Desert Within - Book cover

Desert Within

Michael BN

Age Rating


Isaac McKenzie moves back to the US after five years abroad. His next-door neighbor has been tasked with keeping an eye on him till his parents arrive. Steven never expected Isaac to be so mature, yet introverted. Will the next three weeks end up being more than what he bargained for?

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Chapter 1

The Desert Within

They’d been gone for five long years.

My next-door neighbor, Richard McKenzie, worked in the oil and gas industry. For years, he’d traveled across the US for his job, until a promotion sent him and his family to Saudi Arabia.

A week ago, Richard called me out of the blue. His son, Isaac, was coming back to the US to prepare for university, and he asked if I could keep an eye on him for the next three weeks. I felt like he’d tasked me with babysitting, but I owed him big time and he knew it.

Their house had been empty for more than a year. Before that, Debra’s younger sister had stayed rent-free after her messy divorce. I actually got along well with Katherine. We’d spent many a night bitching about our exes over ice cream and rom-coms.

The family had entrusted me with the key to their house, so I took it upon myself to hire a cleaning crew. I thought it was very noble and totally expected praise.

Richard had convinced me that Isaac didn’t need airport pickup. Supposedly, his boy was all grown up and independent.

Who doesn’t want to have someone waiting for them at the arrival gate? Perhaps there was another reason. It wasn’t about me, was it?

Fuck! That would make it an awkward three weeks.


“She bent down carefully and found a piece of bone buried in the…” Damn, the word just disappeared. It was there a second ago!

I had a habit of composing text for my novels while under the shower. There was something about hot running water that got my creative juices flowing. Especially after a morning wank.

There was a new barista in the coffee shop down the road, and he was pure eye candy. Summoning an image of his pretty face had been better than porn for the last two days.

Unfortunately, he didn’t trigger my gaydar but looking never hurt anyone. In this case, it was more like wide-eyed staring through my sunglasses.

“Gravel!” I shouted, surprising even myself. “…a piece of bone buried in the gravel!”

I decided to take a note on my phone so I wouldn’t forget the line again. My hair was still dripping wet as I held my towel closed with one hand and typed my passcode with the other. I didn’t do thumbprints and face scans. The research for my books on these subjects had creeped me out way too much.

Azrael suddenly started barking in the back garden. The sound stopped as quickly as it had started, which I found odd.

What was this? Two missed calls from an unknown number. I’d only been in the shower for a moment. Was it another one of my editor’s interns? They always made the poor juniors call to ask for my updated drafts.

“Mr. Steven?” A voice echoed through the upstairs hallway that sounded vaguely familiar.

Isaac? How the fuck did he get into my house?

I realized that I wasn’t wearing anything but a towel at the same moment that he walked in. He recoiled in surprise and stepped backward into the corridor.

“I’m so sorry,” he called out. “My dad made me promise to come and see you as soon as I got home.”

“So, you just broke into my house?” I said in amusement.

He couldn’t see my face and didn’t catch the sarcasm.

“What? No! You didn’t answer your phone or the doorbell, so I used the emergency key from the shed.”

He sounded panicky. How did he know about my emergency key?

“I was kidding!” I said, actually laughing. We were definitely off to a good start. “Give me a moment to put some clothes on.”


One of the reasons why my last boyfriend, Massimo, had left me was because he thought that I was a man-child. He desperately craved stimulating, adult conversation and soon found out that a life alone with me in the quiet suburbs wasn’t for him.

I blamed my profession. I wrote young adult mystery novels, which kept my mindset permanently in a world where people my age could already be considered annoying parents.

As I sat at the kitchen counter with the once scrawny neighbor-kid, I tried not to concentrate on how well he’d grown up. He reminded me of a character from the plethora of teenage dramas that I watched for inspiration.

I handed him a glass of club soda with lime and ice because he apparently didn’t drink coffee, tea, soda, or milk. What the fuck? Was he for real? These tidbits would be awesome details for a novel.

“So, Isaac! You look…different. You must be like eighteen, now?”

“Nineteen,” he replied as he meticulously scanned the kitchen and living room. “This place hasn’t changed at all. I thought that Uncle Massimo redecorated every two years.”

“We broke up before he could start a new round,” I said, sipping my extra-foamy cappuccino.

Our split left me with this house, Azrael, and the coffee machine. Massimo got the city apartment and our art collection. Mine was definitely the better deal.

“Oh,” he said, his face scrunching up. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Without that fussy queen, I have a lot more time to write,” I said, waving a hand dismissively.

Isaac instinctively chuckled but quickly covered his mouth. Damn, he was cute. Stop! You’ve known him since he was thirteen for fuck’s sake.

“Do you remember when you guys invited us over for what Massimo called a ‘backyard BBQ brunch’?” Isaac mimicked my ex’s voice and hand gestures a bit too well.

“The burgers burned because you and Dad were clashing over politics. Massimo was so furious that he screamed at you in Italian!”

Isaac actually let himself laugh this time. It was a welcome sound in this otherwise quiet house.

“He yelled ‘Che cazzo, Uomo!’ and everyone thought that he of all people was calling you a…” He cut himself off and peered into his glass.

“A homo!” I said with a scandalous look. “Please, relax. I thought it was funny too.”

Why had he chosen that particular anecdote, I wondered.

“Enough about me,” I said, wanting to change the topic. “How did expat life treat you? How are your parents? Did you break a girl’s heart when you left?”

Fuck! That last question seemed overly forced. I hoped he didn’t notice.

Isaac looked at me carefully, as if taking the time to prepare his responses. He’d always been sharp, so I had to be careful.

“For me, Saudi Arabia was a desert in more ways than one. My parents think I’m weird and I never broke any hearts.”

Damn, what a frustratingly mysterious answer!

“Well, in that case, would you like some breakfast? Are you allowed to have eggs and bacon?” I asked.

I needed something to do; looking into those river-blue eyes was becoming increasingly distracting.

Isaac’s face lit up as he asked, “Did you say bacon?”


After breakfast, Isaac excused himself and left. He still had his suitcases to unpack, and he seemed very eager to start preparing for Hargrave University.

His attitude didn’t seem to match his age at all. Had his experience abroad made him more mature? Whatever his deal was, I couldn’t get him out of my head.

His refined handsomeness and introverted demeanor had caught me in a spell of intrigue. I knew that he was off-limits but if I played my cards right, he could easily become the blueprint for my next lead character.

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