an excerpt

Chapter One

Isaac Boone twirled his pen between his fingers, slumping in his task chair. It was quiet in the ER tonight. Thankfully, the recent snows had kept a majority of Arbor Heights inside unless they needed to be out. The near-silent noise of the hospital in the background was white noise to Isaac. It was just him at the island with Dr. Brant Teller, who was finishing his paperwork, at the end of his shift. Dr. Ester had come in not thirty minutes before to start the overnight watch.

Frankly, Isaac could have left two hours before, but what was the point? There wasn't anyone at home anticipating him at the end of his shift, just an empty bed. Oh, the exciting things in his life. He sat straighter in his chair. "Hey, Dr. Teller. Did you get Christmas this year?"

Brant stopped typing, looking up with a blank expression from his laptop. "Yeah. I had it last year." He looked around, seeing who else was left at the nurses' station, then said, "We're driving to visit my parents this year."

Isaac gave him an encouraging smile. "Going to get the big, bad cop to meet the parents, huh?"

Brant shrugged, a knowing gleam in his eyes. "Spend the holiday. He met them over the summer."

"Nice people? They liked him?" Isaac liked hearing happy stories when it came to people and their partners. It gave him hope.

Dr. Teller didn't need a lot of time to consider the question, a warm memory taking the place of his distracted expression. "Actually, yeah." A cell phone buzzed in his pocket. "And that would be him now. He should be about off shift himself."

Isaac waved from his chair to let him answer his phone in peace. Not many knew Brant Teller was gay, but then, not many knew about Isaac either. Dr. Teller knew, and the head floor nurse for sure. Janet got along with everyone though.

Isaac moved to Arbor Heights two years before after a bad breakup in LA. He had all but thrown a dart at the map and landed in the closest town. He couldn't have been luckier. Arbor Heights was a very forward thinking, community-led town a few hours north of LA. Isaac didn't have any rainbow bumper stickers on his car, but he didn't feel like he had to watch over his shoulder for talking to the wrong guy, at least, not yet.

Dr. Teller ended his call and shut down his computer. "See you later, Isaac."

"Night, Doctor," he called in kind, watching the other man leave. Might as well do the same. The weekend was coming and he didn't have a clue of what the hell to do with it. Christmas was even worse. He had it off this year too.

Easing into his heavy jacket and gathering his things, he left the hospital. The blast of cold was sharp when he left behind the heat of the building. The drafts of cold knifed through his hair. He ducked to avoid the worst of it, not that it helped a whole lot.

Pulling in front of his apartment he didn't see the movement of the person in the shadows by his door until he was out of his car. He squinted in the bad light, discerning the form quickly. "Shawn?" What on earth was he doing there?

"Thank God," he whimpered. Shawn jogged in place. "Can I come in? It's freaking cold out here." He wrapped his arms around his body bringing his shoulders in, bouncing from foot to foot.

"No shit. Where's your jacket?" The sweater he wore wasn't nearly enough to battle the chill snaps of wind blasting around the apartments. He inserted the key and opened his apartment door, herding Shawn through first.

Isaac took his jacket off to wrap over Shawn, then led him to the couch. "Let me make you something hot, then you can tell me what happened." Shawn's teeth chattered and clacked as he nodded in answer.

The best Isaac could do was coffee, even at that late hour. Glancing toward the man on his couch, Shawn rocked with cold, shivering, to dig into Isaac's jacket as if he wanted to crawl into it and its lingering warmth. Shawn's ears and nose were bright red. It didn't really matter how long he'd been there waiting, it had been long enough to cause himself harm.

Isaac wondered what had happened, and knew Shawn would fill him in as much as he could. Shawn was a friend of Jasen's, Isaac's ex. Isaac and Shawn had always got along fine, and had stayed in contact even after the split. He wondered why he was here instead of finding friends closer to home.

Carrying the mug to Shawn, he sat next to him on the couch. It was a wonder the man didn't have icicles hanging off him. At least his shakes were slowing down. "Take slow sips until you begin to warm up," he cautioned. Shawn only nodded, his eyes closing in bliss as he took the first drink. He didn't even complain that it was straight black.

"I'm sorry for just showing up, Isaac," he said, curled up tight beneath the jacket, bent over the coffee mug like he was guarding it. "I left Tam."

Out of all the possibilities, that was the last he would have expected to hear. "What? Why?"

Shawn sipped again, blinking and taking slow breaths. "He's doing drugs again."

"Shit, Shawn, I'm sorry." Isaac thought Tam got that out of his system after his stay in rehab. He was really sorry to hear that wasn't the case. Knowing Shawn had been dealing with this made Isaac want to curl him against his chest and protect and comfort the other man.

Shawn shook his head, his lips pressed together firmly. "Don't be. This time I followed him. I have proof, pictures on my cell." Shawn stared between his hands, nowhere else. "I sent the information to his probation officer. I..." He swallowed, a hard dry sound. "He's in jail now. I was gone before I even made that call."

"Wow, Shawn." That took guts. "Wait. How'd you get here from LA?"

"I had enough money on me for a bus. I need to go to the bank and clear all that up tomorrow. Make sure he's off the account. I don't care about the apartment. It was in his name, his stuff."

"Damn, Shawn."

"Isaac," he croaked. He sipped at his coffee, determined to stay in control. "Can I stay here? I don't have any place to go." He ran a quivering hand beneath his nose.

"Of course you can," he answered while rubbing circles over his back trying to calm the shakes out of Shawn.

Finally Shawn's hunched shoulders relaxed, the weight of the world dragging him down, evaporating.

"Thanks." Silence filled the apartment between them. "Jasen was a dick to you, Isaac," he said softly. "I was sorry to see you leave LA." He looked over his shoulder at a quiet Isaac. "I know John and Blake didn't even think about it. They have their own world, but I missed you. You were a good friend."

Seeing Shawn was close to exhausted tears, he replied, "Hey. We still are friends. You needed me. I'm here. Never doubt that." He shook his shoulder lightly. "Tomorrow, things will look better. You won't be freezing your nuts off for one."

Shawn snorted, covering his mouth then wiping it. "Thanks Isaac. I didn't know what else to do, where to go. I didn't want to stay in LA." He moved, holding the almost empty mug between cupping palms. "It felt like a good time for a break, you know? Tam had his good points, but he was too close to the group, and--"

"It's okay." Isaac wrapped an arm over Shawn's shoulders and hugged him close. He didn't need more of an explanation. "Sometimes you have to make a clean break. Sometimes, it's the only thing you can do," Isaac said sincerely. "Are you warming up? Can you feel everything?"

Shawn wiggled his fingers then stuck out his legs and Isaac guessed wiggled his toes inside his shoes. "Yeah. They're all there."

"Good. Let me get you a pillow and blanket. I don't think another cup of coffee is a good idea this late, but if you need it--"

Shawn shook his head. "I'm doing better. Just thanks." He held the mug up. "I won't be a total slug."

"I know you won't," Isaac replied with an understanding smile. "A couple days and there will be daylight."

"I hope so." Shadows and sorrow darkened Shawn's eyes, a unique blend of aqua blues that had always reminded Isaac of jewels right out of the South Pacific.

Isaac clasped the mug, running water into it to leave in the sink. Digging through his closet, he found a spare pillow and his spring comforter. It wasn't Eskimo thick, but it would do the job.