“Fans and new readers alike are sure to fall for this emotional, redemptive story.”
– 4.5 stars Top Pick!, RT Book Reviews
“Readers will love this uplifting, satisfying romantic adventure about sympathetic protagonists finding strength to
leave their comfort zones and risk a committed relationship as both friends and lovers.”
– Publishers Weekly
“I adored this story. I fell hard for Micah and couldn’t help hurting for Grady. Their story held me spellbound.”
– 5 stars, The Way She Reads
“Intense, complex, emotional and undeniably sexy, I loved every minute of The Harder He Falls.”
– 5 stars, Purest Delight, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
“… fans of angsty-type stories will love this one!” - 4.5 stars, The Jeep Diva
“Oh, wow. What an emotional entry for the first book in this new series from Lynda Aicher.”
- A-, Smitten With Reading
“Ms. Aicher’s writing was very compelling; once I started reading The Harder He Falls I didn’t want to quit.”
- 5 stars, Extreme Delusions
“…this is a nice start to what looks to be an engaging series, and I am definitely anxious for more.”
– 4 stars, Joyfully Jay
“Overall, this was a really entertaining read, with some super sexy scenes, interesting characters, and a unique plot.”
- 4 stars, Straight Shootin’ Book Reviews
“We have a lot of sex scenes – and they were really hot and dirty and intense.”
- B, Smexy Book Reviews
“Lynda Aicher has hit it out of the park with this m/m romance.”
- 4 stars, It’s About The Book
“If you like gay contemporary romance, drama, hot sex with touches of BDSM and a lovely top, you have to
read The Harder He Falls!” - 4 stars, The Book Adventures of Annelise Lestrange
“HIGHLY recommended for M/M romance readers and fans of diverse romance!” – Romance Playlist
“…Aicher creates great characters, and it's them that really get into the reader's head!”
– Trips Down Imagination Road
“The Harder He Falls is sexy, angsty, and features two wonderfully flawed heroes.” – Wit and Sin
“I’m absolutely looking forward to the future books in this series!” - The Novel Approach
“I am a sucker for damaged men who need a little love or, in this case, a little rough and tumble.”
– 3 stars, Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews
“If you are into testosterone fueled, hot and kinky stories . . . then this is the book for you!”
– 3 stars, Just Love: Romance Novel Reviews
A thrilling series featuring rugged men who play hard for a living. When it comes to one another’s hearts, they never back
down—because behind closed doors, the games they play are very different.
Book One: The Harder He Falls
Expert whitewater-rafting guide Grady Kelley lives for that rush of adrenaline: at work, as the newest employee of a Portland-based outdoor-adventure sports company, and off the river, where liaisons with anonymous men keep him satisfied. Grady prefers no drama and no strings attached, but when tragedy strikes, fate leads him to Micah Swaine. He’s hot, masculine, distracting—and offers the kind of deeper connection Grady has sworn off, no matter how badly he craves it.
Working at a leather bar, Micah meets a lot of guys, but Grady’s different—and he seems to feel the same way. The trouble is, anything beyond casual sex is too risky for Micah. He’s got secrets he doesn’t know how to share, secrets that would make any relationship a battlefield. No man, even one as compassionate as Grady, would stick around for that kind of trouble. And yet, as physical desire melts the walls they’ve put up, Micah and Grady discover that trusting each other is the most exhilarating adventure of all.
Copyright © 2016 by Lynda Aicher
Permission to reproduce text granted by Random House
It’s just a building.
No matter how many times Grady Kelley repeated that, he still couldn’t get himself to move forward.
He’d been inside that brick structure multiple times a day since his cousin had been admitted. The path to Finn’s room was ingrained in his brain along with the brown stain in the lobby carpet and the bouquet of fake flowers on the reception desk. He could already hear the low hum of nurses and equipment, smell the distinct, antiseptic-sick scent that soured his stomach.
It was all too familiar and foreign at once.
Sweat dampened his skin, a cloying moisture that blended with the misty rain. His leg muscles hummed and his lungs ached with the lingering burn of his run, but he itched to keep going. The persistent nagging still plucked at him to find the next rush, that irresistible high that came when he pushed his body and mind to the extreme.
Tree limbs covered the sidewalk to keep him dry, but he didn’t care about getting wet. He loved the water—or had until three weeks ago.
He swallowed, throat parched. It could be months before he found out if he’d be allowed—let alone able—to guide a commercial raft through a rapid bigger than a ripple. What would he do until then? Focus on rock climbing? Mountain biking? Take up kite boarding full-time? Twenty-eight wasn’t too old to switch his focus.
If only those damn roaring swells of water, crashing wild and angry against unseen rocks didn’t call to him so badly. He lived for the rush of reading the rapids, marking a path and driving through the powerful flow of an angry, churning river.
A shudder raked him, chills following. Memories flashed fast and hard, overtaking his thoughts. The rumbling thunder of the rapids, the shock of the icy water as reflexes kicked in. Keep his head above water, feet up, look for a throw line or another raft or an eddy.
Twelve years of training and experience hadn’t done shit against Mother Nature’s fury.
The blare of a siren pierced the air. Fuck. He gasped for air, heart pounding. He took a deep breath, and then another until the damp grit of wet, dirty streets invaded his senses. He wasn’t in the remote canyon, miles from the nearest emergency services.
No. He’d walked away from there. The two guys in the raft with him hadn’t been so lucky. Shit. Finn and Chris . . .
He tried to shove his shaking hands into his pockets, only his running clothes didn’t have any. Goddamnit. He shook his arms to expel the trapped energy that refused to die no matter how much he ran, blew out one more long breath.
Obligation and duty had him striding through the automatic doors. Determination kept him strong when the toxic hospital aroma hit him. Whatever he was feeling was nothing compared to what his cousin was enduring.
Finn had been placed on the neuro floor when he’d been transferred to Portland. Off life support but still in a coma, he’d been stable enough to move. Those were good signs, ones Grady clung to.
The elevator dinged when it hit the fifth floor. A quick stride out removed his reflex to run. His shoes squeaked with each step on the tile floor and seemed to amplify the persistent drum of his heartbeat. He nodded at the nurse stationed at the desk, but kept moving to Finn’s room. His anxiety was too high to stop and chat. Maybe on his way out he’d get an update on his cousin’s status—as if anything had changed.
They would’ve called him if it had, right?
Doubts rushed back to halt his progress, feet slowing until he braced his hand on the wall. He had to get it together, not that Finn would be able to see what a mess he was.
The drone of various television shows bled into the hallway in a disjointed mix of canned laughter and monotone voices. Was the distraction for the patients or guests?
Finn’s visitors had been limited to himself and friends from the outdoor adventure company Finn and Chris had founded. A number that’d dwindled with each passing day. But what had he expected? Spring had arrived and the business had to continue even if his world had come to a stumbling halt.
His and Finn’s.
At least they were both alive. Chris didn’t have that luxury. Not anymore.
Grady scrubbed his face, hoping it’d wipe the memories away along with the approaching despair. This wasn’t him. He didn’t wallow.
But he’d been the one guiding the raft. They’d trusted him and he’d failed them. One wrong maneuver. A misjudgment. An error and . . .
No one had blamed him—not openly at least. The business partners had been empathetic, and Chris’s family hadn’t cast a word of anger or accusation at him when they’d had every right to. It would’ve helped if they had. If someone—anyone—had.
Shouldn’t at least one person be as mad at him as he was at himself? Maybe then the burden wouldn’t be so damn heavy.
He shoved away from the wall, squared his shoulders, and passed the last few rooms to reach Finn’s. The door was open, a male voice drifting out in an even flow that slowed him down again.
“‘Do you like that, boy?’” the man asked, his voice lowering into a seductive growl that tightened Grady’s groin. What the hell? “‘A low but firm “Yes, sir” filled the silence. Satisfaction tumbled through Dan, his muscles clenching against the need to fuck his sub right that second.’” The voice faltered, a low chuckle interrupting the reading cadence. “I bet you understand that, wouldn’t you, Finn? Or . . . maybe not. You’re always so damn controlled.”
Seriously, what the fuck?
“‘Dan grabbed the paddle, the weight solid and balanced in his grip.’” The man continued to read, the rhythm and flow of the words matching the rise and fall of his voice. “‘Sweat gleamed on his sub’s back and over the taut cheeks of his ass. Already pinked from the warm-up spanks, it was raised and ready for more. For what he wanted to give. His boy’s submission was perfect.’”
His boy’s submission? Grady managed to clamp his lips tight to hold in his pained laugh, just barely. Leave it to Finn to get a sub to read him an erotic BDSM book when he was in a coma.
But who was the guy? Finn was a confirmed bachelor, dedicating fifteen years to the marines under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the next four to establishing Adrenaline Kick Adventures.
And now . . . Grady dropped his head against the wall, grief swelling harsh and raw in his throat.
“‘The crack of the paddle rang through the room, the impact shooting up Dan’s arm to resonate in his chest.’”
He clung to the story flowing from Finn’s room, denied longing roared up to torment him with desires he couldn’t acknowledge. But anything was better than his own thoughts.
“‘His boy grunted out, “One.” He knew to count without being told. Pride burned a path to Dan’s hard dick. He was going to fuck the boy into the floor and maybe, if the boy had earned it, he’d let him come too.’”
The low, rumbling timbre of the reader was enough to get Grady’s blood stirring. Add in the narrative and his groan slipped out as his dick took an interest. A feat in itself considering he hadn’t given two shits about sex since the accident.
The man continued to read, the story diving into an explicit description of the foreshadowed hard fucking. Never once did the guy halt, stumble, or laugh at any of the words.
Who in the hell was in there? He didn’t recognize the voice, so he doubted it was anyone from Kick.
Giving in to curiosity, he peered around the doorframe. He had to get a look at the man behind the sexy voice. His breath caught, and he almost groaned again, this time in resignation. Really?
The guy was damn hot. And built. He was slouched in the bedside chair, black T-shirt hugging muscled biceps and chest. One leg was bent, ankle resting on his knee to show heavy black boots beneath worn jeans.
His dark hair hung in shaggy layers that brushed his brow and curled around his ears. His focus was intent on the e-reader, which he braced on his raised knee. Words eased out from between dark red lips that moved effortlessly around the erotic text he was reading. Sensual lips Grady could envision wrapped around his dick.
Christ. He didn’t need that picture in his head, but it was damn better than the nightmares that’d haunted him since the accident.
The man’s rugged demeanor pinged all of Grady’s buttons, yet the sight before him didn’t match the image he had of a submissive. Not even close. Now a Dom . . .
Desire raged hot and spearing from his chest to his groin. Fuck no. He wasn’t going there. Plus, he had no right being interested in a guy who was probably involved with his cousin. Especially when Finn was laid out on the bed between them—because of Grady.
Like the guy would even want him after he figured that out. It didn’t matter anyway. Grady wanted nothing to do with the Dom/sub shit. Period.
Live, learn, and most important, don’t repeat past mistakes.
With a shake of his head, he shoved his lust back and stepped into the room. Lurking in the hallway was avoidance, and he wasn’t adding chicken to his list of faults.
“Hey,” Grady said, his throat protesting the sound.
The guy snapped his head up, eyes wide before he slowly stood. “Hi.” His welcoming smile shot another dose of lust through Grady. Of fucking course. “Can I help you?”
“What are you doing here?” Grady asked, voice sharper than intended. But what if this guy was an over-attached sub? He couldn’t—wouldn’t—assume anything, not when Finn was unable to protect himself.
“Reading.” The calm response was tempered with a lift of his brow. He raised the e-reader, nodding toward it to reinforce the obvious. “I volunteer on this floor. I read to comatose patients.” He motioned toward Finn. “I cleared it with the nurses first.”
This was the volunteer a nurse had mentioned to Grady? He recalled the brief conversation where he’d approved the interaction, but once again, his mental image had been way wrong. This was not the lonely retiree filling empty hours reading to non-responsive patients that he’d envisioned.
“Is there a problem?” the guy asked. He crossed his arms over his chest, which drew attention to the muscles that bulged under each shirt sleeve. “Wait.” He dropped his arms, a rueful smile in place. “I’m sorry.” He stepped around the bed and held out his hand. “I’m Micah Swaine. I should’ve introduced myself right away.”
Grady shook Micah’s hand, the firm grip seeming to pull him forward. He was suddenly very conscious of his sweaty, disheveled appearance. He probably stunk too, but he resisted the urge to sniff his pits to check.
“Grady Kelley,” he managed to say. “I’m Finn’s cousin.” His gaze went to the still man in the bed. His heart stuttered and clenched like it did every time he saw his vital, strong cousin looking so . . . weak. He wet his lips and searched for something to say.
“He’s strong,” Micah said, his voice lowered to an almost reverent tone. “He’ll pull through. You have to believe that.”
The concern and sincerity in the words had Grady jerking around to eye him. “Do you know Finn?” Accusation crept into his voice and he straightened his spine, tension tightening through his shoulder blades. Maybe this guy was a creepy stalker and not just a volunteer.
Micah took a step back, his chuckle probably meant to diffuse. Grady refused to let it work no matter how it rumbled over him to tug at his desire.
“I do,” Micah admitted. “But we were more acquaintances than friends.” He glanced at the bed. “Finn visits the club where I bartend. That’s all. It was pure coincidence that I recognized him when he was admitted.”
“Coincidence. Right.” Grady dragged his hand through his damp hair and weighed the validity of the guy’s explanation.
“I can grab a nurse if you don’t believe me.” Micah moved past Grady to head toward the door.
Shit. He was being an ass. “Wait.” He grabbed Micah’s arm to stop his exit. “It’s cool.” He’d definitely be checking with the nurse’s station when he left though.
Unintentionally, he noted the firm bicep under his grip, the slightly woodsy scent of Micah’s deodorant. His dick responded before he’d even logged the effect Micah was having on his system. What the hell? He dropped his hand and strode to the far side of the bed. Popping a woody in tight running shorts would be impossible to hide.
And fucking inappropriate given the circumstances.
Finn lay so still, dead like. He strained to see the slight rise and fall of Finn’s chest, his own breath easing out when he caught the movement. “Is this guy keeping you entertained?” he asked his cousin. Not that Finn would respond. He quirked a smile. “He seems to know what you’d like to hear.” Which made him think. He frowned at Micah. “Where did you say you worked?”
Micah lifted his chin. “I bartend at Dane’s.” His eyes narrowed, dark brows drawing down to challenge Grady. The man’s intimidation factor would make him a great bouncer—or Dom. The idea of struggling beneath all that power had him choking back another errant groan. Fucking . . . No!
The silence stretched into uncomfortable. Was Micah waiting for him to make a derogatory remark about the gay leather bar? He avoided that scene, unlike many of the guys from Kick, but he also didn’t give a shit what anyone did of their own free will.
“So you’re what? A . . .” He scanned Micah. “Sub?” He knew damn well that a man’s size didn’t determine his nature, but he still couldn’t wrap his mind around Micah being a submissive.
Micah’s brows winged up before he barked out a harsh laugh. “No. I’m not a Dom either,” he quickly clarified. “I just work there.”
“And you read to incapacitated patients because you’re bored?”
“Wrong again.” Micah sighed, annoyance tugging at his lips. “If you have a problem with who I am, what I do, or what I’m reading to Finn, just say it.”
“Shit. I’m sorry.” He was being an ass again. He couldn’t imagine there were a lot of people willing to work with patients with head injuries. Even something as simple as reading aloud was a time commitment.
He gave his hair another harsh scrub that managed to send a few drops of water down his nape. A hot shower sounded like heaven. Interrupting his run to stop in on Finn didn’t feel so brilliant anymore.
“So why do you volunteer?” he asked. It was the last thing Grady would think of doing with his time.
“I like to.” Micah shrugged, but the dismissive gesture was stiff. Then the tension bled from his posture in a flow of lowered shoulders and slack arms. “The truth? I have some experience with being in a coma.”
“Christ. Sorry.” He winced around the guilt that pierced his chest. He’d assumed the worst about Micah without even considering the guy might have honest motivations. Or a real reason for doing what he did. “I’m an ass and you’re a saint.”
“Believe me.” Heat smoldered in Micah’s eyes before he blinked and shifted his focus to Finn. “I’m definitely not a saint.”
Well damn. That was a look Grady should definitely ignore, only his dick was putting in a really good argument on why he shouldn’t.
“I need to get to work,” Micah said.
“Do you have a thing for Finn?”
“What?” Micah’s scowl showed exactly what he thought of Grady’s abrupt question. “No. Jesus. What’s your deal? I read books to comatose patients.” He waved his e-reader at Grady. “That doesn’t make me a lecherous creep.”
Of course it didn’t. “But you knew Finn before he was like this.” He continued to push, his past rearing up to cloud the present. Micah appeared to have good intentions, but Grady knew how dangerous it was to trust impressions. “Plus, your choice of reading material isn’t exactly tame. Do you read that kind of stuff to all the patients?”
Micah’s brows lowered even further, his contempt simmering out in waves that prickled over Grady’s skin. Their stare down twisted the knot in Grady’s stomach even tighter. He should back down and thank the guy for being here for Finn. Yet his mouth stayed shut.
“I’m giving you a pass,” Micah finally said. The flat tone of his voice left a sour taste in Grady’s mouth. “I know from experience that it’s not easy having a family member trapped in a coma.”
He dropped his gaze to Finn and picked up the TV remote. “It’s three o’clock in the afternoon.” His tone had changed back to the comforting cadence it’d held while reading. “How about the outdoor channel today, Finn? Maybe it’ll frustrate you enough to get the heck out of this bed.” His chuckle was deep and brief. “Yeah. I know it doesn’t work like that.” He lowered the TV volume a notch without acknowledging Grady. “The rain’s supposed to continue tomorrow, but that’s not a big surprise.” He set the remote down and squeezed Finn’s hand. “Keep working on getting those eyes to open. I’ll be back tomorrow. Same time. Later, dude.”
He spared a glance at Grady, turning toward the door.
Grady swallowed his antagonism and called out to Micah before he left the room. “Were you the one in the coma? Or was it a family member?”
Micah froze, shoulders lifting with his sharp inhale. He paused before slowly turning back to Grady, expression guarded. “It was me.”
“What happened?” Grady demanded, rushing on. “I mean, what happened to put you in a coma?”
The long silence that followed had him thinking Micah wasn’t going to answer. But then he shook his head, a half smile erasing the coldness. “I really have to go. I work from five until closing at the club if you want to talk more. I’ll leave your name at the door.”
Grady stiffened. Was that another challenge? Did the guy think he wouldn’t show up or did he assume since Finn was into that lifestyle he was too? “That’s really not my scene.”
“I serve drinks. That’s it.” Micah shrugged. “But I understand if the thought of a dungeon squigs you out.”
“It doesn’t,” he insisted, because it didn’t. But he sure as hell didn’t want this guy thinking he wanted to play. Fucking? Now he’d be all over that. “Will you answer my questions?”
Micah’s brow flicked up. “Will you answer mine?”
And when did this pissing contest start? He was sure it was his fault. Yet it was oddly the most fun he’d had since . . . shit. The accident.
“I’ll see you tonight.” His decision was made before he’d thought about it. Anything was better than another night in his too-quiet apartment. The bottle of Scotch that’d been his friend for the last three weeks was getting old and redundant.
Micah tipped his head and left without another word. The energy in the room seemed to go with him, and Grady dropped into the chair Micah had been using.
“What the hell?” His mind reeled, regrets already mounting. He shouldn’t have antagonized the guy. He should’ve declined his offer. He should’ve refused to meet at the leather bar. He should’ve . . . steered the raft more to the right and missed the damn log.
And should’ves wouldn’t solve a damn thing.
He stared at Finn, the TV droning in the background. What did Micah know about coma patients that he hadn’t already heard or researched?
As the responsible agent on Finn’s medical directive—and the only relative who apparently cared about him—Grady had talked to more people than he could count regarding comas. From doctors to therapists, to psychologists, to nonprofit organizations for families of coma victims. Add that to the overload of data he’d hunted down on the Internet and he didn’t know if he could handle any more information.
Especially when there’d been a unanimous agreement on one thing: all patients were different and no one could accurately pinpoint Finn’s outcome or state while he was comatose.
Could Micah really have anything new for Grady? Hope, maybe? A clue? A fuck?
His burst of laughter was filled with the bitterness that threatened to drown him. If Micah could fuck away the self-loathing and guilt that festered within him, he’d willingly offer his ass to the guy. Only he didn’t believe in magic pills or fucks.
Sex was an escape. And he sure as hell didn’t deserve an escape, not when Finn was trapped in a dark hell—because of him.