Two years ago I got the idea for a story. It’s based on real people, three women I’ve met throughout the course of my husband’s career in the Navy. Two of them lost their sons in Afghanistan—one was even notified of his death on Mother’s Day—and one lost her husband. That particular woman was my oldest son’s PE teacher at the time, and the casualty assistance team had to come to the school to notify her since it was a high-profile incident and there was a risk of her hearing about it on the news first. My son remembers Ms. B getting a phone call to please come to the office, and then he didn’t see her again for months.
I’ve never forgotten those women, especially the one whose son wasn’t even supposed to be on patrol the day he was killed—he’d taken the place of a buddy who was sick. All of their stories swirled together in my mind, and percolated into what eventually became POINT OF CONTACT, my upcoming m/m romance with Carina Press.
To say this was the hardest story I’ve written to date would be an understatement. It took me more than two years to complete. There were a lot of tears shed, a lot of emotion involved, not to mention a massive amount of research. Carina took all that rawness and helped me shape it into a story I’m incredibly proud of, and one that I can’t wait for everyone to read!
I do have to be honest. It’s not an easy story, but I promise it’s a hopeful one. A triumphant one. It’s one where two hurting people come together in the midst of unimaginable circumstances, and they’re able to find love and a cautious healing.
POINT OF CONTACT releases March 26, 2018, from Carina Press. Please read on for the blurb and an exclusive excerpt!
Only love can heal an impossibly broken heart.
There’d forever been a thread running through Trevor Estes’s life—his son Riley, strong and constant like heartbeat. But when Riley is killed in combat, everything in Trevor’s life unravels into a mess he doesn’t know how to mourn. Until Jesse Byrne, Riley’s friend and platoon mate, arrives on his doorstep with a box of Riley’s things. Jesse’s all-too-familiar grief provides an unlikely source of comfort for Trevor; knowing he’s not alone is exactly what he needs.
Trevor never imagined he’d find someone who fills his heart with hope again. As the pair celebrate Riley’s memory, their unique bond deepens into something irreplaceable—and something neither man can live without. But diving into a relationship can’t be so simple. Being together means Trevor risking the last link he has to his son…leaving Jesse to wonder if he’ll ever be enough, or if Trevor will always be haunted by the past.
“Ah, Riles. What am I doing?”
Pulling to a stop at the curb in front of the sprawling, elegant house, Jesse sat for a moment gazing up at it. Eighteen months ago he’d driven away from here, angry and confused, knowing he’d made a colossal fool of himself. Never would he have imagined coming back, especially not in circumstances like these.
He glanced at the passenger seat, and the innocuous brown box sitting there. It wasn’t very big, scarcely larger than a shoebox, ragged on the corners with the flaps folded closed. Essentially worthless, yet to the man living in this house, it would be worth its weight in gold. That made facing him again bearable, no matter how much the thought made Jesse’s heart race and his palms sweat.
He took a deep breath and gathered his courage, picking the box up carefully before getting out of the truck and making his way across the driveway to the front door. His finger hovered over the bell for a moment before he decided to knock instead, giving the door three sharp raps.
While he waited Jesse shifted restlessly from foot to foot, the leaden gray skies overhead and smell of snow in the air contributing to his unease. The neighboring house to the left still winked with Christmas lights almost a month after the holiday, a sad sort of festiveness that seemed wildly out of place.
The sound of the deadbolt turning had Jesse snapping almost to attention, his heartbeat thundering in his ears.
“May I help you?” Trevor Estes’s voice was subdued but not impolite as he gazed at Jesse inquiringly. He was thinner than Jesse remembered, with the same narrow nose and strong jaw that Riley had inherited. Trevor’s eyes were gray, not green, thickly-lashed, but currently rimmed with red and shadowed with exhaustion. As they looked each other over, a sense of déjà vu arced between them, and Trevor’s mouth fell open.
“It’s you!” he exclaimed. “Riley’s friend from the party.”
“Yes, sir. Jesse Byrne.”
“Jesse. Of course.” Trevor reached out to shake Jesse’s hand. “Please come in.”
I don’t want to.
“Thank you, sir.”
Jesse took a deep breath and stepped inside, listening to Trevor close the front door behind him with a soft chunk.
“Would you like a cup of coffee, Jesse? I was about to make a fresh pot.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
In the kitchen Jesse perched on a barstool at the island, resting the box on his lap. He glanced at the French doors leading to the backyard, then wished he hadn’t. He didn’t want to relive the memories, didn’t want to linger, just wanted to deliver his package and go. Trevor kept looking at him as he worked to brew the coffee, and Jesse could sense his curiosity about why he was there. At last Trevor set a steaming mug in front of him, along with some cream.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re very welcome. And, Jesse, please call me Trevor.” For a moment the sound of spoons clinking was loud in the quiet room until Trevor said, “I bet ‘sir-ing’ everyone is a hard Army habit to break.”
Jesse nodded, grateful for a neutral topic of conversation. “It is. I’ve been out for several months now, and obviously I still do it.”
Trevor raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You’re out of the Army?”
“Yes, sir—I mean, yeah.”
“What are you doing now that you’re out?” Trevor seemed sincerely interested.
“I, uh, I’m actually bartending at that new restaurant that just opened downtown, Jelly’s?” Jesse shrugged, mumbling, “It’s something, I guess, until I figure some stuff out.”
“I’ve heard good things about that place.”
“I like it. We get a pretty good crowd.” It was a good crowd…young, attractive people with a hip, fun vibe. Too bad Jesse couldn’t relate to any of them, finding most of them shallow and unbearably silly. “It’s something,” he repeated.
Trevor sipped his coffee, then put his mug down. “It means a lot that you came to see me, Jesse.”
His nervousness spiked again. Guess we’re done with the small talk. “Have—have any of the other guys come to visit?”
Trevor shook his head. “No. My casualty assistance officer forwarded me some nice emails from a couple of them, sending me their condolences and wishing they could’ve been here for the funeral.”
Jesse bit his lip, getting up and wandering over to stare out at the backyard. A light snow was starting to fall, dry flakes that didn’t drift, but skittered across the patio and pool decking in the wind. “It was really hard on all of us, that we couldn’t be here for him. Really hard.”
Trevor’s stool scraped along the floor as he came to stand next to him. “I know, Jesse. You all had two more months of a job to do, and I totally understood that.” He hesitated. “Will you…tell the other guys that for me when you talk to them?”
“Of course,” Jesse said gently, and Trevor’s shoulders straightened a little, as if one small burden that had been weighing him down was lifted.
Jesse took a deep breath, turning back to the island and the box he’d placed on an empty stool. He lifted it to the counter and lay his hand on top of it. “Trevor, one of the reasons I came today was to bring you this.” At Trevor’s inquiring look, Jesse went on, his voice soft, “These are some of Riley’s things.”
Trevor froze, staring first at Jesse, then at the box.
“What? I thought—” he croaked, clearing his throat and trying again. “I thought I’d gotten all of his belongings by now. The Army sent me two huge boxes a while ago.” Trevor’s face was pale, his gray eyes stark. “And Riley brought everything home from the barracks before he deployed. How did—”
“I put all my stuff in storage before we left,” Jesse said, “and when I went through it last weekend, I—well, I found some of Riley’s things mixed in with mine. It’s not much, little odds and ends, but I thought you might want them.” He paused, a sudden fear clenching his gut. “Should I not have—”
“No, no, I want them. Thank you, Jesse.” Despite his words, Trevor looked distressed, and he made no move to open the box, staring at it like it was snake about to bite him. Jesse didn’t understand, and suddenly a long-forgotten memory welled up, of his mom being confronted with a package arriving addressed to his dad sometime after his death. Her face had looked exactly like Trevor’s did now.
Jesse reached out to touch Trevor’s arm. “Would you like me to put that somewhere for you? In his room, or up in a closet somewhere out of sight? Just until you’re ready to go through it.”
Relief seemed to engulf Trevor’s entire body, and he slumped for a moment. “Jesse, I would appreciate that more than you know.” Jesse patted his arm before picking up the box and tucking it close to his side. Trevor led him down a short hallway and into a warm, beautifully appointed office. It was bright and airy, the desk positioned so he could look out over the backyard. Some wooden file cabinets lined one wall, and green plants were everywhere.
Trevor waved his hand at a stack of something tucked away in one corner of the room, covered by a sheet. “Can you just put it with those, please?”
Jesse glanced at Trevor, walking over to lift the sheet and noticing Trevor quickly turning his head away while he did so. There were two large boxes underneath, and Jesse could see the address label: From the Department of the Army. To PFC Riley J. Estes, C/O Trevor Estes…
“When those were delivered, I was here alone. The doorbell. I couldn’t deal—” Trevor looked at Jesse, his eyes bone dry but shadowed with pain. “Unexpected visitors ringing the doorbell sometimes sends me into a panic attack, so I just stuck them in here…”
Fiercely glad he’d chosen to knock instead of ring the bell, Jesse nodded. “Well, let me take care of them now,” he said calmly. “While I do, would you mind making us another pot of coffee? I’d love a fresh cup.”
The expression on Trevor’s face was conflicted, a mix of gratitude and an unwillingness to be a burden. Jesse gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, Trevor. I remember where his room is, and I’ll just put them in there. For someday.”
Trevor sucked in a shaky breath. “Yeah, for someday,” he whispered. “Okay.” He turned and fled to the kitchen. When he was gone, Jesse carefully lifted the first big box, the smaller one he’d brought balanced on top of it. A short walk down the hallway to the last door on the left, a twist of the doorknob, and Jesse was in Riley’s room.
He stood still for a moment, closing his eyes and letting the memories brush along his skin and take root in his chest, making his heart ache.
Riley leaped out of his closet wearing an evil clown mask, waving his arms. Everyone jumped, but Smitty let out a piercing shriek, much to Riley’s vast amusement. “You scream like a ten-year-old girl, Smits. Jesus.”
Smitty whacked him on the arm, yanking the mask off Riley’s head and throwing it back in his face. “Fuck you, Estes,” he said shakily. “I fuckin’ hate clowns.” His face was white as a sheet, his forehead clammy.
Riley tossed the mask into the middle of his bed, making a few more joking remarks, but as Jesse changed out of his swimsuit into a dry pair of shorts, Riley and Smitty huddled in the corner, Riley’s arm around Smitty’s shoulders as he murmured to him.
Jesse opened his eyes, and tears rushed into them at the sight of the mask, still on the bed where Riley’d tossed it. The room was immaculate, dust free, and Jesse imagined Trevor had a housekeeper in periodically to keep it so, most likely with a request not to touch or change anything from the way Riley left it that night.
Jesse put the two boxes down next to the dresser before going to get the last one, covering the whole thing up again with the sheet. He turned in a slow circle, taking one last look around, a few lone tears escaping.
“Miss you, Riles.”
Jesse trailed his fingers along the top of the dresser, then left the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Melanie Hansen likes to consider herself a cynic, but at heart she’s a hopeless romantic. Every morning she gets up before dawn to spend time with her characters, creating stories that are deeply emotional, sometimes heartbreaking, but in the end where love always wins. Melanie’s proud of the fact that two of her books have been named as Top Picks.
She grew up with an Air Force dad, ended up marrying a Navy man, and has lived and worked all over the country. Melanie hopes to bring these rich and varied life experiences to her stories about people finding love amidst real-life struggles.