Series: Survivor Story Book 5
Author: JP Barnaby
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: March 15, 2016
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A Survivor Story
It’s amazing how a single word from a tiny girl can change your life.
Spencer Thomas’s world turns upside down when his beloved Nell dies and leaves custody of her three-year-old daughter to him. Her “Spenna” comes when Sophie needs him most, but his boyfriend, Aaron, can’t be a parent. He just can’t. Neither of them expected a baby to fall into the lives they’d finally just settled.
When Nell’s ex comes to claim Sophie, Aaron needs to make a decision: man up or walk away as Spencer faces the fight of his life.
It’s amazing how one word can change the course of someone’s life. Aaron Downing listened to the tiny voice coming through the computer speakers even as the toddler’s hands made spastic movements on the screen. Her pudgy little fist tried to make the sign for “I love you,” but she just couldn’t get her fingers to stay. Nell’s face came into focus as she helped her daughter sign for Spencer to see.
“I. Love. You. Too. Sophie.,” Spencer said with a laugh, his face full of delight.
Between Spencer’s work, Aaron’s school, laundry, cooking, and all the other drains on their time and energy, Aaron didn’t see that light in his boyfriend’s face often anymore. They’d settled into a routine. But that just meant things were stable.
Things were safe.
“She gets excited when I tell her about coming to see her Spenna.” Nell’s tired smile filled the screen as she signed and spoke aloud out of habit. The gray had spun its way through her hair since Aaron first met Aunt Nell at Spencer’s graduation. Laugh lines highlighted her eyes even as the bags beneath them sagged—a contrast to the laughter and exhaustion that came with caring for a precocious three-year-old girl.
“One more month! We cannot wait for you to get here,” Spencer signed.
Well, Spencer couldn’t. Aaron wasn’t much for children. He knew how life could change for a kid in an instant, leaving them shattered and with a lifetime of pain. The thought of that kind of responsibility left him cold—shivering and aching with it.
“I know. I’m a little nervous about taking her on the plane, but she is a good kid. And it’s only three hours.” Nell heaved a sigh and pulled Sophie higher onto her lap after the baby wiggled and slid down Nell’s legs.
“She will be fine. Bring a little candy to make her swallow and get her ears to release pressure. If she screams, there is not a lot you can do about it.”
Bored of the conversation, Sophie successfully squirmed down her mother’s legs, and her little blonde head toddled out of sight.
“Are the headaches any better?” Spencer signed.
“Some. I have a doctor’s appointment next week. I’ll talk to him about it then. Today the little adventurer and I are going to the grocery store.”
“You look tired.”
“I knew it would be a challenge, especially after the breakup with Jane. Being a single mom is not easy, but she is worth it. Usually.” Nell half turned, her eyes following the little girl as she searched for trouble.
“You’ll find that out one day,” she said, distracted by a bang off screen.
“I would like kids someday,” Spencer signed.
The book Aaron had been holding hit the floor with a dull thud. Pressure built in his chest, battling against the panic in his head. It took him a moment to stand before he could turn toward the kitchen. He didn’t stop when Spencer called his name. He didn’t stop when he banged his hip into the table where they’d just eaten dinner together. He didn’t stop until after he’d grabbed a Coke from the fridge and the Jack from the cabinet. The fear ate at the corners of his mind, and he poured. He didn’t drink much anymore, but the idea of kids deserved a special kind of beverage.
It didn’t take long for Spencer to follow, and he wrapped himself around Aaron’s small frame like he always did when Aaron needed him. No words were spoken. Spencer simply stroked his hair, pulling it back from his face, off his ears, anything to keep that physical contact between them. Seven years they’d been together, and Spencer’s touch still calmed him.
He’d had no idea Spencer wanted children. They’d never talked about it, not in all the time they’d been together. He’d just assumed that, like him, Spencer wouldn’t really care about having kids. They had other people’s kids—Allen’s son, Tony, and Jordan’s little girl, Anna. The room started to close in around him as Aaron thought about being responsible for a child—for their well-being, for their safety.
“Breathe. Aaron.,” Spencer whispered in his ear and took a deep breath. Then another. Aaron tried to follow his respiratory timing, but he couldn’t get his lungs to fill. Then Spencer rubbed his chest and took another breath. Aaron could do it that time, and he drew in enough air to make him explode. Then he let it rush out again. In… out…. Everything Dr. Thomas had taught him in their sessions those first few years.
“S… Sorry.” Aaron took another breath around the apology, shame creeping in through the edges of the word. It had been quite a while since he’d lost his shit like that.
“One. More. Deep. Breath. And. Then. Tell. Me. What. Is. Bothering. You.,” Spencer whispered against his skin.
He didn’t want to tell Spencer. Aaron had ruined other dreams for him—travel, marriage, and now kids. One day it would just be one dream too many. He had one shot at avoiding the conversation. If he could distract Spencer with sex….
Aaron turned around and found Spencer’s lips and kissed him hard, drawing a gasp of surprise. He got resistance at first, a gentle push against his shoulder, but Aaron didn’t relent. He stroked Spencer’s cheek even as he deepened the kiss. A low moan told him he’d hit the mark.
Well, until Spencer pulled back.
“Nice. Try.. Now. Spill..”
Aaron dragged Spencer back into the living room and sat cross-legged on the couch. Spencer sat next to him and mimicked his position. They’d had so many conversations this way, just sitting across from each other on the couch like teenage girls talking about boy bands.
“I did not know you wanted to have kids,” Aaron signed, his gaze focused on his hands instead of on Spencer’s face. A flush crept over his cheeks, and he hid it by staring at the faded couch cushions.
“I did not know it either. Not until Sophie. I am not saying right now. I want us to be married first—”
Aaron’s head shot up.
“Married? Why the hell would you want to get married?”
“Aaron, what did you think we were doing here? Moving in together? Aren’t we working toward a future?” Spencer’s hands flew through the air, the pain in his face clear.
“I did not think we would get this far.”
“You have so little faith in me.” Spencer’s hands dropped to his lap.
“No.” Aaron shook his head even as he signed. “I have no faith in me.”
“You are still waiting for me to leave. I know you are.”
Aaron didn’t have an answer for that. It was true, of course, but saying it aloud, even signing it, would only make it worse. It would only make it more true.
Spencer’s hand cupped his chin and forced him to look up into those hazel eyes he knew so well.
“I. Am. Not. Leaving..”
Aaron nodded, but it was a halfhearted thing that didn’t even resemble agreement.
“I thought moving in together would prove that to you,” Spencer signed. “I do not know what it will take to prove it to you.” Then aloud he said, “I. Need. Some. Air..” Spencer surprised Aaron by getting off the couch and grabbing his shoes from the rack near the door. He didn’t say anything as he sat on the coffee table to put them on. When he finally headed toward the door, Aaron just watched him go. It closed with a finality Aaron felt somewhere deep inside his heart.
His hands itched from the anxiety and pain of their conversation. He didn’t want to keep pushing Spencer away, but it seemed like every opportunity afforded Spencer more and more distance. Instead of wondering if Spencer would come back, Aaron grabbed his cell phone from the desk and sent a text to Jordan. He did it every time he and Spencer argued, all the way back to those first message board messages. Jordan’s trauma might have come from a completely different source, but he certainly understood about the aftereffects.
What are you doing?
In the years since Jordan and Rachel started dating, it took longer and longer for Aaron to get a response to anything. When their daughter, Anna, came along, responses sometimes took days. This one took an hour, and Aaron had nearly given up on hearing from him at all.
Rachel is taking Anna for quality time at her mom’s tonight. I’m gonna grab a pizza, some beer, and watch something awful on TV.
Aaron’s gaze drifted to the closed door where somewhere, Spencer fumed on the other side. He didn’t want to face another argument when Spencer got home.
Want some company?
It took less than sixty seconds to get this response back. Hell yeah, I do. Come on over.
Aaron looked at the phone for a long moment, glanced at the door again, and grabbed his shoes.
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Meet the Author
JP Barnaby, an award-winning gay romance novelist, is the author of over two dozen books, including Aaron and the Little Boy Lost Series. She recently moved from Chicago to Atlanta to appease her Camaro who didn’t like the blustery winters. JP specializes in recovery romance, but slips in a few erotic or comedic stories to spice things up. When she’s not hanging out with hot guys in leather, she binge watches superheroes and crime dramas on Netflix. A physics geek, she likes the science side of Sci-Fi, and wants to grow up to be Reed Richards.
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