Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Home for Hope by Shell Taylor



Redeeming Hope #1
Summary:
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.

Resurrecting Hope #2
Summary:
Adam Lancaster can’t imagine how his life could possibly get any better. He’s on the cusp of moving in with his boyfriend, Elijah Langley. Their charge, Kollin Haverty, finally has a loving, stable home environment, and Home for Hope is up and running, keeping over fifteen LGBT youth off the streets at night. But one phone call from his birth mother, Jessica Lancaster, is all it takes to unravel Adam’s carefully constructed new life.

Informing Adam his grandfather has died, Jessica expresses remorse for abandoning Adam to the state and begs him for a chance to be part of his life again. Jessica’s true colors eventually shine through her faΓ§ade, and Adam is devastated all over again when he discovers she is only using him to get her hands on the valuable inheritance his grandfather left him. Jessica’s betrayal forces Adam so far inside his own hell, not even Elijah or Kollin can keep him from abandoning all of his responsibilities and running away. Adam will have to dig deep to find the strength to confront his birth parents, heal once and for all, and earn back his place with his new family.

Reclaiming Hope #3
Summary:
Four years ago, Kollin Haverty’s best friend, Riley Meadows, dropped off the face of the earth. When he shows up out of the blue, armed with a flimsy excuse for disappearing and having nearly completed his transition from female to male, Kollin wants to pick up where they left off. But Riley’s unwillingness to be honest with Kollin prevents him from fully trusting Riley again. Despite Riley’s insecurities and Kollin’s abandonment issues, they quickly discover there’s something more than friendship between them.

When a ghost from Riley’s past unexpectedly appears with haunting memories in tow, Kollin’s anger about being lied to outweighs his desire to be the understanding boyfriend Riley needs. As Riley’s web of strategically withheld secrets begins to unravel, he must find the courage to pursue his own peace before he can move forward with Kollin, and Kollin must decide what’s more important—supporting his best friend or protecting himself.


Redeeming Hope #1
I don't even know where to start.  First off, for a debut author this book rocks all my emotional sensors and I can't wait to see what she brings us in the future.  At the base of this story is Adam's need to help the LGTBQ+ youth but we soon learn that The Center for HOPE helps not only the youth but also the adults that are involved in the center.  When Kirstin and Kollin come into Langley Lumber with brochures for the center and an upcoming fundraiser, they have no idea how all their lives are about to change including the lives of the Langley family.  Elijah gave up on a part of himself when he lost his boyfriend many years ago, watching him find that part of himself again is an emotional roller coaster that is equally heartbreaking and awe inspiring.  That's about all I'm going to say in regards to the plot because as I often say, "I don't do spoilers" but I will say the characters are perfect.  When most people think of perfect they think of utopian but I think of flaws, strengths, pros and cons and the way the author meshes that all together and Miss Taylor does that amazingly well.  She told me last night that Resurrecting Hope, Adam's story, is due out on Christmas Day - talk about a great stocking stuffer.

Resurrecting Hope #2
I'm going to jump out of the gate by saying that when I read the blurb, I was terrified.  I didn't read it immediately, partially because I was in the midst of a Christmas fix but also because I wanted to put off Adam's downfall.  I bit the bullet and jumped in and yes, I was right to be terrified but in a good way.   When Adam's past comes back in the form of his birth mother, to say it rocks his world is an understatement because it rocks the hell out of everyone's world, the reader included.  Elijah and Kollin do their best to help but it's something Adam has to work through on his own, or at least he thinks so.  Watching their family inch their way forward and backward and forward again is an incredible balance of heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Resurrecting Hope is a fantastical follow-up for this author's second book, I can't wait to see what she has coming next.

Reclaiming Hope #3
What a beautiful conclusion to Shell Taylor's Home for Hope trilogy!  I'll admit that I may not have been as invested in Kollin and Riley's relationship as I was with Adam and Eli's but that's not saying I wasn't completed engulfed in their journey.  In Reclaiming Hope we get to see how Kollin is doing a few years after Resurrecting Hope and when Riley re-enters the picture, their lives really begin.  I can honestly say I have never read a book where one of the main characters is trans let alone in mid transition, which means I don't have anything to really compare Reclaiming to but I can't imagine the author's portrayal being any better.  Shell Taylor, in my opinion, does justice to both sides of the relationship, obviously we get to see just what Riley is dealing with as he works towards the final steps to his bottom surgery but we also get to see how his friend and partner deals with the fine line between staying true to his own heart and not pushing his friend and partner where he isn't ready to go.  I can't recommend this series enough, trust me, whether you like M/M stories or not, if you enjoy a well written romantic journey you don't want to miss out on Home for Hope.

RATING: 


Redeeming Hope #1
Prologue
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.


Chapter 1
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.

Resurrecting Hope #2
Chapter 1
AS THE jurors filed into the courtroom, Adam Lancaster slipped one arm around Kollin’s shoulders and gently nudged Elijah Langley to remind his partner he wasn’t alone. Elijah leaned into the touch but didn’t let go of Kollin’s hand to reciprocate.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” the judge began, nodding to the panel. “I am informed that you have reached your verdicts.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Please hand the verdicts to the clerk, and Mr. Marshall, will you hand the verdicts to me?” The clerk handed the verdicts to the judge, who silently read the small piece of paper and handed it back. “I direct the clerk to read the verdicts.”

“We, the jury, find the defendant, John L. Haverty, guilty of child abuse, class E felony offense.”

Adam closed his eyes and slowly exhaled. One down. One to go. Beneath his arm, Kollin sank further into himself.

The clerk continued. “We, the jury, find the defendant, Susan S. Haverty, guilty of child abuse, class E felony offense.”

Tears sprang to Adam’s eyes as Kollin fell forward and buried his head in his arms. Adam gripped Kollin’s shoulder and tugged him into a one-armed hug. Elijah didn’t let go of Kollin’s hand, but he tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. With a heavy sigh, Elijah closed his eyes while the judge continued.

“I’d like to thank the jury for their service and diligence. Sentencing will be announced at a later date and is dependent upon the defendants’ cooperation. Court is adjourned.”

Kollin’s parents shuffled out the side door without a spare glance in his direction, and the handful of people in the audience filed out the back, murmuring quietly to one another. Kollin didn’t stand, so Adam and Elijah remained in their seats, flanking him on each side, protecting him from the worried eyes of their extended family huddled in the corner. Adam’s and Elijah’s parents, Adam’s foster sister, Kirsten, and her husband, Derek, insisted on attending the court reading for moral support. When Kollin started to shake beneath Adam’s arm, he wondered if allowing them to come was a mistake.

After several more minutes of silence, Elijah knelt in front of Kollin and Adam. Wrapping an arm around each of them, he huddled them all together.

“I’m so sorry, Kollin. I’m so fucking sorry. I’d spend every last dime I have if it meant ensuring you never had to go through this. I don’t want you to ever doubt you’re wanted and loved exactly the way you are in my home. It’s already our home to me.”

Kollin choked out a sob and threw one arm around Elijah to bury his face in Elijah’s neck. “I love you,” he whispered so quietly Adam barely heard him.

“I love you back, buddy,” Elijah said. “Let’s go home.”


Chapter 2
“BULLSHIT, KRIS!”

Kirsten threw down her cards and glared at Adam. “How in the hell are you doing that?”

“I’ll never tell,” Adam sang, pitching his voice high to mimic Brittany Murphy in Don’t Say a Word.

“Ahhh, la la la la la.” Kirsten plugged her ears. “Stop it. You know that creeps me out.”

“I’ll never tell.” He mimicked the chant again more softly.

Elijah sat back in his chair. “I will never understand how you two lived together.”

Pushing himself off the couch where he’d been watching everyone play cards, Kollin said, “I think the real question is how Matthew and Amelia put up with them.”

Kirsten scrunched up her face and made a sound closely resembling that of a dying seal. “You guys are so funny. Seriously, though. Adam’s the worst Bullshit player ever. Like ever, ever in the history of time. How are you kicking my ass right now?”

“I’ll—”

“Don’t you dare.”

Derek collected the cards and peered at Adam through the shaggy blond hair that always seemed to cover his eyes. “She’s right. In the six years I’ve been around you two, I’ve never once seen you win this game.”

“That doesn’t mean he can’t,” Kollin said, leaning against the La-Z-Boy.

“Thank you, Kollin.”

Kirsten flumped back against her chair. “I guess the sun really does shine on every dog’s ass once in a while.”

Elijah eyed Kollin and took the deck of cards from Derek. “Why’re you defending him? You’re usually the first one to make fun of Adam.”

Kollin shrugged. “Y’all are being kinda mean.”

Widening his eyes, Elijah pointed at Kollin. “You helped him. Didn’t you?”

“Whaaaaat?” Kollin held his hands up and shook his head. “I would never.”

Derek flickered his eyes from the couch, where Kollin had been lying, to Kirsten’s seat. “You could see her cards.”

“Whaaaaat?” Kollin said again.

“Oh, please. Don’t even try. You’re a horrible liar.”

Kollin’s face broke into a grin, and he clamped his hand down on Adam’s shoulder. “Sorry, man. I tried. Oh, and FYI, I could see your cards in the mirror too, Derek.”

“You dirty cheater,” Kirsten said.

“You set this up beforehand,” Elijah said and pointed at Adam.

“That’s just sad, Adam,” Derek said. “Involving a minor in your deceit. You’re supposed to be a role model.”

Unable to control his laughter any longer, Adam threw up his hands. “It feels so good to finally win, I don’t even care. My losing streak started long before you came around.”

“That’s pretty lame,” Kollin said.

“Yeah. Well, you didn’t have to fold so quickly. All you had to do was deny with a modicum of believability.”

“Whatever, dude. Can you please tell them why you asked them over so I can go to my room?”

Kirsten grinned at Kollin. “Phone date with Jase?” she asked.

Kollin narrowed his eyes at her slightly, but Adam didn’t miss the way his cheeks tinged a darker shade of pink. Jase showed up at HOPE for the first time about three weeks before, and Kollin glommed onto him quickly. They bonded over their mutual love of basketball, but Adam saw the flirtatious glances the boys sent each other when they thought no one was looking. He was one of the few black kids at the center, and Adam hoped Jase’s presence was the result of their efforts to reach the entire community, to let them know everyone was welcome.

“No one has phone dates anymore, Kirsten,” Kollin said with all the derisiveness a sixteen-year-old boy talking to a stone-aged, out-of-the-times adult could muster. “We text or Snapchat.”

Raising one eyebrow, Kirsten spoke primly. “Is that so? I’ll be sure to remember for future inquiries.”

“Anyway,” Adam said, “we wanted to let you guys know I’m officially moving in with Elijah and Kollin—”

Kirsten shot up from the couch and threw her arms around Adam’s neck. “Oh my God. You’re getting married.”

Adam’s eyes widened, and Elijah choked on his drink and quickly pounded himself on the chest three times.

“Um, no, Kris. But thanks for that,” he said, gently pushing her away.

“Shit. Sorry.” Kirsten sat down and covered her face in embarrassment. “But you’ve basically been living here for two months. I didn’t think it required a big announcement.”

Having regained his breath, Elijah stepped next to Kollin and Adam. “There is a little more to it—we hope.” Elijah cast a sideways glance at Kollin and continued. “Adam probably should’ve started by telling you that I’ve contacted my lawyers about formally adopting Kollin. After talking it over between the three of us, Kollin and I decided this was something we felt we needed to do, even though he’s almost an adult. We’re trying not to get too excited, because a lot could still go wrong—particularly Kollin’s biological parents refusing to sign over rights.”

Adam could count on one hand the number of times Kirsten was rendered speechless, but there she sat on the couch, hand covering her mouth, several slow tears sliding down her cheeks. She placed her hands in her lap and offered them a watery smile. “Well, that’s even better news.”

Kirsten stood, hugged Kollin first, and then Elijah, whispering to each of them. Derek followed behind her to offer his congratulations.

“I guess it’s time we go home before I weep all over your house,” Kirsten said.

Derek hugged Adam and offered a simple “Congrats, man,” and then followed his wife to the foyer.

“See you guys later,” Kollin said as he jogged up the steps with a wave over his shoulder.

“Thanks for coming tonight. We’ll have to do it again sometime soon.” Elijah one-arm hugged Derek and bent down to hug Kirsten again. “I have some stuff to do in the office before I turn in, so I’m going to head up. Be safe.”

Kirsten turned to Derek. “Can I have a minute?”

“Of course. I’ll be in the car.”

Adam waited until the door shut behind Derek. “You okay?”

Kirsten nodded. “Are you?”

Adam shoved his hands in his pockets. “’Course I am. This is the best thing for Kollin.”

“Well, duh. But what about you? Why aren’t you doing this together?”

“Come on, Kris. Elijah and I have been together half a year. Adopting a teenager with me is not even close to being on his radar.”

“I doubt adopting a teenager fell on his radar at all a year ago, but life happens, and things change. There’s nothing you could say to make me believe Elijah and Kollin wouldn’t be 100 percent on board if you wanted to adopt him as well.”

Adam sighed. “Even so, it’s better for everyone involved if I stay out of it. And Elijah and Kollin agree. We’ll set up the legal papers so I become his guardian if something happens to Elijah. But I don’t feel the need to do this the same way Elijah does. I’ll always love that kid as if he were my own, but this is Elijah’s thing with Kollin. This is a healing thing for them that I’m not a part of, and I’m more than okay about it. Besides, I know Kollin’s different, but I’d feel weird legally adopting someone I met through the center and guilty I couldn’t do it for the next one who comes through and needs a home.”

Kirsten stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Adam’s waist. “You’re right.”

Adam rested his chin on her head. “Really? That’s it?”

“Yeah. That’s it. I get it.” She looked up to meet Adam’s eyes. “I guess I always assumed if this happened, it would be all of you together. You’re so damn selfless…. Are you sure this is what you really want?”

“I promise. I’m excited and happy for both of them. I can’t think of two better people who deserve this more.”

Kirsten pursed her lips as she pulled away. “Hmmph. I can.”

“Yeah, yeah. Trust me on this one. Okay? Now get out of here. It’s not nice to keep your man waiting.”

“Like you know anything about keeping my man happy.”

Adam laughed and then pulled Kirsten back in for a hug. “I love you.”

“I love you too, brother.”


ADAM’S PHONE rang, jerking him out of the haze of inputting expenditures. He checked the time and saw the “So You Want to Go to College?” course he’d signed up to teach that month had started five minutes before. He’d never remember anything without HOPE’s receptionist’s constant reminders.

Adam grabbed his desk phone as he locked his computer. “I’m coming now, Chloe. Thanks for the reminder.”

“Wait, Adam. You have a call on line one. She wouldn’t leave her name and didn’t want to leave a message when I told her you were getting ready to step into a meeting. She said she’d call back, but I told her I’d check with you first.”

Adam groaned. He didn’t want to be late—later—for his class, but he never knew what kind of trouble the person on the other end of the line could be in.

“I’ll take it, but can you let the group in the training room know I’ll be a few minutes?”

“Of course. She’ll be there when I hang up.”

A moment later the line clicked over, and the loud background noise of the center disappeared.

“This is Adam. How can I help you?”

Silence followed his greeting, and Adam’s heart sank. Calls starting out this way rarely ended well.

“Hello? Are you okay?”

Silence.

“Listen. I’ll do whatever I can to help you, but you have to talk to me first. Okay? I promise whatever you tell me right now is strictly confidential.”

“Adam?”

The voice sounded scared, or maybe skeptical, and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

“Yes. This is Adam. Is there something I can do to help you?”

“Adam… Lancaster?”

Adam’s heart sped up and butterflies fluttered around his stomach as his mind searched for the owner of the somewhat familiar voice on the other end of the phone.

“Yes,” he all but breathed out. “Who is this?”

“I… I can’t believe I actually found you.”

The butterflies danced and twisted, threatening to empty everything in his stomach as his mind led him to a door he’d not only closed but locked long ago.

“I never thought I’d hear your voice again,” the woman continued.

Slowly shaking his head, Adam fell into his chair and pleaded for his brain to back away from that door.

“Adam? Are you still there?”

Adam squeezed his eyes shut and tightened his grip on the phone as he held it to his chest. The voice on the other end called his name one more time, and Adam could no longer take the sound. He slammed his phone down in the receiver and tried to take a deep breath. But it turned out choppy and short, so he drew another right behind it.

Same result.

He struggled to suck in oxygen, but once again was unable to breathe deeply. So he tried again.

And again.

And again.

True panic crept in. Adam had no control over his body. He was going to pass out.

Calm down.

Breathe slower.

But his lungs wouldn’t cooperate. He struggled to remember what he needed to do to pull himself out of a downward spiral, but he hadn’t had a panic attack in so many years that everything he knew felt fuzzy and out of reach.

Panic filled every nook and cranny in his body.

Adam could barely inhale before his body forced him to gasp for another breath. Lightheaded and desperate for more oxygen, Adam dropped his head between his knees. Several moments later he was able to take his first deep breath. Closing his eyes, Adam pressed his palm against his chest and began counting, slowing his breathing a little at a time.

A light tap sounded on his door, and the loud squeak of the hinges quickly followed. “Oh my God.” Chloe rushed around the desk to kneel at Adam’s side. “What happened? Are you okay?”

Adam took another long, slow, deep breath and nodded gently.

“What can I do? Do you need water?”

He shook his head and then rested his forehead on his knee and turned to look at Chloe. “Can you apologize to the kids in the application course and tell them I can’t make it today?”

“Of course. Anything else?”

“Umm. I hate to ask, but could you call Elijah for me? I don’t think I’ll be able to drive for a bit, and I need to go home.”

“I’m on it. Don’t you move.”

“Thanks. And Chloe? Please don’t tell the kids why I can’t be there.” No need for them to worry. Chloe would do enough of that for everyone.

Chloe left, and Adam managed to raise his head enough to lay it on the desk in front of him. True to her word, Chloe returned in less than two minutes with a bottle of water.

“Elijah’s on his way. He’s likely to break the sound barrier getting here. I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t worry him, so I told him you’d explain.” She fussed with the pitiful limp throw pillow Adam kept on his couch and then kneeled next to him again. “Want to try moving to the couch?”

Adam accepted her shoulder to lean on, fumbled his way over to the couch, and then took the water she’d opened.

“Thanks. I’ll be fine if you need to get back out there.”

Chloe sat on the edge of the couch by Adam’s feet and patted his leg. “Nope. Julie’s covering the desk for me. I’m not leaving you until Elijah’s here.”

Adam nodded, feeling guilty for keeping Chloe in the dark, but exhaustion from his panic attack kept him from explaining. Adam hadn’t heard his mother’s voice in almost twenty years, and he knew, without a doubt, he could’ve gone twenty more without hearing it again.

Reclaiming Hope #3
Chapter 1
KOLLIN HAVERTY glanced away from his computer screen to ogle the other patrons of the bookstore. Next to his table, a young couple talked animatedly about their summer plans as they browsed the sci-fi section. The guy had sandy blond hair and a dimple that popped up on his right cheek every time he smiled. Kollin allowed his gaze to linger on the guy’s handsome face a moment longer and then returned his attention to his studies. If he didn’t stop getting distracted, he was about three random hot guys away from flunking his psych final.

The chair across from him scraped against the wooden floor, and Kollin gritted his teeth, both irritated at the interruption—there were plenty of other open seats nearby—and relieved for another distraction.

“Seat taken?” a rough voice asked.

Kollin looked up. The owner of the voice looked familiar, but Kollin couldn’t place where he’d ever seen him. They’d probably shared a class together at some point, but then again, Kollin didn’t think he’d forget that guy if they’d spent three months in the same room. While the stranger’s face wasn’t particularly distinctive, his hair was shaved close on the sides but left long on top, with platinum blond streaks. Several hoops hung from his ears, and Kollin noted not only a nose ring but also a hoop adorning his bottom lip.

Kollin waved toward the chair as he continued to stare. “All yours.”

“Thanks.” The stranger looked nervous, but he shoved his hands in his pockets and sat down.

Kollin offered a smile and returned his attention to his notes.

He hadn’t even finished reading a sentence when the guy spoke again. “You come here often?”

Kollin held back a laugh. He recognized a pickup line when he heard one, but he wasn’t expecting to get cruised at Barnes & Noble while wearing ratty sweats. The guy was cute enough, though. He had a little more facial hair than Kollin preferred—there was just something he loved about a smooth face on a man—but he definitely had potential.

Kollin abandoned his notes and sat back in his seat to give the guy his full attention. “Not really. My little sister was having a meltdown at home, so I came here to get some cramming in before my last final tomorrow.”

“You have a little sister?” He sounded surprised. Too surprised for a random guy chatting up a stranger in the local bookstore.

“Uh… yeah. She’s twelve.” Kollin fiddled with his pen. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

A ghost of a smile spread over the stranger’s face, and his features softened as he shook his head and looked down at his hands. “No, no. I’m sorry. I can tell I’m bothering you. I’ll let you get back to your studying.”

The guy was gone before Kollin even realized he’d left his chair.

“COME ON, Koll,” Lizzie whined. “They let you do whatever you want. Please, please, please, convince Adam to give me my phone back.”

“They don’t ‘let me do whatever I want.’ I just know how to work them. And that does not include whining about punishments. You really think I could’ve gotten out of a punishment if I were failing school? As strict as Eli is about earning good grades?”

Lizzie stomped her foot. “Math is stupid. That’s why they invented calculators. It’s not like I’ll need to solve algebra equations to actually do anything.”

Kollin looked around the multipurpose room at The Center for HOPE, the LGBT safe haven that his adoptive father, Adam Lancaster, founded and ran. Most of the tables were full of students preparing for the upcoming end-of-year exams. Not his sister. Not the girl who was one bad grade away from failing math. Lizzie’s scowl showed the righteous indignation that every twelve-year-old seemed to master. Why shouldn’t she be able to pout, bat her eyelashes, and get her phone back?

When she moved in almost three years earlier, Kollin had quite possibly been more excited than anyone. Lizzie joining them was concrete evidence that Adam and his other adoptive dad, Eli, wanted a family. Kollin had never shaken the feeling that he might be more of an obligation than a son after Adam and Eli took him in when his birth parents abused him and kicked him out. Logical or not, Lizzie coming to live with them served as Kollin’s lightbulb moment. He finally understood that Adam and Eli truly wanted him in their lives for good.

Lizzie proved to be a challenge, though. Her parents died in a tragic accident when she was only four, and after a short stint with a worthless aunt and uncle, she entered the foster system. Old enough to remember her parents and how much they loved her but too young to understand why she had to live with strangers, Lizzie struggled to keep her temper in check. As a result, time and time again, she was passed over for adoption.

She was just as difficult for Adam and Eli when she first moved in, but Kollin spent as much time with her as he could. Slowly, he gained her trust and convinced her that she’d found a home where she didn’t need to fear rejection. Kollin’s constant support and assurances eased her worries about being different because of her skin color, her struggles at school, and her sassy attitude. With Lizzie’s trust placed firmly in Kollin, he was able to bridge the gap between Lizzie and his dads. By the time the adoption finally went through, Lizzie had become a mischievous, stubborn bundle of energy, and none of them could imagine their lives without Elizabeth Constance Jones Langley.

Kollin would do anything for his sister, and she damn well knew it.

“I’ll talk to Eli. See what I can do. Maybe if I promise to supervise you doing your homework, he’ll give in a few days early.”

“But Adam’s the one who took it away from me.”

Kollin rolled his eyes. “Trust me. Eli’s your best bet at getting that phone back early. Just make sure they see you studying, and try to look like you actually care about math. Okay? And stop bugging the shit out of them about it. That’s annoying as hell.”

Lizzie grinned and grabbed Kollin around the neck. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ll clean your room for a week.”

Kollin laughed. “No you won’t, but thanks for pretending.”

“If you get my phone back, I’ll at least clean it once.”

“Whatever, Squirt. Get outta here so I can finish this presentation for Adam.”

“But I don’t have anything to do,” Lizzie complained.

“Uh… you could do your homework. Maybe even in Dad’s office, to show you’re making an effort.”

Lizzie huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Can’t. He’s in there with some guy I’ve never seen before.”

“Oh?” Kollin glanced at the door. “Someone who might need the inn?”

Home for Hope, the inn Eli helped Adam buy and renovate into a safe house for LGBT youth, was completely full, and some of the rooms even housed multiple occupants. Adam had plans to build an extension so an additional twenty beds could help keep as many youth off the street. Kollin would spend the summer helping Adam oversee the addition and gaining invaluable experience, not only in his business minor but also his human services studies.

Lizzie shrugged. “Dunno. He didn’t look too bad off. Kinda cute actually. Dad hugged him when he walked in, so I guess they know each other.”

Kollin frowned. He volunteered at HOPE as often as possible, but that didn’t amount to much with a full college course load. He’d missed being there so much that he moved back home his sophomore year and drove the fifteen-minute commute to NC State’s campus. Even so, he missed out on a lot going on around the center. That guy could be anybody.

“Ooh. Here he comes,” Lizzie whispered and not so subtly nodded her head toward the doorway.

Sure enough, Adam had his arm around someone Kollin shouldn’t have known but immediately recognized.

“I saw that guy at the bookstore a couple days ago. He talked with me for a few minutes,” he whispered.

“Looks like you’re about to see him again,” Lizzie whispered back and then put on her sweetest smile. “Hi, Daddy.”

“Still not getting your phone back.” Adam put his arm around Lizzie’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “And hi, baby.”

Lizzie rolled her eyes and straightened her soft, brown curls back into place. “I wasn’t even gonna ask this time.”

“Yeah, okay.” Adam rolled his eyes to mimic her and then turned his attention toward Kollin. “Look who the cat dragged in.”

For some reason, Kollin’s heart fluttered. Waves of nervousness raced through his body as he tried to figure out why Adam thought he should know the stranger. He’d never told either of his parents about meeting the guy at the bookstore, and even if he had, Adam couldn’t have known he was the same person.

The man studied the ground, seemingly reluctant to look at Kollin, but Kollin knew he couldn’t identify him even if they were staring directly at one another.

Fortunately Adam saved him from further embarrassment. “I didn’t recognize Riley until he threatened to own me in Ping-Pong.”

Kollin sucked in a huge gulp of air. The nervous flutters, which had been nothing more than a curious enigma, ceased, and he suddenly felt as if a boulder had settled in the pit of his stomach.

He hadn’t spoken to Riley Meadows in over four years. When Kollin’s parents kicked him out, Riley had been the one who kept Kollin sane. He tethered him to reality when all he’d wanted was to escape inside himself. They’d kept in touch when Riley first went to college and somehow became even closer—until Riley seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. Phone calls, e-mails, texts… all unanswered. Kollin eventually took the hint and gave up.

Now Riley was back?

“Hey, Kollin.” Riley shoved his hands in his pockets and peeked up at Kollin.

“Hey, Ri,” Kollin said, feeling dumb that he’d had an entire conversation with him a few days ago but had no clue. Riley looked completely different. He had clearly taken huge steps in his transition when he went rogue, but Riley’s new look wasn’t limited only to the steps he’d taken toward gender transformation.

Riley’s formerly brown, shaggy hair was cut shorter around the back and sides. He’d left the top longer and added the blond streaks that had grabbed Kollin’s attention in the bookstore. The piercings in his nose and lip were new, and Kollin could only remember Riley wearing modest studs in each ear. Riley’s jaw had squared some, and he’d slimmed down but bulked up in muscle. He didn’t look remotely close to the same person, but when Kollin looked carefully, he could still see Riley. His eyes hadn’t changed, and he still rubbed the tips of his fingers together when he was nervous. A trio of freckles graced the side of his neck, and Kollin recognized a faint scar on Riley’s forearm that he knew came from the time Riley thought he could jump out of a tree when he was a kid.

Kollin should have recognized his best friend. “I, uh… didn’t know you were back in town.”

Riley shrugged. “It was a last minute thing. Sorta.”

“Oh.” Cleared that right up.

After a moment of awkward silence, Adam spoke up. “Riley, this is Elijah’s and my daughter, Lizzie. Liz, Riley used to be a regular at HOPE, before he went away to college.”

“Nice to meet you.” Lizzie offered Riley a small smile and then turned to Kollin and screwed up her face, clearly expecting him to take over.

A fat lot of help she was.

Kollin scrambled for something to say. Why did you abandon me? Did I really piss you off so badly that I deserved so many years of silence? Why didn’t you tell me who you were the other day? Everything that popped into his head seemed accusatory and inappropriate for the moment. He felt so flummoxed he couldn’t even come up with a sarcastic icebreaker.

“So—”

“I—”

Kollin stopped talking so Riley could finish his sentence, but Riley must have had the same intention, and once again, the four of them stood in uncomfortable silence. Adam furrowed his brow at Kollin, but Kollin gave a tiny shake of his head. He’d figure out the mess with Riley on his own.

Adam took the hint and clapped his hands together once. “This has been fun, but I need to get back to my office and finish some work so we can get home on time. I’ll let you guys catch up.”

Seeing her opportunity, Lizzie grabbed Adam’s arm. “Can I come with you? I want to start studying for my next math test so I can get back the thing that I’m not supposed to talk about anymore.”

“Subtle, but come on.” Adam offered Riley and Kollin a wave on his way out.

Kollin slid his foot across the carpet and pushed out a chair on the opposite side of the table. He didn’t take his eyes off his old friend as Riley sat, still silent, and fiddled with his thumbs on top of the table. Strangely enough, Riley’s nervousness settled Kollin’s erratic emotions.

“So,” Kollin said. “‘You come here often’ was the best you could come up with?”

Riley spat out a laugh and looked up at Kollin through long eyelashes. “Sorry about that. I didn’t know what to do when you didn’t recognize me.”

“I think, ‘Hey, Kollin, it’s me, Riley,’ would’ve worked well.” Kollin tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but Riley cringed, and he knew he’d failed.

Good. Riley deserved to know he’d hurt him.

“It’s been so long… I wasn’t sure how that would go.”

“Yeah. About that. I’m assuming by the way you look that you haven’t been held captive in some dark basement without access to a phone or e-mail. Even a carrier pigeon would’ve sufficed. So….” Kollin looked hopefully at Riley and wished he would offer an explanation good enough to ease some of the resentment currently churning around in his heart. Naturally empathetic and forgiving, Kollin rarely held a grudge. But he needed some sort of explanation for being dumped.

In fact, Riley looked so pitiful sitting across from him, wringing his hands as he searched for the right words, that Kollin knew Riley could offer some lame, half-assed excuse, and he would put the entire mess behind him. But he needed something to explain why he’d lost his best friend.

Riley finally looked up and met Kollin’s eyes. “Long version might take a while, but the short of it is… I needed to get my shit together without dragging you down. I was slowly falling apart back then, and you had enough to worry about.”

Anger flooded Kollin. “Come on, Ri. That’s bullshit, and you know it. It sucked when Adam bailed, but in what world is being abandoned by you somehow better than being your friend when you needed one? I would’ve been there for you.”

Riley shrugged. “Maybe so. But it’s too late now, and there’s nothing I can say to make it better, except I’m sorry. I know now it was a shitty thing to do.”

Riley had always been difficult to read. Kollin used to think that’s why he had so much trouble making friends. Not many people were willing to make the extra effort it took to get to know him. It was a shame, really, because he was one of the kindest and funniest people Kollin had ever met. But Riley seemed to have perfected hiding his feelings over the years.

Riley’s tone and words sounded dismissive, but his slumped shoulders and constant fidgeting conveyed remorse. Kollin wanted to push Riley about why he’d left him hanging in the wind, but there had to be a better place for that conversation than the multipurpose room at HOPE.

Instead he asked, “So now that you’re presumably not falling apart, what exactly are you doing here?”

“I, um… had to talk with Dr. Maggie. I’d like to start the preparations for metoidioplasty. I need a second recommendation first.”

“Metoidio-what?”

Riley shifted in his seat and looked down at his hands. “You know. Bottom surgery.”

“Oh….” Kollin blinked. He shouldn’t have been that surprised. Riley always said he wanted both top and bottom surgery as soon as he could get it, but Kollin had trouble reconciling the man in front of him with the same Riley who had very obviously had female sex parts down below.

Kollin recovered quickly enough and genuinely smiled. “That’s fantastic, man. I’m really happy for you.”

Relief flooded Riley’s eyes, and he smiled. “Thanks, Koll.”

Kollin kicked at Riley’s shoe. “Well, now that my life isn’t in the shitter and yours seems to be going well, think you can handle being friends again?”

Riley’s cheeks tinged pink, and Kollin almost laughed. He’d never seen Riley so bashful. “Yeah. I think I can handle that.”

“Want to grab dinner tonight, then? My treat.”

“Yeah?” Riley stared at Kollin, his eyes wide. “Just like that, huh? You haven’t changed much.”

Kollin shrugged. Technically all hadn’t been forgiven, but he didn’t want to ruin their already rocky reunion. “No point in holding a grudge. Chili’s at seven?”

Riley nodded and stood. “Sounds good. I better get out of here, then.” He took a couple of steps and turned back to Kollin. “For what it’s worth… I really am sorry for going radio silent on you like that. I’ve regretted it every single day.”

Awesome. That wasn’t super cryptic at all. Kollin offered Riley his most reassuring smile—one he’d learned from Adam. “Don’t even worry about it.”

Author Bio:
Shell Taylor is a full-time mother of three exuberant and loving kiddos and one fur baby, a tiny but fierce Yorkie-poo named Rocco. As a Christian who practices love, grace, and humility rather than hatred and judgement, she tries her best to instill these same virtues in her rowdy kids. She just recently learned how to crochet to start bombarding new mothers with matching hats and booties. She is a huge Marvel fan and because of the superhero-plastered tees paired with jeans and Chucks has been told when helping out in her son’s classroom that she looks more like the students than a parent. Her favorite way to procrastinate is to binge watch entire seasons on Netflix. Best of all, she’s been married ten years to a man who’s turned out to be everything she never knew she needed.


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Redeeming Hope #1
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Resurrecting Hope #2
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