Martin is a ghost. Well, not really, but he might as well be. Job gone, home gone, self-respect gone, and no one even seems to notice. The only person who really sees him is Seb, the artist who lives above the used bookstore.
Seb haunts the edges of Seacroft in search of beauty. He knows how to excavate the hidden value in abandoned things–whether it’s in the pages of forgotten books or in Martin’s stuttering attempts to rebuild his life–and transform them into works of art.
Two lost souls, Seb and Martin discover the strength they need to face eccentric townies and their dysfunctional families together. But as friendship sparks toward something more, neither man wants to risk what they’ve only just found. It takes two to fall in love, but it will take the whole community to bring their beauty to life.
Top Shelf is an 81k slow burn friends-to-lovers MM romance. It features an anxious professor, a drama queen artist, a bookstore that might be haunted, and a full-blown heart-eyes HEA.
A Seacroft Novel
Release Date: 05.20.19
Small Town Quirks
Welcome to Seacroft, North Carolina. Population 15,832, give or take a few thousand when tourist season rolls around. Seacroft is known for its sprawling beaches and sunshine, but the real stories happen when the tourists go home. The town’s residents have their secrets and their scars, and while they’ll come together to help a neighbor in need, it takes a certain kind of love to help everyone find their place in the sun.
I love small towns. This is in part because I grew up in one, so I know how to appreciate the quirks while overlooking their drawbacks—like public transit that only comes once an hour, grocery stores that close at suppertime every night of the week, and the inevitable sense of otherness that happens when you arrive in one without a family connection or other shared history.
Small towns are naturally close-knit. It’s not always about being suspicious of people from other places, it’s just that you see the same people so often, you get to know them well. In the big city, where I live now, you only know one facet of a person’s life. They’re your neighbor, your co-worker, maybe your doctor or your butcher. In a small town, they’re all those things rolled into one.
Here’s an example.
Growing up, my family doctor was also a good family friend. His ex-wife went to college with my mom and his daughter was my brother’s first girlfriend. Or we could talk about the local kindergarten teacher who was also my grandmother’s neighbor and had a sailboat at the same marina where my parents kept theirs.
It’s almost inevitable that you just get to know people better in a small town because your lives overlap so much.
In Top Shelf, Seacroft is a lot like this. Business owners are neighbors and also sit on the same fundraising committees. It seems warm and cozy, but it can be isolating for newcomers. Martin is naturally shy, and the bustle of Seacroft leaves him feeling more invisible than anything. And Seb seems completely accepted into the community, but he’s spent his whole life feeling like an outsider.
Kinda seems like they should meet, doesn’t it?
The distinct sound of footsteps had him freezing in place again. Martin’s breath went shallow, and he clutched at the phone. Was it inappropriate to call the police on his first day of work? There was someone in the store, and Martin was very sure he had not seen anyone come in since Cassidy had left.
He moved in between the shelves as his mind raced. What if someone had snuck in? Broken in?
Why would someone sneak in to steal used books?
Martin grabbed a cookbook off a shelf labeled ‘Everything is Better With Salt’ and hefted it, testing the weight. If someone was back there, and that someone was up to no good, Martin could use the book as a weapon.
There was a soft sound of someone humming, and it made the hairs on Martin’s neck prickle. He tripped at the edge of the next shelf.
“Cass, is that you?”
Martin froze with the cookbook half-raised to his shoulder. Every part of him went on alert at the sound of a man’s voice, much closer than he’d expected.
Another book dropped to the ground.
He peeked around a shelf. The first thing his brain registered was white, and it was almost enough to convince him that he was seeing a ghost. His fingers tightened around the cookbook.
A long pale arm reached up and lifted a book off the very top shelf.
It was a man.
He wore faded jeans and a gray T-shirt. His hair was bleached blond. If he was a thief, he was a terrible one, because he flipped through the book, then let it drop to the floor next to what must have been the other ones Martin had already heard fall.
He was a man though, whoever he was. Tall and solid. Not a ghost. Martin lowered the cookbook. Assaulting a customer on his first day would be a bad career move.
“Excuse me,” he said, but it was drowned out as the next book thumped to the floor. Martin hopped back a step, but gathered himself and tried again. “Excuse me. I’m closing up.”
“Sure thing,” the man said as he stretched up on his toes again, reaching for another book. His shirt lifted from the waist of his jeans, and the skin underneath was so pale it enhanced his ghostly appearance.
When Martin didn’t leave, the man glanced over his shoulder, and his face made Martin’s heart stop. He wasn’t a ghost or a thief, but whoever he was, he was handsome. Blue eyes flicked up and down once, like he was trying to decide the kind of threat Martin might pose.
As Martin inhaled to assert himself again, the man turned back to the shelf.
“You—” Martin swallowed hard, willing himself to stand firm. “You’ll have to go.”
Those blue eyes darted toward Martin again, like a wrist flicking at a fly. The man grinned, a slow sly grin that made Martin’s insides twist.
“You’re new, aren’t you?” the man said.
Martin’s ears burned. He knew a dismissal when he heard one.
“If—If there’s something you’d like to buy, I can help you cash out. Otherwise, we’ll be open again on Monday at—” What time did they open? It had been nine o’clock on Saturday. Was it the same time on weekdays?
The blond man frowned, and Martin’s heart lurched under the stranger’s scrutiny. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had really looked at him. For all his rising panic at the feeling of being alone in the store earlier, he very much wanted to return to that solitude right now. It was so much better than being the center of this man’s attention.
“How long have you worked here?” The strange man’s voice was soft and low, rippling through the space between them.
Martin shivered and had to focus to keep his feet planted. “We’re closing and—”
“Where’s Cass?” The man glanced over Martin’s shoulder, giving him a moment to breathe.
“Cassidy? She went home.”
“What’s your name?” Those eyes were on Martin again in an instant, making him light-headed.
“Martin.” Too late, he wondered if he shouldn’t have introduced himself, particularly when the other man made no effort to return the favor.
“Well then, Martin.” The man took a step forward. “It appears no one bothered to inform you—”
“I’ll call the owner.” Martin was losing ground and needed to fix this quickly. Calling Mrs. Green to resolve a grumpy customer was absolutely a bad idea, but he was on the verge of being run out of his own bookstore, so there weren’t many options left.
To illustrate that point, the blond man’s eyes widened and his lips formed into an ‘O’.
“No no. Please.” He held his hands wide, as his mouth pulled into another grin. Everything about it made Martin want to shrink into himself until he was nothing but a speck of dust on a bookshelf.
“I’m sorry,” he said, giving it one last go. “But we close at six and—”
The man didn’t appear to hear him. He toed through the pile of books at his feet.
Martin winced as pages bent under his shoes. “Please don’t—”
Thin fingers pinched the crumpled pages together and lifted them in the air, the book’s heavy covers flopping to the sides. There was the soft sound of paper tearing.
The man tucked the book under one arm. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll pay for it.” He put a hand in one of his pockets, then actually swaggered toward Martin, whose vision wavered as the man’s fingers brushed against his own. Martin gasped at the hard weight of something metal in his palm. The silence of the bookshop was broken by the sound of coins tumbling out of Martin’s frozen hand and onto the floor.
“That should cover it.” The man whispered it low. The feeling of his breath on Martin’s skin made him turn into a Martin-shaped statue, frozen in place as the other man slid past him.
“Nice to meet you,” the man said. “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”
It felt like hours, but it probably was only a matter of seconds before he trembled and broke out of his daze. The floorboards creaked as the man walked away. Martin knelt and collected the coins he’d dropped. They were all nickels and dimes, and they totaled up to just under two dollars.
A door closed and the shop fell quiet.
Martin wound his way back the way he’d come. Nerves boiled inside him, and he hesitated around every blind corner between shelves, half expecting the blond stranger to leap out at him like some deranged Jack in the Box. He stumbled into the open space at the front.
He was alone.
Martin went to the door. It surprised him that the hinges hadn’t made their booming wail as the man left.
His hand stopped as he reached for the deadbolt. It was still in position. The door was locked.
Where had the man come from? And where had he gone?
I first have to say that this is a new to me author, but I’m such a sucker for the wounded bird, that I really wanted to see what Martin was about. From the blurb, I didn’t understand what happened to cause the situation he was in right then, and to be honest, though it was touched on, I’m still unsure how it affected him the way it did and what he actually went through. I might’ve missed something, but I’m just not sure. I really felt for him though, because he was so relatable. Kind of going through this really hard thing and needing a place to just start over and restart his life and figure out where he was going to go and what he was going to do.
Having a PhD and then finding himself on the better side of what I saw as a nervous breakdown, he was feeling pretty low. He needed to take baby steps and that’s what he was doing, trying to find himself again. That’s when he found a little book shop with a cute high schooler and broody upstairs tenant to make his days entertaining.
Now, I’m going to say, I did not like many people in this book, even Seb, the main character. He does not have a lot of redeeming qualities for the first half. He’s entitled, bratty and just not a good person. I could kind of understand, because you’ll meet his father and he’s an even worse person. The way he treated Seb his whole life was literally abusive, if only emotionally and often times verbally, and I’m sure that once he got old enough, Seb pushed that and egged it on… but no…. I think the author tried to make the father redeemable towards the end, but the damage was already done.
I also heavily, heavily, heavily disliked Kenneth, Seb’s manager. He’s selfish, also entitled, bratty and just so self centered that he kind of just made me sick. I kind of wish that Martin would’ve punched him a time or two just because he’s so annoying and in your face about it. I literally almost stopped reading because of him.
Seb’s brother Oliver also took me a while to warm up to. He seemed shady and untrustworthy and I didn’t like how he treated Seb either. The only person in Seb’s family that seemed to care about him, was his Nana and she was only around for a second. I hated that for him and it kind of done a little bit to warm me up to Seb. Not much, but a little bit.
I finally turned a corner with him when I saw how he was with Martin. His mouth still got the better of him sometimes and he reminded me of a villain more often that not. When he feels any emotion at all, he turns hostile and doesn’t care who he hurts in the process and I just can’t stand those kind of people. It made him hard to relate to, and hard to like….at least in my opinion.
Between Seb’s family and a Seb running away and being awful at the first sign of trouble, I wasn’t so sure that these two were going to make it. I really hoped, but I also kind of thought that Martin deserved better. Seb pulled it together in the end, and I appreciated that his family tried at the end… but, his father was unforgivable and I hated that they even tried. Like a lifetime was all forgotten because 6 months had passed by saying, 6-months-later.
I dunno… maybe I’m being too picky and maybe I’m protective over Martin because I see so much of myself in him and I thought that he deserved better. I was happy with the friends that he made, the relationship he had with his brother and even Seb for helping him find himself, even if half of it was standing up for himself and fighting for someone else. I’m guess the next book is about brother Ollie, and though I’m curious… I’ll have to see how much influence their father has in the next story, otherwise I’ll give it a skip.
FAVORITE LINE“How does that work?” Martin wasn’t following. “If I met a girl I liked – when I met Jess – I just knew. You know? I walked right up to her and told ehr I was buying her a drink. But, if it were a guy… what do you do? Martin tried not to be annoyed.
“We take our shirts off and flap our arms while we turn in a circle squawking like a chicken. It’s the secret gay mating dance. They teach it to us in a special after-school health class.”
3.5 Pieces of Eye Candy
Allison Temple has been a writer since the second grade, when she wrote a short story about a girl and her horse. Her grandmother typed it out for her and said she’s never seen so many quotation marks from a seven-year-old before. Allison took that as a challenge and has gone on to try to break her previous record in all her subsequent works.
Allison lives in Toronto with her very patient husband and the world’s neediest cat. She splits her free time between writing, community theater stage management, and traveling anywhere that has good wine. Tragically, this leaves no time to clean her house.
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