Cover Design: AJ Corza
THE SPEAKEASY SERIES REVIEW TOUR
Media mogul Jesse Murtagh and bartender Kyle McKee decide to go into business together and open Under Lock & Key, a speakeasy on the upper West Side of Manhattan. The bar, with its secret passphrases and craft liquor cocktails, becomes a sanctuary for Jesse and Kyle’s circle of friends, who gather once a month to catch up with each other and share their experiences.
Under is both hang out and haven for the men who spend time within its walls and their friendships build family ties that are sometimes missing from their own lives.
The stories can be read in order or as standalones.
Book Title: With A Twist (The Speakeasy Book 1)
Author: K. Evan Coles and Brigham Vaughn
Publisher: Pride Publishing/Totally Entwined Group
Genre/s: Contemporary, Romance, Gay
Heat Level: 4 flames
Length: 95,295 words/ 263 pages
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Love, served with a twist.
Nursing a broken heart when his ex-boyfriend, Riley, leaves him for the love of his life, Carter, Will Martin throws himself into teaching at NYU and writing. An invite from Riley to a speakeasy called Under helps Will begin to heal, and he finds himself enjoying both the drinks and the company.
Soon after, he’s shaken by news of his father’s cancer diagnosis and Will reluctantly returns to Long Island to see the man who disowned him after he was outed.
Sparks fly when Will meets his father’s mentee, Republican Senator David Mori, who is both mixed race and openly gay. Will is looking for a no-strings-attached fling and David is leery of getting involved with his mentor’s son, so they keep their affair a secret.
As his father’s health worsens, Will elects to remain in Garden City and his relationship with David grows beyond casual sex. Now, both men must decide how to bridge the divide between them.
Will Martin set down his empty mug and flipped to the next page of the New York Times. A familiar profile caught his attention and, despite his better judgment, he read the caption below the photo of two smiling and laughing men in tuxedos.
The year’s hottest gay couple cut a fine figure at the Met premiere last night. Riley Porter-Wright and Carter Hamilton are still going strong. The couple appeared oblivious to those around them as they talked during intermission. They were joined by the former Mrs. Hamilton, who seems to have forgiven Mr. Porter-Wright for stepping into her place. Also there was her new paramour, Robert… The ex-Mrs. Porter-Wright was nowhere to be seen. The couple have been spotted at—
Annoyed, Will threw the newspaper on the coffee table. Everywhere he turned there were reminders of his ex-boyfriend Riley’s happiness with his new love. Well, long-time love, really. Will had competed with Riley’s best friend, Carter, the entire time they’d been together.
But how could Will have competed with a man Riley had loved since college? Riley had left his wife to explore his bisexuality and Carter had ultimately done the same. Will had been foolish for thinking he could offer Riley more than a man who had known him for a decade and a half could.
Will scrubbed a hand through his hair and stood. I need a change of scenery right now, he thought and glanced around the living room of his stylish Manhattan condo.
His laptop screen glowed at him from his desk by the windows. He’d planned to take the morning off and enjoy the gorgeous early June weather, but with edits looming over him and reminders of Riley lurking around the edges of his consciousness, relaxation seemed out of the question.
“Fine, fine,” Will muttered under his breath. “Work it is.”
He filled his cup with coffee, doctored it with cream and sugar and took a seat at his desk. He pulled up his manuscript and scrolled to the place he’d left off—Bernard Schwartz’s appointment as Chief Counsel of the House Legislative Oversight Subcommittee.
Half an hour later, Will’s phone trilled on the desk and he blinked to clear the haze from his brain. Riley flashed across the screen. Speak of the devil, he thought, then immediately chastised himself. Riley wasn’t the problem. Riley loving Carter instead of Will wasn’t even the major issue. Will’s habit of falling for emotionally unavailable men then struggling to get over them was something he desperately needed to change.
Not wanting his ex to sense the turmoil in his head, Will made sure to keep his tone pleasant. “Hey, Riley.”
“Hey, Will. How have you been?”
“Good. Making solid progress on my book.” Will sat back in his chair.
“Oh, that’s right, you’re not teaching during the summer semester, are you?”
“No, I decided to focus on my writing. I’m in the midst of edits, so I’ll be spending the summer cursing at a computer screen while I try not to tear my hair out.”
“What a rewarding career,” Riley said teasingly.
Will chuckled and relaxed a little. He’d always enjoyed Riley’s sense of humor. “I must be a masochist for voluntarily subjecting myself to college students and editors.” Will taught legal history at New York University and had published a handful of well-regarded books on the topic. He suspected Riley hadn’t called to ask about his writing, however. “How’s work? Is your father still pretending you don’t exist at the office?”
“I think he’s hoping I’ll leave Porter-Wright Publishing, to be honest. He and Geneva were polite when Carter and I took the kids to the company picnic but I’m sure it’s only because they were afraid of looking bad.”
“Appearances above all else,” Will muttered. He and Riley had always had that in common. Although at least Will spoke to his mother occasionally and kept in contact with his sister, Olivia. Riley’s relationship with his parents was far worse. “How are things with you and Carter? And the little Hamiltons?”
“Really good.” Will could hear the smile in Riley’s voice. “We all spent last weekend in Southampton at the beach house.”
Riley sounded so happy every time they talked about Carter and his kids. Will’s heart ached, knowing he could never have made Riley that happy, but on the whole he was glad Riley had found the contentment he’d searched for.
“Anyway,” Riley interrupted his thoughts, “I called for a reason. You know Jesse Murtagh and Kyle McKee, right?”
“Vaguely. I met them at Carter’s birthday and Jesse again at your holiday party last winter.”
“Right. Well, they’re opening a speakeasy in a week or so.”
Will laughed. “A speakeasy? That’s intriguing.”
“It’s basically ready to go, and they’ve been inviting friends in to see it and try the cocktails. I called to see if you would like to meet me there tonight. I thought we could grab some drinks and catch up.”
Riley hesitated. “No. Carter will be there with Jesse and Kyle. Along with six or eight of our friends.”
Will stifled a sigh. “Riley…”
“Hey, I know it’s going to be awkward. But it’s been six months. You and I are doing pretty well with our friendship. So, stop being a fucker and come.”
Will couldn’t prevent the laugh that escaped him. “Well, when you word it that way, how can I possibly resist?”
“No, I don’t mean to be glib. I know this isn’t easy for you, but I don’t want to lose you as a friend.” Riley sounded earnest. “I’m asking a lot, but I’d like for you to be able to hang out with all of us. And hey, maybe you’ll meet the perfect guy there.”
Will snorted. “I’m definitely not looking for the last part, but sure, I’ll come. What time and where am I meeting you?”
* * * *
Later that evening, Will glanced around Lock & Key, a pub on the edge of the upper West Side in Morningside Heights, where Riley had arranged for them to meet. The floors were scuffed and slightly gritty under his feet and the tables and chairs had seen better days. The pub was entirely ordinary and not at all what Will had expected.
“Have dive bars become your thing?” he asked, mystified.
Riley laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “This is not our destination for the night. Someone Kyle used to work with owns Lock & Key. The speakeasy is underneath.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Under Lock & Key? Clever.”
“What can I say, my friends are punny.” Riley grinned. “Come on, follow me.” He strode to the end of the bar and opened an unmarked door. Will followed more slowly. At the end of a hallway was an old-fashioned phone mounted on the wall.
Riley picked it up and spoke. “Let me in, you fucker.” He fell silent for a moment then tipped his head back and laughed. “That is the passphrase, you jackass!”
Riley hung up the handset and turned to Will, merriment clearly written across his face. “Jesse,” he said, as if that was explanation enough.
In truth, it probably was. Jesse Murtagh was one of a kind. Part of a powerful media family in Manhattan, he was also pansexual and the biggest flirt Will had ever encountered. Not to mention charming and incredibly handsome—no wonder Carter had been attracted to him. Like Will, Jesse had been left in Riley and Carter’s wake once they’d decided to get together, but Will suspected Jesse had been far less affected.
“Are you coming down or what?” A door opened at the end of the hall and Jesse appeared, a smile lighting his face and making his bright blue eyes twinkle. He glanced over at Will and gave him an appreciative grin.
“Glad you could join us tonight, Will. You’re looking good.”
Will chuckled and stepped forward to offer Jesse his hand. “It’s good to see you too.” Irrepressible flirt notwithstanding, Jesse had a compelling presence. Broad shoulders capped off a tall, lean body and the closely-cropped beard he sported framed full lips. Not Will’s type, but easy on the eyes.
“Think you can manage to not storm off this time?” Jesse asked, raking a hand through his dark-blond hair.
Riley groaned. “Jes…”
Will smiled, despite his stab of discomfort at the reminder of the dramatic ending to his and Riley’s relationship six months prior at a Christmas party. Will had finally realized the futility of his feelings for Riley that night and caused a scene in front of a small group of their combined friends, including Jesse and Carter. Ugh. It hadn’t been one of his finer moments.
“I think I can behave tonight,” he said aloud. “So, a speakeasy, huh? What made you decide to open that?”
Jesse held open the door and allowed Riley and Will to precede him down another long, narrow hallway. “Why not? Kyle wanted to open a bar. We looked at a ton of locations and were bored by all of them, but when our friend Matt mentioned the space under Lock & Key, it all fell into place. Who doesn’t want to own an underground, secret bar?”
“I can’t say it’s ever crossed my mind,” Will admitted. They reached the end of the hall and Riley pushed open another unmarked door to reveal a stairwell. Although well-lit, the walls were painted black and totally bare.
“This is the problem with you, Will,” Jesse said. “You’re so buttoned up. You need to live a little.”
“Well I’m spending the evening at a speakeasy with you,” Will said as he followed Riley down the stairs. “Will that do for now?”
Jesse laughed. “Touché.”
Riley pushed open a door at the bottom of the steps and the sight of the bar rendered Will mute.
In sharp contrast to the run-down bar above, the speakeasy was stylish and welcoming. Open shelves on the walls were filled with bottles of liquor. Inlaid floors were topped with sleek leather and metal furniture, and candles in votives glowed on the tables. The mellow music and subdued lighting lent the space an atmosphere of sophisticated relaxation.
Astonished, Will glanced over at Jesse. “This is incredible. I’m impressed.”
“You have good taste, I’ll give you that.” Jesse grasped his shoulder and squeezed. “C’mon, let me get you a drink.”
As Will crossed the room to the bar, Riley slipped into a spot beside Carter on the leather sofa. Will tried to hide a wince as Carter reached for Riley’s knee and squeezed it without pausing in conversation.
“Wistful or vaguely nauseated?” Jesse asked as he took a seat on one of the bar stools.
Will glanced at him. “Excuse me?”
“Was the look because you wish you had that with Riley or because you’re grossed out by two people being disgustingly in love?”
“A little of both, I suppose.” Will had nothing against relationships, but they were starting to seem like a pipe dream for him.
A man appeared behind the bar and Will easily recognized him as Carter’s friend, Kyle.
“Will, right?” he said, holding out a hand. “Kyle McKee.”
“Yeah, hi. We met at Carter’s birthday dinner.”
Kyle smiled. “It’s nice to see you again.”
They shook and Will gave Kyle a once-over. Kyle was easily six feet tall, with broad shoulders, thick dark hair trimmed short on the sides, and heavy but well-groomed brows over dark eyes. Unlike Jesse, Kyle was very much Will’s type. Except for the suspenders he wore over his crisp gray shirt and his rolled-up sleeves. Kyle pulled them off better than most, but the look screamed hipster too much for Will’s tastes.
“Great place you have here.” Will glanced around. “I like it.”
“Thanks.” Kyle’s eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. “I’m pleased to hear it. A speakeasy wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I told Jesse I wanted to open a bar, but I’m glad I decided to go for it.”
Jesse grinned. “When will all of you learn my ideas are always brilliant?”
“Probably never.” Kyle turned back to Will. “So, what can I get you? We have a wide selection of beer, wine and cocktails.” He slid a leather-bound book in Will’s direction.
Will perused it for a moment before he closed the cover. “You know what? Surprise me. Make me a cocktail.”
“Hmm. I can do that. Anything you particularly dislike?”
“Anything too sweet. And Amaretto.”
Kyle scrutinized Will for a moment before his eyes gleamed. “Got it.”
Will watched with interest as Kyle pulled a glass out of the freezer and mixed together cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. A few moments later, Kyle poured it into a glass, topped it with a twist of lemon and slid the drink across the bar to him. “Sidecar. Tell me what you think.”
Will raised the glass to his lips and took a sip. He found the drink refreshingly cold and a perfect blend of sour and sweet with a fresh citrusy taste balanced nicely by the cognac. “That’s delicious.”
Kyle grinned. “Excellent.”
“C’mon.” Jesse picked up a tumbler filled with amber-colored liquid and a large spherical ice cube. It clinked pleasantly as he moved. “Let’s go hang out with the guys.”
The majority of the patrons were part of Riley and Carter’s group, spread out across two leather sofas and a handful of chairs that made a square seating area around a finely crafted wood coffee table. Riley leaned forward and set his martini glass down. Will placed his own drink on a table and pulled up a chair.
“Everyone, this is Will Martin. Some of you met him at Carter’s birthday and a few of you met him over the holidays. I’ll introduce everyone, though.”
Will gave him a brief smile. “Thanks.”
“You know Carter, obviously.” Carter nodded in greeting and Will returned it. “Next to Carter is his sister, Audrey.” A tan blonde woman gave him a smile over a martini glass filled with something frothy and yellow. “And Audrey’s husband, Max.” An attractive, bearded man with brown hair and light brown eyes raised a pilsner glass in greeting.
Riley continued around the circle. “Gale, Jarrod, Henry and Miles are friends of Carter’s.” The men waved and murmured their hellos.
“You seem outnumbered here, Audrey,” Will said.
She grinned at him. “I’m not complaining. My brother has some very good-looking friends.”
Her husband elbowed her. “What am I? Chopped liver?”
“Never, darling. But I see you every day.”
Kyle seated himself at an empty chair across the group. “You’re a law professor, right, Will?”
Will nodded and took a sip of his drink. “Yes, at NYU. I’m spending the summer working on my latest book.”
“What do you write?” Max asked. “I’d love to hear about it.”
Will chuckled. “You may regret you asked, but I’m currently writing about the Chief Counsel of the House Legislative Oversight Subcommittee.”
“So, political law then?”
“I couldn’t totally avoid the family business,” Will said dryly.
Audrey frowned. “You have a family member who’s a politician?”
“My father.” Will made a face. “And a Republican at that.”
“How does that work at family dinners?” Audrey asked. “I thought my parents and Carter were bad, but at least they’re not pushing discriminatory legislation.”
“I haven’t spoken to him since college, to be honest.” Will took a fortifying sip of his sidecar. “I see my mother and sister on occasion, but never when he’s around.”
Riley shot him a sympathetic smile.
“Sorry to pry,” Audrey said with an apologetic glance. “I’ve been battling my parents about them shutting Carter out and that’s difficult enough.”
“Ancient history.” Will waved off her apology. “What do you do, Audrey?”
“I chair several philanthropic organizations. And I recently got involved with PFLAG.” She exchanged a look with her brother.
Jesse leaned forward. “Beautiful and socially aware? Be still, my beating heart. If Max hadn’t met you first…” Jesse took a sip of his drink. “That goes both ways, Max.”
Max chuckled and Carter rolled his eyes. “We’ve had this discussion before, Jesse. No hitting on my sister or my brother-in-law, please. And definitely not both at once.”
A chorus of laughter rose. Riley chimed in with a humorous comment as Will relaxed back in his chair and sipped his drink, enjoying the banter flying around the room. He’d been far too antisocial since the breakup and he was glad he’d taken Riley up on his invitation.
* * * *
A few hours later, Will reluctantly excused himself. He’d had a wonderful time and had enjoyed the witty conversation. It had left him feeling lighter and more relaxed than he had in a while. “I’m going to head home. I have an early game of racquetball planned with Charles tomorrow. I had a great night,” Will said. “Thanks for inviting me, Riley. Carter.”
“I’m glad you came,” Carter said with a nod. He offered Will a sincere smile that crinkled the corners of his hazel eyes and Will grudgingly admitted he could see Carter’s appeal. His jealousy had blinded him too much to appreciate Carter’s broad-shouldered, long-legged build and handsome face before.
Will said goodnight to everyone and Jesse stood to shake his hand. “Please come back any time. I’ll add your name to the list, so even if Kyle and I aren’t here, you’ll be let in. We do have a seat limit of forty and try to keep private events on the smaller side, but feel free to bring a friend or two. Especially if they’re hot and single.” He winked. “And maybe save that for when I’m here.”
“Jesse!” Carter sounded exasperated and Will couldn’t hide his smile.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said.
“We’re trying to turn this into a regular thing,” Kyle said. “Riley and I had the idea of meeting here the third Thursday of every month. Nothing formal, and if you can’t make it, no problem, but it would be great if you could join us.”
“I’ll try to make it,” Will said. “And thanks for a great evening. You make a mean sidecar.”
“Any time,” Kyle responded.
Will turned to leave. “I’ll walk you up,” Riley said. He fell into step behind Will.
“Tell Charles I said hi,” Riley said as they walked up the stairs.
“How are he and Gabe doing?”
“Good. They’re both pretty busy right now. Charles is teaching classes this summer and Gabe is looking into opening another restaurant.” Charles was an ex of Will’s, and one of his closest friends and a colleague at NYU. Charles had married Gabe the summer before, and Gabe owned a high-end Vietnamese restaurant in Tribeca, not far from Will’s home.
“You’re welcome to bring them to Under anytime,” Riley said. “If you think they’d be okay with that.”
Will pushed open the door leading into Lock & Key. “I’m sure Gabe will be. Charles is still holding a bit of a grudge,” he said. Will and Riley’s breakup had rocked Riley’s friendship with Gabe and Charles.
Riley sighed. “I deserve it.”
“No, I should talk to him. You and I have mended some fences. There’s no reason he needs to continue to shut you out.” Will walked through the exit of the bar and turned to Riley when they stepped onto the sidewalk out front. “Thanks for inviting me tonight.”
“I’m glad you came. I know it was asking a lot but—”
Will cut off Riley’s statement. “I meant it when I said I wanted us to be friends. You’re happy with Carter and I’m happy for you. Honestly, it’s been great hanging out with you guys and your friends.”
“I’m relieved to hear it,” Riley said with a smile. He leaned in, then hesitated and Will closed the distance to hug him.
“Have a good night, Riley.”
Riley disappeared back through the door of Lock & Key and Will sighed. Hugging Riley left him with a bittersweet feeling, but he was glad he’d come to check out the speakeasy. And he’d meant it when he said he’d try to come back on Thursday evenings in the future. He’d needed some time to lick his wounds and recover, but his self-imposed isolation only made his loneliness worse.
He glanced up and down the street. There wasn’t a cab in sight so he pulled out his phone and brought up the Lyft app. He leaned against the wall of the brick building while he waited and a few minutes later a car slid to a stop in front of him.
Will made small-talk with the driver as the car traveled from Morningside Heights back to Tribeca. When they got caught in a traffic snarl near Central Park West because of a protest, Will took out his phone to kill the time. He was scrolling through articles on a news app when his phone vibrated in his hand.
Mom flashed across the screen and he hesitated before he accepted the call.
“Hey, Mom,” he answered.
“Will.” Agnes Martin’s voice sounded strained, with none of the usual groomed sophistication it typically held.
He straightened. “Is something wrong?”
“Will, your father…” Her breath hitched. “I have some news. Your father has been ill lately.”
Serves the old bastard right, Will thought grimly. “Ill?” he said aloud.
“Tired, losing weight, stomach pain. At first, we blamed his stress. He’s been working so hard lately—”
Yeah, probably passing more anti-LGBT legislation, Will thought.
“But when we noticed some yellowing of his eyes, we got concerned. We were hopeful it was a gallbladder issue, but after some testing, we were referred to an oncologist.”
His breath caught. Oncologist? Shit. “He has cancer?”
“Yes. He has something called a—a non-functioning neuroendocrine tumor. Pancreatic cancer. It’s quite large and the doctors are concerned it’s spread to some nearby lymph nodes. It’s stage III and the—the prognosis isn’t good.”
Will took a moment to let the words sink in, but didn’t feel much of anything about the news. A wave of guilt washed over him. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he said gently. She loved his father and while Will had many, many issues with William Martin Sr. as a father and an elected official, he had always treated Will’s mother well. There had never been a hint of infidelity and after Agnes had suffered a serious car accident years ago, Bill hadn’t left her side until she’d recovered. “I know how hard this must be for you.”
His mother sniffled. “I can’t lose him. I know you and your father have your…differences but—”
“We don’t have differences,” he retorted. Any goodwill he’d felt dissipated. “He detests me. He thinks I am less deserving of the same basic human rights he affords everyone else. That’s more than an ideological difference, Mom, that’s a complete lack of respect for me as a human being.”
“Come to Garden City,” she blurted out and the words rang in his ear for several seconds before he could process them.
“What? You must be kidding,” he said. “You can’t think I’d come to Long Island to sit by his deathbed and hold his hand.” He winced. His cruel words served only to remind Agnes her husband was probably dying. “I’m sorry, Mom, but I can’t do it. I can’t pretend like everything is fine between us. We haven’t spoken in over ten years and it’s not only because I’m pissed at him. He’s the one who cut me out of his life, remember?”
“He wants you here,” she said softly. Agnes had used the same tone during Will’s years growing when she tried to get him to do something he didn’t want to do.
Will sat back in his seat. “Really?”
“I asked him if you could come home and he said yes.”
Well, that was more plausible than Will’s father specifically asking for him to come home. He sighed. “I-I don’t know. I suppose I could come for a long weekend or something. School’s out and I could work on my edits while I’m there.”
Agnes went silent for a moment. “I hoped you’d stay longer. Your father is undergoing surgery next week, but it’ll be exhausting for all of us. If the surgery doesn’t work, we may only have a few months left with him.” Her voice broke.
“You want me to spend the entire summer in Long Island?” he asked, incredulous.
“Please, Will. If you won’t come for your father, come home for Olivia and me. Your sister and I need you. We can’t do this alone.”
Will glanced out of the window, surprised the bright lights of the city were blurred by tears. He wasn’t sure who they were for.
“I’ll think about it, Mom.”
Book Title: Extra Dirty (The Speakeasy Book 2)
Author: K. Evan Coles and Brigham Vaughn
Publisher: Pride Publishing/Totally Entwined Group
Genre/s: Contemporary, Romance, Gay, GLBTQI
Heat Level: 4 flames
Length: 88 944 words/ 345 pages
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Love, served extra dirty.
Jesse Murtagh loves his life as a wealthy bisexual businessman dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. With a circle of friends he trusts implicitly, he enjoys a successful career in his family’s business and as co-owner of Under, an uptown speakeasy, with his friend with benefits, Kyle McKee.
Music teacher and part-time DJ Cameron Lewis lives modestly in a DUMBO loft and isn’t interested in serious relationships. However, he’s always up for some casual fun.
Doing a favor for his friend Carter Hamilton, Jesse meets Cam and is immediately charmed. When Jesse discovers Cam’s other life as a DJ, he is further intrigued. Viewing Cam as a challenge, Jesse pulls out all the stops, but his usual methods to avoid serious relationships fail. Though Cam has no intention of becoming attached, he begins to fall for Jesse, unaware that Jesse’s feelings are changing.
Afraid of heartbreak, Cam pulls away, leaving Jesse bewildered and hurt. They remain friends until a series of misunderstandings widens the rift to breaking point. When Cam steps in to help Jesse through a family crisis, they realize they care for each other more than they’ve been willing to admit. Jesse and Cam don’t want a traditional relationship, but can they build a future that makes them both happy?
Jesse Murtagh set down the packet of financial statements he’d been reviewing and smiled. He was seated in the back office of Under, a speakeasy in Morningside Heights, and life was good.
With Under approaching its one-year anniversary, the bar’s earnings surpassed expectations each quarter. They boasted a full guest list every night, and Under appeared as a “must visit” on New York’s fashionable lifestyle blogs and guides. Business was booming. And its success meant everything to Jesse and his business partner, Kyle McKee.
In addition to being Under’s co-owner, Kyle also happened to be one of Jesse’s favorite people in the world and one of his favorite partners in bed. Jesse would bet he’d find Kyle out in the speakeasy right now, too, readying the place for opening.
Jesse got to his feet. He locked the papers in the desk, then exited the office and moved toward the long bar that ran the length of the room. Under had a masculine, sophisticated vibe. Sleek leather seating areas dotted the room and open shelves lined the walls, backlit with amber lamps that cast a warm glow over bottles of rare and high-end liquors. On a typical evening, house music throbbed through the air by now, but Jesse and Kyle were holding a private party tonight, and silence reigned, save the sounds of Kyle at work.
“Hey, gorgeous,” Jesse drawled. “When did you get here?”
Kyle glanced up at Jesse’s approach. He smiled and the quirk of his full lips sent a ripple of heat through Jesse’s body.
“About an hour ago.” He shrugged easily. Kyle had dressed in black, as he always did for work, and rolled his shirtsleeves up to the elbow. His muscled forearms flexed as he polished a rocks glass. “I saw Matt upstairs when I came in. He told me you were here, but I figured you’d be busy counting the money. Thought I’d leave you to it.”
Jesse rounded the bar with a laugh. “You know me too well.”
Opening the speakeasy had been a departure from his usual business of running a growing regional media conglomerate with his family. Jesse had never even worked in a bar or restaurant, let alone owned one. But Kyle had mentioned the idea of opening a bar one night over dinner and drinks, and the way his dark eyes had shone had captured Jesse’s fancy.
Jesse had mulled the idea over for several days, then brought it to his brother, Eric. He’d hoped Eric would talk him out of it and had thrown up his hands when Eric merely smiled.
’I’m not sure who you think you’re fooling, Jes,’ Eric had said. ‘I can already tell you’ve made up your mind to do it.’
And so, Jesse had found himself working with his accountants and his lawyer to create a business proposal. Within two weeks of that fateful dinner, he’d presented it to Kyle. They’d celebrated by screwing each other senseless, then started scouting for a location the very next day.
Jesse stepped up behind Kyle now and molded himself against his body. He wound his arms around Kyle’s waist, careful to avoid the glass in his hands.
In many ways, Kyle appeared to be Jesse’s opposite. His elegant, clean-shaven features and dark hair contrasted with Jesse’s short beard and dark-blond, blue-eyed coloring. Jesse broadcasted his emotions, whereas Kyle was more reserved. Both men stood at six feet and were built long and lean, like runners. But where Jesse could be coltish in his movements, Kyle’s were deliberate and graceful. Kyle, Jesse liked to say, had found his Zen.
Jesse nuzzled the side of Kyle’s neck. “I take it last month’s numbers are good?” Kyle’s voice went low and throaty.
“Indeed.” Jesse pulled him closer. He angled his hips and pressed his groin against Kyle’s muscular ass, and his body paid immediate attention to that firm heat. “The numbers are so good, in fact, I think we should celebrate.” He pressed a lingering kiss to Kyle’s throat.
Kyle leaned back into him with a rumbling noise. He set the glass he’d been polishing on the bar. “What did you have in mind?”
“Next weekend off—Masen can handle things in your absence.”
“Well, he’ll like that.”
Kyle sounded amused. They’d hired Masen Jones earlier in the year to help out, and he’d quickly become Kyle’s right-hand man.
“A whole weekend, though… I don’t know, Jes.”
Jesse dropped one hand and palmed Kyle through his trousers, and, oh, yes, he was hard. Kyle let out a soft gasp.
“Friday and Saturday, then,” Jesse bargained. He closed his eyes, heat flashing under his skin as Kyle pushed back and ground against him. “We’ll go to that club in Chelsea you told me about.”
“Oh, fine.” Kyle turned in the circle of his arms. “I’ll bring Jarrod and Gale as backup,” he added, then looped his arms around Jesse’s neck. “They can walk me home after you find someone to disappear with.”
Jesse grinned. “You really do know me too well,” he murmured and covered Kyle’s mouth with his own.
The kiss deepened and Kyle groaned. Jesse palmed him again, his touch rough, and pressed Kyle backward hard into the bar. Kyle’s cock twitched under Jesse’s hand, and he broke away with a sharp inhale.
“Jesse will do.”
Jesse let Kyle go and leaned back enough to get his hands on Kyle’s belt. Desire pulsed through him. Quickly, he opened Kyle’s trousers and pushed the dark fabric down his legs. Kyle’s eyes were wild when Jesse looked up again and a flush stained his cheeks and neck. He uttered a soft moan as Jesse sank to his knees.
Jesse kissed Kyle’s thighs. He kneaded the soft, fair skin with his hands and dragged Kyle’s boxer briefs down. Kyle sighed as his cock slipped free of the underwear and jutted up onto his abdomen.
Jesse pressed his face into the juncture between Kyle’s thigh and groin and inhaled the smell of almond-scented soap and sweat and man. “Damn,” he said, his voice low. “You always smell so good.”
Kyle ran his hands over Jesse’s head, then twined his fingers into his short hair. That possessive touch sent a jolt of lust zigzagging down Jesse’s spine. He loved it when Kyle got rough.
Shifting, he held tight to Kyle’s hips and opened his mouth at the base of his cock. He slowly dragged his tongue along its length.
“Oh, God.” Kyle’s low whisper set a fire in Jesse’s belly.
He licked and teased the shaft before he ducked down and caught Kyle’s balls with his tongue. He lavished them with attention until Kyle moaned steadily, then looked up and locked eyes with him. The dazed bliss on his face made Jesse’s dick throb.
“Suck me,” Kyle rasped out.
Jesse pulled back. He braced one arm across Kyle’s abdomen and wrapped his free hand around his base. Very, very slowly, he slid his lips over Kyle, reveling in the bittersweet taste and weight of the hard, velvety flesh on his tongue.
He took Kyle deep and waited until his nose brushed the curls of hair on his groin before he swallowed. Kyle’s eyes went wide. Jesse pinned him against the bar, and he bucked his hips forward, a strangled noise tearing out of him.
Kyle tipped his head back as Jesse sucked. He closed his eyes and swore, and his ragged tone went straight to Jesse’s groin. Jesse dropped his free hand and palmed himself, past caring if he shot in his pants.
He worked Kyle hard with his mouth until a shudder racked his frame. Jesse moved the arm pinning Kyle’s hips, which left him free to fuck Jesse’s mouth. Kyle opened his eyes again and stared at Jesse, his gaze filled with fire. He started to thrust and desire rattled down Jesse’s spine. He groaned with need and closed his eyes when Kyle gasped.
“Gonna come, Jes,” Kyle said, his voice rough and desperate. He tensed at Jesse’s moan. Then Jesse pressed the fingers of his free hand into the soft skin behind Kyle’s balls, and Kyle fell apart with a cry.
He tightened his grip on Jesse’s hair and his knees buckled. Jesse used his shoulder to hold Kyle up. His balls tightened as Kyle pulsed in his mouth, and he swallowed, tasting bitter and salt.
Kyle’s panting breaths echoed through the silent bar. Jesse pulled off, his head swimming, and Kyle freed his shaking hands from Jesse’s hair. He bent and hauled Jesse to his feet, and Jesse stumbled and clutched at Kyle.
“You okay?” Kyle asked with a smile.
“Dizzy. And I wanna fuck you right now,” Jesse muttered. Jesus, he needed to come. He pulled Kyle in for a messy kiss and ground his erection against Kyle’s thigh until Kyle broke away with a breathless laugh.
“I think we’ve violated enough health codes for now,” Kyle said. “Besides, we don’t have any lube or rubbers.”
“There’s some in the office.”
“We used them up last weekend.”
Jesse whined and rutted harder into Kyle. “Fuck.”
“I said no,” Kyle scolded, his tone playful and his brown eyes gleaming. He pulled his trousers up. No sooner were they buttoned than he sank to his knees and reached for Jesse’s belt. “Lucky for you, there’s time for me to suck you off and clean up.”
Kyle worked Jesse’s fly open and leaned in. He spread his palms over Jesse’s thighs and mouthed him through his boxer briefs. Goosebumps rose along Jesse’s arms at the press of damp heat and cotton against his erection. Leaning forward, he braced his hands against the gleaming bar, arrested by the sight of his friend. Kyle shut his eyes and nuzzled Jesse through his clothes. His long, dark lashes fanned over his fair skin, and his lips were parted and wet. He looked unbelievably erotic.
Jesse cupped his jaw. “Mmm, baby.”
Kyle opened his eyes. He hooked his fingertips under the waistband of Jesse’s boxer briefs, then pulled his trousers and briefs down. Jesse hissed. He bit his lip hard when his cock sprang free, and Kyle swallowed him down.
Jesse’s world exploded in a roar of pleasure that wiped his mind clean.
Life was very good indeed.
About the Authors
K. Evan Coles
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.
K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.
K.’s books explore LGBTQ+ romance in contemporary settings.
Brigham Vaughn is on the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga. She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.
Her books range from short stories to novellas. They explore gay, bisexual, lesbian, and polyamorous romance in contemporary settings.
Want to stay up to date and be notified of Brigham Vaughn’s latest releases? Sign up for the Coles & Vaughn Newsletter here.
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SERIES REVIEW TOUR SCHEDULE
Book Title: The Handyman’s History (The Handyman series, book 4)
Author: Nick Poff
Publisher: Old Spruce Productions/Self-Published
Genre/s: Contemporary gay fiction/romance
Trope/s: Gay couple building a relationship in a small town
Themes: Facing the past to create a better future
Heat Rating: 2 flames
Length: 336 pages
Release Date, February 6, 2019
Handyman Ed Stephens is back, exploring the past to build a future with his partner Rick in THE HANDYMAN’S HISTORY.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s their world, and we’re allowed to live in it.”
–Gordy Smith in The Handyman’s History
The year since the death of their beloved benefactress Hilda Penfield has been a busy and sometimes stressful one for Handyman Ed Stephens and his partner, Rick Benton. They hope some peace and quiet will return to Penfield Manor after they host the wedding of Rick’s sister Claire to Matt Croasdale. Instead, Ed and Rick both find themselves involved in new activities.
As Rick’s boss, Realtor Vince Cummings, becomes aware of the opportunities available in the sudden expansion of Porterfield, he and Rick become the guiding forces for a major redevelopment project. Meanwhile, Ed’s innocent suggestions regarding the revival of a local festival leads to him becoming a member of the Porterfield Days Association, and the acceptance of additional responsibilities.
It’s Rick’s discovery of a tombstone in a disused town cemetery that sparks Ed’s curiosity about the background of his father’s family. Ed begins to question the relationship he had with his deceased father, and hopes learning some of the Stephens family secrets will enable him to make peace with his unresolved feelings.
The usual cast of suspects is back to both enrich and complicate Ed’s life: His sharp-tongued but supportive mother Norma, his sister Laurie, and housekeeper Effie Maude, who maintains her position at Penfield Manor, and provides amusement for Ed and Rick with her observations and pronouncements. Their best bud Gordy is on the scene as well, struggling to build a relationship in the early years of AIDS. Even Ed gets a taste of the hostility becoming more common as fear of the disease spreads. As Ed deals with the realities of being a gay man in a small town in 1985, he unexpectedly finds support from two unlikely sources, a visually impaired client, and a clergyman new to the town.
The Handyman’s History, with its soundtrack of classic oldies, will take its readers both forward and backward in the continuing saga of Ed and Rick, as their relationship strengthens, matures, and endures.
Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited
Ed looked at him, not really seeing him, thinking back to those Saturday nights spent in the bleachers of the Porterfield gym, hooting and hollering for those perennial losers, the Bobcats. There he was – shy, skinny Ed Stephens, along with Fat Ted, Science Nerd Greg, and Four Eyes Steve, all pretending to be part of the crowd, but knowing the minute they left the Bobcat cheer block they’d be ignored by the cool kids, as usual.
Ed remembered what Gordy had said last weekend: Sometimes I feel as though it’s their world and we’re allowed to live in it.
He had certainly felt that way in high school. He wondered if his friends back then felt the same way. Perhaps they did, but Ed was sure it was harder on him because he was toting a secret burden that the others didn’t have. He was trying his best to pretend he wasn’t a homosexual.
“I lied,” he said abruptly. “About those nights at Chef’s Inn; they weren’t a blast. They sucked.”
Rick looked at him seriously. “Oh?”
“Yeah. I never felt comfortable. Not really. I guess I just want to remember them as being a blast, you know?”
“High school,” Rick sighed. “Baby, you’re preaching to the choir, remember? I was so alone back then, so miserable. I don’t even want to think how many times I contemplated suicide. I’m just grateful it’s over with.”
“But don’t you sometimes wish,” Ed persisted, “that it was a blast? We had the best music ever, the cars were cool, and so were the movies and TV shows. It seems like it should have been fun.”
“The music was great,” Rick admitted. “The people at Broad Ripple High, however, were not. I hated it, and I don’t think that makes you or me any different from all those other guys like us. In fact, if there is a homosexual out there who was really happy in high school I hope I never met him, ‘cause I’d probably have to kill him.”
“And about the music, well, we’ve got it. I mean, you’ve still got all your records, and we listen to them all the time because we still love those songs so much. It belongs to us. It’s one thing we were able to salvage from those years. And I think music kind of helps to wash away some of the sadness, you know; kind of like putting rose colored glass on the memories to make them prettier.”
Ed thought about Rick’s words. “That’s pretty good,” he said in admiration.
Rick grinned. “Yeah, it is, isn’t it? Anyway,” he said dropping the newspaper and picking up the book he was currently reading, “I guess that’s how I can compromise the whole thing in my head and not go crazy.”
Ed stood up and stretched, feeling restless. Arnie came into the room, looking for him. Ed picked up the cat and headed for the stairs.
“I thought you’d be going to the den to drool over the guy Solid Gold dancers,” Rick said.
“Eeh. I’m not in the mood for drooling. I think I’ll go upstairs and find something to read.
“Besides,” he said with a leer at Rick. “If I’m patient I still get to have you all to myself tomorrow night.”
Rick’s smile for him was as warm and tender as it ever had been. “It’s a date, baby. Count on it.”
Ed slowly walked upstairs, cradling the cat more for his own comfort than Arnie’s. He was suddenly very tired, but also incredibly grateful that Rick was in his life.
About the Author
Nick Poff lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Handyman’s History is his fourth novel. Learn more about his work at www.nickpoffauthor.com , on Facebook at “Nick Poff Author,” and on Amazon’s Author Central. You can also find him at www.patreon.com/nickpoff. His short story, Lucky, is available on Amazon Kindle.
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BOOK BLAST SCHEDULE
Book Title: Cameron & Rylan (A Chance Meeting Novel Book One)
Author: Valerie Ullmer
Cover Artist: Valerie Ullmer
Genre/s: Contemporary Gay Romance
Heat Rating: 4 flames
Length: 66 000 words
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited
Cameron Hayes believed himself to be a dedicated friend and a good son but destined to be alone. Because in his twenty-one years, he’d never fallen for anyone. Dating never appealed to him when he would rather spend a night at home. Despite his friend’s best intentions for Cameron to find a hookup for the night, he stayed at the bar as he nursed a beer. And that’s when Cameron spotted him and everything he knew evaporated with one look.
Rylan Ellis wanted one night out without complications. To forget about his overwhelming responsibilities and stress at home. He loved to lose himself in the music and ignore everyone around him. But when he happened a glance at the bar and spotted the tall, broad, and sexy-as-sin man, he felt drawn to him.
Soon, Cameron and Rylan learn about each other and establish their lives together. They also have to deal with a group of well-meaning friends, loving parents, and unexpected friendships. But most of all, a dangerous threat that could tear their lives apart.
Will a chance meeting turn into something more?
This novel contains heavy attraction at first sight and first-time gay sex between two men. There is no cheating or cliffhangers and ends with a happily ever after.
*Contains a brief mention of a prior sexual assault and violence in later scenes.
This wasn’t his scene. Along with the loud music came the dancing bodies, sharp and piercing howls of laughter, but most of all the flirting. He’d known what the night held when his friends insisted on going out and despite his hesitation, Cameron had agreed.
He wouldn’t say he was lonely since he was the one who quit the football team the year before and secluded himself using any excuse he thought of to avoid social interactions. But from time to time, he missed his friends.
The music blared from the various speakers around the crowded club, but it had a good beat as it blended from one track to another. He nodded toward the bartender as he handed him a new beer before he turned toward the crowd, scanning the dance floor.
Cameron didn’t hold in a laugh as he spotted Tim, one of his best friends, dance up to a girl with a huge smile on his face. When she rolled her eyes, he reversed the other way with a friendly a wave. That was Tim. He let nothing get to him, even such an obvious rejection.
Unlike his friends, Cameron had no interest in finding a date for the night. But he watched his friends as they maneuvered around the bar amongst the gyrating bodies having a great time.
As his gaze landed on Aaron, who had a blonde wrapped around him as they swayed back and forth, a small hand landed on his chest before a compact body pressed up to his side. Cameron blinked down at the beautiful woman who smiled at him. Her eyes traveled over him, down and back up again, unable to keep her predatory gaze from his body.
Cameron sighed. She wasn’t the first person who thought he was available for a good time, but she was the first to touch him without permission.
Attraction was fleeting. At this point in his life, Cameron had no desire to pursue a physical relationship with anyone. Temporary attachments made his skin crawl for a reason he never understood, and he knew as she spoke she wouldn’t be more than that.
“Wanna head to my place? It’s quiet and we can talk.”
He supposed people thought he was a typical jock, looking to score around every corner. Although he’d been told he was attractive, he knew attraction was subjective. His six foot three height, wide shoulders, and lean muscles resulted from years of conditioning and training. His parents gifted him with great genes, his light brown hair, and hazel eyes completed the package. But for him, he wanted something substantial.
“Would you like to dance, Cameron?”
He couldn’t help his pause at the question. “I would love to, but I’ve never had a lot of rhythm and I’ll trample you.”
Rylan laughed and Cameron liked the scratchy, tinkling sound. He gifted him with something precious and rare because Cameron smiled as he realized Rylan’s laugh matched his soft, masculine voice.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got you.” Rylan slid his hand into Cameron’s bigger one and he allowed Rylan to pull him onto the dance floor.
As the other man led the way, Cameron’s gaze roamed over Rylan’s form. He loved how his hair, even when damp from the exertion of dancing, looked soft. He wanted to run his hands through it to see if it was as downy as it looked. The blond of Rylan’s hair was a little darker than his own, but it brought out the color in his eyes.
Rylan’s skin shimmered under the lights and Cameron had the strong urge to lean down and lick a swath along his delectable neck, tasting him. Because of his thoughts, he flushed when Rylan turned back to him and moved his hands to Cameron’s hips.
“Close your eyes.”
Cameron, trusting this man he’d met, he complied with his request. Cut off from one of his senses, sensations thrummed through him when Rylan tapped out a beat with his fingers against his waist. He’d somehow burrowed his hand underneath his tee and Cameron could the pads of his fingers on his bare skin.
“Are you paying attention?” Rylan laughed when Cameron’s head jerked up and caught his gaze.
About the Author
Valerie writes romances.
Contemporary, Paranormal, Erotic, and Gay.
She lives in Denver, Colorado with her wonderfully supportive husband and their funny and wise black lab, Maddie. Valerie is addicted to coffee, crime shows, and reading and writing character-driven romances.
As a voracious reader, she’s believes that all writers are rock stars, and she hopes that people enjoy her stories as much as she loves the romance novels she’s devoured over the years!
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RELEASE BLITZ SCHEDULE
Book Title: Black (MM Kitty Play Romance)
Author: Quin Perin
Cover Artist: Quin Perin
Genre/s: Gay Erotic Romance
Heat Rating: 4-5 flames
Length: 93 000 words/ 350 pages
Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited
There it was.
The sound that made my knees buckle.
He purred, neck stretched, eyes half-lidded.
With those cat ears, in his hair.
And the tail, that he flicked.
A ray of sun in the drizzling rain. I’d been a traveler, floating adrift, while he’d stayed in one place. How was I supposed to know he’d become my anchor? My light. My everything. But would I ever become his?
A standalone romance, “Black” features detailed adult m/m content, a hurt/comfort relationship as well as “kitty play.”
A shove and he fell into a seated position. His hands were all over me. Squeezing at my thighs, shoving my shirt up. Stepping back, away from him, I grabbed the bottom of my shirt and pulled it over my head. I draped it over the coffee table and worked on my pants next. Kitties didn’t wear clothes after all. If I was going to be a kitty, I was going to be a good one.
Naked, body free in the cool air of my apartment, I lifted my arms above my head and stretched out. Flaunting. I wanted him to touch my cock. Heated, it swayed with each of my movements, begging for attention. That was for later though. Now we played.
Dropping to my knees, I turned my face towards him and angled my head to the side. Hands hit the floor, and I crawled towards him. Strutted as best as I could. It was like the evening before when I’d tried to seduce him. Except I’d already succeeded in my goal this time. Now it was all icing on top.
I crawled up to him, hands going to his knees. “Dima,” he murmured, reaching for my hair. He laced his fingers through, but I jerked my head away from him.
With a hiss, I narrowed my eyes and bit down on his fingers. It made him laugh, but he didn’t touch me again. If he wanted me to get into character, we were going to have to do it properly. I wanted to be something different, and he was going to have to deal with that.
Tony spread his thighs to accept me between them. I scratched and then dipped my head. With the skill of my tongue and teeth, working in tandem, I popped open the button of his jeans. The zipper was much easier, and then he helped me. While he worked on getting his pants out of the way, I showed off my body. Elbows rested on the floor behind me, back arched sharply as I waited. The skin stretched tight over my ribs, stomach a little dip. I was tiny, and I knew it, but Tony definitely seemed to like it.
“God, you’re beautiful,” he murmured.
I purred at the compliment, and when the couch stopped its faint squeaking from his movements, I was at my place between his thighs again. He’d not moved from his spot, making it easier on me. Without much ado, I dove face first into his lower stomach, brushing my nose into his tuft of pubic hair. He smelled faintly of soap and musk, sweat. A distinctly manly smell that drove me crazy. His cock flexed, the heat of it against my cheek. Too heavy to stand on its own when he was seated like that, it pointed towards his hip.
I nipped at his stomach and turned my head so my cheek rested against him. Keeping my eyes closed, I flicked my tongue against the side of his cock. He groaned and shifted, legs spreading wider.
He thought he was going to get what he wanted. One thing he would learn was kitties didn’t much care to do what other people wanted.
This time when I scratched at his thighs, I was attacking bare skin. He jerked against me, hissing between his teeth.
“Fuck,” he grumbled.
He might have caught the smirk that danced over my lips, but if he did, it was only a brief moment as I bypassed his cock and went straight to his balls. My tongue lapped across the tender flesh, tasting salt and heat. I swore I felt his heart beating as my nose brushed the base of his cock and my tongue worked him over. Curious, I mouthed at his sack before letting out a tiny “meow.” He arched so hard and quickly, I thought he was gonna jump off the couch.
If he liked that, Tony was in for a long night.
About the Authors
This is Quin&Perin. We are a team of Sultry Gay Romance writers who focus on detailed, toe-curling, and realistic smut scenes with a fair share of dirty talking (Oh, boy). We cannot wait to share our boys with you. Thank you for stopping by!
That said, it is time for the next level of smut: stories featuring fire, lust & desire.
🔥 Author Links 🔥
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BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE
LOVING AGAIN SERIES BLOG TOUR
January 25, 2019 – A World Apart
February 22, 2019 – A New Life
March 22, 2019 – A Broken Promise
NEW RELEASE – BOOK 3
Book Title: A Broken Promise (Loving Again Series, Book 3)
Author: Mel Gough
Cover Artist: Black Jazz Design
Genre/s: Contemporary romance
Heat Rating: 4 flames
Length: 127 print pages
Release Date: March 22, 2019
Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited
Ben and Donnie are happier than they’ve ever been. Zac’s adoption went off without a hitch, their new home is tranquil and the perfect place to build their future.
But Donnie can never catch a break. An old affliction flares up again and as a result his physical condition is more precarious than ever. Helen is nervous about the environment to which Ben subjects their daughter, and Ben struggles to keep everything ticking over.
Then he meets Paul, an enigmatic, handsome journalist who is more than a little interested in Ben. In equal measures flattered and disturbed by the attention, Ben finds himself on the brink of a decision that might shatter the happiness he’s worked so hard to achieve
How could they have so much stuff?
When Donnie and Ben had moved into the duplex just over six months ago there had been ten boxes, eight of which had been Ben’s. Donnie had had a ruthless clear-out of his and Floyd’s little house, and had thrown away most of his meagre possessions.
Of course, adding a baby—toddler now—to the mix meant a lot more stuff, and it all needed packing up.
Still, fifteen boxes in the bedroom alone seemed excessive.
Ben straightened and wiped his brow. He surveyed the result of three hours’ hard labor. Only a small suitcase remained open, with a couple of changes of clothes for each of them. The living room and kitchen were equally crammed with boxes, though they’d held back packing the crockery so far. The kitchen was chaotic enough with all of their different dietary requirements without having to hunt around for plates to eat from, too.
The new house, a find of Arthur’s just like their condo had been, was less than a mile from the apartment. Ben and Donnie had both come to love Ormewood with its quiet, leafy streets. The small bungalow had two bedrooms, which they’d badly need. The smaller one was going to be the nursery, with a second bed for Laura. Unlike the condo, the house wasn’t freshly decorated, but the road it stood on was quiet, and they would have a large yard at the front and back, where flower and vegetable beds had already been in good use.
The front door banged shut. “Evening,” Ben called, but there was no response. He put down the parcel tape and scissors and went into the hall.
Donnie stood by the front door gripping the doorknob hard, his head lowered. His breath came in painful-sounding gasps. Zac, who stood by Donnie’s side, looked around. The confusion on his round face cleared as he spotted Ben. “Pa!” He came running, and Ben picked him up. Fear churned his gut at the sight of Donnie’s bent-over form.
Hoisting Zac onto his hip, he asked, “What’s the matter?” In response, Donnie lifted his head and Ben’s question was answered at once. His face was white as chalk. “Whoa,” Ben exclaimed. “You look terrible.”
“Some kids got the stomach flu, and… shit…” With a low moan, Donnie staggered past Ben into the bathroom and shut the door.
“Dadda?” Zac asked tentatively.
Ben stroked his back. “I think Dadda’s not feeling so good. We gotta be nice, all right?”
Zac nodded, looking scared.
Ben hugged him. “It’s gonna be okay,” he whispered into the little boy’s dark curls, as much to reassure himself as Zac.
Donnie reemerged a long few minutes later, seemingly on the verge of passing out, his face ashen and sweaty. Ben hurriedly stood Zac on his feet and took Donnie by the elbow, his own heart hammering. “C’mere.” Donnie leaned his head against Ben’s neck, breaths ragged, his forehead burning. They stood still for a moment until Donnie began to shiver. “Let’s get you horizontal,” Ben murmured. Zac trailed them into the bedroom.
Ben struggled getting Donnie out of his shoes and pants. He had sweated through his shirt so Ben got a fresh T-shirt from the open suitcase. Great timing.As if moving wasn’t stressful enough already.
“Here, stretch out.” Ben pulled the blankets back. Donnie curled up, shuddering, his hands pressed hard to his stomach.
“You sure it’s just flu?” Ben asked, dread twisting his insides.
Donnie buried his face in the pillow. “What else?” His voice was tense and despondent.
“Could be your pancreas again?” Ben swallowed, dismayed at the thought. He sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand on Donnie’s neck, which was clammy and hot.
“Daycare kids’re sick,” Donnie insisted. “I just picked up their virus¾”
“Even if that’s true,” Ben interrupted. “We need to get you looked at, have your T-cells checked¾” He broke off as Donnie groaned and struggled to sit up.
Ben helped him to his feet, but Donnie pulled away. “Can manage.”
To distract himself and give Donnie some space, Ben went into the kitchen to locate a basin in one of the boxes. He was on his way back to the bedroom when Donnie reappeared, looking even whiter than before. Ben took him into his arms and Donnie clung on hard.
“Feeling any better?”
“Not really.” The hands went back to Donnie’s belly. Fear gripped Ben like an icy fist, but he said nothing.
Zac had somehow managed to climb into their bed. He looked at them with a serious expression on his little round face. “Dadda,” he said and stretched his arms out.
Donnie stopped dead. “He’ll get sick, Ben.”
“If he’s going to catch this it’s already happened,” Ben said. “But I’ll call Arthur, ask him if he can take Zac until you’re over the worst. I can’t look after you both, not with the move, as well.”
Donnie’s face creased. “I don’t like it when he’s away,” he whispered. “But you’re right. I’m real sorry, Ben.”
“It’s okay.” Ben hugged him and kissed his temple. “For now, give bub a cuddle. You need it.” He helped Donnie back into bed, and Donnie pulled Zac close, curling around him with a whimper. Ben watched them a moment. Donnie shivered and shifted around. With a sigh, Ben went to find his phone which he last remembered seeing in the chaotic living room.
When he returned to the bedroom Donnie had fallen asleep. Zac was stroking his face, but when he saw Ben, he started to wriggle free. Ben extracted him with care. Donnie sighed and turned over without waking. Ben put Zac in his cot, then, phone pressed to his ear, he started to pack a bag for Zac’s visit to Arthur.
About the Author
Mel was born in Germany, where she spent the first twenty-six years of her life (with a one-year stint in Los Angeles). She has always been fascinated by cultures and human interaction, and got a Masters in Social Anthropology. After finishing university she moved to London, where she has now lived for ten years.
If you were to ask her parents what Mel enjoyed the most since the age of six, they would undoubtedly say “Reading!” She would take fifteen books on a three-week beach holiday, and then read all her mom’s books once she’d devoured her own midway through week two.
Back home in her mom’s attic there’s a box full of journals with stories Mel wrote when she was in her early teens. None of the stories are finished, or any good. She has told herself bedtime stories as far back as she can remember.
In her day job, Mel works as PA and office manager. No other city is quite like London, and Mel loves her city. The hustle and bustle still amaze and thrill her even after all these years. When not reading, writing or going to the theater, Mel spends her time with her long-time boyfriend, discussing science or poking fun at each other.
BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE FOR
A BROKEN PROMISE