Home for Hope: Book One
Fifteen years ago Elijah Langley’s world came to an abrupt halt with the death of his high school boyfriend. He keeps his past—and his sexual orientation—hidden until he attends a fundraiser for The Center for HOPE, an LGBT youth center, where he meets Adam Lancaster, HOPE’s infuriatingly stubborn and sexy founder.
A survivor of a turbulent childhood, Adam understands better than most the challenges his youth face. He’s drawn to Elijah’s baby blues and devilish smile but refuses to compromise his values and climb back into the closet for anyone—not even the man showering time and money on HOPE. Months of constant flirting wear down Adam’s resolve until he surrenders to his desires, but Elijah can’t shake his demons.
When a youth from the center is brutally assaulted, Elijah must find a way to confront the fears and memories that are starting to ruin his life, so he can stand strong for those he loves.
ELI CLUTCHED the glossy eight-by-ten as tears welled in his eyes. He could hardly believe the emaciated, washed-out figure in the picture was the same person he’d centered his entire world around just a few weeks earlier. Eli would recognize that face anywhere. God knows, he’d spent enough time staring at it—running his fingers over those soft lips, sucking on the kidney-shaped birthmark just below the ear. He never imagined he’d see those eyes so lifeless.
“It’s him,” Eli whispered, dropping the picture on the officer’s desk.
His mother rested a hand on his shoulder. “E.J.—”
“Don’t pretend to care, now that he’s dead.” Eli shrugged out of her grasp and clenched his jaw to hold in the gut-wrenching sobs brewing in his chest. “Will I need to identify the body in person too?”
The officer avoided Eli’s eyes, but his voice was kind. “If you’re certain, this is good enough for us. He’ll be released in the next thirty-six hours. Will you be claiming him, or will the city keep him?”
Eli’s eyes widened, and panic ripped through his heart. He’d never expected the search to end with a dead body, and there was no way he’d be able to give his boyfriend the funeral he deserved—the one Eli owed him for his own part in Brian’s death. Prepared to beg, he turned and met his father’s eyes for the first time since Brian disappeared from their house almost three weeks earlier.
“We’ll take care of his arrangements.” Eli’s mother spoke quietly but firmly, and his father dipped his chin in silent agreement.
Relief carried Eli back to his parents’ car, but grief consumed him as soon as he slid into the back seat. Burying his head in his knees, he shut out the rest of the world. Eli didn’t leave the quiet safety of the car until long after he arrived home, his cheeks crusted with salty tears from mourning the loss of the future he’d been so sure of.
SOMETIMES LIFE just sucked.
There was no rhyme or reason for why good things happened to bad people—or why bad things happened to good people, for that matter. Karma was nothing more than a myth, made up to trick everyone into doing good deeds. Life consisted of a random series of events that would inevitably occur whether you were generous enough to hold doors open for complete strangers or selfish enough to jam the Close elevator button when your boss came running around the corner.
But on days like this, Elijah couldn’t help but wonder what the fuck he’d done to deserve the shitfest that had been dumped on him.
It started on his morning commute when the moron in front of him slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a squirrel—a fucking squirrel—forcing Elijah to swerve off the road and spill hot coffee all over his Dior slacks. Fortunately Elijah kept a spare suit in his office, but as soon as he sat down at his desk, he was assaulted with a list of ten “friendly” reminders from the “former but not quite ready to give it up” CEO of Langley Lumber and Construction—also known as his father. Then the head of his accounting department—the man he’d been training to officially take over the role of CFO so Elijah could cease wearing both hats—put in his two weeks’ notice.
When a conference call ran over, Elijah missed lunch. By the time some environmentalist freak who didn’t think Langley Lumber was doing enough to save the planet showed up in his reception area, he wasn’t even surprised that she’d demanded an audience with “whoever’s in charge.”
Elijah was tired. His nerves were shot, and for the first time in… well, ever… he wanted to cut out of work early, go home, and do absolutely nothing. But it was Wednesday, which meant dinner with his parents, and they always ended the same way—a lecture from his father about everything Elijah needed to do for the business and apologetic looks from his mother while she sipped her wine.
Shoving the cuff of his shirt back to check the time, Elijah saw he still had twenty minutes before his next appointment, and he needed a break to survive his last meeting as much as he needed a quick bite to eat. Shrugging on his suit jacket, he walked down the short hall to reception.
Elijah rapped one finger on his secretary’s desk. “Sherri, I’m heading to Etman’s to get a sandwich. I should be back in time for the four-thirty meeting. If I’m not, tell them to start without me.”
Oblivious to his sour mood, Sherri offered her tight, patented almost-smile and nodded.
Elijah dipped his chin once, a habit he’d only grudgingly acquired from his father, and started toward the door. He stopped in his tracks when the front doors opened and laughter ushered two strangers inside. A young woman, maybe midtwenties, with a pretty, oval face and choppy, shoulder-length blondish-brown hair nudged the kid beside her as if reprimanding him for whatever he’d just said. When she turned her smile toward Elijah, her entire face lit up, making her even prettier than Elijah had first thought. But once he got a good look at the kid beside her, she could’ve been J. Lo and Elijah wouldn’t have noticed. The kid’s hair was different—darker, shorter, and artfully swept to the side—but Elijah would have sworn he was staring at a younger version of the guy he once thought he’d spend his life with.
“Hi,” the woman chirped to Sherri. “I’m Kirsten and this is Kollin. We’re making rounds in the neighborhood, dropping off some information about The Center for HOPE. It’s the LGBT center over on Leftwich. HOPE stands for Healing, Opportunity, Protection, and Equality, and we’re committed to providing a safe place for queer youth to feel accepted and help prepare them for their futures. We’re having a fundraiser in a few weeks to purchase the old Tarboro Inn just down the street from us. We thought it would also be a great opportunity to bring awareness to the community about what HOPE is and what we do.”
She spoke quickly, but Elijah didn’t get the impression it was out of nervousness. He couldn’t say for sure. His eyes stayed glued on the boy she introduced as Kollin.
Kollin shrugged off his book bag and pulled out several information pamphlets. He handed one to Sherri and then turned to Elijah and gave him a curious once-over.
“Nice suit. Dior?”
Elijah nodded once and offered a rare, small smile. “Impressive.”
Kollin raised his shoulder and gestured toward his own outfit—burnt orange pants, a white hippie shirt, and black suspenders he somehow managed to make look good. “I’m into fashion.”
“Ah, I see that,” Elijah replied.
He held out another pamphlet. “You want one of these too?”
Elijah took the paper and glanced at the front page. “You look a little young to work for a place like this.”
“I’m just helping Kirsten out today. She can’t go anywhere by herself apparently.” Kollin raised his voice enough to catch Kirsten’s attention, making her hip-check him in the middle of her conversation with Sherri but not slowing her down at all. “But I’m also one of the impressionable young minds who benefits from everything HOPE has to offer.” He rolled his eyes, but the warmth of his smile told Elijah the kid was grateful for the center.
“You are, huh?” Elijah waved the pamphlet around. “So, what’s the plan for the Tarboro Inn?”
“Adam wants to renovate all the rooms and set up some kind of system so homeless youth can have a safe place to stay. He wants to help them find work and all that. Give ’em a chance to get back on their feet.”
Elijah nodded, once again impressed. What Kollin described was no small undertaking, but if successful… well, his life would’ve been a lot different if something like that had been around seventeen years earlier. He had no business asking something so personal, but as he glanced back at Kollin’s too-familiar face, he couldn’t help himself. “And will you be needing the inn?”
Flashing him a bright smile, Kollin shook his head. When he spoke, the sarcastic lilt was back in his voice. “My parents tolerate me well enough, as long as I don’t wear the suspenders in the house.”
Elijah huffed out a laugh.
“Ready, kiddo?” Kirsten asked, grabbing the back of his shirt.
“Yes, ma’am. Nice meeting you, sir.”
Elijah shook Kollin’s hand and thanked him, purposely not introducing himself. Even if Kollin hadn’t reminded him of Brian, Elijah would have found him to be a breath of fresh air—once he got over the initial shock of staring his past in the face, that is. Kollin was comfortable in his own skin and didn’t seem to give two shits what anyone else thought of him. Elijah didn’t want the kid to know he’d just made one of the most influential men in Cary nearly speechless.
“Mr. Langley, sir?” Sherri stared at him, a questioning look on her face as Kollin and Kirsten left his building. “Would you like me to run down to Etman’s and get you that sandwich? Your meeting starts soon.”
Elijah’s gaze strayed to the clock on the wall. He’d spent over half of his break talking to Kollin. “No thank you. I’ll find something in my office.”
Elijah tapped the pamphlet on Sherri’s desk and went back to his office to review its contents. He showed up at his final meeting of the day almost ten minutes late and still hungry.
IF ELIJAH’S parents noticed how distracted he was at dinner that night, they didn’t mention it. They also didn’t question why he wanted to go through his old room when he excused himself after dinner. His parents had redecorated immediately after he moved out of the house, so it looked nothing like the room he’d grown up in. He found the box he was looking for shoved into the very back corner of his old closet, and briefly considered grabbing the other two as well, but he childishly decided he liked the idea of inconveniencing his parents.
Elijah placed a kiss on his mother’s cheek and assured his father he’d prepared for the quarterly board meeting the following day. He dropped the box in the passenger seat of his Lexus and spent the short drive home wondering what in the hell he was doing. He’d quickly learned that the only way to move past Brian’s death was to pretend he’d never existed. It had been over fifteen years since Elijah locked his past away in his childhood bedroom closet and metaphorically thrown away the key. He knew leaving his past in the past was the smartest thing he could do, but he couldn’t stop himself from plowing forward when he had that old box within arm’s reach.
At home, Elijah poured himself two fingers of scotch from his fully stocked bar and stared at the black and red Air Jordan shoebox on his coffee table. He took a healthy swig of his drink, topped it off again, and sank into the couch. Steepling his fingers, Elijah eyed the top warily and wondered what fresh hell awaited him. As he gently removed the lid, he immediately regretted his decision to take a trip down memory lane.
Staring up at him was the seventeen-year-old version of himself. His smile was huge, and he had a basketball tucked under one arm, but all Elijah could see was the boy tucked under his other arm. Instead of looking at the camera, Brian was grinning up at Elijah, the smile on his face betraying how utterly smitten he’d been. Elijah had always loved that picture. While he’d never considered himself closeted—more like careful—that particular picture told the truth about what he and Brian really were to one another.
The alcohol in Elijah’s stomach swirled around, and he shoved the top back on the box, unable to look into those trusting blue eyes any longer. He pushed it farther away, stood, and ran his hands through his hair. What the fuck was he thinking when he grabbed that box? He hadn’t been able to deal with Brian’s death when he was seventeen, and he sure as hell hadn’t done anything since to change that.
Clearly time didn’t heal all wounds.
Elijah stripped off his suit as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom and carelessly tossed the discarded clothes into a pile outside his closet door. Kollin’s flippant comment about his parents merely tolerating him popped into his mind. Elijah didn’t know the kid from Joe Blow on the street, but he couldn’t help wondering how much truth lurked behind his facetious words. His heart twisted at the thought of Kollin ending up like Brian. Had anything improved? Were there more places like The Center for HOPE? Was it easier to be a gay teenager today than it was fifteen years before? Elijah had no idea, but he was damn sure going to find out.
It’s an amazing thing when an author writes a book that is not only amazing, beautiful, and wonderfully written but also tackles major issues. Shell Taylor has wrapped all the characters in Redeeming Hope into a reality that is overlooked too often. Our LGBT youth. Or as I like to call them, a huge chunk of our future.
Elijah and Adam are the MCs in this book. Elijah is a closeted bisexual man harboring great heartbreak and it’s affected him more than I think even he knows. Adam runs HOPE the center for these troubled kids. Together they not only have an amazing love story brewing but they are powerful and detrimental to the future of the center.
Then Shell Taylor went and did something that made me love and hate her. Enter Kollin. I saw Kollin in this story as the voice of the kids of HOPE. I LOVED that she wrote him. Many times I felt he was an MC and not a secondary. He is a glue, he is hope.
The dialog was brilliant and the emotions come across like you are actually feeling them. Shell Taylor has started something here. A series that I feel will be a favorite of mine.
Mastering reality within fiction isn’t always easy, yet Shell Taylor makes it look effortless. I highly recommend this moving book.
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