I thought I was good with my life in No Man’s Land. Truth be told, I was, until I messaged Bear.
What started as an online debate about coffee vs wine, has become something so much more, it doesn’t even matter that I don’t know his real name and have never seen his face. My daughter doesn’t agree.
She wants me to find someone “real” before she leaves for college, so when the neighbor’s hot brother rolls into town, she’s less than subtle about my single status.
Bobby is a free spirit, man in every town, according to his sister, but that’s not really him. He’s fun, adventurous, kind, and he’s a fantastic flirt, so when the similarities between Bear and Bobby start to align I can hardly believe my luck.
I never wanted to come back to Nomanland, traveling the world is everything to me, but the money has almost run out and I’m in desperate need of a sponsor that doesn’t make me cringe.
My sister thinks I’m crazy for not wanting to settle down, and when I told her about chatting online with Mal she basically gave me the whole catfish creeper tv-special warning and begged me not to try to meet him for real.
Not that Mal would want to come to Nomanland. I can’t see what this small town has to offer anyone, that is until Michael takes it upon himself to show me the beauty of this town I’d chosen to forget.
Michael owns the local café, he’s a fan of puns, is an amazing dad and loves travel, though he’s never actually been anywhere… just like Mal.
I tell myself I must be crazy, because if Michael really is Mal, how long has he known? Was Meg right? Did I come back to Nomanland just to get my heart broken, or could Mal really be the happy beginning I never knew I needed?
Sneak Peek – Chapter One:
And that’s why you never take directions from a man wearing a coconut on his head.
– Unfiltered Earth.
I stare at the screen, but no matter how many times I read his latest post I have no idea what to comment. I open another tab, do a quick search for coffee puns, and find one that doesn’t completely suck.
Now, do I post it publicly, or in a private message? The first time I messaged Bear, I’d thought I was sending a private message. Little did I know, my long rant about how coffee is better than wine was posted publicly under an image he posted of a wine glass.
It gained a lot of comments back from other followers, and luckily, he thought it was hilarious, shooting me a private message afterward to thank me for the boost in engagement.
I still don’t understand how there can be so many social media platforms. I’ve only just wrapped my head around Facebook and Instagram and now Jess is Tweeting and Tiktoking and Discording. I shudder thinking about it. It’s not that I can’t use technology, I’m only in my forties, it’s that I’m not really interested in it. I don’t want a million ways to share everything about myself with the world, and I don’t see the need to replace my phone just because a new shinier version is available when the old one works just fine. Or works well enough for phone calls, at least, which is what a phone is for right?
Jess barrels down the stairs, rounds the banister in a leap, and lands beside me. “Hey, Dad. What are you still doing up?”
Do I tell her instead of doing the books for the café, I’d spent the last half hour on my laptop rereading the latest Instagram post from the man I’m crushing on? Really, I spent most of that time trying to figure out what to comment back.
“Did Unfiltered Earth post again? It’s been a week, right? That’s forever for him. Is he okay?” She leans over my shoulder to check out the post for herself.
“He was given bad directions to a local waterfall and spent three days lost in the jungle before an old woman and her goat found him.”
“Oh my god, you can’t make this stuff up it’s that good. Did he get to see the waterfall?”
“What? You would think after three days he would have at least found it himself on accident. So, did he?”
I scroll up to the top of the post to a photo of Bear’s hand holding a makeshift leaf cup, toasting a brilliant waterfall. This is one of the reasons I love using my laptop for anything internet, Bear’s images are amazing on the larger screen. It totally has nothing to do with the images on my phone only loading twenty percent of the time.
“See? Told you,” she says then heads for the kitchen.
I quickly click the account name then hit the message button and send Every latte thing is going to bean all right.
I should close the computer and head to bed. I have to be up at six to roast coffee beans before the café opens at eight, but I can’t pull myself away from the messages. It never takes Bear long to reply. Not anymore. And a few minutes later the three little dots appear. I hold my breath. It’s crazy. If someone had told me a year ago that I would be staying up late, hoping to read a message from an almost stranger who I’d never even seen, I would have made them a double shot and told them to wake themselves up.
But here I am. Three blinking little dots holding my complete attention. Bear isn’t even his real name. I don’t know his real name. It isn’t on his Instagram anywhere and a few Google searches resulted in nothing either.
Having only ever seen his beefy arms in his photos, and his posts about his adventures and survival, I made a joke about him being the unfiltered Bear Grylls and he changed his handle to it in our private chat a few days later.
BEAR: Did you like the cup? I think I did okay, given the fact I’d slept out in the open for three nights and the third was next to that waterfall. Fun story—I’d pulled a stack of large leaves off a tree to lay on so I could sleep close to the falls because the ground there is mostly rock. Little did I know the leaves attracted some small variety of sugar ants and I woke up covered in the tiny fucks. They didn’t bite, but those things got into some interesting places.
A laugh escapes me and I cover my mouth, imagining the places he means and wishing his photos showed more than his right hand. A few months back, his whole right arm made it into the shot. The slightest peek of a blurred tattoo on his shoulder did too. It was the most I’d seen of him, and I’ll tell you, seeing his entire toned arm stretched out over a canyon, a glass of red wine in his hand, was way hotter than I would have ever thought it could be. From what I can tell, he isn’t body builder huge, but the vein that popped from his bicep made me want to see more.
I lean back in my chair and glance toward where Jess disappeared into the kitchen. It isn’t that I’m hiding my chats with Bear; Jess is the one who showed me how to private message instead of posting on the feed or whatever it’s called. But our chats at some point have become more… personal. He knows more about me than most of my friends. Like how I’m freaking out completely about Jess going off to college at the end of the year. She couldn’t know that. She’d try to make it better—or worse—she’d stay.
I quickly type my reply.
MAL: I thought the leaf cup was particularly inspired. Maybe I should start calling you MacGyver? How did you get rid of the ants?
BEAR: Ha. Please. I got more skills than Dick. Waterfalls are colder than you’d think. You see all these movies of lovers going at it under a waterfall and think, that would be hot as fuck, but not this waterfall. I swear there must be a glacier on top of this thing chilling the water to just above freezing. My cock and balls never retreated so fast in my life. I won’t go into details about how I coaxed them back out.
I choke back my laugh. How do I respond to that?
I turned off my activity status so he can’t know I’m still active in the chat, but he will know I’ve seen his message. Hopefully, he just thinks I’ve gone to bed. I should be in bed. But now all I can think about is the cold water dripping off his muscled arms, and him trying to warm himself back up. There are plenty of non-sexual ways he could be referring to, but my mind isn’t going there. My mind wants to wander to the ways he coaxes his balls back out.
I should really go to bed.
The microwave dings and I close the lid of the computer just as Jess appears with two mugs of hot chocolate.
“Don’t stay up chatting all night with your friends, you’ve got a busy day tomorrow,” she jokes, placing a mug down on the coffee table in front of me before kissing my head and heading back to her room.
Oh, how the tables have turned.
I grab the mug and the computer and do the same, hoping by the time I get to my room I’ll know what the heck to reply with. I decide to keep it simple.
MAL: Sounds like my average Friday night here in No Man’s Land. I swear it’s been a year since my last date.
What I call No Man’s Land, is actually Normanland, a tiny town west of Knox County. Seventeen years ago, it seemed like a nice, quiet place to raise Jess. Over the years it’s grown into a thriving tourist spot perfect for romantic escapes and destination weddings. I’m not complaining. The tourist trade is what saved my beans all those years ago. When the craft shop closed beside the small bakery cafe I half own, my business partner and I bought it for a steal, opened up the wall, and bam. Bigger footprint, bigger business, bigger bank.
BEAR: It’s been a while for me too, and not just because I’ve been lost in a jungle. Where are the hot, half-naked men those tribal documentaries promised?
MAL: No idea, but if you find them, send them to No Man’s Land. I’ll show them a real friendly welcome.
BEAR: How friendly are we talking?
MAL: It’s been a reeeeeally long time.
BEAR: So where is this No Man’s Land you speak of? I might make a detour and see this really friendly welcome for myself.
I sit up, almost spilling my hot chocolate over the keypad. Is he serious? We’ve joked before about meeting up or chatting for real, but not for this. The image of his muscled arms wrapping around me and his rough hands trailing from my chest down to my cock has my dick twitching.
MAL: One day I’ll tell you where I live and then you’ll have no excuse not to visit.
I follow up with a quick second message ending with my usual coffee pun meaning chat later.
MAL: I’m off to bed, chai latte.
Then I close the browser and head to the shower to relieve the ache in my balls.
To celebrate the debut release of Textual Connections, Becca is giving away a hardcover special edition cover of the release.
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