Moving to Shadow Hills was supposed to be the start of a new life for Lachlan MacAuley, and for a while, the sleepy little town provided exactly what he’d been seeking. His debut novel had soared to the top of the bestseller charts, and each subsequent book only boosted his popularity. Though he had more imaginary friends than real ones, he was happy, finally living his dream as a published author.
Then, in one tragic moment, everything changed.
Xeno knows the rules. He knows the risks of bringing a human into his world, but when he meets Lachlan at the local coffeehouse, he can’t deny there’s something between them. The connection goes deeper than mere physical attraction, though, and more than anything, he wants to mend the broken author and help to pick up the shattered remains of his life.
So many obstacles stand between them and their happy ending, but if they can learn to lean on one another, believe they can trust again, it may just be a holiday they’ll never forget.
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"Ms Michaels does an amazing job of bringing me, the reader, into this story making me feel so connected that I never wanted it to end. I love the emotional connection I had to the characters, the love I felt jumping off the pages and the hotter than sin sex that is the icing on a story I will not soon forget. This book is going on my keeper shelf."
The alluring scent of brewed coffee and freshly baked cinnamon buns wafted through the small corner café. Coffeehouses of all sizes and varying degrees of popularity littered the art district in Shadow Hills, but Brew Ha Ha offered a very inspirational environment. The free wireless internet, the dim, intimate lighting, and the secluded corners with large, squashy chairs provided the perfect writer’s paradise.
Every morning for nearly two years, Lachlan MacAuley had packed his laptop, his notebooks, and his hopes and dreams in a battered messenger bag. Then he’d walk the three blocks to Brew Ha Ha, order a non-fat, no foam salted caramel macchiato, and commandeer his favorite armchair in the back of the café. And every morning for the past six months, he’d sat in that chair and stared at the blinking curser on his screen while crickets chirped inside his head.
That first year had been phenomenal, like walking on a cloud. His debut novel, Public Affair, had soared to the top of the bestseller charts, and from there, Lachlan had been unstoppable. If he wasn’t writing, he was thinking about writing. His entire life, he’d dreamed of being a published author, and living the dream proved to be better than anything he could have imagined.
Then everything changed.
The night had started like any other. Lachlan had retreated into his own mind, frantically pounding away at the keyboard and feeling almost giddy as his latest story unfolded right before his eyes. The café had been deserted by the time he’d come up for air, and the baristas had already started their nightly cleanup.
After packing away his portable office and paying the tab for the endless amounts of coffee he’d consumed during his marathon writing session, he’d set out for home, eager to reach his apartment so he could return to his fantasyland. Contemplating his hero’s current predicament and spinning out scenarios of how Sargent Dwayne Moore could swoop in and save the day, Lachlan hadn’t even seen the headlights or heard the blare of the horn from the car that hit him.
The doctors had told him he’d been lucky to survive. The nurses who’d tended to him during his two month hospital stay had commented more than once about his miraculous recovery. His physical therapist had told him not to be surprised if he always needed a cane to walk, but in the same breath, he’d applauded how quickly Lachlan had pulled himself up out of his wheelchair.
Since then, however, he hadn’t been able to write anything, and the longer the words refused to flow, the deeper he sank into depression. Maybe he’d lost the spark. He’d certainly lost the passion of being an author. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to be anything else.
He had to figure out something soon, though, because writer’s block didn’t pay the rent. The last quarter’s royalties would carry him for a little while, but the money wouldn’t last forever. So, he’d given himself a personal deadline—three weeks, right up to Christmas day—and if he still wasn’t writing by then, he’d start looking for a new job.
Dragging himself out of his pity party, Lachlan looked up at the hottie in the apron and grinned. “I could go for another macchiato.”
“You got it.” The barista winked before taking Lachlan’s cup and hustling back behind the counter.
“Hello, inspiration,” Lachlan mumbled to himself as he watched the sexy blond walk away. The baggy denim hid what was most likely a fantastic ass, but the too-tight T-shirt more than made up for it. The gray cotton encased his torso, molding to him like a second skin that hugged every dip, curve, and lean muscle.
A twinge in his left hip reminded Lachlan why he could look, but he’d never get any farther. Men as beautiful as that didn’t go for broken, socially awkward nerds who had more imaginary friends than real ones.
“Here ya are, handsome.” The server returned with an extra-large mug of steamy, creamy goodness. “You’ve been here for a couple of hours, and I noticed you haven’t eaten anything. I asked around, and one of the girls said you like the banana bread.” He flashed a genuine smile as he placed the coffee and bread down on the side table. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“Thank you.” A wave of shyness overwhelmed Lachlan, and he had a hard time not ducking his head and averting his eyes. No one paid attention to him anymore, not unless they were gawking at his limp, but this guy had watched him long enough to know he hadn’t eaten. He should probably be creeped out by the stalkerish behavior, but strangely, he found it kind of sweet. “Are you new here? I haven’t seen you around before.”
“I’ve worked here for a couple of months, but I just switched to second shift yesterday.” He wiped his right hand on the towel slung over his shoulder and offered it to Lachlan. “I’m Xeno.”
“Now that needs to go in a book.” Lachlan took Xeno’s hand and squeezed, but he let go quickly, placing his hand back in his lap to hide its shaking.
“You’re an author?” Xeno’s eyes lit up, and he looked like he might wet himself with excitement. “Can I ask what you write? Or is that rude?”
A quiet chuckle, the first real one he’d uttered in months, rolled through Lachlan’s chest and up through his lips. “I don’t mind. I’m Lachlan, by the way.” While he didn’t advertise what he wrote, he’d never been ashamed of it, either. “I write gay erotic romance.” Then he sat back and waited for Xeno’s reaction.
“Really? I mean, you’re published and everything?”
“And everything,” Lachlan confirmed around more laughter. “So I guess this means you’re not going to kick me out on my ass.”
“Are you kidding? That is so cool.” His bright green eyes practically glowed, and he danced from foot to foot, clearly wanting to interrogate Lachlan further. “Hey, I have a break in ten minutes. Would you mind some company?”
“Not at all. I’ll be right here.” His heart pounded too fast, and the tension in his muscles made his hip hurt like the ten shades of hell. To pass up an opportunity like this, even if the guy was only interested in him for his books, would be stupid, though. Lachlan had been accused of a lot of things, but never of stupidity.
“Awesome.” Xeno started to leave, but he paused and glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh, um, out of curiosity. What’s your last name?”
“MacAuley. Lachlan MacAuley.”
* * * *
“Okay, don’t freak out. Don’t be lame.” Gripping the porcelain edges of the small sink in the employee bathroom, Xeno stared into the mirror and tried not to giggle like a damn schoolgirl. “Holy fuck, it’s really him.” He squeezed his eyes closed and shook his head. “Stop it. Just be cool.”
Though he’d read thousands of gay romance novels over the years, something about Public Affair, had spoken to him. It wasn’t just that he connected with the characters. He became the characters. Every heartbreak, disappointment, victory, and celebration the men in that book experienced, Xeno lived it right along with them.
After that, he’d snatched up every Lachlan MacAuley title he could get his hands on. He stalked Lachlan’s website, always checking to see what the man had coming up next and what he’d be working on in the months to come. Every new release felt like Christmas morning, and Xeno devoured every chapter, every scene, and every sentence with inappropriate enthusiasm.
Now, the man had just agreed to a date with him. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a date date, but that didn’t make him any less nervous. And good gods, did the man have to be just as handsome and charming as the heroes in his books? With high cheekbones, dazzling blue eyes, and a gorgeous head of thick, brown hair, Lachlan looked more suited to the Hollywood limelight than hiding behind a keyboard.
“Okay, you can do this. He’s just like any other guy, right?” Xeno nodded to his reflection, took a deep breath, and pasted a smile on his face. “Right.”
Not wanting to appear too eager, however, he washed his hands and face, tamed his unruly spikes, and smoothed the front of his T-shirt. Then he stopped by the counter before returning to Lachlan’s corner of the café to order two more coffees and a few more slices of banana bread.
“It’s good to see him smiling again.” Myah pushed the tray toward him as she tilted her head in Lachlan’s direction. “Just don’t ask about his cane, okay? He’s kind of sensitive about it.”
“Exactly.” She leveled a pointed glare on him before waving him away. “Go have fun and behave yourself.”
Xeno lifted the serving tray as he wiggled his eyebrows. “I always do.”
“You’re back.” Lachlan’s eyes widened, and he nearly knocked over his coffee mug when Xeno approached him.
“You sound surprised. Did you doubt me?”
“Honestly?” Ducking his head, he peeked up at Xeno through long, dark lashes and shrugged. “Yes.”
“Well, shame on you.” Flashing a bright grin to soften the chastisement, Xeno sat the tray down on the round table beside Lachlan and settled into the unoccupied chair on the other side. “I’m not disturbing you, am I? I mean, if you’re working, I can get lost.”
“No, no, you’re not bothering me.” Leaning back against the cushions, Lachlan crossed one leg over the other and folded his hands in his lap. “So are you an aspiring author? Is that why you wanted to talk to me? I’m no expert, but I can give you some tips.”
“An aspiring…” Trailing off into laughter, Xeno didn’t think he’d ever heard anything so absurd. “No, no, I’m not creative enough to be a writer.”
“Oh.” Lachlan’s brow furrowed, and his lips thinned into a straight line. “I–I’m sorry. I guess I don’t understand.”
Bless his heart, he really was adorable. “Lachlan, I’m a huge fan of your work. I just wanted a chance to talk to my favorite author. No ulterior motive, I promise.” Part of him did want to question the man about his lack of new books in the past several months, but he tempered his curiosity. The creative process was a fickle thing, or so he’d heard.
“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed you, well, you know.”
“What? Know how to read?”
“No, of course not, that’s not what I meant.” Lachlan covered his face with both hands, but the act didn’t completely hide the blush that crept into his cheeks. Dropping his hands, he breathed in deeply through his nose and attempted a wobbly smile. “I wouldn’t have guessed you were gay.”
“You mean until I open my mouth and my stilettos fall out?”
Gods, the guy had a great laugh, and his smile brightened the entire room. It sounded rusty and a little unused, but it still caused Xeno’s heart to flutter. It didn’t, however, mask the squint in his eyes or the way his lips twisted into subtle grimace.
Sitting up straighter, Lachlan repositioned in his seat so that he could straighten out his right leg. “Tell me, Xeno, do you have a last name?”
“Like the name of the town.” Lachlan nodded as though this made perfect sense. “Any relation to the first settlers?”
He and his family had been the first to settle in Shadow Hills, but he couldn’t tell Lachlan that. The guy would never believe him, and besides, telling him would break the golden rule set forth by the Elders of their race. Under no circumstances were humans allowed to know about their world. Things had been that way for two thousand years, and Xeno imagined they’d continue to be that way for two thousand more.
“Um, you know, I’m not sure. I’ve never really been a history buff.” Damn, he hated lying, but he couldn’t change the rules. “What about you? How long have you lived here?”
“I grew up in Virginia, have lived here all my life, but I just moved to Shadow Hills three years ago. My mom remarried and moved to California.” Lachlan grimaced again and rubbed at his right thigh. “I don’t have any other family, nothing tying me to Norfolk. I wanted a nice quiet place to write, and Shadow Hills fit that bill.”
“Norfolk? Military family?”
“Yeah, my dad was Navy. After he died, we just kind of stayed there, ya know?” Lachlan bent his knee and turned in his seat, but he seemed to be having a hard time getting comfortable. “Enough about me, though. Tell me something about you, something unique.”
I’m a dreamwalking werewolf. It didn’t get much more unique than that, but Lachlan would either think him insane or laugh right in his face. “My favorite color is hot pink.”
“Boring.” Lachlan tapped his lips and pretended to yawn. “My favorite color is purple. Tell me something else.”
“Last year, I went to a Halloween party as Cinderella.”
“College jocks do that for fun. Try again.”
Leaning forward in his chair, Xeno propped his chin up in his hand and smirked. “You’re a tough sale, Mr. MacAuley. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not unique.”
“I doubt that. I think you’re pretty damn special.” It didn’t take Lachlan long to realize what he’d said, and when he did, his cheeks reddened once again. Clearing his throat, he hastened to change the subject. “Tell me something you haven’t told anyone else.”
“Okay, okay, I got one for you.” Leaning even closer, he glanced around to make sure no one would overhear him. “I got this job because I slept with the manager.”
“You little slut.” Lachlan’s eyes crinkled in the corners and his nose scrunched when he smiled.
“In my defense, I didn’t sleep with him just to get the job.” Hell, he hadn’t even been looking for a job at the time. However, when the opportunity presented itself one night when they were both naked, sweating, and panting, Xeno hadn’t hesitated to jump at it. “Okay, you’re turn. Tell me something you haven’t told anyone else.”
Several seconds passed in silence while Lachlan fidgeted with the strap on his messenger bag. “I don’t really sleep anymore.” He spoke in quiet monotones, and he wouldn’t look Xeno in the eyes. “I don’t like the dark.” Turning his head to the side, his gaze flickered toward the window and his shoulders tensed. “I need to go.”
Xeno didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing, but his chest constricted at the hollow look in the man’s eyes. What happened to you? “Okay, well, I work second shift again tomorrow. Will I see you then?”
“Maybe,” Lachlan answered while he tucked his laptop into his bag and slung the strap over his shoulder. “I have an appointment tomorrow.”
Curiosity ate away at him, but Xeno didn’t know the man well enough to pry into his personal life. “I should get back to work, but I hope I see you again. Take care, Lachlan.”
“Yes. No. I mean, I…I don’t know.” The sweet, shy man Xeno had shared coffee with just a moment before had turned into a distracted, frantic mess. Pulling a long black walking stick out from behind the chair, he curled his fingers around the silver knob at the end and leaned heavily against it. “I have to go.” Without further comment, without even looking in Xeno’s direction, Lachlan hurried toward the exit as fast as his limp would allow.
Gathering the dishes and trash from the table, Xeno carried the tray back to the front counter while he contemplated the odd behavior. “Is he always like that?”
“Like what?” Myah propped one hip on the counter and cocked her head to the side, causing her blond ponytail to bounce.
“I thought things were going well, but then he started acting all weird. Next thing I know, he’s practically running out of the door.”
“Lachlan doesn’t go out after dark, not since the accident.” Sucking her bottom lip between her teeth, Myah’s expression clouded as she stared through the door to the darkening sky beyond. “I hope he’ll be okay.”
“Wait, back up. What accident?”
“It happened at the beginning of the year. He was crossing the street and this car just came out of nowhere. Everyone says he’s lucky to be alive, but Lachlan hasn’t been the same since it happened.”
The constant shifting, the pained grimaces, the cane, the fear of the dark—it all made sense now. “Myah, will you cover for me? I have something I need to do.”