Shadows of Love, page 1
“Shadows of Love”
M/M Gay Romance
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This book is intended for Adults (ages 18+) only. The contents may be offensive to some readers. It may contain graphic language, explicit sexual content, and adult situations. May contain scenes of unprotected sex. Please do not read this book if you are offended by content as mentioned above or if you are under the age of 18.
Please educate yourself on safe sex practices before making potentially life-changing decisions about sex in real life. If you’re not sure where to start, see here: http://www.jerrycoleauthor.com/safe-sex-resources/.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner & are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Products or brand names mentioned are trademarks of their respective holders or companies. The cover uses licensed images & are shown for illustrative purposes only. Any person(s) that may be depicted on the cover are simply models.
Edition v1.00 (2019.10.23)
Special thanks to the following volunteer readers who helped with proofreading: D. Fair, Julian White, RB, Jenny, Naomi W., JayBee and those who assisted but wished to be anonymous. Thank you so much for your support.
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Table of Contents
The air was chilly and rigid with darkness as Gabe walked down the lengthy row of tombstones toward the end. He held his phone as a flashlight. He was alone in the cemetery. The rest of the world had gone on around him, busy Los Angeles doing what it did best: move. He glanced around at the surrounding highways and roads where the lights zipped by in colorful flashes, never stopping. When he raised his eyes to the sky, he could barely see the stars.
But, the moon was bright. At least he had more light to guide him.
After redirecting his gaze, he noticed the tombstone he had come to see. He paused in front of it with a crooked smile and sank to the ground. The cool grass greeted his bare knees. He felt the blades tickle his skin and slither up beneath his shorts. As he reached for the stone, the breeze picked up and carried with it the sounds of the city.
Horns honked. Tires skidded. Voices shouted. Voices praised. Voices rose high above the earth and floated through the sky, adding to the mixture of air and pollution hanging above Gabe's head. He could almost see the clouds of it clogging up the atmosphere. But that was just a trick of his imagination. He didn't know for sure what was up there, just that maybe his friend was looking down upon him.
He stared at the letters on the tombstone.
“You were a real star, Ben,” he whispered while procuring a flask from his pocket. The metal clinked against his silver ring, the tarnished wolf winking slightly in the moonlight. He unscrewed the cap and held the flask out. “You always had your faculties about you.”
He took a swig, swirling some of the whiskey in his mouth before swallowing. As he sighed, he relaxed back on his feet, sinking into the ground.
“What was different about that day?”
His thoughts swirled in a messy whirlwind of ideas—there were so many factors to consider surrounding Ben's death. The cops were sure that it wasn't an accident. After all, Ben Reilly was a well-known stuntman and death-defier. He was an extraordinary man with the ability to cheat death one too many times.
“Maybe that's what killed you. Maybe death just caught up.”
Gabe took another sip. He listened to the liquid slosh around in the flask, the only sound that really struck him in the silence of the cemetery. There weren't too many people after dark. Sure, there might be some teenagers sneaking around with their beer and lousy cigarettes, but there wasn't a soul that would disturb him. He was by himself.
And he had Ben's tombstone.
“But that's not right,” he continued musing to the tombstone. “You and I were always cautious about every stunt we did. We went over all the mechanics. We went over the risks. We weighed them against the benefits of it being captured on camera.”
He shook his head.
“What happened, Ben? Who killed you?”
He sighed as he swirled the whiskey around in the flask. Some of it splashed out and spattered against his cheek, instantly cooling his skin with the help of the breeze. He unfolded his legs from beneath him and stretched them out, touching the edge of the stone with his boots. His boots were heavily scuffed from being used in nearly every stunt.
He clicked his boots together a few times and chuckled, taking another sip of whiskey. When he set the flask down beside him, he fell still for a moment, absorbing the energy around him. The night air had gone still. While the chill was still present, he didn't quite feel it. The whiskey had warmed him enough—or fooled him into thinking he was warm enough—to where he shed his jacket.
He fingered the patch on the shoulder of the jacket. “We made this one together. It means that death comes for us all, so we might as well flirt with it. If only we knew that meant it would speed everything up...”
He sniffled. The tears were on their way and he didn't mind them. He was alone and he could shed as many as he wanted in the privacy that the tombstones provided. A few tears fell and he allowed them to trickle down his neck, sinking beneath the collar of his t-shirt. After a few deep breaths, he glanced at the surrounding stones and studied their weathered appearance, some of them much older than others. There were statues of angels and saints dotting the area along with lonely benches positioned under trees.
The tree nearest him sprang to life, branches waving as if greeting him and causing the tink, tink, tink of wind chimes as they collided. As the wind chimes danced, he smiled. He felt comforted by their simple song.
A light flashed over the tombstone and subsequently over him. He turned with a sharp glare and raised his hand to shield his eyes. “Do you mind?”
“Visiting hours are over, friend. You'll have to come back in the morning.”
“I don't suppose yo
The stranger paused for a moment. He dropped the flashlight and illuminated the grass instead, drawing a few steps closer. “I mean, I guess I could do that. You're not tagging anything, are you?”
“No, I wouldn't dream of it. That's disrespectful.”
“Good on you. There is one condition for sitting here, though.”
“I have to sit with you until you leave.”
Gabe chuckled. “As long as you don't mind partaking in a drink.”
“What do you have?” The stranger strode over and dropped to the ground next to Gabe, clicking off his flashlight. Darkness fell over the cemetery once more. “I'll accept it assuming you have anything good with you.”
Gabe held out the flask. “I always drink the best. It's whiskey. Go for it.”
“I appreciate it.” As the man accepted the flask, he hummed. He took a sip and smacked his lips a few times. “Not bad. I could do you one better.”
“Oh yeah? What's better than top shelf?”
“The shelf above the top shelf.”
“And I don't suppose you've got that sitting in your pocket, do you? Unless you've been met by some zombies or something.”
The stranger laughed. “Oh, there's none of that here.”
“But this is Hollywood. All of that is supposed to happen here.”
“Not on my watch.”
“You must be the best crypt-keeper ever.”
The man cocked his head. “Actually, I work in the funeral home. I was just out taking a walk.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“I mean, I guess I look pretty normal by most standards.”
“Do you have a normal name?”
“No, actually, that's not particularly normal. My mother named me Roland.”
Gabe raised his eyebrows with interest. “Well, that's quite a name. What's the rest of your name sound like?”
“It sounds like a movie character—Gamble. Roland Gamble, mortician's assistant at your service.” Roland held out his hand. “And you are?”
“Gabriel Hyde. Everyone calls me Gabe.” Gabe shook Roland's hand and smirked. “So, stressful day? I can't imagine what might prompt a drink if you work with dead people.”
“It's not the corpses that make it stressful—it's the families.”
Gabe made a face. “That doesn't sound great.”
“I mean, death has a strong impact on people. It makes them do things they wouldn't normally do.”
Gabe squinted through the darkness between them. “Yodeling...Are you serious?”
“I am so serious. This woman yodeled for a good twenty minutes and I think I've got a permanent headache.”
“But was it beautiful?”
Roland shrugged. “In its own way, sure. It was tear-jerking. But it was also headache-inducing.”
Gabe laughed. “I'm sorry to hear that. Do you need some more whiskey?”
“Just a pinch.”
While Gabe handed over the flask, he felt Roland's fingers brush against his. A sharp jab of energy struck his gut and he swallowed hard, squirming slightly while he tried to determine whether it was lack of romantic touch that had prompted the feeling or whether it might have been death.
Death has a strong impact on people, right? He shook his head. It's probably nothing. I'm probably just a little tipsy.
“I'm sorry about your friend, by the way,” Roland lamented as he handed the flask back. “I remember this plot. It was quite recent.”
“Yeah...Ben was a daredevil with a death wish, so naturally, death answered.”
“That's still unfortunate.”
“I mean, he didn't ask for it. I still think somebody messed with his wires. I had set them up myself and they were perfect. Everything was perfect.”
Roland frowned. His features were much clearer now that Gabe's eyes had adjusted to the lack of light. “What do you mean?”
“I think somebody caused Ben's death. The cops didn't find any funny business, but I suspect there was somebody in there messing up all the rigs.”
“I can't imagine the police would miss something like that.”
“Well, when they don't care that much, of course they miss it.”
Roland nodded slowly. “Do you have any suspects in mind?”
“Honestly, I don't. I can't even imagine who would put Ben's life at risk, let alone purposefully kill him. What kind of monster would do that?”
“I don't suppose it was a ghost.”
Gabe chuckled. “I have considered that as well. I've been watching my back, too. I don't want to be next.”
“You're a stuntman?”
“Certified and everything.”
“My goodness, you must have your work cut out for you.”
“I do. It's been an amazing career, but it's not without its scars.”
Roland smiled slightly. “Do you want to tell me about it over dinner?”
Gabe sputtered over his reply. His ears had turned red, though he was sure Roland couldn't see that, and his cheek muscles were struggling to suppress a smile. “I'm sorry...what?”
“Dinner—you must be hungry after sitting out here and drinking. I've got some leftovers inside the home that I'd be willing to share.” Roland paused for a beat. “That is if you're brave enough to come inside the morgue.”
“I'm kidding! It's in the kitchen. What do you say?”
“I say I could absolutely use a hot meal. What's on the menu?”
“Rosemary chicken and potatoes with plenty of cheese.”
Gabe rose up from the ground and offered Roland a hand. “I'm in.”
Roland took Gabe's hand, hoisting himself up from the ground. He patted away the grass from the back of his slacks and led Gabe down the lengthy row of plots to the main road. He picked up his pace on the pavement.
“So,” Gabe said. White mist spilled from his mouth as he spoke. “Do you take every cute guy you meet into the morgue?”
Roland chuckled. “I beg your pardon?”
“Well, if there's a begging option...”
Roland laughed a hearty laugh as they approached the blazing porch light of the funeral home. Underneath the gleaming lantern, he paused for a brief moment. Gabe stepped into the light, revealing his features. He had honey-brown hair that fell over his forehead with lighter strands naturally strewn throughout. The sides of his head were shaved up stylishly and he casually tucked a loose strand of hair behind his right ear.
His light brown brows were perched up curiously. The left brow had a scar running through it, causing a hairless patch to break the brow into two. Although it might have been a cause of concern for him, it looked attractive to Roland. There was something distinguishing about it. Gabe had an oval face and a bulbous nose, the bridge of his nose appearing to have been broken at some point.
His peach skin seemed to be hairless, but his arms sported light tufts. He was defined, muscular, but slim and a few inches shorter than Roland. He almost looked like a chiseled Hollywood actor, the sort that always swung through to spend a few months attempting to make their name stick only to end up hitting a brick wall. But he didn't at all seemed washed up. He seemed hopeful, particularly for someone who had just recently lost a friend in his line of work.
But of all his features and the assumptions Roland could have made of his appearance, his eyes were the most commanding. His eyes were a cognac brown that seemed to shimmer in the light spilling from the porch lantern. Roland drew an inch closer just to see them, just to get a clear view of their glimmer.
“Well?” Gabe blurted. “Did I start changing into a zombie or something?”
“Oh, no!” Roland chuckled, struggling to control the heat that had taken his cheeks. He withdrew a set of keys from his pocket and unlocked t
“Well, we're a funeral home. We need to have good hospitality.”
“I can see that.”
Roland chuckled and shut the door behind them, turning the lock quickly before heading toward the kitchen area. He felt mildly frantic like maybe he had taken one too many shots of espresso. Of course, that was the sort of midnight fuel he needed when he was working late. And late he had been working tonight until he had stumbled upon a live one in the cemetery.
He cleared his throat. “I do apologize for the mess. We don't often have guests in this part of the home.”
“I'm sure it's nothing like my apartment.”
“I'd venture to guess your apartment doesn't house organs and blood.” Roland paused in front of the fridge, realizing what he had just said. He cleared his throat nervously. “Sorry—that sort of humor just slips right out of me.”
“Oh, don't apologize. I love the macabre.”
Roland breathed a sigh of relief as he grabbed the plastic containers housing chicken and potatoes. He set them on the counter and grabbed two plates, piling them both generously with food. As he nuked one plate in the microwave, he found that Gabe had yet to sit down. He gestured to the round table. “By all means, have a seat.”
“You're too kind.”
“Do you always wait for permission?”
Gabe smirked mischievously. “Clearly if I'm wandering in a cemetery after visiting hours, I don't.”
Roland flushed again. He could feel the heat taking his ears and the back of his neck—at least Gabe wouldn't see that. As Gabe settled in his chair, he spread out his legs and stretched his arms behind his head. The hem of his shirt sneaked up revealing his flat stomach. Roland gulped quietly as he turned to the microwave.
“Any preference for a drink?” he asked as nonchalantly as possible. “Or will your whiskey do you well?”
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