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Tarnished Souls 2: Fields of Gold

Dev Bentham

Life is full of compromises. That's what Avi Rosen tells himself. He's a yeshiva boy turned historian, working on his dissertation and stretching his meager stipend by moonlighting as a closeted politician's houseboy. Their relati...
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Life is full of compromises. That's what Avi Rosen tells himself. He's a yeshiva boy turned historian, working on his dissertation and stretching his meager stipend by moonlighting as a closeted politician's houseboy. Their relationship used to feel like a real affair. Lately it seems more like a job.

It isn't until he meets someone decent that he realizes how corrupt his life has become. Pete is a tall blond farmer who charms Avi with his dazzling smile and his straightforward life. But even if he can believe this refreshingly honest man doesn't have his own political agenda, will Avi find the strength to emerge from the dark life he's chosen and find a future in the sun?

  • Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices.
Market booths lined the eight blocks around the Capitol Square. They faced the dense throng of shoppers pushing strollers, walking dogs, and trudging the sidewalk looking for plants, produce, baked goods, free-range meats, artisan-crafted cheeses, jewelry, and soap. Traffic inched along outside, pausing for pedestrians who seemed to emerge at random from between booths to stroll across the street in search of cash, coffee, or their cars. Even the bike lane felt crowded. I slowed to let a swarm of spandex-clad enthusiasts fly by and stopped to wait for a bus to pull out.

It took a few minutes before I could slide back into the stream, but as I headed down the hill, I picked up speed. I rounded the corner where abortion activists warred with green-shirted environmentalists for space. Half a block down, my attention was caught by a sudden flash of very white teeth and blond curls. When I looked back at the road, a man carrying two bushy tomato plants stepped out from between two cars. I swerved to miss him. A car horn blared, and I got a glimpse of a giant black SUV bearing down on me from the outside lane just before it grazed my back tire, throwing me out of control. My bike bounced over the curb and into a tree. I went nose over handlebars and tumbled through the crowd to land at the gorgeous, smiling man’s feet. The fall hurt, and not just my pride.

“Oh my God, are you okay?” His eyes were wide and the loveliest shade of blue. He’d dropped to his knees beside me, and I would have liked to make a joke about going down and knees, except all I could do was hold my ankle and try not to moan. Other faces peered down at me. A woman shouldered her way through the crowd, muttering something about being a doctor.

“I’m fine.” I dropped my leg and tried to sit up. Pain spiked through me, and I almost lost my breakfast, which would have completed my humiliation.

The woman pushed me back down. “I’m Dr. Goldstein. Relax. Let me take a look. Pete, see what you can do to make him comfortable.”

Pete must have been the man beside me with the wonderful smile because he slid what looked like a wadded-up jacket under my head. I gritted my teeth and tried not to cry out as she pulled off my shoe, poked, and prodded. Staring up at the gathering of Saturday morning shoppers, I prayed for someone to say, “Move along. Nothing to see here.”

Pete raised his voice. “Logan, haul his bike over to the stall. It’s blocking traffic.” He beamed those beautiful teeth at the crowd. “Thanks, everyone. I think we’ve got it here.”

People nodded, murmured, gaped a little more, and shuffled off.

“Thanks,” I managed to get out before Dr. Goldstein gave my ankle a particularly painful twist and I almost blacked out.

Pete looked down at me. Dazzling, that smile, almost enough to let me forget the pain.

I held his gaze. He held mine.

His smile widened. “No problem. Haven’t had a guy fall at my feet like that in quite some time.”

Dr. Goldstein snorted and took my arm. “Let’s get you up and see if that ankle can hold any weight.”

Pete grabbed my other arm, and between them they managed to get me to my feet. My ankle hurt, but it held, and Pete’s hand on my arm was pleasantly distracting. They steered me over to a chair by Pete’s booth. Dr. Goldstein squatted and propped my naked foot on an upside-down five-gallon bucket. She turned to Pete. “Do you have any ice?”

“Sure.” He started scooping ice from a cooler into a plastic produce bag.

When it was about half-full, Dr. Goldstein draped it over my ankle and gave me a firm, motherly look. “It appears to be a bad sprain. My guess is at least second, if not third degree. What’s your insurance situation?”

I frowned. “Two-hundred-dollar deductible, ten percent after that. I don’t really have two hundred dollars. I’d rather not get the medical profession involved, no offense.”

She stood, brushing off her slacks. “None taken. The system’s a mess. I doubt anything’s broken, but of course, I can’t be certain without an X-ray. You’ll want to wrap your foot, ice that ankle for fifteen minutes several times a day, keep off it, and elevate it for the next few days. Try not to let it stiffen up. Writing the alphabet with your toes is one common exercise for sprained ankles. If the swelling doesn’t go down and it’s still too painful to get around on, you’ll have to come in.” She handed me her business card. “Call my office. That will be cheaper than an emergency room visit.”

I stared at the business card in my hand. Dr. Stella Goldstein. “Thanks. That’s really nice of you.”

Dr. Goldstein glanced at Pete. “No problem. Jakobsen’s has the best produce in the market. Any friend of theirs is a friend of mine.”

With a grin, Pete held out a large carton of raspberries. “On the house. Thanks, Doc.”

She took the berries and held them close to her nose. “These smell absolutely wonderful. And so red. Thank you.” She nodded toward me. “Get that ankle taped, and don’t let him move around too much.”

Pete actually winked at me as he assured her that I wasn’t going anywhere soon. Ooh, sassy. After she wandered away, Pete called over the scrawny, dark-haired middle schooler who was leaning my twisted bike against the back of the produce booth.

Pete pulled a wallet out of his jeans pocket. “Logan, I need you to run over to the drugstore and get an elastic bandage.”

The only reason I’d braved the Saturday market traffic in the first place was to get to the bank in time to transfer the last of my savings to cover the check I’d already sent, the one that would pay my cell phone bill through the summer. At least I’d managed to get the deposit in before the accident. It would be another three months before I got a paycheck. I had a roof over my head, a phone, and not much else. But appearances to the contrary, I had my pride. I struggled onto one hip, reaching for my own back pocket. “You don’t have to pay for that.”

Pete settled a hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down. “You can pay me back later. You got a name?”

His hand felt warm and strong. I turned toward him and noticed the golden hair covering his deeply tanned forearm. I tried to smile up at him, but my ankle really hurt and my expression probably looked more like a grimace. I cleared my throat. “Avi Rosen.”

He nodded, his hand still gentle on my shoulder. He smelled like sunshine and green plants. “Pete Jakobsen. And that little whip-poor-will is my nephew, Logan, who’s about to get us all a lemonade on his way back from the drugstore.” He handed his nephew a bill. Logan sprinted in the direction of State Street.

A large woman pushing a baby stroller pulled up to the produce booth, and I looked at Pete’s wares for the first time. Rows of cardboard containers stamped JAKOBSEN in bold letters, filled with peas, potatoes, zucchini, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries covered one side of the table. Turnips mounded between a stack of rhubarb stalks and several huge bins overflowing with various kinds of lettuces. Buckets of flower bouquets sat on the ground in front of the booth.

I watched Pete interacting with his customer, feeling my heart rate slow and that shaky, shocky feeling dissipate. Broad-shouldered and muscular, he towered over the mother as she pointed to containers, which he settled gently on the scale, all the time keeping up a laughing banter that had her batting her eyelashes at him. I couldn’t help thinking of the feel of his hand on my shoulder. Dream on, honey. This one plays for my team.

Despite the pain in my ankle, it was pleasant sitting beside the booth, watching Pete weigh produce and make change. Somehow the fair exchange of goods seemed pure. I felt that way about teaching—that it was a clean trading of ideas. Research, on the other hand, was more about untangling moldy string—the bits often fell apart in my fingers. What did it mean that I was a little relieved to be grounded in this sunny place for the morning, unable to get to the library and whack away again at the notes for my long overdue dissertation?

The crowd inched by in a perpetual circle around the capitol, and by the time Logan reappeared with beverages and bandage, Pete had sold a few dozen bags of food. Logan pressed a red-and-white paper cup, sweaty with condensation, into my hand. I took a long refreshing gulp.

“Thanks, kid.” Pete accepted his cup and patted Logan’s back. “Take over the booth, will ya, while I wrap our patient’s foot.”

“You don’t have to do that.” I leaned forward, reaching for the packaged bandage.

Pete held it out of my reach, like a big kid playing keep-away. I stopped flailing around and tried to regain my dignity. “You have a thing for rescuing people or something?”

He set his drink on the ground, squatted in front of my bucket-propped foot, and slid off the melted ice pack. “Beats having you sue me. You wouldn’t believe what my liability insurance rates are, and that’s without any claims.”

I stared at him. “Sue you?”

The firm hand he ran along my calf, pushing up my jeans, sent a shiver up my leg. “This is the capitol. Everyone’s a lawyer. You can’t be too careful.” He looked up at me from under pale gold lashes. I’ve always been a sucker for freckles. The bandage wrapping crackled. I blinked and refocused on what he was saying, which turned out to be just as enticing. “Besides, I was staring at you and picturing how good you’d look in racer spandex. Who knows, maybe you were looking at me instead of paying attention to the road.” He fluttered his eyelids at me. “I can always hope.”

I winced as he pulled a loop of bandage tight around my throbbing ankle. “Are you always such a flirt?”

He secured the bandage end and patted my knee. “Only around pretty boys who need distraction. How does that feel?”

Copyright © Dev Bentham

Customer Reviews

4.5 Stars Review by Kathey
Quality
Fields of Gold is a delightful addition to Dev Bentham’s Tarnished Souls series. This captivating series features some imperfect yet appealing characters who choose a different path once they find love.

Avi Rosen’s chance meeting with Pete Jakobsen coincides with his growing dissatisfaction as the ‘other man’ in his current relationship with local politician Jack Krausman. Although he genuinely cares for Jack, Avi is becoming more and more disenchanted with his role of house sitter and lover to the married assemblyman. He is already struggling with conflicted emotions about his affair when he meets Pete at a local farmer’s market. Despite his uneasiness about beginning a new relationship with Pete while he is still involved with Jack, Avi begins dating Pete. But it is his emerging feelings for Pete that finally give Avi the impetus to begin reevaluating his life.

What I really like about Ms. Bentham’s stories is that she does not hesitate to give her characters some morally questionable failings. In the first book of the series, Learning from Isaac, Nathan is working as a rentboy to pay his way through college. In Fields of Gold, while Avi may not officially be a rentboy, he is exchanging sex for living rent free in Jack’s apartment. Of course Avi does not view his arrangement as prostitution until Nathan gently points it out to him. But Avi still continues to drift along, juggling the two relationships, until he finally sees his relationship with Jack in a whole new light.

One of the other things that I really enjoy about the Tarnished Souls series is how Ms. Bentham incorporates tenets of the Jewish faith in the storylines. In Fields of Gold, the ending of the story coincides with Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah. Avi uses this time of reflection to atone for his past mistakes and make amends with Pete.

Fields of Gold is well-written with engaging protagonists and a fascinating storyline. It is a wonderful story about personal growth and new beginnings. A thoroughly charming addition to Dev Bentham’s Tarnished Souls series that I highly recommend.
(Posted on 11/8/12)

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