Block and Strike

By: Kelly Jensen

Jacob Kendricks is three months out of prison, estranged from his daughter, and ready to get his life on track. Taking care of the bum curled up on his doorstep isn’t part of the plan. When he realizes the man has been assaulted, Jake takes him to the hospital, where he learns that Max is his downstairs neighbor… and that he could really use a friend. Keeping Max in the friend-zone would be easier if he wasn’t so damned cute.

Maxwell Wilson has been bullied for years, and the only person who ever cared lives too far away to come to his rescue. Now his upstairs neighbor is offering support. Max remains cautious, suspecting he is little more than a project for the handsome Jake. When he learns Jake has had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, Max has to reevaluate his priorities—and muster the courage to take a chance at love.

Just when a happy future is within their grasp, life knocks them back down. A devastating blow leaves Max lower than ever and Jake wrestling with regret. They both have to find the strength to stand on their own before they can stand together.




For anyone who has ever made a mistake, struggled with their identity, or had to learn how to make noise.





Acknowledgments


A LOT of people helped me write this one. First, I want to thank Sensei Weaver for teaching me how to make noise. Without that skill, I might never have written a single book, let alone tried to get it published. Never-ending thanks to my first readers and eternal cheerleaders, Eileen and Jenn. You both helped me refine Max’s character and make him more relatable. Thanks to Deb Nemeth for helping me refine Jake’s character, so that he could better realize his goals.

I had to do a lot of medical research for this one. My favorite nurses, Jenny Grey and Lyndall Strong, answered all my emergency room questions—and then reminded me that if I got this book published, I’d need to mention them in the acknowledgments. Done and done! My more technical questions about brain trauma and recovery were fielded by members of the Crime Scene Writer Yahoo group. I’m grateful for all the questions I got in return, and for the willingness of some members to complicate Max’s injuries so that he would need extra therapy (with friends like these…).

Thank you to my family for taking this journey with me.

Finally, thank you to the team at Dreamspinner Press for helping me put the best possible version of this story into the hands of readers.





Chapter One


A FEELING of menace rolled out of the dark alley. Jake’s door was halfway down, the bulb over it dead for a week or more. Had it been lit, he’d still have been jumping from one puddle of light to another. Something else twitched his senses. Was it a memory or a figment of his imagination? Probably both. Since his release, dark spaces set his skin to itching and crawling.

Partway down the alley, he noticed the slumped shape. Closer, the stench of piss caught him and the shape resolved into a man curled up in the shadow of his darkened doorway. Wrinkling his nose, Jake readied his boot for a nudge. He had some sympathy—life was rough—but his front door wasn’t a homeless shelter.

At his nudge, the guy twitched, groaned, and retched.

Wonderful.

Obviously too drunk to wake up and puke properly, the asshole gurgled and began to choke. Seriously? Only thing worse than a bum on his doorstep was a dead bum on his doorstep.

“Oh, no you don’t, bud.”

Swinging his gym bag from his shoulder, Jake tossed it onto the steps in front of the door and reached down to hook his hands under the guy’s shoulders. He really didn’t want him to choke outside his apartment. Or in this alley. Being caught dragging a body out onto Beech Street would be difficult to explain to his parole officer, though. He settled for rolling him into recovery position. The choking stopped immediately and a spooky groan drifted up with the stink of urine and puke. Jake resolved to scrub the skin from his hands when he got inside.

“Finished trying to die?”

He didn’t expect an answer, and he didn’t get one. Jake hopped up the steps and fished around inside the pocket of his sweats for his keys. He really needed to replace the burned-out bulb over the door. Mr. Wu of Wu’s World, the Chinese restaurant on the street side of the building, would get to it in about a month if he asked. Easier to just do it himself and hope lighting his portion of the alley would discourage derelicts from dying on his doorstep.