LGBTQ+ Romance Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

(tw: language, references to abuse)

ADVERTISEMENT: Retired army officer, thirty-eight, of moderate means and quiet demeanor, wishes to marry. Seeking a woman who is sensible, compassionate, and capable of managing a mansion in rural Michigan. Serious inquiries call/text Arnold Snider, number below.


Reese Middleton crossed the floor of the crowded taproom, his duffel bag slung over trembling shoulders. The Silver Lagoon Inn was a 1700s plantation-now-hotel offering a romantic setting against unmatched views of Lake Michigan. He could feel wandering eyes on him as he navigated his way to the bartender—some curious, others critical.

His phone chimed. He suppressed the heart palpitations and tingling in his chest, then silenced the device.

To look presentable, he covered himself from neck to toe underneath a blazer, a buttoned up collared shirt, a fine knit sweater, a pair of well-fitted trousers, and lace-up shoes. Though he wasn’t looking for romance—it wasn’t every day one met their future husband.

“Can I help you?” asked the bartender.

Reese cleared his throat. “Yes.” Tightening his grip on the strap of his bag, he approached the high counter.

A tall man leaned against the end, swirling a glass of whiskey on the rocks. He wore a dark wool greatcoat, which shrouded his lean muscular frame. A fur bomber hat and upturned collar hid his face.

Reese squeezed onto the empty stool beside him, then lowered his voice. “I’m here to see Mr. Snider.”

“What?” asked the bartender, leaning in. Shouts from the dining room thwarted Reese’s hopes for discretion.

“I was supposed to meet someone here at two o’clock. Arnold Snider.” Reese felt the tall man beside him stiffen, but he ignored it. “Is he still here?”

“Another one for Snider, eh?” The bartender looked him up and down. “You’re not like the others.”

Reese’s chest tightened. Already a quarter past three, the odds were against his favor. After all, the advertisement had specifically asked for a lady.

“Have there been others?”

The bartender nodded. “Snider’s with the last one now.”

The last one? Snider had given him the impression that he was the only one interested. And even if he wasn’t, what sort of person interviewed potential spouses like it was for a job at Walmart?

“Look,” Reese said, clenching his hands into fists, “I’ve come a really long way. I need to meet with him.”

“You and every other eligible bachelorette in Michigan,” the bartender said behind a chuckle.

The man beside him finished his whiskey in one gulp, then slammed the glass on the counter. “I’ll take him to Snider.”

Reese opened his mouth to thank the kind stranger, but the words died on his lips when he looked up at the man standing in front of him.

Severe burns, limited to the bottom left side of his face, started at his cheek and traveled further down below the collar of his shirt. The rest of his semblance—though stern—was unmarked. The man’s shadow engulfed Reese as he stared, every inch of him imposing. Yet with jet-black hair and iridescent blue eyes, he was devastatingly handsome.

Reese blinked, then offered a tentative smile. “Thanks.”

The man glared. “This way.”

Reese steadied his duffel bag as he followed, his heart racing underneath labored breaths. He hoped he would not vomit before the interview.

The tall man knocked on the door to a private suite. A gray-haired fellow in a tuxedo opened it, peered up at the gentleman, frowned, then looked at Reese with furrowed brows.

“Mr. Snider?” Reese asked.

“Reese Middleton?” Snider asked, his voice flat.

“Yes. I know I’m super late…”

A woman stepped in between them with her lips pinched into a thin line.

“Oh…” Reese stifled a sigh. Any hope he’d nurtured over the last couple of weeks had been crushed. “You’ve already found someone.”

The tall man grunted, then shoved past the three of them to enter the room. He removed his hat and coat, then sat by the crackling fire in the hearth.

The woman rolled her eyes. “Arnold!” she hissed. “I thought you were looking for a wife.”

Snider rubbed a hand over his face. “So did I, until about ten seconds ago…”

Reese hadn’t heard the rest of their conversation. His thoughts ran in circles around his head. He’d been an idiot to think this would ever work. He should have known better, sparing himself from false hope and broken dreams.

He mumbled an apology, fighting against the blurred vision and the sting between his eyes as he turned away from the door.

“Mr. Middleton?” Snider called after him. “Have you changed your mind?”

To his surprise, the lady was gone.

Snider stood alone in the hallway. “Have a seat.” He gestured into the room.

The mysterious man sat by the fire and ruffled a newspaper, unconcerned with what was happening.

Snider seated himself at a small dining table, in front of a laptop and a yellow notepad. “How was the train from Chicago?”

“It’s… the reason I’m late. I was waiting on the wrong platform. By the time I realized there was only one line into town, I had to wait for an Uber willing to drive a hundred miles.”

Snider scrolled the wheel of his mouse. Reese wondered if he was even paying attention.

“Here we are. Your official application.” He perused with a frown.

“Something wrong?”

“For starters, you’re a man named Reese.”

“My mother loved Reese Witherspoon. Is that a problem?”

“The advertisement specifically calls for a lady.”

“Did you just assume my gender? Because that’s offensive.”

“Do you mean to tell me you identify as a woman?”

Reese shrugged. “Depends on the day.”

The man by the fire coughed into a handkerchief, perhaps to stifle a laugh.

“This isn’t Chicago, Mister Middleton. Mr. Fitzgerald’s house is isolated. In the middle of nowhere. He seeks a wife who—”

“Who’s Mister Fitzgerald?” Reese asked.

Snider huffed. “My employer. The man who placed the advertisement. I’m simply his butler.”

Reese fidgeted with his Rolex. Snider hadn’t placed the ad? He pushed the thought to the back of his mind. If he needed to impress this stuffy old man to get to his future husband, then so be it.

“… someone to manage his home. See to his… comforts. A sturdy, capable woman.”

Reese pursed his lips. “I can do all of those things.”

“Mr. Fitzgerald doesn’t want a starry-eyed girl—or boy—who dreams of dinner soirées and fairytale endings. A marriage with such a vacuous creature would be disastrous.”

Reese tilted his head. “You know nothing about me. If I wanted lavish parties and the fake ‘happily-ever-afters’ manufactured by Disney, I’d never have answered the advertisement. Which, by the way, is completely bonkers.” He held up his phone. “Nobody reads the paper anymore.”

Snider adjusted his collar. “What do you want out of this arrangement, Mister Middleton?”


Snider narrowed his eyes. “Beg your pardon?”

“The ad said Mr. Fitzgerald was a soldier. I need someone to keep me safe.”


Jordan Fitzgerald cast another brooding glance at the pale, blonde-haired man sitting across from Snider.

He was nothing like the two sturdy widows Snider had interviewed earlier in the morning. Those women had been more in line with what the advertisement specified. I have no interest in romance, he had said to Snider. I need a woman to run this fucking mess of a mansion. A lady to share my bed with, once in a while. I didn’t survive six years in Iraq so I could live like a priest.

He folded his paper and stood from the chair. “I’ll take it from here, Snider.”

Reese lifted his gaze, realizing who Fitzgerald was—and looked at him in that same odd way he had in the bar when he first saw the burns.

Mister Middleton,” Snider said, “may I present Jordan Fitzgerald?”

Reese stood and offered his hand for a shake. It was small and slim. “Mr. Fitzgerald.”

“Call me Fitz.” He took Snider’s chair and waited for his butler to remove himself to the other side of the suite before fixing his gaze on his prospective bri—hus—partner.

Reese cleared his throat. “Fitz.” He looked young despite the worry lines on his forehead. A little too thin, too pale. But his sharp features were appealing, and when his tawny eyes lit with indignation, he was striking.

Fitzgerald could not be bothered with contemporary men’s fashion, but one didn’t have to know the difference between a sports blazer and a suit coat to recognize what Reese wore was of the finest quality. Even the tiny buttons of his jacket and the fashionable belt secured to his waist appeared to have been custom-tailored.

Next to Reese, the clothes he’d chosen to wear felt cheap and third rate, akin to a Neanderthal.

“Sorry for the bait and switch,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not the kind of man people want to find on the other side of a marriage ad.”

“Says the man who placed said ad.” Reese tilted his head. “Is it because of your burns?”

The blunt response sent a rush of adrenaline through his body. “Don’t act like you had no reaction when you saw me earlier.”

“What did you expect?” Reese asked in a sharp tone. “Yas kween?”

“Cut the crap.”

Reese rubbed the back of his neck. “I was… surprised. Not because of your burns.” His cheeks flushed. “You’re… massive.”

His chest tightened. Fitzgerald was unsure how to interpret the blushing—or the other remark. Communication had never been his strength. For God's sake, he placed an advertisement for a bride. He was much more comfortable with a weapon in his hand and the crack of gunfire, not the subtle pleasantries expected from modern society. He wondered if he would be too rough for Reese. Too coarse, and too vulgar, among a host of other negative traits. He imagined holding Reese, his smaller frame completely engulfed by the embrace. What might that feel like?

No. Fitzgerald broke himself out of his head. “You prefer someone shorter?”

“I didn’t know what to expect.” Reese jutted his chin towards the hearth. “Until five minutes ago, I thought the advertisement was for Arnold Snider.”


Reese folded his arms over his chest. “Relieved.”

A strangled cough escaped from the other side of the room, followed by a silence covered by the ticking time bomb of an analog clock hanging on the wall.

“Did it happen while you were in Iraq?”

He nodded. “Would you still have come, had you known?”

“About your burns?” Reese pinched his lips together. “My older brother served. Lost a leg, but he’s the kindest soul I know. There’s more to people than what you see with your eyes.”

Fitzgerald allowed his gaze to drift over Reese’s face, taking in every feature: porcelain skin, the harsh edges of cheekbones that complemented his sharp tongue, and the sensual bow of his upper lip. He craved more of the hunger brooding in the depths of his stomach.

“The burns and scars you can’t see are much worse.”

“I believe you.”

“Not the obligatory ‘I’m sorry?’” He was hard-pressed to conceal a grimace. “You may not feel so agreeable when my scarred body is fucking your warm hole in our marriage bed.”

From his place across the room, Snider emitted a strangled yelp.

Fitzgerald ignored his butler, instead fixing his attention on the blush that crept from Reese’s neck up to his face. He half expected the prim and proper nobleman to stand up and leave.

“Are you purposefully trying to scare me away? You’re the one who placed the ad in the newspaper.”

“Maybe I am,” Fitzgerald said. “Because you have no idea what you’re getting into.”

“I know exactly what I’m getting from this transaction. Why else would I have gone through all the trouble? If you don’t want to marry me, just tell me and I’ll get out of here.”

Fitzgerald leaned back in his chair. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”

Reese caught his breath, the sound unmistakable.

“Have you broken the law?”

“What? No—”

“HIV? Monkeypox?”

His face exploded with fire as Reese’s hand collided with his cheek. He couldn’t take the words back, and his conscience squirmed. His heart sank—the disappointment in himself exquisitely painful.

“You’re trembling,” Fitzgerald said.

Reese picked up his duffel bag from the floor. “And you’re an asshole. I should have known better than to come all this way and make a fool of myself. If you’ve decided I don’t suit you—”

“You suit me, Reese.” Try as he might, Fitzgerald could not deny it. Unconventional, perhaps, but Reese was uncommonly handsome. He’d been physically attracted to him the moment he stood beside him in the bar. Which, on its own, wouldn’t have been enough. He’d had plenty of ass in the army, regardless of what was attached to it. But there was something else about Reese. Something lost and vulnerable, yet oddly courageous. It roused his curiosity, as well as his protective instincts.

Reese exhaled a breath. “Do we have a deal, then?” His soft hazel eyes glistened with what appeared to be tears of relief.

“As long as you meet your end of the bargain.”

Reese intensified his gaze. “And you meet yours.”

“That I keep you safe?”

“Above all else.”


Reese peered out of the window while he munched on peanuts from the snack bar in his room. From his vantage point, he could see into the parking lot below—relatively empty, except for the daytime drunks stumbling out before the dinner rush. He watched a while longer, expecting to see a black BMW pull up. He wondered how many days he had—a week, if he was lucky.

He exhaled a trapped breath, then undressed. He shrugged off his blazer and winced as he pulled the sweater over his head. Reese loosened the buttons of his shirt and stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom. The worst of them had faded to a yellowish purple. But the newer ones on his upper arms and wrists bloomed a deep black and midnight blue, sensitive to the touch. When a woman on the Chicago streets elbowed past him in a rush, the pain shredded through him like he was in a blender.

Fitzgerald’s hired maid brought him flowery-scented toiletries, but what he needed was ice. Lots of ice. A cold shower would have to do.

He didn’t know what he had expected Fitzgerald to be like. When Snider opened the door, he had resigned himself to an empty—yet safe—life. He hadn’t pictured the messy black hair, sun-bronzed skin, or the penetrating gaze. Fitzgerald resembled a barbarian more than a hero—broad shoulders, lean muscle, and strength.

But Fitzgerald was handsome. Strikingly so. Reese felt small and fragile in comparison. It wouldn’t take much for the soldier to break him in half.

His phone chimed, and Reese swallowed back a rising swell of acid. He couldn’t succumb to his fears, not after getting this far and risking so much. He’d been through worse. And his brother needed him. Alive.

A knock on the door sent shockwaves through him. Reese’s pulse quickened, ribcage pounding. Had Jameson—

“Pardon, ma’am, I mean, sir. Sorry.” The maid’s voice rang out. “The gentleman said to tell you they’ll be leaving soon.”

“Of course. Thank you.”

Reese changed into a fresh set of clothes, taking care to button the shirt up to his neck. Not that he expected Fitzgerald to hurt him. Underneath the rugged exterior, the retired army vet seemed kind. Fitzgerald was nothing like him, and that’s exactly what Reese needed.


“This is a catastrophe in the making,” Snider seethed. “Mark my words.”

Fitzgerald paced around the suite, only half listening to the ranting of his unhappy butler.

They had arranged a room for Reese at the inn. He was probably asleep. Or worse, escaped back to Chicago. The thought sent a jolt of electricity through him.

He wanted Reese. Badly. He’d been far too long without… anything. And Reese, with his soft gaze and slight frame, had triggered an overpowering ache inside of him. He could still smell the faint scent of Reese’s cologne lingering in the air—vanilla, bourbon, and lavender. It reminded him of balmy nights in Iraq.

“I’ll comb through the remaining applications,” Snider said. “When I find a suitable female—”

“Don’t bother,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve made my decision.”

Snider frowned. “Reese is not the kind of person you should associate with. For one thing, he’s too young.”

“Twenty-five wasn’t a problem when Reese was a she.”

“Yes, but—”

“Get the car. Time to go.” Fitzgerald waved towards the exit.

Snider stiffened, slamming the door behind him as he left.

Fitzgerald ran a hand through his hair. Truth be told, his butler had a point. He knew nothing of Reese. If he wished to marry well, he could’ve done far better than an ex-soldier with little fortune. There had to be a catch somewhere. If only—

A knock interrupted his thoughts.

“For fuck’s sake, Snider. I’m in no mood to argue with you.”

He swung the door open. And Reese was there, his warm gaze fixed upon Fitzgerald. How many men before him had been on the receiving end of that riveting stare?

Reese cleared his throat. “Fitz.” He reached out, his hand brushing against Fitzgerald’s face, tentative and gentle. It was the first time their bare skin had met, and its warmth held an intimacy that made him acutely aware of his heartbeat.

No, this wasn’t love at first sight. That was too cliche. Though he’d survived a tour in Iraq and paid the price, he’d never been disarmed like this. They were fighting a different war amidst a shared gaze, and something within Fitzgerald recognized Reese wasn’t the one who needed protection.

February 03, 2023 01:41

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Amanda Lieser
20:43 Feb 14, 2023

Hey JC! Ooohhh! You KNOW I’m a sucker for a soldier love story. And this one was beautifully written. I was intrigued by that very first interaction. I simply had to know more. And I loved the way you wrote the catchy dialogue, it felt like a banter straight off the screen. I even picked my favorite line from that dialogue: “My mother loved Reese Witherspoon. Is that a problem?” Although, serious hat tip to that one liner about how diverse Reese’s gender identity is. I think you played into a classic sorta idea of courtship that we have lo...


J.C. Lovero
13:00 Feb 17, 2023

Heya Amanda! Thanks for stopping by. You know how much I loves me a soldier story (now that I think about it, seems to be a trend for me lol). That's a nice little factoid about Beauty and the Beast. I had no idea! Hope all is well.


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Claire Gould
00:05 Feb 08, 2023

This is truly amazing and very captivating! Quit a well thought out story😊


J.C. Lovero
01:02 Feb 09, 2023

Thank you, Claire! I appreciate you taking the time to read it over.


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Lily Finch
05:30 Feb 04, 2023

J.C., These two have gone to desperate lengths to find one another as more of a business rather than a pleasing arrangement. Your diction and vivid images are just what a reader wants to see. Eg., When a woman on the Chicago streets elbowed past him in a rush, the pain shredded through him like he was in a blender. The ending brings us back to the title - very fitting in all things to do with lovers and living well. Hints at relationships becoming the next modern warfare? LF6


J.C. Lovero
12:37 Feb 04, 2023

Hey Lily! Thanks for reading and stopping by for a comment. "Arranged marriage" is a guilty pleasure I love to read, so I wanted to play with that a little bit here in what could happen in a modern sense (though it seems kinda silly for someone to post a wanted ad like this, but I haven't trolled Craigslist in quite some time, so who knows...) I do feel like we fight wars nowadays with words and social media, so this was a nod to that. Aaaaand, what's the statistic... 50% of marriages end in divorce? I think I read or heard that somewhere....


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Michał Przywara
21:38 Feb 03, 2023

The title is apt, because these two very much seem stuck, maybe as a consequence of circumstance. Both are kind of free floating and restless, which is why they do such extreme things as advertising for marriage, and answering the ad. "No, this wasn’t love at first sight." This is very true. The whole thing is initially thoroughly transactional, though they do seem to develop feelings afterwards. It reminds me of an arranged marriage, where the contract comes first, and only later, maybe, emotions. Perhaps they've lucked out. But perhaps...


J.C. Lovero
02:18 Feb 04, 2023

Always fun to read your take on the story. I definitely leaned on a sticky trope to shove these guys together. And I left a ton of open threads to give me some flexibility to explore in the future 😇 Great to hear from you! And congrats on your shortlist this week!


Michał Przywara
20:18 Feb 04, 2023

Thanks! Yeah, this story has a lot of hooks for expansion. The fact they just met is a beginning too :)


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Riel Rosehill
18:38 Feb 03, 2023

Heyy, what a fun read! Honestly, I could've read another ten pages of it. Highlights below: "Though he wasn’t looking for romance—it wasn’t every day one met their future husband." - This was where I thought, I like this Reese guy. Made me think we're in for a fun ride. (and I wasn't wrong) "And even if he wasn’t, what sort of person interviewed potential spouses like it was for a job at Walmart?" I mean, his advert sounded very much like "entitled man looking for unpaid housekeeper" LOL. I needed some time to adjust to the POV change, a...


J.C. Lovero
02:12 Feb 04, 2023

Ri Ri~ Thanks for stopping by the hermit hut! I had a feeling you would like Reese. Just the right amount of sassy to be a good time, am I right? Poor Snider was written as a source of comic relief. I couldn't help leaving him in the corner yelping at what was happening lol. I absolutely love your description of Fitz lol. He's definitely barbaric compared to the other characters I've written, but he was oh so much fun lol. Who knows where I'll bring these men next? 😆 😅 😂 🤣


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