Saving Sonny James: the X-excerpt you never expected to see (and the final contest! win book money!)
October 22, 2013
All you have to do is comment in reply to this post, anywhere in this release party, with the words “book money” somewhere in the comment, and you’re in the running for $20 on your account at Dreamspinner to spend as you like and Saving Sonny James paperback or ebook.
THE night after Luki talked to Kaholo was the first one in a couple weeks that found him struggling to find sleep. Finally, he allowed his thoughts to drift toward his husband and his fingers to drift toward his restless sex.
Once he started remembering and imagining his tall, dark, lithe lover, he couldn’t stop. And once Sonny’s beauty entered and filled his aching, sweet, waking dream, his hands wouldn’t stop. His neglected penis thickened and leaked and begged, and though Luki couldn’t remember the last time he’d masturbated, he got right with the program.
Not content to jerk off quickly in a half somnolent fashion, he sat up and stripped his lower half naked, switched on the small light next to the bed, and spread his legs wide, knees up, so he could see. Smiling at himself and thinking of Sonny, he ran his palm over the wide, glistening head of his cock and gathered a little reservoir of precum, then brought it to his mouth and dragged his tongue through it. He chuckled, then bit his lip. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but of course his own product, though tasty, wasn’t nearly as sweet as Sonny’s. Briefly he wondered why he could remember Sonny’s flavor so clearly, but he couldn’t remember the particulars of any other man he’d tasted—and of course there had been a few.
Knowing the experience wouldn’t come close to sex with beautiful Sonny,
Luki decided nevertheless to take it slow, make a feast of the masturbation experience. He handled his hardening testes, running his hands over the silky skin, watching the motion, pretending they were Sonny’s long fingers, pretending the balls he cradled in his own hands were Sonny’s. It didn’t quite work—the differences in anatomy meant Luki really had to work at the imagining, but he persisted, and if it wasn’t perfect, it was good. Next, using spit and precum for lube, he let his fingers wander over his perineum and straight into his ass. All other considerations aside, Luki liked getting fucked, had liked it from the very first time. Other considerations meant he craved the top role more than the bottom, but sometimes Sonny….
“Oh, Sonny,” he whispered, feeling Sonny’s long, straight erection rather than his own two digits. The fingers weren’t quite adequate, but they were a passable substitute as long as he doggedly kept his fantasy in mind. He drew his fingers out then slammed them back in, rough, speeding up and finding a rhythm, relishing the burn and—even though it was a bit of a reach—managing to tap his prostate, stimulating the deep pleasure the little gland had to offer.
He could have come to orgasm with just that, but he didn’t want to, so he gentled the motion and slowed the rhythm almost to a stop. He reached for his cock with his other hand, stroked it once, twice, but stopped that too and instead pinched first one nipple then the other. He made it hurt, made the nipples red and puckered, hard nubs standing out like markers, which was so pleasurable that again he thought he might come. He stopped, wet his fingers in his mouth, and soothed the same nipples he’d just tortured.
Again he said, “Oh, Sonny,” and now he started to stroke, twisting a bit, running his thumb over the slick head. In no time—too soon he thought—he felt his orgasm begin to insist, to rise, to gather force, and then he exploded, groaning out Sonny’s name over and over in a tortured, raspy cry.
He felt mildly strange when it was over, laughed at himself a little, even. But after he cleaned up, he slept well, and he dreamed only of his love. It was good.
Saving Sonny James excerpt two: Meet Jesse Douglas–Luki’s sexy ex (yes, really) and another informal poll (decisions…)
October 22, 2013
Poll question: Do you think a spin-off starring Jesse shoud be forthcoming, or is he too… risky? (I’d sincerely like your feedback.)
Long before Sonny James Luki had a bit of a romance with a ginger man named Jesse Douglas. Jesse is sexy, quiet, capable, and a bit of a badass himself. He doesn’t look like Rupert, or Prince Harry, or this:
(Although some of us may wish that he did.)
This little excerpt is the by-chance, surprise meeting after many years between Jesse and Luki, on the plane heading for France, where Luki is determined to rescue his husband from whatever evil has befallen him.
Luki glanced up in time to see a man who had turned in his seat three rows up and across the aisle, looking at him—a man with brilliant green eyes.
Maybe the eyes distracted him, forcing his attention for no reason except their color. For too long an instant, he didn’t recognize the owner of those startling irises. But the man continued to walk toward him, smiling, and Luki knew him. The real memory finally overcame imagination.
“Jesse,” Luki said when the tall, slender ginger-haired man was close.
“Hey, Luki! Been a long time, eh? Too long.”
Luki couldn’t decide if it was too long or not long enough. Jesse had been part of his life—an anomaly—before Sonny, even before Luki had decided to forego attachments and keep solitary and safe with one-night stands done his way. In his youth Luki had twice tried to have a more significant relationship. One was with a guy in college, Graham Kennedy, whom Luki had dated—for real, dated—for a couple of months until Graham had decided to aim for the Catholic priesthood. Jesse, this mellow and still attractive green-eyed agent standing in the aisle on the flight to France, had been the other. They had trained together at FLETC—the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, in Georgia. Jesse had been a new hire with the State Department, and Luki had been new to ATF. That put them in the minority among FBI newbies and cops from various parts of the country, and they gravitated together when they had downtime. Sharing meals and movies and jokes started them talking. Serious study and skills practice started them touching.
Jesse was a likeable guy, adventurous and sexy. But he’d wanted things Luki couldn’t give. He’d wanted to be equals. He’d wanted to be in love. He’d wanted commitment. Luki couldn’t give any of that, then. And after that he didn’t let anyone get close enough even to think about such things.
Until Sonny. Sonny proved to be the one of a kind, sole contender for Luki’s devotion.
Still, Luki held no ill will for Jesse—he even had good memories, and maybe what he felt could be called fondness. So when his old, once intimate friend came up to him smiling his soft smile, Luki patted his extra, empty seat. “Join me for a bit?”
Jesse accepted the offer, and once he was seated said, “Damn, Luki, you look good!”
Luki started to deny that, then gave himself a mental shake. He did look good—or at least he looked like himself. He was groomed and well-dressed, and his body was in almost top shape. His eyes—he knew—had lost the glazed absent look they’d worn since Umatilla, and he’d gotten enough outdoor air for his skin to look its best, hate-scar down the left side of his face and all. And this man sitting next to him had rather liked that scar, even though—until Sonny—Luki had always thought it made him ugly. So instead of arguing, Luki just said, “Thanks. You too, Jesse. How are you? Still working for State?”
“Yeah, I am—moved out of the field agent ranks, though. Now I’m a pencil pusher.” His smile was wide and sincere, as it always had been, but he’d collected some deep lines around his eyes. His hair had some whitish streaks among the ginger too. It wasn’t a bad look on him. “You’re still with ATF, or no? I’ve heard different things….”
“Yes. I haven’t been working since last summer. I… well, it’s a long story. But I’m active duty now.”
“Are you official, then? I mean, is your trip to Europe connected with a case or something? Seems kind of unusual for ATF.”
Luki recognized the slight shift in Jesse’s voice, the minute narrowing of his eyes. Those little changes told him Jesse had switched from personal interest to professional. He was trying to gauge whether Luki’s visit was going to spell trouble for the State Department. Luki answered to set the man’s mind at ease. “No, Jesse. It’s personal. I’m on vacation leave.” For a change of subject, he asked a question even though the answer was evident. “Your duty station is in Europe?”
“Yeah, gay Par-ee.” He laughed, but it wasn’t entirely in mirth. “Hey, listen. I could see the sparkle off those rings clear over across the cabin. They’re on your left hand. Do they have the usual meaning?” Jesse dropped his gaze and pushed his hair back off his forehead. It changed nothing—the heavy forelock flopped right back down over his brow—but his posture and that nervous swipe of his hair was full of meaning. It told Luki the question held emotional impact for Jesse.
After all this time, Luki mused, but out loud he just said, “Yes.”
“I thought you…. Has it been long?”
“No, not really. We met last year, married this past summer.”
Jesse stared at Luki for a few minutes, as if he were trying to tunnel through his eyes to reach his brain and read what he found there. He tilted his head sideways, shaking it and laughing in disbelief. “You’re in love, Luki Vasquez! I can’t believe it!”
It wasn’t unkind, though faintly colored with old frustrations, Luki thought. He watched his friend, marveling that he could still read his old flame so well. Jesse had leaned forward, elbows on knees and hands clasped, his long, straight spine stretched but his shoulders slightly hunched, fighting with himself over something. Finally, he spoke in a breathy voice that told Luki how hard he had struggled not to ask, not to tread this path. “Have there been a lot of men since me, Luki?”
Luki’s long habit of privacy, of playing everything close to the vest, made him hesitate. But he thought it was a fair question, and Jesse was a good man, and though Luki would never have expected it, apparently for Jesse the end of their brief foray into coupledom remained unresolved. “No,” he said softly, but then he corrected himself. “Well, yes, but out of them all, you were the only one that mattered in any way, until Sonny—my husband.”
Clearly Jesse had been hanging on the words. Immediately he responded, “I mattered.”
Biting back a bit of his own frustration now, Luki spoke as kindly and honestly as he could. “Yes, of course you mattered, Jesse. The time we spent together was fun and sweet for what it was, and you helped me know myself. I remember only good things about you, and after we split I missed you.”
“Why didn’t you ever call?”
“Or even e-mail?”
“Jesse.” Luki let his voice take on a note of warning. As much as he held no ill will for his long-ago lover, he just wasn’t inclined to have this discussion. He’d already gone above and beyond, as far as he was concerned. “Stop,” he said.
Jesse visibly shook off his tension, sat up, and sat back in the seat. “Okay,” he said. “Sorry. Sometimes I get unreasonable.”
Luki said, “Yes, yes, you do. I remember.”
At first it looked as though Jesse was going to take offense at that, but then perhaps memory struck, because he laughed. “I’d bet you’ll never forget,” he said. “But okay, change of subject. Why are you going to Europe? Are you stopping in Paris?”
“Yeah. Paris. I think that’s as far as I’m going.” He allowed himself a sigh as today’s reality sank over him. What to say, though? He wasn’t prone to giving out a lot of information, but it crossed his mind that he had no allies lined up on the far shore, and Jesse might be in a position to help. So, “Um…. Well, it’s where Sonny is, my husband.”
“Do I detect a note of… I don’t know, trouble?”
“Probably. So what do you do, these days—for State, I mean. If it’s not classified.”
“Some classified, but generally I work on various problems around US citizens abroad—they get arrested or stranded or whatever. Why did you ask? Is there something you need help with?”
“Maybe. I don’t really want to lay everything out right here, right now, but Sonny’s sort of… missing.”
Jesse’s whole demeanor changed, taking on his professional persona, which
Luki appreciated. “I take it you’re sure he’s not evading?”
A swift wind of self-doubt swept over Luki—would he want to leave me?—but it passed, leaving him only slightly shaken. Truth was, it didn’t matter. Harold Breslin was anything but trustworthy, and as long as Sonny was in the same country with him, he wasn’t safe. But deep in his heart, he knew Sonny would never walk away from him, from their love, their marriage, their home. Never would he disappear on purpose. “Not evading,” he said.
“I’m afraid maybe so.”
May 18, 2013
Skip this if explicit material offends you, or if you are not of legal age in the country where you live. That is all.
Luki and Sonny had checked into their hotel room before they went to the market, but they’d only had their bags placed inside the room; they’d never even gone in. They had decided to stay this time at a different hotel altogether, thinking the Fairmont was beautiful but the memories of their previous stay mostly not so good. At the Monaco, they’d been offered the Ambassador Suite, but Sonny had insisted the purple furniture would prevent him from sleeping, so they ended up with the Monte Carlo suite. They walked back to the hotel after their business and pleasure at the market was done, and Sonny sighed.
Luki said, “What?”
“Nothing,” Sonny said, sounding like a martyr. “It’s just… interesting wallpaper.”
“Baby,” Luki said, not understanding at all but willing to go to any lengths to please his man, “If you hate it—”
“No, no, I don’t. I mean, it’s not bad—it’s probably even good. I just need to get used to it. The colors in here are gorgeous, truthfully. And you know what?”
Luki’s eyes followed his husband, who paced from side to side, peeked around curtains and walls, opened doors. He made a sound, something like “Mm,” knowing Sonny wasn’t really looking for a response, but would appreciate knowing Luki was paying attention. He also smiled. Something about the quirky way Sonny settled himself into a space was too sweet for words.
“You know what I need to do, honey?”
Luki noted with glee that Sonny had begun to strip. This time, when he said, “Mm,” he didn’t have to feign interest.
“I need to get in that bathtub—do you see that thing? It’s like a swimming pool. I need to get in there and soak, all nice and relaxed, and take in that wallpaper until it seems normal to me.”
The man is fucking crazy, Luki thought, both disappointed and surprised. Sonny was already in the bathroom, fine-tuning the water temperature. Luki put his hands in his pockets—not a characteristic posture at all, but he was at a loss. He literally jumped when Sonny whooped and yelled.
“Yes! There’s bubble bath in here!”
Now, Luki was so nonplussed that he sat down on the couch, rather hard. When he tried to think of something he might be doing the only two things that came to mind were jerking off—which he dismissed immediately—and eating a hamburger. He considered the hamburger carefully, decided against, and got up to wander into the strangely wall-papered, thoroughly lavender-scented bathroom.
“This is a big tub, Luki.”
Luki stepped closer to Sonny and pushed a long strand of dark hair off his chest, letting it join its fellows falling down Sonny’s back.
Sonny grabbed Luki’s belt at the buckle and made as if to undo it. “Get in, Luki. There’s room. Look.” He lifted a foot out of the water. “See, my feet don’t even reach all the way to the other side. Not crowded at all.”
Luki stood silent, chewing his lip. He wasn’t one for shower play, which Sonny knew. It just reminded him too much of lonelier days. He never took baths, especially bubble baths. And, he really, really didn’t want to smell like flowers. But he loved his husband so much, and there the man was, asking for this simple, little thing.
“Luki, take a bath with me. Come on.”
Luki started to strip, tossing his clothes back out onto the chair in the bedroom. He was, of course, hard by the time he was naked, which was something Sonny certainly didn’t fail to notice, even though he said nothing. Luki stood there, feeling confused, never before having realized that deciding how to get into a bathtub and situate oneself was so difficult.
“Luki, you can just sit on that side, facing me so I can look at your eyes and we can talk. Okay? That way you won’t feel so awkward.”
“I’m pretty sure there’s something in that statement I should scold you for, Sonny Bly, I just haven’t figured out what it is,” Luki said that while climbing in and turning around and sitting down as instructed. But once he settled, his hands found Sonny’s legs, and he couldn’t help but rub them. And then Sonny found his foot, and as Sonny well knew, Luki’s toes were really sensitive. And Sonny played with them. All the while they looked each other in the eyes.
“Luki,” Sonny said, finally, “you don’t play in the shower.”
“No. What’s your point?”
For answer, Sonny took Luki’s foot and laid it along his own erection, which was one of the sexiest things that had ever happened to Luki. Then Sonny took his size a-very-large-number foot, with its long, nearly prehensile toes, and not too gently stroked it up and down Luki’s cock, and Luki spent a few seconds catching his breath.
“This isn’t a shower,” Sonny said.
Luki nodded. “Right.”
Sonny let a little water out, added some hot to adjust the temperature. “We could fuck here, if we so desired, which I do.” Sonny actually looked hopeful, as if he was a little afraid Luki would say no, or maybe scoff.
Luki wasn’t about to do either one. Sonny was the most beautiful, lovable, eminently fuckable person on the planet, and Luki wasn’t about to fail him. As he’d explained to Sonny just the other day, fucking Sonny happy was his personal joy. He licked his lips. “Come here, baby.”
Sonny more or less slithered up Luki’s body, dragging his weight over Luki’s flesh until he’d brought his lips even with Luki’s. He stopped, offering his slightly open lips, but waiting for Luki to take them. Luki did, starting with a suck and nibble of Sonny’s lower lip, then licking with just the hard tip of his tongue along the underside of Sonny’s upper lip. He kept it up, nibbling, sucking, licking, lingering at the sensitive corners. Sonny made a move to kiss back, but Luki pulled away, and answered Sonny’s widened eyes by kissing them. He smiled, biting his own lip, made sure Sonny saw the expression, then whispered in his ear. “Just let me do whatever I want to you, baby, okay? It’ll be good, I promise, and when I want you to kiss me back, I’ll tell you. Okay?”
“Oh!” Sonny’s breath puffed out; then he nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Yes, Luki. Okay.”
The water, hot and ever so slightly silky from the bubble bath, made touching—running his hands along Sonny’s back, over his ass, down his legs—a little bit different than touching had ever been before, for Luki. And by different he meant, damn, that’s nice! And Sonny, who was never, ever still unless specifically instructed, kept squirming and rocking, moving his body side to side over Luki’s. And the water lifted him just a little bit so Luki felt little weight on him, only a teasingly sweet, achingly light friction.
He pulled his lover tight against his chest. “Sonny, baby, you are so damn sweet!”
Sonny was not very coherent. “Mmm, mm… ooooh! Luki!”
Luki chuckled. He couldn’t help it. Then he took hold of Sonny’s forelock and tilted his head back until he was sure he had Sonny’s eyes, and he said, “Stick out your tongue.”
Sonny did so, a little, and said, “Aauuh?”
Luki smiled. “More.”
When Sonny obeyed, he said, “Yeah, like that.” Then he laid his own tongue alongside it, teased it, licking at its tip, and finally closed his lips around it and sucked it into his mouth, meanwhile invading Sonny’s mouth with his own tongue, and touching every part of Sonny he could reach with any limb, and rocking Sonny over him, cock to cock, chest to chest. At some point he said, “Okay, kiss me back, Sonny.” Finally, after a long interval of bliss, or else torture, Luki asked the question he almost always asked when they made love. “What do you want, baby?”
Unlike his earlier efforts at speech, Sonny answered clear and concise. “Fuck me.” Then he buried his face in Luki’s neck, where he commenced licking, sucking, and yes, even biting.
Luki gasped at the sensations that weren’t quite tickle, weren’t quite pain, “So you’re serious, you want to fuck here? In the bath?”
“Turn over, baby, and turn around; get up on your knees. I want your ass right here, up close and personal.”
Sonny blushed, but he wasn’t embarrassed much. He had no time, or energy, or room for feeling anything else but desire. Or lust. And love. For Luki. So he did just as directed. Put his knees outside Luki’s and arched his back so that his ass cheeks would be high and open and not more than six inches from Luki’s face. He heard Luki gasp, felt his breath rush out and skim over the wet skin of his ass and balls. Luki took hold of his hips and pulled him back, and the next thing Sonny felt was Luki’s slick, talented tongue snaking up from the base of his cock, tugging at his balls, sliding up his perineum and stopping, pushing at his hole. Luki played for a while, and Sonny heard himself once again making noises no one could decipher. But he was pretty sure Luki knew what they meant, because every now and then he stopped, light stubble on his cheek or chin still scratching so sweetly on Sonny’s ass, and say “yeah, baby,” or “it’s okay,” or “sweet, Sonny, so sweet.”
And every time he heard those things in Luki’s scratchy voice, Sonny groaned with pleasure, with something very like fulfillment.
But after a while he simply couldn’t wait. He needed Luki inside him, felt like he needed it the way he once needed dope—like he’d be sick damn near to death if he didn’t have it. “Please,” he said.
“Yes,” Luki said, soothing but not promising.
“What, baby? You want me inside you?” Luki’s fingers were at work, already. He had rummaged quickly through the small bottles on the shelf beside the bath, opened one, and let the cool contents run down Sonny’s crack, all over Luki’s fingers. Now he had a finger in, and it burned a little, even though Sonny had felt like he was so wide open he could handle Luki’s swollen cock without preamble. Sonny was once again glad Luki was in charge. Luki always took good care of him.
“What is that, Luki?”
“The label says it’s olive oil, sweetie. Just scented olive oil. Okay?”
Sonny grunted an answer, and now Luki used two fingers, fucking in and out. His long middle finger nudged Sonny’s prostate, but only once, twice. Teasing. Luki leaving it for later, the best for last, Sonny thought. “Please,” Sonny said again.
“Please what, baby?” Three fingers.
Oh, Sonny thought, my God. Then he thought, Oh, Luki. And for him, at that moment, the two thoughts were the same. “Please fuck me. Please!”
“Yes, baby. Well, I can’t really.”
“Sonny, take it easy. I didn’t say we couldn’t fuck. It’s just you’re going to have to ride me, okay? I can’t figure out how else to arrange our big ol’ man bodies in here. It’s a big tub, but not quite big enough, I don’t think. Okay? Whenever you’re ready, just sit here in my lap, sweetie.” Sonny did, wasting no time, changing his angle to come down on the hard, thick erection Luki was holding up for him. He slid down over his lover like a glove, and heard Luki sigh. He started to move—small movements, contained, so as not to create a storm in the bathwater, but it didn’t matter. Once Luki was in there deep, Sonny knew right where he wanted to put things. As usual, his excitement built until he started to lose control of his muscles. He said, “Oh!” And he must have sounded mournful—he felt that way, afraid he was going to lose what he’d worked so hard and sweetly to build. “Oh!”
“All right, baby, I’ve got you.” Luki wrapped his arms tight around Sonny’s chest and helped, lifting him and bringing him down in short, hard strokes against his body. The even rhythm he held them to started the water rocking, and the waves played over their skin, soothing and stroking like warm, wet hands. Now, every time Luki pulled Sonny down to sheath his cock, sure of his aim, he tapped against Sonny’s hidden gland. And their testes touched and slid together, the most insistent tickle. Sonny knew Luki had to be close to his own orgasm, but his strength never flagged, and Sonny didn’t worry—he knew Luki would hold on, determined to give Sonny what he needed, and that realization put what Luki had said about orgasms in a new light. For just a few seconds, Sonny thought about how he was the luckiest, most protected, cherished, loved man in the world.
He moved his hand to his own slick, hard penis and began to stroke, rougher than usual, but with the water and steam it felt right, felt necessary. He squeezed precum into his cupped fingers, brought them to his mouth and sucked them in.
“Oh,” Luki breathed. “Oh, Sonny, you know damn well what that does to me. You’re so goddamn beautiful. Sweet man. Sweet, sweet man.”
Sonny whispered, “Luki.” Then he came.
The orgasm lasted several seconds or forever, and just as it started to subside, he felt and heard Luki explode inside him. And as embarrassing as it would have been at any other time with any other man, Sonny felt tears roll down his cheeks, and he didn’t try to stop them.
Fucking Luki in the bath had been good, better, more than beautiful.
Getting out of the tub, not so much.
May 18, 2013
I’ve decided to share their whole darned wedding.
The ceremony involved simple words, panic, laughter, and tears.
First, Kaholo led them through some traditional vows. To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, and so forth. Luki stopped himself from thinking, yada, yada.
Then it was Luki’s turn to wing it. He’d rehearsed only a little and never really planned the words. He was surprised how easy they came, how good they felt. “Sonny, I promise to love you, never to try to change you, to trust you with my heart and with everything I have, and always to remember how precious, how fine, how beautiful you are to me. And I’ll keep you safe, Sonny. I’ll always keep you safe.”
Panic entered the picture when it came time for Sonny to respond—which he couldn’t seem to do, really. “I… I… Luki, I… oh.” Tears started, and Luki had no idea what to do until Josh nudged him and mouthed the word handkerchief.
“Oh!” Luki said. “Yeah. Here, baby.” He held the snowy-white square out as if he was going to wipe his groom’s nose, but Sonny snatched it away, swiped it down his face, and then grabbed hold of Luki’s shoulders, bending slightly to bury his face in Luki’s neck. Luki reached up and put his two big hands over Sonny’s slender ones—Sonny’s trembling hands that seemed so vulnerable. “Shh, sweetie. It’s okay. You don’t have to say anyth—”
“Shut up, Luki, of course I have to say something.”
Those words left Luki slack-jawed again, but the need to decide what to say or do was swept away from him as Sonny stood away once more, grabbing both of Luki’s hands and holding them to his chest, where the many-colored scarf buffeted against them in the breeze, tickling. Luki met his lover’s dark, dark eyes, and found them smoldering despite the rim of moisture, smoldering with such intense sincerity or need that Luki wondered absently if a spark would ignite them like oil on water.
“Yes, Luki. I have to say things. I have to tell you that I… will love you and no other, body and soul… will honor your strength and cherish it. And, Luki, I promise to give you what I am. Every day I want to show you beauty—the beauty I see in the world. That vision is the best I have to give, the best of what I am. And….” His voice trailed to a whisper. “Thank you, Luki, for loving me so much.”
“The rings,” Kaholo said, somehow managing to put an audial eye roll in the words. Josh passed one to Luki, and Jackie passed one to Sonny, and chuckling with their guests they pushed them past knuckles that seemed to have recently grown too large.
“Kiss, then,” Kaholo ordered, and pronounced them a pair of husbands.
Everyone had survived. The boys began to help the guests line up for congratulations. Neither of the grooms had wanted a receiving line, but Kaholo and Leilani insisted. Both of the men looked a little shell-shocked, but a worried look suddenly flashed across Luki’s face. “Wait!”
All eyes turned Luki’s way as he dropped Sonny’s hand and reached into his vest pocket. “I forgot something important. Sonny, this is a wedding present. I know it isn’t all glamorous or anything, but… I hope you’re happy with it.” He held out a hand to Kaholo, a hand holding a half-smoked pack of cigarettes and his dad’s USS Vincent/Dennis the Menace vintage lighter. “Uncle, please take these. I’m quitting. As of right now, I don’t smoke.”
December 24, 2012
Here’s the last excerpt from my brand new Dreamspinner Press release, Aria (Blue Notes #3) ! I’m running a bunch of giveaways to celebrate release day. Enter by leaving your name and email on my blog. I will draw a name from the comments for each of the drawings tonight. So comment once, and you’re entered into all the drawings!
One of the drawings is for a t-shirt with the gorgeous cover of Aria (art by Catt Ford) smack dab center. I’ve got a pretty good selection of sizes, too. XD The photo, by the way, features the incredible interior of the La Scala opera house in Milan, which appears in a few of the Blue Note Series books, including Aria and The Melody Thief. It’s probably one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world, and along with Covent Garden in London and The Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center in New York, is one of the ultimate performing venues for an opera singer. Not surprisingly, opera sensation Aiden Lind, one of the main characters in Aria, sings in all of these amazing places. I guess in that sense, Aria is a bit of my own fantasy come true.
Ever wonder how opera singers manage to be heard in these huge venues that seat thousands of patrons? It’s a combination of things, really. First, the accoustics of these opera houses are amazing. They were built so that a human voice could fill the space without amplification. But not just any human voice. Big human voices (yes, that’s the term for loud voices in opera speak). The kind of voices that sing in large houses like these are ones you could hear from a mile away (not that much of an exaggeration!). How do you “get” a big voice? Most of it is genetics–the way your jaw, mouth and throat are made. But there’s also technique that you can learn to help project your voice, most of which has to do with breath support (singing over the breath, much like a violin bow vibrating across a string). Do it wrong, and you can hurt your vocal chords and end up with vocal “nodes,” which are a bit like a callous and interfere with the vibrations of the voice (and make you sound hoarse or raspy).
Interested in reading a bit more of Aria? Here’s another excerpt for you, from Chapter Two. Hope you enjoy it! -Shira
Blurb: Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.
Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.
When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.
“MR. LIND!” the reporter shouted at him as he walked out the side door from Covent Garden. “Do you have a minute?”
Aiden had just finished rehearsing for his London debut in a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He was exhausted and looking forward to a hot shower back at his place. He pulled up the collar of his wool coat and tucked his scarf a bit tighter around his neck. With all the insanity that seemed to swirl around him recently, the last thing he wanted was to get sick and have to cancel a performance. He could see the headline now: Lovesick Opera Star Misses Opening Night.
Deep breath. I can do this. He turned and flashed his best, most confident smile at the woman. Opera singers never got much press attention, but ever since he’d met Cameron Sherrington, Aiden had been on the radar screen. Cam wasn’t only the outrageously wealthy heir to a global hotel conglomerate, he was also a sometime impresario who financed Broadway-bound productions and even a movie or two when it struck his fancy.
“Mr. Lind, I’m Janine Thomas, from the Sunday Press,” the woman said as he shook her hand. “I was hoping to ask you a few questions.”
He had been expecting the usual “Did you know that the queen will be attending your debut?” or “Are you and Lord Sherrington planning another vacation aboard his yacht this summer?” So he was entirely unprepared when she asked, “Is it true about Lord Sherrington and Jarrod Jameson?”
“What?” He stared at her for a split second, then swallowed hard and fought to regain his composure.
He knew Jarrod. Cam had invited him and about a hundred other guests to a party a few months before at “the castle,” as Aiden liked to call Cam’s family’s sprawling estate about an hour out of London, at which he and Cam sometimes spent the weekend. Jarrod was an Olympic swimmer and recent gold medalist in the European games held only six months before. Lean, muscular body, model good looks. Gay.
The reporter—Aiden had already forgotten her name—thrust a large glossy photograph into his hands. He knew he should hand it back to her, but he was so rattled he couldn’t think straight. The photo was grainy, obviously taken at night. It showed two men entwined and kissing behind a tall iron gate. The kiss was not chaste.
Aiden’s mouth went dry. He knew that gate—the gate in front of the London home he and Cam shared in Bloomsbury. One of the men looked a lot like Jameson, although he couldn’t be sure. And the other man… Aiden was pretty sure he recognized the familiar high cheekbones, the short brown hair that was always stylishly mussed, and the lean, athletic frame that looked so striking in an expensive suit. And well he should. He’d been living with the man for nearly a year.
He shoved the photograph back at her. “No comment.” His jaw tensed as he strode quickly over to the curb and flagged down a taxi.
“Mr. Lind!” she shouted as he ducked into the cab and shut the door. He ignored her and gave the driver his address.
AT NEARLY two in the morning, Aiden heard the front door open and close. He had spent the better part of the past three hours making a serious dent in the contents of a cut crystal carafe filled with expensive scotch. He was drunk, but not so drunk that he didn’t care. He wished to hell he was. He didn’t want to care. It hurt too much.
It was still so surreal, living in this incredible Edwardian house in one of the most expensive London neighborhoods. He had grown up in rural Mississippi in a three-bedroom ranch on his grandfather’s farm. The house had been comfortable but small, built in the late 1960s, when his father married his mother. A wedding present. Aiden had always wondered how his mother must have felt, having her front door a few hundred feet from her in-laws’ home. But if it had bothered her, she’d never mentioned it. Elizabeth Lind was the perfect wife and mother, attending church, cooking and cleaning and raising her two children. His mother’s world was far removed from the one into which Cameron Sherrington had been born—one of wealth and privilege. Aiden still felt like a usurper, a pretender to his current circumstances.
“Waiting up for me, sweetheart? I told you I’d be at the gallery opening late. Lady Billingsley insisted we go out for drinks afterwards, and you know how she is.” Cameron laid his coat over the back of the loveseat, walked over to Aiden, and bent down to kiss him on the head.
“I looked online,” Aiden said, his voice a monotone. “The gallery opening was last week.”
“Checking up on me?” Cam laughed and kissed Aiden again. “I’m sure you’re mistaken.” He walked over to the buffet and poured himself a glass of sherry. “I hardly imagined the party tonight. And it was a dull one, frankly. If Sarah hadn’t been there, I’d—”
“Was he good, Cam?” Aiden got up from the couch and stood in front of the fireplace.
“What on Earth are you talking about? And who is he?”
The slight twitch in Cam’s cheek told Aiden everything he needed to know.
“Jameson? You mean the swimmer? What would I know about him?” Cam refilled his glass and waved it in Aiden’s direction.
“I know you’ve been fucking him.”
Cam raised an eyebrow. “You’re drunk.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“We can talk about it in the morning, when you’ve sobered up a bit.” Cam gave him a long-suffering look that made Aiden feel like he was six years old again.
“Cam. Shit. You promised you wouldn’t—”
“Shhh.” Cam took Aiden in his arms and ran his hands through Aiden’s hair.
Aiden wanted to pull away, but he couldn’t do it. Instead he melted into Cam’s arms.
“You know I love you. What happens out there, it’s not us. This,” he continued, “here, this is who we are.”
The fire spit angrily, and Aiden watched it with calm detachment over Cam’s shoulder. Cam was right. This was home. He loved this old place with its creaky stairs, wood paneling, painted doors, and beautifully worn oak floors. They had picked out the furniture together, shopping the antique stores of Portobello Road until they found the perfect pieces.
“You’re being paranoid, sweetheart,” Cam interrupted. He ran a thumb over Aiden’s mouth, tracing his lips until Aiden closed his eyes. “You worry too much. You always do.”
Aiden took a deep breath. Maybe Cam was right. Maybe he was being paranoid. The photograph had been taken at night, after all. And he hadn’t been sure it was Cam.
“Come to bed, Aiden,” Cam purred as he licked a line from Aiden’s chin to the sensitive spot under his ear. “And let me show you how much you mean to me.”
Shit. He had missed his entrance. Again.
“Sorry, David. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”
David Somers peered at him over the rim of his reading glasses and frowned. “It’s about time for lunch anyhow,” the conductor said as he stood up from the piano. “How about it? My treat.”
“I… ah… sure.” Aiden had eaten with David before, but he still felt supremely awkward around the superstar conductor whose old-world grace and sophistication were so far removed from Aiden’s humble upbringing. David was classical music royalty, and Aiden was the hick kid with the incredible voice.
They’d met three and a half years before, not long after he’d arrived in Germany. David had taken Aiden under his wing, gotten him work in the larger European houses, introduced him to the best European conductors. David was the reason Aiden was making his Covent Garden debut; in the terms of his contract, he had insisted on Aiden singing the title role. David had even sent Aiden to a friend who had his own line of clothing with one of the largest European fashion houses for a “bit of polish,” as David had put it. David had taught Aiden about good wine and good food. Aiden’s best friend, Cary Redding, loved to tease Aiden that David was his fairy godfather.
When David’s driver let them out in front of a small fish and chips place near Piccadilly Circus, Aiden was more than a little surprised. He’d been expecting something a bit more posh. David was clearly amused to see Aiden’s reaction.
“Fish and chips is an art form in its own right,” David told Aiden in his upper-crust New England accent. “Not everything on your plate needs to be haute cuisine.”
Ten minutes later, settled at a table near the back of the tiny restaurant, Aiden nodded in hearty agreement as he bit into a delicately battered piece of fish that melted on his tongue. “This is incredible.”
David’s response was a knowing but reserved smile. David never laughed, as far as Aiden could tell, and right now, Aiden was thankful for it.
“Something’s on your mind, Aiden,” David said. He never did beat around the bush.
“It’s nothing.” Aiden wiped his lips and tried not to blush.
“I’ve never seen you this distracted.”
Aiden was utterly embarrassed. It wasn’t as if he was going to discuss his love life with someone like David Somers. Why would David even care?
“I am not entirely oblivious to your situation,” David continued, apparently unfazed by Aiden’s silence. “I knew Lord Sherrington’s parents quite well.”
Oh God, Aiden thought. Can it get any worse? He waited for the other shoe to drop. David would fire him now, wouldn’t he?
“That’s interesting,” Aiden said, knowing he looked like a complete fool and reminding himself that there were other jobs to be had. Of course, none of the other jobs he’d gotten since coming to Europe were anywhere near his current gig: performing at the best opera house in Great Britain with the best conductor around, singing the title role in Don Giovanni.
“I simply wanted you to know that if you need anything,” David continued, “I’m here to assist. I have several spare bedrooms at my London flat.”
Aiden’s mouth fell open. Was the man offering to put him up if he left Cam?
David offered Aiden a warm smile. “I put very little stock in the gossip rags,” he said as he tore a piece of fish off with his bare hands, “but I am not so naïve as to believe that there is never a grain of truth to be found between their covers.”
“You… you would do that?” Aiden stammered as David’s words began to work their way to his fuzzy brain. “Put me up?”
“Of course. Aren’t we friends?”
Aiden coughed and choked on a piece of fish until tears appeared in the corners of his eyes.
David handed him an extra napkin with casual aplomb. Does anything ruffle this man? Aiden wondered. Friends? Me and David Somers?
“It would be my pleasure.”
“I… uh… I mean… that’s very kind of you and all, but….”
“Aiden.” David’s face was serious now, his expression sympathetic and kind. “You have far too little faith in your own abilities both on and off the stage. It isn’t my place to give you advice as to your private affairs, but I feel it’s my duty as your friend to remind you that I am here should you ever need my help.”
“I… uh… thanks, David. I’m honored. I mean, I’m—”
“There’s no need to thank me. And no need to speak of it further.” He gestured to Aiden’s plate. “By the way,” he continued, “the fish is far better consumed hot.”
Aiden nodded dumbly and went back to work on his food, knowing the heat in his cheeks was visible to his companion but unable to do anything about it. There was no doubt in his mind that David’s offer was entirely genuine.
David Somers wants to be my friend? It seemed so improbable, so surreal. And yet, there it was.
“YOU were splendid, darling,” Cam gushed as he met Aiden in the front entrance of his family’s estate and planted a kiss on his lips. “Not that I expected anything else, of course.”
Cameron had invited the entire Don Giovanni cast back to the castle to celebrate iden’s London debut. And the orchestra. And the stage crew. Half of London, really.
Cam guided Aiden into the grand ballroom of the estate to a round of applause from the guests. Aiden caught David Somers’s eye, and the conductor raised his glass and smiled.
The place was magnificent. Glittering chandeliers cast flickering slivers of light on the polished marble floors. The ceiling was painted with tiny stars on a deep blue background, the walls paneled in well-oiled wood that shone and reflected blue and white with the crystals overhead. Toward the back of the ballroom, enormous arched doors led out onto a patio running the length of the room. Aiden was reminded of the dizzying effect of a disco ball, only far more ethereal.
A jazz orchestra played at one end of the high-ceilinged room as women in ball gowns danced with men in tuxedos. Aiden had begged Cam for a little party at their own home. He was entirely out of his element here, amidst the titled guests and local celebrities. Cam, however, had insisted that Aiden deserved the lavish celebration, and Aiden, knowing it was useless to argue, had finally relented.
For nearly two hours, Aiden smiled politely as guest after guest congratulated him on his performance. Finally, at the end of his patience and feeling the usual exhaustion that followed an evening of singing, he walked onto the patio and into the damp evening air. The midwinter chill on the breeze helped clear his mind.
It was quiet here, overlooking the formal gardens. Beyond, Aiden could barely make out the copse of trees he and Cam had often picnicked under. Beyond that were the woods where they’d ridden on horseback—where Cam had taught Aiden to ride. Even now, as winter began to weave its tendrils throughout the countryside, it was still lovely. In spring, the trees and flowers would burst into a frenzy of color, each plant painstakingly placed for maximum visual impact. Aiden wished his mother could see this. She’d always loved to tend her garden.
Overhead, a plane made its way to parts unknown, but the only thing Aiden could hear was the wind as it moved through the trees and shrubs. He wondered what it must have been like for Cam, growing up in this beautiful but formidable place. They often spent weekends here in the spring and summer, but it never felt like home to Aiden. He couldn’t get used to the servants who pressed his clothing and turned down the bed at night, or the elaborate breakfasts that greeted them in the mornings with food enough for ten people.
In all his stays at the castle, Aiden had never once met Cameron’s mother. He once asked Cam how often he saw her, but Cam only laughed and pointed out that Aiden hadn’t seen his own parents or his sister in more than two years. Funny, thought Aiden, how he still missed his parents sometimes. But then again, John Lind had made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing to do with his only son. Aiden’s mother wouldn’t defy her husband, although she wrote to Aiden regularly by e-mail. His sister, Deb, had also made the effort to stay in touch, and he saw her once a year at most.
“Aiden!” he heard Cam call from the glass doors behind him. “You must meet Lord Cook and his wife, Audrey.”
With a sigh, Aiden turned and walked back into the ballroom.
AT NEARLY three in the morning, Aiden climbed the back stairs to the enormous bedroom he and Cameron shared. The room, as the rest of the house, was decorated in antiques. The bed was the only compromise in the room. Made of reclaimed wood Cam had told him once made up a wall-sized cabinet, it had been crafted to resemble the other pieces. Mahogany, finely detailed carving. Outrageously expensive. Cam had told him it was French and several hundred years old. Oil paintings of the English countryside hung at perfectly placed intervals on the damask-covered walls.
The party still continued below. It would go on until sunrise, Aiden guessed, but Cam would forgive him for turning in early. Not that Cam would hesitate to tease him mercilessly about being an early bird the next day. Aiden had a difficult enough time keeping up with Cam’s seemingly boundless energy, but after a long day and performance, Aiden knew it was a lost cause even to attempt it.
Aiden shed his tux, slipped into a heavenly pair of silk pajamas Cam had given him as a gift—one of many gifts—and washed his face in the spacious bathroom attached to their room. He reached for the toothbrush, neatly laid out on the glass shelf above the sink, when his stomach rumbled loudly enough for him to hear. He laughed. In all the chaos of the evening, he had forgotten to eat.
He never did eat much before a performance. He was loath to admit it, but he desperately feared burping when he was on stage. Not that he ever had. Still, it was a bit like a good luck charm for him, not eating. But afterward….
Damn. The servants would all be helping out at the party, so it wouldn’t be easy to find someone to bring him a snack. He didn’t want to get dressed again, he was too comfortable. He’d have to get the food himself without being noticed. Aiden smiled at the thought that he knew his way to the kitchen without descending the main staircase. He and Cam had sneaked down to the kitchen by way of the servants’ stairs more than a few times to snag leftovers after a particularly athletic round of sex.
He pulled on a pair of slippers and tied a warm woolen robe around himself. He made his way down the long hallway that joined the east wing of the house with the west, past the enormous staircase that led to the front entry, and toward the back stairs. He had nearly reached the stairs when he heard it—the sound of voices from a sitting room that joined a pair of bedrooms.
“Right… oh, yes… right there. That’s it. Just a little more. Oh… fuck!”
Aiden laughed to himself. He wasn’t all that surprised that some of the guests had made their way up here for a little added entertainment. The servants had been instructed to make the guest bedrooms available to Cam’s “good friends,” which in Aiden’s experience meant anyone who asked to stay.
He quickened his pace, not wanting to eavesdrop. The door to the sitting room was slightly ajar, so he kept his eyes focused on the stairwell so he wouldn’t be tempted to look inside. But then he heard a second voice, and he froze where he stood.
“Damn, but you’re tight tonight, sweetheart. Have you missed me? Have you been saving yourself for me? Because that tight little ass of yours is too delicious—”
Aiden’s gut roiled. He stormed over to the door and kicked it open with such violence that the sound echoed down the hallway. What he saw inside made him sick.
Jarrod Jameson was bent over an overstuffed settee. Naked. Cam, fully dressed, was ramming him from behind, his hands grasping Jarrod’s waist. Later, Aiden would realize that his gaze hadn’t focused as much on the men as on the antique sofa, with its beautiful carved scrollwork and hand-embroidered upholstery. Cam had taught him to appreciate the delicate beauty of just such an antique.
“Get the fuck out of here!” Aiden shouted at Jarrod as the two men abruptly separated.
“Aiden, sweetheart, I—”
“Shut up,” Aiden snapped at Cam as Jarrod picked up his scattered clothing from the Persian rug and ran out of the room, still naked. It was a good thing Jarrod left so quickly, because Aiden’s hands were balled in fists and he was having a hard time restraining himself from punching Jarrod’s face in.
Cam opened his mouth to speak, but Aiden didn’t give him the opportunity. “Don’t fucking try it, Cameron. It won’t work this time.” He turned and left, slamming the door to the sitting room behind him.
Back in his room—their room—a minute later, Aiden threw off his pajamas, pulled on a pair of jeans and a cashmere sweater, slipped on a pair of moccasins and a wool jacket, grabbed his wallet, and headed down the main stairway. He’d get his things later. He couldn’t stay a second longer.
Several guests were milling about the front door, drinks in hand, laughing. They barely looked at him in his street clothes. Maybe they didn’t recognize him.
Or maybe they don’t give a shit.
“I’m taking the Jag,” Aiden told one of the servants. The man looked at him with surprise but complied, returning a moment later to let him know the driver would be bringing the car around. Aiden was on the road back to London a few minutes later.
WHEN Cameron returned from the castle the next morning, Aiden had several suitcases spread around the bedroom and was packing his belongings. Aiden had tried to sleep but had given up in the end, deciding instead to get his things together. He couldn’t do this anymore. How could he have been so naïve? He had stupidly believed the man the first time. But the second….
What’s the old expression? Fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me?
God, his chest hurt. His eyes were red from lack of sleep and tears. Ironic that the biggest night of his career would be the worst night for his heart.
“Darling,” Cam said as he looked into the bedroom at the array of suitcases on the floor and on the bed, “don’t do this.”
“Do what, Cam? Because last time I checked, I wasn’t the one doing anything. It was you, doing it to us.”
“Don’t you fucking call me that! You don’t deserve to call me that.”
“Dar—Aiden,” Cam began again, “let’s talk about this. We can straighten this out.”
“Sure. We can straighten it out. I’ll forgive you again and you’ll go on doing what you want, won’t you?”
“You’re jealous. You always were.”
“Cam, for God’s sake! Of course I’m jealous. We live together, and I just caught you fucking some—”
“Sweetheart. Aiden.” Cam walked over to Aiden and took him in his arms. “Don’t do this.”
Aiden did his utmost not to respond to that touch, to the touch that had once sustained him through the ups and downs of his career. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done, not to melt into Cam’s arms as he loved to do.
“It’s over, Cam. I can’t live like this. It’s not what I thought we were about.” Aiden’s voice cracked.
“I’ll never speak to Jarrod again.” Cam’s tone was reassuring. “I promise you.”
“It’s not him. Don’t you understand? You’ll just find someone else. I’m obviously not enough for you.”
There. He had said it. And it was true. Because no matter how much he told himself he deserved better, it all seemed to come down to his own failings. He, Aiden Reuben Lind, hadn’t been able to keep Cameron happy. It didn’t matter how he looked at it. He had failed. It was time to admit it. Time to leave. Time to move on.
“I want you.”
Aiden pulled out of Cam’s arms and walked silently to the bathroom, grabbed his toiletry bag, and tossed it into the suitcase he’d been working on. “It’s over, Cam,” he said as he latched the case and pulled it off the bed.
“What will you do without me?”
The question scared Aiden to death. “I’ll be fine,” he said under his breath. He hoped he sounded more convinced than he really was.
“You need me, Aiden. You need what I can give you. Money. Better name recognition. Work.”
Work. Aiden hoped to God Cameron wouldn’t interfere with his work. Would he do that?
“I’ll be fine,” he repeated.
“You’ll regret this, Aiden. I assure you.”
Was that a threat? He didn’t dare ask. “Good-bye, Cam,” he said. He picked up the suitcase and headed out the bedroom door. “I’ll send someone around to pick up the others.”
Cameron said nothing.
“DAVID,” Aiden said an hour later as he stood on the doorstep of David Somers’s London flat, “it’s good to see you. I hope I’m not coming at a bad time.”
David smiled and opened the door for Aiden, took the suitcase over Aiden’s protests, and led him inside. “The offer to stay here didn’t have an expiration date.” He gave Aiden’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “You can stay as long as you like.”
Aria (Blue Notes #3) is at the Dreamspinner Press website.
December 24, 2012
Welcome to the release party for my new novel, Aria, the third in my Blue Notes Series of classical music themed gay romances! I’m running a bunch of giveaways on my blog, so stop by and comment to be entered into all of them. I’ll be drawing winners at midnight tonight!
One of the today’s giveaway is for a paperback copy of Blue Notes, the original book in the series. Loosely based on my experiences growing up in France, Blue Notes is the story of former pianist, now lawyer Jason Greene, and jazz violinist Jules Bardon. The two meet in a Paris jazz club after Jason runs away from his life in the US when he catches his fiancee cheating on him.
Like Blue Notes, Aria is a story about a musician and a lawyer. In fact, Sam Ryan from Aria and Jason from Blue Notes almost end up in bed together at one point in the original story. They’re former courtroom rivals who meet after Jason’s heart has been broken. Instead, the two men become close friends and when Sam visits Jason in Paris, Sam runs into former lover and international opera sensation Aiden Lind. So begins their rekindled romance.
Aria is at times sad, at times sweet and funny, and of course, there’s a happily ever after (no spoilers here – I only write books with happy endings!). In fact, the HEA in Aria is probably my favorite so far in the series. But that’s all I’m saying!
Aria has a bit of the backstage world of opera. From the wigs, to the pancake makeup that tends to run down your face when you sweat under the hot lights (the heavy costumes don’t help much either), it’s really hard work. They say singing an opera is a bit like running a marathon. Not sure about that (I’ve never run a marathon!), but I do know that it’s a physical career. And no, in this day and age, most opera singers are not fat. In fact, the thinnest I’ve ever been was when I was singing. You really do have to look the part! Tosca, by the way, was supposed to be a sexy opera singer. Want to see what I call sexy when it comes to opera singers? Check out this excerpt from Bizet’s “The Pearlfishers” – the operatic equivalent of a bromance. That would be Aiden (the baritone) on the right in the clip. Yummy! See, opera singers can be hot!
I’ll leave you with a NSFW excerpt from Aria. This is the scene where Aiden and Sam first meet, five years before present day action. It’s a long and hot one. Enjoy! -Shira
Blurb: Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.
Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.
When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.
New York, New York
The SoHo bar was crowded when Sam arrived a few minutes after eight o’clock. Some of his friends had recommended it to him, but he had never been inside. Typical of many establishments in the area, the walls were stripped bare of years of paint. Modern canvasses in various sizes and shapes broke the monotony of the ancient brick. Italian track lighting hung from the drop ceiling illuminated the artwork and the tables. Sam could make out the strains of classic jazz over the low drone of conversation. The smells of alcohol, aftershave, and musk hung in the air.
Sam realized his hand rested on his briefcase. He thought briefly of the metal cookie tin inside, which inevitably made him think of Nick. He and Nick first met in a bar, but Sam had never liked them much. As a couple, they had mostly socialized with friends, alternating hosting get-togethers at their loft apartment and spending weekends upstate in small B and Bs.
Sam felt overwhelmed as he sat down at the end of the bar and ordered a drink. He reminded himself that he was just here for the alcohol, but the Manhattan gay scene loomed frighteningly on the horizon, and he was woefully unprepared. Even now, a year after Nick’s death, he knew he wasn’t ready, though he’d already received a few appreciative looks in the few minutes since his arrival. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for it again—it had been intimidating enough the first time around.
“Vodka tonic,” he told the bartender. Tonight he needed something stronger than his usual beer. Running a hand through his hair, he took a look around the bar for the first time. There was no dance floor, so the action was subtler. Men filled nearly every seat at the long bar, chatting in undertones over drinks. He fought the urge to leave. When the bartender placed a drink in front of him, he thanked the man and took a long, desperate swallow. The comforting effect of the alcohol began to kick in.
What am I doing here?
The man seated to his left got up and threw a twenty down on the bar, then waved to the bartender and the other men at the counter. Sam finished his drink in one long swallow and looked up again, this time into a pair of warm brown eyes framed by long lashes. The newcomer smiled affably at him. Sam managed to return the smile before quickly looking back down at his empty glass.
This was a mistake. He pulled his wallet out of his jacket and rummaged for a twenty.
“I hope you’re not leaving on my account,” said the man next to him. And, God, what a voice! A resonant, sexy-as-fuck baritone that went straight from Sam’s ears to his cock.
“Aiden Lind,” he said more formally as he offered Sam his hand.
“Sam Ryan. Nice to meet you.” Sam’s hand was warm, his grip firm.
Aiden gestured to the bartender. “Two more. On me.”
“I was just about to leave.” Sam didn’t want to be rude, but he needed to get out of the place. Coming here had been a mistake.
“Sure I can’t convince you to stay?”
“No. But thanks, Aiden. It was good meeting you.” Sam forced a smile and picked up his satchel before heading for the door. A moment later he stepped out into the chilly night air, taking deep breaths to calm his racing heart.
He wasn’t ready. He pulled his jacket collar up, then started for the subway station.
Sam turned around to see someone running after him down the street. What was his name? Aiden.
“Look, Aiden,” Sam said as he caught up with him, “I’m tired.”
Aiden blinked. “Oh. No. It’s not like that.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wallet. Sam’s wallet.
Shit. The guy was being nice, and Sam had tried to blow him off.
Sam took the wallet and their fingers brushed. Sam’s cheeks warmed as their eyes met. Uncomfortable, he shifted his briefcase from one hand to another. “Thanks. Damn good thing my head’s attached to my body tonight.”
“No problem.” Aiden shoved his hands back into his pockets.
“It was good meeting you.” Sam was hard-pressed not to like the man.
“You too, Sam.” Aiden hesitated a second longer, then turned and waved as he headed back toward the bar.
It’s only a drink. No strings. It’s not like you have anyone waiting at home.
“On second thought,” Sam called after Aiden, “I think I’ll have that drink.”
“Great!” Aiden turned around and beamed at him, and Sam’s initial hesitation evaporated in the warmth of Aiden’s smile.
A few minutes later, they walked back into the bar. Aiden motioned to a free table. “This okay with you?”
“Sure.” Sam set his briefcase back down and settled into one of the metal chairs.
“What are you drinking?” Aiden asked.
“Great. I’ll be right back.” Aiden headed for the bar before Sam could offer to spring for the drinks.
Now that they were back inside in the light, Sam got his first good look at Aiden. He hadn’t noticed when they were sitting down, but Aiden was nearly as tall as he, probably around six feet. He’d already noticed Aiden’s curly hair, high cheekbones, and the strong line of his jaw. Now, Sam couldn’t help but notice the black jeans that hugged Aiden’s firm ass and the long-sleeved Henley that fit his upper torso tightly enough to hint at the muscle beneath. Casual but undeniably sexy.
Back a minute later, Aiden sat facing Sam, and Sam noticed Aiden’s foot tapping the leg of his chair.
He’s nervous too. That surprised Sam. The guy was good-looking, friendly. Trying to quell his own anxiety, Sam took a deep breath. “Thanks for the drink. And thanks again for the wallet.”
Aiden seemed buoyed by Sam’s change of heart. “Long day?” He brushed a stray lock of hair from his eyes.
“You could say that.” Sam shook his head and exhaled audibly. If only you knew….
A waiter brought their drinks. “Cheers.” Sam held up his glass and Aiden touched his beer against it.
They drank in silence for a few moments until Sam realized he must have been staring, because Aiden leaned in and gazed at him—a gaze that held more than a whisper of lust. For the past year, Sam hadn’t even considered how he looked to the world at large. He donned his expensive suits like the uniforms they were, shaved, and combed his unruly hair, but he’d just gone on living, nothing more. He’d had a few blind dates friends had set him up on, but none of them had gone anywhere and he hadn’t cared. Now he was suddenly self-conscious, his suit rumpled after a long day bent over piles of documents, his hair undoubtedly sticking up in odd places as it liked to do.
When did it get so hot in here?
Sam pulled off his jacket and draped it over the back of his chair. As the second drink went straight to his shoulders, he felt his old confidence return. “What do you do for a living, Aiden?”
“Really? What kind?”
Aiden appeared uncomfortable, almost apologetic. “I’m a singer. An opera singer.”
“You’re serious?” Explains the voice of God vibe.
“Yeah.” Aiden shifted in his seat.
“That’s cool,” Sam said enthusiastically.
Aiden laughed—a warm, rumbled laugh that made Sam melt like a puddle into his seat. Aiden Lind was a handsome man, even more so when he laughed. “I get a lot of flak from my family about it.”
“Really? Why?” Sam finished his drink and flagged down the waiter for another round.
“They think it’s queer. I used to sing rock and gospel. That was okay with them. But opera? And shit, if they knew I liked men and women….” He laughed again, but Sam heard an edge to the sound this time and saw a flash of something like pain in Aiden’s eyes. “So what do you do, Sam?”
“Compared to singing opera? Just boring stuff. I’m a lawyer for a firm near Wall Street.”
“I sort of guessed. Nice suit, briefcase ’n all. Nice tie too.” Aiden wasn’t looking at Sam’s tie, though; his gaze never left Sam’s.
Maybe it was the booze, but Sam wasn’t in the slightest bit tempted to look away. Instead, he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt.
“So what kind of law do you practice?”
Shit. What was it about Aiden that made everything he said sound like an invitation to do something sexual? The voice. Definitely the voice.
“Personal injury. Not my first choice.” Sam had rationalized taking the job for many reasons, but one in particular topped the list: the prospect of going home to Tennessee and back into the same dark and claustrophobic closet he had come out of was too horrible to contemplate.
“What would you rather be doing?”
At that moment Sam could think of a few things he’d rather be doing that had nothing to do with practicing law. “Employment law. Plaintiff’s work. You know, the underdogs?”
“Nothing wrong with that, is there?”
“No. Nothing at all.” The job had been a compromise: it hadn’t been what Sam had wanted, but it hadn’t been part of Samuel Stetson Ryan III’s “plan” either. It had been a huge disappointment to the old man that Sam didn’t return to Memphis to work for his firm.
Sam shifted in his seat, brushing Aiden’s foot by accident. At least he thought he’d done it by accident. “So.” Sam changed the subject and tried to focus on something other than Aiden’s foot rubbing against his own. “What’s it like, singing opera?”
The waiter came with another round of drinks—Sam lost count of how many he’d downed. Was this three already? It was hard to focus, and Sam was pretty sure it wasn’t the alcohol that was turning his brain to mush.
Aiden leaned back in his seat with his legs slightly apart. It was an inviting pose. Aiden held his beer in his right hand and gesticulated with it as he spoke. As Aiden’s leg pressed against Sam’s, Sam did his utmost to keep his eyes focused on his companion’s face. His own face felt warm.
“It’s great,” Aiden replied. “I’m planning to go to Germany soon, maybe do a few auditions there.”
“Sounds exciting. What would you be auditioning for?” Laughter erupted from the bar, and Sam moved his chair closer to better hear Aiden’s answer.
“Most of the larger German cities hire contract singers for their opera houses. It’s better than in the States. Here, you mostly just string gigs together to make a living. There, you have a steady job for a year at a time, do stuff in repertory. Beats waiting tables.”
“I didn’t realize it was that tough getting work.” He and Aiden were only about a foot apart now. From this distance, Sam could see the hint of Aiden’s hard nipples beneath the close-fitting Henley. It was difficult to focus on the conversation when his mind was busy imagining how he might take one of those nubs between his teeth.
“Once you get an agent, it gets better. I only graduated from school a few years ago, and it’s hard to get hired for big roles right away.”
“Kind of like getting stuck doing the grunt work right out of law school.” Sam knew the feeling well. He’d only made partner last year, and he’d done his share of shit jobs before that.
“Yep.” Aiden finished the rest of his beer, lingering over the mouth of the bottle before giving Sam a smile.
Sam swallowed hard and tried to ignore the renewed jolt of sexual heat he sensed in Aiden’s gaze. He looked down at his drink. It definitely wasn’t only the booze talking. He got hard just thinking about kissing Aiden, tasting him. “Are you from around here, originally?”
“Nah. I’m from Mississippi. Little town named Fenton, right outside of Jackson.”
“Really? Hell, I grew up in Memphis.”
“No shit.” Aiden laughed. “I thought I heard a little Tennessee in you.”
“You had me fooled. I figured you were from up north.”
“Comes with the territory. Good ear. Had to study French, German, and Italian in school. You lose the drawl fast or they beat it out of you.”
They talked about growing up in the South for a few minutes. Comfortable, easy conversation. How long had it been, Sam wondered, since he’d had a conversation like this with someone other than Nick?
“Listen,” Aiden began as he stared awkwardly at his beer, which was now clearly empty, “would you like to get out of here?”
Since Nick died, Sam had said no to anything but casual hints at dating. This was much more of an offer.
“I’d like that,” he heard himself say.
Aiden looked surprised and pleased, but no more than Sam. Had he really said yes?
“I live over in Alphabet City. It’s not much, but….”
“That’d be fine,” Sam reassured him. He might be ready to spend the night with someone, but he sure as hell wasn’t ready to take a man back to his own apartment—the apartment he and Nick had shared. Not yet, anyhow.
After a short cab ride, Sam followed Aiden up the stairs of a third-floor walkup off Avenue C and into a small two-bedroom apartment. The living room appeared to double as a third bedroom. Pots, pans, and cooking utensils hung from every inch of the high-ceilinged walls of the tiny kitchen. An electronic keyboard sat atop a cardboard box, and piles of music filled the built-in shelves. In spite of the clutter, the apartment was clean and smelled vaguely of lemon.
“I live with two other singers,” Aiden said. “Mark works nights, and Rob is out of town at a gig, so we have the place to ourselves.”
Sam put his briefcase down and tossed his coat onto the couch. He turned to find Aiden only a few inches away. In the shadows of the semidarkness, Aiden’s high cheekbones were more defined, his body backlit by the light from the streetlamp outside.
A moment later they were kissing. Rough, hungry lips met with equally awkward eagerness, teeth tapping against each other as Sam and Aiden found their bearings. Sam ran his tongue against Aiden’s lower lip and gained entry before pressing inward to find the warmth that waited there. Aiden’s mouth tasted good, with a hint of dark beer that lingered from the bar.
“Bed?” Sam asked.
Aiden’s answer was a low growl with the same deep resonance of his speaking voice. Sam had never realized the sound of someone’s voice could be such a turn-on. His body was thrumming now, and he knew there was no going back. He’d waited so long, denying himself in silent penance for circumstances over which he’d never had any control. Now he would let that final piece of Nick go and give his body over to someone new.
You know he would have wanted this for you.
Aiden put his arm around Sam’s waist as he led him down the short hallway, then pushed the bedroom door open with his foot. Sam felt the bed at the backs of his knees as Aiden pushed him down on top of the ragged comforter. The bedding smelled clean, though. Sam didn’t have a chance to take in the rest of the room before they were kissing again. Sam scrabbled for purchase on Aiden’s shirt, reaching to pull it over his head. He needed to feel Aiden’s chest, to feel someone else’s skin beneath his fingers.
Aiden’s body was as finely honed as Sam had imagined it to be back at the bar. Lean—not the overly sculpted abs that graced Times Square billboards—but just the way Sam liked them, with more than a dusting of dark, curly hair between his nipples. He pressed his hand to Aiden’s enticing skin. He wondered what it would be like to feel that chest vibrate when the other man sang. The thought led him to a renewed jolt of desire, and he pinned Aiden to the bed before pushing down Aiden’s dark jeans along with the gray boxer briefs to reveal the purple tip of a sizeable cock. It took only another minute before Aiden was completely naked on the bed. The fact that Sam was still fully dressed only served to arouse him more.
He didn’t need any encouragement to take Aiden’s erection in his mouth; he had to taste it. God, but the man tasted so good! Sam swallowed Aiden’s long cock down, pulling back the foreskin as he went and grabbing the base with his hand, slicked up with saliva. For a man who made his living with his voice, Aiden remained remarkably silent, but the upward arch of his body was tacit reassurance. Sam licked with abandon at the underside of Aiden’s hard width, then tightened the suction until he was rewarded with a gasp.
Sam’s ran his teeth and lips over Aiden’s cock as he moved upward to the tip, then nibbled his way around the crown and probed the leaking slit with his tongue, sucking to milk the salty essence there. He could feel his own hard-on pressed against his pants, which only served to intensify the experience. Denial for now. But later….
“Shit, Sam,” Aiden murmured in a distant rumble. “So good. So fucking good….”
Sam smiled wickedly, happy to have finally coaxed a sound from Aiden’s lips. He reached his free hand underneath Aiden’s balls, rolled them in his palm, then licked them, all the while fisting Aiden’s hard cock. He swallowed it again, skating wet fingers to find the clenched ring of muscles between the tight asscheeks. The press of his finger against the tight opening was rewarded with a low drawn-out groan, so he teased it again.
“Lube?” he whispered as he released Aiden’s cock for a moment.
“Don’t want any,” came the tense response. “Just push your finger in.”
“Nah, Sam. It’s good like that… I like it like that sometimes.”
The words shot through Sam like fire. He pressed his saliva-slicked finger inside and felt Aiden’s big hands grasp his shoulders and pull him closer, encouraging him to push deeper. Sam hollowed his cheeks and increased the suction, pulling and licking until he could feel Aiden’s balls pull tight against his forearm.
“Shit… Sam… gonna… come,” Aiden warned.
Sam released Aiden’s cock from his mouth but continued to rub his lips and hand over it until he felt the warmth of Aiden’s come on his cheek. After Aiden stopped shaking, Sam met his warm brown eyes and smiled.
Aiden reached up and wiped Aiden’s cheek with the sheet, then leaned back against the pillow and inhaled long and deep. “Good God,” he said in an impossibly low, sexy voice, “that was incredible.”
Sam’s face warmed at the compliment, and he fought the urge to protest. Even after so many years of living in New York as an openly gay man, he still felt the stirrings of shame from time to time, his Southern Baptist roots too well ingrained to ignore. But the moment of embarrassment was short-lived, eclipsed by his own unsatisfied need.
“I want to fuck you,” he whispered. “If that’s okay….” He had never been hesitant before, but he felt like he was seventeen all over again, doing it for the first time in the woods behind the cabins at summer camp.
“You’re joking, right?” Aiden laughed. “Hell, yeah.” He reached under the mattress and pulled out a box of condoms and a small bottle of lube, then tossed them within Sam’s reach.
The tension in Sam’s shoulders relaxed until he felt his companion’s hand rubbing at the crotch of his pants. His breath caught in his throat. Too long. Way too long. He started to loosen his tie, but Aiden stopped him.
“Fuck me in that suit. It’s so damn hot.” He rolled onto his stomach and lifted his ass in blatant invitation. “I want you to fuck me in your clothes.”
“Damn,” Sam hissed as he unzipped his fly and pulled his cock out. There was something thrilling about the way Aiden had taken control, something about the way Aiden’s words had sounded almost like an order that made Sam shiver. And, oh God, the globes of Aiden’s ass beckoned, tight and smooth. Sam began to stroke him while he uncapped the lube and slathered his fingers with it, then reached around to press at the hole he had only barely breached before.
“No prep,” Aiden rumbled. “Lube it up. I like it when it hurts a little.”
What the hell do I say to that?
Sam knew the feeling himself, although he had never admitted it to Nick. He and Nick had been tender lovers—the kind of lovers who explored every inch of each other’s bodies with gentle fingers and tongues. Their lovemaking had never approached the rough animal sex Sam had often fantasized about. That hadn’t been Nick’s style; he had been as laid-back and slow in bed as he was in life, and Sam had loved that about him. The sex had been great. Better than great, but now….
Sam rolled the condom over his erection and greased it well, then leaned over and spread Aiden wider. Aiden’s low laugh was an invitation, and Sam looked up to see Aiden’s eyes filled with a mixture of need and playfulness. He pressed the head of his cock against Aiden’s hole, inhaling sharply as the outer ring of muscle gave way and he felt the warm tightness nip at his sensitive tip.
“Come on,” Aiden urged him. “I want it all the way inside.”
He pushed harder, Aiden’s inner muscles gradually releasing with some resistance until Sam was seated up to his balls. Aiden was half-hard again, and Sam grasped his thickening flesh with one hand as he pulled out. Then he pushed in once more, making sure he brushed against Aiden’s prostate. He felt Aiden’s shudder and saw the look of pleasure on his face.
“Harder, Sam. Need it harder.”
“Oh God, yes. But it’s been too long. I won’t be able to….”
“I don’t care.” Aiden’s voice was now rough, husky with need. “Do it like you know you want to.”
The realization that Aiden had guessed at something Sam himself had long denied only served to intensify the urge to pound Aiden senseless. “Fuck,” he panted. “You’re so tight.”
The bed shook as he picked up speed, pistoning back and forth, letting go of all of his repressed desire. His shirt clung to his skin, his pants rode up his ass, but that only increased the pleasure that ran from his cock up his spine and pulled his sac tight. He came with a shout and a series of shudders, then leaned down so his face was only inches away from Aiden’s.
Their eyes met. For Sam it was like diving into dark water—he didn’t know what he might find, but he was caught in the siren song. Aiden’s lips met his, and something deep inside Sam’s heart let go. A door he had closed when Nick died opened just a crack. It stayed open for a brief instant before he felt ice in his veins as fear seeped back inside.
“Stay?” Aiden offered hopefully.
“I….” Sam hesitated. “Okay.” He knew he should leave, that he wasn’t ready for this, but he couldn’t do it. He was so raw, so hungry for Aiden’s touch. He wanted more.
Aiden smiled at Sam and began to unbutton his shirt.
August 24, 2012
Here’s Chapter Two of “The Melody Thief.” It’s meant to be read back to back with the first chapter, and, oh what a contrast Cary Redding’s adult life is to his childhood! This one is 18+ for sexual situations and language.
Chapter Two: Best Laid Plans
Milan, Italy—Thirteen years later
“Oh fuck, yeah!” Cary shouted in English as he pushed back against the other man’s hips. The skinny Italian kid he’d picked up grunted and thrust harder, ratcheting up the pace, so Cary gripped the toilet to keep his balance. Sweat dripped down his neck. He never enjoyed kissing. He didn’t need it. He liked it like this: rough, fast, and anonymous.
Someone in the next stall laughed, but Cary didn’t give a shit. This was how it was supposed to be in a place like this, and someone else listening in only made it so much hotter. Here, he was just another nameless fuck, and that suited him just fine.
“That’s it. Oh God, yes!” he cried as the kid nailed his gland again. He stroked himself in rhythm with the young man’s thrusts, groaning as he came with a strangled gasp into his sweaty palm. The smell of come mingled with the faint scent of urine and toilet deodorizer. Years ago, the combination made him sick. Now, the seediness of it just made it more of a turn-on.
His partner grunted as he came hard, his body shuddering and his breaths coming in stutters. A minute later, the kid pulled out. Cary saw the used condom hit the water of the commode, and heard the sounds of a zipper and the latch being released on the stall door. He had already forgotten the kid’s face. It was better this way. He didn’t want anything but sex anyhow, and he didn’t want to be forced to make small talk. In Italian, no less.
He leaned against the grimy wall and wiped himself with the cheap toilet paper, then added it to the condom in the water and flushed it down. His stomach rumbled—a few more drinks and he wouldn’t remember he was hungry. He’d reheat something when he got back, or maybe he’d just sleep it off and grab something in the morning instead. It was usually better to nurse a hangover with an empty stomach. He knew from experience.
He walked back into the bar and sat at a table in the corner, making eye contact with the bartender. A minute or two later, he nursed a scotch and soda, his fourth that night, and leaned over to the man at the next table.
“Sigaretta?” Cary asked.
The man grunted and handed him a cigarette, then lit it for Cary as they leaned toward each other to span the short gap between tables.
Cary hated cigarettes. He only smoked in bars, and only after sex. At least that was what he told himself. He preferred the unfiltered variety—it gave him a more immediate buzz. They were easier to find here than in the States.
His hand shook slightly as he brought the cigarette to his lips and inhaled the acrid smoke. It was better than the drugs, right? He’d tried those too, but he’d given them up because they interfered with his playing. He could always sleep off the booze and the nicotine.
One of the regulars walked through the entrance, and their eyes met. Silvio. Nice ass. Terrific bottom.
It was turning out to be a great night.
At nearly three in the morning, Cary stumbled out onto the empty Milan side street. His ass was sore and his thigh muscles were tight. He liked it that way. He needed to feel it in his bones the next morning or he hadn’t gotten enough.
A light fog hung over the city, the fall air cool and damp. Cary shivered, his thin T-shirt little help against the chilly breeze. His housekeeper was right—curse Roberta, she was always right—he should have worn his leather jacket. He looked around for a cab, but there were none in sight. He’d walk over to the main avenue, via Padova, to catch one.
Fuck, he thought, tripping over the uneven pavement as he turned the corner onto another small street. He didn’t notice the two men huddled in the doorway of a darkened building until one of them grabbed him by the neck. He caught the glint of a knife in his peripheral vision. Fucking hell.
“Soldi,” hissed one of the thugs, the one standing in front of him smoking the remainder of a joint.
“I don’t understand,” Cary said in English. It was a lie. He was fluent in Italian. “I’m American.”
“Money,” the man repeated, in English this time. “Give.”
“Don’t have any.” He didn’t pull his wallet out and hand it over. Maybe it was the aftereffects of the alcohol. Or maybe it was the rough sex and the feeling of empowerment that still lingered at his frayed edges. Either way, he wasn’t going to let these assholes push him around.
The man’s response came in the form of a knee to his gut. Cary doubled over, coughing and spluttering. Shit. Was that blood he tasted on his tongue?
“You’re fucking insistent, aren’t you?” he blustered. The man behind him wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him upright once more, pressing hard on his Adam’s apple and making his vision swim with tiny specks of silver.
The man standing in front of him nodded. A hand reached into Cary’s jeans pocket, pulled out the soft calfskin wallet, and held it up to the light. “Expensive,” he told his partner in Italian.
“You come with us.” The other thug’s expression was one of triumphant glee. He pulled Cary’s ATM card out of the wallet and waved it in his face. “Bank.”
“No fucking way,” Cary shouted. He wrenched himself free of the headlock and backed toward the curb.
The lights of via Padova were visible a scant block away. If he could just make it there, he might be able to get help or maybe scare them off. He turned to run, but something hard hit him in the kidneys, and he fell to his knees. He struggled back to his feet.
Before he could defend himself, one of the thugs’ fists connected with his chin, and he staggered backward. He tried to maintain his balance but failed miserably. He hit the concrete hands first, and something in his left wrist snapped. He vomited up what little food was left in his stomach as a wave of intense pain washed over him.
“Asshole,” he spat.
“Get away from him,” someone warned in Italian. The voice came from nearby, but the pain in Cary’s gut was still so bad he couldn’t look up at the newcomer’s face. He heard what sounded like a scuffle, a groan, and then footsteps running down the pavement.
“Are you all right?”
He pushed the hand on his shoulder away without thinking. The world spun and the pain in his wrist shot up his arm. “Oh shit,” he groaned, clutching the wrist.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said, this time in lightly accented English. “You need help.” The voice was calm, reassuring. “You need a hospital.”
“No hospital,” Cary gasped and tried to stay alert. “Leave me alone.”
He got back to his feet, and the lights from the boulevard blurred at the edges. The last thing he remembered before he passed out was two strong arms as they caught him.
Cary awoke in an unfamiliar bed to the sound of muffled voices speaking in Italian. “… found him off via Padova. No identification. The man who brought him says he’s an American.”
He forced his eyes open and saw the metal sides of the hospital bed, the IV hanging from the pole, the needle taped to his hand, and the light-yellow curtains at the sides of the bed. The place smelled of disinfectant.
The last time he’d been in a hospital was when he’d watched his mother wither and die, her body wracked with pain from the chemo and radiation. He remembered his own guilt as he had sat by her bed, helpless to do anything. It had been the final insult, a coda, as it were, to their tumultuous relationship. He had never done anything right by her.
He reached for his right earlobe, jostling the IV, but not caring. The small diamond stud in his ear was still there, thank God. It had been a gift from his brother on his twenty-first birthday and was the only piece of jewelry he wore.
As he was getting his bearings, the shadows in the room shifted. No, not shadows—a man, seated in the corner. “How are you feeling?” he asked in English as he stood up and walked over to the bed.
Cary studied the newcomer through a haze of painkillers. Italian, judging by his accent, although his appearance was not classically Italian: blond hair, blue eyes, about the same height as Cary, early thirties, and hot as hell. Not that a man like that would ever look twice at Cary. Guys like him never did, and who could blame them?
“Do I know you?” Cary’s voice was hoarse, and his mouth felt full of cotton.
The man looked back at him with a mixture of concern and humor. “You could say we’ve met.”
“You… you’re the man from the street.” Cary recognized the voice. “How long have I been here?”
“A day,” the Italian answered. “Perhaps I must introduce myself,” he added. “I am Antonio Bianchi.”
Cary hesitated. “Connor Taylor.”
It was the name he used in the clubs. Or at least it had been since his agent had bailed him out of jail when a not-so-rainbow-friendly gendarme had caught him quite literally with his pants down outside a shithole of a Paris bar.
What you do with your life off the concert stage isn’t my business, Georges Duhamel had told him after he’d bailed Cary out, but you must at least use another name. I won’t have you toss your career in the toilet.
When all was said and done (and after he’d had a fake New York State driver’s license made under the name “Connor L. Taylor”), Cary enjoyed being Connor. Nobody gave a shit if Connor liked to fuck men in the restrooms or alleyways behind rundown bars. Why would anyone care? After a few years, Connor had become Cary’s excuse for the late nights and anonymous fucks—when he wasn’t practicing or performing, Cary Redding was Connor Taylor.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Antonio said.
“Thanks. For last night, I mean.”
His wrist ached, throbbing to a dull beat like an insistent drum. His head felt like it was filled with jagged rocks. He looked down and saw the cast on his left arm. He vaguely remembered falling. Right, he had tried to catch himself before he hit the pavement.
“My wrist.” He spoke the words aloud and his voice cracked. He tried to move his fingers, but the pain was so bad he gasped. A broken wrist meant he couldn’t play. Without his cello, he was nothing. His stomach clenched and his eyes burned. In an effort to master his emotions, he turned away and bit his cheek.
“The doctor says your wrist will be fine,” Antonio said, perhaps sensing Cary’s distress.
This can’t be real. I’m going to wake up and….
“I need to get out of here.” The hospital room was suddenly too small. Panicked, Cary tried to sit up, but Antonio put a firm hand on his shoulder.
“The doctor… he says you may leave when you are ready, but you have this—” He struggled to find the word. “—commozione cerebrale,” he finally said. He pointed to his head. “You know, from falling?”
“A concussion?” It explained the killer headache. Cary lay back in the bed. He felt overwhelmed, defeated. He lifted his hand to his face, and the IV line caught on the edge of the bed.
“Sí. A concussion,” Antonio said as he freed the line for Cary. “He says you must not be alone tonight. Is there somewhere I can take you? A person who can look by you, then?”
There was no one. No family or close friends. He had no one, really, except his housekeeper, Roberta.
“If you wish, you may stay with me.”
Cary realized Antonio had guessed, correctly, that Cary had no one to stay with him.
You shouldn’t be surprised. You look like street trash.
He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He knew he looked like one of the hustlers he sometimes paid for sex, and he wondered what kind of man would willingly take someone like that in, knowing nothing about them.
But then again, it’s not like someone with a broken wrist and a concussion would be a danger to a big guy like him.
He considered the offer for a moment. It wasn’t as if he had anything to fear from Antonio, either. The guy had taken him to the hospital, after all. The offer was far more tempting—no, make that Antonio was far more tempting—than asking his housekeeper to play nurse and mother.
He looked away from Antonio. He hoped it would come across as though he were thinking things through, but the truth was that the realization that he was entirely alone hit him harder than he’d expected. He’d never been weak. He’d been on his own for years. He hadn’t needed anybody’s help. And yet now, he felt vulnerable. He hated feeling vulnerable.
He took a slow breath, doing his best to hide his emotional turmoil. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” he said, trying to sound casual, confident.
“Not at all, Signor Taylor. It would be my pleasure.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Antonio said. Then, as if realizing why Cary might hesitate to accept the invitation of a complete stranger, he added, “But if you are not confortevole—ah, what is it?—comfortable with this, I think you can stay here longer. I will not be insulted.”
Was it any different to go home with a stranger for a night of fucking? Guys who come charging in on white horses don’t usually rape you the next day.
He closed his eyes and saw his mother’s face. She had predicted this. You won’t be happy living that way, Cary, she said when he came out to her. It’s not natural. It’s a sexual… perversion. It’s sinful. An addiction.
He had defended himself. I’m not a pervert, Mom. This is me. This is what I am.
How can you say that, Cary Taylor Redding? How can you risk everything we’ve worked so hard for?
Funny, how he’d starting cruising the bars to show her he didn’t give a shit about what she thought. But he’d come to crave the sex, booze, and smokes. They satisfied a hunger his music could not. She hadn’t wanted to listen, and in the end he’d just proved her right. He had lost the only thing that really mattered to him: his music.
It’s not forever. It’ll heal. The thought did little to allay his fear, and he moaned softly.
“Are you all right?” That voice again. Right. Antonio.
“Sorry,” Cary said, embarrassed. “I guess I’m still a little sleepy.”
“It’s okay. I will ask about getting you to leave this place and perhaps something for the pain. You must rest now.”
“Thank you.” Cary watched as Antonio pulled the covers back over him and walked out of the room. His white knight.
And you’re about as far from a princess as they come.
A few hours later, having spoken with the doctor, Cary was released from the hospital with a bottle of painkillers and instructions to come back in six weeks to have the cast removed and begin physical therapy. While Antonio went to retrieve his car, Cary quickly provided the hospital staff with his home address. He was grateful the police had taken him to a public hospital—there was no bill to speak of for emergency patients. He wasn’t sure how he’d have felt if Antonio had insisted on paying for his stay.
Cary said little as they rode the elevator down to the ground floor. The painkillers had begun to wear off, and he was feeling anxious, tense.
“This broken wrist,” Antonio said, perhaps sensing Cary’s dark mood, “it will make it difficult for your work, no?”
“You could say that.” Impossible, really. He pushed the thought from his mind. He would get through this. He reminded himself again that the doctor had said his wrist would be fine in a few months.
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I’m between jobs now.” The truth, although not the entire truth. It was late October, and his next gig was in Rome in four weeks. He had also been scheduled to teach a series of master classes in early December.
It could have been worse, he reminded himself as he climbed into Antonio’s car a few minutes later. A hell of a lot worse.
So why was his gut tense? He tried to focus on something else. It wasn’t that difficult. Antonio’s broad shoulders were an easy distraction.
Antonio’s apartment was nearly as big as Cary’s own. The high-ceilinged rooms were tastefully decorated in an eclectic mixture of modern Italian furniture and antiques. Photographs of smiling children and adults adorned the tabletops and bookshelves. From the abundance of blue eyes and blond hair, Cary guessed these were Antonio’s family.
“You look tired,” Antonio said as he shut the door behind them. “Perhaps I make dinner while you sleep?”
“Thanks.” Cary caught a glimpse of a large bed through a doorway to their right. He rubbed his arm above his broken wrist without thinking and winced. The dull ache had now become an angry throb.
“May I get you some pills? For your arm?” Antonio held up the doggie bag of chemicals the hospital had sent home with Cary.
“That would be great.”
“Perhaps you like to use the telephone while I get it for you?”
Cary stared blankly at Antonio.
“You know,” Antonio continued, “if there is a person who might… ah—” He struggled to find the word. “—worry for you?”
“No,” Cary answered as understanding came. “I’m fine. There’s nobody.”
Worry about me? Other than a geezer of an agent and a brother halfway around the world?
Justin would care. In fact, he would worry a lot. They were brothers, after all. But Cary didn’t want to bother him and his family. And Georges, Cary’s agent, would have a cow when he learned Cary had broken his wrist, but only because he’d need to cancel a few months of gigs while it healed. Yeah, he’d have to tell the idiot at some point, but why rush it?
He thought briefly of Roberta. She’s your housekeeper. What does she care if you stay away for a few nights? It’s not like you haven’t before. But he knew he was lying to himself. Roberta was far more than an employee. He’d call her after he’d had a chance to rest. He’d tell her he was spending the night out so she wouldn’t worry.
Something akin to compassion or maybe pity flashed through Antonio’s eyes, but he said only, “Please. Use the bed. I will bring you the medicine.”
Cary was almost asleep when Antonio came back into the room with a glass of water and a few pills. “This will help with pain,” he told Cary. “I will arouse you when dinner is ready.”
“Mmm,” Cary murmured, repressing a grin in response to Antonio’s faulty turn of phrase. It wasn’t all that difficult to control himself, since he was damn near asleep already and his wrist hurt like hell. Still, the thought made for some very sweet dreams.
July 30, 2012
Okay, I’m home from the evil day job and able to post my own posts now (instead of having the wonderful Julyssa do it for me), so it’s time for another excerpt! This one is a little steamier.
“It’s my fault Adara’s dead.”
Declan looks up from the program running searches on Cal’s recordings. He widened the search, including Egan’s and Adara’s names in it as well in the hopes he can find something besides their history linking them to either Cal or Sofia, and now he’s watching the results scroll across the screen almost faster than he can read. “What do you mean?” he says, furrowing his brow in confusion. “I know you didn’t kill her, so how is it your fault?”
Tadd lets out an unamused laugh that makes him sound slightly crazy. “I’m glad you realize that, at least.”
“Tadd.” Declan sighs. “Please.”
“Sorry.” Tadd tips his head back and stares up at the ceiling. “She came to me,” he says, lowering his gaze so he’s looking at Declan again. “She specifically asked me to keep her safe from Egan, and I didn’t.”
Declan rolls his chair around the corner of their desks and stops it right next to Tadd’s. “You did what you could.”
“No, I didn’t. That’s the point. I was pissed off, Declan, mad at you, mad at Lukas, and I didn’t want to put up with her bullshit. I told her I needed to arrange protection for her because I couldn’t stay with her all day, and she didn’t want to wait. She left and I let her go.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“I should have!” Tadd jerks his arm out from under Declan’s hand and slams his fist down on the desk. “She asked me for help!”
Declan waits long enough to be sure Tadd isn’t going to hit anything else, and puts his hand back on Tadd’s forearm. “You asked her to stay, didn’t you?”
“Told her to.” Tadd rolls his eyes. “She didn’t listen.”
“So how is that your fault?”
“You know how to do your job, Tadd.” Declan squeezes Tadd’s arm and starts stroking his thumb along the inside of Tadd’s wrist. “You couldn’t have stayed with her all the time, anyway, especially not if you were going to listen to Bront and keep me safe too. Arranging for help was the right thing to do.”
“I could have waited, let her run her errand first.”
“And then she would have wanted to run another, and another, and another.” Declan lets out a breathy chuckle. “She would have kept you running until you dropped, just because she could, and you would have gone along with it to be nice.”
Tadd raises one eyebrow. “Nice? Me?”
“Yes.” Declan pokes Tadd’s shoulder. “I know about the gooey inside under that crusty exterior.”
Tadd raises his other eyebrow. “You. Over there. Now.” He points back toward Declan’s desk with a scowl, but it’s mostly faked. Even when Tadd is mad at him, Declan is able to push all the right buttons to calm him down.
Declan slides back around the desk and stops just on the other side of the corner. “Fine, but this doesn’t change the fact that I know you’re secretly a fluffy marshmallow inside.”
“Would you like me to show you how wrong you are?” Tadd narrows his eyes further. “I can.”
Declan stills and slowly lifts his gaze to meet Tadd’s. “I’m not wrong.” His heart is pounding in his chest, and he has to fight to keep his breathing under control. He doesn’t want to seem too eager, but he’s been itching to touch Tadd. It’s killing him that he feels like he can’t.
Tadd’s blood starts to boil. “Yes, you are,” he growls, fisting his hands in his pants to keep from shaking with anger. “I would not have followed her around all day. I—”
“Yes, you would, and we both know it.” Declan stands, sending his chair rolling toward the wall as he pushes it away. “If you’d given in and gone with Adara on one errand, you would have spent all day following her around. You’d still be with her.”
“And she’d still be alive!” Tadd jumps to his feet and takes a step closer to Declan. “Adara is dead because I didn’t go with her!”
“She’s dead because some asshole killed her, Tadd!” Declan steps forward, rounding the corner again so he’s chest to chest with his husband. “If you want to blame yourself for not going with her, you should blame her for being so stubborn and not listening, and you should blame me for not having caught the killer yet. Hades, blame me for Cal too, while you’re at it. I should have figured out who killed Sofia before either Cal or Adara died!”
“You were trying!” Tadd throws his hands out wide as he pushes up into Declan’s face.
Declan leans down to meet him. “And so were you! It’s no different!”
“Yes, it is!” Tadd moves quickly, grabbing Declan’s shirt and shoving him against the desk. The edge digs into Declan’s thigh as Tadd manhandles him, laying him out flat across the wide, clear surface. He leans over Declan, his breath hot on Declan’s cheek, and growls, “It’s my fault.”
“No, it’s not.” Declan keeps his voice quiet and his body still. “It’s the killer’s fault and no one else’s.”
“Shut up!” Tadd shakes Declan hard enough to rattle the pens in the cup on the other side of the desk.
Declan looks him straight in the eyes, meeting his gaze calmly as he twists his lips up into a purposely goading smirk. “Make me.”
Tadd growls and lunges forward to capture Declan’s mouth in a bruising kiss.
It would be easy for Declan to give in, to let Tadd have his way and control this from beginning to end, but that’s not what Declan wants at the moment. He wants to get them back on the same page, to eliminate the friction between them, and the only way he’s going to do that is to get Tadd to work out all of his aggression now. If there’s something he can do to speed that along, he’s going to do it.
Especially when it’s so much fun.
Declan leans up into the kiss, tangling his fingers in Tadd’s hair and holding him close as he slips his tongue into Tadd’s mouth. Tadd snarls as he pushes his tongue back past Declan’s lips, curling it around Declan’s. They battle back and forth, their tongues gliding over and around each other until Tadd growls again, nipping at Declan’s bottom lip as he slides his hands up Declan’s arms and pins them to the desk above Declan’s head. “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” Declan asks, shifting under Tadd. He lifts his hips, deliberately brushing against Tadd’s groin and letting Tadd feel how hard he is. He’s aching, his hard cock tenting his dress pants. It almost hurts to have it rub against the silky material of his boxers, and he wants nothing more than to pull it out and let Tadd wrap his hands around it, but instead he lowers his hips back down, twists his head so he can look into Tadd’s eyes, and meets Tadd’s stare with one of his own. “Don’t reciprocate? Do you want me to lie here and take it, Tadd? Let you pin me down and pound all your anger into me?”
Tadd falters for a second, but then his eyes narrow and he leans in closer, pressing his body against Declan’s everywhere he can make them touch and putting his lips right against Declan’s ear. “Yes.”
The word comes out as almost more of a growl than speech, but Declan knows exactly what Tadd means. He waits until Tadd pulls back enough for them to look into each other’s eyes, and then lets his lips curl up into a lazy, smug smile. “No.”
Before Tadd can do anything, Declan moves, using his speed to twist free from under Tadd and drop to the floor. He lands on his knees, grins, and yanks on Tadd’s pants without bothering to unbutton them. The material rips, easily giving in to his immortal strength, and Tadd’s cock springs free, bobbing in front of Declan’s nose. He leans in and slides his lips all the way to the base in one swift movement.
Tadd’s knees buckle at the unexpected sensation. He catches himself on Declan’s shoulders, digging in with powerful fingers as Declan grabs his hips, holding him still as he pulls back, licking as he moves.
It’s phenomenal. Declan has always had a talented tongue in more ways than one, and he’s always enjoyed using it this way. From the first time Declan gave Tadd a blowjob, distracting him from Plato’s obnoxious alarm clock, this has been Tadd’s favorite of Declan’s talents. It’s nothing like laying Declan out beneath him and having his way, but the sensations shooting up his nerves and threatening to short-circuit his brain are among the best he’s ever felt.
He thrusts hard, fighting against the grip of Declan’s hands and the wobbliness of his knees, controlling the pace as Declan continues to suck. His teeth scrape lightly along the swollen skin of Tadd’s cock, sending pleasure and pain shooting through his body and leaving him breathless. Tadd thrusts harder, pushing his hips forward so he’s fucking Declan’s mouth, taking back every little bit of control Declan claimed. He throws his head back, letting his mouth fall open as he moans and his eyes flutter closed so he can focus on the feel of Declan’s mouth around his dick.
The world narrows to just this, Declan on his knees, his fingers digging into Tadd’s hips and his lips curling around the tip of Tadd’s cock. He licks and sucks, humming as he bobs up and down, keeping time with Tadd’s thrusts and moving opposite them, pulling back when Tadd does and pushing in so his lips slide down Tadd’s cock with a speed he’d have to use his powers to match. He grazes one hand along Tadd’s hipbones, brushing fingertips over the sensitive skin before slipping them between Tadd’s legs and carefully curling them around Tadd’s balls. Tadd gasps, his hips bucking wildly as he lets out a deep moan and starts chanting Declan’s name. He digs his fingers hard into Declan’s shoulder until Declan stops moving, and then tangles them in Declan’s hair and pulls him back.
“No,” Tadd growls, dragging Declan up with not-so-gentle pressure in his hair and twisting him around and pressing himself against Declan’s back. Declan is still completely dressed, and his pants feel rough against Tadd’s cock as he presses into Declan. Tadd fumbles for the waistband as he bends Declan over, and when his fingers curl around both pants and boxers, he yanks, ripping the material with his full strength and tearing it away from Declan’s body with ease.
Declan shudders at the sudden blast of cold air, and his cock dips a little bit, but then Tadd rubs his finger along the cleft of Declan’s ass, and Declan shudders, his elbows wobbling as he braces himself on the desk. “Hurry,” he breathes, pushing back into Tadd and begging for more.
Tadd complies, giving in to Declan’s demands easily now that they match his own. He shoves Declan forward, pushes his arms out from under him, and pins him to the desk. His cock presses hard against Declan’s ass as Declan curls up over the desk. He’s hard and aching, leaking precome onto the mahogany surface, and when Tadd shifts to grab lube from the closest drawer and slides one slick finger inside Declan’s body, Declan moans. “Tadd. Now.”
“Yes,” Tadd breathes, vanishing his shirt as he slides a second finger in. Declan makes his own shirt disappear as he squirms beneath Tadd, shoving back against Tadd’s hand as he slides one of his own down the dark wood of the desk and curls it around his cock. He strokes in time with Tadd’s scissoring movements, his hand banging against the wood as his ass presses against Tadd’s hip.
He’s almost at the edge, his hand slick with precome and his cock red and engorged, when Tadd pulls his fingers out, lines himself up, and thrusts in, hard. He shoves Declan down over the desk, pressing his cheek into the smooth surface, and pulls almost all the way out before he adjusts his angle and plunges in again. He thrusts over and over, hitting Declan in his sweet spot every time.
Declan clenches around him, his buttocks squeezing Tadd’s cock. His hand grips tight at the edge of the desk, giving him extra leverage, and Tadd pushes hard, slamming forward again. He puts one hand at the base of Declan’s spine, holding him to the desk, and curls the other around Declan’s cock. He strokes as he thrusts, the movements fast and ragged and yet still falling into a synchronized rhythm as he moves.
It doesn’t take long before Declan is whimpering and moaning. “Gonna… Tadd… gonna come.”
That’s all the warning he’s able to give, and then he spurts over Tadd’s hand, crying out Tadd’s name as his entire body shakes and writhes. He can still feel Tadd inside him, slamming forward and pulling back, and it’s the best feeling in the entire universe. It carries him through the aftershocks, and then Tadd pushes forward one last time, leaning over Declan and pressing his lips to the back of Declan’s shoulder as he comes.
They lie still for a minute, gasping for breath, their sweat-slicked bodies pressing against the strong polished wood of the desk. Tadd is heavy and warm over Declan, but his weight is comforting, reminding Declan this argument they’re having is temporary. He’s uncomfortable—sticky and hot and struggling for breath he doesn’t really need—but he doesn’t ask Tadd to move.
Tadd stays still for a few minutes, his breath ghosting over Declan’s neck. When he pulls out, he slides his hand down Declan’s back as he stands. “I’m going to shower,” he says, stepping away and grabbing his clothes off the floor.
Declan pushes himself up and twists so he’s leaning against the desk. “Want me to join you?” He keeps his tone light and hopeful, though he doesn’t expect Tadd to agree. Sex is one thing; showering together is probably far more intimate than Tadd wants to get right now, given their earlier conversation.
“No.” Tadd manages a strained smile as he looks at Declan. “We have things to figure out. We can’t keep getting distracted or someone else might die.”
“Right.” That’s the last thing Declan wants, and it’s what he focuses on as he wipes himself down with the bundle of fabric and heads off toward the bathroom.
This job comes first. Then they can work out their issues.
July 30, 2012
Hello everyone! I’m here to celebrate the release of my second novel, Stamp of Fate. This one’s a murder mystery with a mythological twist, and I’m really excited that it’s finally here. I had a lot of fun writing this and I can’t wait to share it with all of you. To celebrate, I’ll be giving away an e-book copy of Stamp of Fate. To win, you’ll need to comment on one of my Greek god trivia posts, so brush up on your mythology and enjoy the excerpt below.
A dead body is never a welcome sight, but it’s especially troublesome when Tadd Leventis and Declan Anagnos return home to find one in their foyer. Most people know the dead woman as a curator at the local museum, but Tadd and Declan recognize her as someone from their distant past—Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare. To Tadd and Declan, it’s more than a murder. It’s a threat to the mortal lives they’ve worked so hard to build—and a wakeup call that their immortal lives are in danger too.
At Zeus’s request, they once again don the mantles of Ares and Hermes, but when they start investigating their fellow Olympians, Tadd and Declan discover things are far more complicated than they seem. As the body count rises, tracking the killer becomes more dangerous, and the investigation starts to strain their relationship. Can they patch things up in time to catch the killer, or will the killer catch them first?
Declan stalks inside when he gets home, snatches his car keys from the hook by the door, and catches Tadd’s eye. “Let’s go.” He’s in the car, garage door open and engine running by the time Tadd makes it out, and the moment Tadd’s door closes, Declan throws the vehicle into reverse and careens out of the driveway.
He’s halfway to his office before Tadd shifts in his seat and clears his throat. “So, Sofia didn’t know who killed her?”
“I didn’t talk to Sofia.” Declan jerks the car around a corner, making the tires squeal, and smiles slightly as the harsh noise eases his tension a little. “Hades has her locked in Tartarus and wouldn’t take me to her.” He yanks the wheel to the left, sending the car skidding around another corner. “I can’t challenge him on his territory. We have to do this the hard way.”
“We could—” Tadd starts, but Declan cuts him off before he finishes the sentence.
“No. He won’t let you leave if you come with me. That’s a last resort.”
“All right.” Tadd holds up his hands, clearly taken aback by Declan’s vehemence. “We’ll try the hard way.”
“Thank you.” Declan eases back on the gas a little as he merges with traffic. Most of his anger is gone now and he relaxes his grip on the steering wheel as he maneuvers the car into the pattern of moving vehicles.
Tadd fiddles with the radio, flipping through all of Declan’s presets before turning it off. “Can you tell me what he said? I’d rather be prepared if we have to go back later.”
“There isn’t much else, but sure.” They’re still a few miles from the office. Declan fills Tadd in on the entire conversation with Hades, answering all of Tadd’s questions and finishing just as he pulls the car into his assigned parking spot. “Perfect timing.” He climbs out, waits for Tadd to follow, and hits the remote lock as he leads the way into the building.
Rachel Chambers is sitting in her usual spot when they reach Declan’s office, an earpiece in her ear and her computer screen showing Declan’s calendar as well as the memo she was typing. A PowerPoint presentation is minimized to her taskbar, and Declan has a brief flash of worry before he remembers he asked her to edit the presentation he gave the board last month so it could be used in pitches to other companies. It’s nothing he has to do, which is good, because he strongly suspects he won’t be able to take much of a hands-on approach to running the business for the next few weeks.
“You’re late,” Rachel says, pointing her pen at him with one hand as she presses the disconnect button on the phone with another. “I’ve had to reschedule two appointments already, and I was starting to think I’d have to reschedule your lunch meeting too. Where have you been?”
“With me.” Tadd steps in before Declan has a chance to formulate a response. Rachel always manages to make him feel uncomfortable, like he’s the clueless mortal and she’s the god, and he’s never quite sure how he’s supposed to respond when she scolds him like that. She’s his administrative assistant, but Tadd hired her for him when they first orchestrated the switch from being their “fathers” to being themselves, and he’s not sure he can fire her. Tadd would probably just hire her right back.
“Mr. Leventis.” Rachel lets a small smile slip through before she directs her stern gaze at Tadd as well. “I should have known you’d be at fault here.” Her gaze narrows, and she purses her lips as she stares at him.
She looks so ridiculously serious that Declan has to step in. “He actually wasn’t. It was personal business. Something came up unexpectedly. I’m sorry.” Declan sits on the edge of her desk and directs his most winning smile and widest eyes at her. “Can you forgive me?”
“Is it over?”
“Unfortunately, no.” Declan’s reluctant sigh is only half-fake. “I’m not going to be able to be around much for the next several weeks, at least.”
“What should I tell your appointments? I can’t just ask them to keep waiting on their bids because you don’t know when you’ll be back. The business will go under. I’ll be out of a job!”
“Like Tadd would ever let that happen.”
Behind Declan, Tadd shakes his head, a small smile playing on his lips. “I’d find something for you to do, Rachel. I promise.”
“Well,” she huffs, “that’s better than him.”
“Well, you wouldn’t find something for me, would you?”
“I wouldn’t have to, Tadd would!”
“Not the point.”
“Fine.” Declan assumes his most put-upon expression. “I would find you a better job than Tadd would. Happy?”
“I will be once you tell me what to do with all these meetings I have you scheduled for.”
Declan closes his eyes for a minute, trying to think. Running the business can’t take top priority right now, not with Bront expecting him to solve this mystery, but he can’t let the business sink, either. He and Tadd have worked too hard to get things the way they are. Declan Anagnos, CEO of Alpha Wing Communications, and Hermes, spy for Zeus, must remain separate entities. “Give as many of them to the directors as you can. If there’s anyone I need to handle personally, forward it to me, and I’ll find time.”
“Will do.” Rachel nods. “Anything else?”
“One thing.” Declan waits until he has her full attention. “Did you schedule me for a dinner meeting with Lukas Gallo last night?”
Rachel blinks twice and then her hand flies to her mouth. “Oh my God! I didn’t tell you!” She sucks her bottom lip into her mouth with a hissing noise. “He called yesterday while you were at lunch! I was going to tell you, but you had that conference call, and then you rushed out like your office was on fire. I’m sorry!”
“So he did have an appointment?”
“Yeah. That’s what I just said.” Rachel tilts her head to the side. “Was that wrong? You didn’t have anything on your schedule, and I thought….”
“It’s fine.” Declan flashes a smile at her and squeezes her shoulder as he slides off the desk. “I was caught up with this personal business last night and he surprised me, that’s all. I’ll call him to reschedule.”
Tadd laughs as he takes Declan’s hand. “Thanks, Rachel.”
“Bye, Mr. Leventis.” She wiggles her fingers in a tiny wave as they walk out the door.
As soon as the door shuts behind them, Declan turns to Tadd, a mischievous grin on his face. “Sometimes I think Rachel likes you better than me.”
“What can I say.” Tadd grins back at Declan. “I’m irresistible.”
“Good thing you’re mine, then.” They get into the elevator, and Declan pushes Tadd against the wall and pins him there with his slightly larger frame. He slides his hands up Tadd’s sides to cup his face and leans in to kiss him deeply. As the elevator goes down from the top floor, people start to get on but stop short when they see Declan and Tadd inside and universally decide to take the next car. Declan ignores them, instead concentrating on kissing Tadd, his tongue sliding between Tadd’s lips as he presses their bodies together.
When the elevator is close to the bottom, Declan pulls his keys from his pocket and uses one of them to override the elevator controls. Once it’s locked down, he yanks Tadd’s shirt from his pants so he can slide his hands under it.
“Careful,” Tadd murmurs, pulling back from the kiss just enough to talk. “Don’t pop the buttons.”
“I like popped buttons. They’re a good look on you.”
“You think everything’s a good look on me.” Tadd puts his hands on Declan’s chest and pushes firmly, making Declan take a step back. “We can’t, though.”
“We’re in the elevator at your office building! While investigating a murder!”
“So I’ll be fast.” Declan leans in as close as he can with Tadd’s hands in the way and smirks. “I’m good at fast.”
“Oh, well, that’s just what I want.” Tadd rolls his eyes. “A quickie in the elevator. You’re almost as classy as Eros.”
Declan winces as he straightens. “Ouch. That hurts.”
“Truth often does.” Tadd pats him on the chest as he leans up and kisses him softly. “I still love you, though, classy or not.”
“Love you too.” Declan’s scowl transforms into a grin, and he kisses Tadd deeply before pulling back and turning the key to return the elevator to the ground floor. He kisses Tadd again as he tucks Tadd’s shirt back into his pants, and when the elevator doors slide open, they step out, their hands entwined once more.
Stayed tuned for more posts about my novel as well as a giveaway!
July 18, 2012
The image above is a bit of the beautiful land along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If you’ve been following Luki and Sonny, you’ll know that Luki has adopted Sonny’s home as his, and Sonny’s home is situated on the shores of the Strait. Though this is perhaps a rockier shore than Sonny’s, it’s close enough, and beautiful enough, so that we can use it to set the scene for the beginning of this little tidbit, which happens on a day when Luki is feeling lots better than he has for a while…
Sonny walked out of the house carrying an empty basket, planning to take the
sheets and blankets off the line. He had dyed and woven the sheets himself,
heavy winter silk for this time of year, as a gift for Luki, and for himself,
too. He loved them best when the sun shone for a day and he could dry them
outside. They tossed like brilliant flags for hours, and when he put them on the
bed they smelled of the wind. But on the way to his task, he caught sight of
Luki practicing Tai Chi in the wet sand at the edge of the waves. He set the
basket near the door and changed course, heading for his favorite drift log.
Once there he stripped his shirt to feel the sun on his skin and sat to watch
his lover, his partner, his heart’s precious desire dance in the cooling fall
“As beautiful as ever,” he said aloud. Silently he added, as beautiful as
`before’. He steered his thoughts away from defining `before,’ and he didn’t
stop to consider whether, in a physical way, Luki really was just as beautiful.
It didn’t matter. Luki remained the most glorious person alive, for him. And
Sonny wanted him. His nostrils flared at the thought of Luki’s skin sliding
against his own.
He wasn’t starved for sex, by any means. Over the past weeks, on the days Luki
felt okay, they’d made love sometimes. But the feeling, the tone and timbre of
it had changed in some way that was so elusive Sonny couldn’t even weave the
feelings into thoughts. Not that he wanted to. He struggled, in fact, not to
think about it, not to notice that it was always him that initiated sex, that
Luki’s involvement felt subtly like compliance, that though they shared their
bodies, though their orgasms sometimes grew fierce, to Sonny it felt a little
But when Luki finished the Tai Chi form, stretched up toward the sky, and turned
to catch his eye, Sonny knew something was about to begin, and it would be
different. It would be dangerous and safe and sweet all at once, as only Luki
could make it. Because Luki had that look, that deceptively icy challenge that
was his version of come-hither. A call that always scared Sonny just a little
bit, a call he couldn’t, would never want to resist. The one outward sign of the
heat Sonny knew lay just on the other side of Luki’s eyes was his white teeth
and sweet pink tongue sliding over his lower lip. Luki came closer, stopped a
long two strides outside Sonny’s reach. An outrageously, but oh-so-sweetly cruel
distance, so sensual Sonny’s breath flooded away and left him open-mouthed and
All this before even a touch.
Sonny rose and moved forward locked into Luki’s ice blue eyes, relieved and even
more turned on to see that old, secret smile hiding behind them. Luki gathered
up Sonny’s long, heavy hair, wrapped it around his hand, and pulled Sonny
closer. Luki had done just that very thing the first time they made love, years
ago. Now, as then, it swept Sonny into passion he would have been hard pressed
Thank the saints no need for that arose. They kissed, inched closer, kissed
harder—tongues twining, lips pressing and sliding. Chest to chest, their hard
pricks pressed together and strained against the clothing that separated them.
Mouths still locked together, Sonny made small, pleading noises in his throat.
And when Luki’s mouth left his to kiss and suck and nip at his neck, Sonny said
it out loud. “Please, Luki?”
Luki kissed his way back to Sonny’s lips then looked him in the eye, separated
only by the length of their noses. “Right here, baby,” he chuckled, “or in the
Sonny, ever practical, realized it was a very good question, took a look around
at the coarse sand, twigs, and splinters. “Yeah,” he said, “in the house, I
think.” As he started to walk that way, though, Luki’s arms, feet, lips, and
other body parts kept interfering, and when he got to the clothesline and the
dry sheets and blankets he’d come out to collect, he tripped into them,
hopelessly tangled. “You did that on purpose,” he said against Luki’s temple.
“Maybe,” Luki answered, and slew all Sonny’s resistance—such as it was—by simply
dragging the flat of his own tongue across Sonny’s open lips.
Thank god for blankets falling from the line to land beneath them, covering the
cool grass. Thank heaven for the low-slung sun painting their skins as they shed
clothes, turning them together into amber sliding over gold. Thank providence
for hand-loomed, winter silk sheets falling from the line, waiting to warm them
as blue twilight snuck up to slip in with its chill.
They sank to the ground, Luki rolling full onto his back and Sonny kneeling
beside him, pulling at Luki’s clothes and then staring openly at Luki’s bare,
hard penis, its shining glans, the sweet orbs of his testes resting below,
sparse, dark curls framing it all. His mouth watered so copiously that he
thought he might literally drool, but he couldn’t stop looking, couldn’t close
his eyes to what seemed at the moment the most scintillating wonder. But then he
glanced up and saw Luki watching him, and the thought evaporated.
“Now, baby,” Luki said, and, meeting no resistance at all, firmly but gently
pulled Sonny’s head down to his erection. Under a cloud of silk, Sonny imbibed.
Delicious. Sweet. Savory. Smooth. Slick. Hard.
Then Luki, still on his back, lifted Sonny’s head away, looked at him with a
soft smile in his eyes, and swiped a thumb across Sonny’s wet lips. He turned
Sonny and pulled him down so that they lay almost on their backs, nearly but not
quite spooned. He wrapped his arms around Sonny, arms still powerful despite his
illness and speaking so loudly of safety that the last little bit of caution,
the bit that Sonny always tried to reserve, fled. “Luki,” he said. “Oh god,
Luki chuckled, sweet in Sonny’s ear. His voice but a rough whisper: “Easy,
baby. Easy. We have lots of time.” He adjusted their positions slightly and
reached both hands around to tease and stroke over the front of Sonny’s body.
“Here,” he said sliding hot hands over Sonny’s belly. “Does that feel good?” He
didn’t wait for an answer. “And here, baby,” he crooned, pinching Sonny’s
already hard, sensitive nipples. “And this … Oh yeah, sweetie, this.” He ran
the flat of his hand down past Sonny’s erection, combed through the thatch of
dark hair to curve his hand under Sonny’s balls and gently squeeze. And then he
stroked up, dragging his fingers along the shaft of Sonny’s penis, so slow and
long it seemed to Sonny almost forever.
Almost forever, but not quite, because there was an after.
Luki touched and teased, caressed, stroked, until Sonny’s breaths came long and
deep, each one an almost-moan of pleasure. Licking across his ear, Luki
whispered. “Sweet man. Sweet, sweet man.”
“Luki,” Sonny breathed.
And then Luki proved once again that he knew Sonny well
and loved him a lot, because he heard Sonny’s worry in that one word, buried as
it was in passionate breath. Luki tightened his embrace a little, briefly. “What is it, baby? What do you
Sonny shivered at the touch of Luki’s breath in his ear. “Oh,” he said, in
surprise. But then, “Oh god, Luki. I want you so much. I want you in me, want
you to take my ass, but damn … damn.”
Luki twisted around now and looked at him, brow crinkled in puzzlement. “What,
sweetie? What is it?”
Sonny rolled over and buried his head in Luki’s shoulder. “Honey, the lube’s in
the house!” Luki laughed right out loud, which was such a rare and wonderful
event that Sonny forgot to be angry about being laughed at, and about the mood
“Sonny,” Luki said once he’d stopped laughing and controlled a light cough.
“Sweetie, you are the best thing that has ever happened to the world. And I love
you. And I’ve got the lube thing covered—it’s almost like I planned it. Where’s
my shirt?” He rooted around under the heavy sheets until he found it, reached in
the breast pocket, and pulled out the tube of high-powered lip salve he got as a
fringe benefit of chemo. “Look baby,” he said, and then when Sonny lifted his
head, added, “Ta-daa!” He laughed again.
Sonny, uncharacteristically grave, said, “But Luki, you need that!”
“No,” Luki said, his voiced once again infused with passion. “A little goes a
long way. See?” Gently chewing his lower lip, he squeezed a dab onto a finger
and reached down to rub it over the head of Sonny’s penis, circling the ridge,
drawing it—still with one finger—down the underside and over the testes’ sac,
sliding like satin all the way. He leaned over to slip his tongue past Sonny’s
open lips, then bit the bottom one lightly and tugged at it. He started up a
rhythm with his hand, moving it up and down Sonny’s hard penis, torturing him
with pleasure until finally Sonny became assertive.
“Give me that,” he said, and grabbed the tube, collected some of the serum on
his fingers and applied it to Luki’s erection, giving the same treatment he got.
They lay together, kissing and tonguing, stroking together until Sonny finally
cried out, “Stop! Fuck me, please Luki. I mean now.”