Middle of Somewhere: Book One
Daniel Mulligan is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home in Philadelphia with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates looked down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Holiday, Northern Michigan, but he’s a city boy through and through, and it’s clear that this small town is one more place he won’t fit in.
Rex Vale clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his muscular body, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people.
When the two men meet, their chemistry is explosive, but Rex fears Daniel will be another in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in can be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia, where he discovers a secret that changes the way he understands everything.
2015 Rainbow AwardsBest LGBT Cover Runner-UpThe William Neale Award for Best Gay Contemporary Romance Runner-UpBest Gay Debut
I TOSS my bag in the door of my rental car and practically throw myself in after it. Once the door is safely closed, I slump into the seat, close my eyes, and curse the entire state of Michigan. If Michigan didn’t exist, then I wouldn’t be sitting in a rental car at the edge of Sleeping Bear College’s tiny campus, having a premature midlife crisis at thirty.
I just spent the day interviewing for a job at Sleeping Bear, a small liberal arts college I’d never even heard of until six months ago. My interview went well, my teaching demonstration went even better, and I’m pretty sure I never let my cuffs slide up to show my tattoos. I could tell they liked me, and they seemed enthusiastic about hiring someone young to help them build the department. As they talked about independent studies and dual majors, I mentally catalogued all the bear puns I could. Of course, what they’d think if they found out that I associate bears’ hairy chests and lumbering gaits with large men drinking beer instead of the college, the nearby dunes, and the animal they are named for, I can’t say.
I’ve been working my ass off to get where I am today, and all I can think is that I’m a fraud. I’m not an English professor. I’m just some queer little punk from Philadelphia who the smart kids slummed it with. Just ask my ex. Just ask my father. Ask my brothers, especially. God, what the hell am I doing here?
Sleeping Bear is the only college where I got an interview and it is in the middle of fucking nowhere—near some place called Traverse City (which is definitely not a city, based on anything I’ve ever seen). I had to drive for nearly four hours after I flew to Detroit to get here. I could have gotten closer with a connecting flight in a tiny plane, but I’ll be damned if the first time I ever flew I was going to crash into one of the Great Lakes. No, overland travel was good enough for me, even if the flight, the rental car, and the suit I bought for the visit put me even deeper in the hole than I was before. At least I saved a hundred bucks getting the red-eye from Detroit to Philly tomorrow night.
I shudder when I think what my credit card bill will look like this month. Good thing I can turn the heat off in my apartment in a few weeks when it gets above forty degrees. Not like there’s anyone there except me. My friends from school never want to come to my neighborhood, claiming it’s more convenient to go places near campus. Richard, my ex, wouldn’t be caught dead in my apartment, which he referred to as “the crack house.” Asshole. And I only see my brothers and my dad at their auto shop. Still, I love Philly; I’ve lived there all my life. Moving—especially to the middle of nowhere—well, even the thought is freaking me out.
Now, all I want is to go back to my shitty little motel room, order a pizza, and fall asleep in front of crappy TV. I sigh and start the rental car I can’t afford.
I have to admit, though, the road from the school to my motel is beautiful. All the hotels near campus are cute (read: expensive) bed and breakfast joints, so I booked in at the Motel 6 outside of town. It’s down a two-lane road that seems to follow the tree line. To my left are fields and the occasional dirt road turnoff with signs I can’t read in the near-dark. God, I’m starving. I haven’t eaten since an ill-advised Dunkin’ Donuts egg sandwich at the airport.
It’s really cold so far north, but I crack the window to breathe the sweet smell of fresh air and trees anyway. It’s actually really peaceful out here. Quiet. It isn’t something I’m used to—quiet, I mean. Library-quiet and middle-of-the-night quiet, sure. But in the city there’s always noise. This is a quiet that feels like water and trees and, well, nature, I guess, like the time my parents took us to the Jersey Shore when we were kids and I hid under the boardwalk away from the crowds, listening to the overwhelming sound of the ocean and the creak of docks.
And peace? Well, never peace. If it wasn’t one of my asshole brothers starting shit with me, it was my dad flipping his lid over me being gay. Of course, later my lack of peace came in the form of Richard, my ex, who, while we were together, was apparently sleeping with every gay man at the University of Pennsylvania.
My hands tighten on the wheel as I picture Richard, his handsome face set in an expression of haughty condescension as he leveled me with one nauseating smile. “Come on, Dan,” he said, like we had discussed this before, “who believes in monogamy anymore? Don’t be so bourgeois.” And, “It’s not like we’re exclusive.” That, after we’d been together for two years—or so I’d thought—and I’d taken him to my brother Sam’s wedding.
Anyway, I hate being called Dan.
I grit my teeth and force myself to take a deep breath. No more thinking about Richard. I promised myself.
I glance down at the scrap of paper where I scrawled the directions to my motel. I can almost taste the buttery cheese and crispy pizza crust and my stomach growls. When I look back up a second later, something darts into the road in front of me. I swerve hard to the right, but I hear a sickening whine the second before the car veers into a tree.
ALL I can see is blackness, until I realize I scrunched my eyes shut before I hit the tree. I open them slowly, expecting to look down and see that my legs are gone or something, like in one of those war movies my brother is always watching, where a bomb goes off and the soldier thinks he’s fine, laughing and smiling, until the dust clears and he looks down and has no lower body. Then the pain hits. It’s like the cartoon physics of awareness: we can’t hurt until we see that we’re supposed to.
But my legs are there, as is everything else. I do a quick stretch, but aside from some soreness where the seat belt locked in, I actually feel okay. The car, however, is another story. I can already see that I’m not driving out of here. I jam the door open and slide out, a little unsteady on my feet. And then I hear it. A terrible whining noise.
Fuck, what did I do?
The dark seems to have settled in all of a sudden and it’s hard to see the road. I take a few cautious steps toward the noise, and then I see it. A dog. A brown and white dog that doesn’t look much older than a puppy, though it’s already pretty big. I don’t know anything about dogs, have no idea what kind it is. But it’s definitely hurt. It looks like maybe I broke its leg when I hit it.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I say. The dog is whimpering, its big brown eyes wide with pain. “Fuck, dog, I’m so sorry,” I tell it, and reach out a hand to try and soothe it. As I reach for its head, though, it growls and I jerk my hand back.
“I know, dog, I’m sorry. I’m not going to hurt you. Hang on.”
I rush back to the car for my phone and try to call information so I can find an emergency vet, but I can’t get a signal out here at all. I put the car in neutral and try to rock it away from the tree enough so that I can look under the hood—growing up with a family auto shop means you can’t help but know how to fix cars, even if you don’t want to go into the family business. But there’s no way. The undercarriage must’ve caught on the tree’s roots or something.
I grab my bag and sling it over my shoulder, and go back to where the dog is lying, still whimpering. I can’t leave it here. It’ll get run over by a car in the dark. Or, worse, it’ll just lie here all alone, terrified and in pain. The sound it’s making is ripping my fucking heart out. I can’t believe I did this. Christ, how did I even get here? I ease to the other side of the dog and gently run my fingertips over the soft fur on its head. It whines, but doesn’t growl.
I keep petting it, talking low as I ease my arm underneath.
“Okay, dog, you’re okay. Don’t worry, I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be fine.” I’m saying things I haven’t heard since my mother said them when I was little. Words that are meant to comfort but mean nothing.
I roll the dog into my arms and it whimpers and growls as I jostle its hurt leg. I cuddle it close to my chest to keep it immobile and try to stand without falling over and hurting it worse. I’ll just walk a little ways. There has to be a gas station, or a house, or something, right? I’ll just ask someone to call a vet. Hell, maybe this is what police do in a nothing town like this. Rescue dogs that get stuck in trees, or something? No, wait, that’s cats. Cats get stuck in trees. Right?
I walk for what feels like forever. The dog has gone quiet, but I can feel it breathing, so at least I know it isn’t dead. What it is, though, is getting heavy. I stop for a second to check if I have phone service for what feels like the millionth time. I haven’t come across a single gas station and I’m not sure how much longer I can walk.
“Okay, dog; it’s okay,” I say again, but my voice is as shaky as my legs, and, really, it isn’t the dog I’m talking to anymore. Still no service. Fuck.
Then, off to my right, I see a light. A shaky beam of light that’s getting closer. Just as I pull level with the light, a man steps out of the woods. I rear away from the large form, and the dog whimpers softly. The man looks huge and the way he’s shining the flashlight is blinding. My heart beats heavily in my throat. This guy could take me apart. Squaring my shoulders and setting my feet so I look as big as possible, I plan how I can set the dog down without hurting it further if I have to fight. Or run. Then a warm voice breaks the silence that stopped feeling peaceful the second I swerved.
His voice is deep and a little growly. For half a second, all the puns about bears that I was making earlier dance through my head and I laugh. What comes out sounds more like a hysterical squeak, though.
“Do you mind?” I say, squinting and hoping my voice sounds more threatening than the noise I just made. He lowers the flashlight immediately and walks toward me. I take a half step back automatically. All I can really see in the dark, with the ghost of the flashlight leaving spots in my vision, are massive shoulders clad in plaid.
“Are you okay?” the man asks again, and he puts out a hand as he takes the last few slow steps to my side. I nod quickly. His hand is huge.
He bends down and looks in my face. I don’t know what he sees there, but his posture shifts, the bulk of him softening ever so slightly.
“I didn’t mean to,” I try to explain when it’s clear he isn’t a threat. “Only, it came out of nowhere and I couldn’t—” I break off as he shines the flashlight on the dog. It whines and I gather it closer to me, suddenly unsure. “I tried to find a vet, but I can’t get a signal here and my car hit the tree so I couldn’t drive and I—”
“You were in an accident? Are you hurt?”
“No—I mean, I’m not. I’m… but my car’s fucked. Do you have a phone? Can you call a vet?”
“No vet,” he says. “Nothing’s open this late.” It’s maybe 7:00 p.m.
“Please,” I say. “I can’t let it die. Fuck! What the fuck am I doing here? I can’t believe I—” I break off when I can tell my next words won’t be anything I want a total stranger to hear.
“Come with me,” the man says, and turns and walks back into the woods. What the hell?
“Um,” I say. Am I actually supposed to follow a total stranger into the woods? In the dark? In the middle of nowhere? In Michigan? I know stereotypes about cannibals who live in the woods and eat unsuspecting tourists are just that: stereotypes. Maybe I’ve watched The Hills Have Eyes one too many times, but still. Isn’t it, like, a statistical fact that most serial killers come from the Midwest?
While I was distracted by regionally profiling the man, he’d come back out of the woods and is now standing directly in front of me, close enough that I can kind of see his face. He has dark hair and eyes, and a sharp nose. That’s all I can see in the dark. But he is definitely much younger than I assumed. His low voice sounded older, but he looks like he’s in his midthirties. And up close, he is massive, with hugely broad shoulders, powerful arms, and broad hips—how much of that is flesh and how much is flannel remains to be seen. He’s nearly a head taller than me, and I’m not short.
“You need to come with me,” he says, and his voice suggests that he’s considering the fact that I might be an idiot.
“Er, sure,” I say, figuring that if worse comes to worst, at least I can run; I have to be faster than this guy, right? I take an experimental step toward him and, in the way it sometimes happens when you rest after an exertion, nearly fall on my face as my body takes longer to wake up than my brain. The man catches me with one easy hand under my elbow and steadies me. Shit, that was embarrassing.
“Here,” he says. “Let me take the dog. You take this.” He shrugs something off his shoulder and hands it to me. It takes a few seconds to process the unfamiliar shape in the dark.
“Is that a gun?”
“Yeah,” he says.
“Why do you have a gun?” I ask warily. Though, I guess I should be reassured that he’s handing it to me and not pointing it at me.
“To hunt with,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Right,” I say. Hunting. Michigan. Michigan.
He gently sets what I can only assume is a rifle on the ground next to me.
“Let me.” He slides his hands under the dog. His hands are huge, covering practically my whole stomach as he worms them under my arms. “I’ve got him,” he says.
“I don’t know if it’s a boy,” I say. “I don’t know anything about dogs. I mean, I guess I would’ve been able to tell by looking, but I didn’t think of it. But it’s really common, defaulting to male pronouns to refer to things of indeterminate gender.” Christ, I’m babbling.
He cocks his head at me and walks away. I pick up the strap of the gun gingerly and take off after him, holding it as far away from the trigger as I can. With the luck I’m having today, I’d trip and end up shooting the man. Or myself. Or, shit, probably the dog.
I loved this book! Both MC are amazing. I loved how Daniel is a work in progress &how he grows through-out the story. It was funny and sad and sweet &I didn't want it to end. I can't wait to read more by this author!
Review by Lucy
old in first person point of view, this is the story of Daniel, a city boy fresh from graduate school who arrives in Holiday, Michigan to interview for his first teaching position as an English professor. He’s spent eight years in graduate school aiming for this very moment but now that it’s here, he’s very unsure. Sleeping Bear College is very small but it’s the only interview Daniel has. He knows that he’s lucky to have it, but really, Holiday, Michigan? His best friend, Ginger, (who I loved) can’t even remember it’s Michigan. Daniel has some issues in self-esteem, “I’m not an English professor. I’m just some queer punk from Philadelphia who the smart kids slummed with. Just ask my ex. Just ask my father. Ask my brothers, especially.” Daniel’s family definitely treat him poorly. It’s funny that Daniel has such issues because he portrays an outward sense of confidence and sarcasm. Since the story is told from his point of view, we do get all his inner thoughts and he’s funny. “I even bought apples because it seemed like something someone who got asked on a date might do.”
When Daniel accidentally hits a dog, it brings him into contact with Rex, a handyman and furniture maker who lives in Holiday. Where Daniel is snarky and “whatever”, Rex is a big, quiet, shy bear of a man. He doesn’t connect with people easily and he’s a bit of a hermit. Rex brings Daniel back to his cabin to help the dog and this is their beginning, of sorts. There is a kiss that ends up being all there is, and Rex has some hot and cold moments. The two accidentally bump into each other in town and again, some hot and cold but they start to get to know each other better. Rex shows some insecure moments right away, “I don’t mean to be a pig,” he says, pausing, and it has the ring of someone else’s words being repeated.” Rex is worth 4 hearts by himself, lover of old movies and incredibly hot sex, respectful of Daniel's friendship with Ginger (awesome in her own right).
There are some serious family issues to deal with. Personally, I loved that Daniel’s father, who treated him sort of “less” than the other brothers because he wasn’t interested in what they were, showed a little love a bit with gas money and checking out the car. But my god, the beast that is brother Colin just made me want to join in with Daniel and punch him. And even at that lowest point, at the grave site, Rex is there and Rex is lovely and wonderful.
I admit, I first rated this a little lower because of the parts that just seemed to go on much too long, but then after rereading it I felt I had to give Daniel and Rex their due. They are wonderfully written and they made me care about them. So, while I felt the book could have definitely benefited from some cutting, as sometimes the dragging bits made me want to put the book down, I enjoyed it. I do wish I could have gotten some of Rex’s point of view, because he’s so much quieter outwardly I would have liked to know what he was thinking. Daniel’s POV is very entertaining and made me smile. “Me (determined to use any word but “great”): Great! That works.” He’s not perfect, our Daniel. But who is? Recommended for those who love fluff and seriously likeable characters.
I really enjoyed the first book in what I read in the author's blog interview will be a series. There were a few minor annoyances for me as I'm not a big fan of grown adults using the word "dude" to address another person. Between Daniel's continued use of the word "dude" and his sometimes selfish "it's all about me" attitude, I found it a little hard to be as invested in him as I did Rex. Those were minor annoyances those in a well written story about opposites attracting, family dysfunction, friends, and life’s many ups and downs.
I will look forward to reading the next book in the series.
This was exactly the story I was looking for at the time that I read it. I really understood Daniel, and I loved Rex. Several moments made me pretty emotional. It would just sneak up on me. Everyday life was happening for the guys, and then it would seamlessly become something deeper. Mmmm, what a beautiful couple they are.
I really enjoyed this author's debut work. I was drawn in by both characters equally, even though it was Daniel's POV. Very well done characterization, IMO.
The story was also captivating and drew me right in - the struggles they both faced were very believable and the chemistry was real - I was happy with their resolution, as well.
Even though I could never imagine living in Michigan with those winters, I really loved the small town it was set in and the people that inhabited it. I especially fell in love with Leo and I hope we will get to read his story soon.
All in all, I would highly recommend this book and I can't wait to read more from this author.
Great contemporary gay romance. Daniel and Rex's story was wonderful and intense from the first page. Both have scars from the past and issues to move on from. A small town romance between one city man now in the small town and the kind man who captures his heart. Worth it!
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