Title: Never Let Go
Published On: Sept 8 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance, M/M
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press Pages: 177
Friends since they met in school, Ashton and Brighton soon become much more. Ash and his aunt are Brighton’s haven away from his mess of a family, and when Ash enlists in the Army, Brighton learns to endure his long absences and eagerly awaits his return from missions.
Until one day Ash doesn’t come back, and Brighton thinks his greatest fear has come true.
Months pass and Brighton grieves for Ash, not knowing that a terrible misunderstanding sent Ash running, unable to cope when he thought Brighton had betrayed him. Even after an emotional reunion, their relationship isn’t the same—Brighton is now responsible for his young niece, and he’s having a hard time rediscovering the trust he once had in Ash. Ash must still tend to his mental health, but before he can, he’ll have to deal with a past secret that puts all their lives at risk. With so many forces determined to tear them apart, can Brighton and Ash hold on to each other and never let go?
One Year Ago
Ashton Williams parked under one of the apple-shaped streetlights on Main Street and got out of his old
gray Taurus. He leaned back down to grab his hated cane and then closed the car door. Standing still, he
Never Let You Go by Andrew Grey
turned to the right and left, looking up and down the street. It hadn’t changed much at all. The place still
had the same small-town feel it always had. Ash remembered bounding up the steps of the library when
he was in high school so he could see if they had a copy of the latest movie or a video game he’d wanted.
Books, not so much, but games and videos—he’d been all about those.
He took a step around the car, heading away from traffic and onto the sidewalk. The drugstore was just
down the block, and damn it all, he wasn’t so crippled that half a block was too far to walk. Maybe he
should have waited until he’d had more therapy and the doctors decided if he should have surgery on his
knee. Ash had been making progress and everyone said he needed to be patient. Ash stopped, pushing
those memories from his mind. That wasn’t why he was here, and those thoughts did nothing but bring
him back to the brink of the gaping hole of despair he’d been thrown into for months. He needed to put
that behind him, at least during the day. Nights were another matter, but during the day, he was
determined to look forward to what he’d had and could have once again.
Ash’s heart beat a little faster as he walked closer to the store where Brighton worked. He was so
properly named; at least Ash had always thought so. One look from his stunning blue eyes could push
away the heaviest clouds. Even recalling them in his mind’s eye allowed him to get through months of
confinement in rooms and holes where he could barely move, stomach empty, throat parched, wishing
he could die but knowing Brighton was out there, waiting for him. Ash had stored the sunshine in those
eyes in his mind, holding them precious, letting those eyes framed by flowing blond curls carry him
through hell and out the other side. The photograph he’d had was long gone. It had fallen apart months
ago. Ash had worn it out, but he carried the image with him where no one could get to it.
He’d called the telephone number he had for Brighton three times, each with the same response that the
number was no longer in service, and when he checked the internet, it pointed him to the number he
already had. That only added to his need to get here and see if he could find Brighton in case something
had happened to him.
He moved on, getting closer now. Ash knew Brighton’s schedule at work, at least the one he’d been
working before he’d left. Ash hadn’t wanted to leave, but he’d had no choice, and saying goodbye to
Brighton had been the hardest, most heartbreaking thing he’d ever had to do. It was supposed to be his
last assignment, two weeks and then he’d be able to use up his remaining leave and he’d be done, free,
out… and his life would be his own once again. And now it was, at least what was left of it. He’d been
discharged, sure enough, but he was left a shell of a man, and not just his injured body. His insides were
hollow, and Ash wasn’t even sure who he was any longer. All he knew was that he needed to get back to
Brighton, so as soon as he’d been released and his debriefings were completed, he’d taken off, against the
doctor’s wishes. Everything inside him pulled him to Brighton.
Now he was back in his hometown, where he and Brighton had first met in middle school, though it was
years later that they’d reconnected and something had clicked between them. Ash still couldn’t believe it
had been at a church social his aunt—Petunia to everyone else, but Aunt Petey to him—and only
remaining family member had asked him to attend. He’d expected an evening of old ladies and helping
Aunt Petey with whatever she needed.
Ash raised his eyes to the sky, letting the heat from the sun warm his face and dry the tears that
threatened. He’d already been to see her in the nursing home and was determined to get her the hell out
Never Let You Go by Andrew Grey
“One thing at a time,” he whispered to himself. That was another symptom of his incarceration at the
hands of the enemy: he talked to himself all the time. It was a way to feel less lonely and had become a
habit. He needed to let go of it because it tended to freak other people out. He lifted his gaze as he
continued his slow steps toward his goal.
The door to the drugstore opened and a man stepped out. Ash knew him instantly—the height, or lack of
it, slight build, floppy curls. Brighton needed a haircut, but he was still the man Ash had thought of and
dreamed about every single time he’d closed his eyes for the last nine months. His body ached all over,
and Ash felt Brighton’s pull as strongly as the gravity of the sun.
Ash took a few steps, for a few seconds forgetting the cane and his aching leg. They didn’t matter. All that
did was how close he was and removing the last bit of distance that had spanned months and thousands
of miles. Brighton turned away without looking, heading farther from him. He wasn’t walking fast, but
Ash was even slower, regardless of how much he pushed. Somehow Ash managed to pick up his pace,
needing to get closer. The man he carried in his heart so deep, who had gotten him through hell and
allowed him to come back, was just ahead, so close he could see him.
Ash opened his mouth to call out as Brighton stopped at the door to the coffee shop, holding it open as
someone emerged. Another man, someone Ash didn’t recognize, fell into step with Brighton, heading to
the corner. They waited for the light, and Ash moved forward while they stopped. He was so damn close.
“Brighton,” Ash called, but the sound went nowhere. His throat was so dry, the cry came out as a
whisper. He wet his mouth and swallowed multiple times, unable to take his gaze away. Ash’s heart
raced, his blood pounding a staccato beat in his ears. This was it. He was close, and all he could think
about was how he was going to get to taste Brighton’s sweet lips and feel his smooth, hot skin under his
hands, and have someone to hold and see him through the nights when the inevitable nightmares came.
Ash stopped walking as Brighton leaned into the other man’s touch. It was then that Ash saw the other
man’s hand rested on the small of Brighton’s back, protectively, lovingly, the way Ash had always done.
The light changed, and they crossed the street together. Ash told himself that they could just be friends
and got his feet moving once again. Brighton was within sight and so close.
But then Ash stopped dead in his tracks, unable to move, as the man walking with Brighton leaned
closer, his face disappearing behind Brighton’s head. Ash knew he’d kissed him. He couldn’t move.
Suddenly his feet were so heavy, he couldn’t lift them. He leaned entirely on his cane, hoping it didn’t
buckle under his weight, because if it did, he was going down. Ash didn’t give a fuck. The physical pain
would be preferable to the ache that settled where his heart had been, growing more and more acute
until each breath became a stabbing pain. He’d seen movies, plenty of them, and he always thought that
expression actors used when their heart had broken was fake. Well, it wasn’t. He knew, because when he
turned, the mask of pain reflected in the plate glass window was that exact expression. Combined with it
was a sharp tearing he knew was his heart shattering into a million little pieces before scattering to the
He lifted his gaze to where Brighton had been but didn’t see him. They were gone, most likely into the
diner across the street. Ash thought about going over himself, but he knew what he would find and
couldn’t take it. The thought of Brighton, the person he loved, the man who’d sworn he’d wait for him,
Never Let You Go by Andrew Grey
his soul mate and the reason Ash had survived that hellhole for months…. Ash couldn’t even bring
himself to say the words.
That same gaping maw of blackness that had dogged him through months of interrogation opened in
front of him again. More than once he’d thought of throwing himself into it and bringing the pain to an
end. But he hadn’t. He’d been stronger than that, and he still was, dammit. Ash turned around and lifted
his gaze to where his car was parked. He hadn’t really gone that far, thank God. At least he could make it
back and then, in the semi privacy of his own vehicle, he could fall apart.
A few minutes later, Ash fumbled to open the car door and threw the cane inside, the metal rod banging
against the far window before falling onto the floor of the back seat. He managed to get inside and close
the door, then leaned forward, resting his head on the steering wheel.
In the few minutes he’d been gone, the car had turned into an oven, and when Ash closed his eyes, he
was right back in that little hole in the ground where the air didn’t move and the sun beating on the
dark-painted metal threatened to roast him alive. Ash gasped as he came back to himself and reality. He
started the car and turned the air-conditioning on full blast. He needed cold, and he got plenty of it.
Within minutes he was chilled and maybe shivering as frigid air flooded into the car. Ash ignored it as he
put the car into gear. He pulled out of the parking space and through town without stopping. He didn’t
know where he was going to go. One thing was for sure: there was no way he could stay here. Brighton
was with someone else, and running into him was only going to break Ash’s heart and send him into a
spin of despair that even now he wasn’t sure he could recover from.
Ash saw the signs pointing to 15 and made the turn toward the freeway. That was his ticket out and
away. He had to make a stop first, but he could do that. Then… well, maybe it was best if he went back to
the hospital. He was a man of his word, unlike some people.
Fuck it all to hell if his lower lip didn’t quiver just a little. Ash pounded the steering wheel with his hand.
He hated that he was so fucking weak. He’d promised the doctors that there was something he had to do
and that he’d come back. At the time Ash had meant it, even if in the back of his head he’d hoped that
would be after a happy reunion with Brighton and….
Ash shook his head to clear away those thoughts and ended up swerving from one side of the road to the
next. No, he needed to get it together long enough to see his aunt one more time and then drive back to
the hospital. That was what he needed to do.
With his decision made, he got ready to turn his back on the one person he’d honestly expected would
always be there for him.