Rend

A Novel

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After a whirlwind romance, a man with a painful past learns to trust the musician who makes him believe in happy endings.
 
Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him—much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever—at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again—and this time, it really will be forever.

Roan Parrish’s pitch-perfect Riven novels can be read together or separately:
RIVEN | REND

Praise for Rend
 
“[Parrish] deftly balances the darkness with a passionate romance that’s heartbreakingly tender, romantic, and moving. . . . This is one second-chance love story that will twist you up, wring you out, and then leave you wanting more.”—All About Romance
 
“Melancholic . . . truly magical.”—My World of Books
 
“If you loved Riven, then there’s no doubt that Rend will capture your heart.”—The Written Voice of Is

“A touching and flawless second installment of the Riven series . . . [Rend is] beautifully written and delivers some remarkable characters.”The Romance Reviews

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Rend

Chapter 1

I shuffled the papers, files, and leaky pens on my desk into a semblance of order, and swept a busted phone charger and an apple core into the garbage, along with the cheesy dollar-store smiley face eraser my last client had left. I appreciated the gesture, but I didn’t want that thing grinning up at me when I got back to work.

Sun streamed through the cracks in the blinds and the AC unit in the window chugged valiantly, to little effect. Sweat along my spine and under my arms dampened my shirt and my hair had been a riot of curls all summer. I wiped hopelessly at my forehead with the heel of my hand.

This was August at Mariposa. This was August in New York.

“Boy, you look like you just ran a mile,” a warm voice said from my doorway.

“Hey, Imari.” I smiled at her.

Imari had run Mariposa since it was a group of three volunteers circulating information to a few foster programs, eight years ago. Now, it was a full-time nonprofit that worked with clients all across the city to provide resources for youth during and after their transition out of the foster system. We had ten full-time staff and a number of volunteers, and ran programming at two satellite offices onsite in foster care facilities to work with youth before they aged out of the system.

Imari had also been the one to hire me when most people would’ve told me to f*** off. I was never sure what it was about me glaring and telling her to shove it that made her think, Potential employee of the month. All I know is that after I snarled that her suggestion to list references on my résumé was unrealistic because who the hell did she think paid more than five seconds’ attention to foster kids in public schools, she narrowed her eyes at me, and said, Hmm. Then she told me to come to this address the next day because she thought I could be useful.

That was almost two years ago, now, and I was pretty sure working at Mariposa had saved my life. At least, it had saved the life I wanted to have from the one I’d expected, although it had been rough in the beginning.

Imari held out a client file to me.

“This is Noé Caldera. Eighteen, mad as hell, and a pain in the ass.” As I took the file from her she bopped me on the knuckles and winked before handing it over. “Sound familiar?”

I mmhmmed flatly and opened the file to see a glaring boy whose combination of hostility and fear were as familiar as breathing. I’d seen it in the faces of hundreds of boys I’d been with at St. Jerome’s. Hell, I’d seen it every day in the mirror.

“I’m hoping you have more luck with him than Nando or I had.”

“Shit, Imari, if he won’t listen to you—”

“It’s not about listening to me, Matt. It’s about learning to listen to something in himself.” She took the file from my hand. “Don’t worry about it now. I just wanted to make sure you had it for next week. He’s coming in to see you first thing on Tuesday.”

“Thanks. And thanks again. For the day off. For understanding.”

The sparkle in Imari’s eyes told me I wasn’t going to like what was coming.

“Well, how could I say no to giving you a long weekend to spend with your husband, the rock star, before he leaves on tour.” Her emphasis was teasing but her smile was warm as always.
“He’s not a rock star.” I kicked at the seam where the carpet was coming up. “It’s not even rock music,” I added.

The heat in my face was only partially from rock star. Most of it was from husband. It had been over a year and my brain still couldn’t reconcile the word with the life I thought I’d have, to say nothing of the man himself.

“I know,” Imari said, saving me from the helpless flush of joy I got whenever I thought about Rhys. “I went to his show last night.”

“You did? What? Why? He didn’t tell me.”

“Oh, I didn’t stick around to say hey after. Took my ass home to bed. He’s really something, Matt.”

I looked at the floor so she wouldn’t see me smile. “Yeah.”

“And as to why.” She didn’t move any closer to me because she knew I didn’t like to be touched, but everything in her posture spoke of fierce care. “Because I care about you. I care that you’re happy. I wanted to see the man who makes you so happy. Problem?”

“No, ma’am,” I murmured.

“Good. Tell your husband I said he’s no Otis, but I liked his show just fine.”

“Tell Rhys you like him better than Otis. Got it.” I ducked as she swatted at me with another file.

“Psh, get outta here.”

I shot her a grin as I grabbed my wallet and phone and headed for the door. “Happy Friday. Tell the professor I said hey.”

“All right. Enjoy the time with your man.”

My man. My man, my man, my man. It echoed in time with my steps uptown toward the 125th Street station. I caught the train with a few minutes to spare, and grabbed a window seat, earbuds and sunglasses firmly in place in case anyone near me felt chatty with TGIF cheer.

Despite Imari’s teasing, Rhys really wasn’t a rock star. Or a blues-folk-rock star. He’d worked as a studio and touring musician since finishing high school. He’d written and co-written songs for dozens of artists, knew people in every walk of the business, and had supported himself with his music since he was nineteen. It was rarified air, even before his first solo album debuted last month and did really well—well enough that he was about to go on the road for two months.

Rhys said it still didn’t feel real to him. He couldn’t believe that after a lifetime of being in the background, now it was his name on the album people were buying, the tickets, the T-shirts.

I couldn’t believe it either. Even though Rhys had started working on his first album soon after we met, the music business was normal enough to him that the strangeness of it had rarely touched me. He spoke about it like most people spoke about their jobs—irritated by the minutiae, excited by the successes.

It wasn’t until he’d played me two of his songs that what was going on truly sank in for me.

“What the f***?” I’d asked, gaping at him after he finished the second song.

He’d narrowed his eyes. “Is that a thumbs down, then?”

“No, I— What the f***, Rhys? You’re so f***ing talented. How have you never played me your songs before?”

His slow smile had been warm and satisfied. “They weren’t ready before.”

“Your other songs. The ones people have recorded.”

“You really haven’t looked? You never googled me?”

It was so obvious the second it was out of his mouth, and I cringed.

“Wow, babe, it burns.” He’d pressed his palm to his heart and pouted at me. But that grin had been back in seconds, like his delight at his music was too big to even allow for my lack of musical wherewithal, and he’d tugged me next to him and proceeded to give me an education in the music of Rhys Nyland.

So, no, he wasn’t quite a rock star, but he was my man. My husband. And somehow that was even harder to believe.

The train crossed the Harlem River, then followed it west to the Hudson where it turned north. Urban congestion turned to sprawl, sprawl morphed into bucolic woods and sedate towns north of Yonkers.

Sleepy Hollow was the kind of town I’d never known real people lived in. With charming shops along Broadway, elaborate seasonal decorations, historical tour groups led by retirees or college students in period garb, and very little open after 8 p.m., it seemed like something from a 1950s Christmas movie. Nothing at all like the Washington Heights neighborhood I’d grown up in, or Chinatown, where I’d been living before I moved in with Rhys.

From the Philipse Manor stop it was only a ten minute walk to Rhys’s Colonial cottage. Rhys said it was likely an outbuilding at one time—a version of the main house in miniature. It was by far the smallest house in the neighborhood, and by far the most spacious place I’d ever lived.

Rhys bought it three or four years ago, when the rent money he’d saved by touring the whole year with five different bands coincided with a dip in the housing market. Though it had a large backyard, the cottage had been neglected, and wasn’t big enough for the families looking to live in the area. But for Rhys, the two bedrooms and small living room were plenty, and he had friends come and stay, asking only that they help him strip moldy wallpaper, replace rusted fixtures, and repaint.

Now the cottage was a cheery robin’s-egg blue—at least, that’s what Rhys called it—and was set back from the street by a dirt drive shaded with leafy maple trees.

Away from the city, the heat felt less oppressive, and the cottage glowed in the evening sun. The flutter in my chest as I opened the front door was all for Rhys. It was two-thirds relief and one-third nervous anticipation. Even though we’d been married for a year and a half, neither had waned.

I slid my keys on the hook by the door, dumped my wallet and phone on the table, and went to change. The shower was running in the bedroom, and my heart gave a powerful thud. Rhys. Shower. Naked.

That was another thing that hadn’t waned. My attraction to Rhys was like nothing I’d felt in my life. It was large enough, immediate enough, to block out everything else. Everything he did captivated my attention. He exerted a force like the gravity of a planet whenever he was in the room. Being close to him made my skin thrum and my heart race.

Once, when he’d told me I could do anything to him I wanted, I’d kissed him for so long I lost track of it. Hours, maybe. Kissed him until our lips were raw and his muscular body trembled beneath me, until he was the only thing I could taste or feel or smell. Until we were both breathing so hard we were light-headed and desperate and climaxed together with one desperate thrust between us, sticky and shuddering and still kissing like our bodies had turned to liquid heat.

I didn’t like to be touched, usually. But when Rhys touched me, I wanted him to take me apart.
I stripped out of my sweaty clothes and walked into the bathroom. Rhys was humming softly, back to me. The first time we slept together, I’d been too overwhelmed to pay good attention. But the next time I saw him naked—saw him standing in front of me, bathed in sunlight—I thought he looked like a superhero. I’d stared at him stupidly, then, and he’d grinned at me. He wasn’t vain, but he knew what he looked like and how it affected some people.

Now I took in the way the water broke over his broad shoulders, streamed down the clean groove of his spine, and curved around his round ass to run down thighs thick with muscle. The water had darkened his blond hair and the humid air smelled of amber and sage.

I must’ve made a noise of appreciation, because Rhys jerked his head suddenly toward me.

When he saw me, his smile was so bright I nearly staggered backward from the force of it. I still didn’t know how it was possible that I could make anyone this happy. But he told me I did, and I usually believed him.

His happy grin turned to something sharper when he saw I was naked, and he gave me a raking once-over before opening the shower door and reaching for me.

I let my eyes drift closed as I was pulled against Rhys’s firm heat. He was taller and broader than me, and the sensation of having him all around me had taken a little time to get used to. At first it had felt risky, vulnerable. But as I began to trust Rhys, it transformed. Now it was the thing I looked forward to all day. The moment when I could shrug off the cloak of distance I wore against the world and replace it with Rhys’s overwhelming closeness.

“Hi,” I said into the hollow of his throat and tightened my arms around him. I traced his spine and the thick muscles of his back. I let myself focus completely on him.

“Hi,” he said, fingers tangling in my hair to tilt my chin up. He kissed me, slowly. A hello kiss. An I missed you today kiss.

Before I met Rhys I didn’t know there were kisses like that. Now I got to have them all the time.

We washed our hair and soaped up without talking, skin sliding against skin, trading kisses every few minutes with the kind of lazy sensuality borne of knowing we had plenty of time for sex later. Another thing I hadn’t felt before Rhys.

We dried off and before I could dig out clothes to change into, Rhys slid his palm up my arm to the side of my neck and kissed me.

“How was your day,” he said against my mouth. I huffed out a breath, smirking when he jerked his head away like a shying horse.

I got a swat on the ass and a lazy grin for that.

“Fine.”

“Tell me,” he said, and sat down on the bed. He’d sit there, naked, staring at me until I answered, so I flopped down next to him. Rhys’s bed was great. King-sized and perfectly firm, with pillows I liked to bury my face in against the morning sun. I buried my face in one now and sighed happily as Rhys started stroking up and down my back.

Rhys asked me how my day was every single day. I turned my face to the side so he could hear me.

“I found a new place I want to add to the list,” I said. With my eyes half closed and my face half in the pillow, all I could see was Rhys’s tan, muscled belly. I reached my hand out and rested my palm there. His skin was warm, and I could feel his heartbeat in his stomach.

“Yeah? Where?”

“The Faroe Islands. They’re between Iceland and Norway, but they’re owned by the Kingdom of Denmark. And they’re beautiful.”

“Sounds great,” he said. He rolled onto his back and tugged me toward him. “What made you want to add them to the list?”

“I was walking around during lunch, and it was so hot. I was disgusting and sweaty and I bought one of those frozen lemonade things.”

“Mmm,” Rhys mumbled. He was constantly hungry and got hungrier at any mention of food.

“I sat in the shade and searched for pictures of cold places on my phone.” Rhys laughed and I shoved at him.

“Shut up, it totally works. Anyway, I was looking at pictures of glaciers and snowcapped mountains and these pictures tagged with the Faroe Islands kept coming up.” I turned my face into his neck. “I’d never heard of them.”

Rhys’s hand was soft in my hair. “But they look beautiful.”

“Then we should go,” Rhys said, rubbing my scalp with his fingertips.

“You’re gonna put me to sleep if you keep doing that,” I murmured.

“That’s okay.”

But I made myself sit up. I hated falling asleep and waking up at strange times. It always left me feeling disoriented and confused. I picked at a loose thread in the pillow case. Rhys twined his fingers through mine and brought my hand up. He kissed my knuckles, and I squeezed his hand.

“Hey, look,” he said. He hauled himself out of bed and grabbed his phone from the top of the dresser. “I talked to Morgan this morning.”

Morgan was Rhys’s sister, who lived in Raleigh with her husband and two kids. Their parents moved down there five years ago when the first grandchild was born.

“Tommy’s obsessed with that little cartoon that you drew of yourself on his birthday card and Morgan took a picture of it and printed out a bunch and he colors them in like a coloring book. So now their house is littered with all these yous.”

Rhys held up the phone and there, on Morgan and Doug’s refrigerator, were four variously colored versions of the cartoon of me.

“Kids are so weird,” I said, zooming in on one of them where my face was purple but my hands were green.

“Yeah, I guess Tommy likes you more than me now,” Rhys said with a pout.

That would never happen. According to Morgan, Tommy worshipped Rhys, who flew him around over his head like a rocket and flipped him upside down until he puked. Instant hero. Two-year-old Sarah wasn’t quite sturdy enough yet to appreciate the rocket, and she’d only met Rhys when she was a baby so she could take him or leave him.

“They just like scribbling out my face better than yours.”

“I told you, babe, the cartoon version of me that you did looks like Thor.”

I raised my eyebrows and looked him up and down deliberately. “If the hammer fits . . .”

Rhys caught me by the hand and pulled me off the bed and into his arms. He squeezed me so hard it lifted me off my feet, and I didn’t even think he was doing a Thor bit. Sometimes Rhys didn’t know his own strength. He put me down with a kiss and a nip at my neck.

“I’m starving,” he said. “Want to grill?” Grilling was pretty much the only culinary skill that either of us bothered with. Fortunately, nearly anything could go on the grill, as we’d proven this summer. I nodded and put on cutoff sweats and an undershirt.

“They want to meet you,” Rhys said from the doorway.

I froze.

“Who?” I’d shot for casual and only achieved squeaky.

“You know who, baby. My family.” Rhys’s voice was soft, calm. He was the most confident person I’d ever met. Not egotistical, just confident, like a tree that had stood for a hundred years and was happy being exactly what and where it was. But this was a point of insecurity for him. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to meet his family because I wasn’t committed to him—I’d told him that a dozen times. It was just . . . something always seemed to get in the way.

“I—yeah, okay. I know . . . Sure.”

“Okay,” he said simply. “Good.”

I fired up the grill while Rhys took care of the food, appearing after a few minutes with a disturbingly large piece of meat and some foil-wrapped packages. He put the meat onto the grill with a sizzle.

“What is it?”

“It’s lamb.”

“Lots of lambs on the Faroe Islands.” The pictures had shown them grazing in the mountains, woolly white bodies nestled in the grass. I squinted at the meat. “That’s what lamb looks like?”

“You’d eat roadkill if it came in a Chef Boyardee can,” Rhys scoffed, dropping a kiss on my head.

I shrugged. “I probably have. That beef ravioli.”

“Try not to starve to death while I’m on tour, okay?”

I’d been hungry before, but at the reminder he was leaving, my stomach just felt hollow.

“I did fine before I met you.”

The scent of smoke and cooking meat filled the backyard, and my stomach growled. Rhys gazed at me steadily. His light-blue eyes could look as cold as glacial ice or as hot as neon.

“Did you?” he asked.

I sighed. “No.”

- About the author -

Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre. When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.

More from Roan Parrish

Rend

A Novel

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Rend

— Published by Loveswept —