November 14, 2014
TERRY GOT to the squad room two hours after Jim—and still five minutes early for their shift. Polite man that he was, he didn’t ever mention the early hours—or late hours, if one counted how many times Jim just didn’t leave—or the sludge coffee Jim was drinking. He just sat down with his tidy Starbucks grande tea and sighed.
Jim suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. “Morning.”
“Morning,” Terry said, turning on his computer. “You want my bagel? It’s an onion—they got my order wrong.”
Jim tilted his head until he could see around the low gray cubicle walls to Terry’s desk. “Again? Third time this week. You should say something.”
Terry shrugged and reached into his backpack for the brown paper bag. “They’re busy—it’s no big deal. I gotta watch my girlish figure, you know.”
Jim took the bag and went back to his stack of paperwork with a grunt. Terry was transparent and about 165 pounds soaking wet, and his figure was just fine—not that Jim made a habit of mentioning that.
“Mimi wants to know if you can come for dinner Friday night. Nick and Heather are coming too.”
Heterosexual Power Cabal Monthly Dinner Party—Jim’s favorite. Right after root canal but slotted in just before dinner with his father in the assisted-living dining room.
“Wow, that’s this Friday? Man, that sucks. I have a date,” Jim lied, peeling the paper off the bagel.
“Uh-huh. Why don’t you bring him?” Terry said almost sweetly, and Jim balled up the wax paper to toss over the divider between their cubes.
“He’s shy. And he doesn’t like straights.” Jim talked with his mouth full to annoy Terry, then realized it annoyed him too, so he stopped.
“Dating a bigot, Jim? That does not seem your style. Oh wait— dating a person… that seems even less your style.”
Jim heard the familiar chime of Terry’s cell phone being opened and groaned inwardly. The chime was followed by hushed, whispered Korean; then, as expected, Jim’s phone rang.
“Oh, come on now—it’s too early for this,” Jim groused, picking up the line. “Hey, Mimi.”
There might have been a triumphant “ha” from the cubicle next door, but it was drowned out by Mimi’s cheerful voice.
“If you do actually have a date on Friday, you should bring him,” she said with the exaggerated patience of a kindergarten teacher. “I can pretend to be enthralled by Heather’s breasts if that helps establish a more gay-friendly vibe.”
Despite himself, Jim laughed. “She does have excellent breasts….”
Mimi snickered. “Even gay men notice breasts—why is that?” “I don’t know. I’ll call the Gay Council and let you know.”
“Good, you can tell me the results on Friday.”
“James. You have to come when I tell you who the fourth couple is.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“Ben and Liddy are driving down for the weekend to visit her parents, so they’ll be there. It’s supposed to be a surprise for you, but I’m changing my tactics because you’re being impossible. So bring wine and some beer and let me know if your date has any food allergies.”
Ben, his ex-roommate and “best friend.” The guy he had a long- standing, unrequited, nonreturned, intense crush on. Of course he and his new wife would be the fourth couple! Jim had that sort of luck these days.
“Well, I can’t say no now,” Jim said, feigning excitement. “I’ll be there, and I promise to pretend to be surprised.”
“Great. Thank you, James,” Mimi said, clearly feeling triumphant. “We’re having vegetarian sushi and tempura.”
“What’s that you said? Steak and lobster?”
“Is your date vegan?”
“You’re funny, you know that?”
“Is your date real?”
“Bye, Mimi. I have to go now. Some of us work for a living.” He ignored her last question and made kissy sounds over the line until she said something rude in Korean and hung up.
“Your wife curses like a sailor,” he called to Terry.
“It’s hot, isn’t it?”
September 8, 2014
And here’s another round of excerpts from the book!
From Chapter Four
Nodding his head in mute understanding, William tugged Lucas with him as they reached the Lincoln Memorial. He let Lucas wander, reading the information William had memorized completely. It was almost sad how little freedom Lucas had in his life. He had the liberty of what he chose to eat, and obviously to continue his schooling, but it seemed as though everything else was dictated to him. How to act, how to speak, sit, and stand, even his manner of dress, were all guided by age-old rules. Lucas was a modern, living example of ancient empire. He was duty bound, and lived and breathed by the rules his parents and his familial monarchy set down—even if he disagreed with something on a personal level. William had to act that way in public, but he’d never had that crap forced on him when the cameras were off. The idea that Lucas didn’t have that freedom made his stomach turn.
It made William wonder just how much of Lucas’s personal attitude was his own, too. How much Lucas actually liked him and how much of it was a stoic act.
The thought coiled unpleasantly in William’s chest. The idea of not being liked by Lucas while he prepared to marry him didn’t sit well. Still… Lucas seemed to be enjoying himself today. It was almost as if he were opening up, even if the movements were still hesitant.
“Well, are you coming or not?” Lucas called from the top of the steps, waving his camera phone. “I have to admit, I still don’t fully understand your monarchy. Your kings changed because of your civil war, correct?”
Jolted out of his thoughts, William nodded and moved to stand in front of the monument. “Yeah. Lincoln took over as king after the war.
Nearly got shot in the head for it. Only lasted a few years after that, but at least he didn’t die all of a few months into his kingship, right? What an example. Then his firstborn got the throne, and then the husband of Robert’s daughter, and a few generations along you have me.” He froze in a pensive, dramatic pose, hand thoughtfully resting on his chin. When Lucas broke into laughter, he couldn’t keep the pleased grin off his face, further ruining the act. William heard the soft, digital click of Lucas’s phone as he snapped a few shots. He came back to William and fiddled with the touch screen.
“Making this your caller ID,” Lucas murmured quietly, smiling at William and rising up on his toes to kiss William’s cheek. “Now I have a truly historic photo to display your complete lack of shame.”
“I resent that. I have a historic presence.”
“I think you mean histrionic presence.”
William plucked the phone from Lucas’s hands and pulled up the image. It was taken just as his composure from the “serious” persona started to crack. His eyes were squinted and his mouth was open in a laugh, but his arms were still raised and his fingers were splayed over his chin. It was a good, funny shot. He approved. He slipped the phone into the pocket of Lucas’s jeans, leaning in close and letting their lips ghost over each other. Finally he closed the gap in a chaste kiss, less for any of the other tourists and more because he wanted to.
From Chapter Seven
William’s cheer didn’t last the night. He kept waking up with bad dreams, where the smell of kerosene and smoke haunted him. The bodies of the victims stayed at the front of his mind, and he kept having futile, repetitive dreams of digging through rubble and pounding at crushed steel, watching as fire bubbled over windows and the faceless victims were replaced with familiar features.
By four in the morning, he’d officially given up hope of sleep. The kitchen was empty, and William scowled at the coffee machine and jabbed the start button as though it had offended him. After a moment the machine ground through the first bit of sleepiness and the smell of coffee wafted up. The silence and stillness made William want to bang around noisily, but he knew that would only rouse his parents, because they had creepy bat ears and could hear him from the other side of the house.
Why the fuck did they have six different kinds of bagels? What the hell was the difference between a harvest-grain and a seven-grain bagel? Annoyed, William grabbed the open packet of everything bagels, because they had everything. Simple. In the name. No nonsense. At this time of night, cutting the bagel seemed as if it needed surgical precision. How the fuck was he supposed to…? Grumbling at the bagel, which was too thin on the top and too fat on the bottom, he shoved it into the toaster and glared at it.
“You’re up too? Oh, coffee, good.”
William swore loudly and spun around. “Christ, did you take stealth lessons from a cat? Jesus.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you. I couldn’t sleep. I’ve spent the last three hours debating my great need to purchase infomercial products.”
The toaster popped and William retrieved his bagel, spread the butter over the inside, and squished the two halves together before taking a bite. “It’s a trap.”
“Thank you for that sound advice, Admiral.” Lucas drawled, pouring a mug of black coffee and drinking deeply. He leaned his hip against the countertop and rubbed at the back of his neck, looking as strung out as William felt. “I just keep seeing their faces everywhere. I’ve heard about bombings in London before, but….” He shook his head and took another sip. “I wasn’t as directly involved. It was mostly my cousin and his family.”
Nodding his head, William poured his own coffee, adding way too much sugar. “Yeah. I keep seeing it over and over. Having these dreams where I try to save them. I was fine when I went to bed, but it was like… I don’t know. It didn’t last.”
Lucas paused, eyes searching his face. The moment seemed to drag on for a long time, until William started to fidget. Then Lucas closed the gap between them and wrapped his arms around William’s middle, bringing him into a tight grip of a hug. William remained stiff for a second, then relaxed into the touch and closed his eyes, some of the tension in him unknotting just a little. Lucas’s pajamas smelled like fresh linen and the faintest hint of his soft cologne. William couldn’t help but nose lightly at Lucas’s shoulder. For a long moment, Lucas’s expression seemed unreadable, but then he turned to gather his coffee, nodding as though he’d come to a decision. “You are doing well, aren’t you?”
Shrugging, William nodded. “Yeah. I will be once I get some sleep, anyway.”
“I should go and attempt some more sleep. Try and get some rest, Highness.” Lucas turned to leave, and something in William’s chest twisted. The ache in his chest was better when he wasn’t alone.
William watched him for a moment, stomach churning, before he finally spoke. “Why do you do that?”
“Use my title. You use my name when you’re angry with me, I’ve noticed that. But you stop being so damn proper when you’re upset or flustered, and… I don’t know, it just seems weird. I mean, I call you by your name.” Playing with his bagel, William took a sulky bite.
Lucas didn’t quite meet his eyes. “I’m well aware. I do it out of respect for you. You’re of slightly elevated status from me, and I don’t feel right addressing you directly when in close company. It’s intimate.”
Scratching at his cheek, William watched Lucas with curiosity. “So we’re intimate when we’re fighting?”
Lucas’s mouth opened in shock, and he turned a deep shade of pink before covering his mouth with one hand and stifling a cough. “No. I think in those moments, I drop everything and break my own rules.”
William took the few steps to Lucas and cupped his cheek with his slightly buttery fingers. Lucas’s nose crinkled in a way William’s sleep-addled brain found adorable. “I’d like it if you used my name. Um, please. Unless you say no, in which case I’ll order you.”
Nodding once, the movement jerky, Lucas made a soft, frustrated noise. “You…. All right. I was going to go back to my room and lie down to attempt some sort of sleep. If… If you want to keep me company, and keep your hands above the covers, you’re welcome to join me.”
It seemed like there was something a little more welcoming about that offer, but William was too sleep deprived to figure it out. With a wordless nod, he let Lucas lead them both back to his room. Lucas put his mostly empty cup on his night table, removed his dressing gown, and draped it over a suitcase. Then he climbed into bed and pulled the covers over himself, peering in the direction of the TV, which was playing an infomercial for some food-dicing product. William climbed into bed behind Lucas, pulling the covers over his own hips and wordlessly declaring himself to be the big spoon.
Lucas was still for a long moment, but then he pulled William’s arm across his chest. He threaded their fingers together, and William watched as Lucas closed his eyes. He kissed his cheek, and when Lucas’s lips curled up, so did his. William eventually settled on resting his cheek on Lucas’s shoulder. There, that was comfy. “Sleep well.”
“You too, William.”
And that’s all you get from me! Question of the hour: What do you do when you can’t sleep, for serious reasons or just restlessness? I, personally, am I big fan of cooking TV shows at strange hours.
September 8, 2014
Here’s the summary again, and the gorgeous, lovely cover by Paul Richmond
Crown Prince of the United Kingdom of America, William Samuel Davis, has recently been outed by the press. Worse yet, he’s been thrown into an arranged marriage with one of the stuffiest people he knows—one Lucas O’Malley-Hamilton. It’s a match made in hell, and William fully intends to make everyone see the error of their ways and send Lucas back home on the first available flight.
But things quickly get more complicated than William had thought possible as the Anti-Monarchy crowd uses his outing against him. As he is forced to face the realities of his position, he finds himself drawn to sides of Lucas he hadn’t known existed. Tensions rise throughout the country and in William’s world. While the situation absolutely refuses to improve, it can and will get worse.
And now for what you came here for – the story itself.
From Chapter One
THE LOOKS William’s parents were giving him were not necessary. Maybe he hadn’t answered their summons quickly, but he was there and he was even wearing a shirt. What else could they want from him? Judging from the way his mom’s eyes were narrowed and his dad’s shoulders were set, nothing good.
He flopped down in the chair in front of them, his posture not at all appropriate to his princely station, and shot them his most charming smile. It hadn’t worked for years, but it was always worth a shot. Predictably, they weren’t moved. Ah, well. “Um, hi? Did I get dragged here to be stared at, or what?”
“William,” Henry rumbled, in that way that meant William was pushing it, which he kind of was. “Do you have anything to tell us?”
Did he? Well, yeah, but nothing he particularly felt like sharing. “Nope, nothing at all. Glad we had this talk. I’ll just go back to bed now.”
As he started to stand, his mother’s lips pursed and William stilled. That was not a good sign. Did he have time to make a tactical retreat here? Probably not. Dammit. But instead of starting to yell, Alice just sighed and picked up a rolled-up newspaper from the table. For a moment, William was absurdly afraid she was going to smack him across the nose like a misbehaving dog, but instead she just handed it to him. Glancing between them, William opened it up.
“THE GAY PRINCE: WILLIAM COMES OUT!”
Oh, yeah. That.
Licking his lips, William glanced up at them. “Would it help if I said I’m not gay? There are shades here that they’re completely ignoring. The term is bisexual, actually, and—”
“William.” This time his name was just a groan. His father gave up his stiff posture to lean forward and rub the bridge of his nose. “You are never allowed to have another interview without someone else there to keep an eye on you ever again. Ever.” Offering to simply avoid all interviews probably wouldn’t help, so William just nodded. His military service had taught him how to go along with orders, if nothing else. “What on earth possessed you to do this? Before you’d even told us?”
William looked between Alice and Henry and shrugged. Both of them looked strung out, and he was starting to think that maybe this hadn’t been the best plan. But at the time, it had seemed like a good way to come out, since it wouldn’t involve a face-to-face talk with his parents about his sexuality. That, and it had been at least half a joke—but the paparazzi never were good with that sort of thing. “Well, it distracted from the other scandal, right? There’s not so much talk about me going out to bars anymore. And it was the interviewer who asked about birth control. I was just honest.”
The sigh his mother let out sounded almost painful, and William only barely managed not to wince. “This is not how you deal with a scandal, William! The situation is serious! Not only have you been sneaking out and putting yourself in danger, but now you’ve made yourself a political target.”
William frowned and looked away. “Okay, yeah, the sneaking out wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did, but it was harmless. I’m twenty-six, and if I were anyone else, then no one would care. It’s not as if being prince means something anymore. No one even knew it was me, so it wasn’t…. Look, that’s not the point right now.” They’d been over that part a hundred times already, and everyone was thoroughly sick of the argument. “I’m bi, and no one ever asked until now, but if they had, then I would have told them. I’m not gonna lie about it. It’s something that I am, and if people have problems with it, they can come up and look me in the eye and tell me they’re bigots.” Swallowing hard, William pointedly met his parents’ gaze.
His father frowned back. “Don’t you dare. You did this before you so much as told us, and you cannot fool me into believing this was on purpose.”
“All right, I should have run it past you two first. Sorry. If it helps, Walter knew.” Okay, no. That didn’t help. But at least his brother was in trouble too now, so all this love could get spread around. William was going to owe him. “It was just a good lead-in, so I went for it. And if nothing else, it’ll get all the gay marriage and gay-rights stuff sorted out much faster, right?”
Shaking his head, the motion aggressive and scarily quiet, Henry jerked his hand toward the door. William recognized the dismissal, popped up from his chair, and started for the door. Before he could get there, Alice spoke. “You’re to be engaged.”
From Chapter Two
Lucas nodded and squeezed their fingers together. The gesture was kind of nice in a way that had nothing to do with the charade, and that more than anything knocked William out of being casual and back into prince mode. Scooting a little closer so they could share a meal menu, he hummed a little and leaned into Lucas’s personal bubble. Nice and intimate looking for you, brunette with a camera phone. “I recommend the lobster, personally. It’s my favorite here.” He let his voice drop into something just shy of a purr—it was something he’d practiced with Evan, who called it William’s “bedroom voice.” That was probably kind of much, but it did seem to make people more inclined to go along with him.
“If you recommend it so highly,” Lucas replied. This time he didn’t seem as irritated by the theatrics as he was after the press conference. Maybe because this was more low key. William still had no idea what was going through his head, to be honest. Twisting, Lucas moved so he was whispering into William’s ear, and the puff of air from his voice made him shiver just a little. “Shall we order the oysters as well? They certainly set a mood, don’t they?”
Hot damn. When had Lucas turned into someone fun? “Only if I get to feed them to you.” He turned a little as well to face him properly. As close as they were, it would only take a slight shift before they were kissing. Holding that for one achingly long moment, he finally pulled away to hail one of the waiters hovering nearby, and mentally cackled when the brunette reporter dropped her phone and cursed. Ha ha. Served her right for being a shameless vulture.
It was late enough that their appetizers arrived quickly—though that might have been the royal influence again—and William pulled an oyster out of the bottom shell with his fork and held it up for Lucas to take. He did, dragging it off the fork with deliberate slowness, and William could have kissed him for playing along. He’d been wrong before about the lines, because jerking reporters around was the best part of being famous. When Lucas did the same to him, William wrapped one of his own hands around the one holding the fork and took the oyster gently between his front teeth, yanking it off and then licking the fork clean.
The game was so much fun, William nearly forgot about Brunette’s camera phone, and it made the oysters last until the lobsters came out. At that point William switched modes, because he really did enjoy lobster and wanted to eat it rather than play with it. But at least the periods of silence between them weren’t nearly as awkward as they had been, aided by Lucas’s red wine and William’s scotch.
By the time they decided against dessert and made their way back to the car, William was feeling warm and full and more than a little bolstered by the alcohol. He kept close to Lucas, even when they were driving and no longer in danger of being watched. “That was fun. How come you’re not always this fun?”
“Perhaps you just haven’t been paying attention,” Lucas offered, eyeing William critically. In the warm glow of the passing streetlights, his eyes looked green. William counted off the time between green and dark blue. “You weren’t being fun either.”
Snorting, William waved a dismissive hand at him. “I’m always fun. I do Christmas addresses in superhero pajamas. That can’t be it.”
Lucas’s lips twisted, but he didn’t seem quite as affronted as he usually did. Either William had too much alcohol to tell, or Lucas had had enough to not be so uptight. “I’m not sure we have the same definition of fun, then.”
As they pulled into the driveway and climbed out of the limo, William finally shook his head. “Nah, you were cool today. Putting on a show and all that. That one lady with her camera. Oh man, it was priceless.”
Inclining his head, Lucas frowned just a little, eyes narrowed. “I didn’t notice her specifically. All of that was for her benefit?”
“Well, yeah. Her and the other ones. But she was the most obvious, and she had funny expressions.” Oh, whoops. William had taken them down the wrong hall. Oh, well, they could still get to his wing this way. It’d just be the scenic route. “Who else’s would it be for?”
The way Lucas huffed made William think that was the wrong answer, but he couldn’t imagine what the right one would be. He must have been mistaken. “Who else, indeed.”
Lucas’s words caught up with him, and William frowned. “Wait. Dude. If you didn’t notice, then why did you want the oysters and play the game with me?”
Huffing, Lucas shot him a short look. “I only said I didn’t notice that woman specifically. Besides, it’s the principle of the thing. We acted our roles, regardless of the audience.”
Okay. Yeah, that made sense. But William was still in the mood to tease, and Lucas had been such a good sport all evening that he couldn’t help but slide in closer until he could feel the heat coming off him. “Aww, I thought you were seducing me for a second. Now I’m disappointed.”
“Oh? You want me to seduce you?”
William chuckled. “Nah.” For a second Lucas’s eyes flashed again, but then William grabbed his shoulder and spun him around, the move controlled despite the alcohol. “You don’t have to try that hard. Haven’t you heard from the papers?”
Leaning back against the wall, Lucas blinked at him. He must have had more wine than William remembered, because his cheeks were pink. It looked good on him. “Heard what?”
A slow smile crossed William’s lips. “I’m an easy lay.”
More to come later!
Question of the hour: Would you be for or against an American Monarchy? Even if their influence on politics was mostly limited, do you think it would be a positive or negative influence? Or, perhaps a neutral one.
Yeah, political questions with your romance novels, exactly what you came here for
August 29, 2014
As I mentioned earlier, Finally Home is the sequel to my short story, Krung Thep, City of Angels, where we first met novice backpacker Marco and culinary travel writer Chris in Bangkok, Thailand. Not to spoil too much, but Finally Home picks up shortly after the story left off, with Marco and Chris enjoying their last dinner together in Thailand before they part ways, possibly forever. Here, have a peek:
Marco’s mouth was on fire.
Scratch that. His entire body was on fire, a searing burn radiating from his mouth all the way down to his toes. Buds of sweat bloomed over his already sticky skin, and the lazy fan mounted above the table did nothing to cool him. He stuck his tongue in his glass of beer, hoping the remains of the ice cubes floating inside would soothe it, but the fizz just seemed to aggravate the burn. A tormented whimper escaped Marco’s lips.
Across the scarred Formica table, Chris’s normally tanned face had gone red beneath his shaggy blond hair. However, his shoulders quaked with barely contained laughter rather than pain, his ice blue eyes filled with a mix of compassion and mirth.
“Thith isn’th funneh!” Marco cried. It was hard for him to make himself clear with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, which made Chris laugh all the harder.
“Yes it is!” Chris wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I warned you, the waitress warned you, but you didn’t listen!”
Marco scowled at Chris through watering eyes. The dish had seemed harmless enough on the menu, just some glass noodles tossed with prawns and minced pork. He hadn’t counted on the strength of the chili-lime dressing dousing it, though. Marco had figured that by now, after two weeks in Thailand, his spice tolerance would have increased enough to graduate from the farang level of spicy to that of the locals. How wrong he’d been.
Chris passed a small plate of cucumber slices toward him. “These should help.”
As Marco crammed two into his mouth, Chris motioned to the waitress. All he had to do was point at the sweating, panting Marco and she nodded in understanding. What seemed like an agonizing amount of time later, she plopped a small plastic bottle of milk on the table. Marco was in too much pain to care how foolish he looked, and he wrenched off the lid in one pull. As the milk bathed his tongue, the burn subsided to a dull, throbbing ache.
“Better?” Chris asked, his blue eyes twinkling with humor.
Marco simply scowled at his travel companion over another slug of the sweetened milk. Embarrassment kicked in as the pain subsided. It would have been one thing if Chris were just some random travel buddy he’d met at a youth hostel, another green twentysomething out seeing the world for the first time. But Christopher J. Springer was a noted culinary travel writer, who made his living sampling what the world’s food carts and hole-in-the-wall joints had to offer. Marco had watched Chris sample chili-studded soups and grilled crickets with equal amounts of gusto. Marco couldn’t even handle a plate of noodles.
“Hey.” Chris’s voice grew suddenly tender, drawing Marco’s gaze away from the offending dish. “It’s okay. We all get burned sometimes.”
Chris reached out a hand and placed it over Marco’s with a squeeze. Marco’s heart skipped a beat, the solid warmth of Chris’s calloused fingers soothing away some of his shame. That was the other, more important reason Marco had been so eager to show Chris he’d absorbed some of his adventurous spirit: Chris was the first real lover that Marco had ever had.
Chris had appeared out of the blue three days after Marco had arrived in Bangkok, materializing like some khaki-clad guardian angel to guide Marco through the convoluted streets, sois and canals of the city. It had only taken them a day to fall into bed together, though it had taken a bit longer to figure out that they made a good traveling pair. Now, after ten days of trekking side by side across Thailand, Marco was having a hard time imagining what life was going to be like once he boarded his plane back to Los Angeles tomorrow.
“Really, it’s okay!” Chris said. “You don’t have to look so sad, Marco. We’ll order something else.”
Marco tried to shake off his melancholy and offered Chris a weak smile. “Can we get that one dish—‘the catfish exploded’?” He remembered the crispy-sweet seafood salad he’d fallen in love with during their two days in the beach town of Hua Hin. Best of all, it was flavorful, yet barely spicy.
“Yam pla dook foo?” The Thai syllables rolled off Chris’s tongue with enviable ease. “If they have it.”
Chris gave Marco a smile that spread a different type of heat through him. As Chris waved down the server to order, Marco couldn’t help but study him, struck again by how he’d managed to attract such an intensely good-looking traveling companion. Chris’s physique was wiry and toned from years of constant travel, not too built, not too thin. He had a smile that stood out like pearls against sand on his lean, tanned face, which time had only begun to line. Marco’s gaze drifted from Chris’s face, down the long column of his throat, to the wide triangle of bare flesh peeking out from his unbuttoned collar.
As Marco watched, Chris’s fingers fluttered unconsciously against the spot, quick as a hummingbird, before falling back to the table. Marco felt a pang, as he always did when he saw Chris’s tic. When Marco first met Chris, that spot had been decorated by a worn silver St. Christopher’s medal, a talisman of protection that had been with him on all his travels. Now it hung around Marco’s neck, a testament to the bond they had forged in such a short time. Marco wondered if he should return it to Chris before he left, seeing as it had been so precious to Chris, but part of him didn’t want to let it go. After tomorrow, it would be all he would have to remember Chris by.
While they waited for their dish, Marco pulled his smartphone out of his pocket and snapped a picture of the offending noodles. Within a minute, he’d posted the picture to his Facebook account, the caption reading: “I think I just ate noodles made out of the sun.” When he finished, he noticed Chris watching him with equal parts bemusement and disdain.
“You know your phone bill is going to be huge when you get back home,” Chris said.
“Maybe, but it’s worth it. I’ll have a record of my day-to-day trip.”
“A travel journal would work just as well. Cheaper, too.”
“Nowhere near as fun,” Marco scoffed. His phone made a cheerful bleep. His older sister, Angela, had already commented, most likely from her office computer, seeing as it was around 11:00 a.m. back home in Culver City.
“You kids and your constant need to share everything,” Chris griped cheerfully. He leaned back in his seat, gnawing on a piece of cucumber. “Back in my day, we used postcards and e-mails to keep in touch.”
“Okay, Grandpa,” Marco snorted. “You’re only nine years older than me!”
“Might as well be twenty, the way things are speeding up these days.”
Chris’s tone was light, but there was a new crease across his brow. This wasn’t the first time their age difference had come up, though the gap didn’t bother Marco in the slightest. In fact, he liked that Chris was older, even if it meant having arguments like this again and again.
“You know, for a travel writer, you’re an awful Luddite,” Marco said.
Chris shrugged. “I have my laptop—”
“That thing is older than I am!”
“And I have my camera. You can’t tell me that little phone takes better pictures than my Nikon D3.”
“No,” Marco conceded, “but at least I can upload them to the web right away.”
“See, I don’t need that.” Chris took a sip of his beer. “Why bother putting things online for free when you can find a magazine or a website to pay you for it?”
“Because sometimes it’s not about the money.”
Marco was getting exasperated. They’d had this argument almost every day. If only Chris would understand how using social media could expose him to new readers and boost sales of his photography books and travel guides. Sometimes Marco thought Chris deliberately didn’t want recognition, despite his awards and high-profile articles. At least Chris had finally taken Marco up on his offer to let him help by recording video footage of Chris’s street-food encounters. It wasn’t high quality, but Marco figured it would help give Chris reference materials, if nothing else.
“Social media is about being connected,” Marco continued, “sharing your experiences.”
“Who would I want to stay connected to?” Chris rolled his eyes in irritation. “The marketing manager pretending to be Anthony Bourdain on his Facebook? My roommate from college? Anyone I want to stay connected with, I do, on my own terms. I don’t need a face-twit-blog-whatever.”
“What about me?” It came out before Marco could stop himself. “After tomorrow how are you going to stay connected to me?”
Finally Marco had asked the question they’d both been avoiding. Marco knew he’d been a rare exception to Chris’s usual rule of not mixing business and pleasure, a lover who had become a travel companion and assistant. The color drained from Chris’s face, and his cool gaze slipped away from Marco to study his half-empty beer glass. For a long moment, the only sounds at their table were the clink of melting ice in their metal bucket and the whir of the cheap plastic fan above.
“All right,” Chris said slowly, “I’ll set up a Facebook account.”
“Really?” Marco’s eyes went wide. “You serious?”
“Maybe you’re right.” It seemed like it physically pained Chris to admit it, which made Marco smile. “It wouldn’t kill me.”
A little side note, if I may, the picture at the top of the page is a meal very similar to the one Chris and Marco shared. The “catfish exploded” dish is on the upper left, and beside it are the “noodles made out of the sun.”
How about you? Have you ever had a dish so spicy it made you cry?
When novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways in Bangkok, they thought it was the end of their summer romance. Three months later, though, a change of assignment reunites Chris and Marco, and the pair embarks on an adventure greater than ten days trekking through Thailand—forming a real relationship amid family drama, coming out fears, career woes, and personal demons.
Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway
June 25, 2014
So you can’t have a release party without a story excerpt. Or at least that’s what I think. Anyway, the excerpt on the DS website doesn’t show the meeting between my main characters so I decided to post it her. Enjoy and tell me what you think!
STEFAN LEANED against of the bulwark of the boat and idly watched his brother diving again and again into the depths of the ocean. Just like Rick had wanted, they’d come here to attempt to find the nonexistent Little Mermaid doppelganger.
It was a waste of Stefan’s time, but since he’d agreed to it, he allowed himself to relax and enjoy the pleasant sea breeze.
The ocean had become silent and peaceful after the storm. Stefan loved these quiet times, when he could take in the smell of salt and freedom, when he could look out into the distance and see only water. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of motion next to the boat, but it was only a dolphin, performing one of its amusing but highly intelligent dances.
“Hey there, guy,” Stefan greeted the dolphin with a chuckle.
It said “hi” back by shooting a stream of water through its blowhole and making a few whistling noises. As the dolphin approached him, Stefan leaned slightly over the rail. He knew all too well that dolphins were wild predators, but this particular one had come to him of its own accord. It seemed friendly, and if Stefan had to guess, it must be accustomed to humans, at least to some extent.
Stefan petted the dolphin’s snout, and the sea creature released a sound that Stefan could have sworn was laughter. Unfortunately Rick chose this exact moment to interrupt them and emerged from the water.
“What are you doing, Stefan?” he asked as he removed his scuba mask. “Help me look.”
The dolphin whistled in protest and dove back into the water, splashing Rick’s face. As Rick spluttered and gave the sea mammal the finger—and wasn’t that an interesting gesture to make toward a dolphin—Stefan shook his head.
“I said I’d come with you, but I never agreed to playing along with your ridiculous game.”
“You’re just being stubborn,” Rick pointed out, disregarding the dolphin that was now porpoising in the distance. “You know as well as I do that I can’t go too deep, even with the scuba gear. We need the diving suit.”
Stefan resigned himself to the inevitable. The sooner he proved to Rick his idiotic merman didn’t exist, the faster they could go back home. He was loath to use the Newtsuit for such purposes, since he couldn’t afford making repairs to it if something broke. However, Rick wouldn’t have asked him along at all if he hadn’t anticipated the possibility of needing it, and he wouldn’t give up even if Stefan refused.
“Fine. One hour. After that we’re going home, and in the morning, we’ll get you scheduled for a psychiatrist visit.”
He was about to retrieve his atmospheric diving suit from the depths of his boat when the unlikeliest thing happened. A head covered in moist, blue-green curls emerged from the water. Stefan froze, simply staring, his world going a little fuzzy around the edges. It couldn’t be…. Could it? The blue-eyed beauty had to be some unlucky swimmer, one with a very interesting hairstylist, yes, but definitely not a merman.
His knees kind of went weak when the body attached to the head emerged as well. The new arrival lifted himself up to the deck of the boat using just the strength of his arms. Even if he simply leaned against the protective railing of the deck without actually progressing past it, his actions still revealed an emerald green fish tail. Stefan had the urge to take off his glasses and wipe them clean—because he really couldn’t be seeing this.
At first no one spoke. The strange creature looked from Rick—who remained in the water—to Stefan, holding on tightly to the railing of the boat like he was trying to keep himself anchored there. Stefan had no idea what had prompted the beautiful being to come to them, but God, he wished…. He really wished he could touch him. No. He needed to get a grip. This was not the time for Stefan’s neglected libido to nudge him, especially not toward someone of a different species. This was the discovery of a lifetime. And really, given that the merman had just propped what would have been his ass against the deck, he could slide back into the water at any moment, at which point Stefan would lose him.
If another civilization existed in the depths, they might have a solution to the problems Stefan had been fighting for three quarters of his adult life. Toxic waste pollution, oil spills, garbage dumping—the oceans were suffering, and Stefan knew it. As an oceanographer, he’d tried to do his part in controlling it, but he wasn’t the Captain Planet his brother accused him of being, and his insistent efforts had proven to be uncomfortable for his bosses—who had their own, more “practical” interests.
He had to be careful so as not to startle this marvel of nature. Obviously his brother didn’t have such qualms, because he exploded at Stefan. “See, I told you I saw a merman.” He glowered at Stefan, then swam back toward the boat, approaching the merman—shit, the merman!
“Hello. I’m Rick.” When the creature just watched him warily, Rick brought his hand to his chest and repeated his name more slowly. “Rick. Me. That’s. My. Name. Rick.”
Stefan had the distant thought that his brother looked like an idiot while trying to talk to the quiet merman. The creature didn’t seem very impressed, either, and didn’t mimic Rick’s words like Rick undoubtedly wanted.
With a tremulous smile, Rick insisted, “Me. Rick.” Pointing to the merman, he asked, “You? What’s your name?”
The merman didn’t display any interest in communicating with them. At last Rick appeared to lose his patience and reached for the merman’s tail—that lay dangling over the edge of the deck, within Rick’s reach. Rick seemed fascinated with it, as his gaze had gone to the shining green scales more than once.
Before Rick could reach his goal, Stefan’s dolphin friend appeared out of nowhere, slamming straight into Rick and keeping him from touching the merman. Rick fell back, and Stefan cursed, more than aware that angry dolphins could and had killed people before. The dolphin released threatening clicking noises, no longer seeming all that friendly.
“It’s okay, guy,” Stefan tried to say as he leaned over the edge to help his brother. “I’m just going to get this idiot out of your hair. All right?”
A soft whistle came, not from the dolphin, but rather from the merman. The dolphin backed away, taking position next to the still watchful merman. The interaction fascinated Stefan, and it made him want to ask a million questions, which would probably be ignored.
For the moment what mattered was that he managed to retrieve Rick from the water successfully. His brother spouted curses and insults—vicious ones directed at the dolphin and its mother. Stefan guided him to sit down and peeled off his scuba suit to look him over. “I’m fine,” Rick grumbled at him, wincing. “Dolphin didn’t hit me all that hard.”
Stefan palmed his brother’s ribs, watching his face closely as the man took a couple of deep, shuddering breaths. He found no protruding bones, so his brother’s injury was unlikely to be life threatening. Nevertheless, cracked or bruised ribs were still something that needed to be dealt with carefully, lest it grow into a more serious affliction. “Be that as it may, you might want to lie down for a while. I’ll get you some painkillers and ice, and you can go below deck for a while.”
“Are you kidding me?” Rick glowered at Stefan and shot to his feet. “I always knew you blamed me for your own failure to hold on to the best thing that happened to your ungrateful ass. But I don’t care about that. I’m not going to allow you to—”
A soft melody filled the air, more beautiful than any symphony that had graced human halls. Rick’s eyes rolled in his head, and he swayed on his feet. He’d have undoubtedly fallen, but Stefan managed to catch him at the last moment. Stefan grunted, making a mental note to tell his brother to lose some weight if he planned to swoon a lot in the future. Not that he could blame him. The song…. That beautiful song. It was simply spellbinding. Stefan wanted nothing more than to lose himself to it forever. Maybe he’d have done exactly that, but it would have been unpleasant and embarrassing if he’d dropped his already unconscious brother.
Slowly, carefully, Stefan set Rick down on the deck chaise longue. He took a couple of deep breaths and removed his glasses, then wiped them clean with his shirt. When he put them back on, he looked back at the spot where the merman had been. Still there. Thank fuck.
All right, Stefan needed to find something, anything he could tell the creature. Any moment now the beautiful being would leave, and Stefan would lose his chance. First of all he had to learn if the merman’s voice had something to do with Rick fainting. After all, he couldn’t risk Rick’s dizzy spell meaning he had internal bleeding.
“You have my apologies,” Stefan began, “for my brother’s idiotic behavior. I gather it’s rude for someone to try to touch your tail? Did you knock him out with your voice?”
The merman didn’t answer, simply looking at Stefan with eyes so blue Stefan could easily get lost in them.
“I appreciate you calling off your dolphin,” Stefan continued. Still faced with silence, he asked, “Can you give me a sign if you can understand? I feel like an idiot, rambling here without knowing if I’m even getting through to you.”
When the reply came, Stefan almost thought he’d imagined it.
“Phil,” the merman said softly.
His speaking voice was like the whisper of the waves on a particularly calm evening, the mating call of the whales, and the laughter of the wind put together in a package that would be understandable for the human mind. By some miracle, Stefan managed to suppress a moan at the sound. Focus, Stefan. This is important. You have to give this beautiful creature a good impression of the human race. Rick’s rant had obviously upset the merman, so Stefan needed to fix it. Of course, that would have been easier if Stefan had actually understood what the merman meant.
June 18, 2014
To send you off, here’s one more excerpt from my new novella, THE BREAK-IN. I hope you enjoy it.
June 18, 2014
I thought you might like a short excerpt from my novella, THE BREAK-IN.
Because of Jade Release Party (official) post #4: Sonny on bridges, Luki on parenting, and Jade on tulips and tossing cookies
May 24, 2014
Some of you have seen this graphic before with it’s teensy excerpt. Here’s the longer bit it comes from. Setting the scent, this is chapter one, and Sonny’s driving the home from Seattle, where Luki has finally gotten the good news that, after five years, he remains cancer free.
AFTER THEY’D had Full Sail Amber Ale and hamburgers at the Metro, and Luki had gotten upset at the staff for ignoring Sonny, and Sonny had reminded Luki he didn’t care—all of which is exactly what happened every time they went to the Metro—Sonny piloted the flying Mustang down I-5, over the Tacoma Narrows bridge, up and around the Kitsap Peninsula, the long way home.
As they made the trip through Bremerton, Luki said, “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Sonny said, “Yeah, they filmed some of it here. And supposedly the story took place here.” He was surprised, though, because Luki didn’t really watch movies or television.
“My dad liked that movie. I think he secretly wanted to be a romantic.”
“Maybe he was a romantic,” Sonny suggested. “You know, with your mom. Kaholo said he never got over her dying, right?”
Luki looked as though the thought was completely new and possibly a little painful. Eventually he said, “Yeah, could be. Maybe I’ll ask Kaholo about it when we get everybody together to celebrate my five years cancer free.” He smiled—the second real smile in a single day—and held that expression until Sonny was able to turn his head and smile back.
Sonny switched hands on the wheel so he could reach for Luki’s broad, brown hand currently at rest in his lap, his white gold, black opal, and colorless sapphire wedding set sparkling in the afternoon sun. When Sonny touched it, Luki turned that hand up and caught Sonny’s in his sure but gentle grip. Something delicious traveled all through Sonny, an invisible shiver of pleasure and probably anticipation. He thought, magic hands, but what he said was, “Maybe that’s why he couldn’t accept you as you are, Luki.”
“You mean that’s why he ‘hated what I am.’”
“Well, that’s the way he said it, yeah. But what if he just was afraid you being gay would be another terrible loss, and he wouldn’t be able to deal, just like he couldn’t deal with losing your mother.”
Luki shook his head and raised one corner of his mouth in a wry expression that all by itself dismissed any excuses for his father’s cruelty. “Sonny, I can’t deny my dad gave me a lot of personal power in other ways, and it serves me well. And he said he loved me—he only said it once, but he did say it. And he saved me from being carved up like the bar-b-que pig. Growing up in his shadow and at his command, I couldn’t help but love and admire him. I still do. But I can’t think of anything to excuse his repugnance toward me because I’m gay. Maybe you’re right, but if you are, he was selfish and childish, and that’s not an excuse.”
Sonny didn’t say anything for a while, driving onto the long, flat Hood Canal bridge, which would take them from the Kitsap to the Olympic Peninsula and, still on Highway 104, up and around the coast, past Discovery Bay, and eventually home.
“This is a long bridge,” Luki said.
“Mm. About 7,000 feet.” Sonny changed his voice to his version of tour-guide-Sonny, and added,
“The longest floating bridge in the world located in a saltwater tidal basin.”
Luki chuckled appropriately. “Well, while we’re on it, maybe you can tell me, do you think my dad could be excused for hating… my being gay?”
“Hell no, Luki!”
The answer was vehement enough to actually startle Luki. Once he recovered he said, “You know, Sonny, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this, but…. The way my dad was, it’s a big reason I’ve never wanted to be a parent. I mean, I remember my mom, barely, and as far as I know she was great, and then of course there’s Kaholo. If I know anything about how to treat a kid, it’s probably because of him. But I’ve always worried I’d be a lousy parent. And if I was, I can assure you I’d blame Peli Vasquez, my good old dad, for at least part of it.”
“Honey, I don’t think there can be an excuse for a parent treating their child like that. I was only talking about understanding it a bit more—more for your peace than his benefit, certainly. And who knows what kind of parent either of us would have made. Chances are, we won’t know. But we’re damn good uncles.”
“True. But speaking of Nebraska—”
“Doesn’t matter. I can’t wait to call Kaholo when we get home. Tell him the news, see if he’ll come out to celebrate.”
Luki looked blank.
For the rest of the trip, Luki made calls and arrangements. Kaholo definitely would come. Jackie and Brian would try to carve out time from their work with British intelligence to make the cross-Atlantic trip—it was that important to them. Josh and Ruthie wanted to get together but had some issues with traveling. Ruthie was midpregnancy and for some reason had morning sickness and general nausea much later into the pregnancy than was usual.
“It’s a little inconvenient, Mr. Vasquez,” she drawled.
“Does everyone from West Virginia call their uncle-in-law ‘mister,’ Ruthie?”
She laughed, which was a sound Luki always enjoyed. It reminded him of a slow, deep creek running over rocks, in and out of eddies and pools. He inwardly smiled, but it did worry him when she said she was having problems. She apologized for her formality with a smile in her voice. “Sorry, I keep forgetting. I don’t know why. So, Luki—there is that better? Anyway, it’s a bit of a problem. I never know when I’m going to be sick, and also the doctor told me I shouldn’t travel until after the baby comes.”
“Okay, Ruthie. Maybe we can figure something out, but I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. You didn’t with Jade, right?”
“Sheesh. That girl was easy. She acted like she knew exactly what she was doing—even during the birth. She’s still easy, Luki, and you know she talks about you, misses you. That’s another reason I wish we could come. But then, you know Josh just finally got the job transfer he wanted. He was permanent at the refinery, but he’s on the offshore crew now, maintenance out on THUMS Islands. I don’t think he could get off work—he’s still training and on probation.”
“Huh…. Well, congrats to him on the job. Hey, hold on a minute okay?” Luki held out the phone so Sonny could point to the button he needed to press to put the call on hold.
Once he’d done that Sonny said, “What’s up?”
Luki explained the reasons Josh and Ruthie couldn’t come north for a celebration, but before he could ask about an alternative, Sonny spoke up again.
“Well, how about we go down there? It’ll be a great chance for a road trip.”
“That is exactly what I hoped you would say, sweetie…. Well, not the part about the road trip. I was thinking we’d fly.”
“Nope. Road trip.”
With that settled, Luki took Ruthie off hold but found instead that five-year-old Jade was waiting.
She explained, “Mommy’s throwing up, Uncle Luki. And I can’t come to your house right now.”
“Um. Okay. Why not?”
“’Cause at my preschool I just planted my orange tulip bulbs, and I have to be here to take care of them when they pop up out of the dirt.”
“Well, that’s very conscientious of you.”
“Yeah, little girl that I love, good is a great word for it.” It was a diversion. For some reason, “little girl that I love” always made Jade giggle madly. This time was no exception. When she slowed down, Luki asked, “Is your mommy done throwing up yet?”
“Nope. Still tossing her cookies.”
“Tossing her cookies?”
“Yeah, silly. It means throwing up. Don’t you know that?”
“Oh, well. Thanks for explaining. Why don’t you tell me good-bye, and after we hang up tell Mommy that Uncle Sonny and I are going to come there where you live, so you don’t have to leave your baby tulips. Okay?”
Next, food for thought and the promised contest, and after that, a steeeeeeamy excerpt.
May 7, 2014
Here’s a little excerpt from Raven Feathers, Chapter 1:
. Heading for the central plaza, Rourke knew it was too early to get a warm breakfast, but Pleno usually laid out bread and other leftovers for the early risers. He planned to grab a few quick bites before going to the construction workshop.
. Seeing the mottled-fur-colored figure hunched over one of the picnic tables changed the course of his plans. He called out a soft “Yoiyo” to Antinee as he went to the kitchen area. With some bread and cheese in hand, he took a seat at the table across from him. It was nice to have someone else in the village to practice his English with. He had been working hard on his language skills to impress Evan.
. “Up early? Or up late?” he asked the visitor in English.
. “Up early,” Antinee said with a yawn. “Fell asleep right after dinner. Just woke up a bit ago.”
. Rourke nodded as he ate a few bites. “Is there something you not want to say in front of Idelle last night?”
. With a nod, Antinee grimaced. “When I passed by the Houston area four days ago, I still couldn’t find any traces of the tribe. It’s as if they’ve just vanished.”
. “They like to… wander. Maybe out somewhere?” Rourke offered hopefully.
. “For almost nine months now? And they usually leave behind notes and maps at their site for where they’re going. Nothing like that in their village now.”
. “Holy crap,” Rourke said, repeating the curse he’d learned from Evan. “Maybe—it is time for worry.”
. “Yes,” Antinee said with a nod. “I’d suggest when your tribe gets back from the melon fields, get together a small group, like a hunting party, and take a closer look. Really poke around. I didn’t stay long enough to do a thorough search.”
. Rourke nodded. “Keep it small, stick with ‘hunting party’ story, and not cause alarm until we get more knowledge.”
. The men sat a moment in contemplative silence. Antinee took a sip of his tea. “You know, you look more like your father every time I see you.”
. With a shrug, Rourke shook off the implications. “But I am nothing like him. I am an architect,” he said, remembering the great word Evan had used to describe his job.
. Antinee seemed to disagree. “No doubt, a good architect. That doesn’t mean you can’t be like him.”
. “But I’m not,” he said in a colder tone, hinting this line of conversation was over.
. A few silent moments passed before Antinee took another sip of tea and cleared his throat. “So, this Evan fellow…,” he threw out. “I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time with him.”
. “What of it?”
. “Have you learned anything useful from him?”
. Rourke felt a bit insulted. “It is not at all like that. I’m duanta, in case you forgot,” he said in a bristling tone.
. “Sorry,” Antinee said as he offered up his palms. “You don’t have to get defensive. I’m not trying to imply you’re using him. But, at least some of the time, you guys must talk….”
. With a hard look, Rourke replied, “I didn’t ask if you mate with my aunt. Some things should be… quiet.”
. Antinee frowned. “I’m not trying to pry into your private life. Damn it, Rourke, why are you so defensive this morning?”
. Rourke just shrugged.
. “And you know, I could care less about your homosexuality. Nor, do I think, does anybody else. I’m sure I mentioned before, the Chago tribe even has a duanta chief. No one seemed to be bothered by that idea.”
. “Maybe not,” Rourke said in a softer tone.
. Antinee paused a moment for another sip of tea. “Not that I’m trying to pry, but Idelle told me he’s living with you. Is this a serious thing?”
. After hesitating, Rourke finally nodded. “I’m making beads for him. But don’t go talking about that. Need time for tribe to… adjust before telling the news.”
. “Don’t worry about the tribe. Like I said, nobody cares who you bond with. And I’ll keep it private.”
April 28, 2014
Sacrifices (A Jeff Woods Mystery) Release Day Party—Sean
This is going to be my last post before I draw the winners for an e-copy of Sacrifices, so make sure you enter.
In the first Jeff Woods Mystery, Attachment Strings, Jeff struggles to understand Alex’s devotion to his little brother, Sean. Alex’s brother is disabled, and Jeff had a hard time getting over his prejudices. In Sacrifices, we see him dealing with Sean in a much more natural, relaxed way.
Jeff knows what to do with Sean, and tries his best to understand and interpret Sean’s signals. He’s not always successful, which irks him, to say the least. Still, he doesn’t give up and enjoys those mundane family moments with Alex and Sean—more than he ever imagined he would.
Some readers enjoy kids in their books, some don’t. I have no preference, but I tend to bring in children because I happen to like them. Comes in handy when you’re a teacher, right?
How about you? Do you like kids in your stories? Or do you want your books to be a “kid-free” zone? Or don’t you care either way? I’m curious.
I’ll be giving away two eBook copies of Sacrifices to anyone who comments during the release party.
Here’s another excerpt (from chapter three):
Indeed, Alex put his hands on his hips when I waved the package. Whatever he said was drowned out by Sean’s cheerful screech, though. Sean frog-hopped toward me while I put my jacket on the hook. Alex followed, whispering, “You promised him a gift?”
“No, I promised to help him build his farm and play with him.”
“I don’t get why you needed to buy him something new, then?”
Faking offense, I answered, “How can we play farm without a plow horse? Come on, you have to admit it was very important for me to complete his collection.”
Alex fought against the smile on his face but eventually he gave in. “All right, all right.” He pressed a kiss on my cheek, then added softly, “Thank you.”
Sean watched us while he gurgled happily and bounced up and down. Only Alex’s quick reaction prevented him from toppling to the side and banging his head against the wall. I bent down to pick Sean up. He grappled for the package in my hand until I told him, “We’ll go to the living room, okay? You can open it there.”
Sean nodded reluctantly before resting his head on my shoulder. There, I gently helped him to the floor. We tore open the package, and Sean’s eyes lit up when he held the large horse in his hands.