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Cold and sick, Seth Thompson must fight through a snowstorm to get home. Seth’s unconventional upbringing taught him to always reach out to strangers in need, and Iranian engineering student Bilal al-Mansoori is no exception. Being trapped together leads to an unexpected mutual attraction—and a feverishly hot night under the covers.
But Bilal needs more than simply a rescue from the weather—he’s trapped under lifetime of cultural pressures. His strict Muslim father and fellow Iranian students have no clue about his inner torment. His attraction to Seth isn’t a welcome discovery—instead he’s trapped between the existence he’s always known and the prospect of living and loving openly for the first time in his life.
In this excerpt, Seth has a heart-to-heart with his dad, whom you might find familiar…
After all the sight-seeing and trudging through cold, slushy streets, I’d expected to conk out the second I crawled into my sister’s fluffy pink bed. Instead, I snapped wide awake, my gaze fixed on the ceiling while her Hello Kitty alarm clock tick-tick-ticked away. Then my stomach started to growl.
Groaning, I sat up, rubbing my eyes. It’d be an extra-long, extra-miserable train ride back tomorrow if I didn’t get any sleep tonight. Maybe a snack would help. Or better yet, a Xanax from that bottle Eric kept in the cupboard above the kitchen sink.
I grabbed my robe from the bathroom and headed down the hall. The lights were off in the living room, but a faint glow seeped under the door between the dining room and the kitchen proper.
Which could only mean one thing. Smiling, I pushed open the kitchen door to find my dad sitting on a stool at the center island, reading something on his iPad while nibbling idly on a sandwich. “Hey,” he mumbled through his latest bite. “Hungry, or just can’t sleep?”
“A little of both.” Rubbing a hand through my hair, I went over to the fridge, but nothing inside looked appetizing, so I grabbed an apple from the basket on the counter. “How’re Mom and Lizzie?”
“Fine. Which you could see for yourself if you’d drop by the house.”
Hint, hint. Real subtle, Dad.
“Sorry. I’ve been crazy busy.” I swung onto the other stool, biting into the tart, crisp apple. Anything to keep from having to make more excuses.
“Too busy to check in with Eric? His office is right there on campus, y’know.”
Usually my dad was the most easygoing, non-pushy parent of all time, but evidently a bit of Eric’s more hands-on, micromanaging parenting style had rubbed off on him. Not surprising, after all the years they’d been together. “I’ll stop by next week, okay?”
“Is that an, ‘Okay, okay, stop nagging me’ or an ‘Okay, I really will check in’?”
“The latter. I promise.” I bit into the apple again, chewing slowly until a question I should’ve asked earlier popped to the front of my brain. “Uh, what’re you doing here in the city this weekend?”
“Getting ready for a meeting with my publisher on Monday. I’m pitching them a new book.” He finished the last bite of his sandwich and got up to put his plate in the sink. My gaze lingered on the cupboard door above his head for a second or two before he swung back around. “So, who’s this new friend of yours?”
I had to stifle a grin. Dad was getting a lot smoother at seguing into this particular subject. One more thing he’d obviously picked up from Eric. “He’s not that kind of friend.”
“Really? ‘Cause, y’know, Eric and I met in college…”
As he reminded me every chance he got. I still wasn’t sure whether he meant it as encouragement or a warning. “I haven’t so much as gone out for coffee with anyone since last spring. Honestly, I’m kinda over the whole dating thing right now.”
“Which is why you brought a guest here for the weekend, thinking you’d be alone?” His lips quirked up at the edges.
I sighed. Dad had sharp eyes, and an ex-reporter’s instinct for sniffing out bullshit. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping something would happen, but I doubt it will. Bilal’s got a lot of stuff to sort out before he’s ready to be with anyone.”
“Being closeted and Muslim. And expected to go home to Iran once he gets his degree next May.”
“That is a problem.” He rubbed the space between his eyes. “Are you sure he’s…?”
“We haven’t done… everything, but he enjoyed what we did, as far as it went. And he says he’s never had any real interest in girls, so…” I shrugged. Anyone listening in—anyone who didn’t know our family—would no doubt think a father and son talking so frankly like this was strange, if not downright inappropriate. But Dad, Mom and Eric had always treated me like an adult from the time I’d come to live with them. “He likes it when I kiss him, that’s for sure.”
“You’re his coming-out affair.”
Weird thing to say, but… “I guess. Though I don’t think it’s doing him a favor to coax him out of the closet, then shove him back in and nail the door shut come graduation.”
“Not to him, or you.” He looked right at me, deadly serious. “Eric was my coming-out affair, and… well, it was rough. We broke each other’s hearts—and your mother’s—more times than I can count before we figured out how to be happy together.”
“But you have. For thirty-odd years.”
“I still wouldn’t wish that kind of heartache on anyone. Especially someone I care about as much as you.” With that, he swung around and opened the cupboard over the sink, grabbing the bottle of Xanax. “Here. You’ve been eyeing that damn cupboard for the last five minutes. Take one, and only one, all right?”
I chuckled as he slung an arm around my shoulder. “Only one, I promise.”
“Seriously, though, Bilal seems nice, and I hope it works out if that’s what you want, but be careful. You give your heart too easily. You always have. Maybe I’ve raised you to be too trusting, but…”
“Better than the alternative,” I said. I’d seen way too much suspicion, even outright hatred, in people’s eyes growing up. People who couldn’t understand how a family like ours could be healthy and normal. Well, fuck them. This was my life, my rules. And yeah, maybe I’d end up getting my heart broken. It wouldn’t be the first time. “What’s that thing Mom’s always saying? ‘Love isn’t just what we feel for others, it’s part of who we are.’”
I’d always known my dad was proud of me, but the moist shine springing up in his eyes had me tearing up too. Shit.
“Get some sleep,” he whispered, giving me a kiss on the cheek before heading for the door. It bumped softly in his wake, his bare feet scraping across the dining room carpet, fading into silence.
God, how lucky I’d been. I’d never had to worry about being accepted for who I was. But maybe I shouldn’t have broken the truth about my family to Bilal so soon. He’d looked so baffled and shocked when I’d told him. I’d heard somewhere that Muslim men were allowed three wives—unless they’d changed that rule, or I had it completely wrong—but something told me they’d balk at a woman with two husbands. Or one husband with another husband and a wife. Or the mere idea that they could come together and form a happy, functional unit—two kids, a dog and everything.
Or in our case, two kids, a dog, my sister’s cat and the horse she rode on weekends.
Cat Grant lives by the sea in beautiful Monterey, California, with one persnickety feline and way too many books and DVDs. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her watching movies or TV (Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries are among her favorite shows), singing along to her favorite band (30 Seconds to Mars), or fantasizing about kinky sex with Michael Fassbender and/or Jared Leto.
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