The Mechanics of Lust
I broke the rules and fell in love with my best friend. Newsflash—he didn’t feel the same. I had to stand by and watch him fall for someone else. Moving on hasn’t been easy since we all live and work on the same high country sheep station, but I’m finally getting there.
I’m building a new life, a new set of dreams, planning a different future, just me and my dogs. The last thing I need is Luke Nichols, the sexy, enigmatic, ex-husband of my nemesis, filling my head with a laundry list of cravings. Talk about complicated.
Luke is only in Mackenzie Country for a few months and I’m not about to put my heart on the line again just for a little fun. But the more I’m around Luke, the harder it is to remember exactly why Luke and I are a bad idea, the worst idea.
Things between us are about to go nuclear.Maybe I’m wrong.Maybe we can keep it simple.Maybe I can satisfy my cravings and hold on to my heart.And maybe pigs can fly.
This story contains references to the past loss of a child.
“Speech, speech!” A slow clap reverberated off the faded walls of the Oakwood pub’s back bar, which locals had affectionately named The Fleece.
I put my back to the wooden bar and watched a furiously blushing Gil throw Holden a withering, you-are-in-so-much-trouble glare before stepping onto the small stage. He surveyed the crowd from under the Happy Fortieth Birthday banner, which had taken four of us an embarrassing amount of time and a few beers to finally get in place.
I was amazed we’d managed to keep the surprise party a secret, but somehow we’d done it, and Gil had been stunned, tearful, and touchingly overwhelmed when he’d walked into the packed bar to a loud chorus of happy birthday that rattled the rafters.
As I listened to his emotional thank you to everyone who’d turned up to celebrate, including some of his friends who’d flown in from Wellington, it was hard not to be charmed by the man. Not quite a year in the district and Gil’s name was almost as synonymous with Miller Station as Holden’s. This was partly due to their gay-couple status, but also because of the run of free seminars Gil had begun offering locally on grief, stress management, and rural mental health. The result was a bar chocka with birthday well-wishers.
And I was one of them.
Cue the shocked gasps of disbelief.
Keeping my eyes on Gil, I shuffled sideways to let a man in at the bar behind me.
“We must stop meeting like this.” The gravelly voice sent a shiver down my spine, and I turned to find a familiar pair of blue eyes dancing over my face.
Luke Nichols. Dammit.
Luke flashed that wicked smile that always made my dick sit up and pay attention and just, damn my bad luck. The man smelled of Tom Ford, summer, and trouble, and I cursed the familiar tingling sensation his proximity always managed to induce in my body. A fact that only strengthened my resolve to make sure he caught my eye roll. He did. But the amused smirk he returned my way didn’t help matters.
“Well, look who the cat dragged in.” I tried not to lean in for another waft of that expensive cologne. “Guess there’s no show without Punch, right?”
Luke gave an amused snort. “I guess not.” His gaze raked over me, head to foot, before he turned his attention to the small stage where Gil was winding up his speech. “Ah, the birthday boy.”
I followed Luke’s gaze, pretending to listen while shooting covert glances back his way because . . . well, because I was an idiot. And because he looked so fucking edible. Dressed in dark-wash jeans paired with a crisp white shirt—open at the neck and with the cuffs rolled up to reveal the green silicone wristband he always wore—Luke looked annoyingly cool as a cucumber in the late January heat that had the rest of us layering on the deodorant.
Smelling fresh from the shower, Luke brushed a stray lock of dirty blond hair back into place in a way that made me want to shove a hat over my own shaggy, auburn waves. A woven black leather cord hung around his neck and disappeared under his shirt, and a pair of trendy black loafers poked out from the bottom of his jeans. It pained me to admit it, but the man was effortlessly chic.
Enough already. I refocused on Gil who was gesturing to Holden to join him on the small stage.
“Get up here, baby.” Gil drew Holden in for a long, slow kiss that had the birthday crowd whooping and wolf-whistling.
I waited for the once familiar knot of jealousy in my chest, but it never came. Wistful? Sure. Envious of what they had? Absolutely. But jealous still? I thought about it again. No. Maybe I was fooling myself, but I was going to take that for a win.
Luke leaned in close. “Does this feel as weird for you as it does for me?”
I glanced over my shoulder. “I’ve no idea what you mean,” I lied.
His lips twitched in an almost smile that I chose to ignore. “Oh really?” he asked sardonically. “Because here we are, you and me, at a party celebrating my ex-husband’s birthday, thrown by his new love who just happens to be your best friend slash ex. One could be forgiven for saying it’s a bit of a mindfuck, right?”
When I didn’t answer, he elbowed me gently. “Oh, come on. A little conversation won’t kill you.”
I huffed. “Says you.” I was being a dick and we both knew it, but that was par for the course as far as things between us went.
To be fair, Luke had attempted to build a bridge many times since our inauspicious first meeting. He’d arrived uninvited at the station the year before in an attempt to force Gil to talk and I’d been . . . less than welcoming. I might not have liked Gil much at that time, and I still didn’t know the whole story of what had happened between them, but to walk out on your husband six months after your daughter was killed in a car accident? The rest of Miller Station might have found a way to gloss over that fact and forgive him, even Gil. But as far as I was concerned, how much more did you really need to know about a guy?
Not to mention, getting all buddy-buddy with the man would’ve meant having . . . conversations and likely being paired up to work when he helped out on the station. The problem was that any proximity to Luke brought with it a minefield of potential disaster best avoided.
Luke was sexy as shit and his obvious interest in me might fizz in those wicked blue eyes. But he was trouble with a capital T, and I wanted no part of him for too many reasons to list. Although if I did happen to list them, right at the top would be the fact that my body lit up like a Christmas tree every time the man came within spitting distance.
Not since those first times with Holden had I felt anything like that.
Maybe not even then, and that fact just plain pissed me off.
Too bad I was done with complicated men.
D O N E.
Heart, humour and keeping it real.
Jay is a 2020 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Gay Romance and her book Off Balance was the 2021 New Zealand Romance Book of the Year.
She is a New Zealand author writing mm romance and romantic suspense, primarily set in New Zealand. She writes character driven romances with lots of humour, a good dose of reality and a splash of angst. She's travelled extensively, lived in many countries, and in a past life she was a critical care nurse, nurse educator and counsellor. Jay is owned by a huge Maine Coon cat and a gorgeous Cocker Spaniel
Find Jay in all the places: https://www.jayhoganauthor.com/landingpage
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