Book 2 of the Unbreakable Bonds Series
Maverick trauma surgeon Ashton “Snow” Frost keeps the world at a distance, relying only on his three closest friends to keep him connected. But when a ghost from their past returns to Cincinnati, Snow stands to lose everyone he loves. Framed for murder and reeling from attacks on his friends, Snow is pushed to his breaking point.
Jude Torres won’t let the doc shatter. The paramedic has been attracted to the doctor since he first laid eyes on him at the hospital, even if the arrogant, solitary man doesn’t fit into any of his plans. One hot, reckless kiss shows that Snow isn’t who he appears to be. And one night together will never be enough. Jude will fight for the doc.
Fight to keep him whole. Fight to keep him safe. Fight to simply keep him.
As a bonus to readers, we have released an early sneak preview of Shatter, giving you a hint of whose story is next. Enjoy!
Read an excerpt now:
The bar gave new definition to the word “dive”.
Ashton “Snow” Frost sprawled in the most unrelentingly painful chair he’d ever sat in and tried not to look too closely at his surroundings. Either the decorator had been into early seventies drug den or the place had been tucked into this corner of Covington, Kentucky since before he’d been born. Some nineties grunge band grumbled from a jukebox near the restrooms and the high number of college kids swilling beer at the long, battered bar and around the pool tables surprised him. And depressed him. He wouldn’t even be able to salvage his original plan to get laid tonight—the crowd was too young for his tastes.
The evening wasn’t an entire bust, though. He watched his friends across the room, visible despite the crowd. They’d grabbed one of the pool tables, and from the disgruntled expression on Andrei Hadeon’s face as he pressed the cue stick against his forehead, Melissa Ward was kicking his ass.
Lucas Vallois and Ian Pierce sat on barstools on either side of a raised pub table, both laughing. Probably because they all knew Rowe’s wife was a shark and it seemed nobody bothered to warn the Romanian. Snow couldn’t help but grin. Lucas and Ian didn’t blend though they were similarly dressed to everyone else in jeans and boots. Ian, despite his short stature, looked like he’d stepped off a runway in his untucked blue shirt and sharp, brown blazer. And Snow couldn’t believe Lucas wasn’t even cracking a hint of sweat in his cashmere sweater in this sweltering place.
Apparently the owner didn’t mind wasting money because the bastard had the heat cranked too high, forcing the staff to keep the front and back doors open to let a little cool air in. Snow shifted in his seat and glared at Rowan Ward, who sat next to him at the large table he’d reserved near the back of the bar. “You know what, Ward?”
Rowe turned green eyes his way and frowned as he pulled at the neckline of his black sweatshirt. Perspiration darkened the red hair around his temples, making it curl. “What?”
“I figured out what’s wrong with this bar. I’m neither blind nor deaf. ”
Rowe smirked and wiped a drop of sweat rolling down his temple with a paper napkin. “It’s popular with some of my employees, so I thought we’d try it out. Come on now, doc. The place has ambiance—even you have to admit that.”
Snow shot him a glare. “It has wood paneling.”
“I always liked wood paneling. My granddad had this old hunting cabin in Colorado with paneling in every room. I think it gives a place a homey feel. I loved it there.” He picked up his mug of beer and took a huge swallow, then tilted his glass toward Snow. “And the brew’s cheap.”
“That’s because it’s shit beer.” Snow turned back to catch Andrei leaning over a pool table and chuckled when he saw Lucas watching as well, focus firmly locked on his former bodyguard’s ass. It was a really nice ass, so he didn’t blame him.
Rowe had followed Snow’s gaze and shook his head. “It’s wild, isn’t it? Turned my straight employee gay. That’s some superpower Vallois has.”
“Doubt he was ever completely straight.” Snow slouched, hooking his elbow over the back of the chair. “I walked in on them a couple of weeks ago and caught a bit of the action. There was nothing holding the Romanian back. So fucking hot.” Snow waved one hand at Andrei as he straightened from his shot. “Look at him. I would have worked to turn the man fully to my side as well.” Lucas didn’t admit that he was exclusively sleeping with his ex-bodyguard, but it was obvious that’s what was happening.
Rowe nudged him. “You saw them?”
Snow heard something in his friend’s tone that made him look closer. Genuine curiosity made Rowe’s eyes wider than normal and there was something in his expression Snow had caught before a couple of times, but years ago prior to Rowe meeting Mel. Like he was interested, but not sure he was entirely comfortable with it. “Is that something you’d like to see yourself?” he asked, narrowing his eyes to study his friend.
Rowe’s eyes flitted away before he casually shrugged. “I love my wife. You know that. But I’m not blind and those two are ridiculously gorgeous—so it had to be something to see.” He leaned closer so he could lower his voice. “Did you see who’s the top?”
Snow had been taking a drink of his beer and he sucked it in so fast, he choked. He never expected to hear those words cross Rowe’s lips. As foul as he could be, Rowe had never demanded details or even shown interest in knowing them. Of course, over the years, Snow and Lucas had been pretty damn graphic in their sexual comments, happy to volunteer details. Rowe never had to ask.
Clearing his throat, Snow set the mug down. “It’s not always one way or the other. You do get that, right?”
“No, I don’t actually. From things you and Lucas have said, I got the feeling it was one or the other. Come on. Fill me in.”
Snow shook his head. “Fuck no. Rent some porn. I happen to know your wife loves gay porn. Like really loves gay porn.” Snow paused and smirked at his friend, causing Rowe to clench his jaw as if tensing against whatever twisted mess was about to leave Snow’s tongue. “You do know she asked me to film something, right? That time we were all out at that steakhouse and I picked up that blond waiter?”
“I remember.” Rowe groaned, his shoulders slumping again. “Unfortunately. You left us with the check and started making out with him before you were even out the door. What’s funny is you think I don’t already know about the porn and my own damn wife.”
Snow lifted an eyebrow, intrigued. “You two watch it together?”
Green eyes rolled. “No way in hell am I giving you any wank material.”
“Too late.” Snow gave Rowe his most wicked, teasing grin.
“Right. You don’t like sex with women.”
“Oh Rowe, do we need a lesson on porn and watching versus action? I enjoy good, straight porn at times. Admittedly, it’s rare.” He picked a bottle cap off the table. “When something is hot, it’s hot.”
“You’re telling me…” Rowe’s expression went serious and he leaned his forearms on the table, edging just a little bit closer. “You’re telling me, you could be with a woman?”
“No. I learned a long time ago that doesn’t work for me.” Snow had never found himself interested in anything beyond friendship with women. He liked everything about men. Liked their harder edges, their calloused hands, and masculine scents…their ability to take rough handling. He knew there were women out there who liked the latter, but he liked dick. Always had.
Recently, his mind had been going back to a particular man who was off-limits. That damn paramedic managed to catch his eye every time he was passing through the ER or the break room or just about anywhere around the hospital. His hands itched to grab the man and find out if those lovely muscles on display in his form-fitting black uniform were as strong as they looked.
But Jude Torres was untouchable. Snow didn’t fuck those he worked with. That rule insured that his personal life stayed out of the hospital. His brain understood that, but even now, just thinking about those dark eyes and crooked grin, made Snow hard. Jude had a look about him, like his easy-going, smiling exterior masked pure, unadulterated fire.
Snow shifted in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position without having to adjust himself. He toyed with the bottle cap, turning it over with the tips of his fingers. “What I’m telling you,” he continued, watching Rowe. “Is that what we like to watch doesn’t always coincide with what we like to do. You watch gay porn with your wife, but you don’t do guys, right?”
His friend’s nod was slow and contemplative. “I get it.” Rowe looked up and his expression’s odd mix of curious and concern disappeared into a genuine smile as he shoved out the chair next to him.
Snow followed his gaze to find Ian pushing through the crowd toward their table. Something about that kid had always put their group at ease—from the very first time Lucas and Snow had seen him.
It looked like the heat in this bar was getting to him as well because he peeled off his stylish jacket and draped it over his arm. His light brown hair was gelled into a style that looked messy and probably took him twenty minutes to get right. Everything about Ian always flowed together like it was effortless and knowing Ian, it mostly was. He had an impressive, distinctive flair when it came to creating a whole picture. Snow went shopping with him and Ian knew exactly what would go with what before he even took it off the rack. Hell, he let Ian pick out most of his suits now. It certainly saved him the trouble of staying up to date on fashion. Not that he really cared about that. He just liked to know that he looked good. Plus, he loathed shopping and only Ian’s genuine clothes euphoria made those outings tolerable.
“I don’t know why I thought dressing for January was a good idea,” Ian’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he sat next to Rowe and picked up the house cabernet he’d left on the table. He sipped it and grimaced just as he had the first time he’d tried it. “But I’m still having a good time. This place is fun!” He set down the glass and pushed it away with one finger, eyeing the liquid like it might leap out and attack his taste buds again.
Rowe turned a smug look Snow’s way. “Snow doesn’t agree. He’s a bar snob. Lucas and his fancy nightclubs have tainted his view of proper men places.”
Snow’s grin grew, stretching his mouth wide. He leaned back in his chair again and crossed his arms. “Proper men places? Do tell more.”
“You know,” Rowe said, closing his hands into fists for emphasis. “Man caves. Places where we don’t have to dress up. Where we aren’t on display or trying to pick someone up. Where we don’t have to smell nice for the ladies. We can be with other men in our natural slob states. Let our balls hang out.”
Silence followed his emphatic speech. Then Ian’s mouth fell open. “There are so many things wrong with what you just said.”
Chuckling, Snow picked up a napkin to wipe the condensation from his beer off the table. “Ladies aren’t the only ones who dislike body odor and not every man has a natural slob state. Just how does the world look with your head stuck so far up your ass? You’re the only man I know with a natural slob state—” He sucked back the laughter, cocked his head. “Wait, that’s not true anymore. I just remembered Banner.”
“The cop?” Rowe asked.
It didn’t escape Snow’s notice that Ian, who’d been looking over his shoulder, instantly turned back to their conversation. Hollis Banner, an annoying detective for the Cincinnati Police Department, had been wearing out his welcome more than usual lately and none of them were under any sort of misunderstanding as to why. The big, hard-edged asshole was sniffing around Ian and it made Snow want to hurt things. It wasn’t that he was interested in Ian himself—no, their friendship was too solid for that—it was that nobody was good enough for the young man. Ian brought out every protective instinct Snow had. Plus, they didn’t need law enforcement hanging around when they all had things to hide.
He wiped the napkin over another spot of condensation and when it stuck to the table top, he snatched his hand back, snarled and pointed. “Really Rowan? I prefer my real men caves to at least be clean.”
“This from a man who drops to his knees in men’s bathrooms all over town.”
“I thought you’d been paying more attention all these years.” Snow winked and Ian softly snorted a laugh. “I’m not the one usually on my knees.”
“Selfish bastard.” Rowe laughed, probably because he’d heard enough over their more than a decade-long friendship to know that was true. Snow sometimes marveled over how well Rowe took the frank talk among their group of four when he was the only straight man. Well, mostly straight. Snow had always had an inkling there was a little curiosity going on up in the scrambled mess of Rowe’s brain, that maybe Rowe was a little more bi than he’d ever been willing to admit. Tonight’s conversation stirred up old memories of Rowe with him and Lucas at gays bars and nightclubs. A flirtatious Rowe who seemed more comfortable with the touches and gropes than any straight man he’d ever known.
Snow didn’t worry Rowe’s eyes were straying. The man was crazy about Melissa and judging by how often he’d searched her out tonight, his infatuation with his wife remained strong. Curious or not, he would never cheat on her. But it did make Snow wonder if things would have been different if Melissa had been a man rather than a woman.
And while Lucas occasionally jumped the fence and slept with women, Snow had always known that was more about what Lucas felt he should want, not what he truly liked. He was for all intents and purposes a gay man. Like Snow and Ian.
The others came back to the table, fresh drinks in hand, and the talk turned to Melissa’s prowess with hard balls. Snow half-listened, finding that despite Rowe’s poor taste in drinking establishments, the company relaxed him. He let his gaze roam the bar again, hoping to see someone old enough to be interesting and frowned when a figure stepped quickly out of sight and into the thick of the crowd. He narrowed his eyes, tried to see who it was because he had the distinct feeling the person had been watching them and that feeling carried something, too. A faint, black edge that made the hair on his arms stand on end.
“What do you think?” Ian snapped his fingers in front of Snow’s face. “Snow?”
“Huh?” He turned to Ian, realizing he’d missed the subject entirely.
Ian frowned, brown eyes probing for a moment before he sighed. “Don’t you agree that grocery shopping together is like a commitment?” He waved his finger at Lucas and Andrei. “They go together now.”
Snow pursed his lips, biting back a comment. That was…unexpected. As far as he knew, Lucas hadn’t stepped foot in a grocery store in over a year. His housekeeper, Mrs. Mason, picked up any food that Ian wasn’t bringing over himself.
A hint of red colored Andrei’s neck. “Ian, it’s just food. We get that for you, it’s a religion or maybe even some kind of twisted foreplay, but it doesn’t work that way for the rest of us.”
“It should.” Ian stared at Lucas until the older man started to glare back. But Ian gave him that smile—the sweet one that could melt the coldest of hearts—and Lucas’s expression softened. Ian touched Andrei’s arm. “This is serious, though? You two? I’m right, aren’t I?” He laughed. “Your parents did come to Thanksgiving, Andrei.”
Ian and his love of romance. Snow couldn’t help his fond smile. How the kid could still believe in soul mates and happily ever afters was a miracle considering what he’d been through. God, his heart was a beautiful, beautiful thing and he was a constant reminder to Snow that some people were precious enough to be worth any sacrifice.
All the people at this table were. Maybe even the newest member—who looked poised for flight as he tried to resist Ian’s questions. The poor Romanian glanced at Lucas, then cleared his throat. “We’re just having fun.” Even to Snow, his smile looked nervous.
A shocked silence fell over the table with Lucas’s sharp tone. The man’s expression said so much about his feelings for Andrei and Snow was sure he wasn’t the only dazed person at the table.
“Is that what we’re doing?” Lucas asked, voice low.
Andrei cocked his head, his sable eyes narrowing on Lucas. As usual, the heat between the two made Snow feel like he witnessed something infinitely private. Andrei had pulled his black, curly hair into a ponytail at his nape, so his curious expression was plain for all to see as he locked his stare on Lucas. “I thought so. Thought that’s what we agreed on. No strings.” Andrei paused, licking his lips. “Are you saying you want more?”
Lucas suddenly grinned. Snow had only seen that look in his eyes when it had been directed at one of his three close friends and even then, it had never held the heat, the flat-out possessive delight that lit his gaze every time he looked at Andrei. He slowly reached into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a single condom and held it up between two fingers.
“Prepared much?” Rowe asked, his mouth snapping shut when his wife reached across the table to smack his arm. “Hey now!” He rubbed his arm.
Lucas kept his gaze on Andrei as he flipped the condom over his shoulder, tossing it away. “That answer your question?”
The two men didn’t move as Snow held his breath, then Andrei abruptly lunged half out of his chair, grabbed Lucas’s jaw, and kissed him right there in front of everyone.
The feelings that tore through Snow confused him and made him feel faintly ashamed. He should be thrilled for his friend, happy that the man had found someone who made him feel like that. And he was. But some part of him felt cloudy with fear—fear that his world was shifting. Snow had never seen his best friend like this and it caused a pang in his heart because it had been mostly the two of them since they’d been in elementary school. He took in Lucas’s relaxed slouch as he let a man kiss him in public, the way he reached up to smooth his thumb over the hand Andrei had on his face.
That tender gesture showed so very much about how things had changed. When Andrei pulled back and murmured something too low for the rest of them to hear, Snow looked away, not focusing on anything in particular. Lucas was rearranging his life around someone he obviously cared for and that selfish-bastard part of Snow—the one Rowe had joked about—wasn’t sure how to handle it.
One of Snow’s greatest secret fears was that he held nothing of substance beyond his relationship with Lucas.
Seemed he’d be finding out.
He turned back to find Andrei had returned to his chair, but their hands remained threaded together in Lucas’s lap. For a moment, Snow wondered what it would feel like to want someone like that in his life. Someone intimate. For some reason, a pair of dark brown eyes came to mind and he frowned. No, absolutely not.
Someone once again caught his eye before he quickly turned away. But the light hit on a swarthy face that struck a chord of instant fury inside Snow. His ruminations dried up, his gut twisted, and his palms started sweating. He hoped he was wrong, but the clawing, black anger tearing into him told him he wasn’t.
“Uh-oh, I’ve seen that look come over Snow’s face before.” Melissa stretched her neck, obviously trying to see where Snow was looking. “Looks like Snow has zeroed in a possible target. Can anyone else see? Is he hot?”
Snow let them think what they wanted. He’d excused himself from the group many a time before and there was no way he wanted one member to see who he thought that was. He had to get to the guy first. Snow stood, ignoring the piercing, questioning stare Lucas aimed at him, and grabbed his brown jacket. “Sorry, but I have to leave. Early surgery tomorrow.”
“Yeah, right,” Rowe muttered, his smile showing he wasn’t in the least put out.
Snow paused long enough to let Melissa press a kiss to his cheek. “Have fun, sweetie,” she murmured with a dirty chuckle.
He strode fast toward the spot where that figure had disappeared and saw the man trying to dodge the crowd as he hurried toward the entrance. Snow caught glimpses of his black jacket as he moved. Right before the guy reached the door, he turned slightly and the light caught his face again.
Everything in Snow froze as he saw the long scar bisecting his left cheek. A scar Snow himself was responsible for inflicting. “Oh hell no,” he muttered as he pushed harder through the crowd and ran outside. His breath fogged instantly in the cold.
He pulled on his jacket, blinking against the blinding light hanging just above the entrance, forcing his eyes to adjust to the darkness as he searched for his target. Farther down the block to his right, he caught sight of a tall figure as he darted through an opening in the old chain link fence that surrounded the parking lot beside John R. Green School Supply. Snow lurched forward, roughly shoulder-checking a pair of college kids heading to the bar he’d just exited. They swore loudly, but Snow kept moving, ignoring them in favor of the sadistic bastard he planned to take apart with his bare hands.
Reviews of Shatter
“I absolutely loved this book. Snow and Jude were everything I hoped they would be and more. Jude is the exactly what Snow needs and I adored watching these two strong men fall for each other. It was incredibly sexy, emotional, and kept me flipping the pages. Did I mention it’s sexy? LOL.”
~5 Stars from Riley Hart, author of the Crossroads series
“Shatter is the amazeballs, mind-blowing, fabulous, suspense filled story of Snow and Jude and also the bond between the four brothers. This book is one hell of story which needs to be read and experienced to know the full extent of it’s awesomeness…!! I loved this book and it pushed all my buttons. I devoured this book and couldn’t put it down until I was finished…!!”
~5+ Stars from Gay Book Reviews