Please welcome Lane Swift with
Amateur photographer Josh Thornton is out but not so proud. He’s estranged from his family, his boyfriend dumped him, and his job at an estate agency is in jeopardy—especially after he crashes his boss’s car in the middle of nowhere on his way to Hartley Manor. Callum Black works at the English country estate and lives there in an isolated cottage. Left mute by a childhood accident, he’s more comfortable in the company of animals than people. But when Josh—literally—crashes into his life with his camera and his friendship, Callum realizes his peaceful solitude has been more than a little lonely.
Josh’s affection for Callum deepens even as he’s consumed by doubts over Callum’s sexuality and whether Callum could ever love him. And Callum is haunted by the secret that stole his voice—a secret that keeps him tethered to Hartley Manor. When the past comes hurtling painfully back into the present, Josh and Callum have to overcome their fears and breathe life back into their dormant hearts in order to have a chance at their own picture-perfect future.
Callum walked fast. I couldn’t have taken any photographs of him at this pace even if he’d allowed me to. I soaked up the sight of his shoulders moving countertime with his strong legs. Under the tail of his shirt, I got the impression he’d done a nice job filling out his jeans. He filled out his shirt well too. His muscles were the thicker kind that came from manual labor, not the ripped, sculpted contours acquired at a gym.
Callum had rough hands, but I would bet they knew how to be tender. I envied the woman that got to be the focus of his affections.
Ahead of us, the path ended at the edge of the wood. It opened into a field, and beyond I could see horses in a paddock. I thought that might be where we were going, but Callum carried on along the edge of the wood, down the hill, and back into the woods again. We stopped beside a stream. Nearby, a huge log, from the bottom half of a fallen tree, cut through a long stretch of young trees with thin trunks.
“Look at this place.” I spun around with my face tilted to the sky, dazzled by the sunbeams. “I feel like I’m in a dream. Are you even a real human? Because I’m not sure you are.”
Callum’s shoulders shook and his face crinkled, and man, oh man, the sound of his laughter. I hadn’t realized he could make a laughing sound. His was deep, bellowing, like he was making up for the things he couldn’t say.
He might have taken a piece of my heart with that laugh. No kidding.
He took my wrist and guided me to a shallow nook in the side of the log, where some of the wood had rotted away. Hand on my shoulder, he backed me down into the space. I tried not to think about creepy crawlies or the smell. Anyway, once he crouched down next to me, those were the last of my worries.
His body heat and the smell of him, clean and woodsy, like the outdoors, wrapped around me, close as an embrace. Good job I’d already sat down. “Can I get out my camera?” I said, hoping my voice wouldn’t give me away.
He put one hand on my shoulder and, with the other, he put his fingers to my lips and nodded. I drew in a shocked breath at the touch of his hand on my face. He’d moved so quickly, so quietly, I hadn’t seen it coming.
Talk about stealth assault. This was so unfair. Did he have any idea what he was doing to me? I gulped against his fingers and whispered, “Sorry. I’ll be quiet.”
He let me go, left his side of the nook, and strode toward the stream, light-footed and confident. Jumping the water, he stopped in a wide clearing about fifty feet away. Looking back at me, he held out his arms. Was this spot okay? I gave him a thumbs-up and a grin. He was ankle deep in bluebells, now fully in bloom and perfectly positioned for me to capture the bare tree trunks, the flowers, and any wildlife that fancied his company.
I had a mini tripod in my rucksack, along with my Nikon D600, which I positioned between my legs. I bought the camera secondhand and it still cost me half a month’s salary. This was about to be the first time I’d really put it through its paces.
Callum’s shirtsleeves had fallen and his cuffs skimmed his wrists. He stood with his arms loosely at his sides, head bent and eyes closed, very still. I couldn’t even see his chest rise and fall.
The sun kissed his golden hair. Insects hovered and buzzed. The columns of morning sun lit the flecks of woodland debris floating all around him, like fairy dust.The sound of my breathing, of the camera shutter clicking, seemed too loud as Callum let me glimpse the edge of his silent world. I’d never find the right words to describe how he held my attention, how I couldn’t tear my eyes from him. His stillness seemed to come from a place deep inside, a place the outside world couldn’t touch.
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About the author:
Lane Swift is a fiction writer, mainly of contemporary romance, sometimes featuring a mild dash of paranormal. She lives in Hampshire, England, between the sea and the South Downs, with her husband, two children, and two guinea pigs. She can often be found running the roads and trails in her local area, or at her beach hut, imbibing coffee and dreaming up happy-ever-afters for her heroes and heroines.
Over the years, she’s worked as a waitress, a lab technician, a science teacher, and a telecommunications consultant. She’s also played rugby, climbed one mountain, and run one marathon (soon to be two), but has never managed to learn how to whistle.
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