For the last ten years, Benji and Diego have not only been members of Star Shadow, one of the biggest boy bands in the world, but best friends. During the years of fame and fortune they’ve also held a front row seat to the callous cruelty of the music industry. As much as they’ve both wanted more from their relationship, it never felt worth it to trade what they have for something hot, heady and completely impossible. But is it really? After welcoming back their long lost member and making it through their reunion tour with a new lease on fame, life suddenly seems too short to continue settling for safety. Benji and Diego could have everything they’ve ever wanted, but can they figure out how to choose each other? Despite every impossible thing the world intends to throw at them? It’s never the end . . . it’s only the beginning.
“Are you okay?”
Benji glanced up and of course it was Diego. Of course it would be him who’d know that something was wrong.
He cleared his throat, his tongue suddenly thick in his mouth. The panic hadn’t faded entirely yet, and he felt too close to the edge still, but Diego reached out and cupped his shoulder with his hand. The fear retreated a little more.
If he couldn’t be honest with Diego, could he be honest with anyone?
“I was just thinking of the last bow, the one we took when we didn’t know it was the last one,” Benji admitted.
After a moment of hesitation—which Benji understood entirely, their friendship sometimes seemed like a walk through a minefield—Diego pulled him into a hug. His hands hovered over Diego’s shoulders before giving in and gripping him tightly.
They stood there together for a long moment, holding on to each other. Benji let his head fall down to Diego’s shoulder, but otherwise they didn’t move.
“It was hard, because we didn’t know it was over, but it was over,” Diego finally said, the sound of the stagehands beginning to take down the stage around them punctuating his words. “But it turns out that it’s not really over after all.”
Benji didn’t want to say that some mornings he woke up and for a split second he still thought it was over. That he sometimes had to remind himself that he wasn’t on his own again, that he wasn’t struggling with a career that didn’t fit quite right, that he didn’t miss his boys so much he ached, that he hadn’t ultimately crashed and burned.
“It’s hard to forget, sometimes,” he said, even though he hadn’t really meant to say anything at all.
Diego pulled back, and even in the dim of backstage, Benji could see the empathy in his eyes. “You know, you’re more than your achievements,” Diego pointed out softly.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t been told that before, but something about the earnest belief in Diego’s voice made him want to believe this time. The problem was knowing, with crystal clear clarity, what he was capable of. And never being able to settle for less than that, without that ugly voice yelling in his ear that he’d failed again.
“I know.” Benji’s smile was wry. “Theoretically.” Reluctantly, he let go of Diego. Too long holding him, too long of them holding each other, and he was going to want even more than he already did.
Diego laughed. “Yeah, that’s the whole problem. Theoretically. You’re rich and famous. You don’t need to work so hard all the damn time. You’ve made it, Benji.”
All theoretically true.
If only that voice would shut the fuck up sometimes.
“Yeah,” Benji said, rolling his eyes. “I know.” He paused. He and Diego had been practically inseparable this tour, but it was ending tonight, and they had two weeks in LA before the recording sessions on the new album started. Even though they’d spent so much time together already, the idea of a two-week break from Diego hurt. It had never hurt before. Somehow, Benji knew, they’d crossed that point of no return. Friendship alone would never be enough again. Had it been the kiss? He could barely remember it, it had been so short and brief. Nothing like he’d always imagined. He’d wanted a do-over for the last six months, but maybe they needed more privacy for that.
“Hey,” he started again hesitantly, “we should get together when we get back to LA.”
Diego was leading the way back to the green room and didn’t look at Benji. “I’m not sure. I’ll probably be busy with Ana.”
Benji knew how much he loved his daughter, and how much he’d missed her on this tour, even though his ex, Vicky, had brought her to as many tour stops as she could. So he didn’t know what to say to that. Even though it was probably true, it was hard not to see it as a brush-off. Diego was good with people; he wouldn’t give a brush-off that felt like one. He’d make it sound legit, all to spare Benji’s feelings.
The question was why was he brushing him off, right after hugging and reassuring him? Benji didn’t know, and didn’t know how to bring it up, because they were walking into the green room, and Max was spraying the walls with a bottle of sparkling apple juice and Leo and Caleb were dancing to the Black Eyed Peas, their favorite post-show soundtrack.
About the Author
A lifelong Oregonian, Beth Bolden has just recently moved to North Carolina with her supportive husband. She still believes in Keeping Portland Weird, and intends to start a chapter of Keeping Durham Weird. Beth has been writing practically since she learned the alphabet. Unfortunately, her first foray into novel writing, titled Big Bear with Sparkly Earrings, wasn’t a bestseller, but hope springs eternal. She’s published eleven novels and four short stories, with Impossible Things, the next book of the Star Shadow series, releasing in June 2019.
Luke Ryan’s life is too chaotic for romance, what with running his business and being the legal guardian to his ten-year-old niece, but he’s hopeful he’ll find the right man.
Trauma surgeon Finn Thomason recently relocated from Chicago to Boston, where his focus on medicine leaves him little space for a personal life. Making a commitment to find a better work-life balance, Finn hopes he’ll also find a relationship.
Caught in an evening rainstorm, Luke shelters under a sidewalk awning…and encounters a handsome stranger. The two strike up a conversation and Finn offers to walk Luke under his oversized umbrella. Charmed, Luke accepts and asks Finn out for coffee in thanks.
Luke and Finn quickly grow close, but, as the summer draws to an end, Luke struggles to keep his connection with Finn while Finn tries to come to terms with caring for a man whose attention is pulled in many directions. Both men are scrambling to get it right, but only time will tell if they’ll learn there is more than enough room in their hearts to go around.
“Hey, Luke, I’m going to Starbucks to buy coffee for everyone. You want?”
Luke Ryan stared at the code on his computer monitors and nodded absently. “Sure.”
“Okay. Grab your stuff and come with me.”
Luke blinked. “What do you need me for?” He turned away from the monitors and faced his best friend and business partner, Simon Martin.
Simon stood and eyed Luke across their shared office. “To help me schlep back the orders.”
“Ugh.” It was nearly two p.m. and Luke’s concentration was flagging. As much as he wanted to keep working, fresh coffee sounded wonderful. The idea of going to fetch it, however, not so much. He stood and picked up his wallet and phone from his desk. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you’d let me buy a new coffeemaker.”
“I said I’d buy it, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you said that two weeks ago. And here we are, making the trek to Starbucks once again.”
Simon sighed at Luke’s grumbling. “Oh, goodness. I’ll buy one this weekend, I promise. In the meantime, you could stand to go outside for a few minutes. Your ass has been bolted to that chair all day. You didn’t even break for lunch.”
“Yes, I did.”
“You ate a plastic squeeze tube filled with something green.”
“It was yogurt,” Luke said. “I bought a box of mixed flavor tubes but Ella doesn’t like lime, so they’re all mine.”
Simon grimaced. “That sounds appalling. Serves you right for feeding that girl junk.”
Luke chuckled as they started for the door. His niece, Ella, was ten years old and particular about what she ate. Luke had been stuck eating food she’d rejected before, but he didn’t mind—weird foods came with the territory of raising children. Or helping to raise them, anyway, as Luke had been helping his brother, Peter, do for the past several years, ever since Peter’s wife had walked out on her family and Peter had moved Ella from the Marine base in Virginia back to Boston and into Luke’s Back Bay apartment.
Once outside, Luke and Simon walked a block and a half to Winter Street, navigating around shoppers and tourists. The line at Starbucks stretched nearly out of the door, and they stepped up to its end while Luke read over the orders his coworkers had scribbled on a scrap of paper.
“I don’t know what this says.” He pointed at one messy line. “This looks like Klingon.”
Simon squinted. “You would know, I suppose. I’m fairly sure everyone ordered cold brew, by the way. That’s all those hipster punks drink anyway.”
Luke laughed. “Good point. Gillian wants an almond milk Macchiato, though.” Gillian Vasquez was the third partner in their software development business. Petite, red-haired and whip-smart, her easygoing personality provided an excellent foil for Simon’s brashness and Luke’s hyperfocus. Gillian kept Simon and Luke in line and they knew it.
“Is she still doing the dairy-free thing?” Simon asked.
“I’m not sure. I think she just likes almond milk, to be honest. Ella’s the same.”
“That doesn’t make those bowls of sugar cereal you feed her any healthier, you know.”
Luke rolled his eyes. He’d never understood why kids’ cereals got such a bad rap. Beyond the high sugar content and their dubious nutritional value, that was.
“I found a recipe for Cap’n Crunch cookies,” he said. “I was thinking Ella and I could make them over the weekend.” He snorted with laughter at Simon’s obvious disgust.
“Where on earth would you find such a thing?”
“Pinterest. It’s loaded with all kinds of questionable recipes.”
“Oh, Pickle.” Simon made a sympathetic noise. “This only underscores what I’ve been telling you for months—you need to get out more.”
Luke winced. “Please don’t call me Pickle in public.” He glanced around, hoping no one had overheard the ridiculous nickname, and met the gaze of a dark-haired guy standing behind them.
Well, hello there.
Luke flashed a grin and the guy blinked, clearly surprised. He offered Luke a shy half-smile of his own just before the line shifted.
Luke faced forward. “You know I don’t have time to go out,” he said to Simon. “Even if I did, the men I’d meet would take one look at Ella and run for the hills.”
“Surely not every man you meet is averse to the idea of family.” Simon frowned. “I like children. Or Ella, at least.”
“Yes, but you and I are not dating.”
“Not since I kicked you to the curb a decade ago, true.” He smiled at Luke’s laughter. “Still, I can’t imagine anyone you meet not being charmed by Ella. She’s loveable even when she’s being difficult.”
They stepped forward as the line moved again. Luke hazarded another glance back and felt a pang of disappointment to find the cute guy talking on his phone. He met Luke’s eyes again, however, and Luke smothered a curse when Simon nudged him with his elbow.
“Ella likes you, so of course you think she’s fun,” Luke said. “Not everyone thinks the way you do or wants to stick around while I fill in for her dad, though.”
“Are you so sure?” Simon asked.
“I’m still single, am I not?”
“Yes, though I confess I don’t know why. It’s not because you’re lacking in looks and your personality is certainly adequate.”
“Nice.” Luke shrugged off both the compliment and the tease. He knew he was easy to look at. He was tall and fit with a heart-shaped face and gray-green eyes, and his friends joked he couldn’t take a bad photo. Luke didn’t suffer for lack of attention from men. Keeping a man’s interest presented the real challenge these days, and that had a lot to do with the fact that he was taking care of a young child.
“I’m thirty-two years old,” he said. “The men I meet who want children are either already parents or in committed relationships and headed in that direction.”
“This is why you need to meet new men,” Simon replied. “Ella isn’t your daughter, Luke. Pete’ll be back from deployment in a couple of months and that’ll take some of the pressure off you. There’s no reason for you to be celibate until then, either.”
“I’m hardly celibate,” Luke muttered, his cheeks hot. “And please keep your voice down.”
He paused as they approached the counter. Simon placed the order and Luke glanced at the guy behind them again. Thankfully, he was still on his phone instead of being forced to eavesdrop on the saga of Luke’s sad single life.
“I know I haven’t had a boyfriend since Ella moved in with me,” Luke continued while Simon paid for the order. “Taking care of her complicates my life, but it’s nothing compared to Pete’s wife taking off on them. And I do go out on occasion, Simon. I date.”
Simon cocked a well-groomed eyebrow at him. “Okay, and when exactly? Because we both know you don’t have time to yourself anymore.”
Despite Simon’s gentle tone, Luke winced. Even with help from his parents and his babysitter, Melissa, he rarely had a minute to himself outside his own bathroom. Even then, odds were Ella would knock on the door and blithely ask questions while Luke showered or shaved.
“In all seriousness, when did you last go out with a man?” Simon asked. They moved aside so the baristas could mix up their magic, and he patted Luke’s arm. “Hell, when did you last pick someone up?”
“I met someone while I was grocery shopping last week, believe it or not,” Luke replied. “We emailed a couple of times, but he dropped off the map. I picked someone up a couple of months ago, the last time Pete came home on leave.” He grinned at Simon. “You and I went out for dinner and drinks, then over to that bar in Back Bay named after Oscar Wilde. Remember?”
“That’s the bar with the boozy milkshakes?”
“Yes! I met Jeremy that night.”
Realization flashed in Simon’s eyes. “I’d forgotten that’s where you met. Where was I?”
“Sucking face with some bartender, I think.” Luke smirked at Simon’s raucous laughter.
“Oh, God, that’s right. Those milkshakes are lethal!”
“Believe me, I remember.” Luke reached up and ruffled Simon’s hair. “Anyway, I didn’t take Jeremy home that night, but we exchanged numbers and spent time together for a couple of weeks.”
“What happened between you two, anyway? I don’t think you ever said.”
“There was nothing to tell. Pete’s leave ended and I canceled a couple of dates because Melissa was busy and I couldn’t find a sitter. Jeremy just faded out.” Despite his careless tone, Luke’s heart twinged a little. He’d enjoyed spending time with Jeremy and watching him withdraw had stung.
Simon clasped Luke’s shoulder with one strong hand. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t have to be that way all the time, you know. I can watch Ella for you if Melissa is busy—I just need some notice. Gillian will, too. Hell, ask around the office if you need someone for a couple of hours. I’m sure at least one of the kids on staff is the babysitting type.”
“I know, and thanks. It doesn’t matter, though. The reality is I’m with Ella a lot because I want to be and guys usually bolt after they figure that out.”
Simon’s gentle scowl warmed Luke’s heart. He loved that his friend cared enough to listen. Then Luke saw the cute guy with the dark hair pay for his single coffee and leave. Damn. Once upon a time, Luke would have struck up a conversation with him instead of watching the opportunity slip away. Maybe Simon had a point.
“It’s fine,” he said. “And you’re right. I should make an effort to get out there and meet new men. Especially since things will go back to normal after Pete gets home. For a while, anyway.”
“That ‘for a while’ is kind of a problem.” Simon’s expression sobered. “Your brother will still be at Quantico more rather than less. I don’t even mean that in a bad way because I know you love having her here.”
Luke nodded. He’d never thought twice about welcoming his niece into his home. “I do. All the more reason to find someone who’s okay with Ella being in my life.”
Is that such a bad thing to want? Luke didn’t think so.
The barista called their order and Luke handed Simon the bags he’d been holding. “At any rate, it’ll be great having Pete back, even if he’s not in Boston. Ella hasn’t been the same since her dad was deployed.” Carefully, he collected the trays of cups.
Simon led the way out, talking over his shoulder as he held the door for Luke. “You think so?”
“Oh, yeah.” Luke sighed. “She really misses him, and it’s not like we can visit. She worries about his safety, just like my parents worry, and I do, too. Life will be a hundred times easier for all of us with Pete on US soil, whether he’s at the Marine base or not.”
“I understand,” Simon replied. “I’m just sorry I can’t do more than listen.”
Luke smiled. “Don’t be. I’d have gone bananas a long time ago without you and Gillian around to listen and keep me sane.”
“Girl, you’ve always been bananas,” Simon said, his tone airy. “But we’re used to it and don’t love you any less.” He shot Luke a wink and they headed for the office.
About the Author
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.
Mating A Cowboy is book one in A Port Hope Small Town Romance series, but can be read as a standalone.
Release Date: May 23, 2019
Heat Rating: 4 flames
A bakery barely treading water, and a pending business loan has omega Dawson sweating more than standing next to the kitchen’s finicky oven. Serving up the sweetest temptations should be his primary concern, but when news of his alpha father’s death falls on his ears, Dawson learns that he has been named as the sole heir of his ranch in the small town of Port Hope.
Selling the ranch could be the miracle he needs to save the bakery, but after a chance encounter with a rugged small town alpha, Dawson struggles to balance his goal, with the cowboy’s lasso tugging at his heart.
Alpha Wyatt is no stranger to living the cowboy life. Having grown up in the serene countryside of Port Hope, Wyatt spends his days training and providing care to his rescue horses. Rolling hills, fresh air, leather saddles, and his Stetson was all Wyatt wanted in life. It was all he needed—then he met Dawson.
As their passion burns, the harsh reality starts to set in. Dawson has a life to return to in the big city, and Wyatt’s a country boy through and through. Is the bond they have worth fighting for? Or are their roots settled in the thousands of miles between them?
He looked in my eyes as mine lifted, the smile on his lips subtly bold, though the slant of his shoulders remained hesitant. The signals confused me even as they roused something protective. I knew he wanted me; it was in the dilation of his pupils, in the press of his fingers around my wrist. Maybe he was waiting for me to take charge, maybe he wasn’t sure where all this would lead in the morning.
I cleared my throat. “Do you—can I kiss you?”
His smile widened. I suppressed a wince because I knew it was a little late to be asking permission, but late was better than never.
“Yes,” Dawson replied, jaw flexing underneath my fingers.
I touched his lips a second time, but in this instance my eyelids fell closed and I inhaled. His head tilted back, mouth opening beneath mine as I pressed forward, deepening the kiss, our tongues meeting briefly, retreating, meeting again. It was a dance, the first few steps exploratory.
But as heat flared, my cock hardening, my fingers tightened their grip on his jaws and the dance morphed into a battle.
I pulled Dawson flush against my body, hands roving down his body to grip his hips, looping into the leather belt he wore. Spinning with him in my arms, I backed him almost blindly against the wall, slapping my hands on either side of his head as my crotch ground into his.
He gasped, hands reaching up to tangle in my hair. Tightly. As laid back as he was, the omega made his lust known.
“Bedroom,” he gasped against my mouth.
His lips glistened; it took a moment to tear my eyes away. “What?” He’d said something, right?
“Beeedrooom.” He drawled out the syllables.
I could fuck him right here, right now against the wall, but I sensed he needed, wanted, more care than that. If this was our first time together, I had to make a good showing for myself.
I didn’t want it to be the first and the last.
His hand slipped into mine, the gesture all the more touching for its casual intimacy. We walked the short hall silently, and I paused in front of my bedroom door, giving him that split second to retreat before pushing the door open and pulling him inside.
“Wyatt,” he whispered. The sound of my name on his lips… I don’t know how we ended up on the bed, my body braced over his. My mind blanked, body taking over.
I cursed. “Damn, we still have our shoes on.”
He laughed up at me. “And all our clothes.” Placing his hands on my chest, he pushed, eyes never leaving mine as his half hesitant, half teasing smile continued to stoke the flames of my lust. The need, the craving to make him mine engulfed everything else. I stood long enough to kick off my shoes, pull my shirt over my head.
Dawson sighed. “I guess we’ll save the striptease for next time.”
I paused, about to push my jeans down, and slowed the motion, trying to draw out his pleasure and my own using anticipation of the big reveal. And then my mind tripped on the ‘next time.’
“There’ll be a next time?”
About the Author
Kenna Grace is a small woman with a huge personality. By evening, she can be found writing, reading, and getting lost in her wild imagination. In her other life, she’s a behavioral analyst and devoted partner, but writing about men falling in love and their happily-ever-after is so much more exciting!
When a veterinarian and a construction worker connect, it takes mishaps, mistakes, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Rex to show them they’re made for each other. Dr. Carter Falon is content living a quiet life in a small town caring for his animal patients. That doesn’t mean he’s not looking for a distraction. After finding himself precariously wedged… naked and at the mercy of a drop-dead gorgeous construction worker, Carter hires his savior to renovate his home. When Tanner Grady’s best friend and new niece needed him, he uprooted and relocated without a second thought. His life has since been centered on work and spending time with his family, but when he comes to the rescue of a cute vet, Tanner finds he’s a lot more interested in the homeowner than the house he’s renovating.
My eyes widened when they landed on his form. Damn, it wasn’t every day a client greeted me in the nude. Looking at the path between me and who I assumed to be Carter on the ground, I tried not to let my eyes linger for too long on his smooth expanse of skin. He was lightly toned, with a softness about him that was impossible to not notice, despite trying my hardest not to.
With a shake of my head, I calculated each step I took to get to his side. Once I made it safely to the top, the floorboards creaking under my booted feet, Carter angled himself to turn and look at me. Definitely pissed off and in pain, and perhaps a bit mortified too, a light blush covering his cheeks. His gaze roamed me from bottom to top before landing on my own. I quirked my brow in amusement and question while strategically ignoring how fucking pretty his brown eyes were. “So…?” I offered.
He sighed, and I watched in fascination as his Adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed. “I rushed from the piece-of-crap shower when I heard the knock. My foot went through the board, and it’s stuck.” His pink cheeks turned crimson.
Unable to stay the small smile tugging at my lips, I grinned as I stepped closer. I took my time to get to him, wanting to help the guy out. The last thing he needed was me falling on my ass. Clearing my throat, I crouched down at his side, my focus now on his leg and foot.
The whole area was rotten and would need ripping out. But for the time being, I’d need to tear up the two surrounding boards to get his ankle free. “You have tried to get it out, right?” I felt like a jackass for asking, but it was always best to check first.
Carter huffed out a breath. “Yeah, I did. It’s wedged against something. I tried pulling it out, but it’s a no go. It’s tighter than a virgin ass.”
My gaze whipped to his. What the fuck? With lifted brows, I stared wide-eyed at him, drawing another blush from him.
“Shoot, sorry. That was inappropriate.” His eyes widened in horror. “I meant, it’s wedged. Erm. It’s just wedged tight, and—”
I grinned. “It’s all good. Give me a sec.” The poor guy looked like he wanted to join his foot in the space under the floorboards and curl over. He needed an out, and I needed to get some air in my lungs away from his intoxicating smell and firm thighs, which were impossible to ignore in such close proximity.
About the Author
Becca Seymour lives and breathes all things book related. Usually with at least three books being read and two WiPs being written at the same time, life is merrily hectic. She tends to do nothing by halves so happily seeks the craziness and busyness life offers. Living on her small property in Queensland with her human family as well as her animal family of cows, chooks, and dogs, Becca appreciates the beauty of the world around her and is a believer that love truly is love.
Jojo Arias, a Spanish-Filipino mestizo, didn’t expect to meet a U.S. Marine in a swank bar in the Philippines. But, Jojo can’t deny the electricity they have once he meets Adam. Although they come from different worlds, they struggle to keep their relationship private to protect Jojo’s status, and position as part of one of wealthiest and powerful in Filipino society. Billions of dollars could be easily lost if his family business was jeopardized by Jojo’s secret. Jojo is pressured to abandon Adam and live a life in the closet. When the struggle to maintain their secret romance unravels, Jojo is left with a life-changing decision to leave his family, or to pursue his love.
James Joseph Garcia Arias savored the last few drops, then set the now empty pilsner down, right next to two other empty bottles of San Miguel beer. Despite the thick glass windows in the swank Makati bar that should have offered some soundproofing, Saturday Manila traffic passed noisily one floor below. The rumble of buses, cars honking, and steady stream of headlights never bored him. He preferred the noise of the city to the quiet stillness that his parents called home.
He glanced at his Patek Phillipe Nautilus watch his grandmother had given him. He texted Erwin. Ready. Barely a second or two passed, when his phone received the reply text. Be right there, boss. He sighed. He’d asked Erwin not to call him that for the longest time, but Erwin insisted. Jojo stood, fished out the right amount of pesos, plus a slightly larger gratuity than what was expected, then headed for the men’s room. A large group of Americans sat around the glass-tiled bar, laughing loudly. He guessed they were military, based on their crew cuts, hanging out to blow off steam. When he returned a few minutes later, after peeing an hour’s worth of beer, one of the military guys glanced up, and smiled at him. The man’s eyes followed Jojo.
Walk on by. Don’t stop.
He wanted to listen to the voice inside his head but he couldn’t. Maybe the alcohol made him less inhibited, maybe he was still reeling from the breakup with his fiancee and maybe he wanted to talk to someone who wasn’t an employee or a family member, or maybe because no one left in the bar knew him because the next thing he did was he stopped, inches away from the blond.
“Is this seat taken?” Jojo asked.
The stranger smiled more broadly and shook his head. “No.”
Jojo waited a second to see if the handsome man would say something else, but all the blond man did was smile even more. “American right?” Jojo asked.
“I’m guessing you guys are U.S. military?”
“Marines, yeah. We’re sending one of our guys off, rotating from the Embassy here. My name’s Adam, by the way.” Adam offered his hand, which Jojo shook.
“James Arias, but my friends call me ‘Jojo’.”
Adam opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by his friends who came over to meet Jojo. It didn’t take Jojo long to figure that Adam was probably the only sober one in the group, as the four other guys slurred their words, and often laughed uncontrollably at each other’s jokes. When Adam’s friends returned to their seats at the bar, Adam leaned in. “Your English is perfect, no trace of an accent, so I’m guessing you’re American too?”
“You’re partly right. I was born in America. My mother was a medical student in the U.S., and we lived in San Francisco but we moved back here after she got her degree.”
“So your mom’s a doctor?”
Jojo smiled. He wanted to tell Adam the whole long story of why his mother had never practiced medicine after she completed medical school because the family had seen no need of her working at a hospital or a clinic, and that these days her mother was busy hosting, or attending social and charitable events, but he thought the better of it and just answered simply. “Yeah, she is.”
“So you live here. . . I mean the Philippines?” Adam asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m sorry I’m asking stupid questions because you don’t look Filipino. I hope I’m not offending you by saying that. Most Filipinos are short and very Asian looking. You look more like my Latino friends from Southern California and in a good way.”
Jojo laughed. “It’s probably the lighting, but my father and mother are both parts Spanish and Filipino so maybe that’s why my features are different than most.” Jojo’s cell phone vibrated. I’m downstairs, boss. Jojo palmed the phone for a second, aware that Adam was studying him. Erwin, something’s come up. Head back to the garage until I text you again.
Jojo shook his head without looking up from his phone.
Jojo raised his head and laughed at the handsome man’s brazenness. He liked how Adam’s strong jawline, full lips and dark eyebrows peered at him, waiting on every word. Maybe it was the alcohol. He moved within earshot so that only the Marine could hear. “No, I haven’t had a boyfriend in a long time. But, I did just break up with my fiancée.”
“Is that why you were nursing several beers over in that corner after your friends left you?”
Jojo narrowed his eyes. “You’re very perceptive, Adam. Except they weren’t my friends, they were . . . co-workers.” Jojo almost said employees, but stopped himself. Maybe it was the Arias family tendency to be secretive, and not give out too much information, but here he was on a Saturday night in a bar, drinking, when he was usually still in the office poring over engineering details, building plans, and contract proposals.
“I’m sorry about the break up. You look torn up about it. I couldn’t help but notice earlier when we first arrived. Can I buy you a beer?”
Jojo smiled, then laughed without meaning to. The last time a guy had bought him a beer was in a dive bar right outside CalPoly, after an engineering final.
“What’s so funny?” Adam asked, as he chuckled along.
“It’s been a while since another guy offered to buy me a beer.”
“No worries. It looked like earlier you needed it. Did she break your heart?” Jojo faced toward the bar, away from Adam. Jojo didn’t say anything, but he wanted to respond.
Adam spoke again. “You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.”
Jojo pondered Adam’s question as Adam’s friends got louder and louder on their end of the bar.
“Don’t worry about them,” Adam said as he pointed to his friends. “I’m the designated driver, and in about an hour they’ll all be sound asleep snoring in the government issued van I’m driving.”
So he’s brazen without alcohol.
Jojo faced Adam and breathed deeply. He couldn’t tell the color of Adam’s piercing eyes but Jojo couldn’t deny his own intense interest in the serviceman. Adam leaned in and prolonged his gaze. Jojo was mesmerized. Adam seemed genuinely concerned. And maybe he was wrong, but Adam appeared compassionate. “She asked me if I was ever going to marry her. If I loved her, and if we were only together because both our families wanted it. I had to tell her the truth, and that as much as I had feelings for her, I didn’t love her.”
“Ouch!” Then Adam smiled, his voice took on a tone of playfulness. “And you’re here, living and breathing with no scratch on you.”
“She is a very logical, rational person. That’s why I liked her when we first met. She was so completely different from the other girls my parents tried to set me up with.”
“You have a picture of her? I’m curious.”
Jojo nodded, fished out his phone, and scrolled through some pictures before showing a good one of his ex, Lani.
“Wow. She’s hot. Your parents had good taste if they thought she would be a good wife.”
One of Adam’s friends sauntered over and peered at Lani’s photo. “Dude, your girlfriend?”
“Ex,” Adam said. “That’s his ex.”
“How about giving me her number? She’s pretty.”
Jojo shook his head. If Lani, a black belt in tae kwon do, found out he’d ever given her number to someone, she’d probably roundhouse kick him in the head before he knew anything about it. “Sorry, I can’t do that.”
“Well, at least I tried,” the Marine said. “Hey, Adam, we’re thinking we should head on over to the bars downtown.”
“Downtown?” Adam asked.
“Ermita,” the man said.
Adam turned away so that only Jojo could see his face as he rolled his eyes.
“What do you say? For old time’s sake?” his friend asked. “You’re welcome to come along––’’
“––Jojo, my name’s, Jojo,” as they both shook hands.
“Mine’s Nate. Yeah, come along with us, I’m sure Adam won’t mind,” the Marine continued. “It’ll keep him company, and his mind off his ex-boyfriend he’s probably still pining after.”
Adam slouched. Adam’s reaction to his Marine buddy’s comment must have hit a chord and Jojo was compelled to find out more about Adam. Jojo hesitated for a moment. He wasn’t used to spontaneously accepting strangers offers to hang out, but Adam’s eyes beckoned him to say yes. Besides, maybe a few more hours out on the town would make him feel better for breaking up with Lani.
“If you’re sure I won’t be a fifth wheel, yeah, I’ll join you.”
Adam smiled. “Nate’s a little bit of a douche bag. So sorry about that.”
“Well, your friend’s had a little too much to drink.” Jojo leaned closer, sticking a hand in his pants pocket, his lips almost touching Adam’s ear, and whispered. “But to be honest, that scene is a little too, I’m trying to find the right words to say it––”
“––Red light? Yeah, I hate going down there.” Adam put his hand on top of Jojo’s wrist, squeezed it, and then removed it. The quick touch happened in a blink of an eye. “Do you have any other suggestions?”
Jojo didn’t say anything. He was shocked that Adam had just placed his hand on him, so casually, so friendly like. He couldn’t deny the electricity he felt when Adam touched him either. “If they’re looking for dancing women, there’s a club two blocks from here, more upscale but not so red light, as you say.”
“Well, lead the way, Jojo.” Adam smiled. “I’ll rustle them from the bar and we’ll follow you.” Adam stood and moved to where Nate and the other guys were huddled.
Jojo motioned to the bartender. “I’ll pay their tab.”
“Thanks, Mr. Arias. Shall I add it to your monthly bill?”
Jojo nodded. Before he could say anything else, Adam appeared at his elbow. Standing, he towered over Jojo by a few inches.
“The boys are cool checking out a new place. Thanks for the offer.”
“So who’s leaving that you’re having this party for?” Jojo asked.
“His name’s John.” Adam pointed him out. “He’s been stationed at the Embassy for more than three years now. Overdue for his new assignment back to San Diego.”
Jojo signed the chit the bartender handed him without even looking at the total bill.
“Hey, is that our bill? You shouldn’t have done that. What do we owe you?”
Jojo shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I come here often enough that they actually give me a discount, and I’m glad to pay. Thanks for your service. All of you.”
Adam walked to where Nate stood, clapped him on the shoulder, and shouted something in his ear. All the guys around Nate, including John turned to Jojo and raised their glasses and beer bottles, some empty and others not so empty. “Thanks!” they shouted in unison.
Adam took two steps back to Jojo. “Now, they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. Buying their drinks bought you some loyalty. Lead the way, fine sir!” Adam gestured with a bow, holding an invisible cap in his hands as his head followed the gesture.
Jojo laughed at the dramatic flourish and walked out of the bar, Adam right next to him as the other Marines followed them. As they took the steps down one level to the street, Jojo recognized the SUV parked on the side. “Hold on,” he said to Adam.
Jojo approached the Lexus with dark tinted windows. The whir of the window revealed Erwin’s face. “I didn’t go back to the garage, boss. They said I could just wait here until you were done, however long it lasted.”
“Well, we’re headed to my cousin’s VIP club down the block. You know the one. If you want to meet me there, that’s fine.” Jojo ignored his driver’s raised eyebrow. Jojo’s cousin, Tiny, owned a lounge with a rooftop bar.
Jojo hadn’t talked to Tiny in a week or so, since Tiny asked for a loan from Arias Holdings to help his deep in the red bar.
Tiny’s club had boxing on one floor, Ukrainian and Russian models on the second floor, and Filipino women, working as cocktail waitresses, dressed in Vietnamese ao dais whose skirts were mini-skirts rather than full length dresses. The male bartenders were all selectively picked for the discreet crowd. Cousin Tiny interviewed the entire bar and wait staff himself, making sure that they were attractive. The truth was, if they could flirt with Tiny and the head waitress, they were hired if they had a pretty face. Jojo didn’t care for the little people fighting in a small area that took up most of the dance floor, but his cousin assured him that he never exploited them, and that they were being paid handsomely to pretend to hit each other very hard.
The walk to the building where the lounge was didn’t take long. Security at the front recognized Jojo immediately. “They’re with me,” Jojo pointed to Adam and the Marines. The large security guard at the front, who Jojo guessed was probably part Samoan and part Filipino, was dressed in a heavy wool jacket and pants, nodded and then radioed the two equally large security guards by the door. They were shown to the marbled main floor of the building. As soon as they took the elevators, again escorted by another security guard, Adam and the Marines were quiet and didn’t say much. When they arrived at the final floor, loud music greeted them before the elevator doors opened.
About the Author
A military brat, who joined the military himself, W.S. Long now practices law during the day, but at night reads and writes male-male romance. When he’s not writing, W.S. Long travels and dreams of traveling far off distant lands with his mild-mannered college professor husband.
At this year’s Webcon, nothing will stay secret for long.
Everyone has their secrets. Last year Digi walked out on Webcon, on his fans, and on Gram. Now he’s back determined to give what they had a real shot, but Gram is more prickly than ever, not willing to risk his heart again. Despite trying to stay out of the spotlight, the anonymous Public Service Announcements draw Digi back in. As the secrets of the internet’s top celebrities are leaked to the world, it’s only a matter of time before Digi and Gram are next. To get through it, they have to set their rivalry aside. Will Digi handle the pressure of the bright lights long enough to find who is tearing their world apart? Or will the threat of full exposure be too much for him to handle?
Gram tosses his cell phone onto the bed between us. Playing along, I grab his phone and check the screen, and the selfie we took last night stares back at me. I smile, we both look relaxed and totally comfortable, even though my hand on his thigh had me buzzed in that exact moment.
I set my mug down and toss the phone back to Gram before rolling onto my side. “Reminds me of when we used to vlog together.”
He stares at the photo for a minute. “Yeah. It does. Did you see the comments?”
“Turns out, people are still insanely curious about where you’ve been for the last year.”
“Because you disappeared, Digi. You were one of the biggest vloggers and then you were gone. All those comments are asking about you. So … let’s collab.”
“Well we’re friends, aren’t we? I haven’t lined up any guest vloggers yet, and if you do this with me, I won’t have to.”
“Yeah, no. I’m not doing that anymore.”
“I’m not saying you have to go back to it, but this will give you a chance to tell your piece, then everyone will stop speculating and you can go back to whatever the bloody hell you’ve been doing.”
I scrunch up my face, not real interested in the idea. “I dunno, Gram. I like being able to come here and not be hassled. If I do that, I’m opening the door on everyone thinking they can stick their noses back into my life.”
He sighs. “I can’t say I don’t understand. And it is your choice though.” Gram watches me, completely unguarded for a change. There’s no tension in his face, and it’s the way I like him best.
“Hey, remember that time we snuck off while our mom’s were on a panel, and went to that dolphin place?”
“Oh yeah …” His gaze goes unfocused and I know he’s remembering that day. “Yeah, that was amazing.”
It was. We’d spent the whole day there, participating in the training sessions and swimming around. Gram hadn’t started dying his hair at that point, and I can still picture the way he kept pushing his black bangs back off his face.
His gaze flicks to me and away again. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
I blink, noting how wide my smile stretches. “I just felt real close to you that day.”
“Probably because you kept hugging me.”
“I think that’s when we first really became friends.”
“When I first realized I’d never be rid of you.” He pretends to cringe, but doesn’t do enough to cover the affectionate tone.
“When I first realized I never wanted to be rid of you,” I counter, knowing he won’t expect it.
He sighs. “You just say whatever is on your mind, don’t you?”
“Sometimes. Unlike you. You never say what’s on your mind.”
“I do when it’s important.”
“So tell me what you’re thinking now.”
“Well that’s easy, I’m thinking I’m going to be late.”
The smile drops from my face as I glance at the time. “You don’t have to go yet.”
“You know my schedule, do you?”
“I just … I mean, you can hang out for a bit longer if you wanna. We can order breakfast up here. You won’t have to worry about fans interrupting that way.” I’m just throwing out words at this point, but his schedule doesn’t start for another two hours and he’s clearly ready. There’s no reason he has to race off, right?
“I thought you were tired,” he says.
He’s frowning at the bed and it takes him a bit to answer, like he’s trying to come up with an excuse to go. “I told my mother I’d eat with her …”
“You get to see her any old time. We’re only here for two more days, Gram. Would you really deny me your company?”
He laughs despite clearly trying to hold it back, and shoves my shoulder. “Okay, fine. Just stop.”
“Being so needy.”
I shrug, sitting up so I’m facing him. “What can I say? I like attention.”
“Tch. No you don’t.”
“I like your attention.”
Gram frowns, wide mouth falling into a pout. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were flirting with me, Digi Lynch.”
I blink, eyebrows pulling up. Flirting with him? Am I? I replay my words over, and actually, I think I might be. Huh. “Would that be a bad thing?”
“It would be a strange thing.” He’s still looking at me odd, so I leave him to be confused and pick up the room phone to order our breakfast.
Gram settles back against the pillows, long legs stretched over the bed and crossed at the ankles. He’s not too much shorter than I am, but he seems smaller. Maybe it’s the over excitable personality he puts on for his vlogs, or the way his delicate face scrunches when he’s trying to be mean. I could scoop him up easily, like I did when we took that photo, and I’m hit with the impulse to do it again.
I grin as I imagine how surprised he’d be if I just grabbed him and pulled him close. I dunno want I’d do when I got him there—hug him for sure, but maybe … maybe he’d let me kiss him again?
“I’m sorry for shaving your eyebrows off,” he says suddenly, glancing over at me.
“Gram that was two years ago.”
“But I didn’t apologize.”
“You didn’t, but like I care now.”
“They’ve never grown back properly though, have they?”
I rub a hand over my eyebrows. “They’re a bit of a mess.”
“They make you look permanently bewildered.”
I laugh, lying on my side so I’m facing him. “To be fair, I feel like I don’t know much of what’s going on anyway.”
“You are adorably vague.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Gram screws his mouth up to the side, but his eyes light up, and it’s all I need to know that he’s definitely flirting with me too.
About the Author
S. M. James writes books for teens about squishy sweet characters.
While not writing, SM is a readaholic and Netflix addict who regularly lives on a sustainable diet of chocolate and coffee.
Member of SCBWI.
Unapologetically dishing out HEAs for LGBT+ characters.
Australian secret agent Cole Pearson never could stay out of it.
Now he is AWOL and on the run with Sean Trammel, analyst for mining giant ARBUS dodging killers and cut off from help as he never is overseas. As they try to uncover the reasons behind the attack on Sean, Cole unexpectedly realises that he has reasons purely personal and increasingly physical for wanting to keep this man safe. And as they discover the stakes for their hunters they know that it is going to take more than Cole’s charm, guns and wits to keep Sean alive and out of their clutches.
It was the skulking action that first caught his eye. Even without the dark grey fatigues, not couture de rigueur for urban Brisbane, the light step and hurried, almost sneaking motion was deeply suspicious. Cole sat up straighter in his car, the boredom from sitting for five straight hours disappearing in an instant. The skulker slid along the side of the office building heading towards the back. Any legitimate visitor to the building would go through the front door, check in at the counter maybe. It wasn’t the building Cole was supposed to be watching and it was extremely unlikely that the skulker was the Indonesian intelligence officer he was looking out for but he was intrigued nonetheless.
“Now what are you up to buddy?” he muttered. A moment later he saw the man wasn’t alone. Two more men dressed in similar dark grey fatigues followed his path. Cole looked up and down the Spring Hill street. People were coming and going and not paying the slightest attention to him or the men moving into the building across the road from him.
Cole tapped his fingers against the vinyl of the steering wheel. He knew he should mind his own business. It wasn’t what he was there for and he knew he’d only been given this surveillance detail as punishment for his latest misdemeanour. He didn’t think his career could stand many more infractions. Anyway, it was warm in the car and while it was a sunny day out and midday, outside the air was chilly in typical Brisbane May weather. Still…he caught sight of another two figures and pursed his lips. Someone’s day was about to go to crap, he thought reasoning with himself. And really he could do with some movement. For an hour he had sketched passersby and played license plate poker on and off but mental stimulation didn’t keep the blood pumping. A moment more of internal debate and he grabbed his gun from under his jacket on the passenger seat and slipped out of the car. He was just going to take a look he told himself.
On this street the buildings were actually accessed at road level half way up the building with at least four floors below due to the way a hill had been cut into years before. The skulkers had wound their way from street level up the maintenance gangways which wrapped around the sides and presumably the back of the building like a mesh exoskeleton, up two floors so Cole followed at a distance. He saw the lead man jimmy open a door and the whole string of them, bar one who stayed by the door as look out, slipped inside pulling on ski masks as they did so.
‘Just taking a look’ would end now, Cole thought. No matter how he spun it. He’d clearly seen them go into a building he wasn’t supposed to be monitoring. At most he should call the Police. Instead, he double checked the magazine in his pistol and set to finding another way into the building.
Cole went back down one floor and used a fire extinguisher to break open a door and found himself in a back hallway near a couple of storerooms and the toilets. He slipped his gun into the back of his pants pulling the buttoned shirt free of his waistband so it could hang over the top to hide the gun. Following the hallway he entered an open area with a kitchenette along one wall and an open eating area with a floor to ceiling window looking out onto a courtyard type arrangement. When he encountered a couple of people, he adopted his best ‘yep, I’m meant to be here’ countenance and kept steadily on. He’d had a lot of practice blending in and it did not fail him here. Pretty much everyone ignored him. Just beyond the kitchen was a void through at least five levels with stairs to the next level up and down. The timber stairs squeaked slightly at his steps but still no one gave him a second glance. It was the usual thing, he thought. If you were in everyone just assumed that you were supposed to be.
About the Author
Kathryn Allen is an Australian cross-genre author of magic realism romance Ever Man and male/male action thriller Last Loose End along with a frankly ridiculous number of in-the-works fantasy, action and drama novels. For added confusion, she also writes under the names K R Allen and Kathryn R Allen. She enjoys writing about characters taller, bolder, quicker with the comebacks and infinitely better shots than she is.
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.
Six stories. Three couples. One perfect kind of love.
Read the first three books in the #lovehim series and their short stories.
That Feeling When
A summer camp romance where a bi actor and a closeted ballet dancer are blackmailed into keeping their relationship a secret.
No Big Deal
In the meet cute to To Be Honest, Angus finally gets a roommate … and a big, fat crush.
To Be Honest
Angus and his adorkable roommate Tyler, embark on a cross country road trip to confront Angus’s catfisher.
For The Win
The meet cute for In Case You Missed It, Brooks agrees to one non-date with Darien because they’ll never see each other again … right?
In Case You Missed It
Love is supposed to be simple, but Brook’s secret will put their relationship to the test.
PLUS A BONUS NOVELLA NOT YET RELEASED
In Real Life
The sequel to That Feeling When, where Archie and Landon visit Australia and try to make their relationship work amidst judgmental family and pushy exes.
Excerpt (From No Big Deal)
I groan and give him a playful shove, not able to resist touching him, but it just makes the urge to do it again worse. “I think I’ll manage.”
I’ll manage because I don’t even watch the end. I watch Tyler from the corner of my eye. The way his chest expands with each breath, the way he scratches his nose, or rubs his arm. I catch everything.
I really need to get out of here, to put some distance between us, but I can’t. I don’t want to, which is the really messed up part.
The movie ends with that same song that’s played through the whole thing and instead of choosing another, or returning to his own side of the room, Tyler rolls onto his side, legs hanging off the bed, and tucks a pillow up under his arm.
“Okay, if you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?”
I shift around so I’m facing him and try to be subtle about putting distance between us again. I lean back on my hands, my knees filling the void between us. “Tokyo.”
“Huh. I didn’t picture you for a big city guy.”
I shrug and nod at him. “Same question.”
“The Central Library in Vancouver. Reason one.” He holds up his thumb. “I get to visit another country without having to fly, reason two.” He holds up his forefinger. “I could spend my life there and never read all the books they have. Plus it looks like the Colosseum. Which I’ll never see. Because I hate planes.”
“You’re afraid of flying?” It’s my turn to try and hold back a laugh.
“I happen to have a healthy appreciation for how much it would hurt to plummet to my death.”
“Okay so what do you like?”
He considers the question for a moment. “Quesadillas, marine life, old school computer games … and you.” He shrugs like what he said was no big deal. Just a random list.
I try not to hide how awkwardly I swallow. “I guess you’re pretty cool too.”
He lets my lame reciprocation go. “So football … do you actually love it? Or is it one of those things where you tried it, you were good, and Mom and Dad were so proud you couldn’t give it up for fear of disappointing them?”
“Wow. That was oddly specific. Umm … no. It’s one of the ‘I’m an only child and my mom’s dead so Dad is proud of anything I do’ things.”
“Oh.” Tyler’s eyebrows jump up and it’s weird to see him caught by surprise. “I shouldn’t have pried.”
“Don’t worry about it. I was young, I barely remember her.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. Trust me, if I do, I won’t be much fun for the rest of the day. I mean … it’s hard to miss something you never had. And, well, it makes me feel a bit guilty.”
Tyler’s looking at me with so much sympathy it’s kind of hard to look away from. He reaches out and gives the spot just above my knee a squeeze. I feel it all the way up my leg.
“Okay, how many guys have you hooked up with?” He’s trying to take my mind off it and I’m so grateful.
“Umm … two. The first was the summer before I came out. It was kind of a confirmation, I guess. Sloppy and rushed. The second …” I rub at my mouth to try and hide the smile. “The second was last Christmas break. Dad and I went to a Christmas party with some of his work friends. I didn’t know the guy, and I know I’ll never see him again, and I think that’s what made it so hot.” I nod at him again. “Same question.”
“How many guys have I hooked up with? I can honestly say zero.” He catches my eye with a grin. “Sorry, Angus.”
He gets a laugh from me. “If you ever want to try it, you know where to find me.” I don’t know what makes me say the words but I immediately regret it. Maybe repressing my sexuality for so long isn’t the best idea.
“Obviously I meant girls, you idiot.”
“In that case.” He frowns as he thinks. “Also zero.”
“I know. I struggle to believe it myself.”
“Do you ever get lonely?” I’m not sure where the question comes from.
Tyler’s serious when he answers. “Only all of the time. Mom and Dad are super busy, and I don’t really have any friends.”
He lets loose his smile, all teeth and squinty eyes. “Except you.”
“It’s very possible you’re my only actual guy friend too. At least, the only one who doesn’t see me as the gay kid.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just have so be so careful around people. Honestly, it gets pretty exhausting, but it’s safer. Like, I can’t joke around with my teammates in case they think I’m coming on to them or something. I mean, I’m not an idiot, I wouldn’t set myself up to fail by falling for a straight guy.”
“Yet you just offered to hook up with me.”
My stomach clenches and he starts to laugh but I’m kind of uneasy about it. I’d meant it as a joke—obviously—but to him … it had been too easy to say.
About the Author
S. M. James writes books for teens about squishy sweet characters.
While not writing, SM is a readaholic and Netflix addict who regularly lives on a sustainable diet of chocolate and coffee.
Unapologetically dishing out HEAs for LGBTQ characters.
The calculated flying distance from Oslo to London is equal to 717 miles which is equal to 1153 km. If you want to go by car, the driving distance between Oslo and London is 1732.79 km. If you ride your car with an average speed of 112 kilometres/hour (70 miles/h), travel time will be 15 hours 28 minutes.
Adam Vik Solheim should not be in London. He’s not supposed to be anywhere near the British capital, because Adam Vik Solheim, age 19, is supposed to be on a beach in Bali. He is supposed to be on the first stop on an Asian backpacking trip of a lifetime. That was the plan. That is where he is supposed to be. Not here. Alone in a weird house in a strange city, being paid to look after some troubled 17-year-old.
Felix Haugland has to survive the final 3 weeks of school. Make it through 21 more days of hell. Then he is going to hide out in his room for the rest of the summer until he can figure out how to get his life back on track. Find a school far far away, where he can start over and not make mistakes.
He doesn't need a flipping babysitter. He just doesn't. His life is messed up enough as it is.
I don’t notice him at first, wrapped up in a blanket sitting on the sofa. The house is dark and quiet and if it wasn’t for the light from his phone, I wouldn’t have noticed him at all. He just looks up and meets my eye for a second. Looking a little bit sad.
“Where is your mum? I thought you were going to hang out today?”
“Gone to her boyfriend’s. Not sure when she will be back. Didn’t check. She left you money on the side there.”
I don’t know what to say. Apart from that I’m sorry she is a bit of a shit mum. I mean she left him here alone, whilst she’s gone off to see her bloke. Then, I kind of think that we are all adults. Well, Felix might be. I am not. I still don’t know what to say.
“Philip went on the group chat. I got bored.” Felix gets up from the sofa. Walking over to the kettle and flicking the switch. At least it fills the silence, the kettle humming quietly as the water heats up.
“I saw that, it was funny. Really good.” I pretend to check my phone.
Felix gets a cup down. Pulls out a teabag. Tilts his head towards the coffeemaker.
I get a coffee pod out and load it whilst Felix gets another cup. Nudging my hand as he places it in the brewer, which makes me jolt back. I don’t know why. I just don’t know how to act around him when we are alone. Like this.
He is leaning back against the counter. Chewing on his bottom lip with his arms crossed over his chest. Wearing joggers that are slung low over his hips, and a hoodie that just doesn’t quite cover the blond fuzz on his stomach.
I am standing there biting my nails and fiddling with the envelope on the counter. I try to catch his eye. Staring at his lips and thinking dirty thoughts. Then, looking away the minute he looks up.
It’s different flirting with girls. If Felix was a girl, I would be all charming and touchy-feely and wink and compliment her and we would both know where things would end up in the end.
With Felix, I haven’t got a clue. I don’t know where he falls, whether he is straight or gay or whatever he defines as. He might just think of me as some big brother figure. Someone who makes him feel safe. Someone who he kisses and clings to and cuddles. He seems as confused as me. His hand shaking a little as he pours the boiling water in the cup. Stirs with a teaspoon. Spills a little on the side.
I try to be helpful. I mean, I try to wipe it up with a tea towel, only to nudge his arm with my elbow which makes us both jump. I spill half of his tea. The cup spinning on the worktop. Felix’s hand touching mine, as we both try to catch the cup before it falls. Me catching it and Felix jolting back like he has been burnt. He is sucking his finger into his mouth. Catching my eye and not looking away. He just looks at me, all eyes and hurt and feelings and… I don’t know. I suppose it’s heat. Desire.
It makes me a bit crazy. I mean, I am already crazy, but I think I must be crazier than should be allowed, because I grab his face with both hands and launch at those lips. Just smashing my mouth on his. Walking him backwards until he is being squashed against the kitchen table that is creaking and scratching along the floor under the weight of us.
I am panting. Hard. Being the worst kisser in the world. There is nothing sensual or soft about me and my kissing. Not like I would kiss a girl. I am kissing Felix because I need to. Because I am desperate and because his hands are fisting the hair on my head, pulling and scratching my scalp whilst he catches his breath. Letting his forehead rest against mine, breathing hard and fast against my lips.
Then, he starts to kiss me. Properly kiss me. The way I should have been kissing him. Lips and tongues and more than a little bit of teeth, hard and hot and making me feel lightheaded. I am not breathing properly. Not getting enough oxygen to my brain. Grinding against him. Rutting and jerking whilst he is whimpering and panting and making all these little sounds that just egg me on.
I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t know what got into me. I let go. I let him go. Pull my hands back and step away from him. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. Stumbling backwards and blinking into the light like I have just woken up.
“I shouldn’t have done that.” I mumble. Well I shouldn’t. I wasn’t supposed to do that.
About the Author
Sophia Soames should be old enough to know better but has barely grown up. She has been known to fangirl over tv-shows, has fallen in and out of love with more pop stars than she dares to remember, and has a ridiculously high-flying (un)glamourous real-life job.
Her long suffering husband just laughs at her antics. Their children are feral. The Au Pair just sighs.
She lives in a creaky old house in rural London, although her heart is still in Scandinavia.
Discovering that the stories in her head make sense when written down has been part of the most hilarious midlife crisis ever and she hopes it may long continue.
Miriam Latu is a Norway based artist, specializing in hand drawn pencil portraits. She works with old-school pen and paper, and more of her work can be found on Instagram.