Starting Over in Cedarwood by Megan Slayer
General Release Date: 15th June 2021
Word Count: 50,247
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Starting over might just bring them the love they deserve.
Shaun Fallows came to Cedarwood to start over. He wants to be done with dating, but the moment he sees Kevin, the sparks are off the charts. He can’t get the sexy man off his mind. So much for not wanting to get involved. Kevin is the man of his dreams. Can he convince Kevin to give him a try or will the romance end before it gets the chance to begin?
Besides, there’s the small issue of Kevin’s cat…
Kevin Keiser did the dating thing and ended up burned. One of the few bright spots in his life is his cat, Leo. The animal might be a bit prickly, but he’s been a good meter for who Kevin should date and who he should avoid. He wants a boyfriend who isn’t put off by his pet. Shaun sure seems to fit the bill. Is he just another man or the love Kevin’s been waiting for?
Reader advisory: This book contains mention of emotionally abusive exes, homophobia, and financial crime.
“What a great day to visit the ballfield,” Shaun Fallows said. He breathed in the fresh air and scent of freshly cut grass. “The weather’s perfect, there’s a slight breeze and just the right amount of clouds and sun.”
Warrick rolled his eyes. “You’re too invested in this already. We’re just here for the newspaper. If old Mr. Nicholas weren’t so busy playing house, he’d be here, too.”
Shaun shrugged to hide his excitement. He’d been to ballfields before and had even covered a couple of games for his high school paper as well as his hometown paper, but those had been small fields and tiny teams. This was the Cedarwood Wildcats. This was the bigger time. Besides, he didn’t give a shit if Mr. Nicholas, the head of the paper, was home with his husband. More power to them.
“Sucks. Mr. N should be here and directing this, not us.” Warrick pointed to the luxury boxes. “We’re up there.”
Shaun whipped his card out and showed the attendant, then strode through the gate to the executive level. The ballfield wasn’t that big, but he didn’t care. He’d arrived. “We’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves.” He drank in the view. The manicured field stretched out before him and the seats were filled with fans. Flags waved out beyond centerfield and the scent of bread lingered in the air. “We must be near the bakery.”
“The bun warmer,” Warrick grumbled. “If Mr. N wanted to treat us, then he could’ve given us a bonus, not made it newspaper day at the ballfield.”
“You’ll complain about anything, won’t you?” Shaun wandered up to the glass windows facing the field. “This is fantastic.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and listened to the noise from the crowd as well as the pregame announcements. Once he heard the jingle for the newspaper, his heart swelled.
Ever since he’d nabbed the advertising head position with the paper, his life had seemed to turn around. He had a stable job, a decent apartment and his man trouble wasn’t so bad—granted, he didn’t have a man, but so what? He’d worry about dating later.
“Everyone.” Remy Nicholas, the infamous Mr. N, clapped his hands. “Everyone.”
Shaun turned his attention to his boss. Unlike Warrick, Shaun liked Remy. He appreciated Remy’s unconventional approach to the paper, printing and having the main version online. Remy had instituted audio versions and pdf versions sent to the schools. He’d even created a video channel for special content.
Remy clapped his hands again. “I know this wasn’t the newspaper appreciation day you were all looking forward to, but I wanted to do something different. This year, we’ve managed to improve circulation and add jobs. Hits on the website are up and the feedback we’re getting is off the charts. Thank you to those who helped with the school supply collection. That went so well. The kids of Cedarwood will appreciate your hard work. For those who are assisting this Tuesday with the food drive, know your help will make the difference. People are paying attention to the social media posts and the little live events, so keep it up.”
Shaun applauded. He hadn’t been able to donate time to the school supply drive, but he’d signed up to help with the food one.
“Now, the reason for having the newspaper appreciation day here at the field was to give back. I want you to have a nice day at the ballpark, but also to get us into the community. Enjoy yourselves. The bar is open and food is ready. Thank you for being the best staff and for continued great times with the newspaper,” Remy said. “Thank you.”
“God, he gets long-winded,” Warrick said. He applauded, but sighed. “I hate baseball.”
“I don’t care.” Shaun wasn’t a fan of negative people. He’d had enough of that in his relationship with Jonah. No matter what he’d done, Jonah hadn’t been happy. Never the right clothes, the right shoes…his hair wasn’t cut properly or was too long…and the arguments. He didn’t miss the arguments.
Two men in black shirts and trousers wheeled a cart into the room. One man took his position behind the hot dog stand and the other wheeled the empty cart out. The man pushing the cart caught Shaun’s attention. He had a thing for tall, dark and handsome men. The way the guy’s brown hair flopped over his brow and his eyes glittered sent a shiver along Shaun’s spine. The man turned and, when he smiled, the dimple in his cheek became more prominent and Shaun noticed the beauty mark along his jawline. Warmth enveloped Shaun. He hadn’t had a reaction like this in so long.
“Who is that?” Shaun murmured. “The guy with the cart.”
“That?” Warrick chuckled. “That’s Kevin Keiser. He runs the food service center here at the ballfield. Quiet guy. I think he’s single and I’m fairly sure he’s gay.” He elbowed Shaun. “Are you gay? I never asked.”
“It wasn’t your business, but yes, I am.” Shaun swept his gaze over Kevin again. Kevin looked trim in his food service outfit, but strong, too.
Cara, one of the girls from the accounting department of the paper, sidled up to Shaun. “Are you eyeballing Kevin?”
“Maybe.” He bowed his head to stop gawking. “Is that bad?”
“Other than you look like you want to eat him, you’re staring so hard?” She laughed. “No, it’s not bad. He’s a nice guy.”
“I hear he’s quiet.” Shaun managed to get through the food line, but didn’t see Kevin again. Instead of sitting with Warrick, he ended up at the table with Cara. “Do you know Kevin?”
“Went to school with him.” She nodded and settled next to Shaun. “He doesn’t talk much. Never did. I think it’s because he got teased so mercilessly in school. Everyone but him knew he was gay and teased him, then it got worse once he came out. It was bad, but he seemed to keep his head up, especially once he admitted he was gay.”
“I see.” Shaun watched the baseball game, but stole glances over at the service stations in case Kevin came back. Shaun nudged Cara. “Do you think he’d give me the time of day if I asked him for his number?”
“You?” She coughed, then sipped her water. “Honey, you’re sexy. If he doesn’t, it’s because he’s scared.” Once she cleared her throat and finished her water, she nodded. “I mean, he’s shy, so he might not say ‘yes, I want your number’, but he’d be crazy if he turned you down. You’re handsome.”
“Handsome doesn’t mean much sometimes.” Shaun finished his hot dog and toyed with his fries. He managed to smear ketchup on his fingers. “Do you have a napkin?”
“Nope. I forgot to grab one.” Cara groaned. “And I need one. Please?”
“Sure.” He left the table and headed toward the service station. “Hi, I could use some napkins.”
The teenager offered up a stack. “Sorry. They stick together and don’t clean up much unless you have five.”
“Thanks.” He accepted the bundle, then glanced over his shoulder. Kevin still hadn’t come back. Maybe he’d been an apparition. Shaun settled at the table with Cara and divided the napkins. “Good?”
“Very. Thank you.” She blotted her mouth, then groaned again. “Not today.”
“What?” Shaun balled his paper, then glanced about the room. “What’s wrong?”
“Warrick’s being a pain in the ass.” She massaged her forehead. “He’s complaining about the food.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Shaun said. “Standard ballfield food, but it’s not bad.” That said, his coworker wasn’t a happy man and could find something wrong with a perfect twenty-four-carat gold ring.
“Excuse me. Do you have soggy buns, too?”
Shaun froze, then looked at Cara, who’d gone pale. She hadn’t been the one to ask the question and the speaker didn’t sound like Warrick. Shaun turned his attention to the one who had spoken. Kevin. Shaun’s breath lodged in his throat. The man was even more handsome up close. Shaun noted the sprinkling of hairs on Kevin’s cheeks and the lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes. Were those flecks of silver at his temples, too?
Kevin cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. The other table is complaining about the buns being subpar. Are your dining choices up to your standards?”
“Uh…” Shaun had to sound intelligent, not silly, but he couldn’t manage to form a normal sentence.
“They’re great,” Cara said. “Thank you.”
“Are you sure? We’re here to provide a fine dining experience,” Kevin said. “At decent prices.”
“You sound like you’re a walking advertisement,” Shaun managed. He balled his hand on his thigh under the table and drew in a deep breath to center himself. He’d never had problems talking to guys before now. “I don’t think our buns are soggy.” He smiled and met Kevin’s gaze. “But I would like to ask you a question.” Christ. Confidence, don’t fail me now.
“Do you need more ketchup? Some of the bottles are low.” Kevin shook his head, then reached across the table to retrieve the bottle. “I let Buzz handle it and he only filled about half of them.”
“No.” Shaun touched Kevin’s forearm, stopping him. The move also sent tingles along Shaun’s nerve endings. His synapses stood at full alert. “I… Would you like to grab a beer sometime?”
“Oh.” Kevin froze and confusion clouded his eyes. “You want to go out with me?”
“I do.” Shaun mustered his confidence. “I know it’s a strange time to ask you that, but I wasn’t sure if I’d get to see you again. It’s just beers or coffee, but I’d like to go out sometime with you.” Christ. He’d managed to stumble over everything he’d just said.
“Uh, sure.” Kevin stood at his full height and clasped his hands together. “But you’re sure you’re happy with the food?”
“Very.” Shaun scrawled his number on a piece of paper. “Call me when you’re free. I’d like to buy you that beer or coffee.”
Kevin tipped his head and a slight smile curled on his lips. A crooked smile. “I will.”
When Kevin walked away, Shaun considered what he’d done. “I asked him out.”
“You did.” Cara elbowed him. “Good for you.”
“I asked him out,” Shaun repeated. He hadn’t wrapped his mind around what he’d done. Holy shit.
“It’s the crooked smile, isn’t it? He is adorable.” She collected the trash on the table. “He got that smile when he was a kid. Auto accident, I think. It messed up his jaw and he’s got a scar. I think he had surgery to have the damage made less visible.” She stood. “I’m going to toss this then sit along the window. Care to join me?”
“Sure.” He picked up his beer and followed her over to the window. The game was already in full swing. “Who’s winning?”
“We are, by two.” She settled on one of the chairs. “If I wasn’t neck-deep in kids and getting mine through junior high, I’d toss my hat into the dating game, but I have no time.”
“Give it a shot.” He sat beside her. “So you went to school with Kevin? Has he been single long?”
“A year, I think.”
“That’s a shame. He’s cute.” No, he was fucking hot—not that he’d tell Cara as much. Most of the cute guys he knew were already married or in long-term relationships.
“The shame is that he’s too picky.” Cara laughed. “Not that I can complain. I’m forty-one and not remarried or even dating.”
“You don’t look your age.” So Kevin was roughly forty-one, too? Only a year or so younger than him. Good. “What do you mean, he’s picky? Being selective is good.”
“He doesn’t date anyone who isn’t approved by his cat,” she said. “You hate cats, so you’d better just have one beer with him and cut your losses, now that I think about it.”
“I don’t hate cats.” He hadn’t found one that liked him, but that was beside the point. “Are he and the cat that close?”
Shaun shrugged. Cara was probably exaggerating. She tended to when she discussed something dramatic. The car accident was always the worst she’d ever seen or her kid scoring a goal was always the best goal ever in the history of eighth grade hockey. “I’ll give him a chance.”
“Who?” Warrick found them and sat beside Shaun. “Dave? Don’t date Dave. He’s full of himself. Plus, you’ll smell like you’ve bathed in his cologne.”
Shaun shrugged again. Their co-worker, Dave, did tend to wear his aftershave a bit on the thick side. Everyone who hugged him tended to smell like him.
“Shut up,” Dave said. “I heard our Shaun gave Kevin Keiser his digits.”
“Keiser? He’s so quiet,” Warrick said. “He’s gay? Oh wait. I knew that. He had a guy…Kyle someone or another. I guess they had a falling out.”
“Over the cat,” Cara said.
Shaun gritted his teeth to keep from speaking. Kevin’s personal life wasn’t their business. “You need to leave him alone.”
“Why? He had a fight with a guy over a cat. The critter hated Kyle, I think,” Warrick said. He shrugged, then downed some of his beer. “If I can’t find a woman to get along with Patrice, then it’s a nonstarter.”
“Your dog?” Dave snorted. “It’s just a dog.”
“Might be to you, but she’s a good dog,” Warrick said. “She’s more loyal than you’ve ever been.”
Shaun snorted. “You two.” He ignored the rest of the conversation in favor of the baseball game. “Kevin seemed nice and I went out on a limb. It might not work, but I won’t know unless we go out, so there.”
“You should give him a shot,” Cara said. “You’d be good for him. You’re quiet and smart like him. Maybe you’d bring each other out of your shell.”
“Maybe.” His thoughts turned to Kevin. He hadn’t felt sparks like that in ages and he liked the rush. He missed the delight of being with someone and being wanted. Hell, he liked being part of a relationship.
Besides, he was tired of the one-night stands and pretty boys who only wanted him to pump up their ego or be their sugar daddy. He was only forty-two, but sometimes he felt ancient. He worked hard for his money and the paper. Could Kevin be the one he’d been looking for?
He hoped so.
About the Author
Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and BDSM themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best author, best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com.
When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.
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