Saturday, February 27, 2016

Altered Landscape: My Thoughts on Samhain and What's Next

So yesterday was a bit of gut shot to the romance community as a whole, and to myself as an individual. In case you missed it, Samhain Publishing announced that they are beginning the process of going out of business.

Click here for the official letter, if you haven't read it and want the details.

Samhain is a well-run company that has always treated their authors with respect, and I have enjoyed my time as one of their authors. I adore my editor, Christa Soule, and my cover artist, Lyn Taylor. When I chose to begin writing m/m romance, Samhain was my top choice publisher, and I screamed for joy when Cost of Repairs was accepted by them. Seven books later, I was prepared to stay with Samhain for the long-haul.

Except the universe had other plans.

It's devastating to see a company with such a rich history fold and go under. But it's also heartening to see them do it with dignity, class, and in a way that makes sure authors continue to get paid.

And getting paid is why I had a panic attack yesterday when I first learned of this news.

At the end of last year, I made the decision to give up my full-time, benefits-paying retail job in order to write full-time. My collective royalties had surpassed what I made at that job, and I was no longer happy. Anyone who's worked in retail for any substantial length of time knows it can suck at your soul. I love the people I worked with and the company I worked for, but I was determined to give this full-time author thing a shot.

And one of the things that gave me great comfort (and most definitely influenced my decision to leave my day job) was knowing I had a steady paycheck every single month from Samhain. I loved that they paid monthly, instead of quarterly like my other publishers. Learning that steady, monthly income was no longer guaranteed terrified me. I'm a single person, who lives alone. I depend on myself to pay rent, bills, and food. My cats depend on me to keep them fed and in kitty litter.

Now this doesn't mean that I'm going to suddenly need to find a new day job, or that I'm going to end up in financial ruin. I didn't quit my job without having a plan in place. But the landscape of how I imagined the next few years look like has been dramatically altered.

Samhain will continue to sell current titles for an unknown amount of time, and they will publish books that are finalized and ready to go. Some of my fellow Samhain authors seem super-eager to get their rights back on their backlist titles, but I'm glad to let my books remains on sale for now. I have every confidence Samhain will pay me (and my fellow authors) for every sale made until the day they take them off the market. So please, don't let their winding down scare you away from purchasing the hundreds upon hundreds of awesome books they have for sale. This isn't just a sales pitch for my stuff, but also for my fellow authors being affected.

So knowing I'll still get those monthly checks for a while helps. It gives me time to plan and to think about what's next for all of the characters populating Stratton and my fictional version of Harrisburg, PA.

The Heart As He Hears It (Perspectives #3) will still be published on April 19th in ebook, paperback and audio. Y'all still get Jon and Isaac's story, and I'm super-happy about that.

But after that, I'm sad to say that Perspectives is an orphaned series. I had every intention of submitting a Perspectives 4 to my editor once she returned from her sabbatical--that is obviously not going to happen now. And it's unlikely that another publisher would pick up the fourth book in a series. 

What about self-publishing, you ask? I don't know. At the moment, I have other deadlines, plus the re-issues of Prodigal and Frozen, and the heroes of P4 simply aren't burning a hole in my brain.

I will miss one of my favorite first-round edit quirks from Christa, though. She tried to guess at who would be the next hero, or hint that she wanted this particular character's story. It was always so encouraging, knowing that even two-scene side characters were engaging enough to require more.

Besides Perspectives, I also have a finished book that is now orphaned. Fractured Hymns, my gay inspirational romance, will be reverted back to me. I have cover art and a blurb (which I'm kind of glad I never got around to sharing last week when I received the final files), but we never got to the editing stage. And honestly, the lack of editing this close to a September release date was starting to nibble at the back of my mind as bizarre, when at this point we should have been on copy edits, at least.

I'm not sure what to do with Fractured Hymns. It's a standalone romance, absolutely, but it does spin-off from a character you met in Foundation of Trust, Ethaniel Shockley. Plus emails from Owen. I may submit it elsewhere. For now, until I officially have the rights back and decide what to do, that book is off my 2016 release calendar. 

But it's not all sadness. I still have two fun new series to debut this year! Come What May (All Saints #1) in May, and Body Rocks (Off Beat #1) in June. Steady Stroke (Off Beat #2) is scheduled for October, and All Saints #2 should come out in the fall, as well. So yay for new books!

The landscape of romance publishing changed yesterday, and everyone who worked for Samhain is feeling the effects. We'll continue to feel them as we go forward, everyone finding new footing. New opportunities. Facing new challenges. But the great thing about the romance community? We're doing it together. We all recognize what we're losing: quality romance books from a kick-ass publisher who consistently put their authors first. And we're commiserating together.

We're also celebrating together. Celebrating amazing coworkers and relationships we forged thanks to Samhain. Celebrating a publisher that is going out with dignity. Celebrating authors and readers and cover artists and editors and ROMANCE.

Because romance, no matter what color of the rainbow or end of the spectrum, is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Friday, February 19, 2016

First Chapter: The Heart As He Hears It

With only two months to before The Heart As He Hears It (Perspectives #3) releases, here's a peek at the first chapter of Jon and Isaac's story.

Enjoy!

*



“Why did you pick me?” Jon asked.

Gabe Henson looked up from his phone, in the middle of sucking down his chocolate Protein Powerhouse smoothie. “Pick you for what?” Gabe asked.

“Don’t play dumb, dude, I know you. Your last scene. You picked me. Why?”

“Seemed fitting. You got me into it, might as well be the one to get me out.”

“Fair enough.”

It being gay porn. Jon had been modeling for Mean Green Boys for almost four years now. About three years ago, he’d met Gabe at the same gym they’d just worked out in and introduced Gabe to the studio’s owner Chet Green. The whole thing had worked out well for both of them. Despite the occasional troll on his Twitter account for “Boomer Black”, Jon had a blast as a porn star. He loved the attention, loved the sex, and he loved getting both in a safe environment.

He kind of hated that his best friend was leaving the industry, but he got it too. Gabe had been in it for money and safe sex, and now that he had a long-term boyfriend and his money-sink of a mother was finally on the wagon, he could retire “Tony Ryder” from porn.

Jon had no impulse to quit anytime soon. He had no reason to. No family who gave a shit what he did with his life. His other best friend Henry was his biggest fan, and that wasn’t creepy at all, even though Henry was thirty-three years older than Jon. Henry had told Jon everything he knew about sex, so it was like getting praise from his favorite teacher.

A favorite teacher slowly dying from cancer.

He pushed those depressing thoughts away. Later. Not now.

Filming Gabe’s final scene yesterday had been bittersweet. It wasn’t as if they’d never see each other again. They still met at the gym once a week, sent silly texts and sometimes cried on each other’s shoulders (metaphorically, mostly). Their friendship wasn’t over.

He hoped Gabe didn’t fade away and become someone he used to know. Jon didn’t make friends easily, and he worked hard to keep the few he had.

“What?” Gabe asked.

Jon blinked. “What what?”

“You looked morose for a second. Was the fuck that bad?”

“Oh no, that was amazing, as always.” Gabe was a born top and he did it well. “Just thinking we got to be friends because of Mean Green, and now we don’t have that in common anymore. And you’ve got Tristan to take up your time.”

“Tristan and I have been together for a year now, and you and me still have time to hang. Leaving the business won’t change that. Forget it, pal, you’re stuck with me.”

Jon grinned, a small knot of worry loosening in his gut. He’d needed to hear that. He didn’t deal well with change anymore. Stability kept him on track. Focused.

Healthy.

“Good, because despite your personality, I really like you,” Jon said.

Gabe choked on his smoothie. “Thanks so much.”

“So did you and Tristan do anything fun for his birthday last week?”

“Went dancing at Big Dick’s because it’s his favorite thing.”

“Well, he is making up for lost time.”

Gabe’s boyfriend of roughly one year, Tristan Lavalle, had been gay bashed four years ago, and it had left him brain damaged. Unable to form new memories. He’d lived his life in thirty-minute intervals, writing it all down in notebooks, and being cared for in an assisted living center full of old people. Jon had known something was up last fall when Gabe started making goo-goo eyes at his text messages, and Jon had finally wormed the relationship out of his friend.

Around the same time, Tristan had agreed to take part in a clinical trial to test a drug that might help his memory improve. And it had. Jon wasn’t clear on the details. Tristan would probably never regain his total memory, and he had trouble remembering acquaintances, but he knew Gabe, Gabe’s dads and his best friend Noel’s boyfriend. So that was something. Everything else, the incredibly patient Gabe helped him play by ear.

“Did your dads ambush him?” Jon asked.

“Yes, they did.” Gabe brought up photos on his phone. “They brought back the cowboy theme since Tristan loves the old west. The go-go boys wore toy guns and belts over their thongs. Hats, of course. My dads set up this game with the boys each wearing a strap-on, and then gave everyone a chance to try and toss a small cowboy hat and actually have it land on the tip of the dildo. Anyone who did got a free lap dance.”

Jon leaned in, enjoying the slide show of hot man flesh on display on Gabe’s phone. The last one was of Tristan in a chair, surrounded by other club patrons, beet-red while a hot guy in a thong gave him a personal lap dance in front of everyone.

“Holy shit,” Jon said. “Was that a birthday freebie, or did he actually make a hat stay?”

Gabe smiled with so much love and pride it made Jon hate him a little. “He made a hat stay, so he got two dances. One from Seth and one from Jake. Tristan was so horny when we finally got home…”

“And?” Jon loved hearing the gory details of other peoples’ sex lives. It let him live vicariously. Gabe had found a good relationship and someone to love who genuinely loved him back. Relationships always started like that.

And then the honeymoon’s over, and you can’t remember when it changed, only that suddenly you’re fat and stupid and can’t do anything right.

Except that wouldn’t happen with Gabe and Tristan. Gabe was a good guy. The real deal. For years he’d lived with and taken care of his alcoholic mother, only for her to berate him and throw things at his head. She was finally, mercifully sober and in a healthy relationship of her own, but that was Gabe.

A real-life superhero.

“Please don’t tease unless you’re at least going to tell me how many times you nailed him,” Jon said.

Gabe smirked. “Twice.”

“Only twice?”

“At home. There might have been another quickie in the upstairs office at the club.”

“Another? When was the first?”

“My birthday.”

“So are we establishing a new tradition? Birthday quickies at the club? Kinky.”

“Tristan is a spitfire when he wants to be. It never stops amazing me how much he’s changed in the last year. He’s like a whole new person.”

Jon’s heart gave an unhappy kick. “Well, if he’s the one and you’re permanently whipped, make sure you do everything you can to keep him.”

“Trust me, I do. We both do.” Gabe dabbed the water ring left behind by his smoothie cup. “You know, it’s okay to try dating again, Jon. It’s been four years.”

He tensed. Gabe brought up dating every few months, and it was Jon’s least favorite topic. “I know it’s okay, thanks. I’m fine.”

“I know you know. It’s just sometimes, when I talk about Tristan, you get this look on your face.”

“Nausea?”

“Don’t slug me for this, but…kind of wistful? Like you miss it.”

“Sure I do,” Jon deadpanned. “I miss being told I’m fat. I miss being called stupid for forgetting one thing on the grocery list.”

Gabe held up a staying hand. “Okay, I’m sorry.”

Jon wasn’t done, though. “I miss being yelled at because I left a dirty dish in the sink. I miss—”

“Stop.” Gabe grabbed his wrist, brown eyes somehow both sad and angry. “Rick was an abusive prick who didn’t deserve your trust or love, but not every guy is going to be him.”

“Thank you, Dr. Henson.”

“I’m serious. Having sex for money will never replace the affection of a real relationship.”

Jon yanked his hand free. “I liked you better when you were single.”

“You liked your own life better when I was single and filming for the same reason. Safe, regular sex, no attachments.”

He needed out of this conversation, like now, so he didn’t mind his phone giving a squawk.

Text from Henry: Call me when you’re not busy.

The perfect excuse to end Gabe’s lecture.

“Henry needs me,” Jon said.

“I should head out anyway. Take care.”

“Yeah.” Jon was being rude and he no longer cared. Getting a boyfriend didn’t give Gabe the right to judge him.

Henry answered on the first ring. “Hey, baby. How was the workout?” He sounded weird. Stressed.

“It was a workout. What’s wrong? Are you in pain?”

“Nothing I can’t handle, don’t fret. Can you come over? I need to talk to you about something and ask a favor.”

“I can come over right now. Need me to bring anything?”

“Just an open mind.”

Jon had no idea what that meant, and it set some butterflies loose in his stomach. Henry could be dramatic, but he was also dying a slow, undeniable death. He’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer last year and beaten it back, only for cancer to reappear in January in his liver and bile ducts. Cue surgery and a blast of chemo, but the shit still recurred in July. Nothing was touching it this time. All the chemo seemed to do was keep it from getting worse, and that would only work for so long.

“You got it, H. Be there in ten.”

Just in case, Jon swung by a state store for a bottle of Henry’s favorite bourbon. Jon drank very rarely now—too many calories to justify—but that didn’t mean Henry couldn’t indulge if he needed to. God only knew what this talk and favor were about.

Henry’s apartment was only a few minutes’ drive from the gym, so he was knocking on his first best friend’s door before he could get too stressed about whatever this was. Henry yanked it open with a familiar flourish, dressed down in a floral bathrobe that belonged in the eighties, an unlit cigar hanging from the corner of his mouth.

Two years ago, a random stranger never would have believed Henry’s age. He’d barely had any wrinkles, had healthy skin, a killer body, only a touch of silver in his brown hair. After over a year of fighting cancer and having chemicals pumped into him, he seemed twenty years older than his actual fifty-seven. His hair was pure gray, and his skin sagged in places from all of the weight he’d lost. The change hurt Jon’s heart every time he visited the man.

“Hey, baby,” Henry said. “Looking gorgeous and fit as ever.”

Jon shrugged off the familiar compliment. “Hey back.” He kissed Henry’s cheek on his way in, then handed over the paper bag. “Brought you a present.”

“You are too sweet to me. Come. Sit.”

The two-bedroom apartment had a bohemian chic décor mixed with seventies kitsch that always reminded Jon of the movie Moulin Rouge, minus the giant elephant head bedroom. He plunked down on the scarlet sofa, nervous now that the conversation was at hand.

Henry settled in the patchwork armchair across from him. “I have a dead son.”

Jon stared. “You have a Datsun?”

“A dead son. I found out yesterday.”

“That you have a son?”

“That he’s dead.”

Still not making sense. “When did you find out you have a son?”

“Last week.”

“From who?”

“His mother.”

“I…” Jon shook his head hard, hoping the big damn bombshell Henry had dropped on him would stop reverberating in his brain so the words could settle. “Okay. Um, does she know he’s dead?”

“No. She told me she doesn’t want to know who he became or where he lives. She gave him up and let him go, she says.” Henry’s expression had shifted from bewildered to angry and back to confused. The poor guy.

“The mother never told you she was pregnant?”

“I had no idea.” Henry sank back into his chair. “I told you I grew up in the Mennonite church. Real religious, real strict. Me and Julianna, we were sweethearts from an early age, and we both had the same kind of rebellious streak. When we were sixteen, we started having sex. A few months later, she was sent to live with her aunt’s family in upstate New York, and I was publicly shamed for my actions. I always figured she was sent away so her family wouldn’t have to face the same embarrassment.”

Jon got it. “She was sent away because she was pregnant.”

“Bingo. You always were a quick one. I’ve thought about her sometimes, over the years. About two weeks ago, it dawns on me I should reach out. Maybe try to make amends with the past since I don’t have too much future left. So I tracked her down on Facebook of all places.”

The miracles of modern technology.

“I sent her a message telling her how sorry I was for her being sent away. She told me she had a baby who was adopted by a family with the last name Gregory. She never held him. Said only her aunt knew where the boy ended up. Anyway, long story short, yesterday morning I got in touch with a lady named Ruth Gregory. She’s one of four kids adopted by her dead folks. Says she had one brother named Jerome, same age as my kid would be. Says around sixteen he started asking about his real parents, but his adopted parents refused to say anything other than they came from this area. Says he was a real bull-headed character and he left home. No one heard from him again.”

The story was both intriguing and horrifying—to end up with people so uptight that they’d refuse an adopted child’s need to know where he came from. Jon knew his roots, and they could stay firmly planted far away from him, thank you very much.

“So where did Jerome go?” Jon asked. “How do you know he’s dead?”

“Ruth scanned and sent over a picture of him.” Henry’s laptop was open on the coffee table. He spun it around for Jon.

A pair of teenagers, a boy and girl, smiled at whoever was taking the photo. A beach lay behind them, and the corner of a beach chair lurked in the back of the picture. The boy resembled Henry a bit in the shape of his face and the high cheekbones.

“At least you have that,” Jon said.

“Yeah.” Henry let out a long, slow breath. “Anyway, I did some googling. Awful lot of Jerome Gregory’s out there, but I tracked down one who’d lived in Mechanicsburg.”

That was only a couple of miles outside the city.

“Found an article in the Patriot-News archives for a Jerome Gregory from fifteen years ago. Said he was twenty-six, which fits.”

Jon was scared to ask. “Did the article say how he died?”

“Murdered.”

“What?” Okay, that had been a little high-pitched, but damn. “Are you serious, or are you sitting there making shit up because you’re bored?”

Henry shook his head. “Serious as cancer, my friend.”

Shit.

“Did they catch who did it? Or why?” Jon asked. Suddenly their lives had become part of an episode of Cold Case.

“Not that I saw. Article said he was in deep debt with the wrong people, which pisses me off, knowing he was so close all these years. I could’ve helped my kid.” Genuine grief made Henry’s face crumple. He didn’t cry. He sat there in misery for a few beats. “But it’s not all shitty news.”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

A flash of joy made it through Henry’s grief. “Article said he was survived by his wife Greta and their seven-year-old son.”

It took Jon a moment to see the connection. “Holy shit. Really?”

“I have a grandson out there. Maybe still in the area.”

“Maybe? Have you tracked them down yet?”

“No. No White Pages listings for a Greta Gregory, which is an unfortunate name for a young lady to be stuck with, but that’s beside the point. The only lead I’ve got is the article also said Jerome worked at the Galaxy Diner, which is where he met Greta. It was like this half-police piece, half-obituary thing. Couldn’t even find a proper obit on Jerome.”

“The Galaxy Diner just off of 15?” Jon asked. “I ate there a few times.” All with Rick, who had picked apart every food choice he made. He hadn’t been back since.

“I think so. I’ve seen the place.”

“You think someone who still works there might remember Jerome or his wife.”

“It’s what I’m hoping. Shit, my grandson would be about your age.”

Fifteen and seven. Jon had two years on him. “Pretty close. So why haven’t you called the diner yet?”

In the six years Jon had known him, he’d seen Henry scared a handful of times, mostly to do with his declining health. Today he saw a new kind of terror blossom from inside of Henry. The kind that made him want to hug his dearest friend until whatever was so frightening went away.

“I don’t want to do this over the phone,” Henry admitted. “Feels like something I should do in person, you know?”

“Sure.” He saw the unasked question. Thanks to his age, failing eyesight and poor general health, Henry had sold his car and given up driving a few months ago. “Want me to take you?”

“Yeah. Please.”

“Tell me when.” He filmed regularly enough that he was only waiting tables part-time, usually as an on-call, fill-in kind of thing. He enjoyed the freedom to do what he wanted, when he wanted, and also be available for Henry. Sure, Henry had other friends, but Henry was the father figure Jon had lost and regained when his family told him to leave.

“Is today too soon?” Henry asked.

“Of course not. No sense in putting this off.” Jon was still processing everything Henry had dumped on him, and he imaged Henry was having an even harder time wrapping his head around it all. Finding out he had a grandson and daughter-in-law out there somewhere. Family he never knew existed.

Total mind fuck.

“I don’t know what to wear,” Henry said.

“I got this. Don’t worry.”

Jon raided Henry’s overly stuffed wardrobe and pulled out clean khaki slacks and a neatly pressed dark blue button-up. He didn’t have a lot of toned-down choices, since Henry preferred jeans and brightly colored T-shirts with a lot of profanity on them. Somehow, Jon doubted that showing up wearing a shirt that said “Fuck me, I’m horny” would endear him to the in-laws.

He also made Henry shave and wet-comb his hair. The Albert Einstein look wasn’t good for first impressions.

It wasn’t until they were in Jon’s car that he second-guessed his own wardrobe—bright blue sweatpants and a muscle tee. Henry hadn’t commented so Jon didn’t worry about it too much. He frequently got Twitter comments that Boomer looked too straight to be gay, occasionally accusing him of gay-for-pay.

Blocking the idiots was easier than engaging.

The Galaxy Diner was on the other side of the river. Jon loved that bridge and the views it gave of the city and City Island. With each passing mile, Henry’s nerves increased. It started with tapping his knee. Then he tapped the window. The dashboard. He was practically playing the piano all over the car, and Jon didn’t know what to say to calm him down.

Jon would never say it, but he was nervous as all hell too. Henry had no biological family left that would give him the time of day. The chance to meet a grandson, especially during the last few months of his life, was a miracle too wonderful to take for granted.
Please let this kid be open-minded.

A homophobic grandkid who slammed the door in their faces would break Henry’s heart.

The diner was a great throwback to the old train-car style diners, set back from the highway next to a strip mall, its neon sign visible from a quarter-mile away. For the middle of the afternoon the parking lot was three-quarters full, which said something about the food. Jon used to love a good diner meal, but goddamn the grease and calories and bad memories.

Coffee and fryer oil assaulted his nose the moment they walked in the front doors of the diner. Chrome and red as far as the eye could see. A bakery case teased him with dozens of different sugary goodies. Rick had tormented him during one of their dates by taking ages to choose a dessert, and then eating it in front of Jon after having shamed him into ordering a Caesar salad, no dressing.

Fun times.

Familiar fifties rock streamed from speakers hidden someplace out of sight. The place was somehow both unique and just like every other throwback diner out there.

A hefty woman of Mediterranean descent approached with a broad smile. “Two?”

Henry hesitated.

“We were actually hoping to talk to the owners,” Jon said.

“I own this with my husband,” the woman said. Her thick accent was more Greek than Italian, if Jon had to guess. “Is there a problem?”

“No, nothing like that. Have you owned the diner a long time?”

“About a year. Before that it belonged to my brother. Why?”

“Did you know Greta Gregory and her son?”

The woman frowned, then waved them to the side, away from the front doors. “Greta was my niece. She passed away ten years ago.”

“And her son?”

This time she gave Jon and Henry the stink eye. “Why you want to know about Isaac?”

Isaac. Finally, Henry’s grandson had a name.

“He’s my grandson,” Henry said.

“What? How?”

Henry briefly outlined what he knew about his connection to Jerome, and the great-aunt’s expression got fiery.

“That good-for-nothing Jerome,” she spat. “Brought only misery to Greta and her boy.” She glared at Jon. “Are you his uncle?”

For a second Jon thought she was asking if he was Henry’s uncle. Except she meant Isaac’s uncle. “No, I’m not Henry’s son.”

“Who’s Henry?”

“He is,” Jon said, in the same moment Henry said, “I am.”

They glanced at each other.

“I’m sorry, we’re doing this wrong,” Henry said. “My name is Henry Pearson, and this is a good friend of mine, Jon Buchanan. I know this is unexpected, but yesterday I found out that I had a son and he died before I ever knew he existed.”

Her glare didn’t soften. “Jerome isn’t spoken of. He ruined his wife and son.”

“What do you mean? Is Isaac still alive?”

“Physically.”

Jon grimaced and braced for a coma story, or something equally appalling.

“Please,” Henry said, putting a little more anger into his tone. “He’s my flesh and blood. What’s wrong with him?”

The great-aunt’s anger downshifted into grief. “Because of his bastard father’s temper and fists, the boy cannot hear.”


(c) A.M. Arthur

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Never Have I Ever (A Belonging Ficlet)

Happy New Year!

Newsletter subscribers received this treat a while ago, but I wanted to post it here for all to enjoy, since it's a NYE story featuring your favorite Belonging boys. 

Jaime gets his first experience playing "Never Have I Ever" and learns quite a lot about his friends....



Never Have I Ever

A trip out to Pot O Gold usually ended with Jaime Winters having to half-carry his drunk boyfriend, Alessandro Silva, the two block walk to their friends’ apartment. And considering tonight was New Year’s Eve and Alessandro didn’t have to get up early to open the bakery tomorrow, Jaime had expected to need extra hands wrangling Alè home. 

Alessandro had surprised him by only ordering two whiskey sours, then sticking to water until he shared a glass of champagne with Donner Davis at midnight. The fourth side of their quartet and Donner’s partner, Ezra Kelley, had helped himself to two glasses.

It had been months since their foursome had haunted Pot O Gold together. Not since Ezra and Alessandro opened up their coffee shop and bakery, Half-Dozen, back in July. The business was thriving enough for them to toss around words like “expansion” without actually making plans, and Jaime had never been prouder. Alessandro was a business owner, he was happy, and he made Jaime stupidly happy, too.

Life was pretty great for all of them at the moment, so he was a little confused over why his friends hadn’t let loose more at the Pot.

Please, God, don’t tell me we’re all getting old.

Hardly.

Jaime had just turned twenty-four that summer, same age as Ezra now. Alessandro would be twenty-four in February. Only Donner could be honestly teased about being old, since he’d already hit the big 3-0 and was inching closer to 3-1.

“I still can’t believe you wore that shirt,” Donner said, pointing at Jaime’s chest. He was probably the least intoxicated of the three who’d been drinking. Hanging off his arm, Ezra wasn’t exactly drunk but he was definitely extra-happy.

Jaime glanced down at the black sleeveless tee hiding under his open winter coat. The words “Versatile Boys Have More Fun” was printed in blocky white letters. Alessandro had given it to him a few weeks ago to celebrate Jaime finally graduating college, along with a promise to take him out to the Pot as long as he wore it. 

New Year’s Eve had been the perfect excuse. The Pot had been jammed, and the shirt got Jaime the kind of attention he loved. Alessandro had helped him discover and nurture his inner exhibitionist, and while he still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of having full-on anal sex in front of other people, he and Alessandro got pretty damned frisky, both in the club and at Ezra’s apartment.

Once they’d even sucked each other off on one couch while Ezra and Donner did the same on the other.

Good times.

“Verse guys do have more fun,” Ezra said, his voice only slightly slurred. “I’m sure all four of us can agree to that one.”

Alessandro stumbled slightly, his brow creasing. “Wait, when did you start letting guys stick a dick in your ass, Mr. I Only Top?”

Ezra flashed a wicked grin at Donner. “When I met him.”

While the mental image of the slender, totally gorgeous Ezra going to town on Donner was crazy hot, the opposite made Jaime’s stomach wobble in funny ways. Maybe because in the sixteen-ish months they’d all known each other, Ezra had always been about control. The fact that he could give that up to Donner was pretty intense. He loved seeing his friends so happy together.

All of his friends, which included the two who’d begged off for another gig. Romy and Brendan had only been together for a couple of months, and they seemed totally mismatched on the outside, but they also completely complimented each other. And they were busy at a New Year’s party at Brendan’s mother’s house, surrounded by Brendan’s extended family.

Romy was probably nervous as hell around so many people, but he’d put up with it for Brendan’s sake.

The walk back to the apartment never took long. Donner and Ezra shared the renovated second floor of a three-story brownstone. The bathroom was a tiny pain in the ass, but the living area was huge, and it had two bedrooms. 

Jaime planned to make good use of the extra bed tonight.

“Who’s up for Cards Against Humanity?” Ezra asked once they were all inside, shedding coats.

Jaime blinked at all of the snowy, silver Christmas decorations still in place. Ezra had gone all out.

“You lent that to Brandy last week,” Donner said. She worked at the bakery with Ezra and Alessandro.

Ezra’s face dropped. “Fuck. I did, didn’t I?” Then brightened. “How about a drinking game?”

“Jaime can’t drink,” Alessandro said. He came up behind Jaime and slid warm arms around his waist from behind. Pulled Jaime’s ass right into his crotch. While Jaime had lost his wood the moment cold air blasted him the face outside the club, Alessandro was still hard in his jeans. 

Jaime melted into his boyfriend’s arms. “Jaime can drink soda while you guys do booze.”

“Never Have I Ever!” Ezra whooped and darted for the kitchen cabinets. He produced a bottle of Fireball and four Dixie cups. Then a can of soda from the mini-fridge that came with the place.

Jaime let Alessandro manhandle him over to one of the two long couches that took up living room space, hoping his face didn’t away he had no idea what game they were talking about. Okay, so he’d been sheltered growing up. Extremely sheltered, which wasn’t a surprise when he told folks about the heart disease that nearly killed him more than once, or that the only reason he was alive today was because of a heart transplant.

Hence no drinking anything stronger than soda. Ever.

Small price to pay for someone who’s never actually tasted alcohol anyway. 

While Donner found some music on Ezra’s space-age sound system, Ezra arranged the cups and booze on the coffee table, then immediately poured three shots of booze, and a shot of soda for Jaime.

“Have you guys played before?” Ezra asked.

Affirmatives came from Donner and Alessandro, and suddenly all eyes were on Jaime. His face got hot, probably scorching red from his neck to the tips of his ears. 

Ezra made an amused noise. “So that’s a no from Jaime.”

“It’s pretty basic,” Alessandro said. “Someone makes a statement, such as ‘never have I ever been bitten by a snake,’ and if anyone in the room has been bitten by a snake, they drink.”

“Except most of the time the statements are sexual, so it’s the sluts among us that get wasted first.”

Donner poked Ezra in the ribs and gave him what seemed to be a disapproving look.

Huh.

“Damn,” Jaime said. “The list of things I’ve never done, in bed or out of bed, could fill a phone book.”

Alessandro smoothed a warm palm over his chest, across the long surgical scar hidden beneath his birthday shirt. “You had a good reason, babe.”

“Still.”

“Still, nothing,” Ezra said. “The game doesn’t have to be all about sex.” He waggled his eyebrows, the silver brow stud winking in the lights from the Christmas tree. “Most of it, but not all.”

“Fine.” Jaime settled in with a hand on Alessandro’s thigh. “You go first.”

“Hmm…” Ezra glanced around the room as if his question was tacked to the wall somewhere. “Never have I ever…had sex with a stripper.”

The declaration surprised Jaime for some reason, but he was even more surprised when Donner downed a shot.

Ezra squawked. “Story!”

Donner worried his lower lip with his teeth while he refilled his cup. “It was years ago. Jacob and I went to Philly one Saturday to blow off steam, and we hit up some clubs. We were both eyeballing one of the strippers, and after his set, we approached him.”

“Oh my God.” Ezra’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull. “You never told me you had a threesome.”

“You never asked.”

Jaime stared at Donner, impressed by the story. Jacob was his late boyfriend, who’d been killed almost three years ago. And Donner Davis was the quiet, responsible one, so the threesome thing earned him mad respect from Jaime. While Jaime loved playing around and frequently fantasized about a threesome, he wasn’t sure he would, in reality, ever want to have full-on sex with anyone except Alessandro.

Ezra tipped an imaginary hat at his partner. “Fine, you scoundrel you. Your turn.”

Donner tried to a find a comment on the back of his hand. “Um, never have I ever had sex in the woods.”

Jaime and Alessandro reached for their cups at the exact same time. The soda fizzled down his throat. Alessandro pressed a cinnamon-scented kiss to his cheek. The first time Alessandro blew him, it had been in the woods near an unfinished development, Jaime’s back against a tree. He still remembered how that rough bark had felt against his naked skin.

“Phone book my ass,” Ezra said. He still hadn’t touched his shot.

“Never have I ever shaved my balls,” Alessandro said.

Ezra downed a shot.

“Why would you do that?” Jaime asked. “I mean, a razor that close to your junk?”

Ezra shrugged. “The novelty. I was with a guy once who swore his nuts were more sensitive if he shaved them. Personally, I didn’t notice much difference, and it itched like hell when the hair grew back.”

Donner nuzzled Ezra’s neck. “I like your balls just the way they are.”

Jaime picked his question out of genuine curiosity. “Never have I ever smoked weed.”

All three drank.

“Didn’t want to, or never had the opportunity?” Donner asked.

“I guess more I didn’t care, because I was sick all the time, and then I got better and sometimes I’m terrified that anything at all unusual could trigger my body to reject the heart.”

Alessandro slid an arm across his shoulders, and Jaime sank into the warmth of his chest. “If it helps, both times I tried it I didn’t like it.”

“That does help. Thanks.”

“Anytime.”

Ezra switched it up with a benign, “Never have I ever owned a pet.”

No one drank. Donner hesitated in reaching for his cup. Last spring his sister’s dog, Lex Luthor, had to be put down due to old age and terrible seizures. He hadn’t been Donner’s dog, but Jaime and Alessandro had been with Donner and Ezra the night Lex had died, and Donner had been a wreck. Like he’d lost a family member.

Ezra ruffled Donner’s hair. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. But he was your dog, as much as theirs.”

Donner nodded, then did the shot. “Never have I ever been handcuffed in bed.”

Alessandro drank.

“What?” Jaime’s entire body lit up like a live wire at that confession. The visual of his Alessandro, naked and handcuffed to a bed, gave him all kinds of dirty ideas. Very, very dirty ideas.

“Uh oh, me thinks he likes the idea,” Ezra said.

“I love the idea.”

Alessandro’s dark eyes glittered, and his smile went almost feral. “Oh yeah?”

“Oh yeah.” Jaime’s dick started waking up again, taking note of his super hot boyfriend and all of the sex talk. “This is happening in the very near future.” Jaime nearly hauled Alessandro into the spare room so they could get down to business, but the more his friends drank, the more interesting things he learned about them.

Plus, handcuffs.

“Your turn, babe.” He poked Alessandro in the ribs, which made him laugh.

“Um, never have I ever done karaoke.”

Ezra polished off his third shot, and Donner his fourth.

Ezra had a little trouble pouring the next round, and Alessandro had that rosy-cheeked thing going on that said he was tipping past the point of drunk and maybe two more shots away from wasted. Donner had a pretty good poker face when he drank, but he’d downed the most since they got back.

He was also the biggest guy in the room in terms of body mass. Ezra was taller, but super thin.

Maybe it was the fact that all three of them were on the road to serious Drunk Brain and less likely to take his next statement seriously, but Jaime still blushed hotly when he said, “Never have I ever had sex with Ezra.”

He squirmed under the intensity of the three wide-eyed stares directed at him. Donner and Alessandro did the shot, and Jaime felt new tension in Alessandro.

“Does masturbation mean I had sex with myself?” Ezra asked.

“Sure,” Jaime replied, because booze.

Ezra drank, then said the most obvious thing in the universe. “Never have I ever had sex with Jaime. But I did feel him up once.”

Alessandro drank with a slightly slurred, “Felt him up plenty of times too.”

The comment was kind of funny, but no one laughed. Jaime felt the intensity of Ezra’s stare but couldn’t make himself meet it. He couldn’t lift his gaze higher than the liquor bottle on the coffee table.

Alessandro nuzzled his ear with his nose. “Does it bother you? That I slept with Ezra once?”

“No.” It didn’t. Not really. Except Jaime’s mind frequently circled back to the night they first met Ezra and Romy at the Pot. The way they’d all danced, grinding and feeling each other up, and having an amazing time. An amazing time that kept going all the way back to Ezra’s apartment, and to the fraction of a moment the next morning when Jaime wouldn’t have said no to a threesome with Ezra.

Except now that was impossible. Jaime had Alè and Ezra had Donner, and even though Donner seemed to enjoy watching Ezra dance with other men at the Pot, there was a huge gap between dancing and fucking.

“Then why bring it up, sugar?” Ezra this time, all curiosity and no accusation. Still sharp despite the amount of alcohol he’d consumed.

“I don’t know.” The words had escaped Jaime’s lips before he could think them through. “It’s true, though. That’s the game, right? We say stuff we haven’t done.” And maybe deep down, if he was really honest with himself, it bothered him that Jaime was still the least experienced person in the group. His list of sexual partners stopped with Alessandro. “I’ve never even kissed anyone else.”

Crap, why did I say that out loud? I’m not even drunk.

Alessandro dragged his lips from Jaime’s ear to his Adam’s apple, and good grief, that felt good. “You want to kiss Ezra, babe?”

Jaime wanted those teasing lips around his cock as soon as possible, but he had three drunk people staring at him, waiting for an answer. The idea of walking to the other couch, straddling Ezra’s lap, and sliding his tongue into Ezra’s mouth held a lot of appeal. The fact that both Ezra and his boyfriend were two shots from completely wasted kept Jaime rooted firmly next to his boyfriend.

He didn’t want to say or do anything they’d all regret in the morning. He wasn’t that guy.

“Sometines I do,” Jaime replied. “But not tonight.”

“Why not?” Ezra asked, practically pouting.

“Stretch your right hand out, then bend it at the elbow and touch your nose.”

Ezra managed to poke himself in the eye.

“That’s why.”

“Don’t think so hard about the people you never got to fuck around with,” Donner said. “You lucked into something a lot of guys wait years, maybe decades to find. You skipped all the frogs and found the prince.”

“Aww.” Ezra planted a sloppy kiss on Donner’s mouth. “That was super romantic, you know. I’m done kissing frogs, too.”

“Won’t kissing frogs give you mouth warts or something,” Alessandro asked.

Jaime patted his knee. “Not literal frogs, babe.”

“I’ve never heard of those.”

“What?”

“Literal frogs. Do they live in the rainforest?”

Ezra started cackling. Drunk Alessandro was hilarious Alessandro, and that was probably Jaime’s cue to suggest everyone go to separate beds.

Donner leaned over and started whispering in Ezra’s ear, and whatever he said made Ezra’s eyes light up. Purple contact lens-covered eyes latched onto Jaime’s, and the seduction in them made Jaime’s stomach wobble. Ezra slunk off the sofa and plunked himself right onto Jaime’s lap. While Ezra was taller than him, he was also super-thin so he wasn’t very heavy.

“What—?” Jaime’s question was cut off by a finger against his lips.

Ezra’s finger. “My boyfriend seems to think we could alleviate some tension between our little quartet if I went ahead and kissed you.”

“Really?” Damn, his voice squeaked high. Jaime glanced over at Alessandro, who was watching them with wide eyes and very keen interest. His gaze swung to Donner, who didn’t appear drunk in the least, despite Jaime knowing better. Donner gave him a mock salute that didn’t do anything to soothe Jaime’s buzzing nerves.

“Why not?” Ezra traced a light touch across his cheek. “We’ve gotten pretty damned close a few times, but you always turned away.”

“I didn’t want to.”

Ezra leaned in close enough for Jaime to smell the whiskey on his breath. “Why not?”

“Because that’s only for Alessandro.”

A deft hand caressed his collarbone, then spent a moment outlining his pecs. “Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve really never kissed another man?”

“No.” Jaime stared at Ezra’s pink lips, torn between loyalty to his boyfriend and curiosity over what it would feel like to kiss someone else. Grinding on a dance floor was one thing. Getting felt up still another. Somehow, in Jaime’s mind, kissing had become the one line he didn’t want to cross. The one thing, other than fucking, that was only for him and Alessandro.

“Do you want to?” Ezra scraped light nails across his throat, waking up his nerves. “Because I’m right here, and I think it could be a lot of fun.”

“You’re drunk.”

“I can’t touch my nose with my finger but my mind is clear enough. I’ve wanted to kiss your pretty red lips since that very first night at the Pot. When you were so green you attracted every dominant guy in the bar. You were magic that night.”

Jaime had never forgotten the joy he’d felt from dancing and being watched, being wanted by so many other guys. He’d only had eyes for Alessandro, despite the advances from various men, including Ezra. Sometimes he regretted settling down with the first guy to show him any real sexual interest, but that rarely lasted longer than a few seconds.

His relationship with Alessandro was everything.

He looked past Ezra, at Donner. “If I ever kiss Ezra, it’s because you’re all sober and we’re not doing it because Drunk Brain thinks it’s a good idea.”

Donner gave a slow not. Ezra pouted.

Alessandro relaxed completely next to him, and yeah, right call.

Ezra planted a wet kiss on the middle of Jaime’s forehead, then climbed off his lap and re-deposited himself onto Donner’s. The pair immediately started making out. Alessandro wrestled Jaime around until Jaime lay on his back on the couch, Alessandro draped all over him from above. His eyes were bleary, and yeah, he was past the point of great decision making. Good thing Jaime didn’t drink.

“Would have been hot,” Alessandro whispered. He left a trail of soft kisses along his jaw. “But glad you didn’t.”

“Me too.” He bit at Alessandro’s lower lip. “I don’t mind that I never had to kiss a frog.”

Alessandro lifted his head, eyebrows knitted together. “What is the obsession with frogs tonight?”

Jaime laughed. “I’ll explain in the morning.” Right now he had his very hot boyfriend to take care of. "Happy New Year, babe."

"Happy New Year."

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Out With 2015, In With 2016

Since everyone else seems to be doing a look back at 2015/look forward to 2016 post, I decided to be one of the cool kids and do one too. 

2015 was an amazing year for me. Probably the best of my career so far, as an m/m romance author, and I couldn't be happier. I am so grateful for my publishers, my blogger friends, and my readers. More than I can properly express with words, and since I can never get .gifs to work for some reason, here's a photo:



2015 was a pretty busy year for me. I finally started up a newsletter (sign up link in the sidebar), opened a CafePress store (sidebar), and had five books published with two presses.

I released another complete trilogy with Carina Press this year with Restoration. I loved watching readers discover and fall in love with James, Boxer and Elliott, and their patchwork family as they each found true love in Getting It Right, Finding Their Way, and Taking A Chance. 

Full disclosure: Finding Their Way was the most frustrating book I've written so far, and it went through the biggest editing round of my life. It brought me to tears and drove me to drink, but in the end? WORTH IT. I adore this book now, and all of the stress was worthwhile in the end, because it made Boxer and Riley's journey the very best story it could be.

This year also brought you guys Tristan Lavelle. 

You first noticed him in The Truth As He Knows It back in February, when the first Perspectives book released with Samhain. And I was already hard at work giving Tristan his HEA when fans started asking when he'd get one.


During my blog tour this past fall for The World As He Sees It (Perspectives #2), I was frequently faced with the question of "how did you come up with Tristan's character?" And I never had a good answer. Tristan is one of those rare characters who blew into Noel's back story and kind of...well, he took over. He dominated every single scene he was in during TTAHKI. He broke my heart, and he kept breaking it until the final pages of TWAHSI, when I knew he and Gabe would be okay.

They'll also be back, in some form or another, because Perspectives isn't over. After all, Jon "Boomer" Buchanan is the hero of book three, and he's Gabe's best friend. Expect cameos.

I also recently found out that the first three Perspectives books will be released in audio format through Tantor books! 

2015 also brought me an amazing first: an editor at St. Martin's Press contacted me about doing a series together for their new digital-first imprint, and I swooned. I've never had an editor at a Big Five house reach out and ask to work with me! Thus, Off Beat was born, and these books will be rocking their way onto your digital readers in 2016! 

Everything about this year has given me the chance to ring in the New Year as a brand-new full-time author! Saturday is my last day as a full-time retail employee, and while it's terrifying, it's also thrilling. And I couldn't have done it without each and every reader out there who bought, reviewed, and spread the word about my books.

THANK YOU!!!!

And 2016 looks to be plenty busy with releases:

The Heart As He Hears It (Perspectives #3, Samhain) April 19, 2016
Come What May (All Saints #1, Carina Press) May 16, 2016
Body Rocks (Off Beat #1, SMP Swerve) June 2016
Fractured Hymns (Samhain) September 2016
Steady Stroke (Off Beat #2, SMP Swerve) October 2016

Say It Right (All Saints #2, Carina Press) doesn't have a release date yet, but expect it in the Fall 2016.


In the works right now:

With four contracted books due this year, I'm currently nearing completion on Steady Stroke. Then I get to jump back into my Wilmington world for Say It Right, which has about a chapter and a half finished.

I've also been blessed with an opening/story idea for the next Cole/Jeremy book, so I hope to be able to work on Discovering Me #3 sometime this winter/spring. 

I still plan on reissuing both Prodigal and Frozen, as well as a third paranormal book in that world. This is going to be fit in around other stuff, but it will happen, I promise! There will also be at least two more Perspectives books coming down the pike at some point. I finally worked one of the kinks out of the plot of #4, so that definitely helps.


Next year I also hope to read more. I didn't read nearly as many books as I wanted to this year, and my Nook is crammed full. So are my physical bookshelves. I need to tackle both.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: Body Rocks (Off Beat #1) Snippet

For this week's Teaser Tuesday, I'm offering up a snippet from chapter two of my upcoming book Body Rocks, the first in a new series with SMP Swerve. This is my first rock star romance, featuring heroes Dominic Bounds and Trey "Coop" Cooper. 

I had a lot of fun writing these two and their friends, and I'm having twice as much fun writing book two, Steady Stroke.

In this scene, Dom and Coop have only recently met and are hanging out doing guy stuff, like racing go karts around a track. And flirting. Lots of flirting.

#######

“So you play bass and keyboard, and you have an amazing voice,” Dom said. “Anything else I don’t know about?”

“I have a pretty cute ass, too.”

The flirty remark made Dom’s dick twitch with interest. “Is that your personal opinion, or is this coming from a secondary source?”

“Both.” Coop’s lazy smile combined with his very open appraisal of Dom’s body kind of made Dom want to skip the go karts and find a private place so he could nail Coop’s cute ass. “You want to find out for yourself?”

“Oh, I am definitely finding out for myself.”

Coop’s gentle laughter sent excited shivers down Dom’s spine. 

The go kart track was on the west side of town, tucked in behind a bunch of chain stores. Bright lights all around the perimeter and in various places inside of the fenced in area made it practically daylight. Half a dozen karts were racing around the far side of the track. The humid air had lost the scent of the ocean, replaced by burnt rubber and gasoline.

Coop took the lead, man-hugging a guy their age that he introduced as Gray. Gray set them both up with helmets and karts, then showed Dom how to run the thing. Seemed simple enough. He got it going and followed Coop out onto the main track. It seemed pretty crash-proof, with bumpers on both the kart and the edges of the track. Wide enough for three karts at a time. 

“Ready, set, go!” Coop said, then hit the gas.

He shot off. Dom jammed his own gas. The kart surprised him with the power of the initial lurch, and he belted out a sound that was half-fear and half-laughter. Once he figured out how to apply pressure, he started to enjoy himself. Coop slowed down so Dom could catch up, and they began a high-speed dance around each other. Dom would lead, then Coop would take over. Every time he caught a glimpse of Coop’s face, Coop was grinning like a fool.

Dom was having a blast, too. They were probably supposed to have a time limit, but they raced around the track for what felt like hours. Dom lost himself in the chase, until Coop signaled that they pull over. Coop’s eyes were bright, his cheeks flushed, and Dom had never seen someone so completely alive from something as simple as go kart racing.

Dom pulled off his helmet, grateful to get the heavy thing off and some air on his face. 

“So what did you think?” Coop asked. He bounced on his feet like an excited puppy.

“It’s killer, man, I loved it.”

“Sad you waited so long to try it?”

“Nah. Then you wouldn’t have been able to pop my cherry.”

Coop’s eyes widened briefly, then he laughed. “Happy to help.”

On their way back to the car, Dom asked, “Anything else you want to do?”

Coop leered at him. “Anything  you want to do?”

Blood started going south, and Dom was glad they’d reached the car because he didn’t want to be walking through a parking lot with a boner. “Dude, your ass better be ready to cash the check your mouth is writing.”

“Oh it’s more than ready.”

Dom unlocked his side, climbed in, then reached across to unlock the other door. “You know a place we can go?”

Coop glanced at Dom’s lap, then licked his lips. “Up the highway there’s an old, overgrown drive-in. Great place for parking.”

“Yeah? Been there a few times?”

“No, but one of my roommates has. She told me about it.”

Dom kind of wanted to call bullshit, but Coop had no reason to lie to him. And who cared if Coop was a total slut or pickier than a vegan in a steakhouse. Dom was getting fucking laid tonight, and he was very, very eager to judge Coop’s cute ass for himself.

He would have totally overshot the entrance to the drive-in if Coop hadn’t pointed out the rusty old sign half-covered by bushes and wisteria vines. There wasn’t really a road anymore, mostly narrow tracks through thick underbrush, as if someone had taken a Hummer and plowed through it all to make a path. Dom kept as much of his attention on the non-road as he could, but Coop decided to distract him by rubbing himself through his shorts. That simple image got Dom’s own dick straining against his already tight jeans. He cranked up the air conditioning, because things were about to get steamy.

The forest finally gave way to a moderately open space that had been mostly overtaken by nature. The remains of a small shack was off to the right, and the remnants of a movie screen were straight ahead, full of holes where it had fallen apart over time. The place had a slasher movie vibe to it that was at once creepy and exciting.

Dom shifted into park, but left the car idling for the air. The last thing he wanted to do was open the windows and end up with mosquito bites all over his ass.

Coop wasted no time curling strong fingers around the back of his neck and hauling him into a kiss. Dom’s surprise fled the instant their mouths clashed. Something electric surged between them, so strong he actually gasped. Coop licked at his parted lips, then slipped his tongue into Dom’s mouth. He tasted like lime and spice and everything nice, and goddamn he knew how to kiss. Dom cupped both sides of Coop’s neck, as much to keep him there as for balance because kissing Coop was a little like falling.

He could have sat there and kissed Coop all night.

Coop pulled away first, his cheeks red and eyes glistening. “Backseat.”

“Yeah.”

Dom was tall and the space between the seats wasn’t huge, so climbing over it had both of them laughing by the time they collapsed on the backseat. Coop tugged his shirt off, revealing a slightly tanned torso, a nice little happy trail, and a tattoo of a Gerbera daisy on his left pec. Defined abs, but not super-cut, which appealed to Dom a lot. Meant Coop wasn’t a gym rat. And he loved that Coop had ink.

Coop tugged at Dom’s shirt, and he let Coop pull it off. Coop’s bright smile was worth the reveal. Dom was crazy proud of the tattoo that spanned across his abdomen. Coop traced a finger over it, and the touch sent goose bumps across Dom’s shoulders. “What’s it represent?” Coop asked.

“An artist friend created it for me. It’s a combination of the national emblem of Italy and the Philippine eagle. My birth mother was from the Philippines, my birth father from Italy.”

“Birth mother?”

Dom nearly slapped himself. “I’m adopted. All of my siblings were adopted by our parents.”

“Oh wow. Have you ever met your birth parents?”

“Nope. No desire to, either. I know and embrace my heritage, yeah, but I also know who my parents are, and they’re the people who raised me.” Dom touched the daisy tattoo on Coop’s chest. “How about this? Special meaning?”

Coop’s smile dimmed. “Someone I loved who died too young.”

“Sorry.”

“It was years ago.” He surprised Dom by swinging his leg over and straddling his lap. 

A hard cock ground into his. Dom tugged Coop into another kiss, his body aware and sparking everywhere they touched—mouths, hands, legs, groins. So good. Dom shoved both hands into Coop’s shorts, past the elastic of his briefs to clasp warm skin. Coop gasped into his mouth. Dom squeezed and kneaded, urging Coop to rock into him. Coop pulled off to lick and nibble his neck.

“Shit,” Dom said when Coop found a sensitive spot. “Can’t wait to fuck you.”

Coop straightened, his green eyes so intense in the near-dark. “Tell me you brought stuff.”

“I brought stuff.”