North Star: Book One
In their small-town high school, Hugo and Kevin became closeted lovers who kept their secret even from parents. Hugo didn’t want to disappoint his terminally ill father, and Kevin’s controlling father would never tolerate a bisexual son. When college took them in different directions, they promised to reunite, but that didn’t happen for seventeen years.
By the time they meet again, Hugo has become an out-and-proud actor and director who occasionally performs in drag—a secret that has cost him in past relationships. Kevin, still closeted, has followed his father’s path and now, in the shadow of divorce, is striving to be a better father to his own children.
When Hugo and Kevin meet by chance at a party, the spark of attraction reignites, as does their genuine friendship. Rekindling a romance may mean Hugo must compromise the openness he values, but Kevin will need a patient partner as he adapts to living outside the closet. With such different lifestyles, the odds seem stacked against them, and Hugo fears that if his secret comes to light, it may drive Kevin away completely.
A GENTLE kiss barely brushing against Hugo’s mouth startled him away from a peaceful, inattentive moment. He didn’t mind. He lay on soft grass cooled by the shade of trees. Kevin hovered upside down above him with his nose near Hugo’s chin. He felt a second kiss, almost softer than the first, bottom lips dragging and pulling against each other as Kevin lifted his head away and came in for yet another.
Hugo could feel Kevin’s soft breaths fan out over his mouth, could taste him, making him want to kiss again and again. And deeper. But Kevin kept it all sweet and tender, lips on lips, the sensitive pull and drag almost ticklish at some points.
A raindrop fell on Hugo’s cheek, but he ignored it. Nothing would pull him away from this perfect moment.
His tongue drifted up just a bit, lightly grazing Kevin’s lower lip as he moved toward Kevin’s chin, and the quiet, wet sounds of their mouths moving together was sinful to Hugo’s ears.
Another raindrop, followed by several more.
Hugo refused to give this beautiful instant up to something as trivial as getting wet, so he tilted his head, opening his mouth for something deeper—something that might ground them enough to ignore the rain that seemed to be coming down harder with each passing second. Kevin licked into Hugo’s mouth, intensifying the kiss, seeming to pour all his love into Hugo’s lips. Hugo tried to do the same, to share the moment with their mouths. They seemed to be informing each other of their love in a way their words never were able to manage.
Then water poured from the heavens, and they were drenched.
Kevin pulled away, quickly helping Hugo to his feet and dragging him by the hand away from the wooded meadow and toward the trail.
If Hugo had known that was to be the last kiss they would share, he would’ve stayed, kissing Kevin with water dripping down his face, into his ears, his mouth, his eyes—his clothes soaking through, his body getting cold. But he had run away from the green meadow framed by trees, following Kevin as tiny purple and pink flowers became a blur the faster they ran.
A VICIOUS, white-hot bolt of lightning split the sky in front of Hugo, bringing him out of his daydream, and was quickly followed by a crack of thunder that seemed to make the car shudder. The monotony of farmland and the vibration of wheels rolling over pavement at sixty-five miles an hour had dulled his mind and allowed it to tumble far, far back into the past, to that beautiful moment, to that someone he knew he’d lost forever, to that point in time that had plagued him for years. If he had only stopped long enough to tell Kevin how he really felt, he might not have lost his first love.
Scary-looking black clouds ahead were lit from behind. Another gnarled finger of lightning touched the ground below, signaling Hugo that he’d better pay closer attention to the road.
Soon, lush green fields of corn and soybeans gave way to scraggly grasses tall enough to obscure the lakes that were starting to dot the landscape at more regular intervals. Cattails rose long and fat in the marshy soil, lazily swaying back and forth in front of sparkling pools of water.
Hugo looked over to see Summer’s ice-blonde hair cascade over her tanned shoulders as she napped in the seat next to him. He was making this trip for her, his closest friend, the one who saw him at his worst a year ago and helped him get back on his feet. And now, he could be there for her at her worst.
What possessed Summer to head to her small hometown in the middle-of-nowhere Minnesota after her fiancé cheated and broke off their engagement still eluded him, but she promised swimming at the family cabin and quiet talks out in the canoe. He’d do anything for her after all she’d sacrificed for him over the years, but it sounded too good to be true. Somehow, he doubted a lake hidden amid farm country was going to be any less crowded on the Fourth of July than a ninety-degree Saturday afternoon around the Chain of Lakes in the heart of Minneapolis, especially considering the number of cars they’d maneuvered around as they headed out of the city.
But he really tagged along because he knew Summer shouldn’t be alone, just as she had known Hugo being isolated the first few days after breaking up with Michael the previous year would’ve been disastrous.
July seemed to be the month for breakups.
The ominous clouds overhead opened up, finally sending a deluge of water from the sky. Hugo turned the wipers to high and slowed down as the landscape was quickly lost in the squall.
“Summer,” Hugo cooed, attempting to gently wake her. “I think we’re getting close, and I need to make sure I don’t miss the turn in this storm. Can you wake up?”
Opening her eyes and squinting, she tried to see past the rain. Her thin arms bent as she rubbed at her eyes, all childlike, fists bunched and knuckles working the sleep away.
“Yeah. We’re here already? Wait. Are we here?” she asked in a wiped-out voice before she yawned.
“I think so. You told me to wake you up when we got to Atwater. We just passed it a few minutes ago.”
“Wow. That was fast,” she said, reaching down to put on her sandals.
“You fell asleep before we even left the first-ring suburbs.”
“Don’t worry about it. You had a long, emotional night, and you needed the rest.” Hugo sneaked a peek over at her and saw the redness in her eyes from hours of crying had finally started to fade. She was going to be okay, even if she didn’t quite believe it yet. “So, how do I get to this fabled cabin of yours? I know we’re close because I saw a sign for Kandiyohi.”
“It’s not fabled, you ass. We aren’t driving toward some mythical Neverland where only fairies and believers can see through the mist, though….” She peered at the side of the road as if she were looking for landmarks, and Hugo just barely made out a small, blue County Road 8 sign through the heavy rain. “Turn right up here.”
Hugo slowed and headed over bumpy railroad tracks and through a tiny town before the buildings disappeared again. He assumed they were back to driving through farmland, though it was nearly impossible to see beyond ten or twenty feet ahead.
“And like I said, don’t get your hopes up,” Summer continued. “This is a cabin in the true sense of the word. It’s been around for ages. It’s small. The plumbing is questionable, but there’s a fridge to keep your beer and wine cold, and the cleanest lake in Minnesota is just a few steps away. Or at least it used to be. Who knows if Green Lake is still the cleanest, but they used to brag about that.” She shrugged and pointed to the left as Hugo came to a T in the road.
“Green Lake sounds far from clean. ‘Blue Lake’ sounds cleaner.”
“Just wait and see. Don’t be so skeptical,” Summer grouched, still groggy from sleep, as she pointed the way for Hugo, directing him to take a few more turns.
They drove through the small town of Spicer and then followed the shore of a lake. As they rounded a bend in the road, the rain ended as quickly as it had started. Typical July weather in Minnesota. If you didn’t like the weather, all you had to do was wait ten minutes. It was bound to change.
“Here it is,” she said as a small wooden structure appeared. The cabin looked as if three or four layers of wood shakes were piled on top of each other on the roof. Moss clung to the lower rows and seemed to drip down the edges like melted icing.
Hugo parked on the blacktop driveway and turned off the car before getting out and shoving his keys in his front pocket. As he allowed a moment to stretch his muscles awake, he took in a deep breath, smelling rain and lake water and cut grass. It was a familiar scent, but even fresher than he was used to when visiting one of the many lakes in Minneapolis. He popped the trunk and threw the strap of his luggage over his shoulder so both hands would be free to carry the cooler into the cabin.
Summer had already run ahead and was unlocking the door, screen open wide and propped against her hip. “Come on. Hurry up! Welcome to Casa de Odegaard.” She overpronounced the double a so that she sounded overly Scandinavian or Minnesotan, depending on who was doing the listening. She disappeared inside as Hugo blindly navigated the two concrete steps.
He cautiously looked around at the neighboring cabin, which seemed to be only a stone’s throw away and happened to be painted the most garish purple he’d ever seen.
“Gah! Get in here so we can open that wine. I need wine!” Summer said in a playful voice.
With a huge grin on his face, Hugo walked into the cabin he’d heard about for years. It smelled of grandparents—a bit musty but not in a bad way, just a comforting way that bespoke of good memories. After all, it had been Summer’s grandparents’ cabin. They’d bought it in the late 1950s, and it appeared as if it hadn’t been redecorated since. A refreshing blue-and-yellow theme traveled around the main room with little sailboats and anchors dotting walls and furniture. A lamp with a sailboat wheel as its base sat on an end table, and shells and driftwood rested on book-filled shelves and atop picture frames. It made Hugo smile. No wonder Summer loved coming here.
The sound of waves drew him toward the large windows at the lake side of the cabin, and he saw a long, wooden dock reaching into the water like a giant arm inviting him in. It was a serene and idyllic place despite the remains of the storm clouds still visible on the other side of the lake.
“Let’s go check out the water,” Summer urged, grabbing his wrist and dragging him toward the door. She tapped him with a glass of wine, which he hadn’t realized she’d already uncorked while he’d looked around the cabin, and as they headed outside, he extricated it from her fingers, which were wound tightly around the stems of two glasses. She pulled hard, forcing him to practically run to keep up, which was a feat to accomplish without spilling. He miraculously managed it, thanks to the large bowl on the wine goblet. Summer slowed as she reached the wooden dock and slipped her arm in the crook of Hugo’s elbow, leading him to where the dock ended and the lake continued for two, possibly three miles across. She just stood there, breathing in deeply and looking around.
Hugo allowed himself to look too, noticing that the water was a greenish color when looking straight down but extremely clean, giving visibility all the way to the silty bottom. As his gaze wandered farther away, the water became blue, a deep blue that rivaled the post-storm sky. Summer tugged him to sit down on the rain-damp dock beside her, and he followed her lead, ignoring the voice in his head telling him it was too wet to sit. After taking his sandals off, he dipped his feet into the cool water and leaned back on a hand, finally relaxing.
“To long-lasting friendship,” Hugo said, touching the rim of his glass to Summer’s.
The sun was just starting its descent behind them, creating glints of spectacular light on the tiny waves in the water. The evening was nearly silent, aside from the current beating against the shore and the sound of an outboard motor or two in the distance. Hugo moved his feet and listened to the gentle splashing of the waves. In only five minutes, the muscles in his shoulders smoothed, and the tension of the last twenty-four hours melted away.
“Wow! This really is a magical place,” he admitted.
Summer leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed contentedly. Hugo was glad he could be here with her.
“OKAY, we’ll see you then,” Summer said before she hung up the turquoise rotary phone plugged into the wall and then spun toward Hugo with a smile on her face. It was good to see her smiling again. “We’ve been invited to a party tonight. My high school friend Myles saw us on the end of the dock when he was out on his Jet Ski and asked if we wanted to join him. He’s grilling steaks and brats with some of my old friends. All we need to bring is ourselves and something to drink.”
“Sure. This Myles doesn’t happen to be gay, does he? Any chance I can get me a little?”
She gave Hugo a deadpan look and shook her head. “Right. Like you’d randomly hook up at the lake with a guy you just met. Anyway, he’s about as straight as they come. And you’ll thank me for that once you see him. Think cowboy, but not cowboy in the good way. He’s not even an urban cowboy.”
“I like cowboys,” Hugo admitted.
“You like the idea of a cowboy. You like city boys who dress as cowboys in leather chaps. And the Marlboro Man. Myles is a wannabe cowboy. He sells farm machinery at his dad’s business, so he thinks he has to dress the part, even though he’s never lived a day on a farm. He’s a rich, small-town kid who lives in a huge brick house on the lake. So, this is not the kind of cowboy you would save a horse for.” Summer raised one brow and smiled.
“Oh. Like the kids I went to high school with,” Hugo said with a knowing nod. “Counterfeit cowboys.”
“Yes. Like the guys you used to bitch about all the time when we first met.”
Summer changed her demeanor from playful to all business. “We have about thirty minutes to get ready, so if you want to shower, you’d better do it now.”
After a quick lesson on how to use the questionable plumbing, Hugo was clean and just finishing up the last two buttons on a dark-blue shirt when Summer appeared.
“I always thought that shirt made you look like a model. The color’s really good on you,” she said from the doorway of Hugo’s bedroom.
“This?” he asked as he adjusted the turnup of his short-sleeved shirt, folded the collar, and then started to run his fingers through his wet hair. It still dripped, so he grabbed a towel and rubbed at it for a few more seconds while debating whether or not he should shave the dark five o’clock shadow from his face now that it was softened from the warm shower. He turned left and right, palming his cheek, and decided the scruffy look worked on him at the lake. He was there to relax, after all.
“Here, let me,” Summer said, taking his brush and easily sliding it through his slick hair as she sat behind him on the bed. “Your eyes are just so blue when you wear this.”
“Modest much?” she teased with a smirk. Hugo shrugged his answer. “Plus, it makes your hair look so black. Almost a blue-black.” She kept brushing his nearly shoulder-length hair despite it being tangle-free, her gaze lost in the motion of her hands. It fell in loose waves that framed his face, even though he usually kept it pushed back. “It’s almost long enough to put in a ponytail; do you know that?”
“I know. I keep thinking I’ll let it grow. Maybe for Pride next year, I can even get away without wearing a wig when Miss Cherrie Pop! waves at the crowds.”
“You have a year, Hugo. But I doubt you’ll be able to let it grow that long without cutting it off in a fit of frustration one day. But if you did, Cherrie’s hair would look better than ever, and you wouldn’t overheat in a wig.”
Summer tilted her fair head as she looked in the mirror and ran her fingers through his hair, parting it to the left and right before she decided to let it fall where it did naturally, just left of center.
“We should go.” Her voice was wistful, and Hugo knew Summer’s mind had drifted back to Jason, her ex-fiancé.
Hugo reached up and grasped the hands resting on his shoulders, meeting her eyes in the mirror. “I know it’s hard,” he said with conviction. “Believe me, I know. But maybe, just maybe, you’re going to be all right.”
A small smile drifted onto her face as she watched Hugo’s reflection. “I know, love. I know I’m better off without him, but my heart just hasn’t caught up with what my head’s been trying to tell me. It’s like I have this newly enhanced superpower: hindsight. And I’m able to see hints and clues that were right there in front of me for ages. I just wish I could’ve been the one to dump his cheating ass rather than giving him that power. You know?”
“I do. I remembered odd little clues for months.” Hugo recalled from his own experience. “But it hurts just as bad no matter who does the breaking up. Granted, it felt amazing kicking Michael out when I found out, but in the end, I was just as miserable as you are. And despite the cliché, it really does get easier. Wine helps. Social interaction. So let’s get to that party.”
Ten minutes later, Summer and Hugo were walking along the side yard of a house—not a cabin but a full-fledged house that had to be worth close to a million without it being located on the shoreline. The location at least doubled its value. Possibly tripled it. Needless to say, Myles was swimming in money. Apparently, selling farm implements could make one quite wealthy. The sounds of people drifted around the corner, so they made their way toward the shore.
Strings of lights decorated the yard between the house and the beach like tiny, hovering moons, making Hugo want to sit and enjoy the outdoors. A whisper-thin man in a dove-gray cowboy hat raised his hand and walked toward them. If this was Myles, Summer couldn’t have been more right. He was wearing Wrangler jeans so high up his waist they looked like mom jeans but were held up by a stereotypically large belt buckle. They did nothing to hide what he was packing in his pants, and that was probably intentional, although Hugo wondered how there was room for his balls. For a man who had to be in his mid-thirties if he was a classmate of Summer’s, he looked as if he were no more than seventeen, until Hugo noticed the sun damage around his eyes and mouth.
As Myles greeted Summer, commenting, ad nauseam, on how beautiful she looked, Hugo looked around and saw several other people who looked to be in their early- to mid-thirties. There was also a couple in their fifties or sixties who Hugo estimated were Myles’s parents by the way they manned the grill and filled people’s plates.
“This is my best friend, Hugo Thorson,” Summer introduced, bringing Hugo’s attention back to the man in front of him.
“Hi. You must be Myles. Nice place you have here.”
Myles reached out to shake hands and smiled, showing a gap between his two front teeth, which made him look a bit like Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine, minus the red hair and freckles. It was hard to make out his hair color under his hat. Dark. Maybe brown or dirty blond.
“Thanks. It was good of you to come on such short notice. Go on and get a plate. There’s plenty of food.”
As Myles took off to uncork the wine they’d brought, Hugo turned to Summer and whispered, “You were right. Not my type at all.”
“Told ya!” she said with a laugh as she pulled him to the long table heavily laden with food.
People gathered in groups all around the yard on either lawn chairs or scattered blankets. After filling both their plates, Hugo followed Summer and settled down on a floral blanket as she introduced him to six people whose names he knew he’d never remember. As he ate, Summer caught up with her high school friends who came and went. She had to repeat several times that “No, Hugo is not my boyfriend,” “… or fiancé,” “… or husband. He’s my best friend.”
Despite being fairly outgoing, Hugo hung back and only added bits and pieces to the conversation when called for. It was good to see Summer enjoying herself, smiling and laughing at recalled stories of some of her crazier antics from when she was young.
She seemed different around these friends than when she was alone with Hugo. With him, Summer was always open, saying everything on her mind, being honest, at times to a fault, even if other friends were around. Sometimes the two of them would talk over each other, practically carrying on two conversations at once, with no shortage of humor sprinkled in at random places. But those were the things that made their friendship work. Now, he watched her restrain herself, keeping back snarky comments she would usually let fly.
They’d been best friends for fifteen years, living across the hall from each other in ratty apartments near the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. She had knocked on his door past midnight looking for some brandy so she could finish her gruyère cheese fondue. Hugo had answered the door in a daze after falling asleep on the couch watching a movie, taking a few minutes to catch on to what this stranger was asking.
“Need a stiff drink, huh?” he’d taunted the cute girl with bright-blue eyes and a turned up nose, not believing her recipe needs.
“No. I’m really making fondue. So do you have brandy? I don’t need a lot, and I’m more than willing to pay you back by sharing in a feast of cheese, fruit, and more. I’m Summer, by the way,” she said as she tore the binding from her ratty, blonde ponytail rather than offering him her tiny hand. She shook out light-blonde waves and finger-combed her hair before putting it back up in a much neater topknot. Then she gave Hugo a sweet smile, leaning her thin frame against the wall as she waited for Hugo’s answer to slip through his sleepy stupor.
“I’m not a brandy drinker, but I think Jet bought some once. Let me check.”
Hugo dug deep in his kitchen cupboard and found a forgotten bottle of brandy his old roommate had left behind because he hadn’t liked it and then followed Summer to her apartment. They talked and ate until the sun came up and hadn’t gone more than a few days without talking since. She would tell people cheese brought them together, so nothing would ever tear them apart.
As she told the story of their meeting to her friends at the lake, Hugo smiled, pulling her close so he could press his lips to her temple and breathe her in. Hugo believed her. Nothing would part them. Looking around the circle of old friends Summer had remained close to, Hugo was reminded of how few friends he still had from high school.
I love this book, and I love Posy Roberts.
Read the full review at
It was a true gem of a story that I am deeply pleased to have read.
This book made me happy in ways I can’t really explain.
I loved this story and am so glad that I get to read the next installment soon.
This is a lovely romance and I am looking forward to the next book in this series.
In her novel, Spark, Posy Roberts writes a beautiful coming of age story that morphs into a gentle tale of self-discovery and renewed love.
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