Tiglon by the Tail
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by Tia Fielding
Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
Description: Finnshifters: Book Two
Before coming to the Jarvela Farm, a sanctuary located in Finland, jaguar shifter Noah Moore did something that terrified him: he fell in love. But he was brave and took the chance? and ended up fleeing the States to nurse a broken heart. Though he's happy enough living among others of his kind, being surrounded primarily by happy couples reminds him of what he's missing.
When Dallas, the biracial tiglon shifter responsible for Noah's heartache, turns up at the farm, Noah gets the shock of his life. Though the feelings are still there, so is the pain. Dallas desperately wants to make it up to Noah and win him back, but he knows he has to do it on Noah's terms--and only with the farm family's approval. Can Dallas convince Noah to stop living in the past and move into the future with him?
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [155 KB]
Reading time: 101-142 min.
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Noah woke up from a restless, nightmare-filled sleep. He had no idea where these nightmares came from; they were too vague to be connected to any real events or fears he could distinguish in his waking hours. In this particular one there was always a storm raging, which was almost funny, because he hadn't seen a proper storm in Finland yet, and he'd lived there for years and years now. The one thing he knew about the dreams was they always appeared when changes were happening around his usually stable life on the Jarvela farm.
He got up from the bed, stretching slowly, and scratched his stomach absently, noting the lack of morning wood while the need to take a leak was still there. Stumbling over some socks, he made his way to the bathroom he shared with Anton, the resident teenaged fox. Luckily Anton was still asleep, so they didn't have to compete over who got to use it first.
Sure, there was another bathroom down the hall, but he couldn't use that one because of the latest addition to the farm--a stray cheetah the younger members of the farm family had found. The cheetah was female and had been seriously malnourished and barely hanging in there when the boys had managed to get her to the farm. Nobody knew why she was so terrified of men--even the boys who found her and saved her--but there was a deep-seated fear in her, and that made things a little more interesting around the house, like making sure Anton and Noah had to cope by sharing a bathroom.
Once he had peed and brushed his teeth, Noah pulled on some camo shorts and a white tank top before walking down the stairs into the kitchen. No one else was awake, it seemed, so he started a huge pot of coffee and began to make omelets for everyone.
It didn't take long for sounds of the other males waking up to carry into the kitchen. There were two houses on the farm's land, on the opposite sides of the large yard. The almost-modern style, two-story building where Noah lived was the new house, as opposed to the old house closer to the lake shore, where the wolf pack were the only residents. Noah smiled when he heard the quiet bickering from the master bedroom where the owner of the farm, Mikael, was teasing his usually more serious partner Maxim.
Damn, Noah was happy Mikael had finally found his mate. Having been single, just like Noah, for all the time he had been running his family farm after his father's death about a decade ago, Mikael's lively spirit had suffered a bit. It wasn't until Maxim stumbled into their lives that Mikael had begun to live properly again.
The world was what it was, shifters having to stick together because revealing themselves to the human public wasn't an option, and finding their mate was something they all wanted, even though it was far from the life-altering event many current works of fiction painted it to be. Instead, finding one's mate was just like in human relationships, but it also connected your animal sides; it made your inner beast content. Technically Mikael was only half shifter, but his mother's heritage in him assured that his inner "half of a tiger" had responded to Maxim's full Siberian tiger in a way that made Noah happy but also left him melancholic.
Noah had a feeling their newcomer cheetah was bonding with their third resident female, a lynx called Lark, in a way nobody had expected, but was yet to talk to anyone about it.
"Morning." Mikael walked into the kitchen and rubbed his newly shaved head as he yawned widely.
"Morning, coffee is ready." Noah smiled and got a pat on his shoulder and a mumbled "good man" in response.
Maxim came to breakfast with his curly mop of hair still wet from the shower and looked much more perky than Mikael.
They sat down to eat their omelets and drink their coffees and talked about what needed to be done that day. Eventually they had refills of caffeine, and then Mikael and Maxim went outside to check on the horses and sheep, while Noah began to make another batch of omelets for Anton and the females upstairs.
He slid a mushroom and tomato omelet on a plate as Anton came trudging down the stairs.
"Morning," Noah said in a cheerful tone he knew would annoy Anton.
"Shut up," the eighteen-year-old said and reached for his mug that had Fox from the TV series The Animals of Farthing Wood printed on the side.
"Here's your omelet, and after Zoya comes in and then comes back downstairs, I'll put some laundry into the machine, and then I'm off for the morning. Your turn to vacuum and hang the laundry outside." Noah placed a glass on the kitchen table and poured Anton some juice.
"Thanks," the boy said and brushed some of his unruly auburn hair from his eyes.
Ten minutes later Zoya came in like she did every morning these days.
"Morning boys." She kissed both of their cheek and picked up the tray with the omelets--mushroom and onions for Lark, sausage, mushrooms and herbs for the cheetah--to take upstairs.
By the time she came back down, Noah had the kitchen cleaned up again, and Anton was finishing his breakfast.
"Anything special going on up there?" Noah asked, nodding toward the stairs.
"Well, apparently Lark did the trick Mikael used on Maxim when he wanted to know his name," Zoya said, referring to Mikael pointing to keys from his laptop and marking down which ones Maxim grunted at in his tiger form before he was healed enough to turn into a human.
"And?" Anton turned to look at Zoya.
Zoya smiled brightly. "Her name is Shani."
Anton grinned and Noah couldn't help but whoop. They laughed a little, relieved there was finally some sort of progress.
Besides, knowing someone's name made a difference. Trust was easier to establish when you could call someone by their given name.
Zoya left soon after, probably to do some chores or teach her kids. All the wolf pack's four kids were homeschooled and did very well in their studies. The two youngest were still small enough to really just play-learn. The oldest girl, June, was nine and already about a year ahead in her studies. Jude, despite being active mostly in causing trouble with Anton, was also good at his schoolwork when he put his mind to it. Sadly most of the boy's energy went to other things than his books.
Noah put the first basket of laundry in and pulled on some sandals. The late summer morning was warm, but he could feel hints of the weather starting to change a bit. It was only a matter of time until he'd feel autumn in the wind, and then soon it would be leaves turning yellow and red, and harvest time in their little vegetable garden.
Noah decided to take a walk, one of his special "alone walks" as Anton called them. He needed the solitude like he needed food or air. It fed his soul somehow, made him calmer and the social situations easier to bear.
There had never been anything romantic going on between Noah and Mikael, that wasn't it. It was just that seeing Mikael with Maxim, and the wolf pack's alpha pair Zoya and Sean, who fit each other like a glove.... Nobody blamed Noah for wanting to be alone every now and then, when the others' happiness became too much for him. He'd been in Finland and at the farm for over five years now, closer to six, if he remembered right. Seeing everyone old enough pair off and either stay around or leave the farm to their happily-ever-afters was getting to him.
The forest on the east side of the farmyard, right behind the stable, the attached wood shed, and the barn, was filled with slightly worn paths and familiar landmarks that felt like home as much as the house did.
As soon as he hit the edge of the forest, he felt the tug within; his cat wanted out.
Sighing, Noah stripped, leaving his clothes on a rock nearby, and let the cat wash over him. He was the son of two regular jaguars, but someone in his family tree must have been special, because from the first time Noah shifted when he was fifteen years old and well into puberty, it became obvious he really was different; his cat was black.
The sleek, black jaguar trotted on a path, sniffing the morning air and scanning for forest animals. The Russian border was miles away, but on the other side of it was vast wilderness.
The deep wilderness of Russia and the relatively close proximity to Siberia meant there were all kinds of wild animals nearby. Wolf packs moved around, often coming close enough to be heard or even smelled by the shifters on the farm. In fact, earlier that summer a random pack of wild wolves had unknowingly saved them from possible disaster.
That was something Noah didn't like to think of; all of them were still a little shaken by the events. Instead of wallowing in things he couldn't change or help, the jaguar began to run faster. Noah let go of his human self for a moment, keeping tabs out for rabbits or fowl, and dodged trees, rocks, and bushes, treating the forest like the obstacle course it was.
After ten minutes of running in a large circle, Noah heard the rustle of a rabbit in the brush. He stopped, listened more carefully, and began to stalk closer. He wasn't hungry, so the jaguar might be persuaded to stay happy by not killing the poor creature. Scaring it was just a way for the cat to play.
Even though the forests of Finland weren't the preferred stomping grounds for the jaguar, Noah could still enjoy this to the fullest by letting the cat steer. His strong body moved ever so slowly through the heather-covered forest floor. He could feel his tail twitching subtly, the cat readying to pounce.
At the last moment, the wind turned and the rabbit caught the predator's scent. At the same time, the critter perked its ears and the cat attacked.
The difference between a shifter jaguar and a real one was that Noah managed to let the rabbit slip from his large paws unharmed, and he made the cat wait a few seconds to give the rabbit a head start. He then let go of the mental reins he'd pulled a bit tighter for a moment.
The sleek black body shot, not unlike a cannonball, through the forest. The rabbit was fast, almost as fast as the jaguar, and it could hide easily when Noah slowed down to control his leap over a fallen tree trunk. When he landed on the other side, the rabbit was gone. Sneaky little thing, perfect survival instincts.
For a few seconds he tried to decide if he should use his senses to track the animal down again, but he decided against it. There was only so much a small critter like a rabbit's heart could take. Instead, he began to make his way slowly toward the farm.
On his way, he caught the scent of some deer and a few smaller predators like a badger and a raccoon dog. They all hid away from the large cat that had no business being in their forest. Most of the cat shifters were like that. Basically, only Lark could walk about in the forest and not make everyone flee by sheer instinct.
Maxim's Siberian tiger was technically native to Russia, yes, but the Russian Far East was just that, far and east.
As Noah trailed back to his clothes at the edge of the forest, shifted, and got dressed, he heard some banging from the stable. Right, Maxim, Mikael, and Sean were supposed to do the maintenance before the end of the summer. The horses were happy in their pasture in the back of the property, but the guys needed to make the repairs before autumn arrived with windier, rainy days.
Technically Noah was supposed to be helping them, but he might as well go and check the greenhouse he and Lark had built earlier that summer. He walked past the stable and the new house and almost missed the female voice before it was too late. He peeked behind the corner of the large house Mikael had had built and saw Lark, in her human form, and the cheetah tagging along beside the petite blonde.
"It's okay, Shani. We've got you, I've got you, nothing bad is going to happen to you here." The lynx kept talking in a calming tone and the cheetah, more relaxed than Noah had seen her before, was listening and looking around.
There were no signs of limping or favoring any part of her sleek, yet still too thin, body. It was mental now; either she wasn't ready to turn into her more vulnerable human form, or she had some kind of a mental block that prevented her from shifting, much like a physical injury would.
Noah had been in the military, but never in a situation where he would have gotten hurt, thank heavens. There weren't many shifters in the army anywhere in the world. Just driving a car and getting into an accident could result in a wreck full of fur, fangs, and claws.
It was weird, the whole shifter thing. Nobody knew where it had started from or why it was only "cats and dogs" that were infused so deeply into some people's DNA that, given they had kids with another person who had the same species in their DNA, their kids would pop fur and claws when they became teenagers.
At some point in the evolution of shifters, some random gene had dictated that the females could give birth to their kids without shifting mid-push. That must have been nice for the midwives of old days. Giving birth was the only time when a shifter didn't shift because of physical pain. Noah sometimes thought that being socked in the nuts would have been nice to have the same attribute too. After all, they said it was as close to birthing pain as men ever got.
Noah listened to Lark speak quietly and cleared his throat before stepping into the backyard.
The females were well on the other side of the lawn, and the cheetah tensed immediately.
"Hi, Lark," Noah said in a polite but non-conversational tone before walking straight to the greenhouse.
"Hi, Noah." Lark smiled at him before turning to Shani and saying, "Noah is okay, just like everyone else here. Would you like to meet him?"
Noah didn't stay and listen to the rest of the one-sided conversation. Instead he went inside and checked on the tomato and cucumber plants in the greenhouse. They were coming up nicely. The tomatoes were still partially green, and he knew some of them wouldn't ripen before it was too late. The cucumbers, though, were getting massive. Maybe it was time to make some salad.
He stepped out the small door, ducking a little to do so, and heard Lark call him.
"Yes?" he asked, like he didn't know what this was about.
"Would you come meet Shani?" she asked, smiling bravely.
"My human form?" he asked and got a nod. "Sure, why not." He walked casually toward the females, trying to make his army-honed posture a little less intimidating and himself look smaller.
This could be good or extremely bad. As a human, he had no chance of defending himself if Shani went primal on him. Then again, if he were in jaguar form, he'd be a threat to her and that wasn't good either.
Lark stood to the side, like a hockey referee ready to drop the puck between two players. It was funny, almost.
Instinctively Noah sat down cross-legged and smiled at the cheetah.
"I heard your name is Shani; I'm Noah. I'm a black jaguar, but I think Lark has told you all about us already."
The cheetah looked terrified, but the fear was merging into cautious curiosity the longer Noah sat there quietly. Lark sat down as well, and finally, after a few minutes of awkward, measured staring, Shani sat too, her rump touching the ground and tail flicking nervously.
They sat there like that, almost in a triangular shape, until the sun became too warm.
"I think I should go get a basket and get some veggies from the greenhouse. I'm planning on a salad," Noah said and very slowly stretched his hands above his head.
"I think we're done too." Lark nodded, looking at Shani, who was beginning to show the strain and exhaustion of being alert for a long time.
"Shani?" Noah said, waiting for the cheetah to turn her sharp gaze to him. "Would it be fine if I came upstairs to your room to bring you two your dinner today? Might help with getting used to the rest of us."
The cheetah blinked and stood up again, and then she looked at Lark for guidance.
"We can try that," Lark said, reaching her small hand toward the cheetah's flank. Running her fingers through the cat's fur, she smiled a little. "Shani is doing really well, and I think it's time for bigger steps."
They walked toward the house together in silence. When they reached the back doors, Noah went to the kitchen and the females continued farther into the house and up the stairs.
Later that evening, after dinner--Mikael had cooked steaks and Noah had made the salad he'd promised; he'd also managed to get the tray almost as far as the door of Shani's room before there was a scared feline yelp--Mikael went into his study to check his e-mails.
Noah was walking past the doorway on his way to the living room when Mikael called him in.
"Yeah?" Noah asked, munching on one of the lovely, ripe tomatoes that tasted like heaven.
"Can you find Maxim and come here?" Mikael asked, not looking up from the screen.
"Okay." Noah shrugged, and walked to the front porch where Maxim was lounging on an old couch that was left over from his days of recuperation during the early summer. The tiger had been in a poor shape when he'd stumbled into the farm family's life, and once he'd been well enough to leave the guestroom, he'd often lounged on the couch in his tiger form, watching Mikael doing the chores with the others. It seemed that despite being better now--whether he was in human or tiger form--Maxim wanted to still keep an eye on Mikael.
"Mikael needs us," Noah stated from the open front door. Maxim got smoothly to his feet, a feat for such a tall, muscular man, and they walked back to the study. As they were stepping in, Zoya and Sean entered the house and caught up with them.
Obviously Mikael had called them, because they wouldn't just happen to come by the new house like that.
"Mikael has something he needs a meeting for. I'll go upstairs to sit with Shani so Lark can come down. Sean will fill me in later or phone me upstairs if needed," Zoya said to Noah and held up her cell.
"Okay...," Noah said, accepting things as they were instead of trying to come up with reasons for a meeting.
"Zoya?" Mikael called from inside the study. "Can you knock on Anton's door and have him come down too?"
"Sure, boss." Zoya smirked and went to the stairs.
The men entered the office and sat down on the armchairs and a loveseat that had been crammed in for extra seats.
Nobody asked what was up, but the question hung in the air anyway. Once Anton trotted down the stairs, looking wide-eyed when he entered the study, Sean cracked.
"What's going on?" he asked, looking at Mikael.
"I swear I haven't done anything," Anton added, looking surprised and clearly going though some sort of mental list of what he'd been up to in the last few days.
"Nothing you've done. Let's wait for Lark." Mikael smiled at Anton, and everyone relaxed a little.
Nothing serious then, nothing Anton and Jude had done. Though if it had been Jude, he'd be there too instead of babysitting at the old house. In a few minutes--Noah assumed much time was needed to explain the situation to Shani and have her calm enough to let Lark go--the lynx entered the office.
They all made room for Lark; Anton sat on the floor, and Sean moved a little on the loveseat to let her sit next to him.
"So, what's going on?" Lark asked, looking slightly frazzled, like she had been asleep. Her hair was tousled and her cheeks tinted red. Interesting, Noah thought.
"I received an e-mail from an old friend. I met him in the States when I was studying there. He studied literature while I studied language. He's a wolf; his name is Rider." Mikael spoke and obviously that name meant something to Maxim, because there was that almost invisible ruffling of feathers any alpha male does when someone from their mate's past is mentioned.
Someone Mikael dated in his youth, then?
"And?" Sean asked a little sharply. His bristling was because of the mention of another male wolf.
"He has been traveling for the last year or so, all around the US, and he's now moving on to Europe. He needs a place to put together his book. He's gathering stories about wolves. You know, anything from Red Riding Hood to Native American stories and other folklore. He's going to start gathering stuff in Europe next year, but he needs a place for the winter...." Mikael's words drifted off as he started to click away on his computer, probably to pull up the e-mail.
"Okay...," Sean said slowly, waiting for whatever was to come, just like the rest of them.
"He has two others with him, not wolves but cats. The female is going to visit some family in Sweden for Christmas, but she'd like to see the farm. The male is someone who is pretty much looking for his place in the world or something, wanting to travel." Mikael waved his hand like those details were minor.
"Okay, so they need a place for the winter, or at least your friend does?" Lark asked.
"Yes, the female would be around for a few months or so, unless she changes her mind before that. The male would come check out the farm as he figures out what to do and while he sees if Rider is welcome." Mikael turned to look at Sean now. "This is something that you need to discuss with Zoya. He's definitely an alpha quality male, but he hasn't lived in a pack since his teens. He's not a threat to you or the pack, but as the alphas, you need to decide. He's my friend, sure, but I haven't seen him in ten years or so."
"Fine, but this is your family farm," Sean said, and when Mikael was about to answer, the wolf held up his hand. "No, I'll talk to Zoya, and we'll figure it out."
"Right, then how about Shani? Lark, do you think she can handle at least one more male in the house?" Mikael asked, and somehow Noah got the impression there was something behind that question, or the phrasing, rather.
The others talked about everything, but Noah only had one question when they started to wind down with it all.
"What kind of cats are they?" He looked at Mikael, trying to read him as well as he could.
"That's the thing. One is large, one is small. They're both of very rare species." Mikael frowned. "Even I don't know, but I do trust Rider."
"Okay." Noah sighed. He would have to take this stranger's word, take Mikael's word, and believe that the large cat wouldn't be a threat.
"If it wasn't safe, if I wasn't sure the farm isn't threatened, I wouldn't even have called you all here," Mikael said seriously.
"Well, I'm fine with it if you think they're all safe. It's nothing that will really affect me, so...." Anton shrugged from the floor. He was obviously pleased by the fact that he was invited to the first of these meetings as an adult.
Of course, he was still a teenager and sometimes immature, but he was a legal adult and that's what counted to Mikael.
"Benefit of the doubt." Noah nodded.
"I'll explain to Shani. She won't like it, but she understands how this place works, I think...." Lark said thoughtfully.
"Maxim?" Mikael turned to his partner, who had yet to say a word.
"I trust you," was all the quiet Russian said, and that was it.
Sean would talk to his wife and their son, who was almost old enough to have his opinion taken into consideration when it came to the wolf pack, and they'd inform the others of their decision.
The meeting disbanded, and Noah went to the living room to catch the news. Nothing new was happening anywhere in the world, so he just stared at the TV and thought about the possible new guests.
It wasn't unusual for strangers, shifters they didn't know before, to come to the farm. Even though or maybe because of the remote location on anyone's scale, the farm was a safe haven for shifters. It was unlikely that anyone who didn't know about the farm would randomly stumble upon it. Of course, there were the kinds of shifters like Maxim and Shani, who both were found on the farm's land, in the forest after being injured and lost for a while.
Maxim had started his trek from somewhere in Siberia and ended up near the Finnish border. Shani... they didn't know yet. Their best educated guess was she had been moved in a plane. There were private airstrips in Russia, and moving animals that weren't allowed as pets was definitely something that would take privacy. She had probably escaped at some point and ended up instinctively going farther away from whoever had hurt her.
Cheetah-shifters only lived in Africa, so she was a long way from home if that was where she'd come from, one way or another. They'd learn more of her when she'd shift and could communicate better. Lark had found out that Shani could understand most of what she spoke to her in English, which was a good thing.
The new shifters, though.... Wolves were territorial, and the pack could be shaken by a new alpha male. Someone entering the wolves' territory.... Noah sighed. But if this wolf, Rider, was a good man, then there was probably nothing to worry about.
Naturally, Noah worried more about the felines. Two different species, one small, one larger, both rare. Could be whatever on the smaller scale; there were plenty of rare cats out there. But the large one. That was interesting.
Shifters were territorial, and the bigger cats could be even more so. The bigger cats wanted to stay incognito most of the time, even more so if they were of a rare breed. Then again, the female probably wanted to stay quiet about her species because it was something that could make her a prize for someone. It wasn't unheard of that a female shifter was enslaved or kept as a status symbol, especially if she was rare in species or appearance. As civilized as their human sides could be, sometimes shifters were animalistic brutes whether they wanted to be or not.
Noah hoped this wouldn't backfire in any way. That it wouldn't be like only months before, when the lion came by unexpectedly.
This time he couldn't e-mail his friends in the States to ask about this Rider character. Why? Because how awkward would it be if he was caught doing something like that? Not trusting Mikael? No, he wouldn't risk it. He'd wait and hope for the best.
The wolf pack decided to wait and see too. And so one day in early September, Mikael took the farm's large SUV and went to pick up the guests from the airport, some two hours' drive away.
The whole farm was jittery. Shani hadn't shifted yet, but she was communicating more with Lark, and somehow Noah had a feeling the females were hiding something. The cheetah was now able to stay in the yard with Lark, hanging out when Lark did chores, and even be present when Lark talked to the males of the farm.
The wolf pups liked Shani, not having seen a cheetah before, and it seemed like Shani liked to act as their babysitter. It was weird, having a shifter act like a well-trained pet of sort, but it was her choice, and everyone respected that.
Lark was back to cooking and she occasionally ate her dinner downstairs, but Shani wasn't ready to be in the same room with all the others, so she had her meals upstairs in her room.
They had all agreed that the female guest was going to sleep in one of the upstairs guestrooms, and that the downstairs bedroom next to the master bedroom would be for the male cat. If the wolf would get along with all the other wolves, they'd have room in the old house for him. After all, if wolves were friendly with each other, they were definitely most comfortable being around other wolves.
Noah cooked dinner for everyone, and Anton was sorting out setting the table and figuring out where everyone would sit, as there wasn't a formal dining room in the house. Lark was with Shani and the wolves were in their own house, probably trying to get the pups to calm down. After all, it was almost bedtime for them.
"Make sure the food doesn't burn, okay? I'll pop out to feed the horses and be right back," Noah said to Anton, who had moved to read a magazine in the living room.
The horses were calm, still outside but in the paddock closer to the stable now than in the summer. That way, if the weather got worse, they could be moved inside a lot faster. Noah took them their evening meals and patted them while just enjoying the fading summer evening. Autumn seemed to creep around the corner and strengthen every day. It was around seven thirty when the familiar rumble of the SUV made him gather the now empty feed buckets from the horses and take them to the stable.
The chatter he heard when he walked up the new house's stairs promised good things. If everyone seemed happy, then things might just work out. The shifters' instincts were sharp, and they usually knew if something was going to go wrong.
Noah stepped inside the house and went to the living room where the voices came from. He could see a tall, dark, and handsome man, at whom Maxim was glaring a little. Ahh, Rider the wolf. The voluptuous blonde female was pretty and seemed bubbly, but thank heavens not too bubbly.
Noah leaned against the doorframe and observed when suddenly he caught sight of the third guest.
"Oh, Noah, come meet our guests!" Mikael enthused, and Noah blinked twice as everyone turned to look at him. Everyone.
The wolf walked to him, offering his hand. "I'm Rider. Nice to meet you." The man was easy on the eyes and very charming, but it wasn't him who was rocking Noah's world right then.
"This is Erica." Rider gestured at the female, who gave Noah a little wave. "And this is--"
"Dallas." Noah breathed the name like something from between a curse word and a prayer.
"Noah, long time no see," the man with the chocolate-milk skin and pale blue eyes said from the other side of the room.
Everyone went quiet, stunned to silence.
"I need to...." Noah's instincts kicked him into gear, and he fled the house, running through it to the back instead of the front where he knew the guests would go to bring their luggage in soon. He needed space to think, a distance from everyone. Especially the only man who had ever managed to break his heart without even trying.