Beyond wishing his grandmother was still alive, Shawn has a perfect life. He has a sexy mate and a peaceful home. He even has enough space for a garden. And then his world turns upside down when his teenage brother comes into his life.
Copyright ©2020 April Kelley
The fruits of labor lay in long green phallic like vegetables. Shawn Somerset picked the zucchini off the vine. The stem had prickly hairs covering it, poking his palm as he held it. He put it in his wicker basket and moved on to the next. On the one plant, there were three zucchinis grown enough to take into the house. He would have plenty to share with the family by the time he harvested the other five plants. He picked another one, putting it in his basket.
The pride he felt from growing his food, taking care of his mate in that one small way, exuded from him. What surprised him, but shouldn’t have, was how close he felt to his grandma. Or he supposed it made sense, but it took him by surprise. So much so, he couldn’t think about anything but his time with her.
The best thing that had ever happened to him was his mother losing her shit and his grandmother coming to his rescue. The six years in her care made all the difference in his future. And not just because he learned how to grow his food.
She had a way about her. He had forgotten the little details, which didn’t seem so small in the face of her absence. His lapse in memory pissed him off. It was one more emotional wall he had to climb. Once he did, he would be able to process his grief. In the meantime, he would pick vegetables and strive to remember.
He had hated helping her when he was a kid. It had felt like work and not very satisfying. He didn’t put together in his mind how weeding the garden led to eating the delicious meals she made. He would like to say adulthood had changed his mind, but he still didn’t like weeding. He enjoyed the harvesting part, though.
He was so into the task and thoughts he didn’t hear or see anyone approach. It wasn’t until something brushed against his ass that he knew anything at all. He squealed and straightened, jumping about a mile in the air. His wicker basket full of veggies fell to the dirt, a zucchini tumbled out when the basket fell to its side.
Shawn turned around, ready to fight, but Gabriel stood there in boxer shorts and nothing else. His hair was in sleepy disarray, and he looked like the best thing Shawn had seen in his whole life. He had a scowl on his face, which falsely advertised his mood because Gabriel was ready to tease and molest in the best, most satisfying way.
As soon as Shawn’s heart stopped running as fast as possible in the opposite direction, he gave Gabriel a playful scowl back. “You scared the crap out of me.”
“Good. It’s what you get for not being in bed when I woke up.” Gabriel’s chiseled body took center stage. He had flip flops on, which looked comical given his mostly naked state.
“You’re giving the neighbors a show, babe.” As much as Shawn wanted to keep up with the false upset and play Gabriel’s game, Shawn couldn’t. His need to touch naked skin took over, and he stepped into Gabriel’s space. Gabriel’s skin was still warm from sleep and as smooth as always. “You’re so fucking hot.”
Gabriel chuckled and wrapped his arms around Shawn. Their bonding survived a war and a change in Alphas. Shawn still couldn’t believe his luck. Gabriel didn’t only have a perfect body. He was a great person, and best of all, he loved Shawn.
Gabriel kissed him on his forehead. “I can feel that you’re unhappy. Why?”
“I don’t know what you mean. I’ve never been happier.” It was true. He couldn’t think of a time when he was more content.
Shawn kissed Gabriel’s jawline, using a little tongue so he could get a taste. And he didn’t want to talk about it. He knew Gabriel well enough to know he wouldn’t let it go, so Shawn had to tell him. “Gardening reminds me of my grandma.”
Gabriel tightened his hold, drawing him closer until he cocooned Shawn in the embrace. “There isn’t a timeline on grief.”
Leave it to Gabriel to say what Shawn needed to hear. “I forget things about her. Like what her laugh sounded like and the way she smelled. I don’t remember anymore.”
“I wish I could help.”
Shawn fully admitted he hadn’t been grateful for much in his life. Maybe he was a pessimistic dick most of the time, but he couldn’t express what having Gabriel in his life meant. There weren’t enough words in all of the world’s languages. Gabriel and his grandmother were the two people who made him a better, more thankful person.
Shawn gripped the nape of Gabriel’s neck and pulled him down for a kiss. He used his tongue, pressing between Gabriel’s lips, demanding entry. When Gabriel tried to take control, Shawn held him in place, not letting it happen. He had to show Gabriel that he helped simply by existing. Nothing else mattered. They had built a life together, and it was solid. Nothing, not even Shawn’s grief, would tear down what they had made.
From somewhere in the house, the phone rang. They both ignored it. They would call back if it was important.
Shawn set his basket full of vegetables on the kitchen counter next to the sink. Everything he grew was organic. The soil was so sandy the synthetic fertilizers drained right through it like a colander with holes too big. He had to ask Tim Pyke for manure, which said something about Shawn’s dedication to his garden because Tim was one scary cougar shifter. It was his face. He wore a scowl like a badge and never lost it even when he approved of something. He seemed to like Ladon as Alpha and he hung out at Mother Estelle’s more often since the war. Shawn had avoided him until he needed some type of fertilizer. He had come through on the manure. He even delivered and helped him spread it. It turned out Tim wasn’t so bad after all.
The faint sound of the shower running made Shawn think of Gabriel’s naked body, wet and warm under the spray. He wanted to join him, but he had vegetables to clean first.
Shawn eyed the basket. What difference did it make if they sat for a few extra minutes?
Shawn grinned and made his way around the kitchen’s center island.
And then the landline phone rang.
It surprised him when he heard Magnus on the other end. “Gabe’s in the shower. Do you want me to have him call you back?”
“I actually called to talk to you.” Why? Magnus never had before. “Remember when you said you had a brother in the foster care system?”
Shawn’s heart stopped right before it felt as if it would beat out of his chest. “Yeah, I remember.”
“I found him.” Magnus must have looked for him on his own time because Shawn hadn’t known about it. He probably thought he didn’t want to get Shawn’s hopes up, and he would have if Shawn had known about the investigation.
Shawn knew his knuckles were white as he gripped the phone, and he had stopped breathing. It wasn’t until Shawn entered the bathroom that he started breathing again. The steam from the shower opened his lungs, so much so he nearly choked on the excess air.
“You still there?” Magnus asked.
The shower curtain pulled back, and Gabriel eyed him with curiosity. Shawn put his hand over the receiver and spoke. “Magnus found my brother.”
Gabriel raised his eyebrows and smiled.
The shower curtain fell back into place, and Shawn was left alone with his feelings. Or it felt that way with him unable to touch Gabriel. Strength and comfort were two things he needed the most and didn’t have either one. He would have to borrow both as soon as the source left the shower. Until then, being in the same room was as good as it got.
Shawn’s hand fell away from the receiver. “Is he okay?”
“He’s mouthy and scared shitless. Other than that, he seems fine.”
Shawn sucked in a breath. “He’s here in Saint Lakes.”
“As luck would have it, I have a social worker friend who worked in the area where your brother lived. They pulled a lot of strings. I owe her like a thousand favors now. But she managed to get Colin’s case transferred to this district, which means he’s our problem now. Or yours. You’re blood-related, so that helped. You and Gabe have to jump through a few more hoops. Mother Estelle and my friend can help walk you through it. But yeah, he’s here at the house.”
By the gods, Colin didn’t know him. Shawn was a stranger. No wonder he was scared.
Impatience ran through him, making his leg shake and his fingers tap. The car went too slow, and all he wanted was to see Colin. At the same time, he almost didn’t. By the time their mother had Colin, Shawn was already living with his grandma. He’d only met Colin twice, and they had been brief encounters. He never knew what happened to Colin after their mother lost custody, and he entered the foster care system.
Neither of them knew who their fathers were. He doubted it was the same guy. The age gap between Shawn and Colin was significant, and their mother wasn’t exactly invested in commitment. Shawn had doubts that their mother knew who her baby daddy even was, not that he was judging. He wasn’t. And it only mattered when she lost custody, and no other parent could take care of him or Colin. Shawn’s saving grace had been Grandma. Poor Colin hadn’t had that until Magnus found him. Shawn had a chance to make the same difference in Colin’s life that his grandma had made in his. The pressure weighed him down. What if he sucked.
Shawn was an adult with a mate, a house, and fucking garden for the gods’ sakes. He knew about teenage boys in so far as he was one once, and he had been a little fucker at that. And Colin could blame him for being in the foster system. Shawn didn’t exactly try to find and take care of him, not that he had the means because he had struggled financially most of his adult life. He had sold his blood to vampires after all. It had been the indirect reason he met Gabriel, so it wasn’t like he regretted it.
No, the only thing he regretted about the whole experience was fucking over Lucas. He nearly had gotten best friend killed and, worse, captured by vampires who wanted to use Lucas for their own gain. The whole experience had screamed financially desperate, though, and he wasn’t anymore.
“I should have been more responsible. If I was, he could have lived with me.” Didn’t that sum up the whole damn reason why he didn’t want to see Colin, which just made him feel guilty.
Sheesh. If ever there was a time when he needed to get his shit together and stop making it all about him, it was right before he met his terrified teenage brother.
“He’s with us now. Mom is probably trying to feed him as we speak.”
“Yeah. But does he even know about paranormals.” If Shawn had taken the initiative to find Colin sooner, he would have gotten used to paranormals.
“Is Penny spending the night at Jules’ house or Mom’s?”
The change in subject didn’t affect Shawn much. Penny lived with them for the most part, but she spent a lot of time with her brother, Thomas, who was one of Jules’ mates. Gabriel had rescued her from Stavros’ coven, and they pretty much inherited her as their child ever since. No one questioned why they were Penny’s dads. It was what it was, and that was fine by Shawn. He felt paternal toward her.
“She’s at Mother Estelle’s until Sunday. Why?”
“Because she might be able to help. She’s close to his age.” Gabriel reached over and rested his hand on Shawn’s knee.
Shawn put his over Gabriel’s, wanting more of a connection. He would never get enough of Gabriel no matter how long they lived. Being bonded mates was amazing, which was not something he would have ever thought before meeting the love of his life. He would have chosen Gabriel without the mate pull. Well, he would have after Gabe had stopped being a giant jerk, which had felt as if it lasted forever. And then they had fucked each other senseless and hadn’t stopped since that first time.
“Great, now I want to have sex.”
Gabriel chuckled. “I thought we were talking about your brother. And we’re near mom’s house. But I could pull over.”
Shawn thought about it for two seconds, but seeing his brother as soon as possible took center stage. “Don’t distract me.”
“You’re the one who brought up sex. I’m just saying I’m down for a little backseat action.”
Shawn chuckled and shook his head. “Backseat action.”
Gabriel turned his hand and laced their fingers together. “Your brother will love you as much as I do.”
Shawn met Gabriel’s gaze and smiled when he got a wink. He hoped Gabriel was right about Colin.
Before Shawn could even open the car door, Ladon was out the door, gripping the arm of a very small version of himself. Both of them looked pissed, but Ladon was one scary dude.
“By the gods, that kid looks like your fucking twin.” Gabriel had his hand on the key, which was still in the ignition. “Only like ten years younger.”
“Closer to twelve.” Shawn moved his hands back and forth. “Like eleven and a half. Or almost. When he makes that face, he looks like our mother.”
Gods, they both looked like her. Like the male versions of her.
Penny came around the corner of the house, using the back door because Ladon and Colin blocked the front. She headed straight for them and came to Shawn’s side of the car. She pulled the door open and stood in Shawn’s way with a hand on her hip. “Please tell me he is not going to be my brother because that cannot happen.”
Shawn turned to Gabriel for help but got a shrug.
He sighed. “Of course, it doesn’t mean that, Penny. He’s my brother. Not my child.”
“Well, technically, I’m not your child either, but I live with you, and you make the rules and stuff. And you guys do all the dad stuff. Like schoolwork and going to my volleyball games. And I’m assuming he’s gonna get the spare room at home, which makes him my sibling mostly, right?” She rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m going to level with you.”
Gabriel chuckled but otherwise didn’t say a thing.
You owe me. Shawn wanted to narrow his eyes, but he had to deal with Penny’s leveling. Whatever that meant.
I don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course, Gabe didn’t. Dickhead.
Penny gestured toward where Ladon still held onto Colin. “He cannot dress like that, Shawn. Not when school starts. Everyone will know we’re related by that time. Saint Lakes is a small town if you hadn’t noticed.”
As much as Shawn wanted to roll his eyes at Penny’s dramatic reaction to the whole goth look or whatever teenagers called it, he should probably not make it worse.
Colin had buckles covering his pants and wore a black t-shirt. He looked like the movie version of a vampire, which Shawn thought was funny given Saint Lakes was mostly a shifter town.
Shawn could feel Gabriel losing his shit through their connection. The humor overflowed. So much so Shawn turned to meet Gabriel’s gaze again. Gabriel looked as if he wanted to burst into laughter. “I think you better take her seriously, baby.”
Shawn shook his head.
When he went to get out of the car, Penny moved out of his way. And when he walked across the lawn toward Ladon and Colin, she was hot on his heels. “Are you going to tell him to change his style?”
“Why are you whispering?”
“I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Yet she made a point to discuss it with them, not letting them even get out of the car.
“Then you know it’s wrong to change someone’s sense of self.” Plus, it was probably just a phase. He had a similar one at about the same age.
Shawn’s heart picked up the pace when he stood in front of Colin.
“Mom needs a break from his mouth.” Ladon handed him off.
Colin glared at Ladon’s retreating back and then shoved his hands in his pockets, looking at the ground as if the grass was the most interesting thing around. “Guess you’re my brother.”
“Yeah.” Gods, Shawn didn’t know what to say. His wit went right out of him, running away as soon as he stood in front of his brother.
Whenever he had thought of Colin before, it was always in the abstract. He was just another one of his mother’s mistakes, the same as Shawn. But standing in front of him, he didn’t look like a mistake. In fact, he looked like a scared kid who used his mouth as a defense mechanism, just as Magnus had said on the phone. And he looked like someone who needed about a thousand hugs a day.
Shawn pulled close, wrapping him in his arms. The need to protect overwhelmed him.
For someone who looked just like Shawn, he sure didn’t have his height, not that Shawn was tall. He was only like five foot, nine inches, but he had a few inches on Colin.
Colin stiffened and took his hands out of his pockets. “Why does everyone in this family keep doing that?”
“Keep doing what?” Shawn smiled.
“Hugging me. What the fuck? Do I have a sign on my forehead or something?” Colin sighed. “Dude, if I hug you back, will you stop?”
“Yes. For a while.”
“How long?” Colin put his arms around Shawn, and slowly some of the tension left his body.
“How long is a while?”
“Until I feel like you need another hug.”
“And when do I get a choice?”
“It’s a hug, Colin. And you better get used to it. Somersets are affectionate.” And Shawn wouldn’t ever stop giving Colin comfort.
“Whatever. I’m hugging you back, so can you let go now.”
Gabriel chuckled from somewhere behind him. “Yep. He’s related to you. If his looks didn’t give it away, his mouth does.”
Shawn released Colin but still held onto his shoulders, studying him, trying to find something else that might connect them beyond genetics and attitude. “Do you remember meeting me?”
Colin shook his head. “I remember Mom talking about you and Grandma.”
Colin had been just out of the toddler stage, so it had been a long shot.
“I’m sure Mom made me sound like a little delinquent shithead.” What sort of impression did Colin have for him? If it were negative, it would affect their relationship going forward.
Colin rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I trusted her judgment. She’s a drug addict, so why would I?”
Shawn smiled. “Thanks.”
Colin smiled back and then leaned forward. “Do you know this entire family is shifters and vampires?”
Shawn raised his eyebrows. “You know about paranormals?”
“Do you know about them?”
“Yes, Colin. I’m mated to one.” Shawn grabbed Gabriel’s hand and pulled him close. “This is Gabe. You’ll come live with us in our cabin.”
Penny slid next to Shawn’s other side, leaning against him.
Shawn put his arm around Penny. “And you met Penny, right?”
“Yeah.” Colin sighed in the way teenagers did, which was the equivalent of an eye roll.
“Well, she lives with us too.”
“I know. Mother Estelle already told me.” Colin shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away.
“Shawn and I will take you shopping.” Penny smiled.
“I don’t need to go shopping.” He didn’t exactly exude shopper. Unlike Penny, Colin didn’t look like he would shop if Shawn dragged him into a clothing store.
“Yes, you do,” Penny smirked.
Colin narrowed his eyes. “Like I want to be all polly perfect like you.”
“You look like Edward Scissorhands. I’m trying not to get our butts kicked when school starts.”
“Our butts. Why would you get bullied?”
“Dude, Somersets stick together.” Penny put an arm around Colin’s shoulder and led him around the side of the house toward the back door.
Shawn and Gabriel followed behind him. Shawn leaned into Gabriel. “Grandma would like that Colin is with us. That he’s a Somerset now.”
Gabriel kissed him on his temple.
April Kelley is an author of LGBTQ+ Romance. Her works include The Journey of Jimini Renn, which was a Rainbow Awards finalist, Whispers of Home, the Saint Lakes series, and over thirty more. She’s a main contributor at Once and Books.
April has been an avid reader for several years. Ever since she wrote her first story at the age of ten, the characters in her head still won't stop telling their stories. If April isn't reading or writing, she can be found taking a long walk in the woods or going on her next adventure.
If you’d like to know more about her work, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter https://www.authoraprilkelley.com/.
Become a Patron https://www.patreon.com/aprilkelley.
Once & Books is organising an October book fair
Once & Books is organising an October book fair.
We are looking for titles that people would want to read during the Halloween season.
This could include Halloween themed stories, dark and taboo, mysteries, or thrillers or just atmospheric/paranormal – honestly, anything paranormal would work.
We are positive you have at least one book in your backlist that would fit into our Haunted Village. You don’t have to have all the points. Just one will do. Even if that 1 is light paranormal or atmospheric contemporary (as long as it’s a autumn season). People like to read things that fit the Halloween season and a lot of us don’t like to be scared so bring on anything.
Or scare us, please
It’s a cheap and simple way to get a reader to see your book though the month of October. Authors of other book fairs have also seen a boost in sales though their event. So, come and join us