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Melody (Men of Hidden Creek Season 3 Book 5) by Blake Roland (1)

Prologue

Zach - August 4th, 2018

Zachary Calton was getting married today. 

He'd been looking forward to this day his whole life, and it was everything he could have dreamed of. He was in Hidden Creek, the little Texas town he grew up in, his family and friends here to celebrate with him. The ceremony was set at one of the most beautiful homes in the county, an old historic home called Moore Heritage House. He would say his vows in the garden behind the estate, surrounded by freshly bloomed flowers. The man he'd marry was Noah, who he hadn't known for very long, but had come to love and cherish. 

He could hear laughter coming from the upstairs bedroom a couple of doors down from his own. It was where Noah was getting ready, surrounded by his friends who had come down from Houston. His room, meanwhile, was empty. His mother and sister, along with his best friend Andre, came in occasionally to check on him, but he made sure they didn't linger. He knew it would make Noah upset if he got too distracted by them. Sure, it was a double standard, but he didn't want to distress his fiancé on their wedding day. Noah was always insecure about those sort of things. While sometimes problematic, he couldn't blame Noah for wanting Zach's attention all to himself. It just meant Noah loved him. Besides, he knew Noah wouldn't accept anything less than perfect, so there was a lot for them to do downstairs anyway. 

It'd be a lie to say that it didn't bother him a little. He wanted his mother here to fuss over him. He wanted his best friend to offer words of encouragement when the nervousness became too much to bear. He wanted to be surrounded by laughter and love, too. 

He was doing the right thing, right? 

Of course he was. He had to be. Getting married was his dream since he was a little kid. It was why he had moved back to Hidden Creek. He wanted what his parents had; the loving marriage, the house with a white picket fence, and even children to raise some day. He could have that with Noah. 

Having cold feet was completely natural. Heck, it'd be more troubling if he didn't have any doubts, right? It just meant his love was real. 

Surely things would calm down once the wedding was over, anyway. Noah would become less demanding, more willing to compromise. It was just the stress of the wedding getting to him. He'd been so sweet and kind when they first met, after all. Soon, he would have that Noah back again. The Noah he had fallen in love with. 

The muffled laughter from the other room died down. Moments later, he heard yelling coming from the hallway. 

Noah was upset. 

The sound of his fiancé's anger made him flinch and his stomach twist up with dread. 

What had gone wrong? He had tried so hard to make sure everything was perfect. He'd spent weeks barely sleeping, wrote checks for thousands of dollars, given Noah everything he asked for, just to make this day everything Noah wanted it to be. Even when it wasn’t what Zach would have preferred.

He swallowed down his anxiety and stood, moving to the door. Maybe he could calm Noah down before he flew into a full fit. Usually if Zach just gave in quickly, things would quiet down. 

When the door opened, he saw his worst fear. Noah was yelling at Andre. The past week had been nothing but Zach walking on egg shells, trying to moderate Noah's jealousy of his best friend, and now it looked like things were coming to a head. 

“What’s going on?” Zach asked with a troubled frown. 

The answer made the world topple sideways on its axis, the hallway spinning around him dizzyingly. He heard the others speaking, but it was so hard to focus on them. It was like their voices were being shouted down a tunnel, echoing around in his skull without settling long enough for him to understand. Andre was accusing Noah of stealing Grayson's identity, a man who Noah had once dated and now Andre was in love with. Noah was denying it, and insisting Zach throw Andre out. Everything was happening at once, and he didn't know who to focus on. There was only anger and confusion taking him over. 

Why was this happening? 

Today was supposed to be perfect. 

He tried to comfort Noah. Tried to make sense of what was going on, but it was a train that was already starting to crash, and there was nothing he could do. 

Andre's voice came through the haze like a knife. “I want to know why you have spent the past two weeks setting up Grayson to be humiliated and potentially assaulted."

Noah's eyes widened. “That’s not what I was trying to do!”

Everything went quiet. The world stopped spinning—no, it froze in place, cold and still, which was worse somehow. 

Noah slapped his hands over his mouth. Zach let his hand drop from his fiancé's shoulder. 

“Then what were you trying to do?” Andre asked in a low voice.

Noah’s eyes welled up with more tears, which streamed more rapidly down his face. “Not that. I’d never want him to be hurt. I just… I just wanted him to feel some of the pain and humiliation he made me feel. I fucking moved to Hidden Creek and got engaged and he still didn’t fucking notice that I was even alive. He didn’t even notice I was here. He ignored me!”

“Wait…” Zach staggered a step. The breath had been knocked out of him more forcefully than if someone had punched him in the gut. “Are you saying that all of this is to get Grayson’s attention? Did you just hook up with me to make him jealous?”

“I… no, no, baby—I love you,” Noah replied urgently, reaching out, but Zach jerked away from his touch. “I really do. That doesn’t matter anymore, because I want to be with you now. I want to marry you.”

It made sense now. Noah had been so intrigued by Zach living in Hidden Creek. At the time he had assumed Noah was just enchanted by life in a small town—just like Zach was. He'd thought that when Noah pushed them to move in together so he could move here, it was just because he loved Hidden Creek, too. It hadn't mattered if they had only dated a short time: They were in love, so he thought. He'd ignored all the red flags—all the times that Noah had manipulated and guilt-tripped him, all the times Zach had given up so much to assure Noah wouldn’t get upset. He’d let himself remain deaf to the warnings of his family. Hell, he’d let Noah push him away from his family.

He’d just assumed the sacrifices would be worth it if he got to live happily ever after.

Now everything was unraveling. All the times Noah had bragged about them dating on social media, eyes glued to his phone to watch the likes and comments that came in. Every time Noah had wanted to "show off how much they loved each other" around town, his eyes more focused on his surroundings than on Zach, as if waiting for something. All the romantic gestures and gifts Zach had given him, tallied up on some list Zach was never able to fulfill. 

It had all just been a game that Zach was now a pawn in. Maybe Noah had truly fallen in love with him while playing it out, but did that even matter now? Was the Noah he'd fallen in love with just a lie? A mask he had put on to make sure he hooked Zach in, only to be tossed aside to reveal what was truly underneath? 

Would Noah have tossed him aside if he had won the game and gotten his way? Was he just a consolation prize? 

His vision blurred from the tears stinging his eyes. He could barely breathe, even though his lungs were struggling, like all the oxygen had suddenly been sucked out of the world. “I can’t do this. You and your family should just… go," he managed to gasp out. 

Noah was begging now. Pleading for Zach to change his mind. People were crowded around, watching in shock as things unfolded. Andre tried to comfort him—but Zach shrugged him off and turned away. He stepped back into the bedroom and closed the door behind him, muffling the sounds of Noah storming out of the house below and the cacophonous whispering of wedding guests. 

He slumped down into a chair as the thin wall of glass holding back the wave of sorrow shattered. Everything came crashing down, sweeping him away. He buried his face in his hands as sobs ripped from his chest, making his whole body shake and ache. 

How could he have been so stupid? So blind?

It was a mistake he wouldn't make twice. One he couldn't make twice. 

Never again.