Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon recounts the adventures of Viktor, a fifty-year-old gay man in New York City trying to get back into the land of the living after the breakup of a twelve-year relationship. The novel examines the lives of a group of middle-aged gay men, exploring new facets of their sexuality while dealing with all the changes middle age brings.
Well, Dr. S told me to write about the first thing that comes into my mind, so it’s what I’m doing. “Don’t think. Just write,” he said. “Stop censoring yourself, Viktor. This will help you in your therapy too, Viktor.”
Okay, okay. If that’s what the shrink ordered, let’s see if this works. We’re supposed to listen to our shrinks, right? That’s their job, right? They know how to get us out of whatever fucking funk we’re in, right?
So here we go. I’m writing about the first thing that comes to my mind and it’s my erections. Here it is, a lovely Saturday afternoon, sun shining, snow melting, spring a’coming, a perfect time to enjoy life. And what am I doing? Sulking in my apartment obsessing about my cock.
Hell of a problem to have on a day like today, isn’t it? Shit, be honest, Viktor. You’re supposed to be honest with this writing thing, aren’t you? That was Dr. S’s other directive, wasn’t it? Honesty. He was full of directives last session, wasn’t he? Oh well, maybe I need some directives.
So where was I? Oh yes. Gorgeous day, shitty mood, focusing on my cock when I should be enjoying life.
Oh, come on. It’s not just about my cock. I know that. After all, I did my share of screwing around when I was younger. Not that I was the biggest stud around in my heyday, but during those few glorious weeks my sex life got going, I learned how to have a good time. Yes, I did! But then I met Gio and fell in love. And he fell in love with me. And we had twelve years of bliss—more or less—until he left me last year.
About the Author
Andy V Ambrose grew up in the Boston area and moved to New York City after college. He worked in book publishing for many years, wearing many hats: Editorial, Copyediting, Proofreading, and Production. This is his first novel featuring Viktor, a fifty-year-old gay man trying to get back into the world of the living after the end of a twelve-year relationship. To relax, Andy loves to ride his bike, read, watch foreign and independent movies, and travel. He’s only made it to three continents so far but hopes to visit the rest soon. He lives in New York City.
Ancient Druids, who monitored the Veil for centuries, curse a band of marauding Vikings. Now immortal and shifters, the cursed men must protect today’s Druids from Unseelie minions, allowing them to continue the rituals that protect all of humanity.
Ryley Duggan resented his family for forcing him home on his twenty-first birthday to perform another stupid fire ritual, instead of letting him go out and get shit-faced like normal people his age. He’d never believed in the stories his grandmother told him about the reason behind what they were doing. That was, until he walked outside to the bonfire to see bloodcurdling creatures that no Hollywood studio had ever come close to replicating, killing his family. Since an early age, Eirik had one job, to protect the descendants of the one who’d cursed him and his friends. It hadn’t been what he’d ever imagined for his life, but after nearly a millennium, Eirik had learned one thing, life never went as planned. Never had that been truer than when he’d rescued Ryley from certain death. Now the two must learn to work together to save humanity. Will all be lost? Or will they discover a way to heal their hearts by opening themselves up to love?
Kegan Tulach already knew that monsters were real. He’d faced them. Watched in horror as they killed those he loved. Then run from them. It was his response for the past two years. But now, on his twenty-first birthday, running wasn’t an option. He had nowhere to go. It was time for him to face his worst nightmare.
There weren’t many people who could do what Bjorn did. Fight monsters and live to tell the tale. It was a job thrust upon him as a kid. If he had known the true hell that would be cursed upon him, he would have preferred to die even though he’d only been fourteen at the time. Now, years later, he had hope that the curse would come to an end. The question was, would he choose the death he’d so desperately craved for more than a millennia, or would he do the one thing he swore he’d never do? Choose love.
If Kegan and Bjorn can find a way past their fears, they may discover something worth living for – each other.
WARNING: This book contains some graphic violence against Unseelie monsters and hot man on man love!
When it came to defense, or offense when needed, Cullen McIntyre thought he was prepared. It wasn’t until he watched as monsters he’d never knew existed walked out of thin air to kill members of his family, twice, that Cullen realized how wrong he’d been. By the third time he’d come face to face with those determined to kill him and the rest of his family for doing their duty, Cullen knew he needed help, and lots of it. The moment Ulf laid eyes on Cullen, he’d been enthralled by the man’s resolve to protect what was left of his family. Being shot and left for dead by Cullen should have cooled his desire for the fiery man, but it only made him want him more. By the time he caught up to Cullen, Ulf knew, without a doubt, the druid was destined to be his. Now he just needed to convince Cullen of that. As Cullen and Ulf join their friends to fight the monsters from the realm of the Fae, they find there is a new threat waiting to get through the Veil. A threat they might not be able to defeat. Will Ulf & Cullen get their chance at happily ever after, or will the Fae finally succeed in their quest to destroy the veil?
No way was Arne going to allow fate to chain him to a guy who thought all creatures, even those determined to kill you, were worthy of saving. Arne was a Viking warrior, death was his thing and he was damned good at it. Dermot Kincaid believed all of God’s creations deserved respect. He was a pacifist at heart, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t stand up for himself. Even when that meant getting retribution against the asshole who thought he was better than anyone else. When Arne and Dermot are attacked, they must find common ground so they can work together to defeat the enemy. If they can’t, they may not just risk losing, but they also risk their hearts developing a Fatal Frost.
His whole life Hrafn had been ridiculed for his inability to always understand things. He was slower than others when it came to comprehending the world around him, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want what everyone else did – love. Yet, he was sure that would never happen for him, for who could ever learn to love someone like him? With a knock on the door, Teagan’s world had been changed. Unsure how life could be so cruel and take his family from him, Teagan struggled to find meaning in his life. Searching for his ancestry led him to the place where the origins of his family tree began. If he’d known his being there would bring hell upon earth to that small town, he never would have come. Then again, if he hadn’t, he never would have met his fate. Hrafn and Teagan must find a way to break down the barriers of their past so they can see what is Beneath the Surface if they hope to find their eternal love.
About the Author
Best Selling author of the Cedar Falls Series, Paranormal War Series, and Miracle Series, Shea Balik has always had a vivid imagination with stories running around in her head. Often her stories are taken from observations of other people with her own spin.
Traveling is one of her favorite ways of fulfilling her passion of people watching. You never know, one day you may spark her imagination for her next book.
Whether at home or traveling she is usually in front of her computer writing or curled up with a good book.
You can stay up to date with everything Shea by following any or all links below:
Zach, Stevie, Adam and Garth are four friends spending their summer break from university working at the local amusement park. A shared interest in kink brought them together though their personalities and preferences are as varied as the rides they run. The last thing they expect is to be drawn into a world where the thrills are more about danger and death than an adrenalin rush.
Garth’s summer job running the ghost train at the local amusement park is supposed to be a stress-free way to earn some much-needed cash. His Goth looks are a bonus as far as his boss is concerned. The sunshine is a stark contrast to the macabre, spooky scenes inside the ride, but when one of the corpses proves to be more realistic than it should be, shadows are cast on the summer.
Clem sees potential in the moody fairground assistant with spiky hair and pretty blue eyes. He can’t wait to explore Garth’s submissive nature. But Clem isn’t quite what he seems and he might be all that stands between Garth and a violent death. Earning Garth’s trust won’t be easy in a world where secrets can mean survival.
Stevie is sweet and shy—the only hint of an independent spirit comes from his lilac hair. For years he’s harboured a crush on his best friend, Adam, who is everything Stevie isn’t. The problem? When it comes to love, Adam is a bit slow on the uptake.
On top of that, Stevie fears the escaped killer known as Harlequin is targeting his friends, and clings to his role managing the merry-go-round for some semblance of normality. But someone is watching from shadows even the summer sun can’t penetrate.
Realising that life can be all too short, Adam takes steps to ensure that Stevie will be his. All his protective instincts kick in when Stevie attracts some unwanted—and very dangerous—attention, but he can’t take care of him alone. The group of friends needs to band together because the bright lights and whirling horses of the merry-go-round won’t be enough to keep Stevie alive. Some killers are far too good at hiding in plain sight.
Life can slide out of control when you least expect it.
Of his group of friends, Zach is the only one yet to find his kinky-ever-after. The contract killer, Harlequin, is still on the loose, Zach’s dad is ill, a result of the stress caused by knowing the family amusement park is being used as an exchange point by drug runners, and Zach is faced with problems much tougher than the mathematical equations he’s used to.
Daniel Raynott has had his eye on Zach for some time. Now that Zach is no longer in his class at the university, he can act on his instincts and give Zach the guidance he desperately needs. As a Dom, Daniel demands obedience. As a man, he falls hard for Zach’s vulnerable innocence.
A boring summer has a lot of appeal, but Zach has about as much control over events as he does a trip down the helter skelter. He finds himself in danger more than once. Will Daniel be able to protect him or will the holiday season culminate in tragedy?
“Turn around,” Daniel said. “Bend over the bench.”
Zach stared at him. The expression he got in return was implacable.
“You can always use your safe word.”
Slowly, an internal debate raging in his mind about the wisdom of his actions, Zach did as he was told. The top of the bench cushioned his body. He shifted his feet wider apart for more stability. It felt strange to have his arms loose and dangling so he grasped the handle set in the side of the bench. He wondered if Daniel would tie him down and the thought made him grip the ring harder, palms sweating. When Daniel touched him, he gasped.
“Try to relax. We are going to take this as slow as you need. I’m not going to restrain you—you don’t even need to think about your safe word. You can just stand up and walk away if this gets too much.”
“If what gets too much, Sir?”
Daniel stroked his back, then his arse, resting his hand on the curve of his butt. “I’m going to paddle you, give you something else to think about other than your dad. The pain will focus your thoughts.” He undid Zach’s jeans then pushed them down to his thighs. “I’d prefer to do this with you naked but that might be a step too far for today.” Zach’s underwear went next, the fabric catching on his erection as Daniel rolled the cotton shorts down.
Zach trembled and his breathing sped up. He can see my arse. He’s going to spank it. Oh my God. The tip of his cock brushed the side of the spanking bench.
“Stunning.” Daniel stroked Zach’s backside. He pushed a finger between his cheeks to brush his hole and Zach’s mind blanked. “I’ll start slowly. The heat will build before it becomes painful.”
The first blow was little more than a tap. Zach sighed as Daniel built a rhythm, placing the strikes evenly on each arse cheek.
“Nice and pink now. Very pretty.”
The impact increased, creating a deep-seated ache. Zach clenched his glutes, craving more. As if sensing his need, Daniel landed a blow on the crease between arse and thigh. Zach sucked in his breath.
“No, Sir. More please.” Zach lost himself in sensation as endorphins flooded his system. He humped the side of the bench, desperate for friction, and sobbed, overwhelmed by the revelation that he took pleasure from pain.
About the Author
LM lives in a small village in the English countryside, surrounded by rolling hills, cows and sheep. She started writing to fill time between jobs and is now firmly and unashamedly addicted.
She loves the English weather, especially the rain, and adores a thunderstorm. She loves good food, warm company and a crackling fire. She’s fascinated by the psychology of relationships, especially between men, and her stories contain some subtle (and some not so subtle) leanings towards BDSM.
LM is winner of the National Leather Association’s Pauline Reage Award for best novel and the 2016 and 2018 Golden Flogger Awards for best BDSM novel in the LGBT category. She has received multiple Honorable Mentions in the Rainbow Awards and won the Action and Adventure category of Divine Magazine’s Book Awards.
Dreamspinner Press is running a special price offer on the series during the Blog Tour.
Book 1 will be $1.99 – Book 2 $2.99 – Book 3 $3.99
BOOK 1 – Warlock in Training – 78 000 words
Can be read as a standalone story
Angus Donohue doesn’t want to be a warlock. He believes draining demons for magic is evil, but it’s a dangerous opinion to have—his father is a powerful and well-connected warlock, and Angus is expected to follow the family tradition.
His only way out is to fail the demon summoning class. Failure means expulsion from the Warlock College. Despite Angus’s best efforts to fumble the summoning, it works. Although not the way anyone expects.
Angus’s demon, Saka, is a powerful mage with his own need for a warlock.
Saka wants to use Angus in a ritual to rebalance the magic that is being stripped from Demonside by warlocks. If Angus survives his demon’s desires and the perils of Demonside, he’ll have to face the Warlock College and their demands.
Angus must choose: obey the College and forget about Demonside or trust Saka and try to fix the damage before it’s too late. Whatever he does, he is in the middle of a war he isn’t qualified to fight.
IT WASN’T that Angus Donohue couldn’t summon a demon; it was that he didn’t want to. He didn’t even want to be here. A cool breeze brushed against his skin, and the trees around him rattled like a closet full of old bones. Maybe if he didn’t put enough will into the spell the whole thing would fall apart.
If he couldn’t summon a demon, he’d fail the class and get kicked out of the exclusive Warlock College his father had forced him to attend. While there was a certain prestige in being a warlock, it wasn’t what Angus wanted to do with his life. He certainly didn’t want a demon to draw magic from. He had to fail this class. His father would be horrified, but Angus would be free from all things magical.
“Widdershins, three times,” the lecturer commanded.
All the college students of Demonology 102 started walking anti-clockwise around the circles they had carefully constructed out of will. Angus suppressed the shiver. He wasn’t afraid of demons. Okay, maybe just a little. What if his demon was something truly monstrous?
Last semester they’d been learning about the different types of demons and the theory behind drawing magic from one. This semester was about putting that knowledge into practice. Those people with magic who didn’t draw on demons were called wizards and usually sold their services cheaply in the local paper. Angus didn’t want to be a practicing wizard either. Just because he had magic didn’t mean he needed to make a career out of it, and telling his father that hadn’t been a wise move. His father had spent three hours railing about why wizards were dangerous and should be banned from practicing magic.
So here he was, trying to summon a demon that he didn’t want, to give himself more of the magic that he didn’t want either. He let his circle weaken and his attention drift. He would not summon a demon.
He’d have rather been a vet.
Maybe studied medicine.
Although the rich, these days, saw specialist warlock healers who had demons. Though his father sneered at them too. He sneered at anything that didn’t increase his power and standing. That he was on the board of the East Vinland Warlock College did not make life IT WASN’T that Angus Donohue couldn’t summon a demon; it was that he didn’t want to. He didn’t even want to be here. A cool breeze brushed against his skin, and the trees around him rattled like a closet full of old bones. Maybe if he didn’t put enough will into the spell the whole thing would fall apart.
If he couldn’t summon a demon, he’d fail the class and get kicked out of the exclusive Warlock College his father had forced him to attend. While there was a certain prestige in being a warlock, it wasn’t what Angus wanted to do with his life. He certainly didn’t want a demon to draw magic from. He had to fail this class. His father would be horrified, but Angus would be free from all things magical.
“Widdershins, three times,” the lecturer commanded.
All the college students of Demonology 102 started walking anti-clockwise around the circles they had carefully constructed out of will. Angus suppressed the shiver. He wasn’t afraid of demons. Okay, maybe just a little. What if his demon was something truly monstrous?
BOOK 2 – Rogue in the Making – 87 000 words
The blood sacrifices have brought rain to Demonside, but across the void, the Warlock College of Vinland is still storing and gathering magic, heedless of the warnings of the international magical community. The underground is full of warlocks who disagree with the college, but do they care about wizards and demons or only about snatching power?
With a foot in each world, Angus is no longer sure whom he can trust. The demons don’t trust humans, and even though he is learning more magic, he will never be one of them. He is human and only tolerated. Some demons would be happy to slit his throat. It’s only because his demon is powerful in his own right that Angus is alive.
Saka only has a year to prove that Angus’s people can change and that the magic taken will be rebalanced, but the demons want action. His affection for Angus is clouding his judgment and weakening his position in the tribe. Time is running out, and he must make a choice.
Sheets of ice are spreading across the human world, ushering in an ice age as the magic drained from Demonside turns that world into a desert. Angus and reluctant warlock Terrance have defected from Vinland to the Mayan Empire—a land of dark and potent magic. But the Mayans aren’t offering sanctuary for free.
Nor is the world willing to stand back as Vinland attacks, and the backlash will affect all magic users.
Mage Saka has no tribe. He is now just another refugee fleeing the dying Demonside. He knows the conflict brewing now will be worse than the first demon war. Countries are banding together—not just against Vinland, but against all magic. Where will the powerful Mayan Empire stand?
Angus might have the power to fight Vinland and the Warlock College, but the cost will be terrible. Saka is torn between helping Angus and stopping him. And Terrance would do anything for Angus, but he’s terrified of the man Angus is becoming, even as Saka is warming to the idea of a relationship between the three of them.
No matter what choice they make, victory will be bittersweet, and when the ash settles and the snow melts, nothing will be the same.
TJ Nichols is the author of the Studies in Demonology and Mytho series. Having grown up reading thrillers and fantasy novels, it’s no surprise that mixing danger and magic comes so easily. Writing urban fantasy allows TJ to make sure that evil gets vanquished and the hero gets his man.
With two cats acting as supervisors, TJ has gone from designing roads to building worlds and wouldn’t have it any other way. After traveling all over the world and Australia, TJ now lives in Perth, Western Australia.
Easter Valley is a place for shifters to thrive, protect each other, and be themselves. It’s also a place for friendships, laughs… and love. From the Alpha, to the shyest of pack members, these mates find their way into each other’s arms in this trio of romantic comedy tales, and while the path to love can be bumpy when fate is involved, the endings are always happy.
The stories should preferably read in order but can be read individually as they have their own main characters and HEA.
Author: C.C. Dado
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht
Genre/s: Paranormal Comedy, M/M Romance
Trope/s: Fated Mates
Overall Heat Rating: 2 flames (my stories are intended to be more comedy romance, bordering on young adult)
Fate is a funny thing. Some try to cut its threads, while others wrap themselves in it like a blanket.
Young wolf shifter Max is cocky and crass. Unlike others his age, he has yet to discover a talent that will serve his pack. Since childhood, he’s been convinced the pack alpha is his mate, but Alpha Christian cannot envision unfiltered and directionless Max taking the place of his elegant mother at the head of the pack. As Max begins to build a life with his best friend, he also begins to see that maybe what he thought was inevitable was all in his head, and it’s time to move on.
Seth has a secret: he has a crush on the human next door. His brilliant plan to meet Jack, the man of his dreams who happens to be an animal trainer? Take wolf form and ask his best friend, Max, to take him next door for training. Seth is the only one surprised when things go horribly awry.
Still, can this shy wolf and a human meet their fate as mates?
He is a fearless protector by nature and in his heart. But nothing’s ever simple with love… or fate.
At nearly seven feet tall, Zeus’s role had always been to protect the pack—but his newest charges need him more than most. Kimber and Kron are transplants from another pack, and they have a dangerous stranger on their tails. Zeus is determined to do his duty and drive the human out of town. But when he confronts Toren, his wolf has other ideas….
Something isn’t right, but should a huge, tattooed wolf with a secret soft heart fear his fate—to love a man with secrets of his own?
Seth walked down to the bakery to get the ovens warming and opened the window behind the sink so it didn’t get too hot. It was still early morning, but it was already at least seventy degrees out. He could smell the morning dew burning off under the sun. He spent the next few hours preparing the backup set of baked goods for the display cases. Max had come in a little while ago to get the front ready for another busy Saturday. Seth was really glad they had high school kids helping out in the afternoons now, so they didn’t have to put in such a long day. Seth was on his last batch of cupcakes. He’d grabbed the muffin tin off the cooling rack and started filling the paper cups with batter when he heard a commanding voice pierce through the window.
Seth was unable to control his response as he dropped his spatula and sat his butt hard onto the floor. What the hell was that? Not even his alpha had that type of control over him. His premonition of undecidedly awful things coming ran through his mind—this is it. He barely registered the squeak of the swinging half doors as Max walked into the kitchen from the front.
“Whatcha doing there?” Max asked, leaning across the kitchen island.
Seth stared up at Max, his eyes blown wide. “I have no idea,” he said, the cupcake tin he had somehow managed not to drop still held awkwardly in the air.
“Lie down.” The voice came through the window again.
Max looked at Seth questioningly as Seth instantly fell onto his back.
“Okay…,” Max said, obviously trying to stay calm. “That was weird, right? Did you just lie down because someone outside said to?”
Seth whined, lying on the floor of the bakery in shock, scared eyes staring toward the ceiling.
Max came around the island, rushing to help Seth up.
“Okay, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m calling Christian.” Max pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“Wait,” Seth said, needing a moment to process.
“Umm, no. We should call Christian.” Max leaned over the sink to see out the window into the backyard. “There’s a guy out back at the house next door. I think it’s the new neighbor. Maybe he’s an evil wizard or something. Is that a real thing? Oh….” He paused. “He’s pretty hot, but like not really my type. I like them with a little more muscle, to the point where their shirts stretch just a bit across their chest and shoulders, like Christian’s do. But he’s not bad, lanky, brunet too,” he said, sounding disappointed. “I prefer blonds, and he has on glasses. Can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of a man in glasses, but they fit on him.”
“Are you seriously checking out my neighbor right now?” Seth demanded, his anxiety starting to lower from DEFCON 3 as he took calming breaths.
“No, I mean yes, but not for me. Sorry, okay. Focus. Let’s get you up off the floor. We’ll call Christian and Zeus.”
Seth let Max help him up off the ground, and he peeked out the window. “Wait,” he said again, stopping Max’s hand as he reached for the phone in his pocket. “I’m not scared anymore.”
“What do you mean, you’re not scared anymore? You just laid down on the ground because someone told you to.”
“I know. And it scared me at first too. Normally I’d still be having a full-blown panic attack in the corner, probably crying a little, but I’m not.”
“Okay, so, you don’t want me to call Christian because you’re not freaking out anymore that someone is controlling your mind?” Max sarcastically summarized.
Seth shook his head at his friend. “I meant, I’m not panicking. The voice, it makes me feel different, like in a good way, peaceful almost.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re obviously not thinking clearly. You’ve lost the ability to make your own choices. I’ll have Christian’s lawyer draw up papers. I’ll be your legal guardian from now on.”
“If you’re ever the rational one out of the two of us, we’re both screwed, and I’m not insane, just curious, I guess. I don’t want to tell them yet.” Seth looked out at the stranger again. He was tall, his dark brown, wavy hair fell just past his shoulders, his nose was a little too big for his face, and Seth thought it was perfect. “Handsome but not too perfect.” His earlier words to Max about his preferences played back through his mind, making him take a deep breath.
Max leaned in next to him a bit to get a better look. “What is he doing out there?” Max attempted to whisper, watching intently out of the window.
“Zeus said he was a trainer.”
“Oh, Seth,” Max said, pausing to choke back a laugh with his fist. “He’s a dog trainer.” He snorted, apparently unable to hold it in any longer, “And you’re… you’re obeying his commands.”
Seth could barely make out what Max was saying past his laughter.
“Shit, I think I may die,” Max said, bent over the counter, holding his side. “This might be the best thing that has ever happened in my life.”
“I hate you,” Seth said, focusing his attention back out the window. Recalling his conversation with Zeus, the new neighbor was a dog trainer. Seth watched as the man knelt down in the grass and patted his leg for the dog to come. The chocolate lab bounced his way across the yard, ramming into the man.
“That’s a good boy.” The man’s purr sent chills over Seth’s body. His wolf was definitely awake, pulling at him to get closer.
About the Author
I write about painfully awkward, usually embarrassing, romance because long confident gazes followed by sexy dancing NEVER happens to me. I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, and will probably never leave. I’m like a hypochondriac sundae, with claustrophobic sprinkles, and a big cherry of anxiety on top, so I don’t travel much. I read to relax my mind, so I love getting lost in someone else’s story, even if it is only for a little while.
Will they get a second chance to rekindle their love?
Isaac was kicked out by his family at a young age.
It took him years of hard work to become his own man. Now he’s helping the LGBTQ youth of Lisbon so they don’t have to go through the same.
Max has a long and troubled past.
An ER nurse in New York City who volunteers at the local Liberty center, he knows first hand what it’s like to lose your family and having to make it on your own.
A chance encounter between the two a year ago has them hoping for a happy ever after, if not for the distance between them, but when Isaac takes a temporary work placement in Manhattan, the two men have an opportunity to find what their love is made of.
Will they make it, or will life’s tests tear them apart for good?
Made In Manhattan is the fourth installment in the Made In series by Ana Newfolk. It is a standalone gay romance novel with a HEA ending and no cliffhanger. Fair warning, there will be naked man-parts touching, a touch of angst, and the claws of an overprotective cat.
Made in Manhattan is 62k words and features the same main characters from Made In New York – A Christmas Short Story.
You don’t have to read it, but you may want to find out how Max and Isaac first met.
Isaac pushed me away, his eyes tight and piercing.
“What do you mean, you missed me so much? If you’d missed me so much then why didn’t you—”
“Isaac.” I put my hands on either side of his face so he would have no choice but to hear me out. “Can we talk, please?”
Fate really was a bitch.
I didn’t dare break eye contact for fear this was all a dream.
The club was packed so when someone elbowed me as they were trying to get past the motion jolted me into action, and with one step forward I wrapped Isaac in my arms, my face burrowing in the space between his neck and shoulder, his mass of dark curls soft against my skin.
He froze for a moment but then his arms came around me. As his body relaxed into the embrace, I swear a sob came from his chest.
He smelled of fresh pine; manly, woody, and so familiar it was making me dizzy.
I wanted to stay with Isaac like this for as long as I possibly could, which turned out to be not long at all because I had to ruin the moment with those five words.
He let out a long breath as if he was reminding himself we were in a club surrounded by people, and sat down at the table. I wanted to sit next to him, but it would be easier to keep eye contact if we were facing each other.
It had taken two days last Christmas for Isaac to do what many had tried and failed. He’d unpeeled the many layers of protection I’d built around my heart before hopping on a plane to return to his home in Portugal.
Six months later and three thousand miles away from my home in New York, I found myself right back where I’d been on the night I’d saved him from a fire, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.
Except this time it was worse because I already knew what those eyes looked like when he smiled, what those lips looked like when they were all plump from kissing, and what his mere presence could do to my heart.
I should have known this would happen. There hadn’t been a day since I’d booked my flight to Portugal that I hadn’t thought of him. If I was honest, there hadn’t been a single day since I last saw him that he hadn’t teased my thoughts.
The first time I’d looked into his eyes, after I’d saved him from the fire, he’d been barely conscious, sitting against me on the pavement outside the LGBT Youth Center. All I’d seen was his wild curly hair, but when I’d pushed it away from his face and seen him open his eyes, he’d literally taken my breath away.
The second time I’d had the chance to look into his eyes from a close distance I’d seen it all, and it had been just before he’d pulled me into a kiss on top of the Empire State Building.
About the Author
Ana Newfolk was born in Portugal where she grew up surrounded by sunshine and countryside. She has always had a deep love of reading, and ever since she can remember her favorite presents and treats have always been books. She would often be found in her not-so-secret spot reading her favorite adventure books (when she was younger) and romance novels (when she discovered boys). At 20 years old she moved to the UK where she has lived since.
In 2015 Ana stumbled across her first MM romance novel by chance, and she was hooked. She loves reading about men falling in love, hard, fast and ever so sweetly. This new found love for LGBTQ+ romance has opened a new world for Ana, and in 2017 she decided to finally listen to the voices in her head and write them down.
In addition to the time she spends reading and writing Ana has a full-time job that involves meeting lots of people with interesting stories to tell. She also loves baking as much as she loves watching people eat what she creates, much to the delight of family, friends and work colleagues alike.
You can follow Ana on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or through her blog for up to date news of her book releases.
Media mogul Jesse Murtagh and bartender Kyle McKee decide to go into business together and open Under Lock & Key, a speakeasy on the upper West Side of Manhattan. The bar, with its secret passphrases and craft liquor cocktails, becomes a sanctuary for Jesse and Kyle’s circle of friends, who gather once a month to catch up with each other and share their experiences.
Under is both hang out and haven for the men who spend time within its walls and their friendships build family ties that are sometimes missing from their own lives.
The stories can be read in order or as standalones.
Book Title: With A Twist (The Speakeasy Book 1)
Author: K. Evan Coles and Brigham Vaughn
Publisher: Pride Publishing/Totally Entwined Group
Nursing a broken heart when his ex-boyfriend, Riley, leaves him for the love of his life, Carter, Will Martin throws himself into teaching at NYU and writing. An invite from Riley to a speakeasy called Under helps Will begin to heal, and he finds himself enjoying both the drinks and the company.
Soon after, he’s shaken by news of his father’s cancer diagnosis and Will reluctantly returns to Long Island to see the man who disowned him after he was outed.
Sparks fly when Will meets his father’s mentee, Republican Senator David Mori, who is both mixed race and openly gay. Will is looking for a no-strings-attached fling and David is leery of getting involved with his mentor’s son, so they keep their affair a secret.
As his father’s health worsens, Will elects to remain in Garden City and his relationship with David grows beyond casual sex. Now, both men must decide how to bridge the divide between them.
Will Martin set down his empty mug and flipped to the next page of the New York Times. A familiar profile caught his attention and, despite his better judgment, he read the caption below the photo of two smiling and laughing men in tuxedos.
The year’s hottest gay couple cut a fine figure at the Met premiere last night. Riley Porter-Wright and Carter Hamilton are still going strong. The couple appeared oblivious to those around them as they talked during intermission. They were joined by the former Mrs. Hamilton, who seems to have forgiven Mr. Porter-Wright for stepping into her place. Also there was her new paramour, Robert… The ex-Mrs. Porter-Wright was nowhere to be seen. The couple have been spotted at—
Annoyed, Will threw the newspaper on the coffee table. Everywhere he turned there were reminders of his ex-boyfriend Riley’s happiness with his new love. Well, long-time love, really. Will had competed with Riley’s best friend, Carter, the entire time they’d been together.
But how could Will have competed with a man Riley had loved since college? Riley had left his wife to explore his bisexuality and Carter had ultimately done the same. Will had been foolish for thinking he could offer Riley more than a man who had known him for a decade and a half could.
Will scrubbed a hand through his hair and stood. I need a change of scenery right now, he thought and glanced around the living room of his stylish Manhattan condo.
His laptop screen glowed at him from his desk by the windows. He’d planned to take the morning off and enjoy the gorgeous early June weather, but with edits looming over him and reminders of Riley lurking around the edges of his consciousness, relaxation seemed out of the question.
“Fine, fine,” Will muttered under his breath. “Work it is.”
He filled his cup with coffee, doctored it with cream and sugar and took a seat at his desk. He pulled up his manuscript and scrolled to the place he’d left off—Bernard Schwartz’s appointment as Chief Counsel of the House Legislative Oversight Subcommittee.
Half an hour later, Will’s phone trilled on the desk and he blinked to clear the haze from his brain. Riley flashed across the screen. Speak of the devil, he thought, then immediately chastised himself. Riley wasn’t the problem. Riley loving Carter instead of Will wasn’t even the major issue. Will’s habit of falling for emotionally unavailable men then struggling to get over them was something he desperately needed to change.
Not wanting his ex to sense the turmoil in his head, Will made sure to keep his tone pleasant. “Hey, Riley.”
“Hey, Will. How have you been?”
“Good. Making solid progress on my book.” Will sat back in his chair.
“Oh, that’s right, you’re not teaching during the summer semester, are you?”
“No, I decided to focus on my writing. I’m in the midst of edits, so I’ll be spending the summer cursing at a computer screen while I try not to tear my hair out.”
“What a rewarding career,” Riley said teasingly.
Will chuckled and relaxed a little. He’d always enjoyed Riley’s sense of humor. “I must be a masochist for voluntarily subjecting myself to college students and editors.” Will taught legal history at New York University and had published a handful of well-regarded books on the topic. He suspected Riley hadn’t called to ask about his writing, however. “How’s work? Is your father still pretending you don’t exist at the office?”
“I think he’s hoping I’ll leave Porter-Wright Publishing, to be honest. He and Geneva were polite when Carter and I took the kids to the company picnic but I’m sure it’s only because they were afraid of looking bad.”
“Appearances above all else,” Will muttered. He and Riley had always had that in common. Although at least Will spoke to his mother occasionally and kept in contact with his sister, Olivia. Riley’s relationship with his parents was far worse. “How are things with you and Carter? And the little Hamiltons?”
“Really good.” Will could hear the smile in Riley’s voice. “We all spent last weekend in Southampton at the beach house.”
Riley sounded so happy every time they talked about Carter and his kids. Will’s heart ached, knowing he could never have made Riley that happy, but on the whole he was glad Riley had found the contentment he’d searched for.
“Anyway,” Riley interrupted his thoughts, “I called for a reason. You know Jesse Murtagh and Kyle McKee, right?”
“Vaguely. I met them at Carter’s birthday and Jesse again at your holiday party last winter.”
“Right. Well, they’re opening a speakeasy in a week or so.”
Will laughed. “A speakeasy? That’s intriguing.”
“It’s basically ready to go, and they’ve been inviting friends in to see it and try the cocktails. I called to see if you would like to meet me there tonight. I thought we could grab some drinks and catch up.”
Riley hesitated. “No. Carter will be there with Jesse and Kyle. Along with six or eight of our friends.”
Will stifled a sigh. “Riley…”
“Hey, I know it’s going to be awkward. But it’s been six months. You and I are doing pretty well with our friendship. So, stop being a fucker and come.”
Will couldn’t prevent the laugh that escaped him. “Well, when you word it that way, how can I possibly resist?”
“No, I don’t mean to be glib. I know this isn’t easy for you, but I don’t want to lose you as a friend.” Riley sounded earnest. “I’m asking a lot, but I’d like for you to be able to hang out with all of us. And hey, maybe you’ll meet the perfect guy there.”
Will snorted. “I’m definitely not looking for the last part, but sure, I’ll come. What time and where am I meeting you?”
* * * *
Later that evening, Will glanced around Lock & Key, a pub on the edge of the upper West Side in Morningside Heights, where Riley had arranged for them to meet. The floors were scuffed and slightly gritty under his feet and the tables and chairs had seen better days. The pub was entirely ordinary and not at all what Will had expected.
“Have dive bars become your thing?” he asked, mystified.
Riley laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “This is not our destination for the night. Someone Kyle used to work with owns Lock & Key. The speakeasy is underneath.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “UnderLock & Key? Clever.”
“What can I say, my friends are punny.” Riley grinned. “Come on, follow me.” He strode to the end of the bar and opened an unmarked door. Will followed more slowly. At the end of a hallway was an old-fashioned phone mounted on the wall.
Riley picked it up and spoke. “Let me in, you fucker.” He fell silent for a moment then tipped his head back and laughed. “That is the passphrase, you jackass!”
Riley hung up the handset and turned to Will, merriment clearly written across his face. “Jesse,” he said, as if that was explanation enough.
In truth, it probably was. Jesse Murtagh was one of a kind. Part of a powerful media family in Manhattan, he was also pansexual and the biggest flirt Will had ever encountered. Not to mention charming and incredibly handsome—no wonder Carter had been attracted to him. Like Will, Jesse had been left in Riley and Carter’s wake once they’d decided to get together, but Will suspected Jesse had been far less affected.
“Are you coming down or what?” A door opened at the end of the hall and Jesse appeared, a smile lighting his face and making his bright blue eyes twinkle. He glanced over at Will and gave him an appreciative grin.
“Glad you could join us tonight, Will. You’re looking good.”
Will chuckled and stepped forward to offer Jesse his hand. “It’s good to see you too.” Irrepressible flirt notwithstanding, Jesse had a compelling presence. Broad shoulders capped off a tall, lean body and the closely-cropped beard he sported framed full lips. Not Will’s type, but easy on the eyes.
“Think you can manage to not storm off this time?” Jesse asked, raking a hand through his dark-blond hair.
Riley groaned. “Jes…”
Will smiled, despite his stab of discomfort at the reminder of the dramatic ending to his and Riley’s relationship six months prior at a Christmas party. Will had finally realized the futility of his feelings for Riley that night and caused a scene in front of a small group of their combined friends, including Jesse and Carter. Ugh. It hadn’t been one of his finer moments.
“I think I can behave tonight,” he said aloud. “So, a speakeasy, huh? What made you decide to open that?”
Jesse held open the door and allowed Riley and Will to precede him down another long, narrow hallway. “Why not? Kyle wanted to open a bar. We looked at a ton of locations and were bored by all of them, but when our friend Matt mentioned the space under Lock & Key, it all fell into place. Who doesn’t want to own an underground, secret bar?”
“I can’t say it’s ever crossed my mind,” Will admitted. They reached the end of the hall and Riley pushed open another unmarked door to reveal a stairwell. Although well-lit, the walls were painted black and totally bare.
“This is the problem with you, Will,” Jesse said. “You’re so buttoned up. You need to live a little.”
“Well I’m spending the evening at a speakeasy with you,” Will said as he followed Riley down the stairs. “Will that do for now?”
Jesse laughed. “Touché.”
Riley pushed open a door at the bottom of the steps and the sight of the bar rendered Will mute.
In sharp contrast to the run-down bar above, the speakeasy was stylish and welcoming. Open shelves on the walls were filled with bottles of liquor. Inlaid floors were topped with sleek leather and metal furniture, and candles in votives glowed on the tables. The mellow music and subdued lighting lent the space an atmosphere of sophisticated relaxation.
Astonished, Will glanced over at Jesse. “This is incredible. I’m impressed.”
“You have good taste, I’ll give you that.” Jesse grasped his shoulder and squeezed. “C’mon, let me get you a drink.”
As Will crossed the room to the bar, Riley slipped into a spot beside Carter on the leather sofa. Will tried to hide a wince as Carter reached for Riley’s knee and squeezed it without pausing in conversation.
“Wistful or vaguely nauseated?” Jesse asked as he took a seat on one of the bar stools.
Will glanced at him. “Excuse me?”
“Was the look because you wish you had that with Riley or because you’re grossed out by two people being disgustingly in love?”
“A little of both, I suppose.” Will had nothing against relationships, but they were starting to seem like a pipe dream for him.
A man appeared behind the bar and Will easily recognized him as Carter’s friend, Kyle.
“Will, right?” he said, holding out a hand. “Kyle McKee.”
“Yeah, hi. We met at Carter’s birthday dinner.”
Kyle smiled. “It’s nice to see you again.”
They shook and Will gave Kyle a once-over. Kyle was easily six feet tall, with broad shoulders, thick dark hair trimmed short on the sides, and heavy but well-groomed brows over dark eyes. Unlike Jesse, Kyle was very much Will’s type. Except for the suspenders he wore over his crisp gray shirt and his rolled-up sleeves. Kyle pulled them off better than most, but the look screamed hipster too much for Will’s tastes.
“Great place you have here.” Will glanced around. “I like it.”
“Thanks.” Kyle’s eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. “I’m pleased to hear it. A speakeasy wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I told Jesse I wanted to open a bar, but I’m glad I decided to go for it.”
Jesse grinned. “When will all of you learn my ideas are always brilliant?”
“Probably never.” Kyle turned back to Will. “So, what can I get you? We have a wide selection of beer, wine and cocktails.” He slid a leather-bound book in Will’s direction.
Will perused it for a moment before he closed the cover. “You know what? Surprise me. Make me a cocktail.”
“Hmm. I can do that. Anything you particularly dislike?”
“Anything too sweet. And Amaretto.”
Kyle scrutinized Will for a moment before his eyes gleamed. “Got it.”
Will watched with interest as Kyle pulled a glass out of the freezer and mixed together cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. A few moments later, Kyle poured it into a glass, topped it with a twist of lemon and slid the drink across the bar to him. “Sidecar. Tell me what you think.”
Will raised the glass to his lips and took a sip. He found the drink refreshingly cold and a perfect blend of sour and sweet with a fresh citrusy taste balanced nicely by the cognac. “That’s delicious.”
Kyle grinned. “Excellent.”
“C’mon.” Jesse picked up a tumbler filled with amber-colored liquid and a large spherical ice cube. It clinked pleasantly as he moved. “Let’s go hang out with the guys.”
The majority of the patrons were part of Riley and Carter’s group, spread out across two leather sofas and a handful of chairs that made a square seating area around a finely crafted wood coffee table. Riley leaned forward and set his martini glass down. Will placed his own drink on a table and pulled up a chair.
“Everyone, this is Will Martin. Some of you met him at Carter’s birthday and a few of you met him over the holidays. I’ll introduce everyone, though.”
Will gave him a brief smile. “Thanks.”
“You know Carter, obviously.” Carter nodded in greeting and Will returned it. “Next to Carter is his sister, Audrey.” A tan blonde woman gave him a smile over a martini glass filled with something frothy and yellow. “And Audrey’s husband, Max.” An attractive, bearded man with brown hair and light brown eyes raised a pilsner glass in greeting.
Riley continued around the circle. “Gale, Jarrod, Henry and Miles are friends of Carter’s.” The men waved and murmured their hellos.
“You seem outnumbered here, Audrey,” Will said.
She grinned at him. “I’m not complaining. My brother has some very good-looking friends.”
Her husband elbowed her. “What am I? Chopped liver?”
“Never, darling. But I see you every day.”
Kyle seated himself at an empty chair across the group. “You’re a law professor, right, Will?”
Will nodded and took a sip of his drink. “Yes, at NYU. I’m spending the summer working on my latest book.”
“What do you write?” Max asked. “I’d love to hear about it.”
Will chuckled. “You may regret you asked, but I’m currently writing about the Chief Counsel of the House Legislative Oversight Subcommittee.”
“So, political law then?”
“I couldn’t totally avoid the family business,” Will said dryly.
Audrey frowned. “You have a family member who’s a politician?”
“My father.” Will made a face. “And a Republican at that.”
“How does that work at family dinners?” Audrey asked. “I thought my parents and Carter were bad, but at least they’re not pushing discriminatory legislation.”
“I haven’t spoken to him since college, to be honest.” Will took a fortifying sip of his sidecar. “I see my mother and sister on occasion, but never when he’s around.”
Riley shot him a sympathetic smile.
“Sorry to pry,” Audrey said with an apologetic glance. “I’ve been battling my parents about them shutting Carter out and that’s difficult enough.”
“Ancient history.” Will waved off her apology. “What do you do, Audrey?”
“I chair several philanthropic organizations. And I recently got involved with PFLAG.” She exchanged a look with her brother.
Jesse leaned forward. “Beautiful and socially aware? Be still, my beating heart. If Max hadn’t met you first…” Jesse took a sip of his drink. “That goes both ways, Max.”
Max chuckled and Carter rolled his eyes. “We’ve had this discussion before, Jesse. No hitting on my sister or my brother-in-law, please. And definitely not both at once.”
A chorus of laughter rose. Riley chimed in with a humorous comment as Will relaxed back in his chair and sipped his drink, enjoying the banter flying around the room. He’d been far too antisocial since the breakup and he was glad he’d taken Riley up on his invitation.
* * * *
A few hours later, Will reluctantly excused himself. He’d had a wonderful time and had enjoyed the witty conversation. It had left him feeling lighter and more relaxed than he had in a while. “I’m going to head home. I have an early game of racquetball planned with Charles tomorrow. I had a great night,” Will said. “Thanks for inviting me, Riley. Carter.”
“I’m glad you came,” Carter said with a nod. He offered Will a sincere smile that crinkled the corners of his hazel eyes and Will grudgingly admitted he could see Carter’s appeal. His jealousy had blinded him too much to appreciate Carter’s broad-shouldered, long-legged build and handsome face before.
Will said goodnight to everyone and Jesse stood to shake his hand. “Please come back any time. I’ll add your name to the list, so even if Kyle and I aren’t here, you’ll be let in. We do have a seat limit of forty and try to keep private events on the smaller side, but feel free to bring a friend or two. Especially if they’re hot and single.” He winked. “And maybe save that for when I’m here.”
“Jesse!” Carter sounded exasperated and Will couldn’t hide his smile.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said.
“We’re trying to turn this into a regular thing,” Kyle said. “Riley and I had the idea of meeting here the third Thursday of every month. Nothing formal, and if you can’t make it, no problem, but it would be great if you could join us.”
“I’ll try to make it,” Will said. “And thanks for a great evening. You make a mean sidecar.”
“Any time,” Kyle responded.
Will turned to leave. “I’ll walk you up,” Riley said. He fell into step behind Will.
“Tell Charles I said hi,” Riley said as they walked up the stairs.
“How are he and Gabe doing?”
“Good. They’re both pretty busy right now. Charles is teaching classes this summer and Gabe is looking into opening another restaurant.” Charles was an ex of Will’s, and one of his closest friends and a colleague at NYU. Charles had married Gabe the summer before, and Gabe owned a high-end Vietnamese restaurant in Tribeca, not far from Will’s home.
“You’re welcome to bring them to Under anytime,” Riley said. “If you think they’d be okay with that.”
Will pushed open the door leading into Lock & Key. “I’m sure Gabe will be. Charles is still holding a bit of a grudge,” he said. Will and Riley’s breakup had rocked Riley’s friendship with Gabe and Charles.
Riley sighed. “I deserve it.”
“No, I should talk to him. You and I have mended some fences. There’s no reason he needs to continue to shut you out.” Will walked through the exit of the bar and turned to Riley when they stepped onto the sidewalk out front. “Thanks for inviting me tonight.”
“I’m glad you came. I know it was asking a lot but—”
Will cut off Riley’s statement. “I meant it when I said I wanted us to be friends. You’re happy with Carter and I’m happy for you. Honestly, it’s been great hanging out with you guys and your friends.”
“I’m relieved to hear it,” Riley said with a smile. He leaned in, then hesitated and Will closed the distance to hug him.
“Have a good night, Riley.”
Riley disappeared back through the door of Lock & Key and Will sighed. Hugging Riley left him with a bittersweet feeling, but he was glad he’d come to check out the speakeasy. And he’d meant it when he said he’d try to come back on Thursday evenings in the future. He’d needed some time to lick his wounds and recover, but his self-imposed isolation only made his loneliness worse.
He glanced up and down the street. There wasn’t a cab in sight so he pulled out his phone and brought up the Lyft app. He leaned against the wall of the brick building while he waited and a few minutes later a car slid to a stop in front of him.
Will made small-talk with the driver as the car traveled from Morningside Heights back to Tribeca. When they got caught in a traffic snarl near Central Park West because of a protest, Will took out his phone to kill the time. He was scrolling through articles on a news app when his phone vibrated in his hand.
Mom flashed across the screen and he hesitated before he accepted the call.
“Hey, Mom,” he answered.
“Will.” Agnes Martin’s voice sounded strained, with none of the usual groomed sophistication it typically held.
He straightened. “Is something wrong?”
“Will, your father…” Her breath hitched. “I have some news. Your father has been ill lately.”
Serves the old bastard right, Will thought grimly. “Ill?” he said aloud.
“Tired, losing weight, stomach pain. At first, we blamed his stress. He’s been working so hard lately—”
Yeah, probably passing more anti-LGBT legislation, Will thought.
“But when we noticed some yellowing of his eyes, we got concerned. We were hopeful it was a gallbladder issue, but after some testing, we were referred to an oncologist.”
His breath caught. Oncologist? Shit. “He has cancer?”
“Yes. He has something called a—a non-functioning neuroendocrine tumor. Pancreatic cancer. It’s quite large and the doctors are concerned it’s spread to some nearby lymph nodes. It’s stage III and the—the prognosis isn’t good.”
Will took a moment to let the words sink in, but didn’t feel much of anything about the news. A wave of guilt washed over him. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he said gently. She loved his father and while Will had many, many issues with William Martin Sr. as a father and an elected official, he had always treated Will’s mother well. There had never been a hint of infidelity and after Agnes had suffered a serious car accident years ago, Bill hadn’t left her side until she’d recovered. “I know how hard this must be for you.”
His mother sniffled. “I can’t lose him. I know you and your father have your…differences but—”
“We don’t have differences,” he retorted. Any goodwill he’d felt dissipated. “He detests me. He thinks I am less deserving of the same basic human rights he affords everyone else. That’s more than an ideological difference, Mom, that’s a complete lack of respect for me as a human being.”
“Come to Garden City,” she blurted out and the words rang in his ear for several seconds before he could process them.
“What? You must be kidding,” he said. “You can’t think I’d come to Long Island to sit by his deathbed and hold his hand.” He winced. His cruel words served only to remind Agnes her husband was probably dying. “I’m sorry, Mom, but I can’t do it. I can’t pretend like everything is fine between us. We haven’t spoken in over ten years and it’s not only because I’m pissed at him. He’s the one who cut me out of his life, remember?”
“He wants you here,” she said softly. Agnes had used the same tone during Will’s years growing when she tried to get him to do something he didn’t want to do.
Will sat back in his seat. “Really?”
“I asked him if you could come home and he said yes.”
Well, that was more plausible than Will’s father specifically asking for him to come home. He sighed. “I-I don’t know. I suppose I could come for a long weekend or something. School’s out and I could work on my edits while I’m there.”
Agnes went silent for a moment. “I hoped you’d stay longer. Your father is undergoing surgery next week, but it’ll be exhausting for all of us. If the surgery doesn’t work, we may only have a few months left with him.” Her voice broke.
“You want me to spend the entire summer in Long Island?” he asked, incredulous.
“Please, Will. If you won’t come for your father, come home for Olivia and me. Your sister and I need you. We can’t do this alone.”
Will glanced out of the window, surprised the bright lights of the city were blurred by tears. He wasn’t sure who they were for.
“I’ll think about it, Mom.”
Book Title: Extra Dirty (The Speakeasy Book 2)
Author: K. Evan Coles and Brigham Vaughn
Publisher: Pride Publishing/Totally Entwined Group
Jesse Murtagh loves his life as a wealthy bisexual businessman dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. With a circle of friends he trusts implicitly, he enjoys a successful career in his family’s business and as co-owner of Under, an uptown speakeasy, with his friend with benefits, Kyle McKee.
Music teacher and part-time DJ Cameron Lewis lives modestly in a DUMBO loft and isn’t interested in serious relationships. However, he’s always up for some casual fun.
Doing a favor for his friend Carter Hamilton, Jesse meets Cam and is immediately charmed. When Jesse discovers Cam’s other life as a DJ, he is further intrigued. Viewing Cam as a challenge, Jesse pulls out all the stops, but his usual methods to avoid serious relationships fail. Though Cam has no intention of becoming attached, he begins to fall for Jesse, unaware that Jesse’s feelings are changing.
Afraid of heartbreak, Cam pulls away, leaving Jesse bewildered and hurt. They remain friends until a series of misunderstandings widens the rift to breaking point. When Cam steps in to help Jesse through a family crisis, they realize they care for each other more than they’ve been willing to admit. Jesse and Cam don’t want a traditional relationship, but can they build a future that makes them both happy?
Jesse Murtagh set down the packet of financial statements he’d been reviewing and smiled. He was seated in the back office of Under, a speakeasy in Morningside Heights, and life was good.
With Under approaching its one-year anniversary, the bar’s earnings surpassed expectations each quarter. They boasted a full guest list every night, and Under appeared as a “must visit” on New York’s fashionable lifestyle blogs and guides. Business was booming. And its success meant everything to Jesse and his business partner, Kyle McKee.
In addition to being Under’s co-owner, Kyle also happened to be one of Jesse’s favorite people in the world and one of his favorite partners in bed. Jesse would bet he’d find Kyle out in the speakeasy right now, too, readying the place for opening.
Jesse got to his feet. He locked the papers in the desk, then exited the office and moved toward the long bar that ran the length of the room. Under had a masculine, sophisticated vibe. Sleek leather seating areas dotted the room and open shelves lined the walls, backlit with amber lamps that cast a warm glow over bottles of rare and high-end liquors. On a typical evening, house music throbbed through the air by now, but Jesse and Kyle were holding a private party tonight, and silence reigned, save the sounds of Kyle at work.
“Hey, gorgeous,” Jesse drawled. “When did you get here?”
Kyle glanced up at Jesse’s approach. He smiled and the quirk of his full lips sent a ripple of heat through Jesse’s body.
“About an hour ago.” He shrugged easily. Kyle had dressed in black, as he always did for work, and rolled his shirtsleeves up to the elbow. His muscled forearms flexed as he polished a rocks glass. “I saw Matt upstairs when I came in. He told me you were here, but I figured you’d be busy counting the money. Thought I’d leave you to it.”
Jesse rounded the bar with a laugh. “You know me too well.”
Opening the speakeasy had been a departure from his usual business of running a growing regional media conglomerate with his family. Jesse had never even worked in a bar or restaurant, let alone owned one. But Kyle had mentioned the idea of opening a bar one night over dinner and drinks, and the way his dark eyes had shone had captured Jesse’s fancy.
Jesse had mulled the idea over for several days, then brought it to his brother, Eric. He’d hoped Eric would talk him out of it and had thrown up his hands when Eric merely smiled.
’I’m not sure who you think you’re fooling, Jes,’ Eric had said. ‘I can already tell you’ve made up your mind to do it.’
And so, Jesse had found himself working with his accountants and his lawyer to create a business proposal. Within two weeks of that fateful dinner, he’d presented it to Kyle. They’d celebrated by screwing each other senseless, then started scouting for a location the very next day.
Jesse stepped up behind Kyle now and molded himself against his body. He wound his arms around Kyle’s waist, careful to avoid the glass in his hands.
In many ways, Kyle appeared to be Jesse’s opposite. His elegant, clean-shaven features and dark hair contrasted with Jesse’s short beard and dark-blond, blue-eyed coloring. Jesse broadcasted his emotions, whereas Kyle was more reserved. Both men stood at six feet and were built long and lean, like runners. But where Jesse could be coltish in his movements, Kyle’s were deliberate and graceful. Kyle, Jesse liked to say, had found his Zen.
Jesse nuzzled the side of Kyle’s neck. “I take it last month’s numbers are good?” Kyle’s voice went low and throaty.
“Indeed.” Jesse pulled him closer. He angled his hips and pressed his groin against Kyle’s muscular ass, and his body paid immediate attention to that firm heat. “The numbers are so good, in fact, I think we should celebrate.” He pressed a lingering kiss to Kyle’s throat.
Kyle leaned back into him with a rumbling noise. He set the glass he’d been polishing on the bar. “What did you have in mind?”
“Next weekend off—Masen can handle things in your absence.”
“Well, he’ll like that.”
Kyle sounded amused. They’d hired Masen Jones earlier in the year to help out, and he’d quickly become Kyle’s right-hand man.
“A whole weekend, though… I don’t know, Jes.”
Jesse dropped one hand and palmed Kyle through his trousers, and, oh, yes, he was hard. Kyle let out a soft gasp.
“Friday and Saturday, then,” Jesse bargained. He closed his eyes, heat flashing under his skin as Kyle pushed back and ground against him. “We’ll go to that club in Chelsea you told me about.”
“Oh, fine.” Kyle turned in the circle of his arms. “I’ll bring Jarrod and Gale as backup,” he added, then looped his arms around Jesse’s neck. “They can walk me home after you find someone to disappear with.”
Jesse grinned. “You really do know me too well,” he murmured and covered Kyle’s mouth with his own.
The kiss deepened and Kyle groaned. Jesse palmed him again, his touch rough, and pressed Kyle backward hard into the bar. Kyle’s cock twitched under Jesse’s hand, and he broke away with a sharp inhale.
“Jesse will do.”
Jesse let Kyle go and leaned back enough to get his hands on Kyle’s belt. Desire pulsed through him. Quickly, he opened Kyle’s trousers and pushed the dark fabric down his legs. Kyle’s eyes were wild when Jesse looked up again and a flush stained his cheeks and neck. He uttered a soft moan as Jesse sank to his knees.
Jesse kissed Kyle’s thighs. He kneaded the soft, fair skin with his hands and dragged Kyle’s boxer briefs down. Kyle sighed as his cock slipped free of the underwear and jutted up onto his abdomen.
Jesse pressed his face into the juncture between Kyle’s thigh and groin and inhaled the smell of almond-scented soap and sweat and man. “Damn,” he said, his voice low. “You always smell so good.”
Kyle ran his hands over Jesse’s head, then twined his fingers into his short hair. That possessive touch sent a jolt of lust zigzagging down Jesse’s spine. He loved it when Kyle got rough.
Shifting, he held tight to Kyle’s hips and opened his mouth at the base of his cock. He slowly dragged his tongue along its length.
“Oh, God.” Kyle’s low whisper set a fire in Jesse’s belly.
He licked and teased the shaft before he ducked down and caught Kyle’s balls with his tongue. He lavished them with attention until Kyle moaned steadily, then looked up and locked eyes with him. The dazed bliss on his face made Jesse’s dick throb.
“Suck me,” Kyle rasped out.
Jesse pulled back. He braced one arm across Kyle’s abdomen and wrapped his free hand around his base. Very, very slowly, he slid his lips over Kyle, reveling in the bittersweet taste and weight of the hard, velvety flesh on his tongue.
He took Kyle deep and waited until his nose brushed the curls of hair on his groin before he swallowed. Kyle’s eyes went wide. Jesse pinned him against the bar, and he bucked his hips forward, a strangled noise tearing out of him.
Kyle tipped his head back as Jesse sucked. He closed his eyes and swore, and his ragged tone went straight to Jesse’s groin. Jesse dropped his free hand and palmed himself, past caring if he shot in his pants.
He worked Kyle hard with his mouth until a shudder racked his frame. Jesse moved the arm pinning Kyle’s hips, which left him free to fuck Jesse’s mouth. Kyle opened his eyes again and stared at Jesse, his gaze filled with fire. He started to thrust and desire rattled down Jesse’s spine. He groaned with need and closed his eyes when Kyle gasped.
“Gonna come, Jes,” Kyle said, his voice rough and desperate. He tensed at Jesse’s moan. Then Jesse pressed the fingers of his free hand into the soft skin behind Kyle’s balls, and Kyle fell apart with a cry.
He tightened his grip on Jesse’s hair and his knees buckled. Jesse used his shoulder to hold Kyle up. His balls tightened as Kyle pulsed in his mouth, and he swallowed, tasting bitter and salt.
Kyle’s panting breaths echoed through the silent bar. Jesse pulled off, his head swimming, and Kyle freed his shaking hands from Jesse’s hair. He bent and hauled Jesse to his feet, and Jesse stumbled and clutched at Kyle.
“You okay?” Kyle asked with a smile.
“Dizzy. And I wanna fuck you right now,” Jesse muttered. Jesus, he needed to come. He pulled Kyle in for a messy kiss and ground his erection against Kyle’s thigh until Kyle broke away with a breathless laugh.
“I think we’ve violated enough health codes for now,” Kyle said. “Besides, we don’t have any lube or rubbers.”
“There’s some in the office.”
“We used them up last weekend.”
Jesse whined and rutted harder into Kyle. “Fuck.”
“I said no,” Kyle scolded, his tone playful and his brown eyes gleaming. He pulled his trousers up. No sooner were they buttoned than he sank to his knees and reached for Jesse’s belt. “Lucky for you, there’s time for me to suck you off and clean up.”
Kyle worked Jesse’s fly open and leaned in. He spread his palms over Jesse’s thighs and mouthed him through his boxer briefs. Goosebumps rose along Jesse’s arms at the press of damp heat and cotton against his erection. Leaning forward, he braced his hands against the gleaming bar, arrested by the sight of his friend. Kyle shut his eyes and nuzzled Jesse through his clothes. His long, dark lashes fanned over his fair skin, and his lips were parted and wet. He looked unbelievably erotic.
Jesse cupped his jaw. “Mmm, baby.”
Kyle opened his eyes. He hooked his fingertips under the waistband of Jesse’s boxer briefs, then pulled his trousers and briefs down. Jesse hissed. He bit his lip hard when his cock sprang free, and Kyle swallowed him down.
Jesse’s world exploded in a roar of pleasure that wiped his mind clean.
Life was very good indeed.
About the Authors
K. Evan Coles
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.
K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.
K.’s books explore LGBTQ+ romance in contemporary settings.
Brigham Vaughn is on the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga. She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.
Her books range from short stories to novellas. They explore gay, bisexual, lesbian, and polyamorous romance in contemporary settings.
Want to stay up to date and be notified of Brigham Vaughn’s latest releases? Sign up for the Coles & Vaughn Newsletter here.
Nicolai Valentino is the almost perfect heir to the Valentino Family—impeccably dressed, devilishly handsome, impossibly cold, and absolutely dedicated to a family that scorns his very existence. Born to the infamous Boss and a Japanese woman of no consequence, Nico must fight for respect in a blood-thirsty world that would be much happier to see him with a hole in his head.
Blood runs thick in the Valentino Family. To them, Nico’s little better than water.
Gabriel Delatto is Nico’s right-hand man, his childhood friend, and under the darkness of their ruby red sheets, his lover. But more than that, Gabriel holds the secret to unlocking who Nico really is—the true Nico, not the mask beginning to crack around the edges.
But there is a pleasure in that pain, he knows. There is only ever pleasure when it comes to Nico, even if it comes from the crack of a whip or on the edge of a blade.
But there’s someone lurking in the darkness, something that neither Nico nor Gabriel truly understand. But there is one thing they do know—
Sai Fox was born and raised in New York City, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that there’s an ever present coffee cup on her desk as she writes well into the night. A chronic insomniac, some of her best ideas come to her right before heading off to bed.
Currently residing in Tokyo, Sai finds most of her time spent writing, reading, and wandering the strange and intoxicating streets that tell thousands of stories… with a cup of coffee. There is always a cup of coffee.
Sai has been writing fiction for well over a decade, enjoying the ability to push boundaries of society and sexuality through her work.
This series is about dragons who want nothing more than to live in peace, but refuse to be subjugated. In war there’s also love, and love is blind. Love doesn’t care about gender, race, species (in this case), or sexuality.
BOOK 1 of 3
Book Title: SYN Consulting: Dragon War Chronicles Book One
Blurb Continue to hide or help save the very kin she’s hidden from?Welcome to SYN Consulting, the top business strategy consulting firm in Europe, home to a motley crew whose leader has a life changing secret. CEO, Danica Lestrange, is the first female dragon born in the last 800 years. Hidden from the rest of her kin and raised in the human world, she built a life that she would defend until her death.A devious plan is unearthed while working on a new business deal that could plunge the dragons into another war with the humans. The humans may have forgotten the last dragon-human war, but the dragons have not. Will the war reveal this hidden world to the humans, or will the clans come together to defeat their enemies and maintain their anonymity?Danica must gather her allies and help the very dragons she’s hidden from her whole life. She can only hope that she’ll be strong enough to protect her chosen family.This is the first book in a new series about dragons who want nothing more than to live in peace, but refuse to be subjugated. In war there’s also love, and love is blind. Love doesn’t care about gender, race, species (in this case), or sexuality.Warning: This book contains explicit sexual content between consenting adults. The sexual scenes are MM, MF, and MMF. There are romantic relationships depicted that are MM. There is also a high level of explicit language, snark, kink, and possibly bad puns and fart jokes.This book does end in a cliffhanger. Secrets Revealed: Dragon War Chronicles Book Two is Available Now!
ExcerptMatthew finished the last bit of his sandwich as he stood up going over to a wall of glass that overlaid the actual wall. The glass was one large computer interface, much like most of the glass in the building from the table they were eating on to elevator walls, to all the glass panel monitors of various sizes. Matt tapped on the panel bringing up several windows and enlarging them so that everyone could see. He pulled a photo of Kollin Olsen and moved it to the center.He reached back, grabbing his bottle of water. Swallowing a mouthful, he cleared his throat and started his report. “I finished my preliminary research into KleanTech and Global Gas. You’ll never believe who Kollin Olsen is.” Danica was completely occupied with a large mouthful of her sandwich and gestured for him to continue. “He’s the next alpha to the Norwegian Dragon Clan, son of none other than Hafthór Ormsson, making him Jǫkull Ormsson, The Glacier himself.”“Fuck!” Danica thought, looking over at Xander, who could hear her thought clearly.“Fuck is right,” he answered out loud.Danica took another bite of her sandwich and looked around the table at the family she had created, mulling over that bombshell. Matt, thankfully, let her take her time and waited silently while she came to terms with that disturbing news.These SLIPs who stood by her, supported her, and loved her were, for the lack of a better word, her pack as motley as they were. They were hers to protect as much as they protected her. She thought about that as she continued to eat. Xander placed a hand on her thigh and squeezed it reassuringly. If she took this job, she risked exposure of what she was. With that, she risked not just her life, but all of their lives.
BOOK 2 of 3
Book Title: Secrets Revealed: Dragon War Chronicles Book Two
Blurb Last time on Dragon War Chronicles, we left our heroes fighting for their lives in the midst of battle…Kollin races against time to get samples of the weapon used in Canada to their lab in Oslo. Kenshin races to get Danica back home in time to save her, Aiden and Xander. Danica’s allies start to converge in Toulouse in aide and help to prepare for what may come. Will Kollin be able to help save Danica, Aiden, and Xander before all is lost? Will Matt be able to track down who’s responsible for a new weapon that threatens them all? What will happen when Danica’s biggest secret is revealed?Secrets are revealed that will change the future for all dragon and SLIP kind alike. Warning: This book contains explicit sexual situations that are MM, MF, and MMMF. There are romantic relationships displayed that are MM and some depictions of loving and consensual BDSM relationships. There are also bad puns, a game of tag with an invisible dragon, and lions, jaguars, and bears. Oh my!
ExcerptKenshin relaxed back against the hull of the plane again after ending the call with Kollin.This time yesterday everything was fine. How did things get this fucked up, this quickly? Kenshin closed his eyes, and exhaustion started to seep in. The noise of the cargo plane dimmed inhis mind with each breath he took.“I remember when I first met her.” JP’s voice cut through his attempt at meditation and Kenshin’s eyes flew open. JP continued, “She looked no older than fifteen. I thought for sure she was using a fake passport to get into La Trésor. She wouldn’t stand down though. She looked up at me, and even though she had an American passport, she spoke in fluent French, which I didn’t expect. But I also didn’t expect her to stand her ground when I tried to get her to move and go home.” Kenshin was tempted to stop him from telling his story, to shout out that he’s being stupid for talking like that. Telling stories like that is something you do when you’re talking of the dead and DAMN IT! She wasn’t dead yet. “Cool as a cucumber she looked me in the eye and demanded to speak to the owner. Even the threat of the Gendarmerie didn’t sway her, and she didn’t try to bribe her way in like most would have. That right there was why I finally made the call up to Olivier. And you know what she did when she finally came face to face with him?” Kenshin turned his head towards JP. The packmates closest to them were all looking at JP completely enraptured by his tale. Kenshin didn’t know what happened, so he was curious.JP smiled and gave a little laugh at the memory. “She didn’t do what you’d expect someone to do. She didn’t yell or demand he fire me. No, not Dani. She said, and I’ll never forget this. She said, Whatever you’re paying him, double it and put him in charge. She went on to tell him how the other bouncers didn’t look twice at her because they were too busy looking at her tits. She said it just like that too. She didn’t back down then to get what she wanted, and she’s not going to do that now. She’s strong, our Dani. She’s never backed down from a challenge, and she won’t back down from this. We have to have faith because we all know she’d have it in us.”Claps and cheers went up around Kenshin, and he smiled probably for the first time that morning. JP was right, and Kenshin needed to keep in mind how strong she really was. Listening to him made Kenshin think about his own first time with her. He knew when he saw this arrogant kid stride into his father’s office in Kyoto, dressed the way she normally does that he just might have a way out from under his father. That he could finally be free for the first time in over two-hundred years. And make no mistake at a fraction of his age, she was a kid, and he had just spent the last sixty years helping his father build Nakamura Industries. But there was something about her, and her business proposal to his father was solid, a little crazy, but solid.The plane quieted down as everyone settled in for the long flight home. Faith. He had faith in her all those years ago and he’d not waiver now. JP was right. Strength, determination, stubbornness. These were the things that made up their dragon. They were the things that would see her to the other side of this in one piece. Kenshin closed his eyes again and sleep finally took him now that his mind was settled.
BOOK 3 of 3 – NEW RELEASE
Book Title: First Strike: Dragon War Chronicles Book 3
Blurb Previously on Dragon War Chronicles, our heroes recovered and were preparing to take the fight to a still unknown enemy. Meanwhile, startling breeding experiments were revealed.Three sites are discovered in Russia that could hold all the answers they’ve been looking for. Three strike teams are assembled led by Xander, Kollin, and Tyler. Three simultaneous attacks are combined to make one devastating first strike against their hidden enemies.What horrors will they discover? What plans will be revealed? Why is a member of the Dragon Council showing up on Danica’s doorstep with ultimatums?Find out in the next exciting installment of Dragon War Chronicles.Warning: This book contains explicit sexual contact between consenting adults. There are romantic, BDSM, and purely sexual relations shown that are MM and MF. There is also high sexual tension and alpha male posturing that will make you laugh and roll your eyes along with plenty of snark and definite teasing of dwarf-like dragons.
Aiden and Lukas were able to leave Danica’s flat right after dinner. She told everyone to go and have fun before she curled up on her couch with Bastien to watch movies. Aiden led Lukas out the office door and down to the river. He’d never been out with his Master like this, and all he wanted was to take a walk holding hands. So, they did.
As they came closer to the bridge, Aiden stopped. He pointed to some bushes that were growing against the wall. “This is where I found Bastien. He was such a small pup. His fur was matted, and he was so skinny. I knew right away he was one of us.” Lukas squeezed his hand gently. “It took me forever to coax him out and let me touch him. He was so scared. You know we still don’t know what happened to his pack or where he came from? He says he doesn’t remember, but we think he just really doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Lukas listened to Aiden ramble patiently as always. “You’ve raised him well, Aiden. He’s a fine young praeses. He’s smart and has learned a lot from everyone around him.” Lukas pulled him close and wrapped an arm around his waist.
Aiden wrapped his arms around Lukas’ neck. He was only slightly taller than Aiden, and he was slimmer, but they fit together perfectly. “That first year with Bastien was the hardest. He had nightmares almost every night. Danica would sit with him and read him stories until he fell back asleep. He’d curl up on her lap refusing to shift out of his wolf form.”
“I remember when you brought him for the first time to the pack lands for a run. That was the first time I really saw you. You were so patient with him. We only had a few pups around his age at the time, and he didn’t want to go near them, but you finally got him to play with them. That was the first time I saw you as a wolf too, and you stole my breath away.” Aiden blushed at Lukas’ praise. Lukas leaned down and nipped at Aiden’s ear. “I wanted you so much starting that day. You know you’ve been my pup for almost ten years now?”
Lukas’ deep, low voice sent shivers down Aiden’s spine as he nodded. “Yes, Master.”
“I have many plans for us, now that we don’t have to hide anymore.” One of Lukas’ hands traveled lower and cupped Aiden’s ass. Aiden whimpered softly.
About the Author
A.G. Carothers is actually a dragon very cleverly disguised as a human. They are a non-binary author of LGBTQIA Romance and Urban Fantasy, who enjoys writing original and entertaining stories. They are very excited to share the worlds they’ve created with you.
A.G. currently lives in Tennessee with their platonic life partner, who is not a dragon. They yearn to live back in Europe and will some day. In their spare time they are addicted to losing themselves in the lovely worlds created by other authorsA.G. is committed to writing the stories they see in their head without restrictions. Love is blind and doesn’t see gender, race, or sexuality.
This story can technically be read alone, though there are unsolved things that are further explored in the next book
Go to work. Come home. Repeat. Phil’s life is boring and he loves every second of it. No excitement, no boyfriends breaking up with him over cereal in his underwear. When everything’s predictable, nothing bad happens. But nothing good does, either.
One night, when his best friend forces him to step outside of his comfort zone, he meets Shige who’s too enigmatic to really be interested in him. He’s trouble, but Phil can’t help ignoring his own advice.
Decades have gone by while Shige’s kept himself locked away. He’s tired of the world, of humans and vampires. He was happy collecting dust until one day he wasn’t. On a whim, he ventures out and meets Phil, setting them on a path that’ll change them both.
Whatever this is between them, it won’t come easy. Plagued by distrust and danger from within and without, but if they survive, it just might be worth it
Phil Torres sat in Mercer General’s basement level breakroom for the first time that shift. With a sports drink in one hand and a protein bar in the other, he worked to cram both things into his mouth. He couldn’t remember what he’d eaten last or when. Even so, he had no appetite. Other nurses came and went through the breakroom offering looks of sympathy and pity. He was on the ass end of a 16-hour shift no sane person would envy.
It had been a trial of will. He’d seen some terrible things in the three years he’d been a fully licensed nurse but during this one shift, he’d beheld some of the worst things he’d ever seen, things that would haunt his dreams and hang on during his waking hours. A savage gunshot wound, a leg so badly broken the bone slashed through the skin, a pair of asthma attacks that left the patients blue in the face, gasping, and a stomach bug so virulent, puke covered the floors of two of their closet sized exam rooms. The cleaning staff was going to love this evening’s cleaning detail, but it was just another night at Mercer General.
“What’re you still doing here?” Yolanda came into the breakroom, looking every bit as tired as Phil felt. Her sneakers, damp from the storm she’d weathered out on the floor squelched with every step as she made her way to the lockers. “Didn’t your vacation start an hour ago?”
Phil took a swallow of sports drink to help keep his meager meal down. “Jackie was running late, so I filled in for her, then Shelly needed help tapping a vein… I got trapped.”
Yolanda rolled her eyes as she shut the door to her locker. “More like you let yourself get trapped.”
She was right, of course.
During his time here, the older nurse had taken him under her wing, brought him into the fold. They’d become as close as cousins. It helped Phil feel at home out here on the West Coast where he had no family and few friends, but as a side effect, lying to her was now next to impossible.
Yolanda perched on the plastic chair next him. She bumped him with her shoulder. “I’ll never understand why you always drag your feet when it comes time to get out of here. You’ve got an OK place—by yourself—in a decent neighborhood. You know how many people would kill for that set up? What’s the issue?”
Yolanda couldn’t understand it. She had a home waiting for her. A husband and kids who kept her busy. She might not admit it but they filled her life with joy. All Phil had waiting in at home was a dog bent on systematically destroying anything he could get his mouth on.
“I like keeping busy,” he said. “It’s not a crime.”
“Neither is taking time off once in a while.” Yolanda quickly wiped her sneakers down with a paper towel and threw it into the trash. “Since you got here, you’ve never taken more than three days off at a time. You need this break. You’re gonna burn out if you don’t take it easy.”
There was truth to Yolanda’s words, but to hear her tell it, Phil was a workaholic, little more than a care dispensing robot. He knew how to relax. He just didn’t enjoy it.
Work kept him too busy to worry about the lacking areas of his life. He liked helping people and Mercer’s shortage of staff guaranteed any offers to come in on his days off were never turned down. Without work, as rough as it could be on a good day, he’d be left alone. He didn’t know what to do with alone.
“Why can’t it be a week? Or two! I’d gladly do that much!”
Yolanda clucked her tongue in disgust. “I wish they’d let your ungrateful ass give me the two months since you so obviously don’t want it. I don’t see how you let it rack up.”
“Same,” Phil said. “Same.”
Yolanda stood, ready to go back out onto the floor, but she stopped in the doorway. She rested a small hand on Phil’s shoulder. “Your body remembers how to relax, even if you don’t. But you’ve got to get out of here first.”
It’s not his job or the fact that his maybe boyfriend, Shige, is a vampire. He’s a sensitive– an ability he’s had since he was small that lets him peek into people’s minds— and it’s gotten out of control. He can’t turn it on and off like he used to. He needs help, and he has to fly to the other side of the world to get it. The catch? Shige’s the only one who can take him there, but things with him haven’t been great. Their relationship is in tatters, and he doesn’t know how to fix it or if it’s even up to him. This is so not what he needs right now.
But Phil’s not the only one with issues. Shige’s got a territory to maintain and a mystery to solve all while worrying about Phil. He takes all this in stride, but when things take a turn for the worst, can he get them both home in one piece?
Phil blinked at the sudden snap inches from his nose. He shook himself as the world rushed up to meet him. He’d been adrift in a sea of consciousness surrounding them. There were 30 other people in this restaurant, and at any given time, Phil heard the thoughts of the closest 15 or so, everything from the mundane to the raunchy. None of it was his business, but his instinct was to latch onto every granule of information as he noticed it. Giving in was very easy and very satisfying.
Sorry. I’m here.” But he hadn’t been. Thoughts continued to float in and out of his mind, not all of them his own. Today was particularly bad. It kept getting harder to focus on the things he needed to live his life.
Before, he needed to concentrate to hear other people’s minds, like eavesdropping. Now it was like everyone spontaneously broke into fits of reciting their inner monologues. There was no way to tell when it would start, but nine times out of ten, it was when he needed all his mental faculties.
He’d taken more breaks at work than what his job owed him, just to get away from the noise. People had started to notice. He’d been lucky enough not to hurt anyone yet, but it was only a matter of time.
“You sure?” Jerome said with no small amount of skepticism threading through his words. “You’re a little spacey.”
“I got distracted by a work thing, but I heard every word.”
Jerome cut his eyes at him. “What’s the last thing I said?” He smirked.
“You asked how things are with Shige.”
Jerome sucked his teeth. “Lucky guess.”
The question from his brain reached Phil before Jerome put it into words. It got mixed in the deluge of their fellow diners’ minds, but he remembered because it concerned him directly and hadn’t been about the food. He focused on Jerome, and the feedback lowered to a dull hum, blending with the audible background noise of the restaurant.
“So you got an answer for me? Hurry up, while it’s just us.”
“We’re good. Why would I go on this trip with him if we weren’t getting along?”
The short answer was what Phil told him; things between him and Shige were fine. The truth, as always, was more complex. He didn’t know what they were or where they stood.
Stories longing to have words put to them were in Jet’s heart from an early age. Jet enjoys exploring the connections and similarities between people whether they be shifters, vampires, or aliens, rendering the unknowable very knowable indeed. Jet’s days are spent toiling away at a keyboard, slumped over a pen and paper hunting for those words, or playing around on twitter with a partner, and two rambunctious cats for company in the temperamental North Eastern US.