This is a return to light, fun romance, after spending so much time writing dark stories. I spent a lot of time lovingly describing the town I grew up in, until I was about eleven, making everything vivid and brightly colored, full of the scents of lilacs and cut grass and warm coffee. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I hope it will be for you as well!
Can the trusted town handyman rebuild a broken pianist’s heart?
When a freak accident ends Aiden’s career as a world-renowned classical pianist, he retreats to his New Hampshire hometown, where he finds the boy he liked growing up is even more appealing as a man.
Dean Cooper’s life as handyman to the people of Springhaven might not be glamorous, but he’s well-liked and happy. When Aiden drifts back into town, Dean is surprised to find the bond between them as strong as ever. But Aiden is distraught over the loss of his career and determined to get back on the international stage.
Seventeen years ago Dean made a sacrifice and let Aiden walk away. Now, with their romance rekindling, he knows he’ll have to make the sacrifice all over again. This time it may be more than he can bear.
Dean was unaccountably nervous as he followed Aiden around to the backyard. It wasn’t as if they were going to fuck in the gazebo or anything. Aiden had already vetoed making out, which was reasonable. But Dean had thought about him a lot over the years. After a couple of years had gone by with no sign of Aiden returning to Springhaven, even for just a summer, any delusions Dean had had about them running off together had died a painful death. But, yeah. Dean had still thought about him. And his thoughts hadn’t always been pure.
Now, Aiden was walking just a few feet ahead of him, and he’d grown up to be sexier than Dean’s most lurid fantasies. My God, look at that ass!
The gazebo was octagonal, with one side open and the other seven enclosed by a waist-high white wooden railing. Three curved benches formed a semicircle in the center, underneath a conical roof. The gazebo rested in the center of the lawn surrounded on all sides by a small, artificial frog pond, and that was surrounded by more of Mrs. Scott’s rosebushes. The scent of the flowers hung heavy in the warm evening air, and a chorus of crickets and spring peepers serenaded the men as they crossed the small, arched bridge and climbed the short flight of wooden steps.
As a boy, Dean had thought the Scotts must be millionaires. He knew that wasn’t the case, now, but they were certainly well-off.
“I’m tempted to light the TIKI torches,” Aiden said, grinning. “But I suppose Dad would come barreling out of the house, demanding to know who was screwing around in his yard. Either that, or Mom would be worried I was out here moping.”
“Moping about what?”
The shadows inside the gazebo were deep, so Dean couldn’t see Aiden’s face clearly, but there was a sadness in his voice. “Nothing. I guess I miss New York a bit.”
Dean could tell that wasn’t the real reason, but he doubted he’d get much more out of Aiden by prying.
A firefly drifted into the gazebo and they watched its slow flight until it landed on the railing. It sat there, blinking a soft greenish-yellow.
“You really liked it there?” Dean asked at last.
“I guess so. It was busy. Exciting. And people treated me like….” He trailed off.
Aiden gave out a faint, wistful little laugh. “Like a movie star.”
“Just because you play piano?” Dean realized he was probably being insulting. “Sorry. I mean… you play great. I love listening to you. But are you saying people wanted your autograph and shit like that?”
Aiden was silent for a long time, and Dean was afraid he was going to turn around, go back inside, and that would be the last time Aiden ever bothered to talk to him. Why the fuck did I have to say it like that?
Eventually, Aiden said, “Sometimes.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know shit about stuff like that.”
Another long silence. Then Aiden said, “Mom tells me you play clarinet now.”
“Uh… yeah. I’m not that good, though.”
Aiden sat down on one of the benches. “You play in the town fair?”
“Sort of.” Dean sat beside him, praying Aiden wouldn’t immediately get up again. The bench was small, so they were forced to sit close together. Dean could feel the heat of Aiden’s arm against his own, but Aiden made no move to put distance between them. “Remember Bart Robinson?”
“The math teacher?”
“Well, he was when you and I were in high school. He retired ages ago. And he put the Springhaven Septet—that’s what we called the band—together. We played every summer, until he passed away a couple of years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah.” Dean sighed. “So this year, they’re making me do it.”
“The band? Who’s making you do it?”
Dean held his hands out in front of him in a gesture of surrender. “The Ladies of Lilac Lane.”
That was right. The ladies hadn’t formed their little cabal before Aiden left. “Well, they’re kind of a… bunch of old women who boss people around a lot. Especially me.”
Aiden laughed and nudged him with his arm. “I didn’t think anyone could boss you around.”
“Yeah, well… I guess I let them.”
Dean shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure if he could explain it in any way that made sense to anyone else. “Do you remember Mr. Whitaker?”
Aiden sighed, a wistful sound. “Oh, yeah. I was thinking about him this afternoon, when I went uptown.”
“He kind of saved my life.”
Aiden huffed out a breath. “By making you mop his floor?”
“He told me that night, ‘Springhaven is a small community. A place where people still trust their neighbors. A lot of us don’t even lock our doors. But you’ve got the power to change that. If you want to live in a town where people always have to lock up and keep their eye on each other, well… all you gotta do is keep stealin’ people’s stuff. You’ll make it happen.’”
Aiden seemed to think about that for a while. Then he said, “Not that I’m saying you should have kept on stealing, but even if you didn’t, somebody else could.”
“Yeah,” Dean replied, nodding. “But I decided it wasn’t gonna be me. I liked the fact that everybody could trust their neighbors here, and I wasn’t gonna be the one to destroy that. I never stole another thing after that day. A while later Mr. Whitaker hired me for some yard work and started recommending me to his friends. That’s how I got started doing handyman stuff. And the old people in this town? They’re the best friends I ever had.” Then, without thinking, he added, “’Cept for you. But you left.”
He hadn’t meant to say that last part. It had just sort of slipped out. He knew then that, as much as he thought he’d gotten over that brief teenage romance between them, he hadn’t. Not really. The memory of how alone he’d been during the last years of high school was still painful to think about.
God, I’m pathetic.
To his surprise, Aiden reached out and covered Dean’s hand with his. He didn’t say “I’m sorry” or anything else. He just quietly took Dean’s hand and held it. They sat in silence for a long time, and Dean was grateful he didn’t have to speak, because a lump had formed in his throat. If he tried to say anything, he’d probably embarrass himself.