A Silent Killer

June 22, 2015

ptsd

Serious topic here. Scary topic. PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder. We all hear about it on the news. The statistics are scary. One in three will experience it upon returning home from active duty, but less than 40% will seek help. Military personal take their own lives by the hundreds each year because of the illness. It’s very real and I’ve encountered it myself.

My brother’s best friend fought it for a couple years. I remember him before he left to serve our country. He was a good kid. Kind of goofy and had an easy smile. He always had good grades and treated people with respect. When he came home, he was no longer that goofy, smiling kid. Instead he was a very quiet, stoic man who jumped at fireworks and dogs barking. He married the first girl who would have him, but ended up divorcing her less than a year later because he would fly into uncontrollable rages caused by PTSD and the resulting lack of sleep.

He did go to rehab. I watched him struggle. I watched my brother struggle to support him though he didn’t understand at all what the problem was. We walked on eggshells for years. He’d come out of rehab and for a few months be fine, then he’d go back again. He’s remarried now and has a baby girl. They’ve found some normal in their life. But to this day that goofy, fun kid is gone. He watches the world with wary eyes and has to fight every moment of every day to control his anxiety, anger, and pain.

How many people could live with this every day without help? Why do they have to? What happens if we don’t help them? We lose them, of course. And I think one of the biggest misunderstandings about PTSD is that it only shows up in combat vets. Not true. Anyone who’s had a very traumatic experience in their life can have PTSD. Though combat is certainly among some of the worst events people can experience in their life.

“Have you spoken to a therapist?”

Kade frowned and blinked in confusion for a few moments. “About?”

“You’ve seen a lot of active combat. That changes a person. PTSD is a pretty big problem and often goes undiagnosed for years.” I looked away, feeling my heart give a warning ache again as it did any time I thought of anything related to Nathan.

“I don’t have PTSD.”

“You didn’t watch friends blown up, see children with their heads shot off, or watch militia gang rape girls too young to be considered women?”

Kade sighed. “How is any of that relevant to the job? Yes, I’ve seen some of the worst of humanity. But I’m here and still kicking.”

I flinched then shoved the papers back across the table. “Thank you for coming in, Kade. I think Will can help you find something that is a better fit for you than PHI.”

Ollie is hurt by Kade because he feels like he’s saying that Nathan just wasn’t strong enough. That’s why he died. Of course that’s not what Kade is saying. But Ollie is so traumatized by the death of his older brother that everything relates back to Nathan. And putting Kade, who survived, in Nathan’s role at PHI feels like betrayal to Ollie.

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Have you been touched by PTSD? Someone in your life maybe? Or yourself? Have you reached out to them just to offer some peace? An ear to listen? What more can we do to help them? Stories are pain are okay. Stories of recovery even better.

ModelCitizenFS

Booklist:

Model Citizen (DSP)

Hidden Gem (DSP)

Evolution (DSPP)

On the Right Track (Harmony Ink) Sam Kadence

Unicorns and Rainbow Poop (Harmony Ink) Sam Kadence

Inheritance (Lissa Kasey)

Reclamation (Lissa Kasey)

The Answer Is: Lonnie Bellerose

June 15, 2015

It’s time for Lonnie’s introduction.

Excerpt:

Lonnie sighed and hugged himself, trying to appear at ease as the crowd moved around the room. After all, he was an artist standing in a gallery that displayed some of his best work to date. He should be all smiles and charm and wit. Instead, he felt as though he stood out like a two-headed goat, afraid to move, all hooves and confusion, bleating above the conversations.

On top of that, Lonnie had the distinct impression of being watched. He couldn’t shake it. He looked to his right and his left, then settled again on examining the campus beyond the wall of windows at the gallery’s entrance. He searched the mist-shrouded grounds for any sign of Jamison, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Here, have a drink, Mr. Bellerose.” Professor Eloise Bink smiled and sipped her champagne, urging him to do the same from the flute she’d provided. She taught several art history classes, and Lonnie had been her assistant while earning his master’s.

He took a sip, then said, “Just call me Lonnie, please. I’m not your TA anymore.”

She smiled and tossed her short and sassy new haircut out of her eyes, the silver-gray strands catching the light. “I’ll call you Lonnie when you call me Eloise.”

He frowned in thought. “I think I can handle Bink but nothing more casual. Will that do?”

“Acceptable.”

They sipped in unison, the bubbles nearly making him sneeze.

“You appear agitated. Waiting for someone?”

“Jamison’s coming, though he should be here by now.”

“No family?”

He shook his head. “Parents in France, Amber birthed a new human being, and brother-in-law is hovering, so… no. No family tonight.” A chill ran through him, so he took another sip of his champagne. It didn’t warm him, and this time he did sneeze, loudly, causing a few heads to turn in fright. His face heated, and he nodded his apologies before depositing the flute on a passing tray.

He turned to the entrance again and gasped softly. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, he caught a glimpse of a tall, broad-shouldered silhouette hurrying toward the building. The campus lights along the path reflected off what little fog lingered above the lawn, giving the approaching figure a mysterious, superhero-like quality. To Lonnie, he seemed to be moving in slow motion and to his own soundtrack. Lonnie’s heart soared, and he excused himself from Bink to cut through the crowd and meet his man at the door.

“Hi,” he said, beaming up at Jamison as he walked in looking all kinds of gorgeous.

The worried frown on Jamison’s face vanished as he smiled down at Lonnie. “Hi, yourself.”

“You look fantastic.” He stood on tiptoes to give Jamison a peck on the lips, but Jamison pulled back, the frown returning, his gaze darting around the gallery. Lonnie sighed, took his hand, and tugged him deeper into the room. “I have someone I want you to meet.” He paused to look over the faces surrounding them, and when he spotted Bink again, he resumed his tugging.

Glancing around as he followed Lonnie, Jamison asked, “Isn’t your fam—?”

“No,” Lonnie said, “but they sent their congratulations.”

“Ah, Lonnie, back so soon?” Bink said, turning to face the two of them as they reached her. She blinked up at Jamison, her expression remaining warm and friendly. “Whom do we have here?”

“This is Jamison Coburn. Jamison, this is Professor Eloise Bink. I’ve mentioned her before. I was her teaching assistant.” His words rushed out as he gripped Jamison’s big left hand tightly. Mine.

“Yes,” Bink said. “I’m certainly going to miss you in that capacity. Perhaps I’ll find something else for you.” Lonnie laughed at that.

Jamison’s hand swallowed hers. “Good to meet you, ma’am.”

“And you, Mr. Coburn.” She grinned at Lonnie before continuing. “Anyone who can make him daydream at his desk is definitely someone I want to get to know.”

Lonnie gazed up at Jamison and caught the embarrassment as it crossed his handsome features. His chest filled with joy and pride that Jamison was here for him.

“Oh… I don’t know about that, ma’am,” Jamison said.

“Bink, Mr. Coburn. Please call me Bink.”

“If you’ll call me Jamison.”

She grinned. “Agreed. Champagne?” she asked, grabbing fresh flutes from a passing waiter. She handed them each a glass, and they clinked them in a toast to Lonnie’s accomplishment.

*****

I think Lonnie is more delightful than annoying, but he walks a fine line. What do you think?

The Answer Is: Jamison Coburn

June 15, 2015

I’d like you to get to know Jamison a bit better.

Excerpt:

“You gonna eat with me, baby?”

Jamison turned toward his mother, Alanna, who stood in the back door of her house watching him. He wondered how long she’d been standing there, and he suddenly felt guilty. The original reason for stopping by was to see her, catch up with whatever was going on in her life, but instead he’d ended up working on his latest piece in her garage. He’d heard it calling to him, urging him: finish me, make me pretty, show me off.

His living arrangement didn’t leave any space to store his equipment, let alone use it. Jamison supposed a decluttering of the Standleas’ garage—a family’s furniture and keepsakes collected over the decades—could make room. But deep down he knew keeping his equipment where it was would please his mother. It meant he would always come back. Tonight she probably thought he was avoiding her, but that wasn’t his intention. Unfortunately, now he had to leave.

“No, ma’am. Thank you, but I’m taking dinner over to Lonnie. He’s babysitting tonight.”

He saw disappointment play over her beautiful features, but she quickly brightened.

“How is that new baby?” she asked as he shut down and secured any tools he’d used.

“He’s fine, but Remmy’s just a month or so old, Mama. He doesn’t do much.” He just sort of lies there… and leaks.

He turned off the light and locked up before joining her at the back door. After following her inside, he turned on the security light and bolted the door behind them.

“Everything a baby does, no matter how tiny they are, is precious. It’s hard to believe you were ever that small. And Remmy? What sort of name is that?”

“Short for Rembrandt. Some famous painter.”

“Lordy, what will these people think of next?” she asked as she opened the refrigerator and removed a pie dish.

Jamison’s mouth began to water at the thought of homemade peach pie.

“Does he… does your friend babysit his nephew a lot?”

Jamison shrugged. “Uh… so far the baby’s been passed back and forth between his parents and grandparents. This is Claude and Amber’s first night out in weeks, and since Claude’s parents finally left, Lonnie’s jumping at the chance to have Remmy all to himself tonight before the next pair of grands arrives in a couple of days.”

“Well… do you think you should intrude?” she asked as she cut two pieces of pie and placed them on a sturdy paper plate.

“Intrude?” Jamison frowned as she secured a sheet of plastic wrap over the pie and plate. “I’m surprising him with dinner. I….” He hesitated as he thought it over. “I don’t think he’ll see it as intruding, Mama.”

She nodded without looking at him, then sighed. “Where are the other grandparents?”

“In France. There’s a family farm there.”

She nodded. “I see.”

“They were supposed to be here right after the little guy arrived, but since the paternal grands were already here, they decided to take their time, get Great-Grandma Bellerose ready to travel.”

She nodded and held out the pie-filled plate. “Take this with you for dessert, baby.”

Jamison smiled. “Thanks, Mama. I appreciate it.” He leaned in and kissed her still-smooth cheek. “Lonnie will appreciate it too.” He held the plate in one hand and bent over to hug her tiny frame with the other arm. “You know, if you’d like to meet—”

She pulled away suddenly and held up a hand to silence his suggestion. “No… no, baby. This is fine. Just fine,” she said, not looking at him. “You have a good night with your friend.”

Jamison deflated a bit and allowed her to usher him to the door. “Good night, Mama. I promise to spend more time with you next time.” As always, she watched until he climbed in his truck, then shut her door. He stared out his windshield at the neighborhood, the streetlights creating puddles of illumination every few yards, and wondered at her comment. What does “I see” mean? Does it mean anything? No. He was reading shit into it, feeding it with his own doubts about him and Lonnie. They enjoyed each other. What else mattered?

Before starting the truck, he glanced at the house again and caught his mother peeking at him through a curtain. As he pulled away from the curb, he tapped out a quick good-night on his horn, then turned onto Little Avenue and headed for Ming Empire to pick up dinner.

*****

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you thought.

A Good Sicilian Boy’s First Love #dreamer

June 12, 2015

Dinner at Fiorello's400x600

You probably can’t tell it from my name, but I’m half Sicilian, on my mother’s side. She was a Comparetto. And she was, as is the case with all good Sicilian boys, my first love (and my forever love—she was taken from me by cancer in 2007).

 The excerpt below (and the character of Vito’s mom) was inspired by my own mother and the conversations we would have on the phone.

 Sicilian mothers want two things for their boys—first and foremost, that they eat and second, that they find love….

An Exclusive Excerpt from Dinner at Fiorello’s by Rick R. Reed

Vito went into the living room, where he’d tossed his phone when he came home from his shift. He picked it up and pressed the Home button to bring it to life. He scrolled through his contacts and found the one labeled simply Mother. He tapped the word, and it brought up her picture.

She had once been a beautiful woman, and still was in many ways, defined and elevated by her Sicilian heritage. Her hair, once glossy and black, was now cut short, and it looked dryer. She kept the gray away by having it colored a deep shade of red. But you could still see the girl in her green eyes, still see the strength in her strong chin and broad Italian nose and full lips. He recalled when he had taken the picture, a few years ago, when he had begun work at Fiorello’s and she had come as his guest to dinner. She had been so proud! She had cried when he placed the lasagna with béchamel he made in front of her, not because it was sublime—it was—but because her husband, Johnny, wasn’t there to share it with her. This was a few years ago, and she had just lost him to a heart attack.

Vito shook his head and decided much more thinking like this would defeat the purpose of calling his mom, so he pressed the button that would connect him.

She answered, as she almost always did, on the first ring. And as soon as their hellos were out of the way, she said the same thing she always did. “I was just gonna call you.”

“Isn’t it funny how that works, Mom? Every time I call, you were just gonna call me. Yet my phone never rings.” He laughed to show he was teasing.

“Did you just call to give me a hard time? I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”

“Well, you have to admit, it’s usually the other way around. Isn’t it the parent who’s supposed to bug the kid about keeping in touch?”

“Oh, Vito, is my boy feeling lonely? What made you wanna call me up at the crack of dawn? I could have been sleeping.”

“Oh, come on, we both know Brenda gets you up at four every morning for her breakfast and a tinkle.” Why his mother had named her dog Brenda was a mystery Vito had never been able to unravel.

“She’s a good girl.”

Vito could imagine, and knew he was right, that his mother had the phone tucked between her shoulder and ear and was bending over in her kitchen chair to sweep the little dog up off the linoleum to cuddle her.

“Yes, she’s my baby,” she cooed, confirming what Vito was imagining. He smiled.

“So what’s up? You wanna come down for breakfast? I’ll make you bird’s nests. I baked bread yesterday, and I got some nice roasted peppers to put on top.”

Vito grinned at the mention of the egg dish, thick-sliced bread with a hole hollowed out in the middle for an egg, fried in a cast iron skillet in lots of butter or bacon grease. Not all that healthy, but God, was it comforting. Vito was tempted to throw on some clothes and head out to the western suburb of Cicero, where he had grown up and his mother still lived, just to sit in her kitchen and have her make that for him.

He could practically smell the toasted bread and hear the sizzle of the butter.

“That’s tempting, Ma. But I have to go to work today.”

“So what? You don’t go in until the afternoon, right? They hired that new cook, Elizabeth, right? To take lunches?”

Vito nodded, and when he realized his mother couldn’t see him, said, “Yeah, but I didn’t sleep too good last night, and I probably should take another run at it.”

Cora was quiet for a moment. “You thinking about them again?”

“Ma, I’m always thinking about them.”

“And you always will, son. Just like I always think about my Johnny, your dad. The world got a little darker without him in it. But you know what?”

“What?” Vito asked, even though he knew what his mother was going to say. Despite the fact he had heard this same speech over and over again, he let her say it. It showed she cared, and next to a hug, words like these made Vito feel loved.

“Everybody says it, but it’s true. Life is for the living. You gotta move on, boy. It’s been over a year now, hasn’t it?”

Vito said quietly, “One year, three months, and six days.”

“You have to think about not just the joy they brought into your life, but the joy you brought into theirs. You made them happy. You drove them crazy sometimes! But I know they always felt loved. That counts.”

“I know, I know, Ma.”

“If you need to, you go to church and light a candle for them. You think of them up in heaven, waiting for you. They’re okay. They wouldn’t want you moping around.”

She paused, and Vito could imagine the wheels turning in her head.

“I wanted to do the same thing when your father passed, just shut myself up in the house, crawl under a blanket. For good. But the girls, your aunts, wouldn’t leave me be. They made me come out to bingo on Sundays at the Sons of Italy. They made me go shopping at North Riverside. They even got me to get on a plane to Vegas! Ha! Remember that?” She didn’t wait for her son to answer. “They made me live. You gotta do the same. It’s time.”

At her words, a sudden, unbidden image popped into Vito’s head: Henry, piling dishes up to load into the dishwasher. Strands of his blond hair were glued to his ruddy forehead with sweat. He had stripped off the short-sleeve shirt he had worn in and had on only a ribbed tank that clung to him. He had caught Vito looking and given him a smile. It was a simple moment, but that connection stayed with Vito. It touched his heart. The moment was frozen because it was like they were the only two people in the busy kitchen, for just that fraction of a second.

“You’re right, Ma. You’re always right.”

She scoffed. “Yeah, that’s me. So, speaking of which, you’re off on Sunday. I’m making sewer pipes, sausage, and gravy, and you’re coming over. You can bring somebody.”

“Like Connie and Gabby?” Vito asked, referring to his big dogs.

“Well, I was thinking maybe a nice boy. That would make me really happy.” She was quiet for a moment. “Besides, those two monsters are gonna eat my Brenda for a snack one of these days, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts.”

“Ma, they’re afraid of Brenda.”

They both laughed. Somehow the little five-pound dog always managed to ride herd on her much bigger “cousins.”

“But I’m serious, Vito. You got anyone you can bring? Seeing anybody? A handsome man like you shouldn’t be by himself.”

And again, Vito thought of Henry. Oh, he’d been “seeing” him, all right. Almost every night for the past two weeks. And then again, in his dreams sometimes. Once he even woke from one of those dreams with come in his shorts, an experience he hadn’t had since he was a boy. He had a feeling he dreamed of Henry because he pushed him away so consciously at the restaurant and even out of his waking thoughts. But his mind refused to let him go.

“No, Ma. I’m not ready to date anyone again.”

“I didn’t even necessarily mean date. But you got friends, don’t you?”

Vito thought sadly, or maybe gratefully, that the answer was no, beyond friends of the four-legged variety. The friends he used to have, in that other life that now seemed to belong to someone else, had all turned away. Not because they hated him or didn’t want to be around him, he knew that much for sure, but because they didn’t want to face his pain, didn’t know what to do with the longing and loss in his eyes, the hurt he wore like an apron. What could they do? What would they say? His life only brought theirs down. So one by one, they stopped seeing him.

He didn’t blame them.

“It’ll just be me and the girls. Is that enough?”

“Oh, let’s not have a pity party here. Remember when you told me you were a fanook?”

“Ma, we don’t use that word. We say gay.”

“Whatever. The point is, do you remember?”

“Yeah. I was twenty. I wrote you a letter.”

“And I cried. And I went to church and lit a candle for you, praying that this gay thing would be ripped out of you.”

“Nice.”

“You know it took some adjusting. You weren’t who I thought you were. But so much happened over the next few years. There was—”

And Cora went quiet, her voice stilled for several moments, and Vito knew she was trying to catch her breath, to hold back tears. He knew because his own were springing to the corners of his eyes and running down his face.

In a choked voice, she went on, “I learned that I was wrong. That if Jesus granted my wish and did rip this thing out of you, you wouldn’t be you anymore. And I wouldn’t have had—well, you know.”

“I know. I know.” Vito held a hand to his eyes to stem the flow. “I’ll be there on Sunday, and I’ll bring a nice antipasti. I got some of that good sharp provolone like you like.”

“Okay, son. I gotta go. Brenda’s tap dancing at the back door.”

“Bye.”

“And Vito?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

Vito’s heart gave a little leap. He never, ever doubted his mother loved him, but she seldom said so. It wasn’t her way. She showed it more through hugs and pinches, sometimes too hard, on the cheek, but most of all through her food. Before he had a chance to return the sentiment, though, she had hung up.

BLURB

Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

BUY

Dreamspinner ebook
Dreamspinner paperback

 

Time Waits Blog Party – Post 6

May 15, 2015

 

TimeWaits_postcard_front_DSP

So, ladies, gents, and everyone else, we have reached my final post of the blog party for Time Waits (click the title for links). Thank you for your time and your interest. If you want to keep up with what I’m working on next and potentially see missing scenes or character discussion, please feel free to drop by my tumblr.

And if you pick up this little morsel of mine, and if you enjoy it, here’s a sneak peek of the story which will potentially be the sequel:

At first, everyone assumed it was a burglary.
The postman was the first on the scene. He’d arrived early in the morning to make a delivery to the house in question, and found the front door wedged open. No one answered when he rang the bell, so he called the police. The two constables arrived to investigate, and they were the ones who found the body.
It escalated after that.
Not even noon, Jacob thought grimly. Hell of a way to start a Monday.
His autopod shuttled along, wheeling off from the main highway and into the more rural roads. As much as he missed manual controls of old-fashioned cars and early autocars, he appreciated the driverless function of the pod, because it gave him the time to skim through the images from the crime scene en route.
He knew he wouldn’t get a feel for the scene until he got there, but the images at least gave him an idea of what he was about to walk into. There were signs of a struggle in the room where the body was found, and plenty of blood, but the rest of the house seemed undisturbed.
“Control to Delta Seven. ETA to destination?”
He leaned forward and cleared the images from the display on the windscreen, bringing up his location on the map. Beyond it, he could see the country roads through the glass.
“ETA Fifteen minutes, control,” he replied, then muttered under his breath, “Into the backside of nowhere.”

Thanks again, and happy reading!

Length: Novel (330 pages)
Release Date: May 15, 2015
Genre: Sci-fi, historical, futuristic

Buy as eBook ($6.99 ISBN: 978-1-63216-853-5) / Buy as Paperback ($17.99 ISBN:    978-1-63216-852-8)

Time Waits Blog Party – Post 1

May 15, 2015

I’m C.B. Lewis and I’m delighted to be introducing you to my debut novel, Time Waits, which is released today with Dreamspinner Press. Please admire the lovely cover made for me by the fabulous Catt Ford.

TimeWaits_postcard_front_DSP
First and foremost, it’s a sci-fi romance, with time-travel at its centre. Set in the future, it also delves into the past, and deals with the consequences of playing with time. To give you a taster of what you can look forward to in it, here’s a small excerpt:

________________________________________________

The heavy rain had lightened, which was a small mercy.
The moonlight was thin and sickly, barely breaking through the clouds. The trees shone a dull gray in the darkness. There was hardly a sound except for the rustle of leaves in the wind and the cries of some small creatures out in the darkness.
A soldier broke cover from beneath the undergrowth. He stumbled and slithered down a muddy slope toward the track. Grass and dirt tore beneath his boots, and he caught himself against the trunk of a tree to keep from falling, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
In the distance, he was sure he could hear the howl of the dogs, the hunting party. He gulped down a breath before running onward.
He was armed, it was true, but what was one shot against a legion of men? He could turn it on himself, but he had escaped death once. He had no wish to face it again.
The track was rough, little used, but it was easier than breaching the undergrowth again. He had to get as far ahead as he could. They wouldn’t continue the hunt much longer, not with the chill of the night setting in, but they might follow just long enough.
So he ran.
His legs shook with each step, but terror drove him onward. If he stopped, even to catch his breath, he didn’t think he would be able to start again. If he stopped, he would die. If he rested, he would die. If he did anything but run, he would die.
Something howled in the night, and his heart slammed against his ribs.
It might have been a dog, but it could have been a wolf.
The wind was picking up, whirling around him, icy rain lashing his face, and he could feel tears on his cheeks. Running and weeping. No honor. No dignity. All he knew was that he wanted to live.
The track he was on was broadening, and that meant it was coming closer to civilization, to people.
He hesitated only a moment before plunging off the path and back into the forest, branches whipping at his face and limbs. He caught his foot on a root and fell, rolling heavily down the slope. He crashed into a stream at the foot, breaking through a film of ice. The water was so cold it cut to the bone, and he couldn’t even draw breath to cry out.
Blindly, he tried to find purchase on the bank. He fell forward heavily onto the ground, a thin cry of pain escaping him as he crushed his left arm beneath him. Warmth spread from the limb. The wound was open again.
“Angele Dei,” he whispered desperately, “qui custos es mei, me tibi….”

________________________________________________________

Intrigued? Curious? Just plain baffled? Do feel free to pick up a copy and take a look! Also, I’ll be around for part of today, so feel free to drop me a line in the comments to say hi :)

Length: Novel (330 pages)
Release Date: May 15, 2015
Genre: Sci-fi, historical, futuristic

Buy as eBook ($6.99 ISBN: 978-1-63216-852-8) / Buy as Paperback ($17.99 ISBN:    978-1-63216-852-8)

The Best Man by Rick R. Reed

May 8, 2015

I stare at the groom and hope it doesn’t show—the love I feel for him, the love I’ve always felt. I’m praying I can keep the ardor off my face, even though I know I’ve failed miserably to keep it out of my heart.

The best man obviously lusting for the groom would be, well, just wrong. Especially not when the groom has eyes only for his gorgeous bride, the blond and lovely Alana, in her Vera Wang wedding dress. Now, their eyes are locked on one another and I feel the old paradox I experience every time I look at them—a curious brew of jealousy and happiness at their having found the other.

Love is a rare thing in this world.

Yeah, you heard me right—I’m the best man. That groom up there at the altar? The gorgeous guy in the tux with the close-trimmed red beard, the green eyes, and the linebacker shoulders? That’s my best friend, Kevin. We’ve been together since we were in second grade. I’d lay down my life for the guy. And the sad truth is, I’d lay down for the guy. Period. With my legs thrown in the air. He knows this, yet he continues to call me his best friend, except he says, ‘best bud.’ He even proclaims he couldn’t live without me.

Sigh.

But shame on me for having such thoughts on Kevin’s wedding day! If the poor guy knew the wicked, lustful thoughts coursing through my brain as I stand here, smiling, but jealous as hell, with the other groomsmen, Kevin would be blushing as crimson as the rose in his lapel.

But God, he does look gorgeous! Edible. And I can’t help but think—unkindly, I know; inappropriately, I know—the thought gay guys have had about buff and beautiful straight men for millennia—what a waste!

I’m sure his bride, Alana, would beg to differ.

The music, Pachelbel’s Canon, has just ended and the crowd at St. Aloysius Catholic Church has grown quiet. There are only a couple of coughs here, a whisper there.

We’re ready to begin. Kevin turns to Alana. I can see he’s trembling and my heart gives a little lurch. A lump forms in my throat.

Alana beams beneath her lace veil, all smiles. I try not to think unkind thoughts about her. Jealousy is such an ugly emotion. And so is Alana, in anything backless. Stop it!

I let my mind drift back to a few months ago. A winter’s night when Kevin and I had traveled up from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. We had taken the ferry over on Friday afternoon to Orcas Island where we rented a small cabin at Doe Bay resort. The cabin was no frills and cold. It had rained all weekend. Even our trip to Mt. Constitution was doomed—the stunning vistas from its top blocked out by drizzling banks of low-hanging clouds.

So we had little to do but hang out in the cabin. There was no TV or Wi-Fi, so cards or reading were pretty much the order of the day.

And drinking.

A lot of drinking. See, Kevin had asked me to come away with him that weekend because he had acquired a severe case of cold feet regarding his wedding to Alana that summer. “She’s great,” he’d told me. “But suddenly I’m just not sure I’m ready. Maybe it’s like they say, you know?”

“No. I don’t know.” An evil little part of me just wanted Miss Alana to go away so I could have my Kevin back. I’d missed things like our early morning runs together on the Burke-Gilman trail, with the sun coming up and the world seeming to contain only the two of us. I missed Friday nights with Kevin at his condo in Wallingford, ordering in a meat-lover’s pizza from Pagliacci to go with a nice IPA I’d bought on my way over to his place, streaming old horror movies on his big-screen. We both loved Carnival of Souls.

“Like, maybe I love Alana, but I’m not in love with her. You know what I mean?”

I’d wanted to say that I knew exactly what he meant. For example, I loved Kevin and to my heart’s great regret, I was also in love with him. So yeah, I got the distinction.

I thought our weekend together, somehow, might change things between us. Magically. Maybe it was because I was reading a lot of books lately that featured some butch “straight” protagonist falling suddenly for his buddy and realizing that, while maybe he wasn’t strictly gay, he could be gay for this man he’d fallen for. Like that ever happens

And yet…those stories always had a happy ending. Why couldn’t ours?

Hey, if I read it in a book, it must be possible, right?

And I thought, on our Saturday night here on Orcas, drunk on beer and a good single-malt Scotch, that maybe, just maybe, the same could happen for Kevin and me. Magically. I mean, we’d been practically inseparable since we were kids. We’d played softball together, spent countless nights together, went through the trials and tribulations of high school as one, cheered each other on at our respective events at track meets and cried on one another’s shoulders as we each met yet another disappointment in love. As we grew, we grew closer.

And then Alana came along.

And spoiled everything.

Oh, Alana’s a wonderful woman—kind, sweet, funny. She can curse like a sailor, drink a man under the table, and arrange a bouquet of spring wildflowers like Martha Stewart. And, if you’re straight, she’s a knockout. Hell, if you’re gay, she’s a knockout.  She’s the kind of woman who turns both straight and gay men’s heads when she walks down the street, although the latter, I cheekily admit, might only be wondering if her bag is Prada or Ferragamo.

But that night, as the rain drummed down on the roof of our little cabin, it felt like Kevin and I were the only two people in the world. I remember how, after we finished with the cards, and me beating his ass three straight times at canasta, we relaxed together on the bed in Kevin’s room.

Now, don’t go thinking this was odd. As I said, Kevin and I had had countless sleepovers, starting at the age of seven. Although we didn’t often share a bed, we had fallen asleep next to one another on the couches at one of our houses. I never told Kevin how sometimes, during those nights, I would snuggle close and then, if he woke, pretend to be outraged by what I’d done in my sleep.

So it was not unusual we both were on his bed, our backs against the wall the bed was shoved up against, legs stretched out before us, dangling. We both had that one-too-many tumbler of Scotch in our hands, but we weren’t thinking about the headache and nausea surely waiting for us in the morning, but only how loose and warm it made us feel tonight.

Kevin babbled on and on, finally getting to the topic of our trip up here—his upcoming nuptials to Alana. He told me how he didn’t know if he was ready to give up his independence. He said that she could sometimes be controlling.

I told him these were all good points, worth considering.

He even told me how she wasn’t always so keen about going down on him and I just about lost it. I mean, really? Talk about casting pearls before swine! Was the girl crazy or what?

It just seemed natural to me then, with the lights low, the Scotch making our systems hum in a languid way, and with the rain’s staccato beat on the roof, to turn to Kevin and look into his eyes. I knew they were green, but in the dim illumination, they looked brown. And like wells I could fall into….

I thought something passed between us. A signal, maybe, an understanding.

And I did something I’d never done before. But, damn it, it felt right.

Yeah, you know what I did. I leaned forward and I kissed him. It wasn’t a playful little peck either, but a full-on kiss, with my tongue darting impetuously into his mouth. He was so surprised—and drunk—that, for a second, a delicious, life-altering, wished-it-would-go-on-forever second, he kissed me back. His hand even went up to the back of my neck for a moment.

And, in that tiny, tiny amount of time, I imagined that things could change, that this would be a scene like in one of those books I’d read where the straight guy magically turns gay—just for me.

For all time. Kev and I would have our happily-ever-after. It all flashed by, like they say one’s life flashes by in our final moments—our going back to Seattle and announcing to Alana that we were in love and always had been. The marriage with her could not take place because he was marrying me. The condo we would purchase together on Capitol Hill, overlooking the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountain range. All that stuff. And, of course, the more immediate—both of us hurrying to get out of our clothes, tossing them to the floor in our passion, in our yearning heat to feel the electric satin of a full body press of naked skin.

Except…

Kevin pushed gently against my chest and leaned back to break the kiss. He stared at me for a moment and I misinterpreted the stare as lust. I went in for another kiss and he pushed harder against my chest, holding me back.

He smiled and I’m happy to report there was nothing mocking or disdainful in it. “Dude,” he whispered. “You know better.”

And just like that, my dreams shattered, dropping on the floor in tinkling shards of regret.

I moved away from him, putting a few feet between us. I hung my head. “I’m so embarrassed. And ashamed,” I managed to get out.

He moved close to me and he laid a hand on my shoulder. “Look at me,” he said.

I did.

“I love you, man. I always have. As much I love anyone. You’re more than my best friend, you’re family. You know that, right?”

I nodded, feeling tears well up in my eyes.

He touched them away with his thumbs. “Now, I don’t want you to feel weird about what just happened. We were both a little drunk and we can always say it was the Scotch talkin’, but I want you to know I’m flattered. Hey, the fact that anyone finds a big lug like me, who farts constantly, attractive is a bonus in my book.”

We both laughed. Me, reluctantly at first, and then the giggles took over. I fell onto Kevin and soon, we were both short of breath, holding each other. He kissed the top of my head. “You’re my man. Always.”

The next day we said nothing about what had happened.

And now, well, you know the rest of the story. He’s up there, saying his vows to Alana.

And I’m happy for him.

Really I am.

But I can’t look at them. Not right now. It hurts too much. I turn away and let my gaze light on the crowd.

And that’s when I see him. And I’m not imagining it—he’s looking right at me. And when out gazes connect, he smiles.

I smile back and then glance down at the floor, a little embarrassed.

The priest is presenting the new married couple to the crowd. I join in the cheers and the applause.

And I turn to follow Kevin and Alana, the new husband and wife, in their processional out of the church.

He looks at me again as I pass his pew. He’s tall, with dark brown hair, almost black, and eyes so dark the pupils get lost in the irises. He has full lips that shift my mind into naughty mode. His five o’clock shadow gives me a visual cue to how it would feel against my face. His suit, dark blue, hangs perfectly on his lanky, yet broad-shouldered frame.

Our eyes connect in that way only two gay men can have (or two lesbians or a man and a woman who are hot for the other). The milliseconds pass and they cement us together. It’s just a bit longer than two strangers would glance at one another. It acknowledges interest, attraction—potential.

Outside the church, the drizzle that had come down earlier has been pushed away by a brilliant sun. Everything sparkles. There’s laughter, the chatter of a hundred happy voices, raised in celebration and excitement.

Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn and it’s Alana. She’s beaming at me and her blue eyes project love. She hugs me and I feel just horrible for the thoughts I had about her new husband during their wedding. But hey, they were honest. At least I can say that.

She kisses my cheek and whispers in my ear, “I’m so glad you’re here. You really are Kevin’s best man.”

I have no words. I just pull her close to me.

At last, we pull away. There are too many others waiting to kiss this blushing bride. I step back, thinking to move away, when her hand on my arm stops me. “Hold on, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

She steps aside and it’s him. We grin at each other as though we share a secret.

“This is Ryan, my very best friend from college. He’s out here from Boston, but he’s thinking of moving to Seattle in the fall. He’s interviewing with Amazon.” She pulls me close and whispers in my ear once more, “And he’s dying to meet you.”

I reach my hand out and we touch. And it’s electric. There’s something about a wedding—all that concentrated hope and happiness. It makes me gleeful for the future.

“Ryan. I’m so happy to meet you.”

He winks. “Likewise.”

______________________

Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love. He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). He is also a Rainbow Award Winner for both Caregiver and Raining Men. Lambda Literary Review has called him, “a writer that doesn’t disappoint.” Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever “at work on another novel.”

Rick’s latest novel is Dinner at Fiorello’s.

The stress of moving…. MOMENT OF CLARITY release party (post 3)

May 6, 2015

 

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The Moments In Time series features a couple in their early 20s and in the course of the three books one of the things they had to do several times was move—from their dorm to their summer residence on Fire Island, from Fire Island to one of the character’s brother’s house because their dorm room wasn’t ready, from the brother’s house to the dorm, from the dorm to an apartment. It’s been many years since my college days and until I wrote this book I’d forgotten how many times I moved house in my late teens and early 20s.

Moving is stressful. Putting your whole life in boxes. Remembering what you packed where. Physically packing, moving and unpacking. Waking up those first few nights exhausted and not entirely sure where you are. I don’t miss that! I’ve lived in my current house in New Hampshire for over a decade and that’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. I don’t miss moving at all!

Now the closest I get to having to pack up a zillion belongings is conference time. Right now I’m packing to attend the RT Convention in Dallas next week. (If any of you are going, please find me and say hello—I love meeting readers in person!)

In addition to the stress that moving puts on Collin and Tanner, several of the places they live in the beginning of MOMENT OF CLARITY are not places where they have any privacy. Collin’s brother has three young children, the friend they crash with has a roommate who’s up till all hours partying—they are both longing for time alone together.

Here’s an excerpt from the time that they’re living with Collin’s brother…

Between classes, my work at Gino’s, Tanner’s shifts at the bookstore, and commuting back and forth to Sean’s house, Tanner and I were busier than we’d ever been. I always knew it was more convenient to live on campus, but I had no idea what a hassle it was to make the added drive daily. By the time we got to Sean’s, had dinner, spent time with the girls, and did some studying, we were exhausted.

I hadn’t touched Tanner for yet another week, and I didn’t think I’d last the day without changing that. Tanner must have felt the same. I’d seen the looks he’d been throwing me, particularly the night before while we were watching a movie together, but I wasn’t about to do anything with Sean and the kids in the house. I didn’t care that the doors locked. It didn’t feel right. And I didn’t trust either of us to be quiet enough. Especially since it had been so long.

Sean handed me the last dirty dish to load into the dishwasher while Tanner put the juice and milk in the fridge.

“I’m gonna run to the grocery store while the kids are at preschool. Any requests?” Sean asked, grabbing his wallet off the counter and shoving it in his pocket.

“If you get a can of crushed tomatoes and some spaghetti, I’ll cook.”

“Thanks. The kids loved that the other night. Anything else?”

I tried to think but couldn’t. All that registered in my brain was that Sean was going out. Tanner and I would be alone in the house. My entire body was totally onboard with this thought.

“I think that’ll do it. Tanner, you need anything?”

Tanner looked up from wiping off the kitchen tables. His pupils were huge. I knew that look. I loved that look. He was thinking the same thing I was. I twitched with anticipation.

“I’m good,” Tanner said, tossing the rag on the counter.

“Okay, then.” Sean headed for the door. “It’s my turn to drive carpool home, so I’ll probably take the kids to Mickey D’s for happy meals. Lock up if you both leave, okay?”

“Sure.” My heart raced as I watched Sean trot down the back porch steps. I held my breath, listening as the car door slammed, the engine revved, and the tires crunched down the gravel driveway.

I turned to look at Tanner, but before I could even focus my eyes, he was on me. Hands on either side of my face, body pressed up against mine, lips prying mine open, tongue—oh, God, I’d missed that tongue—swirling in circles with mine.

Groaning, I grabbed him and tugged him closer. I needed to feel as much of him as possible. All of him. Immediately, if not sooner.

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For another chance to win an ebook from me, tell me how many times you’ve moved in your life or the longest you’ve lived in any one place. I’ll announce winners in the comment section of each post at midnight tonight (EDT).

A Midsummer Dream – Excerpt

April 22, 2015

Here’s a little snippet for you!

“Don’t you give a shit about anyone but yourself?” Donovan asked. “Or is it all about Arik?”

“You’ve hit the nail on the head.” Arik’s voice had a chill to it as he turned, his long braid smacking Donovan in the chest with how close they were to each other. “It’s all about me. I don’t care about anyone else. If their performance is suffering, that’s not my responsibility. It’s theirs.”

“Why are you always such an ass?”

“I like it. Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do, and you’re preventing me from doing it. If you’re going to buy something, then do so. Otherwise, there’s no loitering allowed.”

“How someone as cold as you manages to play your roles with such heat is beyond me,” Donovan said quietly. “You have no heart.”

“That would be why they call it acting,” Arik said as he turned away and put a book on the shelf.

 

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When Opposites Attract… with Nancy M. Griffis

April 20, 2015

Nancy Griffis

Hello Hello! I’m Nancy M. Griffis and my novel, A Most Unusual Wedding, is out today! I’m very excited to be here talking about my latest release with all of you!

Wedding stems from a short story that was published in a charity anthology a few years ago. It centers around Lord Leo Harris and Master Leathersmith Gerald Smithson and their (if I may say so) adorable love story in an alternate Victorian London where magic, aka power, runs rife through the population. Most things in the book echo the real London of the time but to two major things: the power and same-sex pairings being nothing unusual. If you’ve read A Most Unusual Courtship (the prequel, available FREE at Dreamspinner), then you know why, but if not, back in Greek times, same-sex unions were blessed by the Gods and the world simply never went back on that.

Leo, god love him, is as fine a dandy as you’d ever want to know, and shows it in his extremely colorful wardrobe and rakish sense of humor. But he also has that steel of spine that comes from having gotten everything he’d ever needed. He’s a lord, he’s heir to the family fortune and political power, a middle child of three, and has great powers within himself. He could have turned out an absolute horror, but for a good heart, a lovely family, and incredibly inquisitive mind.

Gerald, on the other hand, is a quiet, sweet man who is as steadfast as the day is long in summer. He’s an only child raised by his grandfather, Daniel, after his parents were killed in a terrorist bombing when he was ten. He’s been significantly hurt by mages in his past and so distrusts them all and refuses to do business with any. The lone exception to this is his best mate, Harry Bickley, who’s away most of the time at sea in Her Majesty’s Navy.

I have a wee excerpt below from Courtship that shows the moment Leo and Gerald meet that I think you’ll enjoy.

A friend asked me how in the hell I came up with the idea for Wedding which cracked me up. It wasn’t that I so much came up with it that Leo started yammering in my ear about getting married. Incessantly. Right while I was in the middle of another project. And because he’s such a brat, he got what he wanted when I put down the other novel and started outlining Wedding. Why yes, all writers are crazy to a certain extent, if you didn’t already know that. ;o) Of course, it couldn’t just be about getting married - that would be far too sweet for one of my books – so I did come up with the plague to slow things down a bit and then, well, someone besides Leo was utterly taken with Gerald (he really is the sweetest man) and things kind of went downhill from there for the poor boys.

***

So here are a couple of questions for you readers out there…

What’s your favorite time period for a magic-based novel? Or for any novel, really. This is my first historical novel and the research was both intimidating and fascinating. I believe I’ve come down with the itch to do more novels in other time periods (not related to Leo & Gerald) but I’m curious if there’s a common zeitgeist time period.

When you read books with magic in them, do you prefer fully spoken spells, spells in other/made up languages, or does it not matter? I posted this question to my flist while writing and am wondering if the world at large echoes their responses. :o

***

Alrighty! I’m going to head out now that I’ve taken up your precious time. I truly hope you enjoy Courtship and Wedding, because I just adore my guys and want everyone to love them. Oh! And in case you’re wondering, I’m hard at work on the sequel, A Most Unusual Honeymoon, (A murder mystery for the guys! wheeee!) and hoping to finish soon so as not to keep you all waiting too long.

Thanks for stopping by! This is Nancy, signing off.

 

***

LEATHER ALWAYS felt and smelled like home. From the time Gerald was a small boy leaning against his father’s knee, he’d been surrounded by the crafting of it. Instead of learning his letters, he’d learned good cuts from bad. Instead of playing with boys outside in the busy London streets, he’d stayed inside and watched every cut his father had chiseled or sliced into. His education had eventually included basic reading and maths, but originally consisted of tanning and cutting and creating works of art from all forms of leather.

All his childhood memories encompassed leather in some form, but the most bittersweet had been witnessing his parents don butter-soft leather cuffs on their tenth anniversary. Gerald had peeked through the stairway rails as firelight cast a golden warmth over the room and his parents kissed gently, the cuffs shining and soft on each right wrist.

His childhood had come to a horrible end two days later when his parents had been caught in the blast of a terror attack on Her Majesty’s Theatre.

“Gerald! You done yet, lad?”

Gerald snapped out of the sad thoughts that were just as heartbreaking sixteen years later. He set down the anniversary cuffs he’d been working on and looked up. His grandfather was still strong enough at eighty-three to bellow from the third story of their London home, as annoying as the habit was. “Almost, Granddad! Be up in a few minutes!”

The shop door opened, jingling the bell above it, and in walked a dandy if ever Gerald had seen one. He had the strong features and perfectly straight teeth that were hallmarks of the gentry. He was handsome, no doubt, with lively blue-gray eyes. The fine cotton trousers, satiny shirt, perfectly creased morning coat, and elegant leather boots certainly completed the portrait of a gentleman. The cluster of red and black plumage on the man’s hat made Gerald want to roll his eyes at the puffery.

Before the man could do more than doff his hat to reveal honey-colored hair and smile in greeting, Gerald said flatly, “I serve no mages in this shop, my lord.”

The man paused, head canting aside as he asked, “How do you know I’m a mage?”

“The door was locked.”

“I see. Well, you don’t even know what I’m going to ask of you.”

“I need not know, my lord, to know that I do not serve your kind.”

“My kind?”

“Arrogant mages with no sense of obligation to pay for what they order.”

“I see.” A smile hovered again over the man’s mouth, and then he said, “So if I were to pay you ahead for the work, would that change your mind?”

“It would not.”

“Not even a little?”

The teasing tone prompted Gerald to frown. “My lord, there are many excellent leathersmiths in London.”

The lord walked closer and spun his hat between his palms. “Ah, but you are the best; everyone says so. I need the best.”

Gerald stood to his considerable height. As expected—like most men—the lord came to Gerald’s shoulders. Those blue eyes widened in surprise as the man craned his neck to look up and meet his gaze. Gerald said firmly, “I serve whom I wish, and those of power do not number among them. Good day, my lord.”

The man’s mouth twisted into a moue of disappointment, and he heaved an overly dramatic sigh. “Well. If you’re going to be petty about it and tar everyone with the same brush, then I’ve no choice but to go elsewhere. At least for now.”

Gerald didn’t reply, instead choosing to sit back down and wait for the man to leave. The man again twirled the hat between his palms and then set it atop his head before leaving. Mayhap it was painting all mages alike, but he’d dealt enough with them in the past to maintain his present loathing.

Untrustworthy sods, all of them.

As soon as the mage closed the door behind him, Gerald stood and walked over to lock the door again, then tugged on it to be certain. He returned to his work counter, packed away the anniversary cuffs, and swiftly tidied up the small shop before jogging upstairs to his grandfather’s apartment on the third floor. He reached the door just as it opened, and he intercepted his grandfather before he could descend a single step. If Daniel walked down three flights of stairs, Gerald might end up carting him back up, depending on Daniel’s mood.

Green eyes twinkled up at him and his grandfather said, “It’s about time you came up, you great lout! Where’s me tea?”

Gerald chuckled, then said, “Where it always is, Granddad, waiting to be made in your kitchen. Settle yourself down on the sofa, and I’ll get it started for you.”

Daniel Smithson hadn’t reached his great age without knowing how to take advantage of any kind of situation. That didn’t preclude him from being an excellent grandfather; it just made Gerald’s life a bit livelier. As the old man had taken him in at the tender age of ten without a single complaint, though, Gerald was more than happy to put up with his machinations.

“Saw a pretty thing leaving the shop just now.”

Except for his matchmaking ones, Gerald thought with a sigh. “He’s a lord and a mage, Granddad. I sent him packing.”

Daniel settled down onto the comfortable sofa with a groan and wagged a finger at him. “You’re too fussy by half, my lad. If a lord like that were t’pay me that sort of attention in my day, I’d have lapped at his silver spoon. I’m not getting any younger, Gerald. You’ll need lookin’ after, once I’m gone, no matter your independent ways. It’s not right, livin’ alone all yer life.”

Gerald set the kettle on to boil, slid the half-eaten meat pie into the oven, and turned the dial to warming. So convenient, these new ovens. A small bit of magic spelled to the item itself—no mages necessary—and baking was no longer a hazardous thing where Gerald could accidentally set the kitchen afire. “I need no looking after, Granddad. And besides which, you’ll outlive us all.”

Daniel cackled a bit. “There is that, my lad, there is that.”

 

***

Nancy M. Griffis: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/AuthorArcade/nancy-m-griffis

Buy A Most Unusual Wedding here!