skateboarder Jude York-a young man with so many secrets and deep seated demons that Cory has a difficult time getting past the physical and emotional scars. Jude is constantly surrounded by unsavory characters, and in this, the small town rumors and gossip continue to fly. It is only when Cory discovers the truth is Jude able to open up-a little bit at a time. Jude’s story is sad and emotional; Cory’s backstory is heartbreaking. The relationship between Jude and Cory is slow to build as Cory and Jude dance around one another for a good portion of the storyline-there is plenty of sexual tension between our leading heroes that does not go unnoticed by friends and acquaintances. The $ex scenes are intimate and romantic; there are no overly graphic or erotic scenarios but it is an M/M storyline with M/M sexual situations. As Jude reveals the secrets about his past, Cory begins to fall in love with the broken and intense skateboarder. The secondary and supporting characters include Cory’s friends Emmy and Tristan, fellow artists at Raw Ink- Dex, Nate and Jessie (Promise Me This #4) as well as the regulars at Zack’s Bar and Hog’s Den including Vaughn and Smoke, and Malachi from the Disciples of the Road MC. And we can’t forget Chopper, Ace and Patch that are the catalysts that bring together Cory and Jude. THERE YOU STAND is an engaging and entertaining love story with moments of emotional heartbreak and pain; mystery and suspense; retribution and revenge when Jude’s past resurfaces with a vengeance. This particular part of the storyline is quick to resolve and the exact details are never revealed about what went done or how it happened. Christina Lee writes a wonderful storyline with a happily ever after.
This sexy and emotional romance is the story of Cory and Jude. When silent and rather mysterious skateboarder Jude comes in to Cory's tattoo shop, he is torn between wanting to know more about Jude and keeping his distance, fearing that the attraction he holds for him won't be welcomed. But when it becomes clear that Jude desires him equally, things between them heat up. Only what Jude appears to be on the surface turns out to be more than Cory bargained for. Is the passion between them worth the risk? I really enjoyed this story! From the very beginning Jude's character creates tension in the story - he's silent - not brooding, but an enigma and though Cory is attracted to him, he is careful to watch from a distance, unsure of Jude's sexuality. Cory on the other hand is comfortable as a gay man, friendly, talkative and not looking for a relationship after the disastrous end to his last one. The story is told entirely from Cory's point of view. I confess that there were times I would have really liked to see what Jude was thinking and I missed having that perspective. However that's where the mystery comes in - not knowing until later in the story how Jude and Cory will interact. As Jude starts to open up to Cory, revealing small details of his personal life that only serve to intrigue Cory more, it's just a matter of time before the sexual tension leads to the inevitable, and the love scenes between them are steamy and well written. The story had some twists and turns that I didn't expect but that kept me totally engrossed such that it was hard to put the book down. There's a suspenseful subplot combined with the romance that adds drama and action to the story. At the same time, the romance isn't overshadowed by it and the feelings Jude and Cory have for each other by the end are tender and heartfelt. For a first foray into an m/m romance, Ms. Lee has acquitted herself very well. 4 stars for this engaging and dynamic story.
Solid M/M Stand-Alone w/o Cliffs. Score: 4.6 THERE YOU STAND (Between Breaths, # 5) by Christina Lee April 21st 2015 Publisher: InterMix approximate pages: 250 Romance: contemporary, Gay, M/M, New Adult / College ** Provided by Netgalley in Exchange for an Honest Review. ** -- MY THOUGHTS -- Judging a Book by it's Cover: Cover design- Overly blended, monochomatic design with inverted title. Kind of bland, not very eye-catching. Synopsis - Mysterious and intriguing with a healthy dose of a couple hot guys? Sounded good to me! Looking Deeper: It's quickly noted that although this is the fifth book in the series, there's enough information given to the reader to allow them to read this book without feeling the *need* to read the others, but I suspect that it would be more beneficial and fulfilling if you did. Cory's poor judgement in men has left him nothing but a guarded heart and an unruly dog. Jude's past is dark and mysterious. Both carry scars of the past, yet only only one's is visible on the outside. Add a few dogs and a MC with a dubious record and there's bound to be excitement. Both Cory and Jude are very likable characters with past tragedies, guarded hearts and longing souls. The secondary characters are solid and supportive without being spotlighted too much. Dialogue and interaction between the cast feels natural and believable throughout. The plot is exciting, mysterious, and emotional in turns. It is written extremely well, making for a smooth, addictive read. There were several conflicts throughout the story that added more dimension and dynamics to the plot. A moderate level of predictability sadly took away a bit of the drama and suspense element, but did not detract from the overall experience. The climax and conclusion were completed in a timely manner, leaving no cliffhangers. Overall, it was a very good read that can definitely stand alone. ------------------------ Heat Level: 5 Contains detailed M/M sex scenes, may not be suitable to some readers. ------------------------ Score: 4.6 Stars: 5 ----------------------- -- REVIEWER INFO -- Tina J / Happily Ever Chapter This review can be found, in it's entirety or reformatted by myself to fit the guidelines imposed, at any or all of the following locations (determined by availability): Happily Ever Chapter, Tangled Hearts and Boxer Briefs, Smut Book Junkie Book Reviews, Goodreads, Netgalley, Edelweiss, Amazon, BN, Kobo, iTunes. Copies may also be distributed to the publishers, authors and/or promoters - depending on requirements at the time.
An awesome M/M romance! The characters of Jude and Cory are fantastic and the chemistry between them leaps from the page. Jude has a dark and dangerous past and tries to resist Cory but the pull between them is too intense. This book is really fantastic, fill with a great romance, drama, adventure, and some sizzling sexy times. I highly recommend this one.
I've been anxiously awaiting Christina Lee's There You Stand since I first heard about it. I was excited she was writing a M/M romance, especially because it was part of her Between Breaths series – a series I've been a big fan of from the very start. There You Stand is told solely from tattoo artist Cory's POV. I really liked Cory and I found it pretty easy to connect with him. He's a good guy, sure of who he is. I enjoyed the honesty of his inner dialogue and the relationships he had with others. His relationship with his grandma was a highlight of the book for me, too. Jude is the mysterious new guy in town. He doesn't say much... to anyone. I couldn't help but be reminded slightly of Archer's Voice in the early chapters of this book, but it wasn't long before I realized there were only slight similarities. Jude's clearly keeping a secret and he's determined not to get close to anyone. But, Cory seems to wiggle his way in regardless. My favorite thing about this book was watching Cory peel back Jude's layers and get to the truth of the man underneath. I enjoyed that they became friends before anything else, even if the attraction between them characters was evident from the beginning. I liked how slowly things seemed to develop between them, especially since attraction or not, Jude was far from an open book, so I didn't want Cory to get hurt if Jude was just curious. It rang true to me. I enjoyed how they each opened up to one another and just how well they got to know each other as they were building something real. And the slow burn of sexual tension? Deliciously hot. Both Cory and Jude have pasts they're trying to deal with and they both made me sad when they were revealed. Cory's past undoubtedly affects his present day actions, but not to the extent that Jude's does. Jude's past is what drives the biggest drama and adds quite a bit of suspense to the story. I didn't exactly love the path it took at times, but I liked how it all wound up at the end. I think There You Stand was an excellent addition to the Between Breaths series. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the romance. If you've not yet read the other books in the series, don't let that stop you from picking up this book. It's definitely a standalone, with only very loose ties – in my opinion – to the other books in the series. Of course, you should go back and read the first three books because they're wonderful new adult books. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.