Sunshine and Happiness: Book One
Life is a thread connecting us. One pull and it all unravels.
Cole Gannon arrives in the seaside town of Ocean Vista to work as a bartender and finally find a place to belong. Determined to make a home for himself, Cole lives happily with his four colorful roommates, whom he considers brothers. The only problem is Cole's attraction to Ian Stark—a guy all wrong for him. He wishes he didn’t keep running into the sexy lawyer.
Ian knows Cole is attracted to him, but the younger man keeps him at arm’s length. It only makes Ian more determined to be with Cole and learn all his secrets. But while Ian has built a successful law practice, he hasn’t done too well with relationships.
When a sudden and devastating tragedy occurs, it shatters Cole's world and throws Cole and Ian together in unexpected ways. In an instant, everything between them changes forever.
COLE LEANED his long frame against the counter and gave his best killer smile. It was flirtatious and fueled by desperation, since he’d left his wallet on his bureau and needed that double mocha latte like he needed air.
“I’ll pay you tomorrow, I promise.”
“I’ve heard it before.” But Andrew, the owner of the Busy Day Café Cole frequented often, smiled back.
“Yes, however, unlike the other freeloaders, you know I’m good for it.”
“True.” Andrew raised his eyebrows. “Want a biscotti with that?”
“Ahh, bless you! You’re a prince.”
“So I keep on telling John.”
“Leave him for me, and I’ll treat you right. Buy you a castle—”
“In the air? Since you have no money?”
“I’ll let you do me in the glass carriage too.”
“You can stop now. I’m making the drink.”
Andrew, slim and blond, was cute in a boy-next-door sort of way. But they understood their banter was pretend. Andrew had a longtime boyfriend, and Cole, despite his reputation, didn’t cross those lines. He honestly liked Andrew and John. He’d never want to get between them.
Cole took a grateful sip, closing his eyes at the first taste of cream, chocolate, and coffee swirled together on his tongue. “You know I’ll be back tomorrow to even up.”
“I know. You’re a loyal customer.”
Cole thought he’d brought his wallet this time, but no. He’d remembered to leave his housemates and best friends a note about a “family dinner” on Saturday, but forgotten his money. Cole knew his housemates considered him a nag, but somebody had to get them all together to discuss their bills, or they’d be blowing each other off continuously—and not in the fun way.
“I’m loyal to your lattes, for sure.” Cole savored his drink.
“Well, you’re the only guy who usually wants my coffee so late on a hot day anyhow.”
“You wound me, Andrew. Big-time. It wasn’t my charm, after all?”
The door to the café jangled as another customer walked inside.
Oh crap, it had to be him.
It wasn’t that Ian Stark was so handsome. His features were far too arrogant for that. His nose was too sharp, his jaw too square, although his mouth was surprisingly lush. But no man who was off-limits should affect him this much.
Ian Stark was Brendan’s boss. He was unapproachable for that reason alone.
Brendan, the youngest of the roommates and Cole’s best friend, was still going to Florida Atlantic University at night, taking his prelaw classes, but he worked in Ian Stark’s fancy law office by day. He wanted to go into criminal law someday and defend the innocent. Cole teased him that there was no more justice left in the world, but Cole knew how important this job and his future were to Brendan.
He and Ian exchanged wary nods.
Cole focused all his attention on his coffee. He didn’t want to look again into Ian’s fierce blue eyes. Once was enough. Dressed in a formal suit and tie that flattered his broad shoulders and trim waist, he wasn’t even sweating. How was that possible? Everything about Ian was cool and sophisticated. Reason number two to stay away from him. Cole preferred his fun uncomplicated.
“Be with you in a moment,” Andrew said, as Ian approached Cole.
Ian was directly behind him, and Cole felt Ian’s breath tickle the hair on the nape of his neck. Ian’s voice was always a surprise, no matter that Cole had heard him speak a dozen or so times. For a lawyer, his voice was lower and grittier than Cole would expect. It never failed to give him a small jolt.
Andrew gave Cole his biscotti. “How’s work going? Any good barfly stories for me?”
“Not really.” Cole dunked his biscotti into the coffee. “Same old, same old. Nothing much changes around here.”
“How about you, Mr. Stark?” Andrew asked, his tone much more respectful as he addressed him.
Ocean Vista was a small town; everybody knew everybody. But Cole noted how Ian Stark inspired formality even from his barista.
“Good. Signed a new client.”
Cole heard the pride in his voice. Since his housemate worked for Ian, Cole knew a lot about his practice. He knew Ian had left some big jazzy firm to create something of his own, building it up one case at a time through sheer will and determination. He wished Brendan didn’t talk about this so much because it only made Cole reluctantly admire Ian.
Unable to simply leave without saying a word to Ian, Cole forced himself to turn. Ian’s gaze pinned him immediately, and Cole swallowed hard.
“Tell Brendan to stop by the bar tonight. When he’s done with work.”
“All right.” Ian’s assessing expression didn’t alter, but a small muscle ticked in his jaw as he stared at Cole. “Maybe I’ll let him go early today.”
“You could try,” Cole said. God, could Ian have a sexier mouth? It wasn’t fair to give a stuffed shirt like Ian a mouth made for kissing. Cole gave a slight shake of his head and then frowned slightly when he realized Ian was still staring. Unlike Cole’s quick appraisal, Ian didn’t even bother to mask his. Ian studied him, head to foot, and Cole went still under his examination, daring only to breathe. It made Cole uneasy. He braced himself to meet Ian’s gaze. What were they discussing? Oh yeah, Brendan.
Cole made his tone brisk. “I doubt Brendan would go.”
“True.” For a moment, Ian’s mouth quirked slightly, as close to a smile as Cole had ever witnessed from him. “Brendan is dedicated.”
“Yeah, he’s dedicated all right.” Cole suppressed a sigh. Reason number three to ignore Ian Stark was the biggest reason of all: Brendan was in love with him.
And that was that. Cole would never pursue it.
With a last, quick glance at Ian, Cole gathered his things and turned away.
“Hang on, just a second.” Ian took his arm. His voice cracked through the small café like a whip.
“Why are you always in such a hurry to get away from me?” Ian asked, his eyes shrewd.
“I’m not.” Cole stood there waiting for Ian to release his arm. He didn’t. “You’re going to make me spill my latte.”
“We’ve been doing this little dance for months now. Don’t you think it’s time we stopped?”
Cole lifted his chin. “I don’t know what you mean.” His tone, he hoped, was nonchalant.
Andrew was listening to them with keen interest, and Cole shot Andrew a glare that had him pretend to get busy at his counter. Great, all he needed was this all over town.
“Cole,” Ian said forcefully, clearly expecting Cole to meet his gaze.
He did so, reluctantly, his heart squeezed tight. Cole paused only a moment to take Ian in: his elegant build—solid muscles wrapped in that expensive suit—his unstoppable blue eyes, those mouth-watering lips.
There was an electric moment of silence. Ian’s grip didn’t hurt, but his fingers were curled possessively around Cole’s arm, holding the tight muscles of his bicep. Ian’s expression was questioning, probing, but then it altered. Cole watched his face change, his eyes focused and intent, felt Ian’s fingers holding him, gliding over his skin.
Oh sweet God. The soft slide of Ian’s palm. Cole felt the touch sharply in his entire body, like a deep note, an ache.
Ian’s gaze had an expression Cole had never seen on him, and Ian’s look both thrilled and frightened him. He wanted Ian to keep touching him. Cole wanted to touch back.
Cole tore free. “No.” He stepped back. His tone was way too revealing on that one word, sounding far too desperate and guttural, and Cole caught himself. “I mean—I have to get to work.” He tried for his signature careless smile, but Cole seriously doubted Ian bought the forced grin he managed to produce. He turned away.
This could not happen.
Anybody could pay rent and live someplace, but Cole had wanted a home. He’d always wanted a home. With Marc, Tomas, River, and Brendan, he’d finally found one. As he hurried away, he pushed Ian from his mind. Nobody was worth jeopardizing what he had with his housemates.
Cole neared the door. The trouble was he had to juggle the biscotti and his hot latte in one hand as he fumbled for the handle with his other. He felt a stain of color flag his cheeks. Christ, would the dumb thing turn already? His stupid blush increased as Cole sensed Ian coming up behind him. A trickle of sweat ran down his back.
“No. I got this.” Cole craned his neck to glower at Ian behind him. “And you’re annoying me.”
“Everybody needs a hobby.” Ian’s mouth slanted upward, his blue eyes taunting Cole.
Cole refused to smile back. They held each other’s gazes for a beat too long before Ian gallantly swung the door open and Cole was able to escape. Ian’s gaze was on his ass, Cole knew. He could feel it until he turned the corner.
I’m simply a challenge to him.
Ian Stark was the kind of guy who liked to win. That was all. Cole understood the type. Hell, it was exactly his type. Cole never wanted to scream in frustration so much as he did every time Ian was near. If only Cole could turn the tables and do his normal thing, he’d be the one pursuing Ian and making him flush.
If he didn’t love Brendan so much, he’d throttle him for bringing Ian to his attention. Brendan was ecstatic to work for Ian, who was so smart and polished, the epitome of class, the hardest worker—blah-blah-blah—Brendan could talk about Ian endlessly. Some mocha latte spilled as Cole walked away too quickly. It didn’t matter that Ian got him all hot and irritated, Cole wouldn’t play, not if it meant hurting somebody he cared about.
THEY ALL kept different schedules. Tomas worked as a bouncer for a club named Swanky’s. Tomas was huge, with biceps the size of Cole’s thighs. He was the gentle giant of the group, though, and he only scowled on the nights he needed to look tough, flexing his muscles and showing his tats, never having to do much more to bounce troublemakers out of the bar. Tomas was a nursing student, taking his classes at Broward College when he could. He’d be an asset to any hospital, being male and speaking fluent Spanish too, if they could get past the fact that Tomas looked as if he could smack down the Terminator in a fight.
Marc, pursuing culinary school, paid for his classes working at a tree trimming and stump removal company. He spent most of his day on high ladders pruning trees for country clubs and hotels. Marc did have a green thumb. He’d even made their sorry-ass lawn and patch of plants look decent. He could cook too, of course—not that the bastard did much of it for the rest of them. Marc, in his sarcastic way, sometimes pretended to have brought treats back from school, only to show them an empty brown bag and laugh uproariously. Marc could be an asshole, and Cole almost hadn’t liked him, until he suddenly made up for it by preparing a surprise feast on Christmas. That was Marc. He made you love him just when you were ready to hate him. On rare occasions when Marc would reveal his true nature, like a treasure, his guard dropped, and you forgave him all the rest of the year. Someday Marc hoped to open his own restaurant, but for the time being, he scraped pennies like the rest of them.
River worked as a car mechanic, and Cole didn’t know how he felt about his job, since River was the quiet one in the group and rarely let anybody into his private thoughts.
Brendan, of course, worked with Ian when he wasn’t attending law school. Out of all of them, Brendan was the most focused, the most optimistic about his future.
As for Cole, he had no clue about his future. He worked at It’s Five O’clock Somewhere. He used to enjoy it more when he’d first moved to Florida. The early days of bartending had been fun, a pack of hands waving their crumpled money at him, beautiful men all jammed together, most of them tanned and muscular, all eyeing him as he poured their vodka martinis and cut thin slices of lime. But lately he’d grown tired of the scene. Basically, all his housemates were working at one job while dreaming of another.
They’d lived together for three years in an old, nearly dilapidated Spanish-style house they rented at 75 Summit Court, and none of them had any family who gave a damn, so they counted on each other. It had been a ramshackle place when they’d first moved in, old and in need of a paint job, with large metal hurricane shutters and a carport instead of a garage, yet their house became their sanctuary. They loved the aging house on the south side of the railroad tracks, only ten miles from the beach, which they’d decorated together and hosted rowdy parties in. They gave grace for each other on Thanksgiving and toasted each other on New Year’s Eve. Brothers not by blood but by their own choosing, they stuck together through good and bad, like migrating birds in a vee formation who’d finally made it home.
Ocean Vista, located halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, was a gay-friendly town. It was a decent place to live too. The town kept trying to be cool and cutesy, with new pubs and funky restaurants sprouting up all the time, but the underbelly of the place had a seedy element that refused to go away and, luckily for the friends, made it affordable.
Now, as he began his shift at the bar, which wouldn’t end until much later, and hoping Andrew’s latte would energize him and keep at bay the headache threatening just above his right eye, Cole heard the familiar rumble of thunder. The weather promised the usual afternoon storm.
Florida weather—like life that summer—was fairly predictable. When the heat built up enough, seconds before the lightning struck and the thunder rolled in, there would be an awareness of the coming siege of rain. But that day, that ordinary June day as Cole began his shift, there were no warning signs, and none of them knew that trouble, far beyond the typical storm, was brewing.
I have always been a fan of Skylar Cates and this book is not the exception. I love the flow of the story and the way the Ian and Cole develop a friendship. They were able to find a common denominator and move forward from the difficult times.
Ian and Cole’s story is a great way to start the series.
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