March 29, 2016
I’m Jackie Keswick and I’m happy to be visiting the Dreamspinner Press blog again. This time as part of the blog tour for House Hunt, the third book in the Power of Zero series.
Jack and Gareth had their unexpected reunion in Job Hunt. In Ghosts Jack decided to make a family for himself with Gareth, Daniel and Nico. So far, they’ve dealt with each emergency as it came and now it’s time to settle down and make that relationship work. Find ways to handle all the little mundane things that are part of becoming a couple.
That’s new territory for both of them and, of course, they both bring their own baggage. Gareth’s need to look after people and arrange situations as he sees fit is alive and well. And six months aren’t long enough for Jack to get used to having people in his corner ready to help him out.
Yes, getting into the team spirit is going to be interesting.
Especially for Gareth, whom readers have called a lot of things from a rock to a patient cat herder to downright invisible. I suppose he’s all those things at one time or another. He’s also gorgeous (of course! just imagine a cross between George Clooney and Laurence Nicotra and you have my Gareth), competent, stubborn, loyal and in love with Jack. More so than he expected to be after so short a time. More so, even, than he has admitted to himself just yet.
Jack’s pretty clueless about relationships. He’s uncompromising when it comes to his work. He’s just as determined as Gareth to have things his own way. And at times he appears to be more focused on helping Nico and Daniel than having a relationship. Does that make him difficult to love? Not to Gareth.
Most of the time Gareth sees past the armor and the crusades. He’s there, supportive, confident and determined to help Jack deal with whatever happens. He sees how similar he and Jack are. Jack can’t say no when someone needs help and Gareth loves to look after people.
He’s done it ever since his father was deployed and left him “in charge” at home. Gareth couldn’t stop taking care of people if you asked him to. He’s made an Army career out of it, and now does it at home and at Nancarrow Mining. Jack, Daniel and Nico need someone to make their lives a little easier and Gareth needs to be needed. So it just works.
I love both of Jack and Gareth, of course. But while Jack makes total sense to me – even if he makes sense to nobody else – Gareth tends to surprise me. Gareth grew up with loving parents. He has expectations of what a relationship and a family should be like. I often wonder whether Jack, and the crazy that follows in his wake, are like a bucket of cold water on those expectations. And whether Gareth is just too stubborn to walk away, even when he feels he should.
Few men would start a relationship by adopting two vulnerable, scared teenagers. Gareth does it without flinching, even when it means he has to watch Jack remember his own past every time he steps up to calm and soothe the two.
Jack’s past, and the way he deals with it, is a huge part of what makes Jack the character he is. His courage is without question, but Gareth’s courage is more than a match. He’s there every time Jack doesn’t realize he needs a wall at his back, quietly, patiently, while learning what makes Jack tick. He challenges Jack, pushes him when he needs it… and does a damned fine job hiding his own insecurities.
Oh yes, he has them. They’re just as valid as Jack’s troubles. And they will need dealing with if Jack and Gareth want to make it to their HEA. But that’s a couple of books away. So, for now, let’s take a look at Gareth as we haven’t seen him yet: vulnerable, worried, and intent to make himself as enticing and irresistible to Jack as Jack – with all his crusades and idiosyncrasies – is to him.
I’m glad to report that Jack gets it. Immediately.
Purple or Green?
A Jack & Gareth Ficlet
“Camouflage paint is so much easier to work with.” Gareth scrubbed the towel over his face. This was not going as he’d planned. He’d almost poked his eye out with the stupid pencil. Using the liquid stuff with the brush tip was no better. It smeared like nobody’s business and made him look like a grumpy panda.
How did Jack manage to draw such a sexy thin line? In less time than it took Gareth to unscrew the cap, too. He’d been trying it for the last half hour, and all he had to show for his efforts were a ruined towel and makeup smears all over his face.
It was lucky he had the house to himself for once, or he’d catch it big time from the boys. Daniel, with his recent interest in dressing to get noticed by the girls, might understand why Gareth was trying out Jack’s collection of eyeliners. Nico would pour nothing but scorn on the attempt.
The sad fact was, Gareth was jealous. It was juvenile and stupid and completely unwarranted. Gareth knew that, but he couldn’t change how he felt. Lisa had asked for Jack’s help shutting down an escort agency, so Jack was once more playing bait. And according to Baxter and Lisa, who were backing him up, Jack attracted a lot of attention in the clubs. From men and women alike.
Jack had come home in the early hours, hyped and buzzing, lipstick on his neck and his makeup a smudged mess. He’d looked gorgeous, dangerous… and so enticing that Gareth had been grateful that they had the house to themselves.
And yes, they’d been late for work that morning.
Once the lust haze cleared, though, it left Gareth feeling unsettled. As if he wasn’t quite enough any longer. And that had, by strange, meandering pathways, led to Gareth scowling at the mirror, Jack’s makeup case open on the dresser. He had no idea what he was doing, the ruined towel could attest to that, but he’d dare anyone to call him a quitter.
Maybe it was time to apply a little logic.
Jack’s stash of colors and implements was huge. Gareth had thought that eyeliner was black, but it seemed he’d been wrong about that. Jack had eleven colors of eyeliner in his case – thick, thin, pencil, liquid, brush, gel – and… really. What the fuck?
In the end Gareth chose purple, because it looked appealing, and a deep green that he could see Jack wearing. Deep green and Jack went together like pie and mash, even if he couldn’t explain why.
He ditched the pencils as unusable and too dangerous and was trying to get the hang of the liquid liners with the brush and sponge tips when he found one that looked like a felt tip pen. One side was as thin as a fineliner, the other side broader, more like a whiteboard marker. He used both of those every day, so that should be easier, right?
With grim determination, Gareth set to work once more.
He was putting the finishing touches on his right eye when Jack came home. The morning’s excellent mood hadn’t faded yet. Jack was whistling, calling out, bounding up the stairs… only to freeze in the doorway when he caught sight of Gareth. He lost his smile, too.
“What… are you doing?”
Gareth shrugged. “Trying to make myself a bit more presentable?” he offered, voice hesitant, not surprised when Jack got it right away.
“As if you have need.”
“I thought I might,” Gareth admitted, but then he turned his head this way and that. “So, which one? Purple or that deep green you use?”
Jack breathed out. His shoulders dropped. And then the smile returned.
“You’re hopeless, Flynn,” he pronounced as he joined Gareth by the mirror. “With your eye color, what you want is teal. C’me here.” He riffled through the brushes and pens until he found the shade he sought. “I bought that on a whim a while ago,” he explained as he reached for a pack of wipes that Gareth hadn’t even noticed. “It’s not my color and I had no idea why I’d ever want it, but…it’s perfect for you. Here, scrub your face.” He held out the wipes and watched while Gareth turned them purple and green, idly rolling the liner in his palms.
“There’s no reason for you to spruce yourself up with paint, unless you’ve got your eye on someone else,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy with the man you are. I don’t need embellishments. Besides…”
Jack looked uncomfortable all of a sudden. He waved at the case. “That’s camouflage,” he explained. “Armor. Walls made from bullshit and deception. I’ve no need for it unless I’m hiding.”
Gareth spun around on the stool and settled his hands on Jack’s hips. “So this was a bad idea?” he queried while his fingers teased along the edge of Jack’s waistband.
“Maybe… not entirely,” Jack decided after a moment and leaned into the touch. “I never thought you’d try liner, so while I have you here I might as well satisfy my curiosity. Hold still.”
He straddled Gareth’s lap and unscrewed the cap on the teal liner. It took him just moments to line Gareth’s eyes and when he surveyed his work, Jack’s breath caught in a way that Gareth found oddly comforting.
“Fuck… that’s hot,” Jack breathed almost reverently. “We can do that again.” He leaned back a little for a better look. “But I tell you one thing for nothing, Flynn: you are not leaving the house looking like that!”
Check out House Hunt today!
October 15, 2015
To celebrate Halloween this month, some of our paranormal authors will be sharing with us some free fiction.
(This story is set between Breeding Stations and Battle Stations)
“Berit! Faster!” Tom yelled behind me.
What did he think I was doing? Taking a stroll in the park?
Since I didn’t have enough oxygen left in my lungs to keep breathing and ranting at him, I remained quiet. Well, as quiet as one can be when one is being chased by a group of rams. I hated those creatures. I hated all those fucking war beasts the Tash’Ba, our worst enemy, created. Period.
Rams were particularly nasty because they hunted in packs and their razor-like claws could slice you open before you realized what was happening. Add to that their sickly greenish and yellow scales and the red ridge on their heads and they were a nightmare come true.
“I am running,” I wheezed out.
“Watch out!” Tom’s warning came too late. A ram, a rather large one, stepped out behind a large tree with white, fern-like leaves. My momentum propelled me right into the beast’s chest where I impacted with a morbid smack.
That was it. I was dead.
I glanced up, forcing my muscles to stop trembling so much. The ram blinked at me from reptilian eyes as it tilted its head. Slowly, I moved my left hand to one of the many pockets of my pants and searched for a bluster. The ram threw its head back and emitted an ear-piercing trill. Other rams answered immediately.
A branch snapped to my left, and the ram and I looked toward the noise’s source. Tom stood there, the sun glinting on his glistening skin. His frill folded out in all his red and orange glory. “Berit.”
“I’m sorry.” My voice broke when one, two, no, three rams hurried through the undergrowth, appearing at Tom’s back. He clutched his gun in both hands and his chest heaved.
“No giving up,” Tom said.
I gave a short, startled laugh. No giving up? What were we supposed to do? We couldn’t survive this. From the corner of my eyes, I caught sight of more and more rams closing in on us. We were dead, so dead.
I opened my mouth to inform Tom of our impending demise—or maybe I was going to tell him that I loved him more than life itself—when shouts and splintering wood attracted our attention.
Carson, my best friend, crashed through the brush, followed by his wildly firing mate, Niyara. She was yelling at him to go faster. What was it with our Nadisc mates today? There was only so much a human body could do.
An elgoth chased my two friends, trampling whatever got in its way. The elgoth swished its tail from side to side, destroying trees left and right.
“Carson!” I shouted.
His head snapped toward me, his eyes widening even more in his pale face when he discovered me. I didn’t even want to imagine how I must look—on my knees in front of a looming ram—the picture of pure defeat.
He faltered in his steps, which gave the elgoth enough time to catch up with them. An overturned tree trunk cut off their escape route. Niyara took a protective stance in front of Carson. Her tail whipped through the air, obviously annoying the elgoth, who roared at them.
This couldn’t be it. We couldn’t end like that. We’d found the watcher’s station but none of us had managed to get inside because of those damn Tash’Ba war beasts. Although… where was Fleur? She’d come in handy right now.
The rams trilled to each other. What were they talking about? Who got the first dip on the tasty meat right in front of them? I shuddered. Rams didn’t kill their prey before they ate it, and I’d seen enough of my comrades mauled by rams that I knew I wouldn’t go without a struggle.
My fingers closed around the bluster when the ram next to me scurried away. Confused, I watched it leave, whistling a sharp, commanding trill. The other rams formed into a triangle-like formation and scuttled after the one who was obviously in charge.
Inhaling deeply, I rose to my feet. Relief flooded my veins when Tom materialized at my side, sliding his tail around my waist to anchor me to him.
“What just happened? I can’t believe they let us go,” I asked.
Tom’s tail tightened and his eyes darkened. Something was wrong, horribly wrong. I glanced in the direction the rams were heading. A shocked gasp tumbled over my lips. The rams took up position around the elgoth and Carson and Niyara.
Tom pulled me against his chest, leaving me absolutely no room to move. Niyara wound her tail around Carson, imitating Tom’s movement. Even from this distance, I could see tear tracks on Carson’s face. Everything in me turned to ice. This was my best friend. I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing.
“Tom,” I groaned. “I gotta help him.”
“If we shoot now, we might hit him or Niyara.”
I was cut off by the elgoth’s roar. The rams snarled before they attacked. I screamed, “Carson!”
One second one of the rams closed its muzzle on Carson’s right arm and the next moment it dissolved into a puddle of stinking glob.
Carson stared at me, disbelief and relief written all over his face. Niyara pumped a fist into the air, yelling in triumph before she whirled Carson around to kiss him senseless.
I sagged against Tom, battling the urge to curl into a ball and cry. Tom caressed my face as he folded up his frill. “Fleur. She must’ve gotten inside the watcher’s station and found the decoder.”
A yank on my leg caused me to jump. When I looked down, Fleur climbed up on me in her typical lizard-style gait. She bumped her cold, wet nose against mine, then purred, “Berrrit. Fleur help.”
“You did. Thank you,” I said softly.
For now we’d survived. Again.
Thank you for reading!
You can learn more about my books on my blog (there are also links to a couple of free stories): http://christikat.blogspot.com. You can also follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/christi_kat and on GoodReads http://www.goodreads.com/ChrisTKat.
October 14, 2015
To celebrate Halloween this month, some of our paranormal authors will be sharing with us some free fiction.
The wind was blistering cold on the high snow blown ledge. It whipped around him, lashing his long brown hair against his cheeks. Through the murky white sky he could just barely see the sun begin to caress the horizon. This was going to be a long night.
Adrian groaned and tried to rise up to escape the blanket of snow that covered him where he lay sprawled out on a stony ledge. He rose unsteadily to his feet, dizziness and nausea washing over his in churning waves. Standing on his left foot though was instantly rewarded with white hot pain that shot up his leg until it stopped in his thigh. He collapsed gracelessly to his knees in the snow. Hot tears stung his eyes as the pain continued to surge through him. He gasped for air in the frigid climate, each breath causing him to cry out as it stung his lungs. He rolled over onto his side, adopting the fetal position as his best bet for the time being. He pulled his thin windbreaker tighter around his body, snuggling as far down into the thin material as he could manage until only the tips of his ears were visible around the wave of his hair. At least it was a little warmer.
How he ended up in this mess he couldn’t begin to understand. He remembered being in the small charter plane. That much he was certain of. But how he managed to get from his comfortable spot on the plane to this bit of snow covered earth was beyond him. He looked around wearily, trying desperately to find any hint of a landmark to tell him of where he was. But there was nothing. The snow was too thick to see through and what little he could see only resembled more mountains. This made no sense. They weren’t even supposed to fly through mountains today. Had the pilot gotten confused in the storm? Was he somewhere out here too?
Adrian spent close to the next hour yelling for the pilot or anyone else to no avail. Wherever he was, he knew that he was alone.
Running through a quick list in his head he soon concluded that everything he had ever been taught about wilderness survival was useless besides the obvious of try to stay warm and don’t fall asleep which were both quite unhelpful in the situation he had found himself in. He would make sure to do those amongst finding firewood to build a signal fire while also splinting his broken ankle. And of course he would hate to forget to do those while making tools out of stone and wood for catching something to eat. He really would hate to starve before he froze to death.
Adrian grumbled to himself and shrunk into a tighter ball. Like his father always said; sarcasm and a bad attitude will help no one. He had to stay awake. He knew this just as much as he knew that he had to keep breathing and that shivering was a good thing. But cold weather had always made him sleepy and it certainly was cold now. Adrian recited the laws of physics a few times to stay awake before his eyes finally closed and he succumbed to exhaustion.
Waking up when one hasn’t had nearly enough sleep is never a pleasant experience. Neither is waking up like that compounded with surely broken bones and an aching body screaming against even the smallest movement as Adrian soon realized. He shivered involuntarily before realizing that he was no longer cold.
Adrian opened his eyes fully and blinked against the brightness of the sun reflecting at him from the snow. The one dark spot near him was a fluffy bit of fur lying along his left side. He froze and tried not to even breathe as he waited for whatever kind of animal it was to leave him alone. But the beast only turned its big head and looked over at him with impossibly bright amber eyes. Then, because of course Adrian had to add hallucinations on top of all the pain he was in, the animal rose up on its four paws, then slowly shed his fur until a man crouched next to him. He was naked, save for the snow blowing against his tanned skin.
“I have a concussion,” Adrian said aloud. Pain plus hallucinations meant concussion. He was sure of it.
The man, the wolf, laughed. “Probably. You are pretty banged up. I’m Frost, by the way. Named for the winter night I was born on. I was scouting when I found you. When you’re ready to go get warm I’ll take you back to my pack. They’re expecting us but I was told to wait until you woke up to bring you to them, in case you refused our help.”
“Your… pack?” Adrian’s head was swimming wildly. If he hadn’t thrown up already he was surely going to soon.
Frost nodded enthusiastically. “My family. My brothers, my parents, my cousins. Everyone. Are you going to come with me?”
Did he really have a choice? “And if I don’t? Then what?”
Frost shrugged. “Ever hear of those people that get lost in the mountains and their bodies are never recovered? Well, that’s generally because they chose to join a pack. Or there are those people who their bodies are found months later. They likely refused our help. Or tried to go back to their families after we did help them. We’re all over the world and you’re not really in a position to refuse and still live so…”
In short, come with him and he got to live. Refuse and he would likely die a horrible, snow covered death where he froze and someone still would probably never find his body. Those were both such wonderful options. This was so freaking fantastic. Adrian sighed and made the decision to live. “Fine. Fine. Only one problem though, my ankle’s broken.”
“You’d give up your family to be able to come live with me and mine?” Frost seemed so surprised.
Adrian tried not to shiver as the thought of the quickest, and simplest, way to explain things to him. “Family isn’t something I exactly have a lot of. The only people that might miss me are my co-workers in the travel magazine I write for. Plus, my options aren’t exactly promising out here. How are you getting me to your pack with my broken leg?”
“You’re going to ride me.”
He grinned at Adrian, who instantly got the wrong idea with a good looking naked man crouched in front of him. “Sure. Let’s go with that plan.” But even as he said it Frost began to shift back into the form of the wolf, only this time he was twice the size he’d been before and now was much closer to the height of a small pony.
“Nifty trick.” Adrian got to his feet, with a lot of difficulty and hanging onto Frost’s shoulder for support. Frost bent down and Adrian managed to slide himself onto the wolf’s narrow back. He didn’t even spare a thought for the life he was saying goodbye to as Frost began trotting into the snow. This was a choice of survival, and when it came down to it he would rather live with a bunch of naked wolf shifters than die on some mountain he didn’t even know the name of. Being surrounded by men who looked as good as Frost did wasn’t even going to be a hardship.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
April 18, 2015
For anyone who wonders what was going through Curtis’s mind that first night-if any of you have burned through the book yet…
Last night, they were awful. Just fucking loud, and I can tell you, listening to my older brother have sex with his boyfriends? Not my favorite past time. Boyfriends. Plural. How does that even happen? I cheat once, okay, repeatedly, but I really have a problem saying no, and I get dumped. How’s that fair?…twice. Dumped twice. Because I was seeing two people. At least one of them knew about the other. That counts for something, right?
Okay, maybe I liked listening a little. I’m pretty sure I heard Xavier at one point, this sound that crawled inside my stomach and just set everything throbbing in my groin. Maybe…maybe I pretended my brother wasn’t in there and…OH, fuck, this is so embarrassing. I’m not gross or anything, but Xavier’s…candy. He’s eye candy.
Whatever. Who cares? It’s not like anyone else really knows what I did. I could have been working it to anything. But they were so fucking loud and I could hear Duncan. I mean, I just know it was him. There’s no way it was anyone else.
There was moaning in the hallway. Moaning. And I’m not supposed to get, um…interested?
I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. Not well, anyway. I kept wondering what it was like to have two people who actually…care. That’s…just unbelievable. I’m not jealous, okay? I just don’t understand why Andrew gets to do anything he wants. Everything he wants. And no one’s mad at him. No one tells him they never want to see him again, take his shit and get out. Mom doesn’t freak out on him the way she does me. Oh, no, he just gets to bang two dudes who think he’s the shit. And I just get screwed.
It’s not fair. Life is so unfair.
I’m not jealous.
February 3, 2015
A soft knock at the door.
Martin stirred, stretching arms over his head. The book on his chest fell, plopping to the floor. He’d fallen asleep reading it last night.
“Come in.” Did the bed-and-breakfast include room service? He was too fuzzy-headed to remember.
“Sorry, did I wake you?” A friendly, freckled face peered round the corner, smiling apologetically.
Martin’s mouth fell open. The guy had striking red, flame-like hair that seemed to have a life of its own. It was long, reaching nearly to his shoulders. Freckles stood out on his pale face, his expression shy.
“Josh?” asked Martin.
“Hi, Mr. Winston.” He ducked his head a little, blushing. “Didn’t think you’d remember me.”
“Of course I remember you.” He sat up, pulling the sheets modestly to his chest. A few years ago, when he was a young tutor still working on his teaching degree, Josh had been his favorite student.
Josh was only a few years younger, and they’d both felt a friendly connection, but kept from getting too close. Martin was trying too hard to be professional to allow it. But there had been something about their interactions that made him wish he was younger or Josh was older.
“Do you work here now?” Martin fumbled for his glasses. Josh’s features appeared more clearly. The last few years had transformed Josh from shy teen to handsome young man. Their slight age difference didn’t seem to matter much now.
I’m an idiot for thinking about such things. It must be his morning wood doing the talking.
“Er, yeah, I’m the cook.” Josh reached up to push back a few strands of his gleaming red hair. “Just wanted to bring you your tea.” He held up a blue mug. “I hope I’ll see you again later. Sorry if I woke you.”
“You—ah—thanks,” mumbled Martin, wishing he knew what to say. It had been easier when they had rigorous homework assignments to get through.
Josh closed the door quietly, and Martin stared at its warm wooden texture, feeling bereft. Josh’s cute face and striking red hair had filled his dreams more than once, although he always resolutely pushed away the images when he was awake enough to realize. It wasn’t nice to fantasize about a seventeen-year-old. But Josh wasn’t seventeen now…
* * * * *
Martin went for a walk after breakfast, hoping he’d see his favorite ex-pupil.
The bed and breakfast was at a peaceful, wooded area in beautiful Vermont. Martin needed to rest up from a difficult year, catch up on his reading, and start writing the novel he’d been putting off for years now.
He rounded a corner of the quaint building and stopped suddenly. Ahead was a small wooden bench, where a familiar redheaded figure sat looking up at the trees.
Martin stood still, just watching. The breeze moved red hair slightly, and Martin felt his throat tighten with longing, and then his trousers, too.
He started to retreat, embarrassed, but his feet made a sound on a small branch; a little crunch. Josh turned his head. “Hi, Mr. Winston.” His smile held an apologetic question. “Sorry, you don’t have to go just because I’m here. You won’t disturb me. Sit down if you want.” He patted the bench. “There’s plenty of room.”
Martin cleared his throat, cheeks heating. He knew he was just being shy and awkward. As usual.
“Thanks,” he mumbled. He moved to sit beside Josh, wondering if he could fake the old attitude, that he related to Josh as someone older and more mature.
“Do you still tutor kids?” Josh cast him a shy look. It was an intimate look, full of humility and interest.
“Ah, no, I’m a teacher now. High school English. Sometimes I miss tutoring, though. Especially when I got to work with kids like you. You actually wanted to learn.”
Josh blushed. “But I was terrible at it.”
“You weren’t. Learning disabilities don’t make you terrible.” He hesitated, not sure if he was allowed to ask. But he’d already said so much. “Do you have trouble reading recipes when you cook?”
Josh shook his head. “I make most things from formulas that I learned in culinary school. I keep them up here.” He tapped his head. “And I make my own variations.” He shrugged. “It would be easy to mix up the numbers and letters in a cookbook, but I know what I’m doing now. I know if I misread twelve as twenty-one, because it doesn’t feel right. But mostly I don’t follow recipes at all. Sorry, I’m going on and on.” He pressed his knees together, hands between them as if to keep them from fluttering around, betraying his nervousness.
Martin longed to reach over and give his knee a gentle squeeze. He cleared his throat. “I’m glad you’ve done well. I always thought you would. That breakfast was wonderful, by the way.”
They sat next to one another in silence for a moment. Yet somehow it didn’t feel awkward.
“It’s so nice to see you,” said Josh again. “I think of you sometimes, wished I could show you I grew up…worth something.” He blushed, ducking his head. “That…came out wrong.”
Martin made a sound in his throat. “Oh, Josh, you were always worth something.”
“I…I know…I just…” He looked at Martin now, his ears pink, his smile slightly naughty. “I wanted you to see me as an adult. I guess you know I had a crush on you.”
“Did you?” Martin found himself grinning, wide and teasing and full of delight. He stretched out a little, putting one arm along the back of the bench—almost but not quite around Josh’s shoulders. “Tell me more.”
Josh laughed, ducking his head, looking giddy with relief. “Maybe a big crush,” he admitted.
Their eyes met, both gazes filled with relief and something more.
Maybe this unexpected reunion could be the start of something wonderful.
Hollis Shiloh writes love stories about men, also called gay romance or m/m romance, with the preferred genres of contemporary, historical, and fantasy. Hollis’s stories tend towards the sweet rather than the spicy. When not writing, the author enjoys reading, retro music, and being around animals.
January 31, 2015
Title: The Marzipan Opening
Author: B.G. Thomas
Pairing: Kit and Nick from Grumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf
The kid was making Nick St. George nervous.
It was not a good night for anything more to worry about. The opening of Kit’s first big New York art show already had him nervous enough. Having some homeless kid wandering around was not good. Not good at all.
But Nick didn’t dare say anything either. What if the kid wasn’t homeless? Yes, he was dirty. He was wearing torn jeans, and his T-shirt was old and dirty, his hair disheveled and greasy-looking. But this was the art world. These weren’t just patrons here tonight vying to see a potentially important new artist. There were artists here as well and that could mean those who were the very definition of Bohemian. What if he accidentally insulted a John McAllister, or an Armin Boehm, or a new Eric Fischl? That certainly wouldn’t do, would it? Or maybe the kid was an art critic that Nick didn’t know? A good (or bad) review in just the right (or wrong) place could make or break a new artist.
And Kit was a new artist.
One that Nick loved with all his heart.
Who would have ever thought it?
A year ago Nick had wanted to end his life. With Kit, his life was just beginning. And a wonderful life it was turning out to be.
If not frustrating.
First he’d had to figure out if he and Kit were something at all. It seemed like it. And Kit’s family loved Nick—something he cherished since his own family had disowned him some eleven years before.
And then when it was clear that Kit loved him just as much as he loved Kit, that this wasn’t infatuation or a reaction to the magic way they had met, they had to figure out what to do next. Live together? That sounded good to Nick.
But he knew he needed to wait for Kit to finish school. All he wanted to do was make love with Kit night and day, but Kit had to get his degree. Luckily the young man was in his last year at the Chicago Art Institute. He was already making a noise in the art world, and he hadn’t even had a real show until tonight. So he’d had to give Kit time to make sure his final pieces for school were perfect.
And they were, weren’t they? Like nothing Nick had ever seen.
When you walked into the room, the first impression you got was that a huge wind had picked up and thrown several laundry baskets’ worth of sheets throughout the room. They had struck people, objects, tables, and more—moving and flapping about them in the breeze. Except when you looked again, all you saw were the sheets. The objects that had caught them, or seemed to, were gone.
Some were haunting, like spirits or ghosts. Some humorous—a table with a lovely cloth and a service set for tea awaiting guests… but there was no table! One, a centerpiece for the exhibit, was decidedly erotic. It was the only one where an object was still there with the sheets: a bed. It was the people in the bed that had vanished. And from the way the sheet clung to “them,” it was clear, very clear, that the two people were men. It clung to… everything.
Nick knew that there was no way it would sell. Where would anyone put such a piece of artwork in their home?
But it was causing a stir. Gasps, titters, and erotic stares.
New York would be talking about Keaton Jeffries tomorrow.
Nick didn’t want any of the talk to be about Nick St. George asking some young man what he was doing at Kit’s show—whether he was famous or homeless.
Tonight had to be perfect.
Kit was nervous. He looked around at the work he’d done over the last year and wondered if it had all been a horrid mistake. None of it was the pretty or silly stuff his family loved so much—like his renditions of the Grumble Monkey, the character his mother had created to teach her children lessons as they were growing up. Nor even the realistic pieces his sisters praised him for—like the fields of lavender. He’d taken a real chance breaking away from the kind of art he’d done for years—and the art that had so interested Nick in his work.
But he hadn’t been able to help himself.
When the idea hit, it had become a fever.
It all started with a marzipan cake.
One his mother had made.
One that had made him blush.
It was a bachelorette cake for his oldest sister, Ambrosia. And who could believe she was getting married? Of course, she was twenty-six. That was plenty old enough. But somehow as far as Kit was concerned she would be the older sister running off to her high school prom.
How wonderful that she was marrying the very same boy who took her to the prom.
But the cake!
“Mom!” Kit had said, shocked.
She had taken a superhero cake pan, one that went from the neck to just below the crotch and could be decorated to be Superman or Spider-Man or whoever the decorator desired. But in this case, she had made it into a man wearing nothing but underwear with a very clear and decided bulge. The cake was covered in marzipan—an icing that could be rolled into thin sheets. It made the man’s skin look very real and the underwear blushingly real as well.
“Oh, don’t be a prude!” his mother had exclaimed. “I thought you’d approve! You do like men, don’t you?”
“Mom!” Kit had cried a second time and turned so red he could feel his face warm from it.
“And you must admit, this man is well equipped!” She had laughed then, and once he’d gotten over his initial shock, he’d finally managed to join her.
It was the marzipan that had begun the idea for his new show.
The second catalyst for his idea happened when he’d been watching an episode of Face Off. The makeup artists had been using a vacuum machine to take thin, rigid sheets of heated plastic and stretch them over a mold.
The next day his idea had totally solidified in his mind while he was looking through a magazine and admiring a fashion photo set done on a windy day. The shoot had made the clothing and bodies beneath very exciting.
All three events had led up to his new creations.
Darn if he couldn’t tell what people were thinking.
But they were certainly talking, and wasn’t that what Nick had said was important?
He looked across the room, and yes, there was his man.
My man, he thought, and glowed.
The year since he’d met his grumble monkey at a rest stop in the middle of an ice storm would forever be in his memory. How wild that he would meet his love at such a strange place and circumstance!
It had also been a crazy year. He’d been so afraid that Nick would lose interest in him. But that hadn’t been the case. Nick would come to see Kit at least every other weekend up at the Art Institute. It had been exhilarating. And so strange. The dance between them. Close, then step back, close, then step back.
It had driven Kit nearly crazy, until Nick finally explained what he was up to.
“This is a critical time in your life! You’ve got to graduate. Then we can think of us.”
“Us?” Kit had asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Nick had said with a whisper. “If you want there to be an us.”
More than anything, was all Kit could say and think.
So he lived with that not-enough time with Nick, and he worked on his art. Worked long into the nights and often into the mornings. Some of the pieces were simple and some rather elaborate, especially the piecemeal crazy quilt at the foot of the bed. A bed that in Kit’s heart was all about him and Nick.
After school there had been the whirlwind of putting together the show and deciding so many things for their lives. They’d finally decided they would live in New York, and nothing excited Kit more than the Big Apple (except for a life with Nick), and they searched for a new apartment. They’d settled on a loft so that the large express elevator could be used to get Kit’s bigger pieces out of the building. It also would allow Kit to work at home.
Soon it would finally be time. Nick assured him that when the show was over, he would take him to Europe. For the art. And for lots and lots of making love!
It was then that he saw Nick stand up quite straight, his expression surprised and excited. He’d been talking to some older man, one Kit hadn’t seen before. Not that that was surprising. There were lots of people he didn’t know. But this one was causing quite a reaction with Nick.
Why then was his love still occasionally looking at the dirty young man who was now staring at the piece Kit called Tea for Two.
Gosh. Nick wasn’t interested in him, was he? Attracted to him?
No. Kit shook off the idea.
And made up his mind then and there to talk to the kid.
“You’re serious?” Nick said to Mr. Detwiller.
“Most sure,” the gentleman replied. “We will talk in a few days, but we don’t want anyone else getting it.”
It was more than Nick could take in.
No. No one would want Love—Kit’s bed sculpture—for their homes. But the Art Institute of Chicago? The second-largest art museum in the United States?
It seemed impossible. But then, was anything impossible for Kit Jeffries? Whatever the young man believed in strongly enough seemed to come true for him. It was a fantasy come true.
And Kit—his little department store elf—was Nick’s dream come true.
“Hi,” said Kit.
The kid in the torn jeans and the messy hair jumped, eyes wide and frightened. “Ah…. I’m not doing nothing!”
Kit smiled. “It’s okay. Do you like it?”
The kid sighed. “I do. I wish I could do stuff like this.”
“Do you like art?”
“Like it? I love it. It’s all I did in high school—all I wanted to be was an artist—even though my mom and dad said only fags and girls were artists.”
Kit winced at that word—fags.
“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s not true, you know.”
“What?” Suddenly the kid looked like he was about to cry.
“Not all artists are… gay, or girls.”
The kid trembled for a minute. “But I am.” he whispered.
Kit winked. “I assume you mean gay, because you certainly aren’t a girl.”
The kid blushed. “Are you the artist?” He indicated the room with an expansive wave.
“I sure am.” He held out his hand. “I’m—”
“Kit! I need to talk to you!” It was Nick. He eyed the boy-man. Then looked away. “This is big, Kit. Really big.”
“Oh?” Kit said, caught up by Nick’s excitement, but not too pleased with the way he was looking at the boy. No, it wasn’t desire—it was worse.
Oh, my grumble monkey. You’ve come a long way, but—
“The Art Institute of Chicago wants Love.”
Kit staggered back.
The Art Institute of Chicago? Wanted one of his pieces? But… but was that possible?
“It might only be a temporary exhibit at first, but do you have any idea what this means?”
Kit staggered again, afraid he might fall. But then Nick was there, arm around him, and then pulling him into a tight hug.
“Yes,” he whispered. “I do know what that means!”
A fantasy come true.
“Excuse me” came a voice.
They turned to see the dirty kid standing there, looking up at Nick with big fear-filled eyes.
Nick stood straighter, and for a second Kit was afraid he might be rude.
“Yes?” Nick said, voice a bit stiff, but not ugly.
Thank you, Kit thought.
“How may I help you?”
“Are… are you Nicolas St. George?”
“Yes,” Nick said. “And who are you?”
“I’m Kenny,” the kid said. “Your nephew.”
They were sitting in the office in the back of the gallery.
“My mom threw me out.”
His sister? She threw her own son out?
Just like Mom and Dad did to me?
Nick looked at the young man, and yes, he was just the right age. It had been eleven years since he’d seen the boy. Damn. He—Kenny—even looked like Nick’s sister.
“I can’t believe it,” Nick said. “I figured I’d never see you again. Because…. Well, because….”
“You’re gay,” Kenny finished.
Nick nodded dumbly.
“Mom has been saying it for years. That you’re gay. Except she called you a fairy. And I’ve so wanted to talk to you. To meet you! But I knew, I just knew that if I spoke to you before I was eighteen, that not only would she have a cow that I was gay, but that I would get you in trouble. I know Mom. I know what she would have done. Accused you of turning me gay. Molesting me.” He shuddered. “Then a few weeks ago, on my eighteenth, I told her.”
“Threw me out. Gave me a half hour to pack. I could only take a few things. I couldn’t make it too much to carry.”
Nick could only stare. Be amazed by how calm the young man was.
“How have you made it all this time? Where have you been staying?”
Kenny shrugged. “Here and there,” he replied. And then quite suddenly he burst into tears.
To Nick’s surprise, he found himself standing and going to Kenny. Kneeling. And taking him into his arms.
He looked up at Kit.
What would they do?
They couldn’t let him walk the streets….
“What am I going to do, Uncle Nick?” Kenny wailed.
Then, before he realized he was saying it: “You’ll stay with us. Your mother can’t say anything. You’re legal.”
Kenny pulled back just enough to look at Nick with red, tear-filled eyes.
Nick looked at Kit again, wondering what he would say. They had finally reached the time when they could be alone together. They’d waited so long. But now?
Kit smiled and came to them, wrapped his arms around them.
“I’m so proud of you, my grumble monkey. So proud.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Not at all. I insist. We have our whole lives ahead of us.”
Later, Kenny pointed at the huge cake that Kit had made and placed in the middle of the dessert and drinks table. No one had touched it.
“Is that marzipan?” Kenny asked.
Kit nodded sadly. “I guess no one likes it….”
Kenny laughed. “Silly. It’s not that. They don’t know it’s a cake.”
Kit looked again. He’d spent hours making the thin-rolled confection look like one of his flapping sheet pieces. Then it hit him. He began to laugh.
“They think it’s a sculpture,” Kenny said.
Kit shook his head. “You any good at cutting cake?”
Kenny smiled. “I sure am!”
“Because you know what my mother always said?”
“What did your mother always say?” came a familiar woman’s voice.
Kit turned and let out a squeal. “Mom! I thought you said you guys couldn’t make it. Nick said he tried to talk you into it and you said no.”
“We wanted to surprise you. Nick was in on it.”
Then he felt arms surround him from behind him. “Surprise, my little elf.”
He spun in his lover’s arms. “Taller than you!”
“Gosh,” said Kenny. “Even I’m taller than Uncle Nick.”
And they all laughed.
“But what was it your mom always said?” Nick asked.
“Sometimes you just have to cut the cake. People are afraid to be the first.”
“Especially when it’s as gorgeous as that one,” Kit’s mother exclaimed.
Then Kenny cut the cake and even served it.
Everyone was amazed that is was cake, and they loved it.
Later that night they showed Kenny his new room.
“You’re sure you don’t mind?” Kenny asked.
“Not at all,” Kit and Nick chorused.
“But there will be rules,” Kit said.
“Hey!” Kenny cried. “I’m eighteen!’
“And under our roof. No dating boys unless you introduce them to us, no boys in your room after nine unless the bedroom door is open—”
“That’s Uncle Kit to you, young man!”
And later in their room, Nick asked again. “Are you sure?”
“Surer than anything in the world. I was watching him serve that cake, watching my mom help, and it broke my heart. To have a family that loves me so much and to see what your family has done to the two of you. I just don’t understand.”
“You’re the only family I need now,” Nick said. “I love you, my elf.”
“I love you, monkey.”
“Not grumble monkey?”
Kit shrugged. “I think you’re getting rid of the grumble part. Just like in my mom’s story.”
Nick smiled. “Well, what do you know?”
“What do you know, indeed,” said Kit.
Did you enjoy B.G. Thomas’s story? If so, check out the rest of his books and take 25% off at checkout with the code BGThomasFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 28, 2015.
January 30, 2015
Title: Peach Tarts and Proposals
Author: Raine O’Tierney
Pairing: Giordan and Shane from Sweet Giordan, Please Remember
Beautiful morning light filtered into Chloe Devereaux’s kitchen and for a moment, Giordan was lost in the way it played through the blue and white checkered curtains. Maybe paints… Maybe prismas… Colored pencils weren’t his strongest medium, but there was something wholly inviting about the challenge of using pencils to capture the scene. His paints would have been too easy. He’d add glass bluebirds on the sill—likes the ones that had maybe belonged to his mother. Maybe. Probably. For a moment, he could almost see it. Was he making it up? Or was it a real memory?
The sound of his name startled him and Giordan’s moment of almost-memory was broken. It was Chloe, sashaying back into the kitchen in her flowered broomstick skirt. Of course, she hadn’t known Giordan was drifting, or she would have let him drift. She always let him explore the boundaries of his amnesia, for seconds or minutes or hours even.
His expression must have told her what she’d interrupted because her prettily painted lips formed a little o of surprise and then she relaxed into a smile. “Remember anythin’ good this time?”
“Just my mother’s glass bluebirds,” he told her.
“You’ve painted those for me many’a time,” Chloe said, climbing daintily up on a stool at the island where Giordan leaned awkwardly. He’d sat for a while, but the pain in his stiff side got to him and he had to stand and relieve some of the pressure off his cramped nerves.
Giordan nodded. “This was a little different, though, Maman. I could see all the tiny bubbles in the glass and there was a fence outside the window. I could hear someone saying ‘blue bird of happiness.’ It felt really warm there.”
“Sounds beautiful. Thinkin’ another paintin’ is in the works?”
He nodded and then looked down, realizing that he hadn’t taken a single bite off the large plate Chloe had made for him. Here he was, supposed to be helping with an experiment in the kitchen, and he’d let himself get lost in the thought of glass bluebirds. His surrogate Maman followed his gaze, her lips quirking.
“They’re only sweets,” she said. “Ain’t gonna kill you. At least, I don’t think so.”
Giordan had not only lost his memory in the accident but, according to Chloe, his love of her chocolate pie as well. Maybe he had enjoyed it in the past, but it certainly didn’t agree with him now. For a long time she’d lamented this—altering the recipe by degrees to see if she could convince his taste buds to see her side of the argument. Finally, the sassy Southerner who rarely ever gave up, was forced to throw in the towel where pie was concerned at least, simply because one more alteration, she said, and she’d be making brownies instead of pie.
And then she’d had an idea: make brownies! And cookies. And crumble. And homemade ice cream. And all manner of good and sweet treats that she had, for years, brought to church picnics, sold at booster club, and competed with at the county fair. Chloe had spent the entire day cooking, and now Giordan had a small plate of bite-sized sweet treats.
“I want you t’be honest with me now, Giordan Stone,” Chloe told him in her melodic Reverie accent. “Try everythin’ and you let me know if somethin’ makes your pallet jump. And if it don’t, we’ll just get my grandmama’s cookbook right back out and start over. I’m gonna figure out somethin’ I can make you for dessert.”
Giordan nodded and dutifully tried a bite of the lemon cookie, Chloe’s large brown eyes on him. Slowly he shrugged and Chloe sighed. Luckily, he was not forced to face her disappointment further because there was a firm knock on the front door that called her away. Giordan spit the cookie into a napkin.
Even before Chloe opened the front door, Giordan’s heart began to thud happily. It was Shane, he just knew it. Despite what his lover said about not being able to get away from the office for the weekend, he felt him nearby. Then there was the deep rumble of Shane Devereaux’s voice as he greeted his Maman and Giordan’s smile could not be contained. He walked to the kitchen door, almost completely unaware of his limp, and waited to be swept up into Shane’s arms—except Shane did not immediately come.
Slowly Giordan pushed the door open, still expecting to find his green-eyed devil waiting to kiss him, but instead there was only the low hum of voices coming from the living room. Chloe and Shane were talking, very quietly, out of earshot.
Forced to swear on a Bible, Giordan couldn’t say that he hadn’t meant to listen in. If he hadn’t meant to listen in, he would have gone back into the kitchen. He certainly would not have crept farther forward and avoided the planks in the gleaming hardwood that always creaked under his weight. He might have knocked on the sitting room door and let them know he was there. Instead he stood, and listened to their conversation.
“Why does Julian have my Granddaddy’s ring?” Chloe was asking hotly. When her temper flared, her slow drawl became quick and biting as a cat’s hiss.
“He picked it up.” Shane’s voice was a counterweight to his mother’s. Calm. Steady. Deep.
“Picked it up? Stole it?”
“Maman, no. Of course not.”
“Then what do you mean picked it up?” She punctuated every word with a little exclamation point. “And why, pray tell, did that boy not then turn around and hand it right on back to you?”
“I….” Shane let out a long sigh and Giordan could imagine his lover rubbing the tense spot between his eyebrows. “I threw it into a trashcan on Main Street in downtown Midday—”
Chloe squawked in surprise.
“Maman, stop looking at me like that. You know what I was going through. I… I thought I’d never see Giordan again. Thought I’d never get the opportunity to give him the ring, so I tossed it.”
“But Julian picked it up.”
“Thank God. Y’know I’ve always loved that boy.”
Giordan had to put his knuckles to his lips to keep from laughing.
“But he’s got to keep it a little longer.”
“I will drive to Midday right now and turn him over m’knee,” Chloe said. “That is my ring and I want it back.”
“And why on earth would that be? He could have any damned ring he pleased! He better not be givin’ it to some model fling of his. Oh, I swear—”
“Maman,” Shane said firmly, wrestling the conversation back. “Stop before you’ve started a feud with my best friend’s family that can’t be undone for six generations. Just listen. Julian wants to pay for its restoration. As a gift.”
There was a long silence and then Chloe said stiffly. “Well, that is kind of him.” Then, suddenly the haze of annoyance lifting she said, much louder than before, “Oh! Oh my… Shane, honey, this… does this mean what I think it means? Are you plannin’ on askin’ Gio to marry you?”
As quickly as he could manage with his injured side, Giordan hurried back into the kitchen. For a long moment, he didn’t realize that he was smiling. Shane was going to propose again—and this time, Giordan would remember it. If he could have danced, he would have danced. He didn’t care how silly he might look.
He went to the cutting board Chloe had floured for a batch of cinnamon rolls and—grinning stupidly—he began to draw in the flour with the tip of his finger.
“So you overheard that, hmm?” Shane asked, running his thumb gently across Giordan’s cheek.
Giordan jerked away from the touch. He was startled, embarrassed. When did Shane come in and how did he get so close? “I guess maybe that was a little obvious.”
Shane bent to kiss his neck and Giordan leaned into the contact. “Are you surprised I want to marry you?” he asked, his lips pressed behind Giordan’s ear.
Giordan wanted to say No, of course not! But the words caught. There were mornings he awoke, pressed up against his beautiful lover, and still couldn’t believe they had found each other again. Giordan smiled. “I don’t know, maybe I was going to propose to you.”
“Oh, were you now?”
“You tend to take the lead. Maybe I want to do the getting down on one knee.” Then patting his bad leg, Giordan said, “Well, so to speak.”
“Proposing marriage to me, Giordan Stone?”
Giordan took Shane’s hand and tugged gently, bringing him around to where he’d played in the flour moments before. For a minute, Shane stood, admiring the work. “You’re so talented.”
But Giordan swiped the flower, creating a blank slate, and whispered soothingly as Shane groaned at the loss of the picture. Then he took Shane’s hand and placed it, top down, into the flour. When Shane lifted his hand, his dark skin was coated white and the flour canvass was left with the imprint of his hand.
With one of the fancy toothpicks Chloe kept—the sort with ribbons of colored cellophane on the end—he began to draw again, using the white medium to create a ring on the appropriate finger of Shane’s handprint. He did not lose himself to the sway of the art trance now, only drew, as carefully as he could, in the flour with the toothpick.
He gave the ring form and depth, shadowing the edges. And when he was satisfied, he finally looked up, cheeks a little ruddy at the silly thing he’d just done, wondering what Shane would think. But Shane had swiped a tear away from the corner of his eye—just the one and quickly. He was still so consumed with pride sometimes.
“Yes, absolutely.” Shane nodded.
“You will? You’ll marry me?”
Shane grabbed him into a kiss, careful, as he always was, not to jar Giordan’s bad side. Their lips met and melded, Giordan’s tongue slipped past his lover’s lips. No, not just lover. Not friend nor boyfriend nor lost-and-found-again love, but fiancé. Shane’s mouth gave back playfully, excitedly, careless that they were in his Maman’s kitchen. He tasted sweet, like peach tart. It wasn’t half bad.
Suddenly Giordan became aware that Chloe was nearby.
“Oh, don’t mind me a bit, boys,” she said, her normally calm voice tinged with excitement. She’d done her own eavesdropping, it seemed.
Shane broke the kiss and looked over Giordan’s shoulder at his mother, “Maman? Is that Daddy’s old camera?”
Giordan turned then to find Chloe snapping a photo of the flour artwork with a camera that seemed almost too big for her.
“Just gettin’ pictures.”
“Any particular reason?” Shane teased, still holding Giordan possessively to him. Giordan leaned his head against Shane’s chest, listened to the steady thump of his heart, and was comforted by it.
“For the scrapbook,” she said pleasantly, her accent light and airy. “Have to get a shot before y’all sweep the whole thing in the trash and, I dunno, try to christen my new marble countertops—doncha dare, by the way.”
“We’ll keep our celebrations to the bedroom, Maman,” Shane promised. “Or at least our own countertops.”
Even Giordan’s toes turned red at the comment.
“So… are y’all gonna announce now or…?”
“Well, Maman,” Shane said. “It seems you already heard.”
“’Course I already heard,” she said with a chuckle. “Though I’m waitin’ to be formally told so I can get out my phone and call every person I know, includin’ Ophelia Morton.”
Giordan had heard Chloe go on about Ophelia—the new member of her women’s group who had just given her granddaughter “The Weddin’ of the Decade” down in Ounair. Something to outstrip the Westbrook wedding even.
Chloe’s eyes twinkled mischievously as she spoke. “Can’t you just imagine it? You’ve got that connection with the parks department. And your father knows that man who does those handsome pavilions. Oh! Think of it! No one, far as I know, has been allowed to marry on the Hawthorn Plantation in more than a hundred years. But I bet I could convince the Historical Society. Weddin’ of the century.”
“But Maman,” Giordan smiled, safe in Shane’s arms. “What if we were thinking of eloping?”
Shane’s rumbling laughter filled every part of Giordan and he melted into it. Even Chloe’s scandalized look was worth that laugh.
“You made a joke,” Shane crooned. For a moment, Chloe’s delicately plucked eyebrow remained arched and then she softened and laughed too.
“I’ll support anythin’ you decide to do,” she said slowly.
“But you’d prefer to gift us with a wedding so large it will shame Ophelia from ever mentioning her granddaughter’s wedding again?”
“I don’t care at all,” Giordan said, more to Shane than to Chloe. “I just want to be married to you. Always.”
“So now that we’ve got all the romantics out of the way,” Shane teased. “What’s with the bakery explosion?”
“Oh!” Giordan smiled. “You should help me. I’m testing my palate against every one of Chloe’s dessert recipes… that peach tart was a pretty good place to begin.”
“You liked that, huh?” Shane asked, grinning.
Giordan said, “Maybe everything just tastes better on your lips.”
Chloe threw her hands into the air with a dramatic sigh and told her son and future son-in-law, “No Christenin’ my countertops.”
“Yes Maman,” they said together.
Did you enjoy Raine O’Tierney’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code RaineOTierneyFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 28, 2015.
January 29, 2015
Title: Friends With Benefits
Author: Sue Brown
Pairing: Liam and Sam from The Isle of…Where?
Liam was missing—again. Sam swallowed down the anxiety roiling in his stomach as he received phone call after phone call from Wig because he’d missed a shift, Paul because he was fed up with Wig calling him, and the old lady two doors down from Rose’s cottage who’d been expecting Liam to drop in for a cuppa. Liam had promised never to leave him again after going missing in America, but he’d been gone for hours and Sam didn’t know where the hell he was.
No one had seen Liam since Sam had left him tucked up warm and snug in their bed that morning. He wasn’t there; Sam had checked. Even though he knew it was ridiculous, he checked the drawer where they kept their passports, breathing out a sigh of relief when he saw Liam’s blue American passport nestled next to his maroon one.
Hoping that his last guess was right, Sam drove down the wooden boards of Ryde Pier and parked the car in a car park at the very end. He walked through the coffee shop and out the doors to the tables around the edge. “Liam?” He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat, his relief bubbling over as he spotted the coat-wrapped figure of his lover staring out over steel-grey waves. “We were worried. I was worried about you. No one’s heard from you since this morning.” He tried to keep the chiding tone in his voice to a minimum.
Liam didn’t speak for a moment. “I needed to think.”
“About what, babe?” Sam leaned against the rail next to Liam and placed his hand over Liam’s. He felt so cold and his dark hair lay damp against his cheeks in the perpetual drizzle.
“I came here to hear him,” Liam said quietly.
After four years together, Sam didn’t need a translation. “Alex?”
Liam nodded, his jaw locked and Sam knew he was close to tears. Sam sought for something to say that would comfort Liam. How could he say ‘I’m sorry your dead best friend doesn’t speak to you anymore?’
“I thought if I came here, where… where….”
“Where we sprinkled his ashes,” Sam said.
“Yeah. I thought he’d be here.” Liam sighed again and rested his head on Sam’s shoulder.
“Has it helped?”
“No. I’ve been standing here for hours, and I’ve heard nothing. He used to talk to me all the time, and the last few months, nothing at all. It feels so empty.”
Sam hugged Liam closer to him. “When did he stop talking to you?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even notice. I just realised today I haven’t heard from him in such a long time.” Liam wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “You must think I’m insane.”
“Don’t worry,” Sam soothed. “I’ve always known there’s been three of us in this relationship. Hell, there’s only one of Alex. You’ve had to cope with my entire family interfering all the time.”
“They’re alive,” Liam pointed out. “You’re not listening to a dead man. I’m surprised you don’t want to commit me. Except I’m not even listening to him now.”
Liam sounded so despairing. Sam turned Liam to look at him, holding him by his shoulders. “I know you were friends, but you loved Alex and he loved you. Maybe the reason you don’t hear him is that you’re busy thinking about something else.”
“Or someone. You fill my mind and my body. You’re my life.”
Not giving a toss who was watching, Sam kissed Liam on the cheek. “You’re my life, my love, and my friend.” He paused. “With benefits.”
Liam furrowed his brow. “Benefits?”
“Oh yes, there are many benefits to being friends with me.” Sam smirked at him, and Liam’s eyes widened.
“Take me home, Sam. Show me the benefits.”
Sam held Liam closer. “Can you let Alex go now, babe?”
Liam looked over the grey waves. “I have no choice, do I?”
“He’ll always be here, Liam. He’ll never leave you completely. Alex loved you too much for that.” Sam gathered Liam in his arms again and kissed him gently, then he led him into the coffee shop. “I need a coffee and you need to get out of the rain.”
They sipped lattes as they headed towards their car. Liam held out his hand as Sam took out the keys.
“There’s no way you’re driving us home,” Liam said. “I want to get home in one piece to enjoy the benefits.”
“I’m not that bad,” Sam protested but he handed over the keys and walked around to the passenger seat.
Before he got in the car he looked out to the gloomy horizon. “Thank you for giving him to me, Alex.”
Maybe, just maybe, he heard a “You’re welcome.”
Did you enjoy Sue Brown’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code SueBrownFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 28, 2015.
January 28, 2015
Title: Black Feather
Author: B.G. Thomas
Pairing: Hound Dog and Bean from Hound Dog & Bean
Dean “Bean” Alexander thought about buying H.D. the ring. It was beautiful, Black Hills gold—all leaves and vines and clusters of grapes, and made with not only yellow gold, but green and pink as well. Not standard, not screaming “wedding ring!” It would look gorgeous on Hill’s hand, and every time Dean saw it, he would have a symbol of how generous the Universe had been to put the man in his life.
But then Dean would remember those horrible weeks that H.D. had left him. Left him in that big house alone, taking his love with him.
And it happened because Dean had made Hill feel trapped. Had scared his lover, and in the great decision of Nature—of fight versus flight—his beautiful man had chosen flight.
Dean hadn’t known what had made Hill come back to him—not for months and months. He’d only been deeply grateful.
So in the end, he’d left the ring where it was, in the glass case at the store.
The last thing he wanted to do was make Hill feel trapped. Would a ring do that?
No. Marriage, even though it was legal at last for two men to marry in Missouri, was not something for which he and Hound Dog would ever claim their right.
It was enough that Hill was in his life.
And wasn’t it enough that H.D. was taking him to meet the only person alive that he could call family, a mysterious old woman named Ezzie Borchardt?
“Stop!” cried Hillary “Hound Dog,” and Dean did. Slammed his foot down on the brake, too hard, and his Smart car slid on the gravel and close to the ditch. Luckily, close was as far as it got. It would be a bitch getting the car out. Who would they even ask for help out here in the country?
“H.D! What is it?” Dean looked over at his lover. He wasn’t saying anything, only staring out the passenger window at the small house at the end of the road. “Hill? What’s wrong?”
H.D. sighed and turned, his mane of blond dreadlocks shifting in a wave. “God, Dean. Suddenly I’m scared.”
“Of what, baby?”
He didn’t answer right away. Dean could only guess. “Of me meeting Ezzie?”
Dean watched as H.D. gave a single nod. It made his stomach flutter. “You don’t think she’ll like me?”
“Oh no!” H.D. bit his lower lip. “It’s not that. It’s just….” He looked back out the window. “I’m suddenly nervous. Ezzie… she’s the only family I’ve had since… Mom died. I never expected to be bringing a man to… to… I don’t know what!”
Dean smiled and reached out and touched H.D.’s cheek. “Home?”
H.D. gave a little shrug, making those beautiful locks shiver. “About the only home I ever had… until now.” He blushed.
Wonders never ceased.
“You do have a home now. Now and forever.”
“My forever home,” whispered H.D.
They pulled in to the dirt driveway just as Ezzie walked out onto the porch, letting her old screen door bang shut behind her. She came to the top of the steps, hands on hips, and gazed down at H.D. through the windshield of the car. She looked pretty much the same as she did all those years ago when he’d lived with her that year as a teen—old enough to have known Moses personally.
H.D. took a deep breath and got out.
“Well, it’s about time you got here,” Ezzie said and leaned against the porch railing.
Yeah. Sure. Start that shit again, and right off. Pretending she knew they were coming. And she couldn’t know. Couldn’t. It wasn’t even like he could call and tell her. No phone. He’d even called the local town hall to see if anyone knew if she was okay.
“Well, I don’t know if anyone would call Ezzie Borchardt ‘okay,’” the woman on the other end of the line had told him this past week. “But she’s still kicking. I suspect she’ll be around when my grandchildren breathe their last.”
Ezzie started down the first step. “Oh, come here, you ol’ hound dog,” she said, reaching out with the hand that was not gripping the railing.
“Don’t!” H.D. said. “We’ll come up to you.”
She laughed. “I can still walk, don’t you worry none about that. She pointed past him. “Is this your man? Ha! Of course it is!”
“Dean Alexander, ma’am.” Dean went to her and held out a hand. “My friends call me Bean.”
“Of course they would.” She took his hand and gave it a single shake. Had she winced? Arthritis? “You’re the coffee man. Handsome fellow too. Ooooh, what you two must look like when you’re rolling around in the sheets!”
“Ezzie!” H.D. cried and watched as Dean turned red. Even his ears!
“And bald,” Ezzie continued. “Just like I said. Didn’t I say, Hillary?”
Had she? H.D. didn’t remember.
All he remembered was the old woman sitting down one afternoon and doing one of her crazy witchy readings. “Readings” like he’d seen her do countless times for people who came from far and wide, wanting her to tell their fortunes or work spells or cures.
….except sometimes she knew things she couldn’t know.
And here I am, bringing Dean to meet her….
For one second, H.D. wanted to jump into the car and shout for his lover to get him out of here and now.
But then she smiled and gave him a wink, and then she was somehow in his arms, and he was hit with a rush of nostalgia and good memories and echoes of the only real love he could remember while wandering the long roads between Losing His Mother and Finding Dean.
She pulled back and blinked at him. Were those tears in her no-nonsense eyes?
“I got a big roast ready to eat if you two are hungry. I even made leather jackets. Stink to high heaven when they’re a-cookin,’ but my oh my, aren’t they good to eat? Especially with a good old pork bone thrown in?” She shook her head. “Cornbread’s ready to go into the oven, and good thing I waited, huh? Been wonderin’ what was taking you two so long. Were you lollygagging? You should have been here at least an hour or more ago. Hope you didn’t stop to eat.”
There she goes again. Pretending to know things she can’t. H.D. turned to Dean and saw him gaping at her.
I warned you about her, H.D. thought. I warned you.
The meal was wonderful. The old woman—not even five foot five, with snow-white hair, wrinkles lining her face, and perhaps twice the weight of their Sheltie—had made enough food for a dozen people. The cornbread exceeded the expectations Hill had given Dean—perhaps the best he’d ever had in his life. Leather jackets turned out to be something that looked a lot like green beans but were brown and had so much flavor Dean’s salivary glands practically ached. And the roast! So tender it fell apart, it was laden with at least a dozen different herbs that had come, according to Ezzie, fresh from her garden. When they finally pushed back their plates, Dean was almost sick, he was so full.
“I guess we can wait on the cobbler?” Ezzie asked and chuckled delightfully.
“Please!” Dean leaned back in his chair and petted his extended tummy, trying to soothe it.
“Growing men need to eat,” she stated empirically.
“I just don’t want to grow in the wrong direction,” Dean said, pantomiming a growing belly.
Ezzie sat up straight and let out a long squeaking laugh. “I doubt that you have to worry about that. ‘Sides, do you think we eat like this all the time ’round here?” She pointed at Hill. “If we had’a, our old hound dog there wouldn’t be the sleek thing he is.”
“Ezzie!” H.D. sighed dramatically.
Dean could only smile. Sleek and more described him.
“Since you were coming, and I was going to meet Hillary’s forever lover-man, I wanted to fix something special. I knew Jimmy Garret had slaughtered a cow last week, and I also know his gout was acting up again. I made him some of my tart cherry remedy, and he gave me a roast.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. Ezzie was claiming she knew they’d been coming? Funny. How would she know that? Unless the lady from the courthouse had told her they’d called. But that wouldn’t have told her they were coming, and certainly not today. Nor to have a big meal waiting for them. He shook his head.
“By the way,” Ezzie said, getting up and walking over to an ancient china cabinet, with very little “china” inside. “Where are the children?”
“Children?” Dean asked.
She nodded and, standing on her tiptoes, started moving jars around on the top shelf. “Yeah. The shepherd dog—black, I think. And the little fur ball.”
Dean sat up. Rammstein, their Sheltie, and Sarah Jane, the dachshund-Yorkie mix? Now how did she know about them?
“We left them with their Aunt Elaine and Aunt Mara,” H.D. said, acting nonplussed. “Dean has a Smart car. There would have been room for Sarah Jane, maybe. But Rammie’s gotten big. It would have been way too crowded.”
Ezzie continued to fumble with the jars, and for a second there, Dean was afraid one would fall. Or she would.
“Ezzie,” he said, standing. “Let me help you with that.”
She stopped and turned around. “I was hoping Hillary would get off his butt and give an old lady a hand.”
“Well, shit,” H.D. said, jumping up. “I didn’t know what you were doing.”
“Don’t swear,” she snapped. “You know I don’t like it.”
Dean laughed, and H.D. went to the cabinet.
“It’s there on the top,” Ezzie directed. “But a few jars back. Clear. Looks like water.” She winked. “It’s not.”
“This one?” H.D. held out a mason jar that indeed looked like it was filled with water.
Ezzie cackled—a genuine cackle. “That’s it!” She took it from him, sat down, and pointed to his seat. “Just wait till you try this.”
“What is it?” Dean asked.
“It’s my rheumatoid medicine,” she answered and cackled again. She sat down, unscrewed the lid, and took a sip. Her face scrunched up, and she crowed out a “Whoo-whee!”
Once more Dean was curious. What in the world?
“Moonshine,” H.D. explained and took the jar.
His brows shot up. “Moonshine?”
“You bet your sweet bippy,” Ezzie exclaimed. “Every spring I put a charm on Gary Sutton’s still to keep the law from finding it, and he pays me in a few jars.”
“You do what?” asked Dean. Moonshine? A charm? He looked over at Hill, who only shrugged and then mouthed, “I told you.” And indeed he had.
What would his conservative parents—his father, a retired Missouri prosecuting attorney, and his mother, a bank president and socialite—think of this old lady? This woman who could have been anywhere from sixty to a hundred years old, with her wild white hair and her clothes that might have been older than she was. Her home, no bigger than his parents’ pool house. And her mason jar full of moonshine….
He swallowed hard and managed a smile. “A charm, huh?”
Ezzie nodded. “Yup.” She turned to Hill. “What do I put in it, boy?”
“Come on. You know. For protection. And to drive undesirables away?”
H.D. sighed. “Patchouli?”
Ezzie smiled. “And?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “And basil and cloves. And what do I sprinkle around the whole thing?”
“Salt,” Hill replied and rolled his eyes.
Ezzie laughed and pushed the jar across the table to H.D., who grabbed it and took a good swig. He started to cough, and his eyes went wide, and she started to laugh all the harder. When he was finally able to stop coughing, he drank again but took a smaller helping this time.
Then he passed it to Dean.
Dean stared at it for a moment and then looked at the two sets of eyes that were focused on him expectantly.
What the hell, he thought. And took a drink.
It went down like fire, and when it hit his stomach, it rolled out in hot waves through seemingly every inch of his body.
Ezzie giggled, threw her head back, and her giggling turned into a loud guffaw. “Oh,” she cried and laughed some more. “I think the coffee man isn’t used to a drink like this!”
Indeed he wasn’t. But damn…. A nice warm feeling was filling his whole world.
He shook his head and watched as she took her turn with the mason jar. What a character, he thought. He’d read about people like her. Seen shows. They were experts on human nature. They somehow read expressions, body language, listened to every single word and studied every nuance—without appearing to—and then made you think they had powers and otherworldly insights. She’d make a hell of a subject for one of those shows. What would Houdini have made of her?
But somewhere along the line (was it the fifth time the jar was passed to him? The sixth?) he quite suddenly realized something.
He didn’t care what his parents would think of Ezzie. He didn’t care she was so eccentric. He liked her. Weird as she was, he liked her a lot. For lots of reasons. But number one among them all was that she loved Hill. He didn’t need to be psychic to see that. So, so what if she was a little odd?
So what indeed.
Ezzie put them in Hill’s old room.
“Now don’t you two do anything I wouldn’t do,” she said, and snorted. Then before H.D. could say anything, she shocked him by leaning in and kissing his cheek. Then she blinked at Dean, touched his arm, nodded, and finally turned and headed down the hall to her own room.
H.D. closed the door and faced Dean, wondering what he would say. What was he thinking?
Dean smiled. “She’s a character, all right. You were right about that.”
“I’m sorry,” H.D. said but then wondered why. Ezzie was who she was. He’d warned Dean. Many times. But his lover had insisted he wanted to meet her.
Would he ever get used to that word?
“Why are you sorry?” Dean asked. “You don’t have anything to be sorry about. She is who she is. And she loves you. How can I not like her?”
H.D.’s heart skipped a beat. Oh, Dean, he thought and then pulled him into his arms. I love you. My God, I love you.
They undressed then. H.D. watched Dean’s every step as he removed each article of clothing. He never tired of seeing his lover’s body slowly revealed to him. Those muscles. His skin that begged to be touched, kissed. His cock, glorious, his ass more so. And Dean was watching him in that way of his. It always amused H.D. the way Dean seemed always caught up in some weird seesaw of timidity and boldness, which, impossibly, made H.D. shy and at the same time caused him to revel at Dean’s hungry eyes.
The two men were hard in seconds, and H.D. pulled Dean down to the floor.
“What are you doing?”
“The bed springs,” H.D. explained. “They squeak. A lot. I couldn’t even jerk off as a kid without her knowing.”
Dean smiled as H.D. pulled a tiny tube of lube from his discarded jeans. “You don’t think she knows what we’re up to? She knows everything else.” Then he gasped as H.D. applied the slick lubrication with a tight grip.
H.D. straddled him and, with a long sigh, took Dean deep into himself.
“Not everything,” H.D. whispered, and began lifting and lowering himself on Dean’s cock.
Then he wasn’t thinking of Ezzie. He was thinking only of the glory of being with Dean and how it never ceased to amaze him that he never tired of him. All his sexual life he’d made it a point to avoid having sex with a man more than once (and occasionally twice if it was very good sex). Now? He couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Dean had asked him if he wanted an open relationship, and for a second he’d been startled that the question had actually hurt. But then Dean explained that he knew H.D. had enjoyed a life of men and had expressed never wanting to be tied down. “I don’t want you to be bored with me,” Dean had said. H.D. realized that Dean was just as afraid of losing him as he was afraid of losing Dean, and he loved him for the offer. And then he saw clearly and totally that he was through with being a sexual gypsy. Somehow, in some way, the impossible had happened. H.D. wanted to be with only one man.
“I love you,” H.D. said, the words out of his mouth before he knew he was going to say them.
Dean’s eyes widened, just a bit. “You… you do?”
“I do,” H.D. replied. He watched Dean’s eyes fill with tears, and then he bent to kiss them away. There was fear in those eyes as well. He’s afraid I’ll leave. Still. Can I blame him?
But H.D. knew he wasn’t going anywhere. And how incredible was that? He’d been afraid for so many years of getting close to anyone. When you did that, they went away. They left you or fell out of love with you or denied you their love altogether.
Or they died.
“You don’t tie a hound dog down,” he’d been saying forever.
But now? Now the idea didn’t seem so frightening. Like it wasn’t being tied down but bound together. Forever? Hell! He’d accept gladly every day he was given with Dean.
Then H.D. sped up his rocking motions, letting them forget, for a moment, anything but pleasure.
After, when they were in bed together and the lights were out and Dean was softly snoring, H.D. thought once again of the wonder of it all. Of Dean. Of them.
Forever, he thought. I’m with you forever. Then he pushed away any fears he had, snuggled tightly against his man, and slipped into lovely dreams.
They stayed for two days, helping Ezzie around the house—fixing the back screen door, clearing the gutters for the rapidly approaching winter, harvesting the last of her garden: squash, a few stray cucumbers, and—damn!—tomatoes the size of grapefruit.
Dean found himself falling into a happy, comfortable timelessness. The chores weren’t difficult or boring. It was just time with Hillary and a funny old woman named Ezzie Borchardt.
That last night she fixed them another wonderful meal. Home cooking, she said. This time it was chicken (Dean had never seen one plucked before!) home-canned green beans, sweet potatoes, fried pickles (he’d never heard of those, and they were delicious), and of course tomatoes.
While Dean was contemplating getting up and packing for home—luckily it would take but a few moments, but God, he was so full—Ezzie announced it was time for their reading.
Reading? Did that mean Ezzie was going to tell his fortune? No, their fortune? Something with chicken bones and arrowheads?
He smiled. He couldn’t help it. Hill had warned him about this too. And before they got here, he’d vowed to be polite and nod and keep his mouth (mostly) shut. But now? Now he was curious. Why, maybe even a bit excited. Because he’d come to find the old woman fascinating. She did seem to know things. He knew it was a trick. But just because she didn’t have “the sight” didn’t mean that she wasn’t insightful. And she was doing this reading for them—for him and Hill.
The idea made his heart race.
So he and H.D. cleared the table, and just as they were wiping it all down, she came back and sat down, laying a brown leather pouch on the table in front of her. It was about eight inches by eight inches and extremely worn—it looked to be as old as she was. Ezzie was humming a tuneless little tune, no rhyme or reason that he could see to the notes, as sharp and flat as they were. She looked up at him and pointed to one of the seats across from her. He sat.
“Hillary?” she called, and with a sigh, H.D. sat beside him.
Ezzie closed her eyes and rocked in her chair for a moment, the tune forgotten and then remembered. Then she gave a little shudder, opened her bag, and dumped the contents onto the table between them.
What Dean saw was an eclectic collection of objects. An old bottle cap, a thin and frayed piece of rope—not much thicker than twine—what looked like a chicken bone. A tarnished ring of undetermined metal, a piece of glass that must have been smoothed by a river or ocean waves, a piece of gnarled wood. There he saw a little fossil with the imprint of a fern, and a buffalo-head nickel (his father would love that; he collected coins). Look, there was the arrowhead Hill had told him about, and there a bolt with a nut screwed on about halfway. He also saw what he thought was probably a piece of antler, and was that a bear claw? There were several other objects as well, including an acorn, a cowrie shell, and a single black feather.
“That’s new,” H.D. said, pointing to the feather Dean had noted.
“It is. It was left by your spirit guide before she left and went to the Other World.”
H.D. scoffed. “Other world. Sure.”
“Don’t be rude,” Ezzie replied. She looked up at Dean. “One of his guides is a blackbird,” she said. “And a dog, of course. But then, so is one of yours—a dog.”
“Guides?” Dean asked.
“Animal guides, from the Great Mother. To help you find the way.” She closed her eyes. “Most people have seven, and some nine. I think you have at least that many.” She opened her eyes, studied him. “And a ram…. Or a goat. Hmmmmm…. Do you know why that would be?”
“Don’t you know?” H.D. said with a sarcastic tone.
“I told you not to be rude,” she snapped.
A goat, huh? Interesting. “I suppose because of my coffee,” Dean said, humoring her. “Legend says goats discovered coffee.”
“Dancing goats,” she added.
Which was true. How did she know that? But then the story wasn’t that uncommon. A woman her age could easily have heard it and filed it away.
“Hermit crab was one of your guides, because he carries his home on his back. Home was wherever he went.” She nodded. “Yes. But not anymore. You have made a permanent home now.”
He raised an eyebrow despite himself and looked over at H.D., who only shrugged. Did you tell her that? he wondered.
“Spider too. Because—well, in your case—because she creates. Are you an artist, Dean?”
That one got him. He was. He’d painted a series of pictures telling the story of the goats discovering coffee and then dancing when they were filled with caffeine. He’d painted them all along the ceiling of The Shepherd’s Bean, his coffee shop.
Ezzie closed her eyes again. Just when Dean wondered if she’d slipped off to sleep, she began to speak.
“I see two men. Two who have been separate and alone. For too long. For miles and miles they have wandered and finally found what they didn’t even know they were looking for.” Her eyes popped open wide, showing her faded blue irises. “You two.”
Dean glanced over at Hill and saw his lover’s Adam’s apple bob hard. They locked eyes. H.D. bit his lower lip.
She pointed at the green piece of glass. “See? This was once sharp. It had edges that could cut you. But it has been worn smooth. Like the two of you. What was once sharp is now ready to be something beautiful and new. See how something so common can be so lovely?”
She touched the bone. “This points to your future. It says, ‘walk away from each other at thy peril.’”
“Peril?” H.D. said, his voice breaking like a teenaged boy’s. “Peril? Really, Ezzie? Peril?”
“The peril that you will both walk the world alone. You two are meant to be.” She indicated the bolt and nut. “You fit.”
“I thought you always say that that means something halfway done or half still to do,” H.D. said.
Ezzie raised a thin white brow. “Are you the reader, or am I?”
H.D. sighed, and Dean reached out and took his hand. “I think we fit, Hill.” He interlocked his fingers with H.D.’s, liking the sameness and differences of their hands. His were thicker, blunter. Hill’s were thinner and longer. Yet both were obviously men’s hands.
Dean looked into H.D.’s eyes and smiled. Let her have her say, he thought at H.D. I like that she says we fit.
Now Ezzie was running her finger along the black feather. “See how it goes through the ring? And how the ring touches the horn?”
“Horn?” asked Dean. Not an antler?
“Bird and goat. And the bird is Hill’s mother. She watched over him for years but pointed him to you. It’s your job to watch over him now.”
A warmth spread throughout Dean’s chest. “I can do that.” I would love to do that.
“And this….” Ezzie picked up the piece of rope. “Frayed and done. A fear of being tied down can now be set aside.”
H.D. gasped, and Dean looked over at him again. Hill’s face was unreadable. A host of emotions seemed to be swirling in those eyes.
“The leash is broken,” Ezzie said. “This man will not tie you down. You can chose to walk by his side or go your own way, like any hound dog.” She looked over at Dean. “You want to ask him an important question. One asking him to be yours forever. But you’re afraid he will leave you.”
An important question. A ring. He wanted to ask Hill to marry him. And yes. He’d been too afraid….
Wait! Was he finding himself believing that this woman knew things?
She reached out a hand and laid it on theirs. “Of course I know things, Dean Alexander. I know all kinds of things. I’m as old as Moses, right? How could I not?” She chuckled.
“My advice is to take on the handfasting.”
“Handfasting?” they both chorused.
She nodded. “The old way. To be bound together for a year and a day. And then at the end of that time, the lovers decide whether to stay forever bound—”
“Bound,” H.D. whispered.
“—or to go their separate ways.”
And then she stood and left the room, leaving them alone. Together.
They were halfway home when they decided to turn around and go back.
“You’re sure?” Dean asked.
“I…. Damn.” H.D. smiled. “I am.”
“You know she can’t possibly know the things she says she knows, right?” Dean asked, hoping to convince himself more than Hillary.
H.D. laughed. “I guess I really don’t care.”
Dean realized that neither did he.
So they went back and found her on the porch, and of course she said, “I was wondering when you’d get back.”
She took them out into the remnants of her garden under the light of a brilliant and full moon. There she called on those that have no names, who came before there were names. She called on the North and East, South and West. She called on Dog and Ram, on Spider and Black Bird. She called on Love to be their witness.
She took their hands and tied them with a gold cord, and she said, “Do you take each other in heart? In mind. In life and love?”
“I do,” said Hill, before Dean could even answer.
Dean repeated the words, feeling his heart race and tremble in wonder.
“Know then that you both do this willingly, and you go forth from this place as two men, and one man, at the same time.”
The nodded, waited….
“Kiss, you fools!” she cried.
And they did.
Then she had them jump over a broom, telling them that they had left separate halls and now lived together in one home.
They hugged her then and decided to stay one more night.
What the hell.
They decided they didn’t care that the bed springs squeaked.
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