November 23, 2015
For years, Clayton Potter’s been friends and workout partners with Ronnie. Though Clay is attracted, he’s never come on to Ronnie because, let’s face it, Ronnie only dates women.
When Clay’s father suffers a heart attack, Ronnie, having recently lost his dad, springs into action, driving Clay to the hospital over a hundred miles away. To stay close to Clay’s father, the men share a hotel room near the hospital, but after an emotional day, one thing leads to another, and straight-as-an-arrow Ronnie make a proposal that knocks Clay’s socks off! Just a little something to take the edge off.
Clay responds in a way he’s never considered. After an amazing night together, Clay expects Ronnie to ignore what happened between them and go back to his old life. Ronnie surprises him and seems interested in additional exploration. Though they’re friends, Clay suddenly finds it hard to accept the new Ronnie and suspects that Ronnie will return to his old ways. Maybe they both have a thing or two to learn.
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I changed in the locker room while Ronnie talked to everyone. His big personality was back, and it was good to see. After filling my water bottle, I went up to the mezzanine to the treadmills. I got on one, dropped my phone into one of the cup holders, then started the machine and began my workout. I had a good view of the workout floor, so I watched as the others went through their routines, talking constantly as they did. A few times I saw Ronnie glance up, making the occasional rude gesture and then grinning like a naughty child. I was about to give him one back when my phone rang. I picked it up and answered it.
“Is this Clayton Potter?” I heard a strange voice ask.
“Yes, it is,” I answered, figuring this was some sort of telemarketing call. I made a mental note to check the do-not-call lists.
“I’m Dr. Greenway down at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Your father listed you as next of kin. He was brought in earlier today. I’m afraid he’s had as many as three strokes in the past few hours.”
Hearing the word stroke, I forgot what I was doing or where I was. The machine kept working even as I stopped, and it pushed me off the back. I stumbled and managed to keep from crashing to the floor but ended up in a heap nonetheless as my legs gave out.
“Mr. Potter, are you all right?”
“I don’t know” was the only answer I could form. My head buzzed and my ears rang, hands and legs tingling. “How is he now?”
“Howard is stable at the moment, but he’s slipped into a coma. Part of it is the body’s way of protecting itself. We need to run some more tests to determine the cause of the strokes, and then we may need to perform surgery to try to correct the blockage in his neck. Is it possible for you to get here? We will need permission to perform the surgery. I can do emergency surgery without it, but I would prefer we time this as best we can.”
“Yes. I’ll see about leaving as soon as I can.” I stared at the phone, sitting on the floor while other people began gathering around me. I scanned the faces, people I didn’t know all asking questions that didn’t seem to register. Then Ronnie pushed his way in, and I took a deep breath as the fog over my mind lifted somewhat.
“It’s my dad,” I told him. Those words galvanized Ronnie into action. He helped me to my feet and grabbed my things from the machine before turning it off.
“What happened to him?” Ronnie asked.
“Stroke,” I answered. “Got to get to Johns Hopkins.”
Ronnie stared into my eyes. “You can’t drive. Not like this.” Even as he said the words, he was already leading me down the steps and toward the locker room. “Change your clothes.” He left me in front of my locker, and I stared at it, forcing my hands to work. I pulled off my gym clothes and got back into the regular ones. By the time I was done, Ronnie was dressed.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“My dad was at Hopkins,” Ronnie told me, and then he snatched up my bag and took me by the arm. My head was clearing, and the feeling was returning in my arms and legs, but I still felt shaky on my feet. He half propelled me toward the door, stopped at the desk briefly, and then we continued outside.
“My car is over there,” I said, but Ronnie guided me to his and somehow managed to get both gym bags in the tiny trunk of the Lamborghini.
“I’m taking you down.” He unlocked the car and lifted the door upward. It felt like I was still almost on the ground once I got in. Ronnie pushed the door down to close it and came around to the driver’s side. As soon as he got in, he started the engine, which roared to life, and within minutes we were out of the lot and entering the freeway.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said, a little belatedly, though I was pleased he thought enough of me to take this much care. Ronnie and I were friends, but he was a very busy man whose time was extremely valuable.
“Of course I do.” Ronnie reached over and patted my leg a few times, then returned his hand to the wheel. “When my dad was in the hospital, you came in all the time, talked to him and Mom.” Ronnie’s voice faltered for a few seconds. “She told me how you used to sit with her and just listen while she spouted all kinds of crap. Her words. She said she needed someone to talk with, and you were there.” Ronnie continued driving as I stared out the window. I’d made the drive from Harrisburg to Baltimore more times than I could count. It had been just my dad and me for a long time.
November 12, 2015
When you begin to lose track of how many books you’ve had published, it’s really hard to say which one is your favorite. It’s like asking Mrs. O’Farrell, a staunch Irish Catholic who lived next door to us when I was growing up which of her nine children was her favorite.
“They’re all my favorites,” I imagine her replying, “Each for a different reason.”
And the same holds true for me and my books. But today I am thinking about Chaser. For its humor, its insight about body image (and the gay ideal or lack thereof), and its theme of attractiveness being a highly personal and relative thing, Chaser truly is, of my own stuff, one of my favorites.
Since its publication back in August of 2012, I’ve gotten many letters from readers thanking me for introducing a romantic hero who is not the ideal. See, the object of desire/affection in my story is Kevin and Kevin’s a little overweight. The “chaser” in the title refers to the gay lingo term for men who prefer their men on the meatier side: chubby chasers.
My other main character, Caden, is one of those men. Although Caden is a runner, with a lean and what some might call a perfect body, he prefers his men to have a little something to hold onto. Here’s Caden’s first glimpse of Kevin in a bar one night:
Caden did have his eye on one guy, down on the lower level at one of the high-topped tables, talking with a couple of friends. He stood out because he was not built like most of the guys here, who were, to a man, either too skinny or too pumped up to register on his attraction meter.
This guy seemed comfortable in his own skin and Caden liked the way he threw back his head and laughed when one of his buddies said something funny. Unlike most of the other guys in Sidetrack that night, he did not show any signs that he was conscious of his appearance. Caden liked that he wore comfortable clothes, a cotton sweater of faded blue-gray and a simple pair of carpenter pants, most likely Carhartt. He peered over the rail and saw the guy’s feet were encased in work boots. Ah. A blue-collar man. A working guy. Just my type. Caden also liked his tousled blond hair, which revealed fetching layers of color that went from almost brown, to wheat, to pale blond, to nearly platinum, yet revealed no indication, Caden thought, of the attentions of a hairdresser. And what put him on the “edge of glory” was the crowning touch: a thick beard, not manicured into tortured geometric lines.
And he was blessedly overweight. Not fat. But a bit of gut protruded, and his thighs, in denim, looked like tree trunks. When he turned around, he revealed an ass of ample proportions, the kind Caden could just imagine as two perfect, creamy white spheres perfect for grasping and pulling apart.
“Is it hot in here?” Caden shouted in Bobby’s ear. He took a gulp of beer and fanned his hand in front of his face.
Most of the time, in gay or straight romance, you don’t find men like the one above. But in Chaser, I tried to show that objects of desire and/or love can and do come in all different shapes and sizes.
The vagaries of sexual attraction are definitely not a one-size-fits-all affair.
But if that was all there was to Chaser, there wouldn’t be much of a story, now would there? As an author, I like there to be some drama, some tension, so I asked… “What would happen if….”
…and filled in the blank with “Kevin lost the weight that drew Caden to him in the first place?”
So, when Caden has to leave town suddenly for an extended period, he returns home to a man who is not at all what he was originally drawn to. How does one deal with such a situation? As the tag line on the cover of Chaser wonders: “Is it really what’s on the inside that counts?”
Well, is it?
I think open-hearted people everywhere know the answer to that question, even if might be modified somewhat by “within limits”. But to find out if Kevin and Caden are still a love match when body images change, you have to read Chaser to discover what happens.
I leave you with a sentence near the end of the book that may give you a clue to how things turn out:
Caden turned back to Kevin. The fight had gone out of him. He appraised him with new eyes.
And what do you think he saw?
Chaser is available from Dreamspinner Press and at all the usual suspects—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance eBooks, and so on. And if you want more, check out Raining Men. It explores another side of gay life that may not be at the forefront of gay romance—sexual addiction and its power to thwart the very love for which one might search within its clutches.
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). Raining Men and Caregiver have both won the Rainbow Award for gay fiction. 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.”
Also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, AllRomance ebooks, and more.
October 15, 2015
Someone else cried out, and I whirled around. Parsol, I think was her name—it had become a challenge to remember all the names because on every mission we lost people, so many people—held up her right arm. A ram stood next to her, gnawing on the part it had just ripped off her.
I choked as I lifted my gun again. The ram trilled before it stared at me from cold, reptilian eyes. Parsol was still staring at her limb, gushing with blood, when her knees buckled and she sprawled on the ground. The ram’s head whipped around, the red ridge on its head flaring. Seconds later we listened to crushing bones and tearing flesh.
Tom grasped my hips in his hands and lifted me up, so I could reach a low hanging branch. On autopilot, I grabbed for it and hauled myself up. I reached for the next one and had to assure myself with a glance at my fingers that I was indeed holding on tight because my fingers felt numb.
Tom patted my ass, probably to encourage me, but to me it felt like a slap, and not of the good kind. Startled, I moved up higher. Not a second too soon.
A ram showed up below us, tilted its head sideways, and inspected the tree trunk. After a snapped whistle, another ram appeared next to the first.
On our way up, Tom had made sure to destroy the low hanging branches, probably to stop the rams from following us. How we were supposed to get down from the tree was his secret. For now, it was more important for the rams to stay on the ground.
We stopped our climb halfway up the tree. Not because we couldn’t go up farther, rather due to the gusting wind that threatened to blow us off. When I peered down through the pouring raindrops, my heart stopped for a beat. Seriously, it did.
With a trembling finger, I pointed at the scene below. “Tom? Are they doing what I think they’re doing?”
Tom’s eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. He wrapped his tail around the trunk and me, anchoring me. I had no time to process whether I should give him a piece of my mind or not because the first ram had finished climbing on the shoulders of the second one and now vaulted up on the first branch within reach. After its landing, it threw its head back and screeched.
Even through the thundering rain, the scream sliced through my body. Tom lifted his gun and fired right at the ram’s head.
The ram had ducked aside and was now steadily climbing the tree, winding around it like a slithering snake. No matter how hard we tried, our shots always missed the target.
I glanced down again, only to see another ram ready himself for the climb. I fumbled with the pocket on my right thigh, grabbed a bluster and lobbed it at the two rams on the ground. As they tumbled down, the bluster went off, destroying both of them. Two less to worry about.
In the distance, I heard more gun shots and another bluster going off. Maybe we would survive this attack after all.
Right at that moment, claws appeared an inch below my boot. I reversed my gun and slammed the butt of it onto the claw. The ram screeched in pain but didn’t let go. Instead, it hauled itself up on a branch opposite Tom and me. Why the fuck didn’t the bough snap under the ram’s weight?
I swiveled the gun around to aim, but the ram’s claw closed around the muzzle. Even though I pulled the trigger, the ram pulled and flung my gun to the ground.
Tom withdrew his tail from the trunk—not a second too soon, because the ram tried to snatch it with its claws—but kept it around my waist. We moved farther away from the trunk, carefully balancing on the narrowing branch. Another blast of wind almost chucked us off.
The ram’s head peeked out from behind the trunk for a moment, then withdrew. Was it pondering its options?
“I’ll throw you to that tree in the back. Do you think you’ll be able to get a hold on a branch?” Tom whispered.
I froze. “Excuse me? What do you mean by ‘you’ll throw me’? We’re like… like high above the ground, and I don’t have wings or anything.”
Tom jerked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing at a tree close to us. “You can’t jump this kind of distance, but I can throw you. Will you be able to hold on?”
“I have no idea!” I burst out. “I’ve never tried before!”
“Berit,” Tom said, his voice so soft it hurt. “I know you haven’t done that before, but if I can’t trust you to find a handhold, I can’t risk the move.”
“I can’t promise,” I said in sheer desperation. What would be worse—getting killed by a ram, or falling to one’s own death? “Can’t you just shoot the damn thing?”
“It always ducks behind the trunk, so, no, I can’t. Ready?”
“Berit!” he snapped. With his free hand, he grabbed for one of my hands and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll follow right away.”
“If you can follow, maybe that beast can too,” I protested.
“It has to come out of its hiding place, and that’s when I’ll kill it,” Tom replied.
“Oh. Well, that sounds reasonable.”
Tom squeezed again, and this time I reciprocated.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Now is probably not a good time to confess that I’m not the adventurous type, huh?”
Tom chuckled. “I’d beg to differ anyway. On three.”
Chris T. Kat loves to write and to read. She writes whatever floats her boat, which means her stories vary from contemporary to paranormal, fantasy, bittersweet dreams or sci-fi. All of her books have a strong romantic element and she’s happiest if she can write about shapeshifters. In real life, Chris is a teacher and couldn’t have hoped for a better job. She’s blessed with a wonderful and supportive family.
August 26, 2015
I can’t help it, there’s nothing like a guy in a tux. I just had to get James and Gabe into formal clothes at least once. Then of course I had to get those clothes off.
The doors slid open. A Town Car was waiting at the curb. They didn’t talk as they made the short trip to Gabe’s building. They just held hands and watched the lights go past outside.
They didn’t even talk as the elevator took them swiftly and smoothly up to Gabe’s place. The lights automatically came on as they stepped out of the elevator, neither too fast nor too bright; a soft fade-up to a warm glow.
Gabe stepped close and pulled on James’s bow tie until it came loose and slipped from around his neck. He let it drop through his fingers; it fell to the floor without even a whisper. He put the tips of his fingers to James’s cheek next. James leaned into them, noticing the way two were rough and two were smooth. Gabe must have been chewing on them again.
He reached up and pulled on Gabe’s tie. It slid from its knot more easily than his had. The silk was cool on the ends and warm where it had gone around Gabe’s neck. He let it drop from his fingers as well.
Gabe took a few steps back, and James followed as if being led in a dance. And he followed where Gabe led. It was so easy and felt so right. He usually avoided the easy path. Easy was usually wrong.
Gabe changed directions, moving quickly behind James and slipping his coat from his body. James shivered at the sudden change in temperature, from being wrapped in the sultry jacket to having only the fine linen shirt between his body and the air.
The chill left as quickly as it had arrived. Gabe stepped in close, pressing himself to James’s back, putting out a powerful heat. He leaned back, still feeling like he was in a dance that had no music with a rhythm that was in constant flux. But still Gabe was leading perfectly.
Gabe stripped off his own jacket without ever taking his chest from James’s body. He let the jacket drop to the floor, not even bothering to toss it toward the hooks as he had with James’s.
He pressed his lips to James’s neck, right above his collar. James felt his toes curl and his body tingle. Gabe’s fingers were back, skimming along his cheek, and his thumb brushed across James’s lips. He flicked out his tongue to tickle it.
Gabe exhaled long and slow, his warm breath slipping under James’s collar. His fingers left James’s face and went instead to his throat, popping open the high collar buttons. James let out a long breath, unaware of just how constricted he had felt until that moment.
Gabe slid around him until they were once again face-to-face. He thought they might kiss, but instead Gabe just looked at him, eyes dark in the dim light. He felt his breath hitch and that tightening in his chest return. It was so much like the way Gabe had looked at him their first night. All those months ago now, standing so close that James had been able to smell the hint of peppers on his skin.
Now Gabe smelled faintly of fancy cologne that had nearly worn away.
He took Gabe’s hand and laced their fingers together as if they would dance. Gabe took his other hand, lifted it, and kissed his palm. James closed his eyes and nearly fell forward. Gabe kissed the heel of his palm next and then placed a kiss on the inside of his wrist. James whimpered softly. Somehow those three small kisses had his head spinning with greater pleasure than kisses in far more intimate areas.
Gabe stepped backward, leading them with just the knowledge of the dimensions of his own home.
He didn’t lead them to the bedroom, but rather to the large couch of cool leather draped with blankets of the same spun and woven silk as the one on Gabe’s bed. He sat on them and drew James onto his lap, giving James the height advantage for once.
James took it, tilting Gabe’s head back and into a slow, lazy kiss, their tongues just flitting around each other’s, chasing the flavor of champagne. Gabe’s arms went around his body, pulling him close. James’s fingers went into Gabe’s hair, tangling themselves in the dark curls, destroying the last of the control imposed by handfuls of hair gel that smelled slightly of mint and clashed with the cologne.
Gabe sighed into the kiss and held James tight.
He and Gabe kissed. He didn’t think about time; he didn’t think about anything beyond the feel of Gabe’s arms around him and the taste of Gabe on his lips, the sound of their tiny moans and sighs in his ears.
At some point Gabe pulled away from the kiss and took a deep breath. He leaned in, laying his head against James’s chest. James became aware of his own heart pounding strong and steady. Gabe looked up at him, a small soft smile on his lips. James kissed those lips, then stood. Gabe followed.
This time James took Gabe’s hand and led the dance toward the bedroom. There was no rush. He was content to keep kissing if that was all the night had in store, but he wanted to be lying down in Gabe’s arms while it happened.
Bowerbirds (Nested Hearts: Book Two) available through Dreamspinner Press.
August 16, 2015
Swing music blared out of the static Temple had been dialing through, making him grin. “That’s better. I want to dance.”
“Must you do that here?” Agni asked. “I was listening to the orchestra before you barged in.”
“You go be boring somewhere else.” Temple waved him off. “I’m going to dance and this is the only radio, so….”
Agni cast a look at Caleb. “I’m regretting not taking him up on his earlier offer.”
When Temple perked up, Agni added, “On going out in the snow. I could have buried him up to his eyes. Maybe that would have kept him out of trouble.”
“I honestly doubt it,” Caleb replied as Temple started gyrating to the music.
Agni lost interest in his book and his tea as he watched Temple. Caleb knew the look in Agni’s dark eyes: honest amusement. “You look very silly dancing by yourself, Temple.”
Nonchalantly Temple danced his way over to the bay window. He pulled the curtain shut, then spun over to Caleb, yanking him up from the couch. “Dance with me.”
“I don’t know how to swing,” Caleb protested, stumbling after Temple.
“I’ll teach you.”
“I’m a horrible dancer.”
“He really is,” Agni put in.
“Nonsense, you’re trainable,” Temple assured him. “I’ve seen you fight. You know how to move. You just have to figure out how to do it to music.”
“Don’t blame me when you lose a toe,” Caleb said, trying to find the beat in the wild music. He gave up and let Temple spin him around.
Agni laughed, watching them. Temple managed to make the complicated dance steps look easy, but Caleb felt like he was wrestling a many-armed demon. The occasional seductive touches Temple lavished on him only served to help that image. Finally Caleb managed to trip them both, and Temple ended up half-over the back of the couch.
Temple buried his fingers in Agni’s curls while he dangled over the couch, trying to drag Agni in for a kiss. Agni put his hand over Temple’s face.
“Don’t even think it.”
“Come on, dance with me, Agni. You’re right, your partner’s awful. He’s going to maim me.” Temple pouted.
“I warned you,” Caleb snorted.
“I’m busy, Temple.” Agni hefted the book he hadn’t been reading for a while.
Temple pushed it down, leaning in for that kiss, then froze. He cocked his head, listening intently. Caleb shut the radio off. The sounds of screams echoed loudly in the night. Cursing, the trio ran for the door where boots, winter gear, and weapons waited for them.
August 13, 2015
It’s been lovely chatting with you all! We’ll be here til midnight Eastern, chatting with y’all in the comments, but for now we’re going to leave you with an excerpt of Twelfth Night:
John doesn’t expect Michael to be as weirdly taken with the ocean as he is with the wild woods. It doesn’t seem like his element the way the trees are. But he is mesmerized by the beach almost instantly upon their arrival, insisting they walk along the hard wet sand of the tide line. It doesn’t matter how many times John says their muscles will ache unhappily tomorrow from miles walked at the edge of the frigid fall water; Michael either doesn’t hear him or doesn’t care enough to respond.
John is fascinated as Michael keeps a close eye on shells and rocks. One is shaped like a small egg, and he’s disappointed when it’s not. Still he makes John hold it for him, running ahead to a rock jetty to comb through the midden of mussel shells left by persistent and angry seagulls.
John tries not to be horrified, but the sight of Michael’s fingers picking through the dead bivalves and seaweed stinking in the sun is a bit much.
“What’s this?” Michael asks, eventually, holding out a shell, colored and swirled, to him.
It’s in perfect condition, and John is about to be impressed with the find until he realizes there’s still a creature using the shell as its home.
“That’s an animal in there.” He doesn’t actually know what kind. But it’s gelatinous and of the sea and not really a thing they should be messing with. They’ve seen dozens of jellyfish washed up on the beach already today.
“Does it go in the ocean or not in the ocean?”
“Ocean,” John says. He’s not 100 percent sure, but he suspects, like the jellyfish, the sun and the birds will eventually cook and peck it to nothing if it’s not saved by the sea.
Michael throws the shell back and returns to the tide line as they walk, gaze carefully on the ground and picking at every shell he sees that looks like whatever creature he just rescued. Most of them have their animals in them, and John suspects the coming hurricane that’s going to ruin their trip is churning them up.
As Michael throws each one back into the water, John is charmed that he’s trying to save creatures that have no spine, names he doesn’t know, and forms he’s never seen before.
Eventually Michael decides they can leave and reaches for John’s hand. John flinches away. It’s not the strangeness of the town this beach is attached to, half religious meeting town, half gay beach paradise. There’s even a club down the block from their inn that advertises “Less Lights, More Fun!” It’s that he can only think about whatever bacteria Michael is now coated in from all the dead mussels.
God, but he’s going to look like an idiot explaining that.
When he tries, stumbling through a mini monologue about seaweed and sea creatures and sand, Michael just listens with his head tipped to the side.
Finally John’s speech drags to a halt under Michael’s incredibly unimpressed gaze. He sighs and starts again.
“Okay. I swear the handholding thing has nothing to do with anything except your gross dead bivalve hands. But I think I may be freaking out.”
Michael blinks at him. “Did this start when we checked in and you had to deal with people who know we’re here to fuck?”
It’s sharp, but John knows he probably deserves it.
“You know I don’t mind being out in public with you,” he says cautiously. He wants to be honest with Michael, but he also doesn’t want to provoke anger by being less willing to be out than Michael deems sufficient.
Thankfully Michael considers John for a moment and then grins. “Somewhere in the romantic beach getaway, I got that.”
John lets out a relieved sigh and wraps an arm around Michael’s waist. He wants to prove his willingness to be fully in this relationship without shame, but life is also just better when they’re touching. Michael leans into his side, and they start walking down the sand again.
“But it’s something I can’t help being aware of,” John says quietly as they walk. “What we are and what people see when they look at me. Which apparently means I’ve found my internalized homophobia, and I am completely aware of how gross that is. I’m going to work on that, but there it is.”
“You still want to, like, go out to dinner tonight and make out on the boardwalk, though, right?”
“Oh my God, you have no idea. I want to tell everybody about you.”
Michael smirks. “So why don’t you?”
“Coming out at my age is kind of more complicated than it is at twelve. Or however old you were when you did.”
“I was fourteen, thank you.”
“So how did you come out to your parents?” John asks after they walk for a few minutes in silence.
Michael cracks up.
Michael buries his face in John’s arm and apparently can’t stop laughing. “You do understand how ridiculous this is, right?”
“I understand that I’m forty-two and have to come out to everyone in my entire life that I give a remote shit about, because you are addictive and fascinating and wonderful and also are sadly holding me to some pretty legitimate ethical standards. So help a guy out, okay?”
“I was making out with my first high school boyfriend in the living room, and my mom walked in.”
John is entirely not surprised. “So hey, when you meet my family, let’s not go with that plan, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Michael says, drawing the word out in a way that makes it clear it’s his turn to be defensive and weird.
John smirks, pleased to be off the hook for the moment. “You haven’t told them about us either,” he says smugly.
Michael mumbles something against John’s arm.
“What was that?”
“You’re really old,” Michael says. “And they’re going to freak.”
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July 8, 2015
Immutable isn’t just my first none HEA story, and my first non-anthology story with Dreamspinner Press, it’s a first in lots of ways. It’s my first ever fantasy story. I’ve done a zombie novel before now, called Patient Z, but they were very much science fiction zombies. It’s my first shifter story. It’s my first set in a historical fantasy setting. It’s not quite my first story in First Person point of view, but it’s the first of those longer than a short story that I’ve sold. So because of all of those firsts I’m just dying to see what people make of it.
Here’s an excerpt from chapter 1, to see what you make of it! Keep going and at the end there’ll be a chance to enter to win a copy.
The wind was cold that morning I found him. I remember. I’d come down to the beach when the sky was barely light. Fine rain misted my hair and clothes as I scrambled down the cliff path onto the sand.
I carried a basket on my back and began filling it with driftwood as I walked. Driftwood burns with a strange blue flame, but there were so few trees on the island it was the only type of wood we ever had to burn. Those who could afford it bought coal shipped over from the mainland. Me, I pick up the sea coal that washes ashore from the coal seams exposed under the water. I always pounced on a piece of that when I saw it, as if it were a diamond. Winter wasn’t far away. Ma wouldn’t make it through the winter if I didn’t keep the cottage warm enough.
I threw those thoughts off and continued along the beach, shoving driftwood in the basket, watching among the seaweed and pebbles for the precious sea coal. With my gaze glued to the sand, I didn’t spot the body until I was close enough to see instantly that it was a man. He lay on the wet sand, pale, almost gray in the morning light.
I ran, hoping—praying—not to find him dead. He was naked, but that didn’t surprise me. The sea can strip a body bare. I dropped the basket off my shoulders as I fell to my knees beside him. It toppled, spilling out its load.
The man lay facedown, his legs still in the surf, the waves breaking over them and ebbing as if trying to pull him back into the sea. He had skin as pale as ivory—not the skin of a sailor or fisherman exposed to the sun on deck all day. His exposed back was smooth and unmarked, without the tattoos or scars from the lash sailors often had. Hair as black as anthracite lay across his shoulders, a few strands of seaweed caught in it.
I laid a hand on him, fearing I’d find him cold and dead. But he was warm. I turned him onto his back. Nobody I knew. My island, Sula Skerry, was so small I knew the face and name of everyone who lived here. This face I’d never seen. This face… I’d never seen a face like it. Not even in schoolbooks about the legends of changelings and fair folk. For he was fair, God forgive me. I’d never seen a man so fair.
He lay against my arm, eyes closed, thick black lashes brushing cheeks marred only with wet sand. I touched his chest to feel if he still breathed. He did. I left my hand there, on that warm skin, as pale as the rest of him, one dark nipple under my palm.
I gasped at the sound of a voice and stared down at his face. He’d opened his large and dark eyes. So dark I couldn’t say they were any color at all, like I can say mine are blue. They weren’t merely dark brown; they were black. He’d spoken, and his mouth, his well-shaped lips, moved again. “I’m cold.”
The wind on his wet, naked skin must have been sucking the heat from him. I had to get him somewhere warm. I pulled off my jacket and wrapped it around him. But his long legs were still naked, and his…. I tried hard not to look at his member, for that’s a sin.
“Can you stand?” I asked him, grateful we understood each other. Sailors had been washed ashore here before, who spoke languages none among the islanders understood. I helped him up, but he sagged against me and I had to catch him in my arms to keep him from falling. I’d never get him up the cliff path to the cottage in this state. If I ran for help, he’d be dead of cold before I got back. I had a better idea.
“Hold on to me.” I hauled him toward the cliff face, a hundred feet or so along the beach, dragging my basket behind me. Good thing I’d been coming down here since I was a boy, when Ma was the one collecting the driftwood, and I’d followed behind her, barefoot, searching for shells or stones with holes in them—those were lucky—and always the precious sea coals.
With him lolling against my side and leaning heavily on me, I reached the mouth of a small cave. I’d first found it when I was eight years old. I’d hidden in it, listening to Ma calling me. “Callum! Callum!” A game to me, frightening to her the first time, fear in her voice that I didn’t understand. The cave seemed huge then, like a cavern. Fifteen years later I had to stoop over as I went into it, and I could reach the back in only a few steps.
It lay well above the high tide mark and only the worst storms ever reached into it, so there was little on the floor but dry sand. Some lichen grew on the walls. Nothing else lived here since it got sunshine only at dawn, as the sun rose over to the east and lit this cave low in the cliff for little more than an hour.
I lowered the man to the floor of the cave and he lay there shivering, despite having my jacket wrapped around him. What should I do? Go to the cottage and fetch him some clothes? Go to the village and fetch the constable or the doctor? I felt a strange reluctance to bring anyone else. I wanted him to myself.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Breen,” he said, voice shaking as he spoke. “B… Breen.”
Breen? Where was that from? For all he spoke our language, he had a foreign look to him, with that coal black hair. Some of the shipwrecked sailors who washed up on the island before had skin browner than the most tanned and leathered of the shepherds and fishermen. This man had skin as pale as a highborn lady who’d never ventured out without a shady hat or parasol.
A fire. Yes. I could make a fire for him to warm himself by. I emptied my basket and built a fire at the mouth of the cave. Dried seaweed served for kindling, and I made a spark with the flint I had in my pocket. I blew softly on it until it caught and flames licked up. The wood ignited and the fire began to crackle. I hauled Breen closer to the mouth of the cave. A little smoke came in, but the wind was blowing from the north, down the beach, not from the sea, so most of the smoke blew away from us.
Breen sat up after a few minutes warming by the fire, pressed close against my shoulder. I didn’t know if the touch warmed him, but it sent a flush through me. Heat pooled low in my belly. I tried to ignore it. Mustn’t think on it. I could have left him then, gone up to fetch him some clothes from the cottage. He was out of the wind and had the fire and my jacket. He wouldn’t freeze in the time it took me to get there and back. But I didn’t want to go. I had a strange fear that if I let him out of my sight for even a minute he’d disappear.
“What’s your name?” he asked me suddenly, rousing me from a daydream, my mind full of… sin.
“Callum. Are you a sailor, Breen? Were you wrecked?”
“Wrecked?” He asked it as if he didn’t know what the word meant. He had an accent, not local, not even like the men who sometimes came from the mainland.
“Were you on a ship? Did it sink?”
“No. No ship.”
No ship? So how’d he come here? For he’d surely come out of the sea.
“A fishing boat?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I am here for you, Callum.”
“What?” I turned to him, thinking I’d misheard, or he’d misspoke, not knowing our language so well after all. His eyes were huge and so beautiful. Looking into them felt like falling into a tarn, or looking up into the night sky, at the velvet blackness.
“I have heard you call me,” he said, voice low, a dark, throbbing edge to it. He reached for me, his long fingers touching my face. Shock made me want to pull away. But the thrill down my spine at his touch—fingers still cold despite the fire—kept me riveted. I could no more stop him than I could fly. He leaned close. I thought he was speaking. His lips formed words, or perhaps my name, but my ears were full of the crashing of the waves and the crackle of the fire. His lips touched my mouth.
I closed my eyes. A kiss. He was kissing me. I’d never… not with a man, not a kiss. Some… fumbling with other lads, and a kiss with a lass or two, because they expected it, and because other people expected it, and it kept them from talking about me. But this… nothing had ever felt like this. His mouth slanted across mine, lips soft, but something hard behind them. No, not hard. Strong. His skin was smooth where mine was rough. I hadn’t shaved before coming to the beach.
His tongue—hot, wet—touched my lips. It should have been disgusting. Sin should feel disgusting, make me want to stop him, push him away, drag him out and toss him back in the sea that brought him. But instead it thrilled me. I wanted his tongue inside my mouth, and I opened my lips to him. It pressed in and found mine. Oh, God, to feel that for the first time. Like his tongue was a flint and mine was kindling. A spark and then flame.
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June 15, 2015
That’s a Good Question. Ha! See what I did there? I’m closing out my time here at the DSP blog with an excerpt from the novella that started Lonnie and Jamison’s love story.
“Don’t say that,” Jamison said.
Torp looked around for Lincoln and, not seeing him, asked, “Why the fuck not? He is.”
“You don’t know that.”
Torp snorted and then choked, prompting Jamison to slap him hard on the back a couple of times until he’d regained his ability to breathe properly. “Uh-huh, y-yeah I do. I’d have to be blind not to notice that.”
Jamison opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly he noticed the music above them had stopped. Did he hear us? From deep in the house he heard someone running down the stairs. He turned to look over his shoulder and saw the art student stumble into the hallway, pause, and turn their way, spotting them. Shit. Jamison turned back around quickly and sipped his tea, his gaze riveted on the grass.
“Hey, fellas. I’m done for today. Got a late afternoon class. See ya tomorrow.” Jamison felt some tension drain out of him, but then the young man gave an exasperated sigh and a chuckle. “Sorry. Introductions?”
Jamison sensed the man come closer, and to his left Torp leapt up, quickly wiping sandwich crumbs off on his jeans. “I’m Theodore Machado III, but most folks call me Torpedo.”
“Uh… really? O-okay. Good to meet you, Torpedo”—Jamison smirked at how carefully the man repeated his friend’s name, as if trying it out on his tongue—“I’m Lonnie Bellerose. The very pregnant lady of the house is my sister.”
“Good to meet you, Mister—”
“Lonnie. Just call me Lonnie.”
The silence that followed brought some tension back into Jamison’s shoulders as he realized they were waiting on him, probably staring at his back. He began to sweat just as his eyes caught sight of a parade of ants moving across a worn, brown patch in the yard to his right. They looked hell-bent for the grass forest on the other side of their tiny clearing. Take me with you.
“He don’t talk much,” Torp explained, then smacked the back of Jamison’s head. “Jam, introduce yourself, man.”
Jamison took a deep breath and slowly stood, turning to face them as he did. Lonnie’s gaze followed him, his eyes widening as Jamison continued to rise above him. Lonnie’s lips parted slightly, almost gasping when he had to tilt his head back a bit to look Jamison in the eyes.
Green. His eyes are green, Jamison noted. He almost stepped closer, almost revealed the pull he felt, but he stopped himself, fearing the same reaction from Lonnie that he’d gotten since his first growth spurt. When you don’t smile much and you’re big and you’re black and you’re tattooed and you’re silent, people—strangers—all react the same way.
It had served him well growing up, carrying him safely through adolescence in a rough neighborhood and keeping bad influences—and even some good ones—at a distance. But as he looked into Lonnie’s bright green eyes, it suddenly hit Jamison that the last thing he wanted from this man was distance.
A smile slowly spread across Lonnie’s beautiful face—full lips, narrow nose, long dark lashes, and high cheekbones. Yum. He was almost as pretty as a girl, but so very much a man.
“My… you’re… you’re—”
“I’m Jamison Coburn.”
Lonnie slowly extended his hand, and Jamison took it. “I’m… I’m….”
Jamison allowed himself to grin. “You’re… Lonnie Bellerose.”
Lonnie barked in laughter, snorted, and smacked himself in the forehead. “Ha! Yeah, yeah, I’m Lonnie. Sorry.” He shook his head, his curls bouncing. “Spaced out a bit there. Nice to m-meet you, Jamison.”
“And you, Lonnie,” Jamison said softly. “Enjoy your class.”
“Right,” Lonnie almost whispered, nodding, staring, grinning. “Thank you.”
They stared at each other for several more heartbeats, and then Lonnie turned on his sockless but sneakered feet, juggled his drawing pad and art bag, and walked right into the closed half of the French doors. He stumbled backward, but Jamison grabbed him and steadied him by the shoulders, aiming him properly at the open door.
Lonnie looked back at him and laughed again. “Thanks f-for that.”
Jamison simply nodded and pointed at the doorway, silently urging him to watch his step. He watched Lonnie walk through the kitchen, all the way down that long hall to the front door, heard Lonnie’s noisy VW grind to life, and caught a flash of purple as he drove away.
“You can’t see that?” Torp asked, shaking his head and shooing a fly from the remainder of his sandwich before taking another bite.
I saw it, all right, Jamison thought, smiling.
I hope that was fun. Setting it up for this post made me smile again.
Thank you all for joining me today, and if you take a chance on my novel The Answer Is, I hope it’s an entertaining read for you.
Remember, you have until 11 a.m. EST, Wednesday, June 17, to leave a comment on the giveaway posts in this release party for chances to win.
Take care and have a great week, people!
June 15, 2015
It’s time for Lonnie’s introduction.
Lonnie sighed and hugged himself, trying to appear at ease as the crowd moved around the room. After all, he was an artist standing in a gallery that displayed some of his best work to date. He should be all smiles and charm and wit. Instead, he felt as though he stood out like a two-headed goat, afraid to move, all hooves and confusion, bleating above the conversations.
On top of that, Lonnie had the distinct impression of being watched. He couldn’t shake it. He looked to his right and his left, then settled again on examining the campus beyond the wall of windows at the gallery’s entrance. He searched the mist-shrouded grounds for any sign of Jamison, but he was nowhere to be seen.
“Here, have a drink, Mr. Bellerose.” Professor Eloise Bink smiled and sipped her champagne, urging him to do the same from the flute she’d provided. She taught several art history classes, and Lonnie had been her assistant while earning his master’s.
He took a sip, then said, “Just call me Lonnie, please. I’m not your TA anymore.”
She smiled and tossed her short and sassy new haircut out of her eyes, the silver-gray strands catching the light. “I’ll call you Lonnie when you call me Eloise.”
He frowned in thought. “I think I can handle Bink but nothing more casual. Will that do?”
They sipped in unison, the bubbles nearly making him sneeze.
“You appear agitated. Waiting for someone?”
“Jamison’s coming, though he should be here by now.”
He shook his head. “Parents in France, Amber birthed a new human being, and brother-in-law is hovering, so… no. No family tonight.” A chill ran through him, so he took another sip of his champagne. It didn’t warm him, and this time he did sneeze, loudly, causing a few heads to turn in fright. His face heated, and he nodded his apologies before depositing the flute on a passing tray.
He turned to the entrance again and gasped softly. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, he caught a glimpse of a tall, broad-shouldered silhouette hurrying toward the building. The campus lights along the path reflected off what little fog lingered above the lawn, giving the approaching figure a mysterious, superhero-like quality. To Lonnie, he seemed to be moving in slow motion and to his own soundtrack. Lonnie’s heart soared, and he excused himself from Bink to cut through the crowd and meet his man at the door.
“Hi,” he said, beaming up at Jamison as he walked in looking all kinds of gorgeous.
The worried frown on Jamison’s face vanished as he smiled down at Lonnie. “Hi, yourself.”
“You look fantastic.” He stood on tiptoes to give Jamison a peck on the lips, but Jamison pulled back, the frown returning, his gaze darting around the gallery. Lonnie sighed, took his hand, and tugged him deeper into the room. “I have someone I want you to meet.” He paused to look over the faces surrounding them, and when he spotted Bink again, he resumed his tugging.
Glancing around as he followed Lonnie, Jamison asked, “Isn’t your fam—?”
“No,” Lonnie said, “but they sent their congratulations.”
“Ah, Lonnie, back so soon?” Bink said, turning to face the two of them as they reached her. She blinked up at Jamison, her expression remaining warm and friendly. “Whom do we have here?”
“This is Jamison Coburn. Jamison, this is Professor Eloise Bink. I’ve mentioned her before. I was her teaching assistant.” His words rushed out as he gripped Jamison’s big left hand tightly. Mine.
“Yes,” Bink said. “I’m certainly going to miss you in that capacity. Perhaps I’ll find something else for you.” Lonnie laughed at that.
Jamison’s hand swallowed hers. “Good to meet you, ma’am.”
“And you, Mr. Coburn.” She grinned at Lonnie before continuing. “Anyone who can make him daydream at his desk is definitely someone I want to get to know.”
Lonnie gazed up at Jamison and caught the embarrassment as it crossed his handsome features. His chest filled with joy and pride that Jamison was here for him.
“Oh… I don’t know about that, ma’am,” Jamison said.
“Bink, Mr. Coburn. Please call me Bink.”
“If you’ll call me Jamison.”
She grinned. “Agreed. Champagne?” she asked, grabbing fresh flutes from a passing waiter. She handed them each a glass, and they clinked them in a toast to Lonnie’s accomplishment.
I think Lonnie is more delightful than annoying, but he walks a fine line. What do you think?
June 15, 2015
I’d like you to get to know Jamison a bit better.
“You gonna eat with me, baby?”
Jamison turned toward his mother, Alanna, who stood in the back door of her house watching him. He wondered how long she’d been standing there, and he suddenly felt guilty. The original reason for stopping by was to see her, catch up with whatever was going on in her life, but instead he’d ended up working on his latest piece in her garage. He’d heard it calling to him, urging him: finish me, make me pretty, show me off.
His living arrangement didn’t leave any space to store his equipment, let alone use it. Jamison supposed a decluttering of the Standleas’ garage—a family’s furniture and keepsakes collected over the decades—could make room. But deep down he knew keeping his equipment where it was would please his mother. It meant he would always come back. Tonight she probably thought he was avoiding her, but that wasn’t his intention. Unfortunately, now he had to leave.
“No, ma’am. Thank you, but I’m taking dinner over to Lonnie. He’s babysitting tonight.”
He saw disappointment play over her beautiful features, but she quickly brightened.
“How is that new baby?” she asked as he shut down and secured any tools he’d used.
“He’s fine, but Remmy’s just a month or so old, Mama. He doesn’t do much.” He just sort of lies there… and leaks.
He turned off the light and locked up before joining her at the back door. After following her inside, he turned on the security light and bolted the door behind them.
“Everything a baby does, no matter how tiny they are, is precious. It’s hard to believe you were ever that small. And Remmy? What sort of name is that?”
“Short for Rembrandt. Some famous painter.”
“Lordy, what will these people think of next?” she asked as she opened the refrigerator and removed a pie dish.
Jamison’s mouth began to water at the thought of homemade peach pie.
“Does he… does your friend babysit his nephew a lot?”
Jamison shrugged. “Uh… so far the baby’s been passed back and forth between his parents and grandparents. This is Claude and Amber’s first night out in weeks, and since Claude’s parents finally left, Lonnie’s jumping at the chance to have Remmy all to himself tonight before the next pair of grands arrives in a couple of days.”
“Well… do you think you should intrude?” she asked as she cut two pieces of pie and placed them on a sturdy paper plate.
“Intrude?” Jamison frowned as she secured a sheet of plastic wrap over the pie and plate. “I’m surprising him with dinner. I….” He hesitated as he thought it over. “I don’t think he’ll see it as intruding, Mama.”
She nodded without looking at him, then sighed. “Where are the other grandparents?”
“In France. There’s a family farm there.”
She nodded. “I see.”
“They were supposed to be here right after the little guy arrived, but since the paternal grands were already here, they decided to take their time, get Great-Grandma Bellerose ready to travel.”
She nodded and held out the pie-filled plate. “Take this with you for dessert, baby.”
Jamison smiled. “Thanks, Mama. I appreciate it.” He leaned in and kissed her still-smooth cheek. “Lonnie will appreciate it too.” He held the plate in one hand and bent over to hug her tiny frame with the other arm. “You know, if you’d like to meet—”
She pulled away suddenly and held up a hand to silence his suggestion. “No… no, baby. This is fine. Just fine,” she said, not looking at him. “You have a good night with your friend.”
Jamison deflated a bit and allowed her to usher him to the door. “Good night, Mama. I promise to spend more time with you next time.” As always, she watched until he climbed in his truck, then shut her door. He stared out his windshield at the neighborhood, the streetlights creating puddles of illumination every few yards, and wondered at her comment. What does “I see” mean? Does it mean anything? No. He was reading shit into it, feeding it with his own doubts about him and Lonnie. They enjoyed each other. What else mattered?
Before starting the truck, he glanced at the house again and caught his mother peeking at him through a curtain. As he pulled away from the curb, he tapped out a quick good-night on his horn, then turned onto Little Avenue and headed for Ming Empire to pick up dinner.
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