Finally Home Release Party: Location Inspiration Part 1

August 29, 2014

Since travel is a huge theme in Finally Home, I drew a lot of inspiration for both the character and plot from the various cities the guys stop in. Whenever I could, I tried to use locations I’d visited before so I could more accurately capture their experiences, from the smell of the air to the color of the buildings.

I’d like to share with you some of the photos of the places that inspired Krung Thep, City of Angels and Finally Home. Let’s start with the international locations, Thailand and Mexico.

Grand Palace Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

They’d spent the past couple hours wandering the expansive palace grounds, taking in the detailed murals, jeweled temples, and towering yak demon statues. They’d said little, but a sort of quiet camaraderie had grown between the two travelers amid the tinkle of hundreds of golden bells.—Krung Thep, City of Angels

 

View from Baiyoke

Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

From up here, they seemed closer to the large, honey-colored moon than to the ground below, and Marco’s heart soared as he drank in the view. —Krung Thep, City of Angels

 

 Sukhumvit road

Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, Thailand

They left the restaurant, joining the flow of foot traffic back toward Sukhumvit Road, one of Bangkok’s main drags. The night lent some relief from the constant humid heat, though not a real reprieve. That was the rainy season in the tropics for you.—Finally Home

 

elephant in night market

Hua Hin Night Market, Hua Hin, Thailand

“And that was when the elephant walked down the street! I mean, right down the middle of the night market!” Marco waved his hand for emphasis, almost spilling his Thai iced tea on his date. “It was a baby, sure, but it was still almost as tall as I was!”—Finally Home

 

Street in Coyoacan

Coyoacan, Mexico City, Mexico

Chris had been staying in Coyoacán for a couple of weeks with some old ex-pat friends…after spending a month in the crowded, diesel-soaked hub that was the heart of Mexico City, it was a relief to take some time in one of the city’s quieter, greener boroughs.—Finally Home

*Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

PlazaHidalgoCoyoacan

Plaza Hidalgo, Coyoacan, Mexico

He turned into the heart of the Plaza Hidalgo, which was bustling with color and activity, hoping to banish the shadows from his mind.—Finally Home

*Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Finally Home
When novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways in Bangkok, they thought it was the end of their summer romance. Three months later, though, a change of assignment reunites Chris and Marco, and the pair embarks on an adventure greater than ten days trekking through Thailand—forming a real relationship amid family drama, coming out fears, career woes, and personal demons.

Now available from Dreamspinner Press in eBook and Paperback!

Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway

Finally Home blog tour banner

Join me on my blog tour (August 29-September 12) and enter to win an autographed book bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise!

Finally Home Release Party: Creating Chris and Marco

August 29, 2014

Hello again! Now that I’ve introduced myself more properly, and given you a peek into how Finally Home came to be, I thought I’d share a bit about what went into shaping my main characters, Chris and Marco.

Like most characters I write, Marco and Chris are composites created from bits of people I’ve met, other fictional characters and/or famous folk, and traits that are created to serve the story.

Anthony Bourdain

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that travel writer/TV personality Anthony Bourdain was a big inspiration in creating my travel writer, Christopher J. Springer. I love Bourdain’s brusque, no-nonsense New York attitude, and how fully he embraces new flavors and cultures, no matter how outside his normal comfort zones. Those definitely were traits at the core of Chris, though his background came from journalism and foreign correspondence rather than Bourdain’s as a chef.

I had a much more personal—though similar—inspiration in the friend who played host to me in Thailand. He was an American who traveled extensively, and had spent years studying in Thailand before falling in love with and marrying a Thai woman. He knew how to navigate Thai space almost as well as any local—even as a tall, redheaded farang (the Thai word for Westerner). However, because he was still an outsider, he was also able to easily move through the expatriate community. The man could ingratiate himself to about anybody, and thanks to his friendly and educated manner our experience of Southeast Asia was unique and memorable.

As for Marco…well, in all honesty, Marco, the novice backpacker, was modeled a bit off me, the traveler who felt lost and overwhelmed in a completely foreign country. It was easy to write that fish-out-of-water feeling, and that terror and joy you feel when your deepest dream comes true and you don’t know what to do.

Luke Skywalker

It’s hard to point to any one other fictional character as an inspiration for Marco, though.  He’s meant to be a bit of the “everyman,” or for those who prefer Joseph Campbell’s terminology, the archetypal hero. He’s a little Luke Skywalker, a little Bilbo Baggins (especially with that curly hair!). He craves adventure and excitement in his boring, suburban life, but when he gets it he doesn’t quite know how to handle it. He has to face himself and his fears, come to terms with who he is before he can get his happily ever after.

Hmmm…if we follow the monomyth, though, then that makes Chris his Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or Gandalf. Marco is always teasing Chris for being nine years older than him…

How about you? Who are some of the people or fictional characters you draw inspiration from?

Finally Home
When novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways in Bangkok, they thought it was the end of their summer romance. Three months later, though, a change of assignment reunites Chris and Marco, and the pair embarks on an adventure greater than ten days trekking through Thailand—forming a real relationship amid family drama, coming out fears, career woes, and personal demons.

Now available from Dreamspinner Press in eBook and Paperback!

Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway

Finally Home blog tour banner

Join me on my blog tour (August 29-September 12) and enter to win an autographed book bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise!

Finally Home Release Party: Giveaway!

August 29, 2014

Alright, I think it’s about time for the giveaway! Oh boy!

I’m offering an eBook bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise (the anthology Krung Thep, City of Angels appeared in) to one lucky winner.

The giveaway is open until 7 pm PST tonight, August 29, 2014. At that time, I’ll randomly select one winner from the answers below, and announce at the end of the party at 8 pm PST. To be valid, though, you have to answer my question: are you more of a traveler or a tourist?

suitcase stickers

Are you like Chris, who prefers to go off the beaten path on his own and discover new treasures—though it occasionally leads to trouble? Or, are you more like Marco, who plays it safe by sticking to known areas and traveling with friends—though it sometimes means missing out on experiences? Or, are you a little of both?

Finally Home
When novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways in Bangkok, they thought it was the end of their summer romance. Three months later, though, a change of assignment reunites Chris and Marco, and the pair embarks on an adventure greater than ten days trekking through Thailand—forming a real relationship amid family drama, coming out fears, career woes, and personal demons.

Now available from Dreamspinner Press in eBook and Paperback!

Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway

Finally Home blog tour banner

Join me on my blog tour (August 29-September 12) and enter to win an autographed book bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise!

Finally Home Release Party: A Little About Zee

August 29, 2014

I’ve just realized that in the excitement of introducing you to Marco, Chris, and Finally Home, I completely neglected to introduce myself properly. What a bad hostess I am!

Let’s start again. Hello, my name is Zee Kensington. I’m an almost-native Californian, and I currently reside in the San Francisco Bay Area with my husband and our toddler son. I’m a lifelong writer, and I’ve penned and published a range of things under a variety of names: magazine articles, blog posts, screenplays, comic book scripts, fan fiction, short stories, erotica, and even bad goth poetry. Finally Home marks my first novel ever.

So, why did I decide my first novel should be about a novice backpacker and a travel writer who meet abroad, but fall in love back home in US? Well, unlike my scrapped cattle rustler story or my unfinished fairy tale series, I actually had real experience with travel.

Bangkok Soi 8

When I wrote my short story, Krung Thep, City of Angels in 2011, I’d just returned home from my first time traveling abroad as an adult. My husband and I had spent two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia on the invitation of a friend who vacationed every summer in Bangkok with his wife’s family. I was still buzzing with the memories of immersing myself in completely different cultures with their own languages, customs, cuisines, and philosophies, and I was eager to relive that experience.

The novel came about when I realized that my characters Chris and Marco had potential beyond a short story. They had rich back stories that I never got to touch on in the short, and a whole slew of unfinished issues that got tabled when time came to edit Krung Thep. How would Marco handle coming out to his tight-knit family when he got home? How would Chris deal with being alone again on the road after sharing his life with someone for the first time in four years? What would happen if they got back together, but this time as equals, not just as a traveler and a tourist?

Finally Home touches on the things that matter most to me: family, identity, travel, food, and sex (oh, did I forget to mention the hot sex?). It’s actually quite a personal novel, drawing on some of my own experiences, inspirations, and passions. It hints at my love of cities, fascination with culinary writing, and multi-cultural upbringing, among other things.

Mostly, Finally Home reflects and my deep belief that “home” is who you make it with, no matter where you are in the world.

How about you? What characters have refused to go quietly back into the vault of your brain?

Finally Home
When novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways in Bangkok, they thought it was the end of their summer romance. Three months later, though, a change of assignment reunites Chris and Marco, and the pair embarks on an adventure greater than ten days trekking through Thailand—forming a real relationship amid family drama, coming out fears, career woes, and personal demons.

Now available from Dreamspinner Press in eBook and Paperback!

Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway

Finally Home blog tour banner

Join me on my blog tour (August 29-September 12) and enter to win an autographed book bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise!

Finally Home Release Party: Excerpt

August 29, 2014

As I mentioned earlier, Finally Home is the sequel to my short story, Krung Thep, City of Angels, where we first met novice backpacker Marco and culinary travel writer Chris in Bangkok, Thailand. Not to spoil too much, but Finally Home picks up shortly after the story left off, with Marco and Chris enjoying their last dinner together in Thailand before they part ways, possibly forever. Here, have a peek:

Thai food

Bangkok, Thailand
July 2011

Marco’s mouth was on fire.

Scratch that. His entire body was on fire, a searing burn radiating from his mouth all the way down to his toes. Buds of sweat bloomed over his already sticky skin, and the lazy fan mounted above the table did nothing to cool him. He stuck his tongue in his glass of beer, hoping the remains of the ice cubes floating inside would soothe it, but the fizz just seemed to aggravate the burn. A tormented whimper escaped Marco’s lips.

Across the scarred Formica table, Chris’s normally tanned face had gone red beneath his shaggy blond hair. However, his shoulders quaked with barely contained laughter rather than pain, his ice blue eyes filled with a mix of compassion and mirth.

“Thith isn’th funneh!” Marco cried. It was hard for him to make himself clear with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, which made Chris laugh all the harder.

“Yes it is!” Chris wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I warned you, the waitress warned you, but you didn’t listen!”

Marco scowled at Chris through watering eyes. The dish had seemed harmless enough on the menu, just some glass noodles tossed with prawns and minced pork. He hadn’t counted on the strength of the chili-lime dressing dousing it, though. Marco had figured that by now, after two weeks in Thailand, his spice tolerance would have increased enough to graduate from the farang level of spicy to that of the locals. How wrong he’d been.

Chris passed a small plate of cucumber slices toward him. “These should help.”

As Marco crammed two into his mouth, Chris motioned to the waitress. All he had to do was point at the sweating, panting Marco and she nodded in understanding. What seemed like an agonizing amount of time later, she plopped a small plastic bottle of milk on the table. Marco was in too much pain to care how foolish he looked, and he wrenched off the lid in one pull. As the milk bathed his tongue, the burn subsided to a dull, throbbing ache.

“Better?” Chris asked, his blue eyes twinkling with humor.

Marco simply scowled at his travel companion over another slug of the sweetened milk. Embarrassment kicked in as the pain subsided. It would have been one thing if Chris were just some random travel buddy he’d met at a youth hostel, another green twentysomething out seeing the world for the first time. But Christopher J. Springer was a noted culinary travel writer, who made his living sampling what the world’s food carts and hole-in-the-wall joints had to offer. Marco had watched Chris sample chili-studded soups and grilled crickets with equal amounts of gusto. Marco couldn’t even handle a plate of noodles.

“Hey.” Chris’s voice grew suddenly tender, drawing Marco’s gaze away from the offending dish. “It’s okay. We all get burned sometimes.”

Chris reached out a hand and placed it over Marco’s with a squeeze. Marco’s heart skipped a beat, the solid warmth of Chris’s calloused fingers soothing away some of his shame. That was the other, more important reason Marco had been so eager to show Chris he’d absorbed some of his adventurous spirit: Chris was the first real lover that Marco had ever had.

Chris had appeared out of the blue three days after Marco had arrived in Bangkok, materializing like some khaki-clad guardian angel to guide Marco through the convoluted streets, sois and canals of the city. It had only taken them a day to fall into bed together, though it had taken a bit longer to figure out that they made a good traveling pair. Now, after ten days of trekking side by side across Thailand, Marco was having a hard time imagining what life was going to be like once he boarded his plane back to Los Angeles tomorrow.

“Really, it’s okay!” Chris said. “You don’t have to look so sad, Marco. We’ll order something else.”

Marco tried to shake off his melancholy and offered Chris a weak smile. “Can we get that one dish—‘the catfish exploded’?” He remembered the crispy-sweet seafood salad he’d fallen in love with during their two days in the beach town of Hua Hin. Best of all, it was flavorful, yet barely spicy.

Yam pla dook foo?” The Thai syllables rolled off Chris’s tongue with enviable ease. “If they have it.”

Chris gave Marco a smile that spread a different type of heat through him. As Chris waved down the server to order, Marco couldn’t help but study him, struck again by how he’d managed to attract such an intensely good-looking traveling companion. Chris’s physique was wiry and toned from years of constant travel, not too built, not too thin. He had a smile that stood out like pearls against sand on his lean, tanned face, which time had only begun to line. Marco’s gaze drifted from Chris’s face, down the long column of his throat, to the wide triangle of bare flesh peeking out from his unbuttoned collar.

As Marco watched, Chris’s fingers fluttered unconsciously against the spot, quick as a hummingbird, before falling back to the table. Marco felt a pang, as he always did when he saw Chris’s tic. When Marco first met Chris, that spot had been decorated by a worn silver St. Christopher’s medal, a talisman of protection that had been with him on all his travels. Now it hung around Marco’s neck, a testament to the bond they had forged in such a short time. Marco wondered if he should return it to Chris before he left, seeing as it had been so precious to Chris, but part of him didn’t want to let it go. After tomorrow, it would be all he would have to remember Chris by.

While they waited for their dish, Marco pulled his smartphone out of his pocket and snapped a picture of the offending noodles. Within a minute, he’d posted the picture to his Facebook account, the caption reading: “I think I just ate noodles made out of the sun.” When he finished, he noticed Chris watching him with equal parts bemusement and disdain.

“You know your phone bill is going to be huge when you get back home,” Chris said.

“Maybe, but it’s worth it. I’ll have a record of my day-to-day trip.”

“A travel journal would work just as well. Cheaper, too.”

“Nowhere near as fun,” Marco scoffed. His phone made a cheerful bleep. His older sister, Angela, had already commented, most likely from her office computer, seeing as it was around 11:00 a.m. back home in Culver City.

“You kids and your constant need to share everything,” Chris griped cheerfully. He leaned back in his seat, gnawing on a piece of cucumber. “Back in my day, we used postcards and e-mails to keep in touch.”

“Okay, Grandpa,” Marco snorted. “You’re only nine years older than me!”

“Might as well be twenty, the way things are speeding up these days.”

Chris’s tone was light, but there was a new crease across his brow. This wasn’t the first time their age difference had come up, though the gap didn’t bother Marco in the slightest. In fact, he liked that Chris was older, even if it meant having arguments like this again and again.

“You know, for a travel writer, you’re an awful Luddite,” Marco said.

Chris shrugged. “I have my laptop—”

“That thing is older than I am!”

“And I have my camera. You can’t tell me that little phone takes better pictures than my Nikon D3.”

“No,” Marco conceded, “but at least I can upload them to the web right away.”

“See, I don’t need that.” Chris took a sip of his beer. “Why bother putting things online for free when you can find a magazine or a website to pay you for it?”

“Because sometimes it’s not about the money.”

Marco was getting exasperated. They’d had this argument almost every day. If only Chris would understand how using social media could expose him to new readers and boost sales of his photography books and travel guides. Sometimes Marco thought Chris deliberately didn’t want recognition, despite his awards and high-profile articles. At least Chris had finally taken Marco up on his offer to let him help by recording video footage of Chris’s street-food encounters. It wasn’t high quality, but Marco figured it would help give Chris reference materials, if nothing else.

“Social media is about being connected,” Marco continued, “sharing your experiences.”

“Who would I want to stay connected to?” Chris rolled his eyes in irritation. “The marketing manager pretending to be Anthony Bourdain on his Facebook? My roommate from college? Anyone I want to stay connected with, I do, on my own terms. I don’t need a face-twit-blog-whatever.”

“What about me?” It came out before Marco could stop himself. “After tomorrow how are you going to stay connected to me?”

Finally Marco had asked the question they’d both been avoiding. Marco knew he’d been a rare exception to Chris’s usual rule of not mixing business and pleasure, a lover who had become a travel companion and assistant. The color drained from Chris’s face, and his cool gaze slipped away from Marco to study his half-empty beer glass. For a long moment, the only sounds at their table were the clink of melting ice in their metal bucket and the whir of the cheap plastic fan above.

“All right,” Chris said slowly, “I’ll set up a Facebook account.”

“Really?” Marco’s eyes went wide. “You serious?”

“Maybe you’re right.” It seemed like it physically pained Chris to admit it, which made Marco smile. “It wouldn’t kill me.”

A little side note, if I may, the picture at the top of the page is a meal very similar to the one Chris and Marco shared. The “catfish exploded” dish is on the upper left, and beside it are the “noodles made out of the sun.”

How about you? Have you ever had a dish so spicy it made you cry?

Finally Home
When novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways in Bangkok, they thought it was the end of their summer romance. Three months later, though, a change of assignment reunites Chris and Marco, and the pair embarks on an adventure greater than ten days trekking through Thailand—forming a real relationship amid family drama, coming out fears, career woes, and personal demons.

Now available from Dreamspinner Press in eBook and Paperback!

Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway

Finally Home blog tour banner

Join me on my blog tour (August 29-September 12) and enter to win an autographed book bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise!

Finally Home Release Party starts…now!

August 29, 2014

Finally Home book cover

Good morning, everyone! My name is Zee Kensington, and I’m thrilled to be here. Not just because I get to spend today with you lovely people, I’m also excited because my very first novel, Finally Home, was released today by Dreamspinner Press!

This novel is very special to me, and not just for being my first. It took me over two years to complete, and seeing this book out in the world fills me with a pride akin to holding my first child (whose birth was the reason this book took so long, by the way).

“So, tell us more about this novel of yours,” you ask. Or rather, I hope you ask. I’ll pretend you asked.

Finally Home is the sequel to my short story, Krung Thep, City of Angels, that appeared in the Dreamspinner anthology, Two Tickets to Paradise in 2011 (though Finally Home can definitely be enjoyed on its own). It’s a contemporary romance about travel, family, identity, and finding one’s way back home, full of drama, humor, delicious food, and hot sex.

I have a lot planned for today–photos of the locations that inspired the stories, some behind-the-scenes trivia, an excerpt, and a special giveaway–so I hope you’ll stop by again! 

Let me leave with a parting question in two parts, so I can learn more about you lovely people: Have you ever taken a trip that changed your life? Where was it to?

Finally Home
After one night in Bangkok turned into ten days trekking together, novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways thinking they’d never see each other again. Three months later, Marco still can’t forget the greatest adventure of his life—or the gorgeous guy he shared it with. Too afraid to come out to his family, Marco is suffocating in his suburban Southern California life, until Chris announces he’s coming to LA.

Chris has spent the past four years wandering alone, rebuilding himself from the ashes of a failed journalism career. He arrives in Los Angeles eager to eat, write, and resume the sexy, casual fun he had enjoyed with Marco. But when Chris finds his friend is a terrified closet-case at home, he’s determined to help Marco confront his fears.

Priorities change when Chris’s father suffers a stroke, and Chris rushes to New York City to face a harsh homecoming with the family he abandoned. When Marco defies his parents to be at Chris’s side, Chris begins to realize there may be more to their relationship than just work and play, and that Marco may be the one to show Chris what it means to finally be home.

Now available from Dreamspinner Press in eBook and Paperback!

Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway

Finally Home blog tour banner

Join me on my blog tour (August 29-September 12) and enter to win an autographed book bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise!

 

 

You Can’t Go Home Again

July 17, 2014

I’m here today to tell you all about my newest book, You Can’t Go Home Again, that is scheduled for release tomorrow, July 18th. The story starts simply enough.  A seasoned cop and a brand new rookie are on an undercover assignment that goes seriously wrong – big time wrong. Threats are thrown around and shortly after bullets are flying. When it is all done, the seasoned cop, Jack, finds his rookie partner, Kevin, on the floor, dying.

Jack has spent years trying to be the tough guy, the guy who could take anything.  He had to be because a whole lot of crap had been thrown his way over the years, and his choices were to let everyone else win, or be tough and survive.  Jack is a survivor.

But as Jack sees his partner lying on the floor bleeding out, he drops to the floor and holds the rookie trying desperately to keep him alive until help can arrive, trying to provide him with some small degree of comfort. But Kevin is too badly injured and dies in Jack’s arms a moment later. Jack sits holding his rookie partner, soaked in his blood, feeling guilty, sad, angry, bitter, furious, and a whole host of other emotions. He should have done more to train the kid, he should have done this, he could have done that.  Jack beats himself up for having failed on what was supposed to be a simple undercover op.  No one was supposed to die, least of all the rookie assigned to him for training.  But he did, and now Jack has to deal with the fall out. He could run and hide, but that’s just not Jack.  Once he’s able, Jack washes the blood off his body, changes clothes, and goes to tell Kevin’s wife, Marie, about what happened. More about Marie in my next post when I talk about why I write about strong women in so many of my books.

Because of Jade final post: Wrapping it up and tying it with a bow

May 24, 2014

wrapped heart present pixabay free to use One more time, the rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/4059d62/. Rafflecopter goes through Monday the 26th.

See Release Party Post #5 for the party-specific contest details (different from the rafflecopter). Entries for this will be accepted until 10:00 PM tonight, then I’ll throw names in the had for a winner.

Comments on any post received before 10 PM will be answered, and if they’re later than that I’ll strill try to answer, promise!

Important: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t say it enough. You’ve all made the day a success, and I hope the rest of your weekend is likewise.

More Important: Keep reading, whatever you read. See you around soon, I hope.

Most Important: “Do anything, but let it produce joy.” ― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Because of Jade release party post #6: The super steeeeamy NSFW excerpt, as promised!

May 24, 2014

No intro, except to say this is near the beginning, they’re on their way to California to celebrate Luki’s health, checking into a hotel.
*
Sonny [...] stood close behind Luki as they checked in—close enough to feel his heat and the occasional bump of his hard-muscled round ass. No elevators in this old building, which reminded Sonny of an old bordello such as might have been featured in a western movie. They took the stairs, three flights.

Before they started up, Luki stood aside and signaled with a tilt of his head that Sonny should go first. Sonny looked a question at him, so Luki leaned in, put his full lips right up next to Sonny’s ear, and said, “Because I want to watch your ass.”

Sonny’s legs felt a little rubbery—possibly weak from all the blood rushing to a central location, he thought. But he made a valiant effort to climb gracefully. At the third step from the top, he stumbled a little. It wouldn’t have been bad but Luki said, “Easy, baby,” and that flustered Sonny more. He somehow put his foot on the next step in such a way that he fell back against Luki, his ass hitting right about midchest. Thank goodness Luki’s strength hadn’t diminished over the years. He simply planted both feet and stood strong. He dropped the bags he had in his right hand and put both his hands on Sonny’s hips.

“You’re okay, baby,” he crooned, “Just take a second to get yourself together.”

“Are you laughing at me?”

“Sort of.”

“It’s a good thing I love you, Luki.”

“Yeah, it is. Thank you.”

“I’m fine now, and you’d better stop touching me until we get into the room and lock the door.”

“Damn, baby! That sounds like some kind of promise.”

“Yep.”

After Luki stashed their bags in the little closet and twisted the deadbolts closed, he turned around and leaned back against the door. His voice hoarse, not too much louder than a whisper, he said, “Strip, Sonny. I really, really need to see that body I’ve been dreaming about all day.”

Sonny felt a flash of heat explode outward from his belly, turning itself into raw, undiluted passion as it traveled, stealing his breath and sending blood supply where he was sure it would be needed most. He sucked in a shaky breath, and Luki’s face, without the expression ever really changing, registered his satisfaction. He made it obvious that he loved playing Sonny like a sexual marionette. Sonny laughed a little, because he loved Luki playing him, too.

“Luki,” he breathed.

Luki’s eyebrows went up, questioning. “Something on your mind, baby?”

Sonny responded, articulate as always at these times, “Oh!” The sound that emerged was mostly breath, and Sonny half expected Luki to ask him what he said. But he didn’t; he wasn’t apparently that easily distracted.

His tone even, clear, conversational, Luki said, “Sonny, do you like that shirt?”

“Shirt?” Oh yeah, Sonny, you’ve got it bad. Apparently you can’t breathe hard enough to support brain function.

A smile twitched on Luki’s lips. “Shirt,” he said, nodding. “Because you see, Sonny Bly James, if I don’t hear you say the magical word, ‘no,’ which you know you can say any time, right?”

Sonny knew he had to respond to this coherently or Luki would back away. Luki took consent very, very seriously, even though they’d been married for ten years. Luki backing away was the last thing Sonny wanted—he loved being so deliciously frightened, so gloriously exhilarated, and so insistently, wantonly inflamed with the desire Luki kindled in him. It wasn’t often that Luki turned the tap full on like this—full command mode—and when he did, Sonny was not about to waste the opportunity. He needed to answer, but it was hard to clear his mind. He just kept thinking about touching himself, about reaching down into the front of his jeans and wrapping his hand around his straining erection.

Just temporarily.

But it was like Luki could read his mind, and as soon as he let his hand travel a few inches in that direction, Luki’s expression changed and he said, “Nah-ah. No. Don’t touch your cock, baby. Maybe later, not now.”

Sonny’s breath flew out again, “Oh!”

“Now, before we go any farther. You haven’t answered me. You know I won’t play, baby—as much as I want to—if I don’t hear that you know you can refuse at any time and that you’re saying yes at the moment. You need to answer, sweetie, ’kay?”

Luki had turned a quarter turn away, and broken eye contact as he finished speaking, and Sonny knew that had been deliberate. His husband, his sexy, sweet, loving, considerate husband was giving him a little breather so that he could answer articulately. So weird, Sonny thought, after all this time, when Luki puts his spell on me, I still lose control. He supposed it was because Luki had so much personal power, and because Sonny had learned what a glorious payoff there was to be had in giving Luki everything, at times like this.

But Luki’s ploy to cool things just enough had worked. Though Sonny stayed just as hard, he breathed an easier breath and he felt cool, dusky air wash over his sweat from the slightly open window. “Yes,” he said, clear and only a little breathy. “I know it’s my choice, Luki, and I say yes, now. You know that. You know I want you. I always do.”

“Well,” Luki said, turning back to face him this time with a mischievous-looking little smile playing around the corners of his mouth. “Yes, in fact I do know that, and… it’s probably what makes me want you so much. So take the shirt off.”

The change in Luki’s voice with that last sentence was so profound, sudden, and sexy that Sonny just gasped again.

“Now. Take it off now, or I rip it off.”

Sexual muscular nude man posing over dark background.

Luki’s mouth felt like it had dried out completely. He struggled to maintain even breathing, to slow his heart, and not be so intensely aware of the blood coursing through his sex. Sonny had put himself so clearly on offer, and Luki wasn’t nearly the man of steel he appeared. He was almost senseless with need for this man, his beautiful husband, but he held on, held iron reins in his hands, for Sonny—and for himself.

But Sonny’s “yes” was more than consent, for Luki. Consent had always been important to him. He knew his own physical and mental strength, knew he could make people do what he wanted, but he’d been on the opposite end of that equation once when he was young. Once was enough to teach him that anything short of a definite “yes,” at any point, is best taken as “no.” And even now, even with Sonny, it mattered a lot. Maybe it mattered even more since Jackie’s abduction by Soto, and Sonny’s own abduction by the obsessed narcissist, Harold Breslin.

Yes, consent remained important, but the way Sonny stood before him was so much more than that. He waited, so open, so willing, so wanting. So mine, Luki thought, watching Sonny decide whether taking off his shirt would be a good idea, or whether perhaps it would be more fun to let Luki make good on his threat. But Sonny liked the shirt, Luki knew, and had enough sense working to decide to preserve it.

Luki chewed his lip, watching. Then he said, “Mine.”

“Yours, Luki.”

“Strip, baby. Everything.”

Sonny had enough sauce left in him to make his eyes glitter in challenge as he fashioned something close to a striptease out of removing his clothes. When he got to his underwear—red silk boxers very much like those they’d argued over a decade ago—Luki couldn’t help a small chuckle and a smile in his eyes. “Hey,” he said. “Nice boxers. Those are mine, you know.”

“Mine!”

“Well, we can fight over them later, love. Right now just be sure that when you take them off, you don’t touch any of my other stuff.”

Sonny got a smart-ass, I’m sure I’m going to get in trouble for this look, and said, “You mean, my stuff?”

Luki half regretted letting Sonny catch his breath, except this made it even more fun. “No, baby.” He shook his head slowly, deliberately. “I meant what I said. You’re mine, at least for the moment. You need to do exactly what I want you to do. It’ll be good, I promise. ’Kay?”

“’Kay, yes, Luki.”

“Good.” Forestalling Sonny’s move to take off the boxers, Luki took two steps closer so that he had Sonny within his arms’ reach. He held Sonny’s gaze, saw in his eyes a reflection of his own softening expression. He couldn’t be this close to Sonny without love, admiration, and need infiltrating his dominance, but he didn’t care. He’d already established who was in charge, and Sonny willingly waited for his commands. He raised his hand and ran his thumb across Sonny’s lips, aware of Sonny’s breath catching when he broached that plum-red seal and pushed his broad, flat thumb into Sonny’s mouth. His own gut did a little flip when Sonny tongued it and sucked.

Luki retrieved his thumb and leaned in so that only their chests—Sonny’s bare and his fully clothed—grazed against each other as he laid a sensual, slow, but carefully limited kiss on Sonny’s lips. Standing upright again, he reached behind Sonny’s head and pulled the tie from his ponytail, then wrapped Sonny’s thick mane around his hand. Holding firmly, he looked Sonny straight on once again and said the words he knew Sonny practically lived for, after all this time of hearing them, after learning how much Luki really meant them.

“Sonny Bly James,” he said. “You are the most beautiful thing that ever happened to the world. And I love you.”

The shine in Sonny’s eyes changed, and Luki knew that, mingled with Sonny’s glorious desire, gratitude had crept in—what Sonny always felt when Luki made sure he knew how precious he was, how fine he seemed in Luki’s eyes. And now, for Luki, that change added a dose of tenderness that otherwise might not have been in the mix tonight.

“Sweet man,” he whispered. “Sweet, sweet man.” He kissed Sonny again, this time letting Sonny kiss him back and letting go of any remnants of icy restraint. Reluctantly, he broke the kiss. “God, I want you, baby.”

“Luki,” Sonny breathed, and leaned onto Luki’s shoulder.

“Come on, baby. Come here with me.” He took Sonny’s hand and led him to the baby blue velour couch. Standing in front of it he said, “I’ve decided I should take care of my personal belongings here, so hands away from everything, please, while I do this.” Slowly, he stripped the candy red silk away from Sonny’s sweet, round ass, letting the back of his thumb glide along the cleft. Then he pulled the soft, glowing material away from Sonny’s hard, straight, leaking penis, biting his lower lip and holding Sonny’s eyes with his as he drew both his index fingers up from the base to the crown, then used them to tug at the skin, pulling the slit open.

“Oh! Ah, ah, Luki, love….”

Luki smiled, a little. It was always a good sign when Sonny started to lose his ability to articulate. “Yes, baby,” he said, opting not to tease him this time. He started to sit down on the couch but thought better of it and grabbed a handful of towels from the stack of extras on the dresser, laid them out quickly to cover the couch, then sat on one end fully clothed and pulled the magnificently naked and hard Sonny down next him.

“Luki,” Sonny said, “You… clothes.”

“Later, baby, for now, this will do.” As Luki spoke he was undoing his pants and, making sure Sonny was watching—and practically drooling—he reached in and cupped his thick, curved erection and aching testes in his big hand and brought them out into the pale light.

“Luki!”

“Baby, lay down here on the couch and put your head in my lap.”

Sonny managed to find his sense of humor and his vocabulary. “Lecher.”

“Mm-hm. You’re right. But you’ll do it.”

“Oh yeah!” Sonny breathed. “Yeah!” And then he curled himself on the couch, propped himself on Luki’s thighs, and put his mouth to work.

Luki couldn’t believe how beautiful Sonny looked. His face was toward him, and he wore a look of ecstasy as he bobbed up and down the shaft of Luki’s cock, stopping for a strong suck on the crown or to lave and suck at his balls. He made tiny sounds in his throat and rocked his pelvis back and forth, even though his cock encountered nothing but air. So Luki leaned sideways, encircled Sonny’s erection, and let Sonny fuck his hand, offering just the right squeeze or twist here or there. Part of him wanted to close his eyes, or let them roll back in his head, but everything was so wonderfully sexy to see, he didn’t want to miss it.

And he didn’t want it to stop either, ever, but after not long enough he knew he would have to. At fifty-one, an orgasm meant time to recover before there could be fucking, and he knew Sonny would want to be fucked, and he wanted to fuck Sonny. It was practically his reason for living.

“Okay, Sonny. Stop.” He actually bodily removed Sonny from his lap. “So good, baby, so very fucking good. Thank you. Here, can you stand up?”

Sonny didn’t answer, but between the two of them he ended up on his feet, and then Luki stood too and led him the five strides to the bed. “Here, baby. Help me get out of these clothes.”

Together, they whisked Luki’s clothes off in under a minute. They lay on the bed, and for a long minute Luki just wrapped himself around his husband and held him tight, skin to skin, head to toe. It was both soothing and exciting for Luki, and judging from Sonny’s more relaxed breathing, Luki guessed it was the same for him. He licked at the sweat trickling down Sonny’s long neck and chuckled when Sonny shivered.

“Are you hot, baby?”

“Um… well, yeah!”

Luki sat up, peeling his body away from Sonny’s, watching as each fine inch of his husband came into view, so very much appreciating the sights along the way. He gathered in a breath and backed away just enough to give the air time to cool between them. Then he blew across the sweat at Sonny’s temples. More breath, more cooling breeze, on down Sonny’s neck, shoulders, arms, torso.

“Feels good, Luki,” Sonny said. “Thanks.”

Luki said nothing but rose up on all fours to kiss Sonny’s sweet, salty, plump lips, and send his tongue diving inside for treasure. He found it in the form of Sonny’s long, pushy tongue, and savored it, stopping occasionally to tickle the top of Sonny’s ridged palate. After the kiss had ended, he dragged his tongue across Sonny’s lips, corner to corner, a little signature move he used more often than not when they made love, because he loved Sonny’s reaction.

“Oh, Luki. Oh, please!” Sonny reached for Luki’s head to pull him back down for more kisses, but Luki evaded him.

“No, no, baby, Shush! Just a little patience.” And instead of kissing Sonny, he moved down his body to find his erect penis—its glans shining with precum and stretched so taut it shone dark in the dusky light. “So fine, baby,” Luki said, and then wasted no more time. The taste of Sonny was like heaven, and Luki could never get enough of running his tongue over the raised veins that ran in graceful curves up and around Sonny’s cock. He took Sonny’s testes into his mouth too, mouthed the firm balls inside, sucked the looser skin out away from them.

Sonny’s hands were wrapped into Luki’s curls and tugging hard, as Sonny’s noises—mostly unconscious, Luki thought—made up a small, private symphony of pleasure, plea, and demand. Luki sat back on his haunches and pushed Sonny’s knees back, spreading his legs wide. “Hold ’em for me, baby, ’kay?” Sonny didn’t answer, but he did do as asked, which Luki felt was doubly nice since that meant his scalp was no longer being mangled. He smiled secretly as he ducked down to take advantage of this new, perfect access to Sonny’s nether parts, including his oh-so-sweet hole. He let his lips and tongue go everywhere they wanted, and then wet his own index finger inside his mouth, and with only a few taps for warning, made his entrance. One finger as deep as a finger can go, Sonny’s breath sucked through his teeth—witness that, even for a finger, spit makes lousy lube.

“Luki, please,” Sonny said.

Luki had a pretty clear idea what he meant—Sonny said those words all the time when they made love, and they’d been at it a while now. But just to be sure—and maybe to annoy Sonny a little—Luki lifted his lips from where they’d been resting on the tip of Sonny’s penis and said, “Please what, baby?”

Now Sonny’s sudden exhale was one of exaggeration, so Luki sat up to watch the fireworks.

“Luki! Please!”

“Please….” Luki stopped himself, decided it wasn’t worth torturing his sweet lover this time. He really had no meanness in him, and besides, he knew what Sonny wanted, and he wanted it just as badly, he was sure. So instead of teasing he asked, “You want me to fuck you, Sonny?”

“Oh! Yes, Luki. Please fuck me.”

“Okay, baby, I’m going to do that. I am definitely going to fuck you. Hard. That’s okay?”

“Yes! Now?”

“Well—”

“It’s in my jacket pocket.”

“Um….”

“The lube, honey. C’mon, that’s what you were going to ask, right? Please, honey, get it and hurry back.” Sonny sucked in another breath. “Oh, God, Luki, I am so fucking hollow! I need you in me.”

Something in Sonny’s urgency—unusual even for him, lit an extra fire in Luki. For just a minute, he thought he might explode before he ever got to the fucking, but then the need for lube galvanized him. He slapped Sonny’s ass hard enough to sting and said, “Wait, I’ll be right back,” and hopped off the bed and back to the entry where they’d dropped Sonny’s clothes.

Back on the bed, he wasted no time. He kneeled next to Sonny, leaned down to suck and bite for a minute at Sonny’s dark nipples, leaving them scrunched hard and pointing up. “Almost forgot those guys, baby,” he said, and it made Sonny laugh. Delightful, Luki thought.

He took Sonny’s hand, turned it palm up, and squeezed some Boy Butter on his fingers. “Take care of me, will you, sweetie?” Sonny complied, stroking the length of Luki’s cock, slow, spreading the warm grease evenly except an extra lot at the tip, the sensation of which was enough to drive Luki’s own need just a notch higher. “Oh, baby, easy now,” he said, “or I’ll lose it before we get to the really good stuff.”

All the while, he was working Sonny’s hole, back in with a greased finger, then two, in-out-around, then a tap or two on the prostate. Sonny groaned but tightened up in response. “No, baby, don’t do that, relax for me, ’kay?”

“’Kay, Luki.” And, well-practiced as he was, he did. Luki could see his face change as he concentrated on letting go, and then Luki slid his cock in, easy and sweet, using his hands to guide his sweetly curved penis into Sonny’s sweet ass. Then he pushed deep and moved forward, hooking his shoulders under Sonny’s legs to push them high and back.

Sonny was still holding his knees, which wasn’t necessary, and Luki could see Sonny staring at his own long penis and licking his lips. He knew what Sonny wanted. “Baby,” he said. “Just wrap your legs around me. Stroke your cock, sweet man. You want to, I know it, and I want to watch.”

“Oh, Luki. Oh yes, thank you.” As he started to get into the rhythm, matching Luki’s but with an occasional stop and twist he said, “Oh, Luki, Luki, Luki. Good. Good! Oh!”

“Oh, fuck, Sonny! Beautiful, baby. So. Damn. Beautiful.” He punctuated those three words with three direct hits to the prostate. After a few more, he knew Sonny was gone, and he wasn’t far behind his lover.

“Luki?” Sonny’s question, every time. It meant everything, Luki knew, but maybe especially it meant, take care of me while I let it all go.

And Luki so appreciated the question, because it gave Luki the right to be everything he was deep in his soul, for Sonny. To be for his lover, the man, the only man, who loved him, held him, took him there, and kept him all together, safe. “Oh yeah, baby. It’s good. Let it go. Come for me, sweetie. Come fucking all over me. I’ve got you safe.”

And Sonny did, not crying out at all this time, only a long soft exhalation, his cock jerking again and again, releasing sweet-salt-smelling streams of cum, white seed settling in splotches and pools on his own belly and on Luki’s chest. Luki relished the squeeze and spasm of Sonny’s ass on his cock, tried and failed to get a taste of the spurting seed, bit his lip, watched his love until Sonny quieted and smiled, looking Luki in the eye, but shyly, almost as if he was embarrassed.

Luki gave him a smile, said, “I love you, beautiful, sweet Sonny James,” and before Sonny’s eyes could mist or his lip quiver, Luki lay flat over him, pulling Sonny’s knees back even more but spreading them wide in the crooks of his elbows. He kissed him hard, long, purely sexual. Still hovering on Sonny’s mouth he said, “Gonna fuck you now, baby. Hard. Gonna fuck you real hard. That’s okay?”

“Oh! Yeah, Luki, please! Do me hard! Fuck me!”

Sonny being considerably younger than him, Luki marveled at the way Sonny’s cock was already hardening again. It just turned him on even more.

He pulled out of Sonny, getting a little cry of dismay for response. Having grabbed more lube and retouched his cock, he pulled Sonny to the edge of the bed and flipped him to his belly, neither gentle nor rough, just easy. “Spread wide and on your knees, now,” he said, and stood behind him. He’d greased up, but he didn’t go in easy. He slammed his hard cock home, reveling in Sonny’s pleased but slightly pained grunt. Again Luki asked, “Okay?”

“Please, yes!”

It wasn’t more than twenty strong, slick, fast strokes before Luki’s balls tightened, and seconds later his jizz shot deep inside his husband. He cried out some form of Sonny’s name, and this time Sonny cried out too, Luki’s excitement, excellent aim, and no-holds-barred fucking having taken Sonny to a second orgasm. Luki’s rhythm and strength changed, but he kept up the fucking, letting Sonny milk him dry. Finally, he slowly pulled free, turned Sonny onto his back, and fell down over him with a hard, smeary kiss on his lips. He lay still, just for a minute, letting all his weight blanket his husband.

He said, softly, in Sonny’s ear. “Damn, baby, you’re so fucking perfect. I love you. I do. So much. So, so much. So, so, so, so, so—”

Sonny giggled—yes giggled—and scrunched his shoulder to rescue his ear from the tickle.

Luki smiled and rolled to the side, wiping down both of their chests and bellies with his undershirt. That made Sonny giggle more, but Luki did it anyway and then lay down, stretched alongside the man he was sure was the most beautiful, the most perfect human ever born, and pulled him close so he could lay his head on Luki’s shoulder.

He started to let himself drowse, but then remembered he hadn’t taken proper care of Sonny that night. They hadn’t had dinner—nothing since those delicious burgers in Oregon. He muttered, his voice like gravel, “Baby, are you hungry?”

Sonny snuggled deeper into the cove of Luki’s embrace and said, “No. Maybe. No. I just want to sleep.” Then his stomach said its piece, which turned out to be a long, melodious complaint.

Luki felt Sonny stiffen with surprise, and even though Luki didn’t mean to laugh, he did, and once he started, he couldn’t stop. And soon Sonny was laughing full bore, Woody Woodpecker style. Luki couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed with abandon, but it felt good. He made himself slow down when tears were burning his eyes.

“Sonny, you are so fucking precious. So, so, so—”

Sonny, still chuckling, said, “Shut up.”

Becasue of Jade Release party post #5: Front matter, serious stuff, and the party-only giveaway!

May 24, 2014

On a somewhat more serious note, a little about the dedication, epigraphs, and author note in Because of Jade. And this is where that special contest comes in, uh-huh, yeah, I’m going there. Read to the bottom for the specifics. 

Jade  Luki snow quote

First, the dedication:

Both my beautiful daughters, Lillian Grace and Kimberly Rose, are adopted. I adopted them from that system we always complain about, children who birth parents did not do right by them. They were, respectively, not quite five, and just turned two. It wasn’t easy, but I am so lucky, so full of gratitude for them. They are both grown women now, strong and responsible and still they surprise me with their beauty every day. So for me, the subject of raising an adoptive child has special meaning, and I have to say that if I loved Luki and Sonny before this, I love them ever so much more now. I hope that their story rings true for everyone that has any role in a child’s life, even that of friend or neighbor.

Second, the epigraphs:

The first one is from Mark Twain: “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”

The second is from Marisa de los Santos: “No one is ever quite ready; everyone is always caught off guard. Parenthood chooses you. And you open your eyes, look at what you’ve got, say ‘Oh, my gosh,’ and recognize that of all the balls there ever were, this is the one you should not drop.”

Full length of a little young girl engaged in gardening

Lastly, as with the last four books, I wrote an Author’s Note for Because of Jade. It’s a little different, though, because I share some thoughts about the way parents and children affect each other’s lives. Here it is in its entirety:

The best part of raising a child, the most rewarding moments and days, might be described as living as lesser luminaries in the child’s orbit. In Because of Jade, Luki and Sonny face sea change in becoming, suddenly, the custodians of a small girl’s days, shedding light where she wonders, reflecting her joy, and serving as stars by which she navigates grief and fear. She, of course, teaches them at least as much about the world and each other as they teach her. Though we may think of children as a responsibility, I don’t doubt that they, in their way, take upon their small shoulders responsibility for us. It’s an equitable exchange: on one pan of the scale, loving a child; on the other, equally weighted, being a child.

We do the best we can to create security in our child’s world, and our child does the best they can to have faith in us. But the truth is, security is ephemeral at best. The events that unfold in Because of Jade may seem dramatic, but, in one way or another, attacks on good families happen in the real world far too often—not only against gay men, but against parents of every gender, sexuality, creed, and color.

That said, this story is purely fiction, and not only that, it’s a love story, a chapter in the romance of Luki Vasquez and Sonny James—two fabulous men who happened to meet one day in the pages of their first book, Loving Luki Vasquez. They’ve been married ten years in this tale, but their love remains strong, and when they fall into five-year-old Jade’s orbit, their deep love has a chance to take on a new shine. I hope with all my heart that you will enjoy this bumpy-road love story as much as I enjoyed putting it on the page.

I need a comment from you to enter the special release party giveaway, can be either of these:

(1)A thought on either of the epigraphs, or a quote on grief or parenting.
(2)Something you learned from a child, and (briefly) how that learning came about.

The prize is any V&J ebook and $15 to spend at Dreamspinner.