Title: Out of the Ashes
Author: M.J. James
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: September 23, 2019
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, suspense, thriller, romance, mystery, contemporary, firemen, hurt comfort, revenge
Alex Porter’s life goes up in flames the night his tiny bookstore catches fire. Powerless to stop it, he can do nothing but stand by and watch as the only thing he’s ever loved is taken from him.
Fire sergeant Matt Fields is ordered to Cliffside, Maine by the privileged Porter family, which doesn’t mix well with his quick temper, to investigate exactly what happened. When he meets Alex, he can almost taste the sexual tension hanging between them and fights to focus on his job to find out what started the blaze.
Once Matt discovers arson, a simple case of accidental fire becomes much more dangerous, and Alex’s life is suddenly at risk. Someone is out to get him…and Matt wants to know who. As he digs deeper to find the person who torched the shop, he and Alex finally give in to the wild heat between them. From hot as hell phone sex to even hotter face-to-face encounters, they grow closer together as the case spins out of control.
In the end, their newfound love will be put to the test when secrets come to light and arson turns to murder.
Out of the Ashes
M.J. James © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Black, billowing smoke splattered the night sky like paint on a canvas long before Alex reached the tiny bookstore he owned and loved more than anything. The glow of streetlamps skittered over the car’s windshield as he sped through the quiet streets of Cliffside, Maine, the idyllic town he called home. Their measured illumination tossed shadows across the interior of his sedan. He zipped past darkened storefronts and empty parking lots, praying he wouldn’t get pulled over because he didn’t have time to try to haggle his way out of a ticket. His life teetered on the edge, and he was desperate to stop the fall.
He had worked tirelessly to turn the shop into something he could be proud of, and now all his efforts were going up in flames. Even as a little boy he had dreamed of having his own business, and his intense love of the written word was the perfect motivation. For almost three years, it was his lifeline. Now, after a midnight phone call from the local police, said lifeline would be forever severed… He couldn’t even comprehend what was happening.
“No, no, no…” His protests faded away when he turned onto Shemwood Drive. The historic brownstone was blazing red-hot, thick black smoke pluming into the night-time sky. “NO!” He slammed the silver sedan into Park and leapt from the car, leaving the engine running and the headlights on. Smoke swirled in the light of their beams like venomous snakes on the prowl as he raced across the street toward the fire, heat blasting him in the face with every inch closer he got. He winced but charged forward.
“Stay back!” A firefighter approached as he headed for the roaring blaze. He stared at her, wide-eyed, the large shield attached to her helmet teetering above her head, the orange glow of flames reflecting off the shiny surface.
“This is my store!” he yelled at the petite blonde woman now standing between him and the fire. She gripped his arm like a vise when he tried to sidestep her, and he snatched free. “Let me go.”
“I don’t care. You’re not going in there.” She yelled to be heard over the roar of the inferno churning behind them. Alex’s determination faltered between the rumble and heat of the fire and the woman blocking him. “What the hell are you gonna do, anyway?”
“I…” What was he going to do, put out the fire with his bare hands?
“Step back!” She pushed against his chest and he skittered backward. She then turned her attention to the other firefighters manhandling a hose clearly losing the battle as it spewed water on the Book Nook.
“My God.” Alex ran his hands through his hair, his emotions like a caged animal, trying to claw their way out. Frustration and anger swirled among the panic settling into his chest and he gritted his teeth to keep from losing control. This couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t. He tugged at the tie around his neck to try to ease the suffocating feeling in his throat and undid the top button of his shirt. He sucked in a deep breath and held his breath until his chest began to ache and throb before forcing all the air out, letting some of the dread twisting his stomach go with it. He had spent the majority of the night at his shop, hosting a pretty successful author signing and then cleaning up afterward, and all he had wanted to do was go home and relax. One phone call and his plan was literally up in smoke.
He wanted to scream, hit something, shatter into a million pieces right there in the street because everything was gone.
All those books, the artwork created by kids in the neighborhood during Saturday story times… Everything was burning.
His life was gone.
The pain of the realization swept over Alex like dense, choking fog, consuming him, turning him inside out. He sat on the curb across the street from his store, a thick huddle of sightseers from the bar on the corner now crowded together behind him, ogling the scene like vultures over roadkill. He could hear their “ohs” and “my Gods” and the words were making him sick. Sick because there was nothing he could do to stop them. Stop their taunting and awe and shock. He couldn’t stop any of it. The fire, the onlookers, the pity pulsing all around him; he could do nothing.
Nothing but stand there and watch as the life he had worked so hard to build turned to ashes right before his eyes.
After a long night of standing powerless on the sidelines while his life burned, Alex finally gave up and headed home—even though he wanted to do the exact opposite. He wanted to stay. Fix things. Turn his life upright again. How could he just walk away when the only thing important to him was gone? But he did. He left. Went home. He was a zombie as he peeled off his smoke-drenched clothes and sat naked in his living room, burying his erratic emotions in more than a few glasses of vodka and cranberry. Once his mind was good and chemically altered, he stumbled to his bedroom at the back of the house and collapsed into bed, falling asleep just as daylight began to peek through the curtains. He woke an hour later to incessant pounding on his front door and dragged himself out of bed, his head pounding like a thousand drums. He snagged a pair of boxers from the floor and slipped them on as he rubbed sleep from his eyes and wound his way through the house, using walls and furniture to stay upright.
“Yeah?” Alex swung the door open wide, the low sun blasting his face like pepper spray, almost blinding him. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes and fought to focus. “Oh, Sorry. Good morning, officers.”
Two stern-faced uniforms stared back at him, both with their legs shoulder-width apart and backs awkwardly straight in an overly masculine TV cop fashion. Alex wanted to laugh at how ridiculous they looked but held back. Their presence didn’t feel like a joke. Police at your door first thing in the morning didn’t typically scream social call.
“Mr. Porter?” The woman spoke first, her tone more a statement than a question.
“That’s me. Are you here about the fire?”
“We are, sir. Could you come down to the station, please? Answer a few questions for us?”
“Questions?” Alex’s gut lurched. “What questions?”
“Standard in this type of thing, sir. We need to find out what happened last night.”
“Yes, you do. But I don’t see why you need to question me. I wasn’t even there.”
“Then you’ll have nothing to worry about.” The woman shifted on her feet, and Alex noticed her grip tighten on the Glock at her side.
“Wait a minute…do I need a lawyer?” His stomach turned, like at any second his already obliterated life was about to get much, much worse.
“Do you have a reason to need a lawyer, Mr. Porter?” The male officer spoke this time, pulling Alex’s attention from the agitated woman. The man was good-looking, what some might even call hot, but all Alex could see was the accusation hidden beneath his words.
“Sure sounds like I might.” Every nerve in Alex’s body was screaming at him, putting him on edge. He had seen enough true crime television and episodes of Law and Order: SVU to know how things like this typically played out.
“Well that’s certainly up to you,” the male officer said. “Either way, we need you to come with us.”
He didn’t want to—he wanted to slam the door in their faces and crawl back into bed and forget the last twelve hours even happened—but Alex knew he had no choice. If he didn’t go with them willingly, they would just make him. His neighbors would see him dragged off in cuffs and the entire town would know what happened before he even arrived at the station. He ran a hand through his hair and huffed.
“Fine,” he said, stepping out of the doorway and onto the porch. A cold northern wind swept around them, but Alex was too upset to care.
“Um, sir?” The female officer gestured toward him, and Alex stopped.
He lowered his hand from above his eyes as he moved to the side and, to block the sun, stepped into the shadow cast by one of the large columns flanking the porch steps. “Yes?”
She glanced over at her partner who nodded to Alex’s lower half. “You might wanna get dressed.”
Though he had slipped them on only a minute ago, Alex had forgotten he had answered the door in nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs.
He darted back inside and stood behind the door. “I think I’ll need a minute.” Both officers nodded as he stepped away from the door and headed back to his bedroom. He was wide awake now, embarrassment and fear jolting his mind. He got dressed in record time, throwing on some jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of old sneakers while trying not to dwell on what would no doubt happen once he got to the police station. How in the world was any of this happening?
First, he lost his store, and now…what, he was about to be grilled by the police? Maybe even arrested? No, the officers standing at his door didn’t come right out and admit anything, but Alex knew they suspected him. Even the simplest mind would only take a second to realize it made sense to think he burned down his own place, but that didn’t help quell his uneasiness. By the time he locked the house and crammed into the back of the police cruiser, his hangover had moved from his head to his stomach, and he had to fight to keep from throwing up.
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Meet the Author
I’ve always wanted to be a writer (like most writers, I’m sure) but not until the last few years have I taken it seriously. I was always told growing up that I had to get a job and “earn my keep,” so I pushed my dream of writing a book to the back of my mind and entered the workforce. Fast-forward many, many years and here I am, trying to make a go at it.
I stumbled across Blogger in 2010 and my world of writing exploded. I have met (via the web) so many amazing writers and industry professionals and book bloggers that have passed on their wisdom and experience and successes and failures. So many, in fact, that I have no excuse to sit down and write out the stories living in my head. Which is what I’m now attempting to do.
I enjoy reading more than most other things (well, except maybe for writing. And TV. No way am I giving up my TV) . OUT OF THE ASHES is my first foray into the world of adult m/m and I am loving it!