What remains, p.1
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       What Remains, p.1

           Garrett Leigh
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What Remains


  Riptide Publishing

  PO Box 1537

  Burnsville, NC 28714

  www.riptidepublishing.com

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. All person(s) depicted on the cover are model(s) used for illustrative purposes only.

  What Remains

  Copyright © 2016 by Garrett Leigh

  Cover art: Garrett Leigh, blackjazzdesign.com

  Editor: Carole-ann Galloway

  Layout: L.C. Chase, lcchase.com/design.htm

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher, and where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief passages in a review. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Riptide Publishing at the mailing address above, at Riptidepublishing.com, or at marketing@riptidepublishing.com.

  ISBN: 978-1-62649-397-1

  First edition

  July, 2016

  Also available in paperback:

  ISBN: 978-1-62649-398-8

  ABOUT THE EBOOK YOU HAVE PURCHASED:

  We thank you kindly for purchasing this title. Your nonrefundable purchase legally allows you to replicate this file for your own personal reading only, on your own personal computer or device. Unlike paperback books, sharing ebooks is the same as stealing them. Please do not violate the author’s copyright and harm their livelihood by sharing or distributing this book, in part or whole, for a fee or free, without the prior written permission of both the publisher and the copyright owner. We love that you love to share the things you love, but sharing ebooks—whether with joyous or malicious intent—steals royalties from authors’ pockets and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to be able to afford to keep writing the stories you love. Piracy has sent more than one beloved series the way of the dodo. We appreciate your honesty and support.

  Web designer Jodi Peters is a solitary creature. Lunch twice a week with his ex-girlfriend-turned-BFF and the occasional messy venture to a dodgy gay bar is all the company he needs, right?

  Then one night he stumbles across newly divorced firefighter Rupert O’Neil. Rupert is lost and lonely, but just about the sweetest bloke Jodi has ever known. Add in the heady current between them, and Jodi can’t help falling hard in love. He offers Rupert a home within the walls of his cosy Tottenham flat—a sanctuary to nurture their own brand of family—and for four blissful years, life is never sweeter.

  Until a cruel twist of fate snatches it all away. A moment of distraction leaves Jodi fighting for a life he can’t remember and shatters Rupert’s heart. Jodi doesn’t know him—or want to. With little left of the man he adores, Rupert must cling to what remains of his shaky faith and pray that Jodi can learn to love him again.

  For my Foxes, with love . . .

  About What Remains

  Prologue

  Part One

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Interlude

  Part Two

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Epilogue

  Dear Reader

  Also by Garrett Leigh

  About the Author

  More like this

  The remnants of their broken dreams lay scattered all around . . . but what remained was something beautiful.

  July 24, 2014

  “Don’t go.” Jodi tugged playfully on Rupert’s coat. “Come on. You had that big warehouse fire yesterday, and the gas leak. Take the rest of the week off.”

  Rupert grinned and allowed Jodi to reel him in with the dark, cajoling eyes he’d been unable to resist since that damp December night four years ago. Not that Rupert often tried that hard. Jodi was an addiction he had no interest in quitting. Now, though, he needed to pull away. “I gotta go, boyo. I’m late already.”

  Jodi scowled. “Late for what? Sitting around watching football with a bunch of old men?”

  “I’d imagine so, until a call comes in. It’s Saturday night. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be quiet.”

  “Wish it was—” Jodi’s grumble was cut off by his phone. He retrieved it from his back pocket, glanced at the screen, then tossed it onto the couch. “Sophie’s bitching. Would you believe I’m late too?”

  Rupert chuckled. Jodi’s tardy timekeeping was legendary. “We’d both better go, then. You’re hitting the town, remember? Come on.”

  “It’s only dinner at Sophie’s.” Jodi planted his feet stubbornly on the shiny wooden floor—kept so dust-free by his unnatural obsession with his elderly Henry hoover—still gripping Rupert’s coat. “I’m not even hungry. I just want to stay here with you.”

  Rupert’s heart ached. He’d wanted to be a firefighter since he was six years old, but as much as he loved his job, he loved Jodi more. “You’re always hungry, and you know I’d stay if I could.”

  “Hmm. Perhaps I can persuade you.”

  Jodi dropped to his knees, taking Rupert’s tracksuit bottoms with him. He hooked his thumbs around Rupert’s underwear and dispensed with that too, then lifted Rupert’s feet out of it and tossed it away.

  He pushed Rupert against the nearby living room wall and traced Rupert’s balls with his tongue. The gesture should’ve felt devilish and filthy, but Jodi’s touch was gentle and hypnotic, so much so that it was hard for Rupert to remember why he’d ever tell him no. Reluctantly, he stilled Jodi’s hands. “I’ve gotta go.”

  Jodi sighed and pressed his forehead into Rupert’s thigh. It was about as close to admitting defeat as he ever got, and Rupert’s tenuous grasp on his self-control broke. He hauled Jodi to his feet. Jodi let out a grunt of surprise, but responded almost instantly, crushing their lips together and growling into Rupert’s mouth.

  Rupert groaned. Jodi was smaller than him, slighter, leaner, but when it came to sex, he was all the man Rupert could take, even now—especially now—with his hands, tongue, and teeth everywhere. Blunt nails raking over his skin. They stumbled to the bedroom. Jodi pushed Rupert onto the bed, stripping his own scruffy T-shirt and tossing it over his shoulder. He straddled Rupert’s waist. “I need you.”

  The gravelly confession lit Rupert on fire. He grasped Jodi’s slender hips and rolled over, pinning Jodi beneath his broader frame. “You don’t ever have to need me. I’m always here.”

  Jodi’s dark gaze flashed. No, you’re not.

  Rupert growled and wrestled with Jodi’s belt buckle. The silent accusation was true, but far from fair. Rupert worked long shifts, often leaving Jodi for twenty-four hours or more, but Jodi had an engrossing occupation of his own and rarely had nothing to do when Rupert was gone. Rupert fixed Jodi with a glare. I’m here when it matters.

  He yanked Jodi’s skinny jeans down his legs and threw them on the floor, then reached for the lube in the bedside drawer.

  Jodi claimed it with a devilish smirk and shoved him onto his back. “Like this.”

  As if Rupert would argue. Jodi was a dominant lover. People often said he had an ethereal look about him, but his fragile form was a
wonderful deception. Despite his long limbs and slim bones, there was nothing delicate about Jodi. He loved Rupert fiercely and demanded it back in return.

  Jodi tore open a condom and rolled it onto Rupert. “I need you, Rupe.”

  “You have me.” Rupert gritted his teeth, hardly able to contain himself as Jodi rubbed lube into himself, stretching and teasing. “I’m right here.”

  “Show me.”

  Rupert drove up into Jodi in one slow slide. Smooth, tight heat enveloped him, and his vision blurred, obscuring Jodi’s beautiful form. He thrust his hips, softly at first, but as Jodi pushed down, meeting Rupert’s every move, Rupert’s caution faded away. Fucking Jodi was like breathing, he didn’t need to think about it, just closed his eyes and felt, letting Jodi fall apart around him, rushing him to a heady climax that made his head spin.

  He came fast and hard with a low roar, mindful of their nosy downstairs neighbours. Jodi wasn’t so considerate. He yelled out and came all over Rupert’s chest, then collapsed to one side in a sweaty heap.

  Rupert chuckled and tossed the condom into the bin by the bed. “Wanna shift over? I’ve got time for a quick spoon.”

  “I wanna reverse spoon.”

  “Come on then.”

  Jodi grunted drowsily, and they crawled under the covers, Jodi curled against Rupert’s chest. Rupert wrapped his arms around Jodi and held him tight, absorbing every twitch and breath as Jodi drifted off. Jodi wasn’t much of a sleeper—too busy with work and keeping the flat to his eccentric standards—and Rupert rarely got to hold him like this, wide-awake while Jodi’s dreams made his eyelids flutter and his tongue dance over his bottom lip.

  It was entrancing, until he glanced at the clock. Damn it. Time had slipped away from him, leaving him twenty minutes to dash south to the fire station in Brixton.

  Fuck. Rupert disentangled himself from Jodi, mourning the loss of his warmth. Who wanted to tramp around bloody Brixton when they could hold Jodi close and doze all night, waking up from time to time to love each other a little bit more? God, Rupert’s heart wanted so desperately to stay.

  Stop it. Rupert retrieved his scattered clothes, dressed, and got ready to leave again. In his coat and shoes, he crept back into the bedroom and gazed at Jodi, still sleeping soundly. He kissed Jodi’s forehead, his cheek, his lips.

  “I love you, boyo. See you in the morning. Be safe.”

  Jodi awoke with a shiver. He reached for Rupert, but his heart already knew he was alone. He rolled over and stared at the ceiling. Waking up without Rupert’s comforting bulk wrapped around him was always hard, but it felt particularly depressing when it happened to be dark and cold outside. He searched for a word to suit his mood. “Bleak” . . . yeah, that would do. He preferred “desolate,” but applying it to himself made him feel like a twat.

  A twat who’d fallen asleep, despite plans to be on the other side of London more than an hour ago.

  Jodi forced himself out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. He was a little sore, but he took pleasure in the pain. Without the dull ache at the base of his spine, he would have wondered if he’d dreamt his snatched encounter with Rupert.

  He took a shower, then wandered, nude, through the Tottenham flat he shared with Rupert. It was a small maisonette—poky and cramped when they were both home—but in Rupert’s absence it seemed empty and cavernous. His gaze fell on a photograph of them, taken last Christmas, cuddled up on the sofa with Rupert’s daughter, Indie. Jodi absorbed the warmth of the image. Rupert had the best smile. It was infectious and lit up his whole face. With his warm hazel eyes gleaming like embers in the fire, Jodi couldn’t look away. The only thing he’d ever change was Rupert’s haircut. He hadn’t known him before he’d cut the shaggy blond mop he’d sported in his younger days, but Jodi had dreamed about what it would feel like to run his fingers through those curls.

  Give me something to tug on.

  Jodi’s black mood began to dissipate. He felt bad for making Rupert late, but the guilt was almost worth it for the fuck-awesome sex. Closing his eyes, he pictured it: Rupert thrusting up into him, his cheeks flushed, every muscle strained—

  The phone interrupted his dirty daydreams. He retrieved it from the couch and read another cheesed-off message from Sophie—his best friend—wondering where the fuck he’d got to. Cringing, he checked the time. Oops. He should’ve rocked up in Primrose Hill hours ago.

  He erased the messages and hit Rupert’s speed dial, waiting for his voice mail to kick in as he stamped into his shoes, grabbed his coat, and headed for the door. The message tone on Rupert’s voice mail beeped. Jodi jogged down the stairs and let the heavy exterior door slam shut behind him before he spoke. “Hey. So . . . I’m sorry if I made you late. I was feeling a little needy, but in my defence, that new software is driving me round the fucking bend and Henry tried to kill me this morning. Ran over my foot, bloody dick-splash. Can you believe that?” Jodi manoeuvred his way through Tottenham’s bustling streets. He reached the zebra crossing and stepped off the pavement. “Anyway, I’ll see you in the morning, yeah? Bring your helmet home. I want to fuck you while you’re wearing it. Be safe, Rupe. I love you.”

  July 26, 2014

  Drip, beep, drip, beep, drip, beep. Rupert counted the drops of blood as they passed through the device monitoring the pressure in Jodi’s brain. The doctors said clear fluid would mean an improvement. For two days now, there had only been blood.

  A nurse appeared at Jodi’s bedside. She placed a plastic cup of grey tea beside Rupert, then sanitised her hands with the gel dispenser on the wall. “Do you need anything, love?”

  Rupert shook his head. It seemed to be the only thing people said to him anymore. Didn’t they know that all he needed was for Jodi to live? To wake up, get better, and chase this nightmare away? Didn’t they know there was nothing else?

  The nurse let him be and got on with Jodi’s fifteen-minute observations. Rupert watched her for a while, scrutinising her face for any sign of change, but eventually, his gaze returned to Jodi: his coal-dark hair and scruffy hipster beard. The geometric tattoo on his neck. The tiny mole on his cheek, just visible beneath the wide bandage around his skull.

  Rupert shuddered. The accident had been like a perfect storm. Eyewitnesses said Jodi had stepped onto the zebra crossing, eyes down, his phone tucked under his chin. He’d never looked up, even when the stolen car had come roaring round the corner, sending other pedestrians scrambling for safety. It had hit him at fifty-four miles an hour. The impact had hurled him twenty feet and thrown him facedown in the middle of the road. Two cracked ribs. His left arm fractured in three places. Rupert closed his eyes. And his brain so badly damaged he might never wake up.

  Nausea ran through Rupert. He forced himself to open his eyes, and ran his gaze over Jodi again, tracking every wire and machine, absorbing every bruise and scrape, but nothing changed. He couldn’t count the tubes jammed into Jodi’s body, wouldn’t count them, because if he did, he’d have to accept that they were the only thing keeping Jodi alive. That without them, he’d be dead.

  Rupert took Jodi’s hand. A familiar warmth tickled the chill in his bones. Jodi had always made him feel warm inside, from the heady heat of their first, tentative naked encounters, to the comforting acceptance that had cloaked him the moment he’d realised Jodi loved him too.

  But the warmth felt different now, marred by the sickening dread that their dream had been cut short. Rupert closed his eyes and found himself at the fire station, jogging down the front steps to come home, only to be intercepted by two police officers he knew well.

  “Rupert, there’s been an accident. Get in the car. We need to take you to King’s.”

  Rupert blinked. King’s College Hospital was in Camberwell, barely a stone’s throw from the station. Why the fuck would anyone need to drive him there? Besides, it had been a quiet night in South London—no major incidents, and all the crews were safely inside, or on their way home, like him. Perhaps they had come to the wrong statio
n. “Karen—”

  Karen touched his arm. “Rupert, I’m sorry, love. Jodi’s been in an RTC. He’s been airlifted to King’s. You need to come with us so we can take you to him.”

  They rushed Rupert to King’s in a blur of blue lights and sirens. Minutes later, he found himself at sea in the bustling efficiency of London’s busiest trauma centre, searching desperately for any sign of Jodi. It was half an hour before a nurse told him he’d already been transferred to intensive care.

  The doctor up there had been blunt. “Jodi was brought in by helimed at nine o’clock last night. He’d been hit by a car as he crossed the road outside what I believe to be your home. The impact cracked his ribs and broke his arm in three places, but the severe head injury he sustained when he hit the road is causing us the most concern . . .”

  Bleeding, pressure, coma. Death. The doctor had said then—and still said now—that Jodi might not survive, but she was wrong. Jodi wouldn’t die. He couldn’t, because aside from his propensity for anarchy, Rupert wouldn’t bloody let him.

  December 26, 2009

  Jodi stumbled out of Tottenham’s dodgiest gay bar. He tripped over the kerb and dropped his wallet and phone straight into a murky puddle. Oops. Lurching, he retrieved them. His wallet looked salvageable—not that there was much in it after tonight—but his phone was butt-fucked. He sniggered. “Butt-fucked” was the name of the sparkly pink powder he’d been snorting all night, a legal high, apparently, though it hadn’t had a big effect on him, save his wobbly legs and a bad case of the giggles.

  Still swaying, he stuffed the wallet in his pocket and considered his phone. The screen was waterlogged. He swiped it a couple of times, but nothing happened. Damn it. He’d dropped three phones in the last year, and the death of number four was probably a sign that it was time to go home.

  Luckily for him, home was a five-minute walk away. He left the dodgy bar behind and drifted along the pavement, weaving between the revellers who’d come out to party on a frosty Boxing Day night. He crossed the road outside the chicken shop, in a world of his own until a commotion ahead startled him.

 
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