Damon Louis couldn’t quite believe Rian Falwell had just thrown a f*cking balled-up paper towel at his head, like they were in grade school trading spitballs.
But then he couldn’t believe Falwell was staring at him like he’d happily gut Damon, too, his imperious little pale mouth twisted in a knot and his previously bone-white cheeks flushed with anger that reflected in glittering hazel eyes.
People didn’t glare at Damon.
They didn’t even make eye contact.
But Falwell didn’t have the slightest qualms about glaring at him, standing there like the lord of his five by five domain, slender presence bristling fit to fill the tiny cubicle he’d commandeered as his… Damon didn’t even know what to call it. Studio. Workroom. Junk closet. Dumpster. Especially when Falwell had cluttered it wall to wall with kitsch, this kind of…whirlwind of clay and paint and pictures and delicate bits of papercraft that fit together in a bizarre aesthetic chaos, where it all coalesced in an esoteric pattern like some strange art installation in and of itself.
While Rian himself was part of it, lit in white and amber by the single naked bulb hanging from the ceiling and the golden sunlight falling like pale whiskey through the narrow, long bank of windows bumping up against the ceiling on one wall.
The whole room was too warm, as if it had marinated in that sunlight and Rian’s body heat until Damon couldn’t even tell it was autumn, despite the fact that the drafty halls of the ancient wood-slat building were always chilly.
And it smelled like earthy, cool clay in here.
Clay, and something else.
Something rich, sweet, soft.
Candied, like molasses.
For a moment, he wondered if that scent came from Rian himself.
Damon had never really paid much attention to Rian Falwell over the last few years. He vaguely remembered the day he’d noticed a new hire at the table in faculty meetings, mostly caught by the startling fountain of rippling black hair that fell over the man’s body like a shawl and trailed to his hips—but he couldn’t say if that had been Falwell’s first day there, or if he’d been there for weeks before Damon had finally glanced up to notice the way he smiled like a store mannequin, frozen and fake and empty. Shallow. Distant. That had been Damon’s first thought, before he’d stopped thinking about the new art teacher at all and only absently noted his presence in subsequent meetings.
They were technically in the same department for athletics and recreation, since Falwell taught a dance class for the teenaged monsters who didn’t want to take mandatory P.E. credits, but that was about the closest they’d ever come to overlapping. Rian was the art teacher. Damon was the football coach. Something something something, never the twain shall meet.
Except they were meeting right now.
Because Damon’s star quarterback hadn’t been to practice in nearly a week.
Until about thirty seconds ago, Damon had thought the slim wisp of a man in front of him was the cause.
And now—now, well, he really didn’t know what to think.
Because if Chris Northcote had been lying to both of them, assuming they wouldn’t talk…
Well, that was a problem.
Especially when Damon didn’t think Chris would lie without cause. He was a good kid. Almost too good. Straight A student, nice to every damned body. Honest to a fault. Thought he was everyone’s meat shield.
So if he was lying, it had to be for a pretty f*cking good reason.
Which meant, in every mind except that of a desperate sixteen-year-old, it was probably a pretty fucking bad reason.
While Damon turned that over, Rian worked his mouth, wrinkling his thin, straight nose, before letting out a rather dramatic sigh and slumping his narrow shoulders. He was almost as tall as Damon, maybe an inch or two below Damon’s six foot four, but he looked like he weighed maybe half as much soaking wet—although the airy voluminous flow of his layered, taper-sleeved linen tunics in deepening shades of ivory, sand, and gold paired with wide-legged linen trousers obscured all but the vaguest outlines of his shape. With his skinny, bangle-draped wrists and delicate movements, he made Damon think of a butterfly, the drape and fall of his crinkle-edged tunics like the subtle twitch of a butterfly’s wings at rest. He carried himself with a certain elegance that reflected in even his smallest of motions, and it just made Damon grit his teeth.
Because it looked so damned affected, like he’d practiced the poise of some kind of Bohemian SoHo hippie princess but just came out looking…looking…
But Falwell sounded less stuck up and more plaintively confused when he just let out a single soft, almost hurt, “Why?”
Damon shrugged. Now that the realization had slapped the damned temper right out of him, he—well, f*ck. He didn’t have words, and he sure as hell didn’t know how to answer that question.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he forced out. “He sure as shit can’t afford to miss practice. Too much longer and I won’t have a choice but to report it. Participation’s part of his scholarship. He gets seven days without a doctor’s note. He’s on four.”
Rian’s brows wrinkled. His gaze slid off Damon, flitting over the room, before settling on him again. Those hazel eyes didn’t look shallow now; instead they looked troubled, the set of his mouth pensive. “I wasn’t aware Christopher was on a scholarship.”
“Rich private schools operate a lot like universities.” Damon snorted. “Most of the kids here are rich. We got a few, though. Academic and sports scholarships. Though Chris’s family’s pretty set, so don’t know why he even needs it, but he’s gonna lose it if he doesn’t stop skipping out.”
“So you’re worried about more than your code of discipline, then?” Rian tripped out flippantly, his velvet tenor lilting. “I suppose I’ll forgive your rather presumptuous intrusion.”
“What f*cking code of discipline? You—”
Damon stopped himself short.
God damn, he wished he could’ve gone another three or thirty or three hundred years without being more than peripherally aware of this snotty little man’s existence.
Because Rian Falwell was getting on his goddamned nerves.
“Look,” Damon growled. “I don’t give a f*ck what you think of me or my reasons. What I care about is that kid f*cking up his academic year. And since he always looked like a f*cking kicked puppy when he said he was staying after, I had my reasons for thinking something bad was going down. And if he’s lying to both of us, something bad probably is. So…”
Rian jutted his stubborn lower lip out, his brows loftily arched. “So?”
“So what the hell are we going to do about it?”
“We?” Hazel eyes snapped. “As if I would ever—I—oh hell.” Rian sighed, bowing his head, one slim hand coming up to press his fingertips to the indentations on either side of his nose, just inside the corners of his eyes. His skin was so pale that his hands were white as the iridescent edges of oyster shells save for the very tips of his fingers, the knobs of his bony knuckles, and a crescent moon curve at the heels of his palms, flushed pink as if all the blood in that translucent flesh had gathered there; Damon wondered if he knew what the sun outside even looked like. “… I suppose we’ve got a responsibility, don’t we?”
“You sound so goddamn excited about doing your job.”
“It’s not my job that’s the problem,” Rian muttered, almost under his breath. “It’s you.”
“Trust me, the feeling’s mutual.”
“At least we agree on something.”
(C) Cole McCade, Carina Press, 2020. Used with permission from the publisher.
Albin Academy #2
Rian Falwell has a problem.
And his name is Damon Louis.
Rian’s life as the art teacher to a gaggle of displaced boys at Albin Academy should be smooth sailing—until the stubborn, grouchy football coach comes into his world like a lightning strike and ignites a heated conflict that would leave them sworn enemies if not for a common goal.
A student in peril. A troubling secret. And two men who are polar opposites but must work together to protect their charges.
They shouldn’t want each other. They shouldn’t even like each other.
Yet as they fight to save a young man from the edge, they discover more than they thought possible about each other—and about themselves.
In the space between hatred, they find love.
And the lives they have always wanted…
Just like this.
“The romantic longing, themes of bravery and confidence, and moments of cozy domesticity shine.”
—Publishers Weekly, on Just Like That
The Hideaway Inn by Philip William Stover
The Girl Next Door by Chelsea M. Cameron
Just Like That by Cole McCade
Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters
Better Than People by Roan Parrish
The Love Study by Kris Ripper
The Secret Ingredient by KD Fisher
Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love by Kim Fielding
The Beautiful Things Shoppe by Philip William Stover
Learn to Knit in Nine Months or Less by Hettie Bell
About Cole McCade
Cole McCade is a New Orleans-born Southern boy without the Southern accent, currently residing somewhere in Seattle. He spends his days as a suit-and-tie corporate consultant and business writer, and his nights writing contemporary romance and erotica that flirt with the edge of taboo–when he’s not being tackled by two hyperactive cats.