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Saving Zeke (Men of Riverside 4)

Saving Zeke (Men of Riverside 4)
Release Date: 16 May 2011

Ben and Zeke have been best friends forever - but can they become lovers without losing each other along the way?

Ben Dealy longs for a loving relationship like the one his parents have, but he can't seem to connect to any of the women he dates like he does to his childhood friend, Zeke. As a police detective, admitting he's gay could ruin his career. But when he discovers Zeke is in trouble, not admitting he's gay may cost him much more than his job.

Zeke has been fighting his attraction to Ben since college, but was determined to uphold the 'expected' lifestyle. When he discovers his fiancée, Claudia, is only after him for his money, he decides it's time to stop running from the truth, and start fighting for the man he's still crazy about.

But will Ben and Zeke admit their feelings for each other or will Ben's need for a career drive them further apart?


Pages: 83
Words: 28,000
Heat Index:Heat Index
Cover Artist: Posh Gosh
Book Type: EBook

Chapter One

Riverside, Texas
Friday, June 20, 2008

"Lacking emotional stability!" Ben Dealy sniggered as he repeated the summary of his evaluation aloud to no one in particular. He closed the front door of his house on the outside world and tossed his keys onto the little table in the entrance hall before going to lock his gun in the downstairs office safe. "What kind of a dumb-ass reason for not getting a well-deserved promotion is that anyway?"

He stomped to the kitchen to get himself a beer, which he intended to drink out on the deck. His house wasn't big, but the back yard was nice and private. He loved sitting in his comfortable Adirondack chair, doing nothing more exciting than listening to the birds, breathing the fresh air, and watching the grass grow. As far as he was concerned, living just outside the city limits of Riverside was well worth the additional driving time.

He got a beer from the fridge, opened the bottle and gulped down half its contents before coming up for air. He wiped his mouth with his hand and walked towards the back of the house. Unlocking and opening the door that led out to the deck, he muttered about the injustice of a police chief who seemed more concerned about his employee's emotional stability than his ability to catch criminals. How the hell was he supposed to fix something intangible like that? He was a police detective, for fuck's sake. He dealt in facts, not in emotions.

He sat down with a moan and stretched his long legs across the footrest. Leaning his head back against the cushion his mother had made for him, he took a deep breath of the warm summer evening air and closed his eyes to examine his emotional state. Maybe he could find some kind of argument or angle that would help him convince his boss that all his concern was superfluous.

Yes, he was lonely. He'd been accused of being married to his job by most of the women he'd dated over the years. What was wrong with that? Becoming a cop when he graduated from high school eight years ago and then making detective five years later had been a dream come true. It was also a hell of a lot more fulfilling than a relationship with some woman he was unable to connect with. None of them could even come close to the friendship he had with his best mate, Zeke. And he was another man. Shouldn't a relationship with a female partner be a lot more meaningful than one he had with a long-time buddy? Even if he'd met that buddy in primary school and they'd been inseparable ever since?

A stab of pain went through his heart. Not quite inseparable. Four years ago, once Zeke had received his business degree from Riverside College, he'd suddenly become engaged to Claudia, a fellow student. Ben hadn't seen that one coming at all. The woman had made Zeke move to Austin so she could be closer to her parents and family. Ben still missed Zeke like crazy. Not that he'd ever admit that out loud.

He sighed. It was Zeke's birthday today and he'd better call him before the big party started-the first one Zeke had invited him to in four whole years. He'd wanted to go and spend the entire weekend to try and reconnect, but bloody Claudia had nixed that idea when she'd found out. He hated to see Zeke under her thumb like that, but Zeke had made his choice and there was nothing Ben could do about it.

"Hello?" Zeke's voice was barely audible above the din in the background.

"Hey buddy. Happy birthday!" Ben swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat. God, he suddenly hated being alone with an intensity that almost took his breath away. "Sounds like you're having a great time."

"Ben! Thanks for calling. It's so good to hear from you." Zeke sounded breathless. "Hold on, let me go upstairs so I can actually hear what you're saying. It's a madhouse down here."

"So the barbeque is going well?" Ben closed his eyes, wishing he could be there.

"Yeah, I guess. Claudia's in charge and she loves these things." There was the sound of a door closing and Zeke exhaled. "I think she went totally overboard, but what can I do? She tells me it's good for business to invite all these people. I guess she's right. I just wish she hadn't been so nasty about you coming over. I was looking forward to seeing you."

"Same here." What was he supposed to say to that? Zeke didn't seem to be able-or willing-to stand up to his fiancée at all. Maybe it was a selfish thought, but every time Ben thought about those two, he was doubly glad he didn't have some woman in his life to tell him what was what.

"How's work? Solved any great cases recently? Got some more murderers off the street?" Zeke sounded like he was smiling.

"Smartass." Ben grinned. "But you're right, I've had a couple of lucky breaks."

"Luck has nothing to do with it." Zeke laughed. "Knowing you, you've worked your ass off to make Riverside a safer place."

"Yeah, well, not hard enough apparently." Ben wished he hadn't spoken as soon as the words had left his mouth. He didn't want to bore Zeke with his problems. He didn't really want to think about them right now, either.

"Huh? What does that mean?" Zeke snorted. "Nobody could be working harder than you. You even helped the fraud department out when you arrested that mafia boss last month, didn't you?"

"That was different, though. I was only helping out my little brother. Rick is family, so that doesn't really count." Ben had been shocked that Rick's lover, Mark, who'd vanished six weeks earlier, had been abducted by a suspected mafia boss. Ben had tracked the gangster to San Antonio with the help of some friends from the Police Academy, and had finally been able to confront him. The gangster was now in prison, awaiting trial.

"Are Rick and Mark okay?" Zeke sounded wistful.

"Yeah, they're disgustingly happy together." Ben smiled. Despite what he'd just said, it was good to see them together and so happy again. "They celebrated their eleven-month anniversary last Friday because they decided the separation didn't count."

"Ahhh, young love." Zeke sighed.

Ben almost made a comment about how that had never seemed to apply to Zeke and Claudia, not even in the early days. He bit it back at the last moment. He wanted to enjoy this all-too-brief contact with his best friend, not antagonise him.

"So, anyway, back to this business about you not working hard enough?" All amusement had vanished from Zeke's voice.

"It's nothing." Ben didn't want to start discussing his apparently unsatisfactory emotional state with Zeke.

"Didn't sound like nothing-" Zeke inhaled deeply as a loud bang interrupted him. "What the hell?"

"Zeke Fortin, what are you doing up here?" The shrill female voice made Ben cringe, and he was just hearing her over the phone. "Your guests are downstairs and you're supposed to talk to them, not hide up here to have secret phone conversations."

"I was just-" Zeke didn't get any further.

"You're talking to that so-called cop friend of yours again, aren't you?" Claudia's voice had gone ice cold. "I've told you to stay away from him, and now you've hidden up here to talk to him secretly? What is this? Kindergarten?"

Ben was about to say something to the effect of her being the one who treated Zeke like a minor, when Zeke spoke up.

"Sorry, buddy, have to go." The sudden silence rang as loud in Ben's ear as a gunshot. He closed his cell phone, feeling dejected.

Fuck! That woman was getting on his nerves. And why was she so intent on keeping him out of Zeke's and her life anyway? Was she trying to hide something? He sat up straight and rubbed his temples. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was time he found out a little more about Claudia Nelson and what she might be up to.

* * * *

Austin, Texas
Friday, June 20, 2008

"What is wrong with you?" Zeke had never seen Claudia this incensed about something as harmless as a phone call. "I was just talking to my friend, who called to wish me a happy birthday."

"You know that I'm concerned about that particular friend of yours." Claudia pursed her lips in barely-hidden disdain as she closed the bedroom door. "I don't like him and I don't want you to spend time with him. He's not good for you because he keeps dragging you back into your past. Your future is here with me-you've said so yourself often enough. Why won't you understand that staying away from your old friends will help you build the independent life you're so keen on?"

"There's a huge difference between building an independent life, as you call it, and cutting off all ties to the past." Zeke pushed his cell phone into a pocket and got up from the bed. He was really angry about the interruption, and even though he knew that there was no point in trying to make Claudia see reason when she didn't want to, he didn't feel like shutting up this time. He'd done far too much of that already. "I don't really want to get into all of that again. I've explained it to you often enough but you don't seem to want to understand the importance of financial independence for me. None of that, by the way, means that I have to cut off all ties to friends from my past."

"Your need for financial independence doesn't make sense. It's stupid, and it makes our lives unnecessarily difficult. That's why I don't understand it." Claudia sighed in that exaggerated way of hers that made Zeke feel like an unruly child. "I'll never understand it. You've got a significant trust fund from your grandfather which you refuse to touch. Instead, you insist that we live on your salary. That makes it very hard for me to keep up with my friends and the wives of your business associates. Do you have any idea what it's like to constantly feel like you're trying to catch up?"

"You knew that the trust fund was not going to be touched from the moment our relationship got serious." Zeke had made sure he'd told her about his plans and ideas before they got engaged. Claudia had seemed okay with it initially, probably thinking she could convince him to change his mind. "I want to be able to make it on my own, not based on what my grandfather left me. I moved to Austin with you for the same reason-working in my father's real estate company would have been too easy. And as for living on my salary, nothing stops you from getting a job. You do have a college degree."

"You would really make me work? To earn money?" Claudia took a step back, shaking her artfully coiffed head in disgust.

"What's wrong with working for a living? I do it, so why can't you?" Zeke didn't want to have this discussion. They'd had a variation of it every few months, ever since Claudia had become keener on getting her hands on the money, and he was getting very tired of it. They never managed to agree anyway.

"I don't have time for a job, that's what's wrong with it!" Claudia started pacing, her high heels leaving deep imprints in the thick carpet. "You have no idea what sort of time and effort goes into maintaining my body in the perfect shape it's in. Keeping up with the newest fashions alone is almost a full time job. And anyway, I wasn't born to work. I'm supposed to support you and make your life easier by ensuring everyone who is important to your career thinks highly of us."

"That's what you say." Zeke moved towards the door with more decisiveness. Even spending time with people he hardly knew was beginning to sound more attractive than being cooped up with Claudia, going through the same old arguments they'd had for almost two years. Sometimes he wished he hadn't got engaged to her. But he'd thought getting married was the best way of overcoming the fact that he was gay. He'd put up with her to avoid having to confront his true nature. Now he was paying the price.

"Zeke! I put all this effort into making sure the right people know and respect us-the least you could do is be grateful." Claudia's big eyes were supposed to make him feel bad for her, but he'd stopped doing that a long time ago.

"You really don't have to go to any trouble on my account." Zeke grinned at her open-mouthed shock. "I can fend for myself, thank you very much."

"Well, I'm not sure where you think you've been trying to go, but it certainly hasn't gotten you anywhere remarkable in the last four years." Claudia managed to look down on him despite the fact that she was significantly shorter than his five-eleven. "Not professionally, and certainly not on a personal level."

"Oh, here we go again." Zeke was trying to mumble but the angry flashing of Claudia's blue eyes told him she'd heard.

"Don't you ‘oh here we go again' me, mister. "Claudia walked right up to him and poked her long-nailed index finger at his chest. "You asked me to marry you a very long time ago. And we're still engaged four years later. Nothing has happened to change that state of affairs. When do you intend to finally set a date?"

"Not while we've still got so many basic disagreements about how we should live our lives." Zeke shook his head and finally walked out of the room, leaving an open-mouthed Claudia behind.

When hell freezes over. That was his real answer. He had asked her to marry him as a last-ditch effort to try and make himself ‘normal'. His deepening feelings for his best friend Ben had terrified him. Even worse, he was sure that Ben didn't return them. It would have been embarrassing to admit how he felt only to find out that Ben was disgusted with him, or worse. And that was just on a personal level. Rather than endanger both their careers, it had seemed like a good idea to get engaged and move away from Riverside.

It had helped him hide. As he'd planned, people assumed you were straight when you were engaged. After the experience he'd had with Claudia changing into a money-grabbing gold-digger, he wasn't likely to compound his mistake by actually marrying her. For one thing, it would give her access to the trust fund whether he liked it or not. For another, it would make their relationship, such as it was, even more permanent. That was something he just couldn't bear thinking about.

The real question was how to get rid of her without causing too much upheaval. Her family was well known in Austin and he couldn't afford to have them as enemies. He couldn't really return to Riverside-working for his father's real estate company was out of the question. Working for one of the competitors was even more unthinkable. So where was he going to go? He'd need to give up everything he'd worked for in the past four years and start from scratch somewhere else.

He'd still be without Ben. And that was the scariest thought of them all.

* * * *

Riverside, Texas
Monday, June 23, 2008

"Unbelievable." Ben leant back, eyes still focussed on the computer screen. He'd felt bad when he'd started the careful background check on Zeke and Claudia. It had felt as if he was going behind his best friend's back somehow. Not that he could have asked Zeke for his permission, but still. Knowing what he did now, though, he felt worse for not having become suspicious enough to do this before now.

"What?" Gary Brent, Ben's partner, looked up from the paperwork on their latest case that he was trying to get done. It was his turn to deal with the not-so-fun part of their jobs. "Does that mean you're ready for lunch or did you find something interesting?"

"Um." Shit. How was he going to explain this? He wasn't supposed to use police resources to spy on his friends, even if it was in their own best interests.

"Aha!" Gary grinned and walked up behind Ben, peering at the screen before Ben was able to press the escape key. "You're off on another one of those semi-private hunts for criminals, aren't you? This time, I want in."

"You do?" Ben's eyebrows rose. He would have expected the reprimand his boss had given him for going after Tony Mondello on his own to have been a deterrent. Gary was generally a stickler for working within the rules, so ordinarily anything that risked their superior's ire wouldn't be something Gary would be interested in. Also, going after someone linked to the mafia without backup had been a high risk-something Gary had lectured Ben about at great length once he'd found out.

"Are you kidding? The chief may have given you a bit of a talking-to about your methods, but everyone could see that he was really proud of you for getting that bastard and saving your brother's lover."

"Okay, if you say so." Ben shrugged. He wasn't so sure. After all, he hadn't got the promotion, so his boss couldn't have been all that proud of him.

"Tell me what all these numbers mean, will you?" Gary stared at the screen, brows furrowed as he bent farther forwards.

"They mean that a friend of mine is in so much financial trouble that he'd be declared bankrupt if all his creditors decided they wanted their money at the same time." Most of the debt came from a variety of credit and store cards that Ben was sure were actually Claudia's.

"Shit! That guy is in deep trouble." Gary ran a finger down the columns on the screen. "It also looks like he's got a wife who likes spending even more than he does."

"Only she isn't his wife." Not yet at least. "They've been engaged for four years but for some reason they're still not married."

"Makes me wonder why he lets her spend all that money on his cards, then." Gary turned his head. "Is he a really good friend of yours? Because if he is, I think you need to talk to him. He needs help."

"Yeah." Ben sighed. Zeke was his best friend in the whole world, even if they'd hardly spoken since he'd moved to Austin. "Yeah, he's a good friend, and he doesn't deserve this shit. I have no idea what's causing the spending sprees or why he's tolerating them, if he's even aware they're happening. You're right, though. I need to talk to him about it."

"Not something you'd do over the phone, is it?" Gary sat down on the edge of Ben's desk, clearly settling in for the duration.

"No, I was thinking of driving up to Austin over the weekend. Confront them in person." Ben didn't look forward to that. Claudia wasn't going to be any happier with a surprise visit than she'd been about a pre-announced one.

"That makes sense in principle." Gary nodded. "However, I must remind you that this weekend is the department's annual barbeque at the chief's house, so you may need to wait for the weekend after."

"Damn." He'd conveniently forgotten about the hated social function. "I don't think I can wait that long. And it isn't like I'll be missing anything important."

"Oh?" Gary's eyebrows rose while his lips curved into a sardonic little smile. "How's mingling with colleagues and their spouses not important?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake, Gary, grow up." Ben wanted to hit something. "Do you mean to tell me you believe all this bullshit about how important it is to know your colleagues, including their families? I'm here to do a job, not to participate in some social exchange."

"Hold on, Ben. Just because you haven't got a partner and don't seem to want to settle down doesn't mean that the rest of us have to do the same thing." Gary shook his index finger at him. "In fact, I think it would do you an awful lot of good if you did have a partner in your life. Look at how Tracey has helped me get more grounded. It might do you some good if you shared your personal shit with someone. It might help you settle down."

"What the fuck? What is it about everyone suddenly thinking I need to be more settled?" Ben narrowed his eyes. "Have you been talking to the chief?"

"What about? Your personal shit?" Gary laughed. "You should know me better than that. But anyone could tell you that you're not the most emotionally stable person. I mean, the occasional outburst is fine, but with you it's become more than occasional over the last few years."

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" Ben was floored. How had he missed his change of behaviour when everyone else seemed to have noticed?

"Didn't figure it was my place." Gary shrugged. "Look, it's not an issue for me, okay? You've never crossed a line or anything, at least not with me. But I have wondered about the lack of a relationship in your life. I mean, I've never seen you date a woman more than twice. Ever since last year when I started being serious about Tracey, I've realised how much more relaxed I've become about everything. She takes my mind off the job and helps me put things in perspective."

"That does sound nice." Ben sighed. He'd wanted a relationship like that ever since he could remember. His parents were the best example anyone could have, and he wanted what they had with a vengeance. He'd never even come close to it with any of the women he'd dated. The closest he'd come, in fact, was with Zeke-and that scared the hell out of him.

Not only was Zeke definitely straight-why else would he have asked Claudia to marry him?-Ben was decidedly not gay. His brother Rick had apparently always known that he was gay, even if they'd only started talking about it since he came out last year by introducing Mark as his boyfriend. Ben had never been sexually attracted to another man in his life.

"But whatever my emotional or other issues might be, they're not going to get resolved by next weekend. And this thing with Zeke is too important to wait for another week. I'm going to have to go and forget about the annual barbeque." Ben was kind of happy he had an excuse not to go.

"I hear you." Gary grinned. "Don't worry, I'll explain things to the chief."

"Thanks." Ben breathed a sigh of relief. "I owe you one!"

"Oh, yeah, that's for damned sure." Gary nodded.

Ben could practically see the extra paperwork piling up in his future.

* * * *

Austin, Texas
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Zeke was tired enough to wish he could drop straight into bed. It may have only been eight PM, but a whole day on his feet showing houses to prospective buyers and dealing with office politics was enough to make him wish he could pull the covers over his head and go straight to sleep. For a few days, even.

He eyed the stack of envelopes he'd pulled out of the mail box. Most of them were probably bills. That wasn't anything new, but he was growing more tired of having to deal with Claudia's expensive tastes and expansive spending patterns. It had always been bad, but the more estranged they became, the more money she spent. It was a habit he suspected to be linked to her trying to forget her sorrows. Last Friday's fight was sure to have prompted some new excess of hers and he didn't really want to find out that they now owned another horse or might have acquired a third car.

At least she wasn't at home tonight, so he'd have some peace and quiet to dig through the paperwork. He took off his jacket and tie, dumping them on the sofa, and opened the top two buttons of his boring white shirt. He toed off his shoes and socks and enjoyed the feeling of the soft carpet against his bare feet for a moment. Much better!

He poured himself a Scotch and made his way to the den where he dumped the stack of papers onto the already existing pile. He sat in his chair, put his feet up and sipped the amber liquid, loving the way it burned a path down his throat and heated him up from the inside out. He'd come to cherish these evenings alone, without anyone around.

He frowned and sat up. There'd been a lot more of them recently. Not that he minded, but it was a change from when they'd first moved in together. He'd quickly grown bored with the social life Claudia revelled in, and now it seemed that Claudia had grown bored with him.

What the fuck was he doing with his life anyway? He was living with a woman he once thought he could learn to love, but was now beginning to despise. He'd moved away from all his friends in Riverside because he'd wanted a fresh start and a working environment where his success wasn't measured against that of his father. Instead of feeling good about his new life, all he felt was alone. On top of everything else, working in real estate wasn't as much fun as his father had led him to believe when he'd pushed for Zeke to follow him into the family business. It had become even less fun with the threat of a long recession now looming over the horizon.

His feelings for his best friend Ben, who was straighter than an arrow, hadn't gone away, not even with all the distance he'd put between them. He'd thought that moving away would help him get over his hopeless crush. If anything, he was now more attracted to Ben than ever before, and talking to him on the phone on his birthday last week had been pure torture. All he'd wanted to do was listen to Ben's voice forever, even knowing that there could never be anything more between them. He'd been half hard then, and thinking about the man had the same effect now.

Maybe he was gay after all? He'd tried to deny it, certain that it would ruin the relationship with his family as well as his chances for a career in real estate. But if he was honest with himself, those feelings for Ben were an indication that he wasn't exactly straight. He wasn't attracted to any other men, but one was probably enough. There was no need to admit it to anyone else. Here inside his own four walls, though, he was pretty clear about the fact that he wanted Ben so much it hurt. If that made him gay, so be it.

He set down his empty glass and stroked his growing bulge. God, that felt good, even through the fabric of his linen suit. Sex was one of the things that had gone out of the window since he'd started fighting with Claudia on a regular basis. Not that it had ever been spectacular before, but at least he'd had some physical release that didn't come from his own hand.

Rubbing himself some more and feeling his cock stiffen didn't feel half bad, so he opened his button and zipper to pull out his growing erection. He leant farther back, closed his eyes, and imagined it was Ben's hand stroking him. His cock grew stiffer at the first thought of those blue-green eyes, the powerful six foot five frame and his friend's large hands on his body. It was an unbelievable turn-on to imagine Ben touching him like that and he was close to coming after only a few strokes. Giving in to his need, he started bucking his hips, fucking his tight fist in short stabs that made him moan with pleasure. He swept his thumb across the glans a few times and that was it.

Ecstasy raced from the tip of his cock up his spine and he came in shuddering bursts, flooding his hand with hot sperm. He kept his eyes closed for a few more seconds, imagining Ben kissing him, then taking him into his arms. If only that were reality.

With a sigh, he opened his eyes, grabbed some tissues from the box on his desk and cleaned himself up before tucking his spent cock back into his pants and zipping up. It was time to return to the real world.
Two hours later he almost wished he hadn't. He'd made his way through the stacks of papers, finding bill after bill with totals that were way above the credit limits he'd thought they had. He'd checked everything against the financial records he kept on his computer and had come to realise that Claudia had been very busy increasing existing limits. Apparently it had been going on for quite a while. The result was that they were now so far in debt that even a second mortgage for the full value of the house, were it available, wouldn't be sufficient to cover the debt that Claudia had amassed.

What the fuck had she been thinking?

The front door closed with a bang. Maybe he could get some answers now.

"What are you doing in here?" Claudia strode into the room, dressed to the nines in a dark blue suit, white blouse and high-heeled shoes that would have made a normal woman stumble. Her classically beautiful face was hidden under the usual layer of make-up. "You work too hard. I swear you never have any fun anymore."

"I wasn't working, Claudia. I was trying to figure out how much you've spent over the last few weeks." He leant forward, holding up the piece of paper which he'd used to tally up their debts. "Do you have any idea how much money this is?"

"Sure." Claudia looked at the number and nodded.

"How do you think we're going to pay this off?" He put down the sheet, trying to understand why she hadn't been surprised.

"Well, the way I see it, there's only one solution." She grinned. "You'll finally have to access your grandfather's trust fund. And then maybe we can start living in the style I was expecting we'd be able to afford when I agreed to marry you."

Zeke fell back into his chair, completely speechless. What was he supposed to reply to that?


©Serena Yates, 2011
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