Hiya guys! We have Erin McLellan stopping by today with her new release Life on Pause, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant giveaway, so guys check out the post and leave a comment to enter the giveaway! <3 ~Pixie~
Life on Pause
Niles Longfellow is a nerd, and not the trendy type of nerd, either. He wears a historically accurate homesteader costume to work every day, has a total of one friend, and doesn’t know how to talk to guys. So when he gets a flat tire and the hottest hipster ever stops to help him, all Niles can think is that he’s wearing his stupid cowboy getup. Normally, Niles feels invisible to other men, but he’d take that invisibility any day over Rusty Adams seeing him in suede and fringe.
Rusty moved to Bison Hills to help his sister raise her daughter, and nothing is more important to him than that. He’s also fresh off a breakup, and isn’t prepared for anything complicated. But then he meets Niles. Rusty sees Niles as more than a clumsy, insecure guy in a costume. He sees a man who is funny, quirky, and unexpected.
Nothing about their connection is simple, though, especially the lies and insecurities between them. Niles doesn’t know if he can trust Rusty with his heart, and when Rusty’s sister decides to move away, Rusty doesn’t know if he can stay behind.
Welcome to the Life on Pause blog tour! Follow along as I stop off at several blogs this week to learn more about this small town m/m romance, which follows a nerdy museum worker and a high school choir teacher as they watch way too much sci-fi on Netflix, wear ridiculous historical costumes, and fall in love.
Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a $20 Riptide Publishing gift card!
For the first time in five years, Niles had forgotten a change of clothes for after work, so he was still dressed like a poor man’s Buffalo Bill Cody.
He cranked up NPR, tried to ignore the chafing of his wool trousers and chaps, and tossed his wide-billed lawman hat into the backseat. It landed on the dirty workout clothes from his morning spin class.
He could have put those clothes back, but they smelled like balls. Really, the whole car smelled like balls.
Niles rolled the window down, hoping to blow away the stench—he liked balls but not that much—and the aftertaste of his hellacious day.
Work had sucked. He should know better than to let Denny get to him. That big, dumb redneck always spouted shit and tried to undermine Niles in front of the kids he supervised—Niles had gotten used to the giggles of the teenage docents following him out of a room, but Denny had never done it in front of museum guests before, until today.
Heat throbbed behind Niles’s eyes, and he swiped at them angrily, which meant the fringe on his sleeves lashed his cheek and neck. He normally managed to keep his emotions in check in front of people, but he enjoyed a good cry every now and then. Like when he was reading the scene where Dobby dies or watching any dog movie ever. Or when he was embarrassed by a bully from high school, despite graduating from that godforsaken nightmare almost ten years ago.
That was normal, right?
Niles’s mom would have said that Denny was nothing but an insecure jerk who never grew up, and if his dad could still talk, he would have said that Denny was a racist. Denny might be both of those things, but Niles was pretty sure Denny picked on him because he was a homophobe.
What exactly had Denny said to that old couple with their grandkids in tow?
“Tomorrow’s storyteller is better. More believable, you know?”
And that didn’t really sound too bad, but it had been the tone of Denny’s voice, as if Niles wasn’t believable because he wasn’t rugged or big or manly. And Richard, a volunteer and retired cattle roper who handled Living History of the Plains on Wednesdays, was A Man. With capital letters.
Niles had thought about going to the Director of Bushyhead Homestead about Denny’s comment. Janice had hired Niles straight out of college, and she was the closest thing to a mentor he had. But Janice wouldn’t do jack-shit besides tell Denny, again, to stop being an asshole, and that would have only made it worse.
It didn’t help that Niles wasn’t exactly a convincing prairie homesteader, even in the historical getup. He was too tall, too thin, and too weird. But he was a decent actor, and a good teacher, and he knew his shit. He knew how to tan a hide, and clean a deer, and churn butter, and milk a cow, and make a million different things from buffalo chips. This land was his heritage, for fuck’s sake. And Janice always said that he was the best Director of Education Bushyhead Homestead had managed to keep in twenty years, but none of that mattered in the face of Denny’s put-downs. That one sentence earlier had reduced Niles to the insecure teenager he so desperately wanted to leave behind.
The sun had started to sink below the tree line, and that perfect sunset glow spread over the hay fields on either side of the road. The tips of the grass blazed golden from the last dredges of sunlight, and the dusky sky tinged the trees pink. In an hour, lightning bugs would descend like fairy lights from heaven, and Niles would sit on the front porch of his parents’ house and eat dinner all alone. And he was okay with that.
As long as he could get out of this stupid outfit and take a shower to wash off this awful day before he had to interact with another human being, he would be okay with just about anything.
He was almost to the four-way stop before his driveway when his car suddenly pitched a little to the right. He braked hard, and at that exact moment, one of his back tires blew and shredded apart.
Of fucking course.
* * * * * * *
Rusty glanced at his rearview mirror to see his niece, Margo, in the backseat. Every day after school, Margo was bussed over from the Early Childhood Education Center to the high school where she hung out in his classroom until he was ready to leave, because his sister, Jacqueline, didn’t get off work in time to pick her up. Most days, Rusty and Margo returned to his apartment above the antique store on Main Street, and he tried to be a good pseudo-parent by feeding her healthy food. But on Tuesdays, they ate at Lupe’s because he couldn’t be good all the time and little girls deserved chocolate empanadas every once in a while.
Todd, Rusty’s accompanist at school and recent ex-boyfriend, used to be part of their routine. Margo didn’t quite understand why Uncle Todd now only gave her a hug when she arrived at his classroom and left without going to dinner with them. She didn’t get that Rusty wasn’t part of Todd’s routine anymore. Now a beautiful twink from Tulsa was the center of Todd’s world, and Rusty was the ex Todd had to work with.
Every. Single. Day.
Margo was playing with a plastic panda bear figurine but her eyes were droopy, and an unearthly pang tugged at Rusty’s chest. It was the same pang he’d first experienced when Jackie had handed him a baby Margo and asked him to sing her to sleep. He still sang to her when he was around at bedtime. It was their thing. And Margo was a girl after his own heart. She loved Johnny Cash and Ella Fitzgerald and show tunes, and he loved her like his heart would split to pieces because of her smile.
The road to Jackie’s duplex, which was outside of Bison Hills proper, was normally empty, but today there was a tiny, old Mazda kicking up dust in front of him. He began to brake at a four-way stop and watched as one of its tires stripped completely off and the rubber went flying. The little car wobbled like a top losing momentum, but the driver managed to wrangle it into control and pull the car to a stop.
Then the driver of the Mazda dropped his head to the steering wheel.
There was nothing for miles except homes and farms, and cell service was notoriously bad in this area. Rusty hoped the man had a donut or a spare.
“Margo,” he said, turning in his seat to look directly at her. She glanced up at him. “I’m going to help this person in front of us, okay? He has a flat tire. I’ll roll the window down, so if you need me, all you’ll need to do is yell. Is that all right with you?”
She nodded, so he opened several of the windows and then got out to help the man.
He approached the car, stepping over pieces of shredded tire, but when he reached the driver’s side, the guy didn’t roll down the window. Instead, he simply stared at Rusty through the glass with wide eyes before putting his head back on the steering wheel. It was a little alarming.
“Hey, you okay?” Rusty asked through the glass. All he’d seen before the man had put his head down was wavy black hair and big dark-as-pitch eyes. The driver reached for his door handle, so Rusty stepped back to give him room to get out.
But he was in no way prepared for the man who unfolded himself from the car. The driver’s height alone was impressive, but all in all, the least noteworthy thing about him.
“Yee haw,” Rusty choked, and the driver—completely decked out in suede and fringe and boots and a Western shirt—glared at him, so Rusty schooled his expression. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” the driver gritted out before he kicked the rim of his shredded tire.
“Where’s your hat?” Rusty couldn’t help but ask.
“Backseat,” the man said dully.
This cowboy was tall and gangly, especially in his costume. God, Rusty hoped it was a costume and not, like, his normal clothing. The guy almost had a broody thing going, with tan skin and hair that fell into his eyes, but dark freckles on his nose and cheeks completely countered any mileage he might get out of his pensive-poet appearance. They made him seem young and innocent.
“I’m Rusty,” he said, his hand extended for a shake. The other driver placed a thin, long-boned hand into his, and the rough calluses against Rusty’s palm surprised him. Maybe this guy was a real cowboy. “Do you need help?”
The man wouldn’t meet his eyes, and he fidgeted with the fringe on his sleeves. “I’m okay. I just need to get the donut on. I live close by.”
Rusty was surprised. His gaydar was pinging pretty hard, and he thought he’d met most every queer guy in a forty-mile radius. It wasn’t like there were a ton of options here. Besides Todd. Grindr was a veritable wasteland in Bison Hills.
“What’s your name, man?” Rusty prompted.
“Oh!” the guy said, as if he’d only now realized that he hadn’t given it. “Niles Longfellow. I’m sorry. I’m a little . . . flabbergasted.”
“‘Flabbergasted’?” Rusty repeated with a teasing laugh. What a vocabulary!
Color rose up on the man’s—on Niles’s—cheeks. His chin hitched higher, though, and he flipped that adorable forelock out of his eyes.
“Uncle Russell!” Margo called from the back of Rusty’s car.
“Hold on a second,” Rusty said before he jogged over to get Margo. He turned the car off and helped her down, and they walked back to the Mazda.
Niles was putting the emergency brake and hazards on, and when he stepped back out of the car, Margo squeaked, “A pioneer!”
He smiled at her, seemingly comfortable for the first time since Rusty had started speaking to him, and then he crouched down to be at her eye level.
“That’s right. At my job, I pretend to be one of Oklahoma’s early homesteaders, so I wear this silly outfit. It looks pretty strange now though, huh?”
Everything clicked into place. Rusty knew there was some kind of homestead museum in the area. In fact, when he’d moved from Oklahoma City out here to the boonies with Jackie, he’d told his friends, “It’s not the total sticks. They have a museum.” Of course, he hadn’t mentioned that the museum was just an old farm.
Margo had evidently used up all of her sociability for the day because she shrank back into Rusty’s side. Niles stood up, and Rusty was very aware of how he had to tip his head back to see Niles’s face.
An unsolicited lick of heat wound through Rusty as he imagined what that lanky man would look like spread out below him or behind him or, really, anywhere with him. He probably shouldn’t imagine strangers naked—it wasn’t exactly polite—but not every queer man he met had such long legs.
“You don’t need to stick around. I know how to change a tire.” Accusation colored Niles’s voice, as if Rusty had insinuated he didn’t. “And I’m literally a hundred yards from home.” Niles pointed to a house up the road.
Rusty smiled at him, and Niles’s blush deepened, making his freckles harder to see in the decreasing daylight.
“Let me help you. We’re losing sun here, and I don’t want you to have to do it in the dark. It’s easier with two people.”
Niles stared down at his cowboy boots and nodded.
“Great!” Rusty exclaimed, and then bit the inside of his cheek. He could hear his sister’s teasing voice in his head. Sounding thirsty there, Russell. “Let me get Margo set back up in the car, and then we’ll get you taken care of.”
He turned to Margo, and she glared at him suspiciously, like he was about to cut her out of something fun.
“Sugar pea, I’ll let you watch whatever you want on my iPad until I get done helping Mr. Longfellow, if you don’t mind staying in the car. Sound like a sweet deal to you?”
“The Simpsons?” she asked.
He groaned. “Deal, but don’t tell your mom.”
Rusty could have sworn he heard Niles laugh softly behind him as he led Margo back to his car, and wished he had been watching Niles’s face to see it.
When he lifted Margo into her seat, she whispered, “I liked his bandana.”
He winked at her. “Me too, bean sprout. I’ll be back.”
Once Margo was buckled into the booster seat with her window down and the air conditioner on, Rusty returned to the poor Mazda.
Niles already had the car jacked up and the remnants of the tire pulled off. Rusty simply provided an extra pair of hands because Niles definitely knew what he was doing. He changed a tire like a pit boss.
Lightning bugs started to flicker around them, and a black cricket landed on Rusty’s boat shoe. Before he could even flinch, Niles flicked the cricket away and continued to change the tire as if it were nothing.
And something about that was unexpectedly sexy.
“Do you live in town?” Niles asked suddenly.
“Yeah. I have for four years now. I moved out here with my sister after she had Margo.”
“Ah,” Niles said. “I wondered why I didn’t recognize you. I mean, it’s not that weird that I haven’t seen you before. I’m not exactly a social butterfly or anything. I kind of suck at social, actually. But I know all the townies. Townies know each other, you know? And I’m sure I’ve never seen you before.” He bit his lip and ducked his head shyly before lowering the jack.
“I haven’t really met a ton of people since moving here,” Rusty said. “Just coworkers and my sister’s friends, most of whom have four-year-olds.”
“Where do you work?”
“I’m the choir director for the middle school and high school at Bison Hills.”
Niles hand-tightened the lug nuts, and Rusty tracked his long, nimble fingers. He had a thing for hands, and he liked the way Niles fluttered his when flustered, which had been pretty much the whole time they’d been on the side of the road.
Once Niles was done, Rusty stood up and reached down to give him a boost. When he pulled him up, Niles lost his balance and their shoulders bumped.
“Gah! I’m sorry,” Niles squeaked.
Rusty glanced down at their hands to see their skin touching. The delicate bones of Niles’s hand against Rusty’s baseball-mitt palm. The difference in their skin tones. But then Niles jerked his hand away with an embarrassed squawk.
“I’m sorry,” Niles said again. He took a step back, tripped over the shredded tire, and fell against the side of his car.
Rusty decided it was about time for him to disappear before he made Niles any more uncomfortable, but then Niles laughed—a sad, barbed little laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.
“Dude, you would not believe the day I’ve had.” Niles slumped against his car. “I thought the worst part of my day was a douche-hat coworker talking bad about me to museum patrons. I wasn’t prepared for this disaster.”
“Hey, I think this was a pretty successful tire change, Niles. I mean, you did most of the work, and I stood around like eye candy. I call that ‘being productive.’ Now I don’t feel guilty about spending the rest of the night watching Netflix.” He smiled at Niles, and Niles returned it, all hesitant and shy. The guy’s historical getup was dusty from the road, like he’d come from a cattle drive—if it were a cattle drive of over-tall twinks—and Rusty was tempted to help him brush it all off.
Niles gathered up his tools and the flat tire and put everything in his trunk. It was time to go, but Rusty didn’t want to waste an opportunity here. At the very least, Niles was a man who was his age, and it would be nice to actually have a friend who wasn’t one of the women Jackie worked with at the salon or a parent of Margo’s classmates. Or Todd.
“Maybe I’ll see you around, Niles? You ever go to O’Donnell Ducks?” It was the only bar in Bison Hills and within walking distance of Rusty’s apartment.
“Uh, no. Ducks isn’t exactly my thing. Remember? No social butterfly here.” Niles toed at the dirt around his tire for a couple of pregnant seconds. The rejection hit Rusty like a kick to his shins. He took a few steps back and opened his mouth to say goodbye, but then Niles glanced up at him, rubbing the back of his neck.
“It was nice to meet you, Russell,” he whispered.
And the way Niles said his full name, all soft and sweet, made Rusty wish he’d get to hear it again.
Read more: https://riptidepublishing.com/titles/life-on-pause (just click the excerpt tab)
Erin McLellan writes contemporary romance, often set in the South or Midwest—particularly Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas—with characters that are complex, good-hearted, and sometimes a little quirky. Erin likes her stories to have a sexy spark and a happily ever after.
Erin has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of Oklahoma. She has always enjoyed writing, but becoming a librarian and meeting enthusiastic romance readers helped her find her own writing passion. Now Erin cheerfully writes romance with characters across the LGBTQIA spectrum. A former public librarian, she still enjoys being surrounded by books and readers, but Erin hopes to find her stories on the shelves as well.
Originally from Oklahoma, she currently lives in Alaska with her husband, and spends her time dreaming up love stories set in the Great Plains. She is a lover of chocolate, college sports, antiquing, Dr Pepper, and binge-worthy TV shows.
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