Here’s the final excerpt for the day. I’d like to thank everyone who’s stopped by. You have all day to leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. A simple “count me in” will suffice. For those of you who’d rather bet on a sure thing, Fire Horse is available for preorder on the Dreamspinner Coming Soon page. Actual release date is Friday, April 12. Here’s a glimpse of Preston first reaction to life at Eton.
Eton was a new world and one I wasn’t sure I’d ever like. Turning me into a proper Etonian was like trying to train a donkey to play polo. Mom had waited too long, in my opinion. Most of my formative years were over so learning how to eat, walk, and talk like a Brit was futile. I felt like an alien who’d materialized into this prim and proper world of good form and etiquette.
Frankness and casual dress were frowned upon in most of the groups I’d tried to join, and my Texas accent was always the kiss of death. In a nation that prided itself on diversity, diction was the measure of a man’s education and breeding, and a slip of the tongue could push you back to the end of the queue before you could figure out what happened. The only people who seemed willing to bridge the gap between our cultures were the members of the equestrian club.
Belatedly, I’d found out there were no stables on campus. That upset me more than anything else. I’d always found a sense of peace in the daily routine of caring for Thunder and knowing I’d have to be transported by bus or car to the stables was infuriating. Still, I’d been promised my horse, and I wasn’t going to be deterred by this minor inconvenience.
Thanks to Konrad’s training, my considerable knowledge of polo set me apart from all the new boys. It was the first time I commanded any respect from my peers and it was sort of heady to see the look of admiration in their eyes whenever I scored a goal or outmaneuvered one of the upper classmen. Ned Temple, one of the boys in the club, lived in the same house where I’d been assigned and had the room next to mine. He was fourteen, a year ahead of me, but wasn’t turned off by my age or lack of breeding―quite the opposite. He’d wandered into my room that first week, to introduce himself, and stayed when he found out I was from Texas.
“Are you really a cowboy?” he asked that day, brimming with excitement.
“Yeah,” I said warily, fully expecting to see the pursed lip look of disapproval I’d come to recognize. “What about it?”
“Do you eat beans out of a can?”
I laughed at his naivety. “You must be into movies.”
“I’ve seen every single western ever made,” he boasted.
Disdainfully, I pointed out that he only starred in spaghetti westerns. “He’s no more a cowboy than you are.”
“But he’s dangerously handsome,” Ned said with a wicked grin.
He gave me a wary look. “Is that a problem?”
“I don’t give a shit,” I said.
“Thank goodness,” he sighed with relief. “I was positive you’d do something fiendishly western.”
“String me up by my trainers or something.”
Waving away my question with a graceful flip of his hand, he mumbled, “Never mind.”
“I think it’s pretty gutsy to blurt out you like cock.”
“I try to be up front with boys I befriend.” Ned said. “It saves a lot of drama down the road.”
“Have you had much?” I asked curiously. I kept thinking of Konrad’s dilemma and his words of caution.
“I’m beaten up on a fairly routine basis,” he said in a resigned tone. “Still, I find it easier to be myself than to pretend. There are a lot of gay kids at Eton but I’m one of the few who’s up front about it.”
“Commendable,” I muttered.
“Are you gay?” Ned asked hopefully.
“Do I look it?”
“Not at all, but that means nothing. We come in all sizes and shapes.”
“Then why ask?”
“Your nonchalance is telling.”
I shrugged. “Your love life is none of my business,” I said evenly, “and you can interpret my statement anyway you want.” I was trying to be diplomatic without revealing anything. There’d be time enough in the future to exchange secrets.
“Tell me about the equestrian club,” I said. “Do you ride?”
Did he ever. Ned was as obsessed with horses and polo as I was, which sealed our friendship then and there. He was also loaded and had several ponies he was willing to share. Dad was shipping Thunder but wanted to wait until I was settled. In the meantime, I’d have to accept Ned’s kindness and learn how to work with strange ponies.
“It’s almost time for mid-afternoon tea. Will you join me?” Ned asked.
“What else do they serve? I’m not crazy about tea, toast, or soft-boiled eggs.”
“What do you fancy?”
“Pizza and soda.”
“You know, the fizzy drinks, Coke or Pepsi.”
“Right,” he nodded. “I’m sure we can get it sorted.”
What followed were weeks of learning how to survive in my new environment. Ned was great through the transition, taking on the role of Henry Higgins to my bumbling Eliza Doolittle. He instructed me on the hierarchy of the school, corrected me when I used wrong words, and insisted that I dress up when necessary. In return, I taught him how to think like a cowboy on the polo field. He was tentative at first, but each victory gave him confidence, and we soon gained a reputation as the daring duo.
Weekly phone calls to Konrad grounded me and kept me in touch with my Texas half, especially when I started noticing a change in my mannerisms. I was beginning to like some aspects of life in England and he noticed.
“You’re starting to sound like Earl Gray,” he teased one Sunday about six weeks into the school year. “I won’t recognize you when we see each other again.”
“I’m still me, Kon.”
“I miss you so much.”
“How’s it working out with Tim?”
“He’s a good groom.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“It’s fine, Flea. What about you? Kiss any pretty girls lately?”
“How did that work out?”
“It’s you I think about when I’m jerkin’ the gherkin.”
“Is this what they’re teaching you at that fancy school?”
“No,” I said dryly. “It’s a homegrown talent.”
“Are you alone?” he asked, raising his voice in panic.
“Don’t worry, Kon. No one can hear me.”
“What about your new friend.”
“He went home for the weekend.”
“What’s he like?”
“Jesus…are you guys…you know….fooling around?”
“Heck no,” I protested. “I’m saving myself for you.”
“Don’t be stupid, Flea. Nothing’s ever happening between us.”
Right, I thought. Maybe not soon, but I was determined to insinuate myself back into his life, whether he knew it or not. “Are you ever coming to London?”
“Promise to let me know.”
“I will,” he said before clicking off.
Since my novel spans so many years I needed a vision of an older Preston and Konrad so I trolled the internet for more images. I don’t know if other writers work this way, but as I said, I need a visual or a playlist to help me along. Of course I could continue to use more images of Nacho Figueras, the to-die-for face of Ralph Lauren Polo, but I had someone a little different in mind.
Here’s an older Preston and Konrad, plus another excerpt.
This scene takes place in Seville, Spain where the boys have gone to check out the Andalusian horses.
The next morning, we took a bus to a stud farm in Jerez de la Frontera. We passed the two-hour drive by feasting on the bocadillos we’d purchased at the bar near the hostel. The “sandwiches” were stuffed with salty Iberian ham and goat cheese, and we shared a wedge of cold potato omelet spiked with chorizo. Two liters of mineral water helped to wash down the hefty breakfast, and then we napped the rest of the way. By the time we arrived at Finca Mejia, where the horses were bred and controlled, we were eager to begin our tour.
I’d never seen an Andalusian, although I’d heard about this special breed. Anyone who loved horses knew they existed, but few had the money to own one. Highly prized as a warhorse, due to their speed and agility, their numbers had dwindled throughout the centuries. After reaching dangerously low levels, exportation of mares had been strictly forbidden to give Spanish and Portuguese breeders the opportunity to develop and expand their stock. The majority of them were bred here in the Andalusia province of Spain, thus the name. In Portugal they were called Lusitanos. Universally, they were known as the pure Spanish or Iberian horse.
Kon and I sat side by side with other prospective buyers and horse aficionados, hardly able to contain our excitement. The owner of this particular stud farm was quite aware of the impact his animals made as they entered the arena. There was a collective murmur from the crowd when the string of horses stopped within ten feet of the wooden fence separating them from the audience. They were magnificent! Most of them were gray and averaged fifteen and a half hands. Abundantly thick manes and long flowing tails set low and tight against their bodies, were distinctive features.
Before the animals were allowed to circle the ring so we could admire them from different angles, the owner gave a brief lecture on the origin of this ancient breed. In heavily accented English, he explained that these horses had lived on the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years. Known for their strong but elegant build, they were prized as a war or cavalry horse until mounted knights began using heavier and heavier armor. They were soon replaced with larger but slower moving draft horses. The trend was later reversed with the development of firearms and the need for a more rapid and agile animal.
“Why were they in such demand?” a visitor asked. “They’re good looking but so is the Arabian.”
The owner of the farm was a white-haired gentleman who sat on a horse like a warrior. The pride in his voice was clearly evident as he extolled the virtues of this particular breed. “These horses evolved in hilly and rugged terrains, señor. Fighting for survival and grazing amidst the rocky landscape led to the development of a strong arched neck, hind legs positioned well underneath the body, with strong hock action, and small rounded hoofs. These attributes make the horse much more agile than the standard Arabian or other breeds, and they are, without a doubt, quite beautiful.”
“I see,” the man nodded.
“But your prices are outrageous,” another person commented. “I can buy two thoroughbreds for the price of one Andalusian.”
“You can also drive a Fiat rather than a Mercedes,” the Spaniard acknowledged haughtily. “Furthermore, your attitude has already cost you one of my animals. I suggest you visit another stud farm if you intend to buy.”
“My money is as good as anyone else’s,” the guy volleyed.
“It’s not always about money,” the Spaniard replied. “I’m very selective about my buyers. I would never sell one of my horses to anyone who couldn’t fully appreciate its value.”
“Bah!” the prospective buyer spat out before standing and blundering out of the arena.
“Shall we proceed?” the Spaniard asked coldly, scanning the rest of us to see if there were other visitors who wanted to join the deserter.
“Yes,” the group begged collectively.
What followed was an educational afternoon, learning about his magnificent animals, their care, their bloodlines, and their availability. We drifted off into small groups, each with a guide, so we could ask questions and take our time without worrying about someone else’s agenda. Our companion was Miguel, a young Gaucho about Kon’s age. He walked and talked with the swagger of ownership, which prompted me to ask, “Are you a family member?”
“Don Alvaro is my grandfather.”
“The old dude?”
“Si.” Yes, he said, nodding.
“Is he as tough as he sounds?”
Miguel laughed. “Tougher.”
“I know all about those kind of men,” I admitted. “My Dad is demanding as hell.”
“Abuelo loves his animals more than anything else.”
Konrad whistled suddenly and we stopped. “Now, that is a beauty,” he said, walking toward a frisky young mare that pranced as he approached. She was dark gray with a snowy white mane and tail. Her oval eyes sparkled with intelligence, and she bobbed her head as Kon got closer, acknowledging his presence with a flick of her tail and a flutter of long lashes.
“She’s flirting with him,” I said, astounded.
“Es una coqueta, a teaser,” Miguel said.
“She’s a sweetheart,” Kon said, stroking her gently. “What’s her name?”
“Dulce,” Miguel said. “It means ’sweet’.”
“What a perfect name,” Kon said admiringly. “May I ride her?”
“What is your profession if you don’t mind my asking?” Miguel stated, trained to cross-examine potential riders.
“I’m a professional polo player.”
Miguel looked Konrad up and down appreciatively. His eyes lingered a little too long, in my opinion, making my hackles rise. The young Spaniard was just as hot as Kon in a swarthier, dark-haired kind of way. If I hadn’t been so madly in love, I would have paid a lot more attention to the slim-hipped brunet who was staring at Konrad with blatant interest.
Once the idea was firmly planted, I needed an image of my own characters to keep me inspired. I like them to stick around while I’m writing so I usually have them as a header on the current chapter I’m working on. Preston is thirteen in this next scene and the young model below fit the image in my head.
Konrad is eighteen, blond, blue-eyed, and buff. This guy fit the part.
Here’s a scene from Konrad’s first introduction into professional polo.
I stared out the window, paying little attention to the landscape which was miles and miles of steaming hot nada. August in Texas wasn’t exactly paradise, so there were no distractions from my melancholy thoughts. It never occurred to me that Konrad might change as well, but of course it was a very real possibility. I’d had his undivided attention for three years, and it would be over by the end of next week. Once we were let loose in the world, there’s was no telling what could happen.
I got a little preview of the future as soon as we drove past the great willow tree marking the entrance of the club. A small crowd of people gathered near the clubhouse, greeting players and their retinue. I assumed these were the big shots in charge of the tournament. I recognized a few faces from pictures I’d seen in polo magazines and was impressed anew. One of the greatest Texans to play the sport, Cecil Smith, now in his late seventies, was a part of the group, along with the owner of the club, Norman Brinker. They were meeting and greeting the arrivals, and when our turn came, Konrad was acknowledged with backslapping enthusiasm.
“So you’re the young man Cecil has been jawing about,” Mr. Brinker remarked. “Welcome to Willow Bend.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’m glad you could make it, son,” Cecil added, joining in the conversation.
“Thank you for the opportunity, sir,” Konrad said, removing his hat respectfully and shaking the older man’s hand with the same reverence he’d have paid God. If Konrad idolized anyone it was Cecil Smith. The legendary wrangler-turned-polo- player had been instrumental in arranging for Kon’s invitation to play in this tournament.
In his prime, Cecil Smith had been a 10 goal player for twenty-six consecutive years, the highest ranking one could attain in the sport. He’d also been credited with taking polo out of the drawing room and into the bunkhouse. His glory days had marked the zenith of American Polo, and long after he’d retired in 1967, he had continued to ride and train polo ponies on his ranch out in Boerne, not too far from our San Antonio home. He was always on the lookout for homegrown talent, and Konrad had caught his eye a while back. It was always a great source of pride for Cecil whenever a local boy could stick it to the millionaires and upper-class stiffs. He had shown the world that one needn’t be a blue blood to succeed in polo. All you needed was talent, guts, and a love for the sport and the animals that were the true players. Without a good pony you were nothing.
“Go out there and make me proud, son.”
“Yes, sir…thank you, sir,” Konrad stammered, tripping over his words in embarrassment.
“And who’s this young man?” Cecil asked, finally acknowledging my presence.
“This here is Pres, Mr. Smith. He’s an upcoming rider and acting as my groom today.”
“A good groom is harder to come by than a wishing well in the middle of Hill Country,” he drawled. “Are you any good, boy?”
“I try to be, sir.”
“Tryin’ is only good in horseshoes, Pres. Grooms are the unsung heroes of polo and I would expect you to go the extra mile for your friend and his ponies. How many do you have?” he asked, turning back to Konrad.
“Just the two for now,” Kon admitted.
“You’re goin’ to need at least three more, son.”
“I understand, sir. I can’t afford them yet.”
“You show me what’s what this weekend and I’ll see what I can do about getting you another pony.”
Konrad’s mouth dropped open in shock. “I’ll do my best to make you proud, sir.”
“See that you do, boy…see that you do.” He doffed his Stetson at the two of us and walked off toward another group.
“Holy shit,” Konrad breathed.
“No pressure,” I said, grinning up at him.
He let out a whoop and dragged me off toward the stables. Kon’s parents and Monica had long since taken off to check into the motel rooms they’d booked for our stay. The clubhouse accommodations were allotted to the royals and other more famous players. We nobodies had to fend for ourselves.
I craned my head in all directions, trying to spy a world-renowned figure, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a group of men leading horses covered in red blankets with the letter H embroidered in gold. I assumed these were the Harriott horses belonging to the brothers from Argentina, some of the best players of our time.
“Stop gawking,” Kon scolded.
“Can’t help it,” I said. “Isn’t that Prince Charles?” I whispered, pointing out the familiar face.
“Don’t point!” Kon barked. “People will think we’re a bunch of hillbillies.”
“We are,” I reminded him.
“Shut up, Flea,” he said, prodding me forward. We were approached by a stable hand who showed us our assigned stall and encouraged us to make use of whatever we needed. There were bales of hay and bins of feed for the taking. I stopped thinking about celebrities and got down to the business of making our horses comfortable. While I pitched hay and mixed feed, Kon went to get his pair of ponies. I imagined myself in the role of player instead of helper. One day I’d be a part of this world and people would be waiting on me instead of the reverse. I hoped that my friendship with Konrad would withstand our separation. It was the only damper on the horizon but one I tried to rationalize as necessary to my growth. Mom had promised to let me return home each summer but assured me with a knowing smile that I’d stop wanting to after a while. I doubted it. Leaving Konrad was the hardest thing I’d do in my short life. There was a part of me that wanted time to stand still, but I knew that change was inevitable.
A while back,I watched a Barbara Walters Special featuring Nacho Figueras. He’s one of the most easily recognized faces in professional polo, not only for his looks, but also his spectacular skills. The guy definitely inspired my muse and sparked a memory, which I banked for a time until I could create a story within this rarefied world.
Fire Horse is about two cowboys from San Antonio Texas, who fell in love with the sport, and not surprisingly, with each other. It spans thirty-five years, 1976 to the present, and takes us on a fast-paced and exciting journey from the arid plains of Texas to England, Spain, and beyond. I hope you get a chance to meet the characters in my new universe. Konrad Schnell is a home grown Texan while Preston Fawkes is the product of two very different cultures–a cowboy father and a very proper English mother. They’re both wonderfully complex and I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love with these guys. I know I have.
Here’s the first excerpt:
San Antonio, Texas 1976
I was ten years old when I met Konrad Schnell, Monica’s only brother. Konrad, with a K, had been fifteen at the time, and already someone to be reckoned with on the polo field. Taller than the tallest person I knew―my dad―Kon was everything I wanted to be and more. I’d never have his golden hair or meaty limbs; I wasn’t built like that, but I did have the blue eyes, although not quite as arresting as his. Konrad stood out in a crowd, so good-looking he practically sparkled.
The kids had dubbed him Big Foot because his size-fifteen riding boots had to be custom made by a specialty shop in Dallas. He was graceless on the ground but fluid and masterful on horseback. I’d met him the day he spied me losing my balance on the wooden practice pony and tumbling headlong onto the dirt-packed floor. The sound of his throaty laugh had reverberated in the barn, and my first reaction was to retaliate, but his size was so intimidating I didn’t think I’d stand a chance.
Amazingly, Konrad stopped laughing as soon as he saw my flushed face and clenched fists. What he did instead was stick his big hands under my armpits and lift me back up on the pony as if I were weightless.
“Try and grip with your knees this time, kiddo, and don’t bend over too far. If this was the real McCoy, you’d be sporting hoofprints.”
“I wish I could practice on a real pony.”
“Why don’t you?”
“My dad gets pissed every time I mention it.”
“Then why did he join this club?”
“My mother’s a big fan so he signed up to keep the peace. As for me, he’d rather I learn how to rope and steer our cattle like a proper cowboy. He thinks polo is for rich guys who have nothing better to do than chase a ball across a field and flirt with the women in big hats.”
“It takes talent and guts to play the sport,” Konrad said heatedly. “He should try it sometime―maybe then he’d change his opinion.”
“He’d rather die than admit he’s wrong,” I said. “I don’t understand what my mom was thinking when she married him. He’s not right for her.”
Konrad hooted at my audacious statement. “What qualifies you as an authority on marriage?”
“I know when something isn’t working,” I said softly.
“You don’t know Jack, kiddo. Talk to me when your balls drop and they’re covered with hair.”
My mouth sagged open. No one in my immediate vicinity ever talked about body parts, especially mine.
Konrad punched my arm playfully when he saw the expression on my face. “Come on, you little flea. Show me some moves.”
His challenge had started the ball rolling and marked the beginning of the most important relationship in my life. I became Konrad’s shadow, and he took on the role as mentor, friend, and most importantly, champion. I think he was flattered by my open admiration, and knowing I was risking punishment by escaping to the Polo Club whenever I had a chance, had made every minute together count. I usually burst through the stable doors half an hour after school let out and his first question was always, “How much time do we have?”
Mom was our conspirator, managing the duplicity by concocting one excuse after another to keep Dad in the dark. She was still working on him to let me go to boarding school, but in the meantime, daily lessons by the local superstar would provide a good foundation for my future.
I was grateful Konrad bothered with me at all. He could have been out there carousing with his friends or warding off the beautiful women hovering around him like gnats, instead of futzing around with a snot-nosed kid who was too precocious for his own good. But we’d established a connection the afternoon he’d wiped the dirt off my breeches and plunked me back on Woody, the practice tool every aspiring polo player had to contend with. Some inexplicable thread had woven its way between the two of us and it grew tighter with each passing day.
He’d allowed me to hang out with him and his friends. The boys, all in their mid-teens, treated me like their mascot but used me like a stable boy, having me fetch and carry at will. It never felt degrading, though, only exciting. I knew I was being groomed by learning from the bottom up. Shoveling manure, and laying fresh hay for the polo ponies, was mixed in with impromptu tutorials on Woody’s back. The guys would point out my mistakes, and Konrad always stayed behind to make sure I didn’t dismount without correcting my blunders.
“It’s critical to your safety and everyone around you that you perfect this move, Flea.”
“I’m so bored,” I moaned and whined, complaining about the repetition.
“It’s a part of your training,” he’d say doggedly. “If you’re going to be a slacker, do it somewhere else.”
“Why can’t I practice on one of your ponies?”
“Not until I’m sure you won’t cause them any harm.”
Konrad treated his ponies like precious children. Later, I’d come to find out why. A polo player was only as good as his mount. The deep connection between rider and steed was never as apparent as it was in this fast and dangerous sport. They became extensions of each other, and a subtle press of knee or inadvertent pull on reigns could mean the difference between making a goal and flubbing the entire match. They had to be as fearless as their riders, galloping headlong toward goal posts while players all around them pushed and shoved them out of the way, screaming invectives, and did everything in their power to prevent them from reaching the other side. Without the element of trust between horse and rider, there was no hope of excelling on the field.
“The only way you can connect with your pony is through respect.”
“What do you mean?”
“Love them with all your heart but always be their master.”
“I’m not sure I understand you, Kon.”
“Feed them when they’re hungry, soothe them when they hurt, make sure they’re always warm and dry at night, but when you’re out on the playing field, whip them if necessary. By feeling your strength and positive energy, they’ll respond with equal enthusiasm. If you show fear or weakness, they’ll get skittish and back off.”
“Do I have to do anything special to show them I’m master?”
“Love them above anything else.”
I’m getting the release party started today, counting down to Christmas Eve, when Aria will be released by Dreamspinner Press! Each day, I will have a different contest for goodies. Enter by leaving your name and email on my blog. On Monday night, 12/24, I will draw a name from the comments for each of the drawings. So comment once, and you’re entered into all the drawings! You can purchase Aria here.
For those of you not familiar with the Blue Notes Series, each of the novels in the series is a standalone story that can be read in any order. Secondary characters in one story often become the main characters in another. Aria is no exception.
In Aria, we meet Sam Ryan from the original Blue Notes, a year after he’s lost the love of his life and his longtime partner, Nick Savakis. To say Sam is floundering is an understatement. He goes through the paces of everyday life as a Manhattan attorney, does his job well, but he’s forgotten how to live. On the night he finally gathers the courage to spread Nick’s ashes over the water at New York Harbor, Sam goes to a gay bar for a drink. He’s not looking for anything except maybe a one-night stand–something to make the pain go away. The last thing he expects is that he’ll meet someone he really likes: struggling opera singer Aiden Lind.
Aria is a story of love, loss, and moving on with your life. It’s also the story of the very real challenges of a long-distance relationship. Based in part on my experiences when I was traveling and singing, Aria gives the reader a taste of what isn’t as glamorous a life as you might expect. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
I’ll leave you all with a little taste of the first chapter of Aria, the bittersweet scene at the beginning of the book as Sam tries to say good-bye to Nick in Battery Park. More excerpts to come throughout the day today, including a few NSFW I promise will warm you up, so check back later! -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.
Excerpt from Chapter One:
THE ashes flew from his fingers the moment he lifted his hand to the wind. Weightless, ephemeral, they caught the stiff breeze and vanished over the water. The sky grew darker; a sunset painted in bands of fuchsia, orange, yellow, and dark purple streaked the clouds. Lady Liberty stood sentinel against the vibrant backdrop as a ferry made its way toward Staten Island.
Sam looked down at the now empty tin in his hands. He replaced the cover and sat down on one of the benches at the edge of Battery Park, smiling to see the words Macadamia Chocolate Chip printed on the top. How many times had he seen his lover toss his tubes of oil paints into the battered cookie tin as they headed to the park for a Sunday afternoon picnic? Even after Nicholas Savakis had made his name as a rising young painter, he never replaced that metal tin.
“Who needs all the bullshit?” Nick said when Sam suggested they buy him a new box for his paints. “This works fine.” So when the funeral director tried to sell Sam a fancy urn, he refused. Instead, he took Nick’s ashes in the hard plastic box and transferred half of them to the tin. He gave the rest to Nick’s family.
It’s what Nick would have wanted.
Sam had decided on this spot even before the funeral, but it took him more than a year to gather his courage to come here. This had been Nick’s favorite place to sit and paint. Sam had often met him here after work during the six years they lived together.
Sam loved to watch Nick’s dark hair blow about his face as his lean hands moved with careful precision over the canvas, his long brushstrokes capturing the multilayered colors of the water and sky. To someone unfamiliar with Nick’s work, his paintings might seem only an enticing blur of paint and texture. But over the years, Sam had come to see the world through the eyes of the lanky, slightly awkward man whose stained jeans echoed the blue and turquoise he favored in his art. The paintings were whispers of Nick’s soul, the beautiful soul Sam had cherished. Sam had hoped to spend the rest of his life with that perfect soul.
He inhaled the salty air and closed his eyes. In the distance, he could hear the drone of traffic. The air was warm for mid-November, but as the sun set below the water, he shivered. The lightweight coat over his suit jacket did nothing to stop the biting wind. Sam had planned to do this the summer after Nick’s death. Nick would have laughed at him; he’d have told Sam he always took too long to decide things.
“S’only your fault you’re sitting here freezing your ass off,” Sam could almost hear him tease.
I love you, Nick. Wherever you are.
He opened his eyes once more, realizing he still held the cookie tin in his hands. He stood up and slipped it back into his briefcase, then slung the strap of the case over his shoulder. He needed a drink; he wasn’t ready to face the empty apartment yet. Not tonight, of all nights.
You purchase Aria on Dreamspinner Press!
I thought I should introduce the main characters (or at least one of them) this time.
Needles. Someone was driving needles into his arm. Chris struggled against the pain, aware only of the need to escape it. Then memory returned with a flash and he bolted upright in bed. “Seth!”
Chris slumped back against the hard mattress, the flat pillows doing nothing to cushion his back, and he gasped as pain lanced outward from his ribs. “Where am I?”
“In hospital,” Seth said, looking small and scared under the fluorescent lights. “I got help. This big guy named Macklin and his boss, I guess, a Yank named Caine something unpronounceable. The Yank owns a sheep station, he said, and he said we should come work for him.”
“Back up,” Chris said. “You aren’t making sense. What happened when you ran?”
“I went to the hotel. It was close and I figured there would be people there. I was right. I begged for help, and almost before I’d finished, Macklin asked me where you were. I told him, and he and three others went to help.”
Macklin must be the man Chris saw before he lost consciousness. “How’d you get from asking for help to a job?”
“Caine, the Yank, wouldn’t let me go back with Macklin and the others. He asked a bunch of questions about where we lived and stuff, and when I was done, he said we should come work at Lang Downs, the station he owns.”
“You didn’t tell him the truth, did you?” They’d been over this. If people knew where they were living and why, they could end up with the Department of Community Services and separated, and that was Chris’s greatest fear. He didn’t have much in his life, but he wouldn’t let anyone take the one thing he did have: his brother.
“I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to say. I was too upset and….”
“No worries, Seth,” Chris said with a sigh. “He offered us a job, not to call the cops. Not that I can do much work at the moment.”
“I could probably work your shifts at the restaurant,” Seth offered.
“You need to be in school.”
“I’m not going to be in school on a sheep station either,” Seth pointed out. “At least here we’ll be in town.”
In town where people now knew he was gay. Seth talked about doing Chris’s job, but he wasn’t sure he’d have a job after the confrontation that had led to him being bashed. Even if he didn’t lose his job and Seth worked the shifts until he was well, he could run into those guys again at any time, and Seth might not be around next time to find help.
“Let’s think about it before we make a decision,” Chris said. “I’m too tired to sort it out now.”
A cough in the doorway drew Chris’s attention.
“Oh, Mr. Armstrong,” Seth said, jumping to his feet. “I didn’t see you come in.”
Chris might have chuckled at the awe in Seth’s voice, usually reserved for visiting heads of state or local demigods, but the situation was too serious for laughter.
“Good to see you awake,” the man said, addressing Chris. “Seth, could you maybe find some tea for me while I talk with your brother?”
Seth scampered out of the room like an eager puppy.
“You’ve certainly impressed my brother.”
“He’s just grateful I took him seriously when he asked for help.”
“You saved my life.”
“Probably. Macklin Armstrong.”
“Chris Simms.” Chris held out his left hand. The gesture was awkward, but it was the best he could manage with his right arm in a cast. “Thank you.”
“Glad I could help. So Caine tells me you’ve had a bit of a rough time recently.”
“Nothing we can’t handle,” Chris said defensively. “I’ve got a job.”
“You can cut the bullshit, Chris,” Macklin said. “You have a dead-end job, a flat you can barely afford to keep, and no way to get anything better because you’re trying to take care of your brother. You’re not eating well, even if you’re eating regularly, because you’re both way too skinny. You’re doing your best, and you should be proud of that, but it’s not enough.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Chris demanded. “You think I don’t know how bad our lives are?”
“No, I’m pretty sure you know exactly how bad it is,” Macklin said, “but I wanted you to understand that I know it too.”
“Why? So you can lord it over me?”
“Bloody hell, kid. If you weren’t already in that bed, I’d put you there,” Macklin roared. “I hope I wasn’t as stupidly stubborn as you when Michael Lang found me squatting in one of his drover’s huts. I’ve been where you are. I wasn’t bashed, but I was on my own at sixteen because my father beat my mother and me and spent the rest of his time ranting about pillow biters and queers. The words hurt worse than his fists ever did.”
“You’re….” Chris didn’t finish the sentence because he didn’t know how to do it without offending the other man.
Chris blinked a couple of times, looking the older man over carefully. He was tall, although not obnoxiously so, maybe six feet, with broad shoulders and muscled arms where they were visible beneath the short sleeves of his shirt. His hair was shaggy and his boots were dusty. He was the picture of a masculine stockman. And he was gay.
“And nothing. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
“Surprised that I’d admit it or surprised that I’m gay in the first place?”
“A little of both,” Chris said. “Not a lot of people out here will say it even if it’s true.”
Macklin snorted softly in amusement. “Truer words, but I’m not most people and Lang Downs isn’t most stations. I imagine your brother told you my partner offered him a job.”
“He’s only sixteen,” Chris said. “He needs to be in school.”
“He’ll get his lessons done,” Macklin said. “We’ve got a number of kids on the station, and we make sure they all get their HSC. What they do after they finish high school is up to them. Finishing high school isn’t optional, but we use School of the Air so the schedule is a bit flexible. He can work and go to school at the same time, and you can work in the kitchen until you get rid of that plaster on your arm. Then we’ll see what you’re made of.”
“Why should we trust you?”
“You shouldn’t,” Macklin replied. “You shouldn’t trust anyone but your brother until you know us a little better, but we’re offering you a chance, the same as Caine’s great-uncle offered me when I was sixteen and too stupid to know better. You won’t get a better offer, and if you decide at the end of the season that the station isn’t for you, you can leave when the other jackaroos do in May. What do you have to lose?”
A flop of a flat, a shit job in a dingy restaurant….
“Will the others care that I’m gay? I always heard the stations weren’t, well, kind to people like me.”
“You weren’t listening, were you?” Macklin asked. “Caine Neiheisel, the owner at Lang Downs, is my partner.”
“Oh, that kind of partner,” Chris said as the coin dropped. “I thought…. It doesn’t matter what I thought. I was obviously wrong. So everyone knows about you?”
“It’s hard to hide it when I sleep in the station house at night despite there being a perfectly good foreman’s house down the road,” Macklin said. “I don’t talk about it because it’s nobody’s business, but I don’t hide it.”
“You did save my life. I suppose this could be a way to say thank you.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” Macklin said. “But you do owe your brother the best chance in life he can get, and while I know you’re doing the best you can for him right now, I also know it isn’t enough. He’d have a real chance on Lang Downs, and so would you. Think about it while you’re here. You can tell us what you decide when they let you out.”
Chris had no idea why he was arguing, but it seemed too simple.
“What else would there be?”
“I don’t know. Threats to call DoCS, something to try to make me do things your way?”
“You’re not a child to be bullied,” Macklin said with a shrug. “You’re a man. A young one to be sure, but a man. You can make your own decisions without any pressure from me, and you’ll live with the consequences of your choices, good or bad, without any pressure from me. You proved you were a man when you kept your brother with you and worked to support him. Keep doing what’s best for him and you’ll be fine. We’re going back to the hotel for dinner, but we’ll be by in the morning to see what you decide.”
Seth came running back into the room. “I’m sorry, Mr. Armstrong. I couldn’t find any tea.”
“That’s all right, kid,” Macklin said, ruffling Seth’s hair as he walked toward the door. “I’ll get some at the hotel. Take care of your brother. We’ll come by in the morning to see what you’ve decided.”
Anybody ready for an excerpt? The beginning of the book is a little rough for Chris, but hopefully the end results make the early pain worth it.
“Help me, please. Oh God, somebody help me!”
The shouts of the kid who half ran, half fell into the Yass Hotel drew Caine’s attention away from what should have been a quiet lunch with his lover and partner of three months.
“They’re going to kill him. Please, he’s all I have.”
“Who?” Macklin asked, rising from the table.
“These thugs.” The boy was crying now. “They said he was a poofter and they’d kill him for it.”
Macklin’s expression, never soft to begin with, hardened to stone. Caine swore Macklin’s shoulders grew broader as he approached the boy.
“Where are they?”
The boy had barely finished his answer before Macklin was out the door.
“Yes, boss,” the jackaroo at the next table replied, already on his feet and following Macklin out the door before Caine finished speaking. Ian and Kyle, the other two hands who had come to Yass to help him hire new blood for Lang Downs, followed Neil without being prompted, bringing a smile to Caine’s face despite the seriousness of the situation. He still had trouble believing he had won their loyalty.
“I’m C-c-caine Neiheisel,” Caine said, approaching the boy slowly. His heart pounded in his chest so hard it felt like someone was squeezing his ribs tight, making it hard to breathe. He couldn’t go with Macklin. He was useless in a fight, but that didn’t stop his body’s fight-or-flight response. He took a deep breath, shaking his hands slightly to clear the tingling from the rush of adrenaline. “You w-want to have a s-seat?”
“Shouldn’t we go help them?”
Caine shook his head. “Macklin and the others will t-t-take care of it, don’t worry. Wh-what’s your name?”
“Seth. Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Macklin won’t stand for that kind of nonsense,” Caine promised, his confidence so profound that he got that sentence out without a stutter, even as upset as he was at the thought of that kind of homophobia in what constituted his own backyard and the danger it presented to Macklin and himself. “Where are you from?”
“Nowhere anymore,” Seth replied, his voice so bitter Caine wanted to pull the kid into his arms and comfort him. He remembered what it had been like to be a teenager, though, and refrained, figuring the embrace wouldn’t be welcome from a total stranger.
“What about your parents?”
“Mum died six months ago, and the no-good bastard she married kicked us out the day after the funeral,” Seth said. “It’s just Chris and me now, if that scary dude can save him.”
“That ‘scary dude’ is Macklin,” Caine said, “or Mr. Armstrong to you since you can’t be more than fourteen.”
“I’m sixteen,” Seth retorted quickly.
He was way too small and skinny to be sixteen. Not that Caine thought he was lying. It was just proof of how hard his life had been.
Caine had already decided that was going to change. His great-uncle, Michael Lang, had made a habit of taking in strays at his station, much to Caine’s good fortune. He wouldn’t have Macklin now if Uncle Michael hadn’t taken the foreman in when he was the same age as this kid. Now Caine just had to convince Seth that coming to Lang Downs would be the right choice for him and his brother. “So where are you staying?”
“We’ve got a room,” Seth said defensively.
Probably some flop in a drug house so cheap they could afford it.
“Are you using?”
That was good. Caine was all for lending a helping hand, but he would not have drugs on his land. He had too much to lose. “Good. Your brother’s clean too?”
“What’s it to you?”
“I don’t hire men with drug problems.”
“If all you’ve got is ‘a room’ and no parents and no one but your brother, that pretty much means no future, at least from where I’m sitting. I run a sheep station north of Boorowa. I thought you might like a job.”
“You’re a Yank!”
“And you’re a brat who is about to lose the best chance to come his way,” Caine retorted. “Ask around if you don’t believe me. I’ve been here all week signing on jackaroos. I’ve got space for two more.”
They didn’t really. They’d hired the last of their crew this morning and planned to head back to Boorowa after lunch to pick up supplies and then drive back to Lang Downs tomorrow morning. Seth didn’t need to know that, though. Caine had already seen enough of the boy’s pride to know he wouldn’t take charity.
It wouldn’t be charity. Seth would work harder on Lang Downs than he had in his life. He’d earn every cent they paid him and his brother. He wouldn’t have many expenses, though, so he could put almost every penny away toward college, if he wanted, or into a savings account against the day he left Lang Downs and pursued a different path in life, and if he chose to stay, he’d have a family to replace the one he’d lost with his mother’s death.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One of “The Melody Thief.” A quick look back at Cary Reddings childhood (not a very happy one, either). When I wrote this scene, I imagined a young Cary, back to me, facing the audience, all alone on the stage. Lonely. Awkward. Feeling unloved and undeserving of the audience’s applause.
First, the blurb:
Cary Redding is a walking contradiction. On the surface he’s a renowned cellist, sought after by conductors the world over. Underneath, he’s a troubled man flirting with addictions to alcohol and anonymous sex. The reason for the discord? Cary knows he’s a liar, a cheat. He’s the melody thief.
Cary manages his double life just fine until he gets mugged on a deserted Milan street. Things look grim until handsome lawyer Antonio Bianchi steps in and saves his life. When Antonio offers something foreign to Cary—romance—Cary doesn’t know what to do. But then things get even more complicated. For one thing, Antonio has a six-year-old son. For another, Cary has to confess about his alter ego and hope Antonio forgives him.
Just when Cary thinks he’s figured it all out, past and present collide and he is forced to choose between the family he wanted as a boy and the one he has come to love as a man.
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change….
—“Serenity Prayer,” Reinhold Niebuhr
Chapter One: The Melody Thief
He screwed up his face, trying to ignore the bright lights at the edge of the stage, which burned his eyes and left multicolored imprints on his retinas. Cary Redding was barely fifteen years old, but he sat straight-backed, schooling his expression to reveal only calm resolve. Unlike some of the well-known performers he had watched on video, he did not move his body in time to the music, nor did he bend and sway. The cello became a physical extension of his body, and he had no need to move anything more than his fingers on the fingerboard and his bow over the strings.
When he played, he was transported to a place where it didn’t matter that his face had begun to break out or that he seemed to grow out of his shoes every other month. When he played, he forgot his fear that he was different—that he was far more interested in Jerry Gabriel than in Jerry’s sister Martha. When he played, he felt the kind of warmth he had horsing around with his brother in the backyard, chasing after a football.
For the past three years, he had studied the Elgar Cello Concerto, a soulful, intensely passionate composition, and one he adored. His cello teacher had explained that it had been composed at the end of World War I, and the music reflected the composer’s grief and disillusionment. At the time, Cary hadn’t been really sure what that meant, but he felt the music deep within his soul, in a place he hid from everyone. In that music, he could express what he could not express any other way, and somehow nobody ever seemed to understand that although the music was Elgar’s, the sadness and the melancholy were his own.
At times he was terrified the audience would discover his secret: that he was unworthy of the music. But then his fingers would follow their well-worn path across the fingerboard, and his bow would move of its own accord. The music would rise and fall and engulf him entirely, and the audience would be on their feet to acknowledge the gangly, awkward teenager who had just moved them to tears.
Tonight was no exception. The Tulsa Performing Arts Center was packed with pillars of the community come to hear the young soloist The Chicago Sun-Times had proclaimed “one of the brightest new talents in classical music.” Cries of “bravo” punctuated the applause, and a shy little girl in a white dress with white tights and white shoes climbed the steps to the stage with her mother’s encouragement and handed him a single red rose.
He stood with his cello at his side and bowed as he had been taught not long after he learned to walk. The accompanist bowed as well, smiling at him with the same awed expression he had seen from pianists and conductors alike.
In that moment, he felt like a thief. A liar. The worst kind of cheat.
“Young man,” the woman in the red cocktail dress with the double strand of pearls said as she laid her hand on his shoulder, “you are truly a wonder. You must come back soon and play for us again.”
He knew how to respond; he’d been taught this, as well. “Thank you, ma’am.” His voice cracked, as it had on and off for the past six months. His face burned. He was embarrassed he could not control this as well as he could his performance.
“He’s booked through the next year,” his mother told the woman, “but if there’s an opening, we’ll be sure to let you know.” She would find an opening, no doubt, even if it meant sacrificing his one free weekend at home. His mother never passed up a chance to promote his career.
Back in the green room, his mother looked on as he wiped down the fingerboard of his instrument and gently replaced it in its fiberglass case, then carefully secured his bow in the lid. He’d barely looked at his mother since they’d left the small crowd of well-wishers who had gathered in the wings. He didn’t need to see her face to know she was displeased. He didn’t really want to know what he’d done wrong this time, so he started to hum a melody from a Mozart sonata he’d been studying. Humming helped take his mind off his guilt at letting her down again.
“You rushed through the pizzicato in the last movement,” she said. “We’ve been over that section so many times, Cary Taylor Redding. You let your mind wander again.”
He tried not to cringe; she only used his full name when she was very disappointed in him. “I’m sorry.” His voice cracked again, and he inwardly winced. He didn’t have to fight back the tears anymore. He’d stopped crying years ago.
“We’ll just have to practice it some more.”
He’d also long since stopped asking her why she always said “we” would practice something when he was the one doing the practicing. The one and only time he had pressed the issue, she had responded with a look of long-suffering patience. For days after, the guilt had pierced his gut and roiled around inside until he had apologized for several days running.
“Hurry up now,” she told him. “We have a long drive back home.”
“Did Justin call?” he asked with a hopeful expression.
“Why would your brother call?”
“He said he’d let me know if his team won tonight.” He pulled on his thick winter jacket, grabbed the handle of the cello case, and dragged it across the floor on its roller-skate wheels.
“He can tell you all about it tomorrow.”
He fell asleep in the front seat of the minivan as they headed back to Missouri. He did not dream, or at least, he didn’t remember what he had dreamed about. He never did.
LUKI tried to make it look as though he met the doctor’s eyes, but really, he looked out the fifth floor window to the Seattle city traffic. Downtown, lots of people in the street, though not as many as say, New York, or London, both places Luki had been. The opulence of the oncologist’s office held no power to impress Luki. He had means, and, before he loved Sonny, this was the kind of place he chose to live and work. Because it was cold, sterile, empty of connotations and implications.
He looked—surreptitiously, he hoped—from the window to Sonny, marveling at the way he looked beautiful in a new way in every setting. As if he wove himself into a scene the same way he wove shining ideas into his tapestries. Would he, Luki, be here listening to the doctor drone if it wasn’t for Sonny? Probably. But it would mean less.
He registered the doctor’s voice: “Now, I’m not going to mince words….”
That sounded ominous.
“That would be dishonest, and unfair to you.”
“Yes,” Luki answered, because it seemed something was called for. The doctor, who was not, Luki thought, cold or empty, continued to drone. That was the only word Luki could think of for it. Blah, blah, blah. He’d already seen two doctors, had a bevy of pictures taken of his interior—like real estate—and endured poking and prodding that would stir the dead. But he inwardly admitted his reaction—or lack of reaction—to the doctor’s words might be less because of the doctor’s boring manner and more because he, Luki, didn’t want to hear a detailed description of the tumor in his lung.
Distracted, he gazed at the axial CT images, which was a view from the top down, and made his lung look like an almost egg-shaped hole, and the tumor look like a yoke splatted in the middle of it. Mr. Vasquez, I’m afraid you have a fried egg in your lung.
Luki didn’t realize he’d chuckled aloud until Sonny clamped a hand on his shoulder, and he saw a shocked look on the doctor’s face. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I was thinking about… something….”
“I’m not sure how much you heard of my explanation, Mr. Vasquez.”
“Just call me Luki, please. I heard it all, I think. Apical tumor, right side, squamous cell, advanced, etcetera.” The doctor and Sonny both looked shocked, and Luki felt shocked too. He hadn’t realized that despite his efforts not to, he really had laid claim to the doctor’s words.
“Yes, well,” Dr. Zhvornak continued, “good, so now this is the important part, Luki.” He slid his stool closer. “There are both positive signs, in terms of what’s in store for you, and negative ones. Negative first: The location in the apex of the lung—”
Another shock, this one physical, coursed through Luki when the doctor tapped his chest to show him where the tumor was growing, rather than pointing to the images. If he was trying to secure all of Luki’s attention, it worked.
“—tends to suggest a less favorable prognosis. And the tumor is advanced, adhering slightly, from what we can see, to the chest wall, here. Understand so far?”
“Some signs that are more positive: Despite the location of your tumor, you have no signs of Pancoast syndrome—which shows up when a nerve is sheathed in tumor. Though the tumor is large and adherent to the chest wall, I don’t believe it truly invades the tissue there significantly. And, believe it or not, it is favorable to you that this tumor is in your right lung, not your left. Very favorable, we found no evidence for metastases. Do you know what that word means?”
“We can fight this aggressively if you want. It will most likely involve chemo, radiation, surgery, chemo, and radiation again. Then, either immediately or six months later depending on the signs, another round of chemotherapy. That last round is insurance if we’ve been successful. If we’ve not met with success, if the cancer is still active, then that last round will most likely be palliative. That means—”
“We know what it means!”
“Let him say it, Sonny.”
“Palliative means it’s offered to reduce pain and discomfort in the dying process, and it may possibly lengthen your life by months or maybe a year. I’ve outlined for you the most aggressive treatment, Mr. Vasquez—”
“Luki, then. I have twenty years of experience treating cancers, and I can tell you yours is far from the least favorable scenario. This treatment regimen is my recommendation—leaving no medical stone unturned, so to speak. You will find the process painful, debilitating, and long. You may never recover your full strength. You will certainly lose part of your lung. You’ll have a new scar. During the process you’ll almost certainly lose your hair.”
Luki had no difficulty maintaining his cool exterior until those last three words. Lose. Your. Hair. His heart began to pound at the thought of grieving his carefully tended chestnut curls, which he considered a mitigating factor, making up in part for his frightening visage with its long, livid scar. When he tried to swallow, he coughed. Thankfully, it passed without becoming a spell. Sonny sat behind him and to one side, and now he lifted a hand to those curls as if to protect them.
“Statistics mean little in cancer treatment, Luki, but I like to be completely frank. Considering all the information we’ve gathered, the odds are one in three that you’ll survive for the next five years, if we fight with every weapon we have. Do you want to proceed?”
“Yes!” The word fairly burst from Sonny’s lips.
“Call me Sonny.”
“I appreciate, Sonny, that you are invested in Luki’s welfare. Obviously, the two of you care deeply for each other. That commitment—if you two can make it last through the hell and high water you’ll face during treatment—is in fact another strong point in Luki’s favor. But Sonny, it has to be his choice. You can’t make it for him.”
Luki stood up. “Let’s go, Sonny. Dr. Zhvornak—”
“Dr. Z, please. We’ll get to know each other well, if you opt for treatment, and besides”—he smiled—“everyone massacres my last name.”
Luki laughed—which a few years ago would have been a miracle in itself—but Sonny looked horrified. “Luki, what do you mean, let’s go? We can’t just go. You have to—”
Luki gave Sonny a long, not too friendly stare, then looked over his shoulder at the doctor. “I’ll be in touch. It won’t be long. Thanks for your honesty.” Luki turned to walk out, but Sonny continued to stand in place, his dark skin visibly blanched. Luki raised his brows. “Sonny?” It was more an order than a question.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the subject of three of my favorite sci fi movies of all time: “2001, A Space Odyssey,” “Blade Runner” and “The Terminator.” All three movies involve self-aware computer “beings.” Wherever you look, whether it’s in the toy store, on line communities, or science, AI is the big new thing. My daughter just got a new iPhone that talks back to her (Siri). So when my co-author, Venona Keyes, suggested a gay spy thriller featuring a microchip that is like a virtual hero, I said, “Way cool!”
“The Trust” is the story of Jake Anders, who was recruited into a CIA-backed agency, The Michelson Trust, by Trace Michelson, the grandson of the agency’s creator and the agency’s current director. The flesh and blood Trace trains Jake and ultimately asks Jake to participate in “Project Resurrection.” Jake receives one of two prototype Sim chips, the “Trace Sim,” created using the life experiences and personality of Trace himself. But when Trace is assassinated, all that remains of Trace is embodied in the microchip Jake now shares his mind with. Or so it seems, until the Sim chip becomes Jake’s reality.
So what happens when you fall in love with the artificial recreation of a man? And what happens when that artificial man becomes real? For Jake, he begins to doubt that Trace is really dead, and he goes on a dangerous journey across continents to uncover the truth behind the legacy of Trace Michelson and, perhaps find Trace himself. Along the way, Jake discovers that the Trace Sim is capable of far more than anyone ever realized.
Is there a happily ever after for Jake? Yes. Definitely. It’s a romance! How do we get there? That’s the fun part. You’ll have to read the book to find out! Interested? Enter to win an ebook copy by commenting here. Good luck! -Shira