Prologue

 

COLBY LASALLE never dreamed his life would end in a plane crash over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Yet here he was, whispering fevered petitions to the Lord as the plane screamed, plunging downward… faster, faster.

Out the windows, all he could see was white. And the only outcome he could imagine was that once that white cleared, the last thing he’d take in would be towering pine trees and the cold side of a mountain hurtling toward him. It was almost too horrific to comprehend.

In those few moments, as Colby braced himself in his seat, head down near his knees, he found himself thinking what a loss this was. The man across from him, his boss, Maine Braxton, would never know the most important thing about Colby. And that thing was not his proficiency as an administrative assistant, keeping Maine on track and on schedule in all his business affairs, but that Colby was passionately—and secretly—in love with him. With all his heart and soul.

That fact, and the unspoken words that hid it, seemed tragic to Colby, maybe even more tragic than the life he was about to lose. What kind of life, Colby wondered, did you really have if you’d never truly loved and been loved in return?

Colby, at twenty-eight, had never been in love before. And now it looked as though he would never have the chance to act on his desire, on that feeling that made his heart flutter whenever Maine walked by his desk. Was love like a tree falling in the forest? If the object of that love never knew of it, did it really exist?

Colby looked up for a moment, maybe to have a final look at Maine, but was distracted by the view through the cockpit window of the six-seater plane they were traveling in—a Beechcraft Bonanza. The opaque fog of white cleared for a moment, and Colby could see, to his horror, that his imagination was correct.

They were hurtling toward the side of a mountain. The view was surreal. Shock kept him from thinking it was anything other than a very vivid nightmare.

He then looked over at Maine and saw he had slid from his seat to the floor. The strong, powerful man cowered there, hands over his head. His lips moved in what Colby could only assume was silent prayer.

Colby longed to slide over, to cover Maine with his own body and shield him from the impact, but he was paralyzed, a butterfly pinned to a board, and could only add his own whispered prayers to those of his boss.

“Please, God, help us get out of this alive. Let Maine know how very much I love him. Give me that chance.”

The private pilot, a blustery, gruff man named Gus Pangborn everyone just called Rooster, shouted, “We’re gonna try and go up! We’re gonna try and go up!”

Colby didn’t know if he was talking to him, Maine, or himself, but the desperation in the pilot’s gravelly voice was clear. The despair in Rooster’s words communicated one thing to Colby and one thing only—he had no hope.

Colby squeezed his eyes shut tight and placed his head back down toward his knees again, covering it with his hands, although he wondered how much good it would do once the plane crashed, once it was consumed by a giant fireball.

What Colby LaSalle didn’t realize, though, was that the plane crash would signal not the end of his life, but the beginning.

 

 


Chapter 1

 

FOR ALMOST the entire three days he’d been in Seattle, Colby LaSalle thought his friends and coworkers had been wrong about what some called the “Emerald City.” They’d all told him, “It rains all the time there.” They’d advised him to pack duck boots, rain slicker, and umbrella because the gray skies, drizzle, and downpours never ceased. They told him he’d never get out of the downtown hotel he was staying in with his boss because it would never be fit to venture outside.

And yet now, as he stood outside the office building on First Avenue that had a fine view of the ferries on Puget Sound below him, Colby began to wonder if maybe his friends hadn’t been right—finally. Yes, the prior days they’d been here from Chicago had been glorious—brilliant sunshine with nary a cloud in sight, low humidity, and delicious temperatures that soared to the upper seventies and plunged to “sleeping weather” lows of the fifties during the night. It was no wonder the office building in which they’d conducted their meetings over the past few days did not have air-conditioning, a thing Colby thought was unimaginable in the twenty-first century.

But now Colby crossed his arms to warm himself as a cold wind blew off the Sound. The sunshine had beaten a hasty retreat, forced out by banks of threatening, low-hanging, and bruised-looking clouds, gray at the top and an almost menacing black at the bottom. Colby couldn’t help but admire their ferocity and the rain they most definitely foretold. Every once in a while, the sky over the steel-gray waters would light up, and a distant rumble of thunder would overtake the other sounds of downtown—the traffic, the horns, the calls of pedestrians on the sidewalk as they hurried to Pike Place Market, just down the street from where Colby stood.

Maine Braxton emerged from the building behind Colby and grinned at him. “I thought I might catch you out here.”

“Catch me what?” Colby asked, rubbing his hands up and down his arms, close to shivering. The temperature must have plunged twenty degrees since he stepped outside only fifteen minutes or so ago.

“Smoking.”

Colby rolled his eyes. “Hey! That’s not fair. I haven’t had a cigarette in….” Colby looked up at the threatening sky as he calculated. “In over six months. I think I’ve got it whipped. No more cancer sticks for me.” He grinned at his boss.

Maine squeezed his shoulder, causing a tingly surge of adrenaline to course through Colby, which he hoped wasn’t visible. He also hoped the heat he felt in his chest and on his face didn’t show as scarlet to his boss. That would be embarrassing.

“Good work,” Maine said in that growly baritone Colby couldn’t help but love. “I knew you could beat it.”

Colby just nodded, unable to put his lips, tongue, and teeth together enough to form coherent speech. Maine frequently had that effect on him. It really was getting in the way of doing his job. Colby cast his eyes downward and forced himself to take in several deep breaths, hold them, and let them out slowly. He supposed that was kind of what smoking was for him once upon a time—a deep-breathing exercise, only bad for the lungs.

Maine looked up at the sky. “Where did the sun go?”

Colby shook his head and grinned. “I swear I didn’t chase it away.”

“Man, I’ve never seen such a quick change in the weather. Chicago seems to have a slower buildup, you know?”

Colby nodded. “Yeah. I guess all the talk about rain is true,” he said as he felt the first fat raindrop land on his forehead.

He wiped it off with his hand and walked back under the awning of the building. Maine followed.

There was a moment of silence, a true definition of the term “pregnant pause,” and then it was as though the skies were ripped open. A deluge fell from the sky, almost blinding. There was an eerily bright flash, as though the world’s biggest flashbulb had just gone off, and then a deafening crack of thunder, followed up by a massive rumble.

Maine turned to Colby. “I almost hate to ask it, but did you get our flight back to Chicago all set up for this afternoon?”

“Oh God,” Colby mumbled. “Yup. It’s all set. We fly out around three. Although who knows if that plan is still on with this coming down.” Colby imagined another night in the waterfront hotel they were staying in and a scenario where he and Maine would be forced to share a room because they’d run out—a room with a single bed. Stop it!

Maine peered out at the waterfall they seemed to be standing under.

“Should I call it off? The flight?”

Maine shrugged. “Ah. I don’t know if that’s your call to make, Colby. Check with Rooster. See what kind of intel he has. Let him make the decision.”

Gus “Rooster” Pangborn was the company pilot. The man seemed to be fearless, so Colby doubted he’d call anything off.

“I’ll give him a buzz. See what he says. This could all clear up.”

“Yeah, do that.” Maine stretched and yawned. “Would really love to get home tonight and sleep in my own bed.”

Colby had a vision of Maine in his own bed—wearing nothing but a smile.

“As I said, this could blow over. If it’s anything like home, the sun may well be shining again a half hour from now.”

Colby watched as Maine turned to walk back inside. He loved the way the dark blue gabardine of his suit pants grabbed and defined the high-riding cheeks of his ass. He shook his head at the ever hopefulness and uselessness of his own mind and pulled his iPhone from his pocket.

“Yup!” Rooster’s gruff voice came through Colby’s phone.

“Hey, Gus,” Colby said—he’d never been able to get used to calling a grown man Rooster, at least without laughing. “How’s it looking for us to fly out today? It’s pouring buckets downtown.”

“Ah, nothin’ to worry about. I’ve gotten the Bonanza through rougher storms than this. Besides, it’s slowed to a sprinkle out here at the field, and air traffic control’s already given us the all clear. We’ll be okay.”

“Guess you guys know best,” Colby said.

The two men hung up.

As though Rooster’s words had dominion over the weather, the rain did an about-face and slowed to a drizzle. Colby was surprised to look up and see that some of the clouds had even parted a bit to allow a patch of blue to show through. The sight of the blue sky made him optimistic.

Colby considered whether he should go back inside and collect Maine. He knew his boss would be wrapping things up from their meetings with this new public relations firm and didn’t really need him. Colby’s reappearance in the offices of Keegan & Marsh would probably be overstepping, “mothering,” which Colby knew he was guilty of when it came to Maine.

No, it would make more sense to walk the few blocks back to their hotel, finalize his packing, and make sure the private car was ready for their departure. He stepped cautiously out from under the awning, testing, but there was now only a fine mist in the air. Colby recalled a poem he’d read once that described the feeling of walking in just such a mist as akin to being kissed.

He continued down First Avenue, not caring much that he was getting damp. One of the people from Keegan & Marsh had told him that only tourists carried umbrellas in Seattle, so Colby kept his in his messenger bag with the hopes that the deluge was already on its way out, over the Sound or maybe the Cascade Mountain Range to the east.

As he walked he thought of Maine. He’d been working for him now for a little over two years and could pinpoint, down to the day and minute, the very moment he had fallen in love with him. Colby knew, even back then, it was a highly inappropriate love, one that went against his every principle. Those principles included things like avoiding personal relationships in the workplace and, even more, avoiding being sick with puppy love for a straight man.

Maine Braxton was due to get married in only a few months to his lovely and charming fiancée, Helen Daniels. Part of Colby’s job was to work with Ms. Daniels in planning the wedding and setting up things like caterers, florists, and string quartets.

But that didn’t change the fact that, once upon a time, Colby had fallen helplessly in love with the man over him (oh, how he wished!), and despite all common sense that told him this was a hopeless cause, he’d yet to be able to successfully rid himself of his amorous feelings for Maine.

It had been a late night, after hours, and Colby had stayed to help Maine out with a presentation he was giving to their board of directors the following day. Colby remembered endlessly reviewing the PowerPoint presentation, making sure it was free from errors and hit all the points Maine wanted to make succinctly and with some visual impact.

Maine had done most of the work himself, and Colby just fine-tuned the graphics a bit and made sure the grammar and spelling were error free. So it surprised him when Maine turned to him and said, “This is all shit. I don’t know why they even let me work here, let alone run the place.”

Colby first looked at Maine with a big grin on his face, certain his boss was kidding around. But what he saw there, on that chiseled and grizzled face, was genuine worry. Colby was still relatively new in his job and had never seen Maine look so anxious and unsure of himself. One of the things Colby immediately admired about Maine was his confidence, his take-charge attitude. Until this moment, Colby had viewed his boss as a true alpha male.

Maine went on, “They should let Hart run the show. That’s what he wants anyway.”

Hart was Maine’s younger brother, a brat but power hungry and determined, a dangerous combination.

“Hey, what are you talking about?” Colby asked. “You do a great job. I should know. I’m your right hand.” And it wasn’t idle comfort. Maine had grown the company into a force to be reckoned with in only the few years he’d been at the helm.

“Really?” Maine asked. Colby was surprised he wasn’t just being rhetorical. He was asking a genuine question.

Colby spent the next half hour listing Maine’s accomplishments and reassuring him. He was the man the shareholders and the board trusted implicitly with the fortune the family company had acquired over the years, a company that had its fingers in every pie: from construction to publishing to media holdings. And when Colby finished, Maine looked relieved but still not certain he believed Colby entirely.

And that vulnerability, that doubt, was what made Colby go from lustful to being in love. He’d been lustful from the very first moment he’d laid eyes on Maine Braxton, in a company conference room for his third and final interview. When Maine walked in, tall, powerful, muscular, in a Brooks Brothers gray suit that complemented his salt-and-pepper hair and blue eyes, Colby’s breath was taken away. The image still shook him up and, he had to admit if only to himself, made his dick harden.

But working with Maine had shown Colby a man who, despite his formidable business abilities, was still humble enough to doubt his own efficiency. Any other man, Colby thought, would be conceited, full of himself.

It was this vulnerability that attracted Colby to Maine, that made him see him with new eyes. It was this chink in the armor that made Colby fall in love.

It was a love he cursed, not only because it was useless, a dream that could never come true, but also because it prevented Colby from moving on. Sure, he had his online profile on Adam4Adam, had the usual hookup apps on his phone, and even forced himself out of his Lakeview apartment on the occasional Saturday night to venture east to Halsted and the cluster of gay bars there, like Sidetrack and Roscoe’s. And he did meet men. Colby, dark-haired and dark-eyed, in good shape from years of pounding the lakefront trail in his Asics, knew he could be reasonably deemed a good catch, a Mr. Right Now if not a Mr. Right.

But for all the men who tried to approach him, tried to woo him, tried to seduce him, none ever succeeded, because his heart belonged to only one man.

Maine Braxton. Gorgeous. Confident. Somewhat brash. But oh-so tender when no one was looking.

He was perfect.

He was also straight.

And he would never be Colby’s.

Wearily, Colby pushed through the revolving door of their hotel. The skies had completely cleared up, and he was certain their plane ride home would be without incident.

Things were always “without incident” in Colby’s life.

That was the problem.