First and First (Five Boroughs Book 3)

By: Santino Hassell

A Five Boroughs Story



Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reign, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.





For the thirtysomethings who are still trying to figure it out.





Acknowledgments





An enormous thank you to Alexis, Amy Jo, Anna, Lenore, Megan, Piper, Robin, and everyone else who gave me early feedback while I was doing the tango with this book.





New Year’s Eve





THE COUNTDOWN would start soon. I needed to distance myself before the party became a sea of embracing couples.

“Caleb! Where are you going?”

I stumbled through the kitchen’s archway and was assaulted by lean limbs and more exposed skin than I would ever allow myself in the dead of winter.

Leaning my head back, I blinked at my affectionate attacker. Charles, a friend of a friend who had eventually become my friend, wrapped his arms around my neck. He reeked of liquor, but so did I, so I didn’t recoil when he pressed a damp kiss to my cheek. His lip gloss left my skin greasy.

“Need air.” If I focused, I didn’t slur, but my spinning head made focusing a challenge. “Too many people.”

“Ugh—I know. This place is teeny-tiny, but my new digs in Staten Island will be bigger.” Charles gave an extravagant eye roll, made more dramatic by his false, glittering eyelashes. He wore too much ornamentation for someone so naturally striking. “Not that anyone will visit Landon and me on the Forgotten Borough.”

“Probably not.”

“Well, I know your WASPy ass won’t. Do you even cab it beyond Lower Manhattan?”

“I don’t—” I blinked again. Focus. “I don’t always cab it.” I didn’t take a cab to work. But I wasn’t working. I wasn’t doing anything.

“Uh-huh. Yeah, right.” Charles untangled himself from me. “Go find someone to kiss! Shake things up for the New Year, stud!”

“But everyone here is part of a coup—”

He spun away before I could finish, and I was again adrift in the sea of bodies. In Charles’s Washington Heights apartment, we were packed tighter than a subway car during rush hour. Every time I stepped around one body, another appeared. I couldn’t tell if more people were piling into the room or if I was simply moving too slowly to compensate for the crowd.

Ten!

The collective shout was a gunshot in my ears.

I flinched, ducked my head, and had to brace my hand against the wall to handle the fallout of making sudden movements while intoxicated. The combination of music, laughter, and the lower warble of the Times Square coverage on television was already pressing down on my sluggishly responding brain, but the yelling—

Nine!

Someone said my name, just one quiet voice lost in the cacophony of louder noises. I searched the room, identifying a number of familiar faces—Karen in a sparkly top hat, Michael and Nunzio laughing together on a couch, and scores of smiling people whose acquaintanceship I had shared with someone who was no longer in my life—but I couldn’t locate the speaker. The effort alone nauseated me. My eyes were sliding around as if I had no control of them, and the icy fingers of isolation were starting to pluck at me with a complete disregard for the fact that I was in a packed apartment.

Surrounded by people who didn’t know me. Or who only knew me because of my ex-boyfriend.

I kept moving.

Eight!

I stumbled out of the living room, almost tripped over the rope of beads Charles had used to designate the hall as a Do Not Enter zone, and slid along the darkened wall to the bedrooms. The railroad apartment was longer than I’d expected. The noise was muffled the farther I moved from the party, but the walls still trembled from the bass in Charles’s stereo system.

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