Eden's Present

an excerpt

Prologue



He should only have been passing through town, not stopping, not staying, not getting involved. Stumbling upon a dive bar called the Snake Pit along the streets of the quaint village, albeit one with ironically biblical implications, was the last place he'd ever expected to find the erotic promise of a one-nighter with another man. But here it was and there he was, presented to him almost like the forbidden fruit--no pun intended--from a guy even Adam would have admired for his physical dominance.

Eden, Pennsylvania, was as picturesque and verdant as small towns came during the day, strangely dark and mysterious after the moon took to the open skies. He'd driven through it often enough on his way from his Pittsburgh home to Philadelphia, where he was in graduate school, but never before had he stopped here other than to refill the gas tank or his belly. Now it was all different. It called to him and he had the potential to be fulfilled in an enticingly different way--sexually, wantonly, a rare chance to indulge in flesh upon flesh with no possible ramifications. He wanted it and the hot guy who kept sneaking glances at him wanted it. The thickness present at the man's crotch confirmed it. So why did he feel hesitant about going through with it? It wasn't as if he had anyone in his life.

Not anymore.

The hook-up wasn't supposed to have happened. But a flat tire on the outskirts of town had changed all that as dusk fell. Thankfully his smartphone had found a local garage that could assist him and within the span of an hour he'd gone from stranded to rescued. And now, while he waited for the repair job, he had a few hours to waste. A beer at the local watering hole was meant to be just that--one--and a quick one at that.

He'd been toying with the idea of finding a roadside motel, even gotten a suggestion of the Paradise Motel from the grease monkey who had come to his aid, but really, wasn't Philly just another hour east at this point? He could be there by midnight.

Walking into the Snake Pit had changed all that.

He'd noticed him immediately--a dark-haired, scruffy, muscular hunk with a handsome face and a knowing smirk on his lips. As if he were two men--the one standing amid a bunch of other beer-swilling guys, no doubt laughing over some off-color joke, the other with startling blue eyes that seemed more interested in the activity going on around him. Including whoever entered through the front door. They had locked eyes just once and lingered, causing this visitor to nervously look away. But he knew he was hooked.

Feeling self-conscious as the stranger in town, he sidled up to bar and asked for anything on tap. He received back a Yuengling, the celebrated local brew. He took a sip of the lager as he leaned against the bar and distractedly listened to the music. It was country, a style he never listened to. Some guy and gal singing about being all alone and needing you now. Catchy, and it turned out, prophetic.

"You new to our fair village?"

The man, whose given name was William and who was in his last year of graduate studies in the kinetic arts, knew more than a thing or two about body language, body movement. The guy who had come up beside him had done so with surreptitious talent, as though it had not been his first time angling such an approach. They were a study in contrasts, with William being blond, fair-skinned and freshly scrubbed. The other was big, olive-skinned or maybe just tan, the shadow of his beard heavy. It was hard also not to notice the triangle of chest hair poking out from his open-necked shirt. William's eyes darted down to the shocking display before looking back up.

"Yes, a flat tire landed me here."

"Guess you're stuck," the man said, that smile returning to his sleek lips.

"Nearly repaired, I should guess."

His expression didn't falter. "Guess you'll be on your way, then."

"Soon."

"Hope you get where you're going, you know, safe," he said, then made a motion toward the bartender. It was a subtle move, again, a quick read of body motion. He ordered a fresh beer and suggested to the mustached bartender that they offer their new friend one on the house for his troubles while passing through their borders.

"Oh, no, that's not necessary..."

"It's our pleasure," the man said. "This is Eden, we specialize in pleasure."

Again, William's eyes slipped down to the man's chest. He'd rarely seen such a thick tuft of hair up close up and certainly never in his bed. The men he'd been with, they'd been younger, college-age, a couple twinky guys from the swim team, and...well, no need to remember his last boyfriend. Not now, not with this manly specimen standing before him. There was something so raw about the way this man carried his body had him reacting in a visceral way. The aggressive way he loomed in such proximity to his target made William feel woozier than the effects of the beer.

And then just as unexpectedly as it had begun, the promising encounter was over.

Despite the second beer, William had been left with a dry mouth, as though he'd panted his way through his natural saliva. He needed to pee, or at least to have a moment to recover, so he maneuvered his way through the crowd, his eyes again falling on the sexy beast. He was dancing with a woman, his hands cupped on her curving ass.

William blinked to make sure it was the same man and then he realized how silly a thought that was. There was no way this bar was big enough for two virile stallions like him. He wondered what the man's story was. Gay, bi, or just closeted?

It didn't take too long to find out.

William was standing at the urinal as the door opened and in stepped his new friend.

The man made his way to the urinal next to him and unzipped. William resisted every urge to look over to get a glimpse at his cock.

"I'm going to leave in five minutes," he said, "with the woman you saw me dancing with just now."

"What...I didn't see..."

"Sure you did. I'd like to get to know you. I think you'd like to get to know me."

He wasn't sure he had a response. His mouth was still dry, his tongue tied.

"Five minutes later, you leave. Go to your left, wait under the third tree."

He zipped up, finished with the reason he'd come into the bathroom. For William, he'd finished peeing a minute ago, but he still stood in front of the urinal, replaying the exchange with the man. His cock had hardened in his hands, and only when the door opened again did he slip it back inside his slacks. Thankfully the newcomer went to a stall. William thought he could hear a sniff, as if maybe the guy had done a snort of coke.

Not wanting to get further involved in the drama of this place called Eden, he was ready to depart when he saw his new friend walking out the front door. With the woman, and she had slid a hand inside his back pocket to stay connected to him. As though they were a couple and they were on their way to do unspeakably wonderful things to each other's bodies. But William knew differently, the way he knew to recognize movement told him so much more. The man was stiff in her presence, uneasy.

He was a closet case with a system of picking up men that kept those around him from knowing the truth. William downed his second beer and when he saw the clock tick five minutes since the man had left, he too departed the place known as the Snake Pit. Outside was cool, an early summer night that hadn't fully embraced the season's warmth. He did as instructed, his heart beating wildly as he leaned against the trunk of the third tree. A car's headlights suddenly flicked on, off, flicked again, like a signal. The car with its own body language.

William approached the curb, tried the passenger door. It was unlocked. Of course it was. Slipping in, he found no sign of the woman. Just the sexy, dark-haired guy who right now was grinning from the night's potential. Without hesitation, he leaned over and his lips found William's. The scruff scraped against his skin, sending electric shocks down his spine. Then the man's hand dug into William's crotch, rubbing it, making him hard again. William slid an anxious hand inside the man's shirt and undid a third button to get his first feel of the dark pelt that covered his chest. The hair was rough to the touch, so dense. He wanted to melt into this guy's arms, to feel this beast atop him, to cry out when he penetrated him with this hard cock, as he thrust at him with every ounce of power, when he came and came. Explosions would light their night.

As the steamy kiss ended and their eyes locked, William, catching his breath said more on instinct than familiarity, "I'm Billy." No one called him that and few even outside his family called him William but tonight it seemed right. Be himself but be a stranger too.

"Brett," the man responded, "and that's all we need to know about each other--for now. Are you ready for a night to remember?"

William nodded as if he'd lost control of his movements. This man was in charge, in control, and William would do anything he asked. He stole a look into the side-view mirror and saw that his eyes were like fire when he said, "Yes. Hell yes."

Brett grinned, his gaze darting down to Billy's crotch. Billy looked down to see the thick outline of his hard cock through the thin material of his pants. It looked ready to rip right through. Billy knew it would soon be in Brett's mouth, even before the ride was over.

That's when Brett said, "I know this place we can go, no one will disturb us."

***

He swore after that crazy night he'd never return to Eden--a night to remember indeed but one to forget as well. Yet here he was, just weeks later, back within the village's now-suspect borders. And considering the reason for his unscheduled return, from where he stood and what he was witnessing, the sound of life suddenly felt offensive to him.

Raucous laughter and the steady thrum of voices carried through the starry night wind, the constant beat of house music blaring through speakers large enough to consume a stadium, all of it competing with the silent rhythm of their hearts, the unseen turn of their lives. As if none of them had a care in the world beyond this hedonistic moment. Today's entitled youth imagined they were invincible from the ills of others and that hot, sweaty sex was everywhere for the taking. The notion of their eventual death failed to register. To them, it was as if the only thing capable of dying was death itself.

Let the party go on, the celebration of life continue.

William had had these thoughts even before arriving, and now that he was here--at the scene of the crime--he found the name of the place as tragic as he'd found the Snake Pit ironic.

IMMORTAL. An endless life.

It's not that he was normally bitter about indulging in life's luxuries except that recent circumstances had begun to alter his thinking. He saw how people dealt with their hungers, their hidden passions. He was guilty of it himself. The imbalance in his world had to be corrected, the unjust needed to reap what they had sown, and he wondered if he was the person to start the revolution. He had come for answers, to make a killer pay.

That one phone call had changed everything.

"Is this William Kelton?"

The deep voice was immediately familiar to him and he felt both fear in his stomach and desire rush his cock. He remembered it whispering into his ear, asking him what he wanted, how it liked it. How had the man found him? Dry-mouthed, like that night he'd been approached at the town's dive, he struggled to find any words. "Uh, yes. My friends call me Kelt. Who is this?" Kelt is what he answered to, not William, and only Billy during that passionate night when he'd heard this same man crying out his name, "Take it, Billy, take my thick cock," and he had, all of it, until they'd been discovered.

"My name is Brett Ellers, I'm the chief of police in Eden, Pennsylvania. Are you familiar with our village?"

Regrettably, yes. "Uh, no, I'm sorry."

"Well, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you."

Kelt's mind nearly drowned as he attempted to absorb the news being delivered to him. Nothing registered, nothing made sense, especially not coming from a man whom he'd known intimately, if only for a few hours, and only in shadowy, sweat-drenched darkness. They'd rocked the bed, their hard bodies entwined in a heated coupling, his world opened as much as his ass, his sexuality reawakened by the hairy-chested beast pounding hard at him. Now though, thanks to this call, it wasn't sex that was on his mind but the bigger picture of life and death.

Those dual forces were hard at work and one was determined to take the ultimate prize. It appeared that death had won this first round. Didn't death always, eventually, win?

Kelt swallowed hard and felt the ache in his throat when he said to the stranger who had fucked him, the man who represented the law in Eden, "How did it happen?"









Part One



A Stranger in Town





Chapter One



Nothing made sense.

The night wasn't supposed to have ended like this, with him in bed alone.

Such a situation had Chad Singleton wishing he'd left Eden the moment his father's body had been relegated to its final resting place in St. Bart's cemetery. Instead he'd remained behind to look after his elderly grandmother, though doing so hardly seemed necessary. Feisty as ever, Eleanor Harte Singleton hadn't reached her seventies by bowing down to anyone so Chad was uncertain what difference his continuing presence at the Edenwood estate made to her. But deep in the recesses of his mind, he knew it was more than his grandmother that had kept him here in this seemingly idyllic town on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Set amidst lush valleys and horse farms, Eden had a name that might have claimed perfection, but there were things as forbidden here as existed in its namesake.

By being here, Chad had a chance to restore a life he'd been cheated out of.

He also had a chance at love.

Of those two, the former referred to his new employment at Harte Industries, and it was a job filled with promise, if not intrigue. His relationship with the very hot and hunky Brett Ellers, well, that was another story altogether. But at the moment neither work nor play seemed on solid footing.

Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and unable to keep count of the number of swirls in the stucco, Chad's mind drifted back to earlier that night. It had started with promise and ended with surprise after surprise, culminating in his present state of limp disappointment. The storm clouds that had arrived with Silas Singleton's death might have brought Chad back to the home from which he'd once been banished, but Brett--so sexy, so manly, and so luscious in bed--had given Chad a reason to think his tomorrows were going to be filled with sunshine. An optimistic Chad could say that his life had improved for the better since his return to Eden a few weeks ago. But the mysteries and scandals, the suspicions and suppositions that swirled around this shadowy place were enough to grant a headache that not even a night of sweaty, sweet sex could alleviate. Of course, knowing the man he was sleeping with was one of the men holding tight to Eden's secrets didn't help matters.

It was two o'clock in the morning, just hours away from his first day of reporting for duty at Harte Industries.

He knew he needed a good night's rest to anticipate the devious curveballs Uncle Aldous would certainly toss his way. Aldous, as CEO of the family business, wasn't exactly thrilled about having a Singleton join the firm, not after the Hartes had ruled the company for decades. But both families were bound together, by marriage and by blood, and there was nothing Aldous could really do. If Chad wished to work there, then work there he would, such were the conditions of Silas' will. He'd been granted nothing less than a seat on the board. He supposed he wouldn't have slept tonight anyway, not with his apprehension about how he'd achieve his set goals at Harte, but add to that what had happened hours earlier--not only with Brett but with the man who had dared to intrude upon their night--all of it had left Chad with insomnia.

That was revisionist history, Chad had to admit. He and Brett had already hit a roadblock even before the unwanted intruder stepped in.

How had life gotten so complicated so quickly?

Chad's eyes closed, his mind flashing scenes of the night just past.

Of a naked Brett, in the king-sized bed inside the estate's carriage house, making hot love to him. His hunky body, with its bear-like coating of hair on his chest, thrusting at Chad, pleasing him, setting his body afire, wondrously making him forget his troubles. It had been delicious sex. Until the revelation that Brett had been here before, that he'd fucked other men in this bed, strange men, and the truth had come out in the most unexpected way. All courtesy of the man a naïve, impressionable Chad had once thought he'd loved, a man who had known firsthand that the carriage house was a rendezvous point for sex. A place with its own share of history and secrets.

Chad knew he couldn't rewrite the night just to placate his own fears.

He'd been caught unaware, literally and figuratively, with his pants down. Torn between two men, both of whom he'd recently been intimate with. One out of revenge, the other at a rare stab at love.

Sleep continued to evade him on this warm summer night, the constant tick of the clock on the nightstand like a tease in the darkness of the room. As if the sound was taking him not toward the start of a new day and a new life but to something he'd already experienced.

Something, and someone, he couldn't forget. Words echoed in his brain.

"The sexy police chief has it all wrong," said a voice in the darkness. "The night he had sex here didn't occur the night before Silas died. It was the same night."

And Chad had spun around and exclaimed in surprise, "You!"

That's when the night had shifted. When sex gave way to exposed secrets.

***

Chad was standing in the middle of the moonlit bedroom, his hard, tanned body on full display. Only moments ago he'd been in the arms of his lover, a climax having just left him shattered but hardly satisfied, not when they both knew so much more awaited hem on this night. Now it was all in jeopardy. Not just what they'd promised to each other, but what he'd just learned.

"Elias," Chad said after he'd freed himself from the tangle of blankets. He looked from the sexy man propped against a pillow in his bed to the desperate intruder who had barged into the carriage house moments ago. Elias Montrose, his old friend with whom he'd shared his first sexual encounter. "It was you? You had sex here, with Brett? The two of you together...when Silas stumbled in...he found you?"

"No, hell no...I wasn't sleeping with him," Brett said. His deep, authoritative voice held a dismissive tone, as though the idea of sex with the gawky Elias was laughable. Elias was not unattractive, but his body language indicated a man approaching thirty years of age, still uncomfortable in his own skin. He had a wife, he had kids, and he secretly desired men. Not just any man. He wanted Chad.

Chad Singleton, model-attractive, twenty-nine and who just weeks ago had been living a different life and who hadn't given Eden more than a passing thought in all that time, felt caught in the middle, unsure which direction to go. Who to believe? The man in his bed or the man who'd just walked in on them. But wait, had Elias actually claimed he'd been the man in Brett's arms? Confusion swam inside Chad's brain, and suddenly both of them seemed like strangers.

Chad grabbed for his jeans, quickly pulling them up over his hips. He stuffed his flaccid cock inside, not sure why he was feeling modest in front of two men who were familiar with his package. What he was packing could never be described as modest.

"Elias, were you with Brett?" Chad asked.

"No, it wasn't me."

At least that had been settled. But it only opened up more questions.

"Do you know who he was with?"

"I don't know his name but I could pick him out of a line-up. A naked one."

"So wait...that means you were watching them have sex? My God, just like you were watching us tonight," Chad said. "Why? I mean, Elias...that's perverse."

A flush came to Elias' cheeks. "Yes, I followed Brett tonight, but just by chance, not on purpose. I saw him leaving the station house and I had a hunch so I followed him. He led me to, of all places, here. Of course, it wasn't his first time."

"Or yours. You're disgusting," Brett said.

Elias dismissed his insult. "I didn't know what was going on. Ever since Silas died--"

"This has nothing to do with Silas," Brett said.

"Of course it does," Elias said. "I might have been watching you and that guy you picked up at the Snake Pit, but Silas was the one who interrupted you. He wasn't happy to find out that his friend, the chief of police, was into men. And I mean, you were really into that guy. I thought you were going to smother him because you fucked him so hard."

"Who is this ‘us'? Brett, who is this man you were with?" Chad wanted to know his identity and he was getting frustrated. Only more questions rushed at him, no answers.

"Chad, he was no one, a stranger passing through town. It just happened."

"You just picked him up...and brought him here? What, you'll fuck anything?"

Even as he said it, Chad knew he was being a hypocrite. He'd been a paid escort in his previous life, after all, which was just a slick euphemism for a paid fuck buddy. So why should he care that Brett picked up men and screwed them? Because, his inner voice said, he had done it here, in the place that had altered the course of Chad's life. That hurtful past was ever-present here, lurking beneath the shadows, its tentacles taking shape and threatening to grab at him, made more evident with Elias standing before them like a pale specter from his teen years. Chad sized up his pathetic friend and couldn't help but notice a spreading wet stain in his pants. The man had obviously climaxed. He felt a sickening in the pit of his stomach, thinking about Elias jerking off while...

"He certainly didn't mind fucking you," Elias said to Chad. "Really, you two put on quite a show and it was obvious it wasn't your first time with each other. There's nothing like a brand-new relationship when the sex is energetic--lots of words, lots of screaming and begging. Not quite enough to wake the dead, ha ha, but you get the point. Seeing that big cock of yours in action, Chad, and knowing how much fun you two were having...how could I interrupt you? Though I have to say our local police chief is a bit too furry for my tastes."

Brett was standing now, also dressed in his slacks. His torso remained exposed, the thick dark hair of his chest matted and streaked with Chad's dried come. Brett reached over, pulled a shirt from the pile of clothes and hung it over his shoulders but didn't button it. The thick swath was still evident, defiant in the wake of Elias' remark. Chad stole a look at the sexy Brett and wished Elias had never interrupted them.

"You know, Elias, I could easily arrest you right now," Brett said, anger winning out over justice. "Ever heard of invasion of privacy?"

"I don't think you'd do that, Chief. I'd have to reveal in court what I was witnessing." He paused before saying, "Who I was witnessing."

Brett exchanged a hopeless look with Chad, but his eyes held fire. As the chief of police in Eden, Brett Ellers insisted on keeping his sexuality a secret from his constituents. If he revealed he liked men, he feared the residents and the local criminal element would use it to their advantage, steal from him his authority. The prison jokes alone...

"Guys, guys...can we just...I don't know, get dressed. Take this into the living room?"

"I think that's a good idea," Brett said. "Then Elias can explain himself."

Both men buttoned up their shirts and zipped their jeans and made their way into the main room of the carriage house where Elias paced, flicking his hands nervously. A lone light had been turned on, opening the night's shadows to Eden's dark secrets. Chad had had a chance to organize his thoughts a bit, so he just jumped in.

"Elias, why were you spying on us?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

"I think it's obvious you're confused or perhaps ready to admit your sexuality, but this isn't the way to deal with it," Chad said. "To lurk around someone's house and peer through windows, watching while Brett and I are being intimate with each other? That's not normal, no matter what you're feeling."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stay for long. I was just looking for confirmation...that you two had become a couple."

"Why does that matter to you?" Brett asked.

"Chad and I, we had a moment when he came back to town. I thought..."

"Think nothing, Elias. I told you, it was just my way of getting back at Silas. I'm sorry if I hurt you, or led you on."

"Speaking of Silas, what were you saying about the night he died?" Brett asked.

"I said it was the same night you picked up that guy and brought him here."

Chad looked from one man to the other. Perhaps one mystery could be explained.

"Tell me more," Brett asked.

"You and that guy, you were...you know, going at it. I saw you..."

"Seems to be a bad habit of yours. Most freaks get their porn from the internet. But tell me more about Silas."

Elias just stared forward, unfazed by the insults. "Coming here that night, it was not premeditated. It's just...it's not easy when your responsibilities to your family don't allow you to be who you really are. So I indulge my fantasies through other people. That night, I was at the Snake Pit when I noticed you pick up that young guy. Not that all your drinking buddies thought anything of it, they thought you left with Rachel."

"Who's Rachel?" Chad asked.

"Rachel Heron. A local housewife and his beard," Elias said with a sneer. "She helps maintain the illusion that Brett is straight."

"Get on it with, Montrose. Tell me about that night."

"So I followed you here and I couldn't believe when you began to kiss him. To undress him. I don't know, I just froze in my tracks and I watched, partly out of jealousy, I guess, partly because I was turned on. What you were doing, it awoke something inside me, something I'd tried to bury. I was about to leave when I heard someone approaching the house. He was singing, but it was off-key, his voice slurred. I knew the person was drunk and I also assumed, given that we were on Edenwood property, that it was Silas. I would have tried to warn you but...you know, how do you stop two men in the middle of...well, you know. Anyway, he got to the house so quickly. I saw him stumble inside. I was frozen. I couldn't look away. I heard the crash of glass and raised voices. Through the window, I could see you, Brett. You got out of

the bed...you were naked, leaving little doubt for Silas to know what you had been doing. Silas...he called you..."

"A fag," Brett said. "And then he ran out. He dropped his whiskey bottle."

"Right. He ran out into the black night."

"And that's when I left, moments later. Both of us went down the trail to the back of the property. To say Silas had ruined the mood was an understatement. The guy freaked, asked me to forget about what had happened."

"You left by going past the stone house? Just as you came here tonight?" Chad asked.

Brett nodded but his attention was on Elias. "What happened next? Clearly you remained behind."

"I was going to follow after you but I didn't want to risk being discovered. None of you had seen me. So I hung back, hiding in the trees. Then I heard a splash. Curiosity drew me out to find out what the commotion was all about. I saw a figure lying on the ground near the pool. I went over and saw that it was Silas Singleton," he said. "And he was already dead."

Those last, decisive words echoed in the room, as though the darkness refused to swallow them. Chad considered them, tying them together with the strange notes that had been left in the back pockets of his jeans on two occasions. Both notes had told him Silas didn't die the way in which he'd been told. Now hearing Elias' version, he had to assume that was the truth.

"That's not possible," Brett said, "Silas died the next night when he drunkenly wrapped his truck around a tree."

"And you, the chief of police, didn't think that was suspicious?"

"I had, and despite your story, continue to have no reason to think otherwise." His tone made it clear he didn't enjoy being challenged about his job. "Silas was drunk the night he walked in on me. He was angry and probably felt betrayed in his addled mind. Given what I know about his relationship with Chad, it makes sense how he reacted. He wasn't exactly gay-friendly. But what you saw by the pool, he had to have just been passed out, that's all. No way was he dead."

"What about the splashing sound I heard?"

"He probably stuck his head in the pool to try to clear his senses, then passed out."

"Chad, what do you believe?"

Chad had been listening, watching, his head turning like at a tennis match.

"I don't know what to believe. Elias, those notes I found in my pockets...did you leave them?"

Elias looked away at first, but then slowly nodded. "I didn't think you'd listen to me. Or care, really, about Silas. So yeah, I did it. Because something's not right about that night."

Chad ran a hand through his tousled hair, not believing the turn of events of this night. He was tired--drained actually--and not just from his sexual acrobatics but from what his mind was being forced to absorb. What was the truth? What was a lie? And what unexposed details fell between those two certainties? Chad didn't want to think about it, not now. He had a new job at Harte Industries to focus on. He couldn't deal with all of this--not the secret of Silas' death, not the fact that Elias had been watching him have sex with Brett. Nor could he think about Brett and the strange man he'd brought here.

"Elias, I think it would a good idea if you left," Chad said.

He simply nodded, bowing his head with an attempt at regret. "I'm sorry, Chad."

"Go home to your wife."

As though the mention of the prim and proper Mary Montrose woke him from his fantasy world, he sheepishly departed. The brush of his feet against wet grass grew quieter with each passing second until it was clear he was gone. No longer watching them. Gone. Which left Chad and Brett standing in a silent house. Chad didn't even know how to look at him.

"Chad..."

"Let's not do this, not now." He was trying to avoid tears.

Brett came up to him, wrapped his arms around his waist and pulled him in. Chad stared at his deep-blue eyes, searching for the fiery intensity he'd seen in them earlier. But they had grown dark, mysterious, a reflection of what his heart was giving off. Yet Brett was as handsome as any man Chad had ever been with and the temptation to allow Brett to take him back to the bed was dizzying. So easily could he have kissed him, run a hand across the rough scruff on his face, unbutton the shirt and revel in the whorls of his chest. Chad's cock grew thick in his pants at the thought of it and for a moment he nearly gave in.

But then he pulled back.

"I have to get up early," Chad said. "My new life awaits me."

"Am I part of that new life?" Brett asked.

It was a legitimate question that, right now, had no answer. With regret, Chad broke free of an embrace he desired more than anything, the space between them opening up like a chasm. It sent quivers through his body, as though he was about to fall into a bottomless canyon. He feared he was letting go forever. Maybe he was.

He'd never felt more conflicted about what tomorrow would bring.

Brett walked out, leaving an empty void in the room and in Chad's heart. Again, like thirteen years ago, Chad was left alone in the carriage house. He thought of Brett, then of Elias, and then of the stranger who Brett had brought here. What did all of them know about Silas? It was only then he realized Brett had dismissed the question of what day Silas really died. Almost as if Brett didn't want to open up an investigation. Summer might be in full swing but in this room, all that Chad felt was a disturbing chill.

Brett had his theory. He had his reputation to protect.

Elias had his too.

Chad had to wonder what the third man might have to say and which one he'd side with--the man who'd watched him being fucked, or the hot man who'd fucked him.

Yet he'd disappeared in the night, no doubt long gone from Eden's mysteries and he might never be found. The same might be said for the truth.