Into the Woods by M.L. Rhodes
Amber Allure bestseller
Kindle gay fiction bestseller
Shaun McCarry left home as a young teenager, certain that whatever he had to do to survive on his own was better than being dragged around the country by his troubled, alcoholic father. Once he got away, he vowed never to look back. But years later, on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he receives a bizarre letter from his dad indicating Shaun’s in grave danger. The letter sends him on a journey deep into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. There, he uncovers a disturbing family history that leaves Shaun questioning everything he thought he knew about his past and even his future.
His only ally comes in the form of a mysterious drifter named Rannon James who seems to know more about Shaun’s history than Shaun does. Shaun’s drawn to the sexy and vaguely familiar man. And when Rannon tells him a story of love and loss, of loyalty and betrayal, and of two childhood friends who share a destiny, Shaun realizes he’s inextricably and intimately linked to the other man.
But with danger stalking his every move, and fighting a terrifying change in himself that he never asked for, Shaun’s not sure who he can trust. Maybe not even himself.
Genre: Contemporary/dark fantasy/shapeshifter
Release date: February 27, 2011
Length: Extended Novel (76K words)
Available in ebook formats at: Amber Allure, All Romance Ebooks, the Kindle Store, Kindle UK, Fictionwise, and other online ebook vendors
Available in paperback at: Amazon.com
The rain seemed to have let up a bit, from the big pelting drops to a persistent light drizzle that somehow wasn’t much better. Shaun trudged across the cemetery, his shoes squelching in the puddles. He should have worn boots today, but, hell, it hadn’t been raining when he’d left home. He circled around the stone church to his SUV, which sat alone at the edge of the parking lot, bordered by the encroaching darkness of the forest. The mud-splattered black FJ Cruiser looked the worse for wear after taking on the winding mountain roads in the rain.
He reached for the door, but before he could open it, a low, masculine voice from directly behind him said, “I’m sorry ’bout your dad.”
Shaun’s heart pounded like a bass drum. Jeez! How had someone snuck up on him?
He turned…and discovered the stranger from the funeral stood less than two feet away from him, close enough to reach out and touch. And, for a split second, Shaun almost did touch him, warring between the desire to push back the hood of his black wool coat that kept his face hidden in shadow so he could really see him and know who he was dealing with, and the urge to lunge and tear into him for sneaking up on him. He did neither, forcibly reining himself in with another deep breath to settle his edginess. What’s the matter with me? First the priest and now him. Shaun had never been a violent person, never felt the need to pick fights. He couldn’t understand why he was wound so tight today.
Except for Doyle’s damn letter.
Gee thanks, Dad. Your final legacy…leave me infected with your paranoia.
“You all right?” the stranger asked, sounding concerned.
Shaun realized the silence had stretched unnaturally long. “I’m fine,” he mumbled, wishing he could see who he was talking to. He could tell very little about the guy except that up close he was a few inches shorter than Shaun, had a lean build, wore blue jeans turned dark from the rain, and heavy black leather boots. But his voice unexpectedly affected Shaun—it had an easy drawl to it, a Texas accent maybe, with a gritty, sensual undertone that made Shaun think of…well, of slow, hot, sweaty sex.
Christ. His pulse thrummed in a way that didn’t have anything to do with caffeine overload or whatever else ate at him.
Realizing the silence was dragging too long again, he said, “You knew him? My father?”
There was a pause, as if the question had surprised the stranger. “A bit.”
“I…talked to him a few times.”
“Do you live around here?”
What was with the vague responses? But even more than that, Shaun suddenly wondered how the man had known who he was. The unsettled tension of earlier crept up his spine again, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. The only person he’d spoken to since he’d gotten here this afternoon was Father McKenzie. And the woman at the post office, but he hadn’t told her who he was. The priest was the only one who knew Doyle was his father. How could this guy possibly know it?
Who exactly are you? he was about to demand, but the stranger chose that moment to reach up and push off his hood, causing the words to die unspoken on Shaun’s tongue.
Shaun found himself staring again, blatantly, at a man around his own age, with disheveled dark blond hair, a golden glint of stubble along angular cheeks and chin, a dusting of freckles across his nose, sensual lips, and a pair of striking, pale green eyes.
A ripple of something—Familiarity? Déjà vu?—slid over Shaun.
Did he know this guy? No, surely not. He would have remembered meeting someone like him. The stranger had the kind of active, outdoorsy appearance that had always appealed to Shaun. He wasn’t classically handsome, some might even call him average-looking, but there was an unpretentious, down-to-earth sexiness about him that Shaun knew he would have found hard to forget.
The man’s warm gaze seared into Shaun, like an electric current passing through his body. The probing stare was so intense, so filled with…Jesus, was it need?…that Shaun’s blood suddenly ran hot and he found himself thinking about sex again. And how it would feel to strip off the man’s clothes right here and now, and lick every inch of what he was certain was a hot and delectable body, until the man writhed in pleasure and desperation. Then Shaun would find what he knew would be the perfect fit for himself between the man’s legs, and thrust so deep inside him, the stranger would cry out and beg for mercy, beg for more, all in the same breath. Shaun knew he’d comply, too. Knew he’d give the man everything he wanted, would plough into him until they were both hoarse from their cries, until their bodies shook from need and glorious exhaustion. Until they were both spent and sweaty and covered in each other’s scents…
Holy crap. Shaun swallowed hard and blinked as reality settled back in around him, yanking him out of the vivid daydream.
What had just gotten into him? Just a minute ago he was ready to attack the guy for sneaking up on him, and now he couldn’t think straight because he wanted to fuck him. His skin tingled, his heart thudded, his balls ached.
The weird thing was, he was pretty sure he wasn’t the only one suddenly and powerfully turned on. Shaun got the distinct impression the stranger was fighting the urge to push Shaun up against the car and do something similar to what Shaun had been thinking. He could practically feel the sexual tension sizzling in the air. Could almost smell the man’s desire…smell his own desire as well, and the heady mix of both together.
“Who are you?” Shaun breathed. “Do I know you?” He couldn’t shake the feeling that he did, as a pang of longing he couldn’t explain settled in his chest.
“You don’t remember?”
“Should I?” The words were barely out of his mouth when his stomach chose that exact moment to clench in singular agony. Shaun gasped and bent forward, resting his hands on his knees as the sharp pain wreaked havoc on his gut.
“You’re not okay,” the man said, stepping closer. He crouched down next to Shaun, putting his face at eye level with Shaun, and Shaun caught a whiff of damp, woodsy spice. “Just keep breathin’ slowly.”
“I’m fine,” Shaun insisted.
“No. You’re not. You’re goin’ through a lot right now.”
Shaun grimaced, hating that this stranger might see him as weak or think he was breaking down from grief. “I’m not— This isn’t because of—” He grunted, fighting another wave of pain.
“I know.” The man rested a wool-gloved hand on Shaun’s shoulder, and his gaze was fully serious and filled with empathy. “I know.”
“How can you—”
Shaun was trying.
“Yeah, like that. Slow and deep.”
Christ. Those particular words in that warm, raspy drawl only caused him to conjure up another sexual image. He looked at the guy askance and groaned. “Not helping.”
The twitch of a smile on the sexy lips and a mischievous twinkle that suddenly sparked in his eyes told Shaun the man knew exactly what he’d meant. “Sorry,” he said, although he didn’t remotely sound like he was.
Shaun wanted to keep drowning in that oh-so-familiar and sexy gaze, but another round of burning hit his stomach, and he had to draw in another deep breath to quell it. What was wrong with him? Maybe he had an ulcer. Or maybe he’d picked up a stomach bug or parasite in Nepal and it was just now rearing its ugly head. He moaned, and tried to focus on breathing through the worst of the pain.
“It’s gonna be okay,” the stranger said.
“Sorry. I…I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It just hit me.”
As suddenly as the smile and the sparkle in the man’s eye appeared, it disappeared. His expression grew sober again and he cocked his head to the side as if he were assessing what Shaun had just said.
“Maybe I’m coming down with something,” Shaun added. The wave began to ebb, but left him still panting and shaky.
“You don’t know…?”
The words were spoken slowly, and so quietly Shaun wasn’t even sure they were meant for him. He looked up, questioning.
Lines creased the skin of the man’s forehead and crinkled around his eyes, as surprise and concern fought for dominance in his expression.
“What?” Sean breathed. “What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?”
The hand on his shoulder squeezed. “Shaun, listen to me.”
For some inexplicable reason, the sound of the stranger’s voice soothed him. Until Shaun suddenly realized the man had called him by name.
“How do you know my name?”
A hint of sadness flickered in his eyes. “Do you really not remember? At all?”
“What are you talking about?”
The man sighed. “I don’t have time to explain right now. Believe me, I wish I did, but I have to go.” His tone was urgent, and so was his expression. “Listen to me, though. You have to hang on a while longer. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.”
He stood, and as he did Shaun caught a whiff of something that made his heart pound all over again. A whiff of something metallic. His senses labeled it even before his mind could wrap around what it meant. Blood.
“Watch your back, Shaun,” the man said, his face a study in seriousness. “I’ll find you.”
“Who the hell are you?” Shaun ground out.
Before Shaun could speak again, the stranger was gone, running across the muddy lot with an oddly powerful grace. He glanced over his shoulder briefly, giving Shaun one last unreadable look, then disappeared into the trees.
Alone once again in the cold and damp, Shaun straightened and leaned against the door of his SUV. “What is going on here?”