After conquering the world’s tallest mountain, loving Toby shouldn’t be so scary.
Jensen Brockhoff wins his way back into Toby Schwartzel’s heart, but it won’t be that easy to erase the pain of the past. He has two more mountains to conquer and they’re the most difficult.
Toby understands Jensen’s obsession with the highest peaks in the world. He’s willing to wave goodbye as Jensen leaves on his trips, but he can’t help worrying that Jensen won’t come back. That the lure of the mountains will prove too difficult for his love to fight.
Climbing has always been Jensen’s way of escape, yet loving Toby is proving stronger and Jensen must choose between the man he loves and the passion that saved his life. Will Jensen give up his climbing gear to build a new life with Toby?
Publisher’s Note: This book is a sequel to Mountains to Climb and is best read in order.
Toby let the door slam behind him as he entered his house. “Jensen? Are you here?”
No answer and Toby’s heart started to race. He tossed his keys in the bowl on the table in the foyer before he took off his jacket. Even a year later, he always panicked when he came home and Jensen wasn’t around. One would think he’d be over worrying that Jensen would leave him again.
Last year when Jensen Brockhoff had shown up out of the blue after disappearing for six years, Toby had convinced himself to forgive him and give Jensen another chance. Hell, Jensen had promised he’d never leave Toby again, and for the most part, Toby believed him. Yet there was just a small piece of his heart that figured Jensen’s wanderlust would kick in, and Toby would come home to an empty house with only a note explaining where Jensen had gone.
“Jensen?” he called again, picking up his briefcase before stalking down the hallway toward the back of the house.
Sometimes Jensen would be in the kitchen, wearing headphones while he cooked their supper. Toby had told him a hundred times just to plug his iPod into the stereo system that ran through the entire house, but Jensen said he liked feeling surrounded by the music—whatever that meant.
He left his briefcase in his study then walked into the kitchen. No Jensen. Toby took a deep breath, trying very hard not to start thinking bad things. He’d known something had been bothering Jensen the past week or so, but when Toby had asked him about it, he just brushed it off as mid-winter blues. He’d let it go because he’d been swamped at work.
Next time don’t let him distract you. Keep at him until he tells you what’s wrong. He’ll leave if you don’t get him to talk.
Toby stripped off his tie then unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt. He’d hung his suit coat on the banister, so he’d remember to take it upstairs later. After flinging the tie on the island counter, Toby braced his hands on the edge of the granite, closed his eyes and took two deep calming breathes.
“Hey man, I didn’t hear you come in. Been home long?”
Jumping slightly, Toby whirled around to watch as Jensen strolled in from the back yard, a pair of tongs in his hand. His headphones were hanging around his neck, which Toby took to mean he really hadn’t heard him yelling or the car pulling into the driveway.
Jensen set the tongs near the sink before coming over to Toby. He encircled Toby’s waist then pulled him tight against his body. Their mouths met and Toby sighed as all the tension he’d been feeling drained from him. He buried his hands in Jensen’s long hair, twisting his fingers to keep his lover still while he bit his bottom lip. Toby swept his tongue in when Jensen opened for him.
“Hmm…” he hummed, tasting something spicy as he kissed him. When they broke apart, he grinned. “Are we having chips and salsa along with our steaks tonight?”
“I might have already sampled the salsa.” Jensen winked. “Have to make sure it’s just spicy enough for my guy.”
Toby rolled his eyes, but didn’t try to move away when Jensen kissed him again. This was one of the things he’d grown to love now that Jensen was back and they were living together. It was something they hadn’t had when they were dating the first time. It had been more like friends with benefits, though Toby had always wanted more. Jensen had disappeared before Toby was able to say anything.
He whimpered when Jensen slid his hands to get two handfuls of his ass and squeezed. When Toby let his head drop back, Jensen licked a trail from the corner of his lips down to the soft skin at the base of his throat. Toby shuddered at the thought of wearing a mark like that as a sign that he belonged to Jensen. Keeping his hands in Jensen’s hair, Toby pressed his mouth a little tighter to his skin, wanting it more than he could ever voice.
Finally, Jensen exerted enough pressure to break free of Toby’s hold on him. He stepped back a few inches and smiled. “I need to go check the steaks. Why don’t you grab the salad out of the fridge? The table’s set and I made some apple cider for us.”
“Can I go change first?” He gestured to his dress clothes then to the ripped jeans and long sleeve sweater Jensen wore. “Someone’s a little more comfortable than I am.”
Jensen chuckled. “Go ahead, man. Wouldn’t want you to get your work clothes dirty. I can finish getting everything on the table.”
“Thanks.” Toby swooped in for another kiss before he dashed toward the back staircase. “I’ll be right back down.”
“You better be, or I’m going to skip the steak and eat the chocolate cake I baked for you.”
Toby skidded to a halt at the foot of the stairs. He turned to eye Jensen. “What’s going on? Why did you bake me a cake? Are you leaving again?”
Jensen waved his questions away. “We’ll talk after dinner. I also don’t want the meat to get burned. So go.”
As much as Toby loved Jensen’s chocolate cake, the excitement at the possibility of eating it had dulled. Knowing that it had been cooked to soften a coming blow didn’t make Toby want to race upstairs anymore. He leaned against the wall and stared at Jensen who puttered around the kitchen, avoiding his gaze.
“Jensen? Come on, talk to me. Are you going on another climbing trip?”
He didn’t really like the trips Jensen took to climb some of the world’s most dangerous mountains, but he’d never tried to stop him. Toby understood that it was how Jensen coped with the stress of the world around him. Jensen had tried to deal with drugs and alcohol and all that had done was make him a recovering addict.
At least with climbing, he was doing something healthy. Toby silently amended that. The kind of high altitude expeditions Jensen went on would have him leave excited and happy to go on the journey, and return to Toby wasted away from the toll conquering the mountain had taken on him.
Toby didn’t like seeing Jensen diminished in any way, and he wasn’t a hundred percent sure climbing was the best thing for Jensen. It was almost as though he replaced one addiction with another and any of them could kill him if he wasn’t careful.
“Toby. Please, go change and come back down to eat. I told you. We’ll talk about it after dinner.”
Jensen looked up then and Toby saw the almost feverish glow in his lover’s eyes—a glow that caused his heart to sink. Jensen was leaving again, and Toby didn’t know if he could stand it one more time.
He trudged up the stairs to their bedroom where he quickly changed. His dress shirt went in the pile for the dry cleaners, along with his pants. His shoes were lined up neatly with the others at the bottom of the closet, socks and undershirt tossed into the hamper.
Toby dug out his favorite pair of ripped jeans and the Wyoming sweatshirt he’d stolen from Jensen. Once he got those on, he tugged on a pair of thick socks before heading back down to where Jensen waited for him. He tried to summon a smile for his lover when he stepped into the dining room, but he didn’t have one to give.
“Sit and eat.” Jensen motioned to his usual spot at the table. “I already poured you some cider.”
Toby frowned. “You managed to do all this after working at the gym today? You know you didn’t have to go to all this trouble. I could’ve picked something up on the way home.”
Jensen shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Toby. I don’t mind cooking. It helps unclutter my mind.”
Like climbing, Jensen had discovered an affinity for cooking and he was quite good at it. Toby would never complain about returning from work to find a home-cooked meal on the table waiting for him. He just didn’t want it to be because Jensen was trying to figure out how to tell him he was leaving.