Xavier swore he’d never move back to the flyspeck of a town he’d grown up in and he kept that promise for over twenty years. Now he’s back for good.
Vincent never left. After earning his teaching certificate, he stayed in town to be close to his elderly parents. These days he’s the single dad of a fifteen-year-old daughter and working two jobs to make ends meet. He’s perfectly happy with his life.
Xavier’s mission is to save Cooper Springs. But his efforts are being hindered by his stodgy, straight-laced, rule-following neighbor, Vincent Barone. Dark-eyed, broad-shouldered, and muscly Vincent, who Xav stealthily ogles when he toils in his yard sans shirt. For a high school shop teacher, Vincent is too sexy. And he has a kid. And he infuriates Xavier. And anyway, love is for suckers.
Vincent doesn’t have time to date. And he certainly wouldn’t date his flashy, arrogant, neighbor who he absolutely did not have a crush on in high school. Who did Xavier think he was, moving back to town and throwing his weight around, causing butterflies in Vincent’s stomach, and making his stupid heart beat faster every time he saw him?
Cooper Springs has changed since they were kids, and maybe two guys can move from hate to love. But are they ready? Will Vincent bend a few of his rules? Will Xavier reign in his chaotic tendencies? Is love in the air?
Then there’s the matter of the grisly discovery in the woods, murder is bad for business.
Welcome to Cooper Springs, home to UFO chasers, Sasquatch believers, conspiracy theorists, chainsaw artists, and regular folk just trying to make a living. And, quite possibly, a killer.
Adverse Conditions is the first in the Reclaimed Hearts series, set in the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, it is an opposites-attract, older lovers. enemies to lovers, small-town romance, with a little murder.
If Vincent had any luck at all, Romy would never know that he had fallen asleep at Xavier’s until oh-dark-thirty, when he’d woken in a panic, jumped out of bed, and dashed across their street, barefoot, clutching his sweatshirt to his chest like the last remaining heroine in a slasher movie.
He was not that lucky.
A sleeping Xavier had mumbled something that hopefully wasn’t him being mad that Vincent was leaving. After school was out, he planned to track Xavier down and they could talk. Or not.
“Hey, Dad. Where were you last night?” Romy asked as she came into the kitchen a few hours later.
He’d had two hours to come up with something and he’d come up with absolutely nothing. Vincent was a terrible liar. It was as if he had some kind of internal sensor that started going off when he tried. He stuttered, his cheeks heated, and his skin twitched—apparently no one could see him blush, but Carly had probably lied about that too.
“Oh, um, just hanging out with a friend. Lost track of time.” Smooth. He choked back a curse when he realized his fingertips were tapping restlessly against the tabletop and quickly jammed his hand into his pocket.
Grabbing a bowl from the cupboard, Romy began pouring cereal into it. Vincent let out a noiseless sigh of relief. After she’d topped the bowl off with milk, she turned his direction, staring at him as she set her breakfast on the table.
Crap. He’d let his guard down too soon.
Eyeing him, Romy drew her dark eyebrows together— his daughter had a high-quality bull-crap detector and it was on full alert. He managed to resist shifting in his seat like a ten-year-old.
“On a Monday night? When it’s not a holiday?” Her eyes narrowed. “What happened to that early-to-bed thing you nag me about all the time?”
Lifting his coffee mug to his lips, Vincent shrugged as he took a big sip so he wouldn’t have to answer right away. He also resisted the urge to point out she was his daughter, not his mother.
Her eyes narrowed further as her gaze moved to… his neck? He squirmed, standing up so whatever she thought she saw wasn’t visible. His kid could be as—er, informed as she wanted to be about sex, but Vincent was a private guy and not about to share his extra-private life with his almost sixteen-year-old. Not ever.
Turning his back to his inquisitor, Vincent fished his lunch bag out of the fridge and then busied himself transferring fresh coffee into his Cooper Springs is for Lovers travel mug. Probably left over from the 1990s, it had a tacky graphic of two hairy Sasquatches kissing with little hearts floating above their heads. He’d picked it up at the thrift store last summer for a dollar, thinking it was hilarious. Romy had just given him a disdainful look when he’d proudly showed it to her.
“Do you need a ride in today?” Please god, not today. A car ride would inevitably lead to more questions. Vincent crossed his fingers out of Romy’s sight; Romy’s friend Violet had her license and a car.
“No, Vi’s picking me up in a few minutes.”
Vincent breathed a sigh of relief.
“Well, finish your breakfast before you leave, and don’t forget your club stuff. I am not coming home to get your things for you.”
Romy shoved the last spoonful of cereal into her mouth, continuing to eye him with suspicion.
“And lock the door on your way out. I’ve got a meeting with Jensen this morning, so I gotta get going.”
Grabbing his backpack, coffee, and lunch bag, he headed toward the door, but had a feeling he hadn’t escaped quite as easily as he hoped. Romy wouldn’t forget this.
“Don’t forget there’s a game Friday!” she called after him as he twisted the door handle.
How could he forget with his daughter, the high school, and most of the population of Cooper Springs spending the week reminding him?
“I’ll be there. I promised I would be.”
“And bring a friend!”
A friend? Like who? Most of the town would be there anyway. This was Cooper Spring High’s chance to beat Elma High, their closest rivals. Did she mean Xavier? No way, Xavier was not a Friday-night-high-school-football-game kind of man. Vincent chuckled, imagining Xavier wrapped up in a parka and rooting for the Cooper Springs Fighting Sasquatch [SB1] football team in the pouring rain.
Outside, the weather was cloudy, but no rain—not yet anyway. However, the weather report promised more was on the way. It was that weird time in late fall, when most of the deciduous trees were bare and the rest looked depressed, just waiting for that last leaf to drop. Vincent couldn’t stop himself from glancing across the street, but Xavier’s house was still dark.
If only Romy hadn’t already been suspicious. And he hadn’t been running late. And he hadn’t made sure Xavier’s front door was locked before leaving. If all that hadn’t happened this morning, Vincent might have snuck back over and left him a note. But Romy was probably watching him through the front window and Stuart Jensen, head of the eleventh and twelfth grade teaching staff, did not like it when his staff was late.
Elle Keaton writes MM romantic suspense set in the Pacific Northwest with some contemporary romance thrown in. She’s passionate about writing inclusive romances with complex characters and a unique sense of place. Her characters start out broken, and maybe they’re still banged up by the end, but they find the other half of their hearts and ALWAYS get their happily ever after. In 2017 Elle hit the publish button for the first time and hasn’t looked back. Being an author is the best job Elle has ever had and now she has over thirty books available for you to read or listen to! She loves cats and dogs, Star Wars and Star Trek, pineapple on pizza, and has a cribbage habit her husband encourages.
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