Rabi and Matthew
A queer retelling of Romeo & Juliet, except no one has to bury their gays.
A decades-old family rivalry is reaching a boiling point as the patriarchs vie for a seat in Congress. Democrat vs Republican, Muslim vs Christian, Hashmi vs Swain — the Midwestern town of Arbor Hills is one spark away from an explosion of violence. So when two men find themselves irresistibly drawn together at a party, only to discover they were born on opposite sides of a bloody battle line, Matthew Swain and Rabi Hashmi know they should leave well enough alone.
The pull between them is magnetic, though, and it's too strong to ignore. Unable to resist, they meet again in secret. Generations of hatred can't temper the passionate love growing between them, but two men falling for each other in the middle of a war zone can't hold back the inevitable clash.
And when decades of political, religious, and personal strife finally come to a head, there will be blood.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Emotional abuse, explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Rabi Hashmi could not wait for this stupid election to be over. As he and his cousin Mustafa canvassed yet another neighborhood, reminding people to vote for his father, his feet hurt and he was just done. Completely done.
At the end of a driveway, Mustafa stopped. “I, uh, think we should probably skip this one.” He gestured at the lawn, and on it, the Bob Swain for US Senate sign.
“Good idea.” Rabi kept walking, his cousin on his heels, to the next house, which didn’t have any political signs out front or stickers on the minivan parked in the driveway. It was anyone’s guess, then, what their affiliation was. This wasn’t one of those explicitly red or blue neighborhoods, and it wasn’t unusual to find rabid pro-Swain and pro-Hashmi voters right next door to each other. That was the dividing line in the city of Arbor Hills these days. Not just red or blue, not just Republican or Democrat—Swain or Hashmi. As if the rivalry between the two families hadn’t caused enough tension for the last several decades.
Smart move, Dad. Run against a Swain for the Senate. That’ll stop the fighting for sure.
He rolled his eyes at his own thought. It would be pointless to try to talk his father out of it again. The election was just a few weeks away now, and millions of dollars—not to mention countless man hours—had been poured into the campaign. There was no turning back. Rabi just hoped that when the dust settled and the votes were counted, the results didn’t ignite violence. He hoped, but given the long and bloody history between the families, he wasn’t optimistic.
No one answered the door at the house with the minivan out front, so Rabi tucked an Emir Hashmi for US Senate flyer into the storm door and headed back down the driveway.
“You think there’s any point to this?” Mustafa scowled at the handful of flyers he was carrying. “Kinda seems like anyone who cares has already made up their mind.”
“I don’t know if it helps or not.” Rabi started up another driveway. “But Dad’s going to need every vote he can get, so we gotta do it.”
Mustafa grumbled something.
Before Rabi could respond, an engine revved, and he turned just as a diesel pickup stopped at the end of the driveway.
Derek Swain leaned out of the driver’s side window. “You boys lost?”
From the passenger side, his younger brother Nate called out, “Or did you lose your camel?”
Rabi forced his expression to stay neutral. His father had driven it into his head that everything a Hashmi did, every word they said, reflected on him, and being unprofessional in front of potential voters could cost votes. And hell, even if votes weren’t an issue, the last thing Rabi and Mustafa needed was a confrontation with a couple of Swains. Those never ended well for Hashmis.
Calmly, he said to Mustafa, “Come on,” and gestured for him to continue toward the next driveway.
Mustafa planted his feet, though, and smirked at the Swains. “Hey, while you assholes are here, is that hot cousin of yours still single? Because I’ve got—”
“Dude, shut up.” Rabi elbowed him hard and backed it up with a glare. “Really?”
Mustafa rolled his eyes.
“You touch a member of my family,” Derek snarled, stabbing a finger at Mustafa, “and that little fight we had in the locker room will be nothing compared to what’s coming to you.”
Mustafa started to speak, but another glare from Rabi made him shut his mouth. Rabi nodded sharply up the driveway.
“Hey!” Derek barked. “I’m talking to you, Hashmi. Stay away from my family.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Rabi said through his teeth.
Derek flipped him off. Mustafa returned it. Nate almost came unglued, and it looked like he was reaching for his door, but Derek put a hand on his chest and pulled him back.
Then the tires squealed and the truck was gone.
Immediately, Rabi whirled on his cousin. “What is wrong with you?”
“What?” Mustafa put up his hands. “Am I supposed to just take it when they—”
“Do you want shit to hit the fan? Huh? Because things are going to get ugly, and you’re not doing a whole lot to keep the peace.”
“‘Keep the peace’?” Mustafa snorted. “Please. Fuck that bunch of assholes.”
It was Rabi’s turn to roll his eyes. “For fuck’s sake.” He wasn’t going to explain—again—why it was fucking suicide for someone in their family to taunt someone from that family into violence. He shook his head and started walking again. “Let’s just get out of here. I’m done.”
Mustafa didn’t move. “We still have two blocks to canvas.”
“Yeah, and I don’t really feel like getting our asses beat because you can’t stop yourself from pissing on hornets’ nests.”
Mustafa protested, but Rabi ignored it. It was no wonder his cousin had been involved in an “altercation” with the Swain boys back in high school. He was hot-tempered, and he’d swallowed every drop of the anti-Swain poison they’d both been raised on. Rabi wondered if Mustafa even knew why the Hashmis and Swains hated each other so much. Or if anyone did anymore. The Swains were unapologetic racists, of course, but they devoted a disproportionate amount of their energy to hating the Hashmi family in particular, and no one really seemed to remember what had ignited that.
As if it mattered. The rivalry had existed for decades, fueled by every Hashmi misstep a Swain could use as an excuse for retaliation. If this race for a seat in Washington didn’t bring that fight to a head, Rabi didn’t know what would. He understood his dad’s political ambitions. Hell, he admired them, and anyway the last thing this state or country needed was another right-wing white supremacist in a position of power. But Dad running against him? That was asking for trouble. Just them running against each other for city council had been incendiary, but vying for a seat in the Senate? Actively campaigning and mud-slinging all over the state for the better part of a year? How was his father not asking for hell to rain down on every Hashmi within a hundred miles?
Maybe thinking that made Rabi a coward. Or maybe he was just too used to walking on eggshells because of his faith, his skin color, and his name. He was too scared to rock the boat. So maybe he was a coward, or maybe his father was reckless, but he didn’t see how this would end well. Not for their family.
His stomach knotted and he picked up speed toward his truck. The outcome of the election was up in the air, but deep in his heart, he knew that no matter who won, it was going to cause an explosion between the Swain and Hashmi families like no one had ever seen.
And he had no idea how to stop it.
Lying back on his bed, Matthew Swain was grateful to be done with yet another of his father’s campaign rallies, but he still felt like shit. That probably had less to do with the rally—God but this election was exhausting—and more to do with the pictures he kept thumbing through on his phone.
He’d been down and depressed all day, and now he was wallowing in it. One photo after another, he tortured himself with the man he couldn’t have and the ache in his chest that refused to budge.
With his heart in his throat, he gazed at photos of Raymond. Candids. Some selfies they’d taken together. That bright, magical smile Matthew had fallen so hard for. Each time he swiped to another photo, his heart hurt a little more.
He had no idea what Raymond saw in Kyle Whaley, but it didn’t matter. Maybe he’d been restless about dating a man who was holding on to his virginity. Maybe he’d just . . . No, really. It didn’t matter. In the end, Raymond and Kyle had sent him a selfie from Kyle’s bed, and that had been it. For weeks now, Matthew had been aching over it, but tonight it was bad.
Part of the problem was that he was no longer running around the state with his father, helping him campaign. The summer was over, and like his brothers, Matthew was going to classes again, attending rallies, and helping out with the campaign when he could.
The worst part was that going to classes also meant occasionally crossing paths with Raymond. Today, he’d seen Raymond and Kyle on campus in the commons. Just one glance, and Matthew’s spirits had splatted on the pavement like a dropped snowball. Since then, he’d been feeling sorry for himself, and now that he was home with a little privacy, he kept looking through all the pictures he couldn’t make himself delete. It was oddly comforting that no gay man in his right mind would engage in public displays of affection in Arbor Hills. As much as Matthew hated the conservative town’s deep-seated homophobia, at least he didn’t have to watch Raymond and Kyle being lovey-dovey and holding hands or something.
Talk about cold comfort.
He frowned as he stared at his screen. There was a shot of Raymond in sunglasses and a baseball cap. It was a photo Matthew had taken from the passenger seat of his now-ex-boyfriend’s car, and just looking at it—God, it hurt. He didn’t want to be over it yet. Okay, he didn’t want to hurt anymore, but he just wanted to wallow and—
The phone vibrated, startling him so bad he almost dropped it, and a FaceTime request popped up. Matthew was in no mood to chat, but . . . eh. It was his best friend. At least Jude understood what he was dealing with.
So, he accepted the chat, and a second later, Jude appeared on the screen. He must have been lying on his bed too, because his tight black braids were splayed on his pillowcase. “Hey, honey. How are you?” His voice was playful as always, but held a note of concern.
Matthew shrugged and didn’t care how pathetic he sounded as he said, “Meh.”
Jude scowled. “You’re pining, aren’t you?”
“Just a bit.”
His friend huffed. “Matthew. Ugh. You have got to let that boy go. Unrequited love is a waste of time.”
“Yeah, well.” Matthew sat up and rested the phone on his knee. “You fall for someone like him and get dumped like I did, and then tell me what a waste of time it is.”
Jude shook his head. “You just need to get out and find somebody else. That’ll get your mind off Tweedle Dickhead and his new Tweedle Dumbshit.”
Matthew managed a laugh, but it was half-hearted. “Yeah, I’ll pass.”
“The hell you will. Do you know your mom is so worried about you, she actually asked me tonight to find out why you’re so depressed?”
“When did you talk to my mom?”
“Bumped into her at the gas station. She told me she’s worried and wanted me to find out what’s up.” Jude eyed Matthew. “Of course I know what’s up, and no, I didn’t tell her you’re nursing a broken heart over your stupid ex-boyfriend.”
“Thank God for that,” Matthew muttered. Lord help him if his family found out he’d ever dated a man.
“Yeah, well, I promised her I’d cheer your ass up, which is why I’m taking you to Beta Phi’s Halloween party tomorrow.”
Matthew’s stomach turned. The thought of going out and socializing did not appeal nearly as much as another night of staying home, licking his wounds, and feeling sorry for himself. He shook his head. “Like I said—I’ll pass.”
Jude scowled. “Come on. You need to go.”
“Oh yeah?” Matthew laughed dryly. “Why is that? And why the hell are they having a Halloween party two weeks before Halloween?”
“Don’t change the subject.” Jude practically groaned the words. “They’re having it now so they don’t have to compete with all the other parties. Duh. And you should go because you need to get out of this post-Raymond funk.” A little smirk played at his lips as he singsonged, “And Levi Mason will be there.”
Matthew swallowed. Oh God. Levi Mason, the smoking hot basketball player who’d been the stuff of Matthew’s fantasies since middle school. If there was anyone alive who could still get Matthew’s attention after Raymond, it was Levi.
“Come on,” Jude pressed.
Matthew chewed his lip. He really didn’t want to go to the party, but admittedly, he got a little thrill from the prospect of being in the same room as Levi. They’d crossed paths a million times, even exchanged smiles once or twice, and Matthew had been bound and determined to work up the courage to talk to him. Especially once he’d heard—ironically by way of one of his homophobic brothers—that Levi was gay.
“Fucking fag doesn’t belong in a locker room,” Derek had snarled after practice one night. “I don’t care how good he is. I’d rather have a damned towelhead on my team than a cocksucker.”
That had sparked a heated debate over the dinner table, culminating in the Swain family bellowing back and forth over whether gays or Muslims were worse. Eventually everyone had agreed that if they ever came across a gay Muslim, they’d shoot the son of a bitch, and then there’d been some musing about whether conversion therapy would help both “issues.” Matthew had come away with a sick feeling, and also with the knowledge that the man he’d been lusting after did, in fact, play for his team. And now that Raymond was out of the picture . . .
“So?” Jude prodded, bringing Matthew back into the present. “You in?”
“Are we invited?”
His friend grinned wide. “We don’t need to be. It’ll be a huge party. And besides, everyone will be in costumes and drunk out of their minds. Who the hell is going to be looking at us?”
Matthew still hesitated. While Jude could walk among any crowd, the Swain family wasn’t exactly popular in certain parts of town right now. Particularly where college students—bleeding heart commie liberals, according to his father—congregated. Then again, if there were costumes and beer, Matthew probably wouldn’t even be noticed. And maybe Jude was right. Maybe a party would get Raymond out of his head. At this point, he was ready for anything—risks be damned—that would get Raymond out of his head. Especially if that something turned out to be Levi Mason.
“Okay,” he said with a nod. “I’m in.”
* * * * * * *
“Wonder Woman?” Matthew mused as he climbed into Jude’s car. “Really?”
“What?” Jude gave an indignant sniff. “There a reason Wonder Woman can’t be black?”
Matthew just chuckled. “Come on. Let’s do this.”
Jude flashed him a typical wicked grin, and pulled away from the curb. “What the hell kind of costume is that, anyway?”
Huffing impatiently, Matthew tapped the white mask covering one side of his face. “Phantom of the Opera. Obviously.”
His friend smirked. “Really?”
“What?” Matthew mimicked him from a moment ago. “There a reason the Phantom can’t be gay?”
Jude burst out laughing. “No, but maybe going as a character from musical theater isn’t the best way to keep a house full of frat boys from figuring out you’re gay.”
Matthew sobered. “I just . . . thought the mask . . .”
“Relax.” Jude gave Matthew’s thigh a firm pat. “Nobody there is cultured enough to recognize the Phantom. If they are, toss the mask, say you’re Dracula, and tell ’em you had to take out the fangs so you could drink.”
Matthew blinked a few times. “It never ceases to amaze me how much bullshit you can come up with at the drop of a hat.”
Jude winked. “It’s a talent, darling.”
Twenty minutes later, after they’d had to park four streets over, Jude and Matthew arrived at the party. And wow, Jude was right—the party was huge, everyone was drunk, and most people were in costume. Despite the chill of a looming Midwestern winter, the front lawn was packed with people, most of them huddled around two beer pong tables. A guy in a cowboy costume was passed out by the hedge. Some hulking dudes in football uniforms laughed and drank beer; Matthew was pretty sure they were actual football players who’d just been too lazy to put on costumes. A bored-looking Marilyn Monroe in a white dress listened half-heartedly to a guy in a caveman costume who probably thought he was a lot more interesting than he was.
Inside, not surprisingly, were even more people, more costumes, and more booze.
Halfway to the kitchen with Jude, Matthew stopped and did a double take. By the stairs, three people were chatting. One was an Avenger he couldn’t identify. Another was what he assumed was a slutty or sexy taxidermist, judging by her skimpy scrubs and the stuffed beaver tucked under her arm.
But Matthew didn’t spend much time trying to figure out which Avenger that was or if he’d really interpreted the taxidermist costume right, because the third person in the group had grabbed his attention. The guy was dressed as a suicide bomber, complete with his chest blown apart and what looked like chunks of a book stuck to him. Matthew would have bet money those were pieces of an actual Quran.
He scowled. This party might have been full of racists and Islamophobes, but a costume like that still seemed a bit . . . uh . . . excessive.
No one else seemed bothered by it, though, and there were at least a handful of people here who were clearly Middle Eastern or South Asian. Or maybe they just weren’t saying anything. If they did, someone would flip out about censorship and liberals and whatnot, and there’d almost definitely be a fistfight. It was an unspoken rule in this town that even in more liberal places like this, you picked your battles. Everyone knew if someone was called out for a stunt like this, the worst backlash wouldn’t land on the guy in the costume. Anyone who’d lived in this town more than twenty minutes knew how it would play out. Brown people in jail, white people in the newspaper as victims of assault. Matthew could think of at least three incidents where Jude had found himself on the wrong end of such a “misunderstanding.”
Matthew felt for all of them. Especially since his dad was one of the most vocally Islamophobic city council members, something his supporters loved about him. That was the main reason that while Dad’s poll numbers were up and down all over the state, he was predicted to win this district by a landslide. Matthew shuddered at the thought of how things would be in this town after the election, regardless of who won.
“Come on.” Jude tugged at his arm. “You want a beer or not?”
Oh, he definitely needed a beer.
He followed Jude, and Jude moved effortlessly through the crowd, greeting people he knew and flirting and joking. He’d always been that way—the life of the party who, despite standing out from the mostly white population of Arbor Hills, still managed to blend seamlessly into any group. Even the Swain clan had accepted him early on. Jude’s father ran a chain of successful car dealerships and was a deacon at the church. He had enough wealth and influence that there had always been an unspoken agreement to overlook the minor detail of his dark skin, not to mention Jude’s, which had only been lightened a few shades by his white mother’s genes. The Waller family’s popularity had swelled as the Muslims started flocking to Arbor Hills; maybe they were an interracial family, but they were rich, they weren’t Muslim, and most importantly, they weren’t Hashmis.
As Matthew followed his charismatic friend through the crowd, he kept his head down, suddenly feeling very conspicuous. Even if people here agreed wholeheartedly with his father—which would be rare among a crowd of “brainwashed hippie liberals”—he didn’t want any part of it. He didn’t like being the son of an outspoken Islamophobic councilman or senatorial candidate—it made things awkward enough at times with his biracial best friend—and he especially didn’t like being that guy at a party where no one was offended enough or felt safe enough to call out the guy wearing a suicide bomber costume.
I should’ve gone to school out of state.
And I shouldn’t have come to this party.
But he was here, and he doubted Jude would want to leave anytime soon, so he might as well enjoy himself. Maybe he’d stop pining over Raymond and— Yeah, no. He didn’t see that happening anytime soon. His heart ached just thinking about Raymond and that naked selfie he’d sent to let Matthew know it was over. Even the thought of maybe connecting with Levi couldn’t get his enthusiasm off the floor.
Why am I here again?
Sighing, Matthew pulled a beer from one of the cases. His friend had already inserted himself into a conversation with some cheerleaders—or at least women dressed like cheerleaders—so Matthew quietly slipped out to the spacious living room where most of the party seemed to be happening.
There were clusters of people everywhere, and none of them seemed remotely inviting to him. Matthew’s heart sank. He hated that his father’s reputation preceded him. That he’d had to find a costume that involved a mask just so he could stroll through this party as easily as Jude could. Not that he’d ever be that charismatic or fearless.
He fussed with the mask. It was held in place by adhesive on his forehead and cheek, and it was already getting itchy. He didn’t want to mess with it too much, though, or it would pop off and the adhesive might get too weak to stick again. That wouldn’t be good. No one needed to see his face here.
So, safely hidden behind a mask, why was he so worried about approaching strangers and striking up conversations? It wasn’t like they’d know who he was, so who cared if he made an ass of himself? But whether or not people cared who he was, would they be weirded out if they realized he was gay? If he flirted with a guy?
Well, Jude was comfortable here—in a Wonder Woman costume, no less—so maybe not?
Tapping into every reserve of confidence he had, Matthew scanned the room again in search of friendly faces, and this time, someone caught his eye.
Not Raymond. Not Levi.
Whoa. This guy had the most gorgeous face Matthew had ever seen. Perfectly arranged jet-black hair. Eyes so dark they might’ve been black too. Full lips. Smooth, olive skin. Sculpted muscles adding delicious contours and shadows to his bare arms.
He was dressed as some kind of Greek god, and the toga he wore left half his chest exposed, revealing a thin fan of dark hair.
The guy smiled suddenly, raising his Solo cup in a subtle toast, and Matthew realized he’d been staring. He quickly jerked his head to the side, pretending to be looking at someone or something else.
That lasted all of about two seconds before he needed to steal another look at that guy’s costume. Yeah. That was it. His costume. The toga and the gold leaves in his hair and . . . Yeah. Totally.
When he looked again, though, the beautiful man was gone. Matthew couldn’t find him at all.
He sighed. Damn.
He turned to sip his drink, and stopped so suddenly he fumbled with the nearly empty can in his hands.
The guy was there. Right there. Facing him. Looking at him. Smiling at him.
“Uh,” Matthew sputtered. “Hi.”
“Hi.” The guy had seemed all confident and bold, but now that they were facing each other, that appearance wilted slightly. He bit his lip, dropping his gaze, and he tapped his fingers on the Solo cup like he wasn’t sure what to say.
Matthew swallowed hard, then extended a hand and hoped like hell it wasn’t too sweaty. “I’m Matthew.”
The other guy brightened, shaking his hand. “Rabi.” He paused, then gestured with his Solo cup. “You want to go out back by the pool? It’s a little quieter.”
Matthew nodded. “Yeah. I could use another drink anyway.”
Rabi smiled. “I’ll follow you.”
Rabi could barely breathe as he tailed Matthew out into the backyard. Was this stupid? He hadn’t even really seen Matthew’s face. His eyes, yes, and the lower half of the left side of his face, but the white plastic mask covered almost everything.
Still, what little he’d seen had been enough. Those eyes. Something about the crystal blue, and the way they’d locked on Rabi’s, and the way Matthew had blushed when he’d looked away—the pink on the side of his face not covered by the mask—had drawn Rabi in.
Rabi was usually terrified to approach men. Homophobia and Islamophobia were both huge in this stupid town, and just glancing in a man’s direction had been enough to get him threatened before. But that lingering stare and the hint of shyness had given Rabi some boldness he hadn’t had before.
They stepped outside, and instantly, the world was quieter. He hadn’t even realized how loud the house had gotten, and the change was jarring.
While the front yard was full of people, the backyard was relatively empty. There were coolers, and people would come out and get a drink when they needed one, but otherwise, just a handful of groups and couples dotted the concrete patio and the fenced-in yard around the giant pool. It was far too cold to swim, so the water was calm, the bright turquoise light giving the whole place a cool cast.
Matthew tossed his beer can into the recycling bin. He pulled a couple of fresh bottles out of a cooler and offered one to Rabi.
Shaking his head, Rabi put up a hand. “No, thank you. I, um . . .” Rabi had no idea why his face was burning. “I don’t drink.” Matthew’s eyes darted toward the Solo cup in Rabi’s hand. Rabi held it up. “It’s Coke.”
“Oh.” Matthew straightened as if he’d suddenly realized something. “Right. Because you’re Muslim, right?”
“Oh. Sorry. I forgot Muslims don’t . . .” He gestured with his own beer. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Really.”
“Is it okay if I do?”
“Matthew.” Rabi shook his head. “If I couldn’t cope with being around people who drank . . .” He gestured at the party they’d left in the house.
“Good point.” Matthew chuckled, and he seemed to relax. He put the second beer back in the cooler, used a bottle opener to crack his own, and started to take a drink, but paused. “Okay, this is driving me nuts.” He cast a sweeping glance around the yard, then put the bottle down, gave his plastic mask a tug, and swore under his breath as the adhesive let go, making a sound like Velcro ripping apart. “Much better.”
As he turned toward Rabi again and brought his beer up to his lips, Matthew’s face came into the light, and Rabi . . . stared.
The blue eyes and that cute blush had been more than enough to reel him in, but now he could see everything. From Matthew’s slim lips—which looked utterly sinful around that beer bottle—to the smooth but pronounced shape of his cheekbones. Removing the mask had revealed a sprinkle of freckles across his nose, and it had also left his reddish hair slightly ruffled, and Rabi didn’t have the brainpower to figure out why either of those things were so adorable. And hot. And why he desperately wanted to run his fingers through Matthew’s hair and smooth it back into place.
Matthew studied him, and tensed. “What?”
“Nothing!” Rabi shook his head. “I, uh . . .” C’mon, c’mon . . . “Thought I recognized you. Now that I can see your face, I mean.”
That didn’t help. Matthew’s whole body seemed coiled all of a sudden, like he was ready to bolt at the drop of a hat. “You . . . you do?”
“I said I thought I did.” Rabi smiled. “You just looked like someone I know, but you’re not him.”
“Oh.” Matthew exhaled, and that tension melted right back out of him. “Okay.”
“Why? Are you a fugitive or something?”
Matthew laughed, a hint of uneasiness creeping back in. “No. Not a fugitive. So, um, you go to Western?”
Matthew sipped his beer. “What are you studying?”
At the moment? You.
His own thought brought some renewed heat to his face, and he cleared his throat. “Business. Nothing exciting. What about you?”
“Don’t know yet.” Matthew shrugged. “Trying to find that balance between something that won’t bore me to death, but also won’t disappoint my parents.”
Rabi laughed. “I can relate. I was really leaning toward social sciences, but my parents insisted I need every advantage I can get in this country.” He sighed. “So, business degree.”
Matthew scowled. “Right? Mine are pushing me toward law. That way I could go into politics like—” He hesitated. “What parents don’t want their kid to be president, you know?”
“Yeah, mine can dream, but I don’t see anyone in my family getting elected that high anytime soon. Not even those of us who were born here.”
Matthew opened his mouth to say something, but right then, some noise and chaos turned their heads.
“Matthew! Go!” A black guy dressed as Wonder Woman came sprinting out onto the patio, several frat boys on his tail. He grabbed Matthew’s arm and nearly pulled him off his feet as he dragged him along. “Gotta go, gotta go!”
“I’m gonna kill you, fucker!” someone boomed from the direction of the house.
Matthew gave the door a glance, and then his eyes widened and he sprinted after the other guy.
“Wait!” Rabi cried. “I didn’t get—”
But Matthew was gone, beer bottle shattering on the concrete as footsteps faded into the night, tailed by the shouts of half a dozen frat guys chasing after them.
Into the silence, Rabi finished with a faint and pitiful, “—your number.” He looked down. The glass hadn’t hit him, fortunately, but a few splatters of beer had landed on his mostly bare feet—tiny icy reminders that the brief encounter hadn’t all been in his mind.
Rabi’s older brother Eshaan appeared beside him. Eshaan’s nostrils flared and his jaw was clenched. Under his breath, he muttered something Rabi didn’t catch.
Rabi eyed him cautiously. “Uh, what happened?”
Eshaan rolled his eyes. “Idiot started going off at the mouth. You know how it goes—drink too much, talk too much.”
Rabi laughed dryly. Yeah, no one ever did that in this town.
Then Eshaan turned to him and asked in Urdu, “What were you doing talking to him?”
Rabi glanced around uncomfortably. Speaking in their native tongue wasn’t always a good idea, especially at parties where it was acceptable to dress as a suicide bomber, so he kept his voice quiet. “The drunk idiot? I wasn’t talking to—”
“Don’t play stupid. You know who I mean.”
Rabi narrowed his eyes. “It’s a party, Eshaan. I thought talking to people was the idea.”
Eshaan grunted. He glared in the direction Matthew and the other guy had gone. “You don’t want to get involved with him. Do you know who his father is?”
Rabi shook his head, cringing inwardly. Something told him he didn’t want to know.
His brother faced him, eyes hard. “That’s Bob Swain’s kid.”
“Bob—” Rabi sputtered. “Like, the Bob Swain?”
Eshaan’s lip curled in disgust. “Yeah, the Bob Swain. The one who brings his fucking kids to those protests outside the mosque.” Pointing sharply in the direction Matthew had taken off, Eshaan added, “Bet he’s brought all of them.”
Rabi suddenly wanted to be sick. No. There was no way Matthew was one of them. No way. When he’d realized Rabi was Muslim, he hadn’t been put off. Not for a second. He’d actually gotten a little embarrassed and flustered, thinking he’d committed some huge faux pas by offering Rabi a drink. “He’s—”
“Enough.” Eshaan jabbed Rabi’s chest and looked right in his eyes. “Stay away from him, Rabi. I mean it.”
Rabi gritted his teeth. He didn’t dare argue. Eshaan was the only one in the family who knew Rabi was gay. Rabi trusted him to be quiet about it, but if Eshaan thought Rabi might be interested in one of the Swain boys . . . well, anything was possible.
“All right. All right.” He showed his palms in surrender. “I won’t go near him.”
Eshaan glared at him. Then, apparently satisfied, gave his shoulder a squeeze. “I’m going back inside.”
Rabi just nodded. After his brother had gone, he dropped into a chair by the pool and stared into the darkness, as if he could still see Matthew disappearing into the night.
Their father was running against Bob Swain for that coveted seat in the Senate. Especially with the election just weeks away, even a rumor about their sons talking—never mind flirting—would be enough for a scandal. The kind of scandal that could cost them votes. A lot of his father’s local constituents belonged to their mosque, and even those who didn’t were largely on the conservative end of liberal. In a conservative little Midwestern town like Arbor Hills, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant politician already had an enormous disadvantage, and it didn’t help that he was a proud Democrat running in a red state. He had enough going against him without also having an openly gay son, least of all one who had stars in his eyes for a motherfucking Swain.
Rabi’s shoulders sagged. Maybe it was just as well Matthew had taken off. Much more time together, and they’d have exchanged phone numbers. Run the risk of this turning into more than a conversation at a party. And that had been a very real risk. Rabi didn’t have much experience with dating, but there’d been something there. Some kind of tiny spark that didn’t seem like it would take much fanning to get deliciously hot and maybe even a little out of control.
He shivered. The risk to his father’s political career notwithstanding, the temptation to connect with Matthew—to somehow reach out to him and see how out of control this spark could get—was almost irresistible. He’d never before felt such a powerful need to know someone, and that had started before he knew who Matthew really was.
If he did reconnect with Matthew, though, he would have to keep it a secret. They’d have to watch over their shoulders at every turn if they saw each other again.
I must be insane because that almost sounds worth it.
Sighing, Rabi shifted his gaze to the shattered glass at his feet, and he swore under his breath as his heart sank.
Of all the families Matthew could’ve belonged to in this town, why did he have to be a Swain?
Word Count: 59,800
Page Count: 237
Cover By: Christine Coffee
Release Date: 11/05/2018
Release Date: 11/05/2018