Title: Force of Nature
Series: Coming About, #4
Author: J.K. Hogan
Publisher: Euphoria Press (self)
Release Date: 7/4/17
Length: 80,000 words
Genre: Romance, contemporary, adventure
Everyone knows that bonds formed under extreme circumstances never last.
Harbor Patrol officer Neal Hesse has had his life turned upside down by a sudden break-up with his partner of ten years. After sleeping his way through Seattle failed to take his mind off his broken heart, he decides to take a leave of absence from work to find himself again. He hires a professional wilderness guide to take him up into the mountains, so he can get away from everything and live off the grid for a few days.
Travis “Rock” McCreary, ex-Army Ranger turned survivalist, hates doing guided excursions, but it’s his primary source of income while he’s working towards getting his own survival show. Working in such a testosterone-fueled profession has forced him so deep into the closet, he feels like he might never see the light of day again, which makes it even harder to put on a friendly face for his happy, normal clients.
When Rock is hired by clumsy city-boy Neal to take him up into the North Cascades for a survival adventure, his patience and his resolve are tested at every turn. He has to teach Neal to survive in the wilderness while fighting an attraction he can’t allow himself to act on. When their trip doesn’t go as planned, Neal’s getaway turns into a true survival situation, and he and Rock are forced to rely on each other to stay alive. If they make it out of the wilderness, can their newfound connection survive in the real world?
Neal looked up from the couch he’d commandeered at the Clean Bean to see Patrick heading toward him, with Bennett and Rory following close behind, followed by Justice and Nic. Bennett had said Rich had to work, and Neal was infinitely grateful that they’d left all teenagers out of this. It was the first time he’d left his apartment since returning from the mountains three days earlier—after having basically slept for two days straight.
“Back from the great beyond, he is,” Paddy joked in his mild Irish brogue. He sat down next to Neal and leaned into him. “Everyone missed you. Come on, give us a kiss.” He puckered his lips comically.
Neal pushed Paddy’s face away with his palm. “I hate you,” he grumbled.
Bennett and Rory sat down across from them, chuckling, and Nic and Justice had pulled up another small table. Patrick pretend-pouted—he looked ridiculous. “Aww, don’ be like that, mate. All right, then, let’s hear it. How was your adventure with MacGyver? You’re not dead, I see, so that’s a plus,” he said, then frowned. “Although I did hear things got a bit dodgy at the end there.”
Neal was still a little stunned by all that had changed in such a short time. “It was…”
After waiting a tick, Patrick filled the silence. “Well, that’s a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one. Did you at least find what you were looking for, then?”
Did he? “I…yes, I think so. But it came with a lot of new problems.”
“How so?” Bennett asked in a much quieter tone than their brazen Irish friend.
“MacGyver is gay.”
“Wait. What?” Patrick asked. Then he shrugged. “Eh, it was the eighties. Everyone was gay back then.”
Neal had to laugh at the pure absurdity of his friend. “Not the real MacGyver, idiot. Rock McCreary. Gay. And buried in the closet.”
“Oooh,” his friends said in unison.
“Oi, well it’s not like you slept with him in the woods, yeah?” Patrick replied cheerfully.
Bennett was not subtle at all about kicking him under the table. When Paddy looked at him with a wounded dog expression, he cut his gaze over to Neal’s direction. Neal’s face was blazing hot with what he could only imagine was a fiery blush; damn his German paleness.
“Christ, you didn’t.”
Neal resented Patrick’s judgment because he slutted around Seattle plenty before he settled down with Rich. “Look, it was cold. Two consenting adults sharing body heat. One thing led to another… Anyway, that’s not the point.”
“Screwing the survivalist isn’t the point? Well then, what is the bloody point?”
“Jesus, Paddy, you can be so thick.” Bennett turned a sympathetic look Neal’s way, and as much as Neal loved Bennett, it made him want to punch him. “The point is he obviously got attached to the guy. The closeted guy.”
Neal scrubbed a hand over his face. “I think it’s one of those traumatic event attachment deals. Right? It’s gotta be. I’ve only known the guy a week.”
“Sometimes that’s all it takes,” Justice said quietly, looking at his husband with huge, limpid eyes. They’d met and fallen in love during Justice’s short vacation to Seattle for Rory’s doomed first wedding. Of course, they’d had a lot to overcome before they were able to actually be together.
“Just because things are typically done a certain way doesn’t mean they’re always done that way,” Justice continued, as Bennett, Rory, and Patrick went up to get drinks.
“No, I get what you’re saying, and if everything else was peachy, I’d ask the guy out, see where it went… But I don’t think I could do the whole closet thing.” Neal looked up at Justice, wondering what nuggets of wisdom he had for that situation.
He just shrugged. “Did you expect me to be all ‘Fuck the closet, go get your man’? Sorry, I don’t blame you for not wanting to step on that hornets’ nest. I was closeted—for some very real reasons—and I can tell you it does a number on a person’s emotional state. It makes it hard to open up and almost impossible to love.” He gave Neal a sympathetic smile. “I feel for the guy because I can totally identify with that headspace, but you’re my friend and I don’t want to see you hurt. Again.”
With a sad smile, he stood up to go get his and Nic’s drinks, squeezing his husband’s shoulder as he passed.
To be honest, Neal had kind of hoped for a pep talk—somebody to tell him that the connection he’d felt snapping between him and Travis was worth trying to work something out. But honestly, if Justice and Rory, two of the most sickeningly optimistic and lovey-dovey people he’d ever met, didn’t tell him to go for it, that seemed like the death of all hope.
“Justice isn’t giving you the whole story, you know,” Nic said.
Neal jumped because he’d completely zoned out and forgotten the man was still sitting there. “What story?”
“The whole in-the-closet story. I was in that situation before Justice. I was with a man who was closeted—he was a lawyer, like Tony, but he thought being out would affect his career—so I was basically his dirty little secret. It didn’t end well and only partly because he was cheating on me. I was living a half-life, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Neal sighed heavily and pillowed his head on his arms. So everyone was pretty much on board with thinking he should let it go.
Neal raised his head. “But?”
“But then I met Justice. Who was also closeted.”
“Well, damn. So you—”
“I went out with him anyway. Becoming another secret lover was not a situation I ever wanted to be in again, and I told Justice that from the beginning, but that didn’t stop us from exploring what we were feeling. I thought to myself, ‘What if he’s the one?’ Circumstances change, people change, and I know I would always be thinking of that missed opportunity.”
“But Justice is out now. I don’t see Rock—Travis—ever doing that.”
Nic nodded. “He might not. That’s something he has to do for himself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show him what he could have on the other side of that door, you know? That’s what I did with Justice. It wasn’t easy. He had to take some time, work on some things, straighten stuff out in his own head, but he did it. And I was there for him. Now, I can’t imagine having passed on that opportunity.” He gave a little shudder, as if he were really imagining what life without his husband would be like.
Wisdom had come from, of all people, the long-haired, wannabe-surfer boat captain. Neal had to at least talk to Travis. To let him know what he could have. He couldn’t force the man to come out, but he could at least tell him how he felt. “I have to go,” he said, almost absently, as he stood up.
“Go on, get your man. I’ll tell the boys something came up.”
Neal stopped and looked at Nic. “Thanks.”
“Anytime. Now go!”
J.K. Hogan has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, beginning with writing cast lists and storylines for her toys growing up. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, magic happened. She is greatly inspired by all kinds of music and often creates a “soundtrack” for her stories as she writes them. J.K. is hoping to one day have a little something for everyone, so she’s branched out from m/f paranormal romance and added m/m contemporary romance. Who knows what’s next?
J.K. resides in North Carolina, where she was born and raised. A true southern girl at heart, she lives in the country with her husband and two sons, a cat, and two champion agility dogs. If she isn’t on the agility field, J.K. can often be found chasing waterfalls in the mountains with her husband, or down in front at a blues concert. In addition to writing, she enjoys training and competing in dog sports, spending time with her large southern family, camping, boating and, of course, reading! For more information, please visit www.jkhogan.com.
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