“Rewriting His Love Life,” the third novella in the Ashe Sentinel Connections series, releases Oct. 1. Here’s a sneak peek at the book that tells Archer’s story. You can pre-order “Rewriting His Love Life” on Amazon and other e-book retailers. Find it on Amazon.
A moving truck idled in the fire lane in front of Archer’s five-story apartment building. From across the parking lot, he could just make out the blocky shape under the building’s security lights.
But a moving truck at midnight?
Weird. Archer glanced at the dash clock in his car, though he didn’t need to see the glowing digital numbers to know the time. He’d just come off another night shift at The Ashe Sentinel. Usually, when he pulled in at 11:50 p.m., the building was quiet as a crypt.
Pretty much the whole town of Ashe, Kansas, went to sleep at 9 p.m. on weeknights.
Archer pulled the keys from the ignition and headed toward the front entrance. With eyes trained on the mystery truck, he tried to guess which of his neighbors might be trying to give the landlord the slip.
Larry Miller was a dodgy character, but Archer couldn’t see him staying up past 8 p.m., much less midnight. He’d never liked Jake in 1C; he always gave him dirty looks and his hands were constantly covered in grease. None of that was any indication he would move out under cover of darkness, but it seemed like the sort of thing he might do.
He stopped short as he reached the truck. One large door stood open, revealing stacks of cardboard boxes next to a bed frame and mattress leant up against one wall. But Archer’s eyes fixed on the man carefully navigating the sidewalk curb with three boxes stacked so high in his arms he couldn’t possibly see.
Archer was impressed. He’d definitely end up on his ass if he tried that.
As he watched, the mover struggled to balance the boxes and open the door at the same time. Looked like he was moving in, rather than out, as Archer had first assumed. But he was clearly a novice at moving. Everyone knew you had to prop open the door before you started lugging in boxes.
The boxes began to topple, and the door clanged shut.
His new neighbor made a wild grab, straining to save his stack before it toppled to the ground, and Archer jolted into action.
Stepping forward, he grabbed the door handle. “Need some help?”
“Yeah, thanks,” the guy huffed as he edged inside.
Archer followed, trying to get a better look at him in the dimly lit lobby. Not much of his face was visible. Floppy dark hair hung over his forehead, obscuring his eyes. The curve of what might be a smile (or a grimace?) peeked around the edges of the boxes in his arms.
“You know, I’ve heard of moving out under cover of darkness. Usually not the other way around,” Archer mused.
“Yeah, well, I just moved out of somewhere, right?”
Archer’s neighbor was breathless, his arms straining under the weight of the three boxes. Not enough of a sadist to watch that torture continue, Archer stepped forward and snagged a box from the top.
His arms jerked toward the ground, and he staggered under the weight of the box.
“Holy shit, what’s in here? Weights?”
Archer struggled to get a knee under the box and adjust his grip, and his neighbor laughed.
At least Archer could be certain of his smile this time, even if it was at his expense.
“Books, actually. I would have warned you, if you’d asked.”
“Oh, right. Paperweights,” he joked in an attempt to cover his embarrassment for looking like a weakling.
He stumbled the few steps to the building’s only elevator and leaned against the up button with his elbow. “Maybe it’s time to invest in an e-reader.”
“Not the best investment for a bookstore owner.”
Archer winced at his gaffe. “Good point.”
He ran a gaze over the building’s newest resident: tall, broad shoulders, square jaw. He looked more like an athlete than an academic, but Archer didn’t put much stock in stereotypes. He’d been notched into the “nice guy” category too many times to inflict that kind of thinking on someone else.
Besides, these books were heavy enough to give anyone muscle, he thought as he practically fell into the elevator.
Tyler watched the cute geek straining under the weight of his books and felt a little guilty. The other two boxes he carried were larger but lighter.
Nodding his head toward the buttons on the wall inside the elevator, Tyler eased his load to the floor. “I’m on the third floor.”
Just as he hoped, the cute neighbor followed suit and dropped his box, shaking out his arms in relief. And now that Tyler could see him in a better light, he looked even cuter. With his shaggy brown hair and hazel eyes, he had a bit of the boy-next-door look, but the black frame glasses and skinny jeans added the right amount of hipster to elevate him from average to intriguing. The generous mouth didn’t hurt, either.
Just now that mouth was grinning.
“I’m Archer. I live on the third floor, too. You’re probably taking the empty apartment just down the hall from me.”
Archer thrust out a hand, and Tyler shook it. He couldn’t help but notice that Archer’s fingers were covered in red marker.
“Archer, huh? Nice name. I’m Tyler.”
Sadly, Archer’s touch didn’t linger. One short pump, and he dropped Tyler’s hand. Not gay, then.
What Archer might lack in sexual orientation, he made up for in friendliness as he kept up an enthusiastic stream of chatter on the ride to the second floor.
“I can’t believe you’re moving in at this hour. Are you going to move everything in tonight?”
Tyler shrugged helplessly. “Looks that way.”
“Ouch. That’s got to hurt!”
He’d worked his last shift at Lark’s Hardware before starting his move at nearly 7 p.m. That was bad enough, but when the truck wasn’t available on time due to a late return, he’d been hopelessly behind schedule. Add in a flat tire, a missing spare and a long wait for a tow, and Tyler was staring down a miserable night of moving.
Yeah, it hurt, but the truck was due back by 8 a.m. if he didn’t want to pay late fees.
“I’ll manage.” Somehow.
“Need some help?”
Tyler didn’t know Archer well enough to burden him, even if he was stressed to the max. “I can’t ask you to do that. You’re probably tired.”
“Nah. I work the night shift at the newspaper, so I can sleep in tomorrow.”
Archer wiggled his red-ink-covered fingers, and Tyler noticed a few newsprint smudges, too, now that he looked closer.
“Copy editor. Lots of red marker involved. I noticed you looking before.”
The doors slid open, and Tyler quickly snagged the heavier box, along with one of his lighter ones. Archer glanced at him suspiciously, but didn’t comment as he scooped up the remaining box and followed Tyler out of the elevator.
“And I totally had you pegged as a comic book artist,” Tyler joked as they walked the short distance to his apartment.
“A comic book with only red ink?”
Tyler paused to dig out his keys and unlock the door. “Must have been a very gory storyline. Lots of blood.”
Archer laughed, but as the door swung open, Tyler’s spirits sank. Ah, how the mighty have fallen.
He’d seen the apartment once before, and it seemed to be imitating a postage stamp: tiny and white. A small oval living room with white walls and beige carpeting led into a smaller galley kitchen with white cabinets. The tiny bedroom would barely fit a full-size bed much less the king he used to enjoy, and the miniscule bathroom would not be hosting any man-on-man shower fun unless he hooked up with a seriously skinny twink. He eyed Archer. Nope, not even him.
At least, the apartment was clean. He suspected all the white was meant to emphasize that fact. Sad when your top-selling feature is cleanliness.
Tyler dropped his boxes to the floor and tried not to think about the hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings he’d left behind — not to mention the modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances and master bath with a shower that could accommodate a threesome (not that it ever had).
Archer lingered in the doorway, arms stretched around the wide box.
“Just stick it anywhere,” Tyler suggested.
“That’s what she said,” Archer mumbled under his breath, dropping the box with a thud.
Tyler chuckled. “Maybe that’s what he said. You never know, right?”
Red rushed into Archer’s cheeks, and Tyler worried he might have scared off his new neighbor before he’d even moved in. Luckily, Archer took it in stride, aside from his obvious discomfort. “Guess so.”
On that awkward note, he turned to tell Archer thanks and goodnight, because it really was too much to ask a stranger to spend all night helping him move. He forgot what he intended to say, though, when he found Archer staring at him with a puzzled look on his face.
His new neighbor tilted his head to the side and squinted his eyes.
“Dude, are your eyes blue? Or gray? What kind of fucked up color is that?”
Tyler rolled his eyes. He considered them light blue, though they could look gray in certain lighting. He’d heard plenty of comments before, so Archer’s observation was no surprise, though he preferred the “wow, your eyes are so beautiful” variety to the “wow, your eyes are so freaky.”
Then again, he supposed straight guys didn’t go around telling each other their eyes were pretty. Too bad.
“You’re going to diss my best feature?” he joked. “Well, now you have to help me move all my shit in. My feelings are hurt.”
Archer ached freaking everywhere, and not the good kind of ache, either.
He’d helped Tyler move all his belongings until a little after 2 a.m. Then, needing to wind down, he spent some quality time with his favorite game invading rival territories. He finally crawled into bed around 4:30 in the morning.
Good thing he had a job that required little more than planting his ass in a chair for 8 hours, with the occasional trip to the printer.
They’d even moved two couches the night before, when in a moment of delirium Tyler had insisted his sofa carried too many bad memories of being in the doghouse with his ex, and Archer had agreed to trade sofas.
A trendy red leather sofa now sat in Archer’s living room, while Tyler was stuck with a stained, threadbare thrift store find patterned with wagon wheels. So, they’d probably be moving sofas again once Tyler was in his right mind.
“Ready for another enthralling night of invigorating copy editing?” Jorge asked from his side.
Archer glared at the night news editor, aka his boss, aka his secret crush.
Make that secret crush with a boyfriend.
“I’d rather go home and sleep.”
“Late night?” Jorge asked with a teasing wink. Before Archer could share that rather than a night of debauchery he’d had a night of furniture weight-lifting, Jorge was distracted by his boyfriend. Who also worked at the newspaper. Yeah, it’s time to crush that crush, Archer.
Mac leaned over Jorge’s shoulder, his mouth close to his ear, and spoke in a low voice. Not low enough for Archer to miss, unfortunately. He did his best not to look at the two as Mac’s voice carried.
“Crop my photo tonight, and there will be consequences.”
Archer’s eyes were irresistibly drawn back to Jorge, whose full lips curved in a sexy smile.
“If I crop your photo, it’ll be to save your ass. And I’ll expect a proper thank-you when I get home.”
“Ooh, feisty. I like it.”
Mac kissed Jorge’s cheek and looked up. The photographer’s eyes met and held Archer’s gaze, and he felt his stomach twist. Mac had to know Archer coveted his boyfriend.
He jerked his gaze back to his computer screen. The words might as well have been gibberish for all the focus he had, but he pretended to be deeply immersed in coverage of the planning committee’s meeting on signage.
Mac patted Archer’s head condescendingly on his way out of the editor’s nook. “He’s all yours, Archie.”
Yeah, he knew. And he obviously didn’t feel threatened in the slightest. Fuck my life. This has to end.
Incessant chirping woke Tyler.
His eyes popped open, and he stared at the ceiling blankly as he tried to identify the source of the annoying sound. For a minute, he thought he was lying on that damn red sofa again. His heart sank at the thought he’d had yet another fight with Jen.
Then he turned his head slightly, and the image of a wagon wheel caught his eye. He looked up to see a small flat-screen television on the wall opposite. The TV that used to hang in his and Jen’s guestroom.
His heart fell again as the truth rushed in. He was on Archer’s used sofa, in a tiny box of an apartment instead of the beautiful two-story he restored with his wife.
Soon to be ex-wife.
Tyler’s eyes landed on his cellphone, blinking and chirping, from the kitchen counter.
“Shit,” he muttered, and rubbed a hand over his face. Jen would be expecting him at a meeting with their lawyer. That was probably her now, wanting to know where he was.
He sat up, and groaned as his muscles screamed at him. He’d never moved by himself before. He’d always had friends to help load up — those were in short supply these days — or he’d hired movers. Thank God for Archer, or it’d be even worse.
He hobbled over to his phone and glanced at the notifications.
Shit. Three missed text messages. Two missed calls. One voicemail.
Probably best not to listen to the voicemail. He’d just get another earful when he returned Jen’s call. He noticed the time display on the phone: 5:30 p.m.
He’d already missed their appointment.
Tyler pressed the call button and braced himself for the storm to come. She didn’t bother with “hello.”
“Seriously, Ty? Seriously?”
“I’m sorry. I was up all night and then—”
“Celebrating your freedom already?”
He couldn’t miss the bitter edge to her words. He understood the underlying pain, told himself he deserved it. Because he did.
“Tyler, if you want to be free to cruise guys then we need to figure out this divorce and pronto.”
“C’mon, Jen, give me a break. I was moving furniture all night. The truck was double-booked, and then it was one problem after another.”
He left out the part where he’d lain awake until 5 a.m., suffering from insomnia. She’d just berate him to see a doctor about it. He was pretty sure once he got through this divorce, he’d sleep just fine.
“I had to return the truck before 8 a.m., then meet a shipment at the bookstore around 10, so I didn’t sleep much until after that. I’m sorry. I thought my alarm was set.”
She sighed. “Sounds awful. I told you to just hire movers.”
He rolled his eyes. This was classic Jen, commiserating and telling you she told you so all in one breath. The woman always had to be right. And it had to be killing her that she wasn’t right about him.
Of course, he’d fooled them both into believing he could be something he wasn’t. That was on him.
“Yeah. So, we’ll reschedule, okay? I’ve got to spend tomorrow at the bookstore. But later this week?”
Another sigh. “Okay. But you can’t miss the next one, Ty. This is important.”
He listened to her breathe for a long moment. He could sense all the unsaid things she was barely holding back.
“Okay. I’ll have the lawyer call with a new time.”
As the night progressed, Archer found himself more troubled by his fixation on his boss. Working with Jorge had been frustrating for weeks now, but tonight Archer was desperate enough he considered dating again.
The question was: How to meet someone?
His break-up with Lisa six weeks ago had destroyed his comfort zone in his usual gaming hangouts. Meeting someone at work also seemed like a bad idea.
Archer peeked over at Jorge, who was practically glowing with happiness as he clicked through a news story. Jorge was happy with his workplace romance now, but what happened if he broke up with Mac? Would the newsroom be a warzone between the two once again? Archer shuddered to think of those antagonistic weeks that Jorge and Mac had been at odds.
No, if he was going to meet someone, it couldn’t be in any of his usual social circles, and that included the newsroom. What was the saying, “Don’t shit where you eat”? Pretty appropriate, considering he kept getting dumped too close to home … when he could even get a date in the first place.
As Archer considered ways he might meet someone new, he remembered hearing about an app people used to hook up just for sex. He didn’t kid himself. No way could he move from texting to sexing within the same night, much less hour. But dating … maybe.
During a few minutes of downtime, he pulled up an Internet search of more traditional dating websites. Something that included drinks and dinner, that he could do.
He clicked one of the links to a site called “DateCatcher.” He had to choose the nearest metro area; Ashe was too small to have its own service. But no doubt there’d be some Ashe users.
“What’cha doin’ there, Archer?” Jorge asked from over his shoulder.
He jumped and fumbled for his mouse, hoping to close the window before Jorge got a better look.
Jorge closed his fingers over Archer’s wrist, staying his hand. “Not so fast.”
He leaned over Archer’s shoulder for a closer look at the screen. “This is a dating site? Are you a member?”
Archer braced himself for ridicule. “No! I was researching.”
Jorge looked skeptical.
“We weren’t busy or anything,” he added defensively.
Brandy came over to glance at the screen, and Archer wanted the ground to swallow him. Why did everyone in the newsroom have to be so damn nosy? Outside of the obvious, of course. Their managing editor firmly believed eavesdropping was a job qualification.
“A friend of mine does the dating sites,” Brandy said. “She says it’s a good way to meet someone outside of work.”
“She uses more than one?” Jorge straightened and turned toward Brandy.
Archer exhaled a long breath, and his wrist tingled with the phantom imprint of Jorge’s fingers. He wondered what it would take to convince his body it didn’t want his boss.
“Oh yeah,” Brandy continued. “Only way to get a good enough number of dates, she said. You have to throw a lot of fish back if you know what I mean.” She looked at Archer. “You should do it. It’s about time you got over Lisa.”
He shrugged uncomfortably. He wasn’t mourning Lisa as any great loss, but it was probably better if people thought he was moping over her rather than his boss.
He’d originally met Lisa through gaming, and they’d never been the right fit. She was a full-time gamer, with a social media channel she was trying to build up dedicated to gaming videos and tips. Archer was only into it casually, and now that they’d broken up, he felt like he had to avoid all their usual gaming circles. He didn’t miss the games that much, but he missed the social outlet.
“I was just curious,” he mumbled.
“Archer, you have to to do it!” Jorge said, and Archer recognized the zealous gleam in his night editor’s eye. “It would make a great story. You can go on a series of dates and write an article about what kind of matching services are available to Ashe singles. You know, answer the questions everyone has.”
Jorge waved a hand. “You know, is the matching any good? Are the dates funny or horrifying? Is it a valid way to meet someone for a serious relationship, or is it best used for hookups—”
“Whoa, I am not hooking up with strangers for the paper!”
Jorge brushed off his concerns. “Of course not, but it’ll be pretty obvious whether the dates are serious about building a relationship or if they’re just looking for sex.”
Archer felt his face heating. He couldn’t imagine anyone would try to hit him up for sex alone. He wasn’t exactly the one-night-stand kind of guy. He was the best friend turns into mediocre boyfriend kind of guy.
“I’m not a writer.”
Jorge scoffed. “We’re all writers, Archer. Don’t validate those ridiculous stereotypes reporters have. Show them what you’re working with.”
He threw in a sassy wink.
Archer couldn’t believe he’d ever thought Jorge was straight. Of course, Jorge wasn’t so flirty and fun when Archer met him. Back then he was all business as he tried to prove himself to a new staff.
Archer huffed out a heavy breath, as Brandy joined Jorge in pressuring him to do a dating site story.
He’d wanted to break out of his comfort zone and distract himself from his attraction to Jorge. This would certainly do it.
“Okay, fine! Just shut up already.”
Jorge beamed, and Brandy clapped her hands excitedly.
“But, wait. What about …” he trailed off uncertainly.
Archer hesitated to finish his question. He hadn’t made his dating preferences known to most of the news staff. But if he was going to do this dating series, he wanted the benefit of potentially meeting someone special. And he didn’t want to cut his dating pool in half to appease management.
Archer dropped his voice. “Do you think it’ll fly if I date both girls and guys?”
Brandy’s eyes rounded, and her hand flew up to cover her gaping mouth. “You’re bi?” she whispered, as if she were speaking a taboo word. Archer didn’t bother answering.
Jorge, on the other hand, didn’t look surprised. Archer hoped that was because he was more open-minded, and not because he’d noticed Archer’s crush.
“Not to cash in on your dating preferences, but it’ll give the series a different spin. I can sell them on that. As long as you don’t mind people knowing?”
He shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not hiding it or anything.”
“Awesome! I think we’ve got the proofing covered then. Go ahead and set up your profiles, and I’ll let Laura know what we’re planning. This is going to be great!”
This was going to be awful.