TheReadEye

"We read to know that we are not alone." — C.S. Lewis

‘Gentleman’s Position’ adds to KJ’s impressive position in genre

gentlemanKJ Charles has positioned herself to earn more fans in historic gay romance with the upcoming release of  “A Gentleman’s Position.”

As I waded into the third novel in the Society of Gentleman series, I was a bit like the blind test in a study. By that I mean I had no idea what I’d be getting into. I’d heard of KJ Charles, of course. I knew she was a well-loved author. But I’d never read any of her books, not even the earlier books in the series.

Admittedly, I played a bit of catch up in the first few page as references were made to a variety of characters I would have known if I’d read the earlier novels. But I read on, and once I got past the first few pages, it didn’t matter — because the two protagonists in this book captivated me.

KJ Charles brought Lord Richard Vane and his valet David Cyprian to life with amazing skill, drawing on an interesting contrast of principles and prejudices of the time period. The conflicts in the story line very much reflected the characters’ inner beliefs. Unlike some poorly developed romances, where you want to throttle the characters and tell them to just talk to each other and every problem will be solved, the conflicts between Vane and Cyprian were more complex.

Lord Richard Vane is an aristocrat who believes in his principles to the exclusion of everything else, even his own heart. The man wrestles with his desires, and ingrained prejudices, as he falls for his valet. David Cyprian, on the other hand, rose from very low prospects to become the most admired valet in Society, and he uses a combination of cleverness and manipulation — sometimes quite illegal manipulation — to fulfill all of Vane’s wishes. Still, he very much has his own set of principles that guide his actions throughout the novel.

David Cyprian is really the star of this novel. He’s an amazingly smart, strong character. While he’s first seen as a servant who only wishes to please his lord, he evolves over the course of the story to reveal a cunning, resilient young man who is very much his own master.

Through it all, KJ Charles sets a pace that keeps you turning the page, alternatively hopeful and pained by the push and pull of their romance.

“A Gentleman’s Position” has everything you’d want out of historical romance: impressive interweaving of historical themes and language; a heart-wrenching love story; and powerful, passionate love scenes that make you desperate to see these two men get their happy ending.

KJ Charles has definitely positioned herself to gain more fans with this beautifully written novel, starting with me.

You can pre-order the book from Amazon here

Note: I was given a free advance copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Flash Fiction: Rooftop Rendezvous

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The sunset was gorgeous from the rooftop where Liam spread out refreshments on a blanket. The last rays gilded his auburn hair and lit up the golden flecks in his hazel eyes.

Harry couldn’t think of a more romantic setting to celebrate their lives together.

“Hungry?” Liam asked, looking up with a grin. “We’ve got gourmet selections once again.”

“Yum, count me in!”

Harry joined him, watching as Liam slathered peanut butter on soda crackers. It was a far cry from the exquisite duck confit Liam once prepared as the head chef of his own restaurant. But his hands still moved with the sureness of a man meant for the culinary arts.

Harry used to spend every spare minute of his shift at the restaurant watching Liam’s long fingers manipulate knives with astounding speed and skill. He came to life in the kitchen in a way that could not be replicated anywhere else, except perhaps when making love. His hands were very skilled there, too.

Harry never expected to experience the latter. As a busboy, he had been far beneath a head chef’s notice. But one night he’d turned, intent on sneaking a peek of the gorgeous chef, to find Liam watching him.

That moment changed his life.

They’d been together ever since, 11 years as of tonight.

Liam poured the last of the wine and raised his glass. “To us. Happy anniversary.”

Harry lifted his own. “Till death do us part. I wonder how many people bet we’d never keep that vow.”

Liam laughed, his eyes lighting up. “I love your sense of humor. Even now.” His voice faltered. “Especially now.”

Harry forced a smile. “Well, my looks wouldn’t have carried us 11 years.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’re still gorgeous. You’ll always be beautiful now.”

“There’s the silver lining,” Harry said softly, leaning in to kiss Liam. “We’ll be together to the end. Having a romantic night every night until …”

Liam nodded, his eyes misty. “Until.”

“I do miss your delicious dishes, though.”

 “That reminds me. I have a surprise for you.”

Liam skipped across the roof gracefully to snatch up his backpack.

Harry watched nervously as he neared the edge of the building. There was only ever going to be one way for their rooftop rendezvous to end, but it wasn’t time yet.

“I’ve got soup!” Liam exclaimed. “I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.”

He pulled out a can of stew, and then rummaged until he found a can opener. He lifted it to show Harry, and it slipped from his fingers.

“No!”

Liam leaned forward, and Harry’s heart lodged in his throat.

“Careful!”

He rushed across the roof, clutching Liam close though he was in no danger of falling.

Liam stared mournfully over the side of the building, where the can opener had disappeared.

The streets teemed with bodies in various stages of decomposition. They milled around buildings, scratching at the walls, seeking out entry. Soon, a window would break or a door would give, and then there’d be no putting it off any longer.

“You know, gay people might have been immune to the virus that created those things, but I’m still not sure we’re not the ones who are damned.”

Harry pulled him back from the ugly sight. “Come away, darling.”

“We’re out of food,” Liam said faintly.

“Then make love to me, Liam. Let’s have one more night,” Harry urged.

They sank down on the blanket, each touch saturated in both love and sorrow.

“Till death do us part,” Liam whispered, before Harry silenced him with a kiss.

Tonight, they would make love. And tomorrow …

If tomorrow came, they’d face it together.


Written by DJ Jamison. Read more flash fiction from other authors here.

Flash Fiction Fun: Cheeky Morning

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Only Muggle knew my secret.

Every morning, I got out of bed, went to the kitchen and cooked breakfast. Totally normal, right? Except …

I liked to do it bare-assed.

I wore a shirt because it was nippy in the morning, but this was my one small act of rebellion. My tiny, unseen wild streak in my mundane life. 

I didn’t live alone, but Katy was a night owl. I hadn’t seen her rise before 10 a.m. in the year we’d lived together, so it was a safe, if neurotic, habit.

A whimper sounded by my feet. My overweight pug begged for scraps. “No way, Muggle. The chicks won’t dig you with all that extra padding.”

“Looks like you could use some padding,” a deep voice said.

I whirled, spatula in hand. “What the fff–”

Oh shit.

A guy. A guy stood in the kitchen, lips smirking and eyes pointed nowhere near my face.

I spun back to face the stove. Glancing around wildly for cover, I grabbed a pot holder from the counter and thrust it behind my ass. Thank God, I was a skinny fucker.

“Sorry,” he said. He didn’t sound sorry. He sounded amused.

“Who are you?” I said to the eggs.

“I’m Tyler. Katy let me crash on the couch.”

No. Not Tyler, as in Katy’s hot gay brother. Not Tyler, as in, “he’s moving to town and you should meet him, Josh, because you two would be so awesome together.” Just no.

He laughed.

It started out as muffled chuckles, as if he were trying to resist, but before long he was belly-laughing.

“So,” he wheezed. “Is there a reason for this, like you spilled juice on your only pair of boxers or absolutely every pair of pants you own are in the laundry? Or is this a thing?”

My face blazed, and I could feel the blush spreading to every inch of skin. Just what I needed: a full-on ass blush.

“This is a nightmare. I’ll wake up, and Katy’s hot gay brother won’t be standing behind me.”

He moved closer, and his chest pressed against my back. My breath caught.

“Hot, huh?” he murmured. With a flick of his wrist, he turned off one burner. Then another. “You’re burning the eggs.”

Cool air rushed in as he stepped back.

“Right. I should put on pants.”

He chuckled. “Yep.”

“Are you going to leave?”

“Nope. Katy’s hot gay brother enjoys a good show as much as the next guy.”

“Muggle,” I said. “Sick him.”

“Cute pug, but he’s shit for guarding.” His voice turned playful. “I’ll happily guard your ass on our date, though.”

Our date?”

“Who am I to turn down a guy with an ass hot enough to fry eggs?”

His laughter followed as I dashed for my bedroom. My cheeks — all of them — blushed, but a smile crossed my face. I had a date with hot Tyler, so what the hell? If you can’t hide your neurosis, own it, right?

Muggle agreed.

 

Written by DJ Jamison. Please visit the flash fic group on Facebook and check out the links to the other authors’ flash fics! 

Freebies and new release news

Winter BlomI’m so very far behind on updating the blog. I blame “Winter Blom” — getting that novella done before Christmas wore me out!

And because Winter Blom is to blame for my lethargy, I am offering it free through Amazon this weekend to make up for my absence in writing/blogging/reviewing. You name it, and I’m behind in it!

You can find “Winter Blom” here. It’s only free Jan. 23 and 24, so don’t miss your chance to grab it!

In  other news, I recently received a message from a reader asking if I had any projects in the works. As a matter of fact, I do. Too many — which isn’t helping my focus — but I’ve finally set my next publish date!

“Earning Edie,” my first m/f romance — and a spin-off from the Ashe Sentinel series featuring Nick Espinoza — will release April 1. You can pre-order it now here.

Earning Edie will be available through several online bookstores when it releases and unlike the other Ashe Sentinel stories, it is a full-length novel. I am still finishing edits, but I’m somewhere in the 88,000 word range at this point.

There will be sequels to this book, and I’m not totally abandoning my m/m following with this series. At least one of the sequels will be a m/m romance. So I hope you’ll give the Espinoza Boys series a chance if you enjoyed my other writing.

Here’s a summary of the book:

Earning Edie _newcoverNick Espinoza is consumed by two things: guilt and ambition. After making a mistake he can’t atone for, his desire for success as a newspaper columnist compromises his integrity. But the consequences of his actions may just be the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

Edie Mason is disappointed but not surprised when her parents don’t show up for her high school graduation. But after she inadvertently criticizes them in the newspaper, thanks to an unethical newspaper columnist in a deadline crunch, she finds herself homeless. Even worse, her dreams of going to college are at risk. Edie’s days as a shrinking wallflower are coming to an end, however. Propelled by anger and desperation, she seeks out Nick Espinoza to give him a piece of her mind — and an ultimatum: He made her homeless, so he can offer up his home as a place to stay while she works nonstop to earn college tuition.

Pressured by management, Nick is desperate to win over the hearts of readers — and Edie Mason’s story is a perfect start. He isn’t prepared for the fall-out that follows, or for the lonely graduate to have so much spunk. Confronted by his mistakes, and consumed by guilt over his past, Nick finds himself opening his home — and his heart — to Edie. But can he ever come clean about his past and truly earn Edie’s trust without losing everything?

“Earning Edie” is the first of the Espinoza Boys series.

 

 

“Winter Blom” and other holiday reads

It is the season of the holiday novella, and in that spirit, I wrote and released “Winter Blom” as part of my Ashe Sentinel Connections series. When I started the story of Andy Blom, I wasn’t sure if I would finish it, much less publish it before Christmas. I was on a tight timetable, and I’d begun the story mostly on a whim.

But my characters came to life on the page, and I found myself not only committed to the story of Andy Blom and Lane Cross (and son Zach Cross), but my “holiday short story” ended up being the longest novella in my series to date, coming in at nearly 41,000 words.

If you like my other books, give this one a try. I like to think it’s the best one in the series, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. “Winter Blom” is available on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library. Get it here

Other holiday novellas to read

There are plenty of other holiday novellas worth a look. First and foremost, I recommend the Wish Come True holiday anthology. I actually won the book in a blog giveaway, and there are several moving stories by respected m/m genre authors such as Kaje Harper, Anyta Sunday and Joanna Chambers. The proceeds of this work are going to charity, so there’s added incentive to buy a copy. Get it here

Humbug, by Joanna Chambers, is another great read. Warning: Joanna has a real talent for making sentimental readers (like me) shed a few tears on the way to their happy ending. But hey, it’s cathartic, right? I like a good cry. Get “Humbug” here. 

“What Happens at Christmas,” by Jay Northcote. I credit this novella, over any other, for inspiring me to write a holiday novella of my own. It’s a sweet friends to lovers romance. This book is also exclusive to Amazon, and can be found on Kindle Unlimited. Get it here

Author RJ Scott has released her “Christmas Collection,” which includes “Angel in a Bookshop,” “Jesse’s Christmas” and “Deefur and the Great Mistletoe Incident.” I’ve also heard great things about “The Christmas Throwaway.” Get the “Christmas Collection” here.

I hope you’ll add “Winter Blom” to your favorites. While it’s set over the holidays, the themes in the story go beyond the holidays to insecurity and grief and connection that I would hope hold true any time of year.

Book Description for Winter Blom

Winter BlomAndy Blom is an unpaid winter intern at The Ashe Sentinel, and right away he gets saddled with an “evergreen” – otherwise known as a boring feature that can run anytime over the holiday season. To his dismay, he’s assigned to write about a construction worker who creates metal art. The story wouldn’t be so bad, but he’s uneasy about meeting a macho guy who will no doubt find Andy just a little too … gay. Even if he is in the (fairly transparent) closet. But as it turns out, Lane Cross isn’t what he expects. In fact, Lane is a man of many contradictions, not the least of which is that a man like him could want Andy.

Lane Cross works construction to pay the bills, and makes metal art to … also pay the bills. As a single dad, the enjoyment of his art has taken a backseat to making ends meet. And his love life has taken a back seat to caring for his son, especially when Zach, age 6, sabotages every baby-sitting attempt Lane makes.

Then Lane meets Andy Blom. The man’s Swedish name meaning bloom is perfect for him: Andy is refreshingly sweet and vibrant – even if he gets a bit thorny at any hint that he’s anything but strong and self-reliant. And Lane’s son loves him, which only intensifies the attraction. But when Lane moves too fast, will he scare away the surprisingly innocent young man – or will Andy’s journalistic ethics end them before they ever begin?

“Winter Blom,” a holiday novella, is the fourth book in the Ashe Sentinel series. There are very minor spoilers if you read it before the other novellas. However, it can be read as a stand-alone.

Let’s support authors in face of plagiarism

A screenshot of the Facebook post made by Ashley John, which quickly went viral with more than 200 shares.

A screenshot of the Facebook post made by Ashley John, which quickly went viral with more than 200 shares.

Lately, it seems like there’s been a plague of plagiarism in the m/m genre. And this week, I opened a can of worms on the latest plagiarist when I realized that “Under the Influence” by Addison Scott looked suspiciously similar to Ashley John’s “Saving Michael.”

A Facebook message later, my suspicions had been confirfmed, and Ashley John made a FB post about the plagiarism that quickly went viral (at least in m/m circles).

As it turns out, Addison Scott plagiarized all the books that were found under his/her name (reportedly about 11) in e-bookstores such as iBooks, Kobo and Oyster. Scott stayed away from Amazon, possibly to fly under the radar for as long as possible.

51qeH8IUrAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This kind of wholesale plagiarism is extremely frustrating to authors who have been victimized. They’ve put many hours of writing — not to mention untold amounts of time brainstorming and agonizing — into a novel. I know, because I’m a writer. I don’t have the success of Ashley John, and so far I’ve only published novellas, but let me tell you: It’s tough. It takes a lot of time and energy. It takes courage to lay yourself out there and let people into the inner workings of your mind. And it’s an insult to all authors — those plagiarized and those of us pouring work into our own projects — when we see someone steal books and make money off someone else’s efforts.

But there’s a silver lining, I like to think. We can support the authors who have been plagiarized. We can help their sales surge. This won’t take away the wrong that’s been done, but perhaps we can help make up for some of the sales lost to the plagiarist, by creating an uptick in the original authors’ own sales and helping them gain a larger, faithful following.

I encourage you to buy books from these authors if you haven’t yet, to support them as they go through this experience — and to restore their faith in the goodness of people.

Here are some of the books that were plagiarized by Addison Scott:

“Saving Michael,” by Ashley John. Get it here

“Tied,” by E. Davies. Get it here

“Once a Marine,” by Cat Grant. Get it here

“Windfall,” by Amanda Young. Get it here

“Taking in Strays,” by Kracken. Get it here

“Winter’s Fire,” by Donya Lynne. Get it here

Please add on in the comments, if you know of other books so we can encourage readers to support the actual authors of these works.

DJ Jamison is the author of The Ashe Sentinel series, now available exclusively on Amazon. Click here to see her works.

In baseball and in writing, you have to keep swinging

I’m a fledgling Kansas City Royals baseball fan — and I’m a writer. So, naturally, as I watched the amazing comeback in Monday’s playoff game vs. The Astros, I found myself drawing parallels between baseball players and writers.

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Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Game 1 of the ALDS playoffs. Photo by Lucas Soltow

My husband, a more knowledgeable baseball fan than me, quoted a statistic that even great baseball players get a successful hit about 3 out of every 10 at-bats. “Baseball players have to be great at failing,” he said, with way too much enthusiasm for that statement. This was, of course, in response to my complaint that the Royals players often look like they shrug off strike-outs and failed hits. Why aren’t they cursing or crying, damn it? That’s what I would do!

My husband, in his vast baseball wisdom, told me that it comes down to perseverance (and perhaps a Goldfish-like memory of all those failures) to make a great baseball player. The same can be said of writers.

I cannot tell you how many pieces of writerly wisdom I’ve come across that hammer the same points home again and again: Don’t give up, and finish what you start. If there’s one piece of advice, above any other, that keeps me going, this is it. Perseverance.

When the Royals were down by 4 runs in the 7th inning, most of us thought the game was over. They’d lost. It was too late. But they didn’t give up. They persevered. They kept swinging, even when it seemed hopeless.

That’s what I want you to do. When you’re questioning your vision; when you’re disheartened or losing momentum on a work in progress; when you receive criticism or reviews that are hard on your heart, just know that it isn’t over until it’s over.

Keep swinging. Keep writing.

Building up the gay steampunk genre

A remark by an author I follow made me start thinking about the gay steampunk genre, because, yes, LGBT authors have tackled this style of storytelling alongside the more commonly seen romance, suspense, mystery and fantasy.

Not everyone understands the meaning of steampunk in general. There are varying definitions, but basically, it’s a subgenre of science fiction/fantasy that features advanced machines or other technology typically taking place in a historical period or fantasy world. The exact definition would call for this technology to be based on the steam power of the 19th century, but my interpretation is a little looser based on the books I see. Basically, anything that’s set in a historic period — in this world or another — and incorporates futuristic technology that did not exist in that period could be considered some variation of steampunk.

After RJ Scott made a comment on Goodreads about gay steampunk, I did a mental inventory and realized I had several books in this subgenre without realizing it.

Here are a few authors of gay steampunk you could explore:

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Sasha L. Miller, author of “Stolen Hearts” and “The Novelty Maker.”

Sasha’s “Stolen Hearts” blends magic and mechanics, when a fairy is in danger of dying after his heart is stolen and replaced by a charm.

See the book on Amazon

 

gearheartHollis Shiloh, author of “Gearheart,” “Wes & Kit” and “Cold Hands, Warm Heart,” among others.

Several of Shiloh’s gay steampunk books take place in a world where men who might have died during the war were saved with the help of mechanical parts, only to be discarded and discriminated once the war is over.

Find “Gearheart” on Amazon

 

spiritsJordan L. Hawk, author of the Spirits series (and other fantasy reads). This one might be skirting the line of the steampunk genre definition, but it has elements that fit.

The Spirits series in set in a historic period, in which a scientist and a medium partner to confront a haunting. The devices invented by Henry Strauss give this series a steampunk feel, even if it doesn’t entirely fit. Find books here

Amber Kell, author of “Keys.” Kell is just venturing into gay steampunk, and “Keys” is the result. I have not read this book, but it definitely fits the subgenre. Find the book.

Have you read any gay steampunk? My list is pretty short, so please offer up some reading suggestions!

DJ Jamison is a book blogger and author of the Ashe Sentinel Connections series of novellas (not steampunk). To explore her books — including a freebie — click here

Discovering Alexis Hall: Beautiful characters, beautiful prose

A few days ago, I discovered Alexis Hall, author of several Spires books, tales of life in London. I read with trepidation, to be honest. My first foray into Hall’s work was a BDSM-themed novel titled “For Real.” The gorgeous prose and deep characters blew me away. I’d waded into Hall’s writing expecting tolerable mediocrity, and I came away envious of his talent.

I’ll be honest. I tend to find the BDSM genre to be a bit sketchy. Too many books are about the sex, not the characters. Authors seem to think if they throw in enough sex scenes, the writing doesn’t matter. Even highly successful BDSM books can be fairly mediocre. So, it’s not exactly my favorite thing to read.

But Alexis Hall’s book, “For Real,” had a lot of depth. His characters were compelling, well-developed and thoughtful. And his prose was quite beautiful.

In the book, Laurence Dalziel is an emotionally distant man with very real heartbreak in his past. He’s cynical at times, but also vulnerable. Toby, at just 19 years old, is the last man Laurie would expect to spark a real connection and fulfill his submissive needs, but sometimes life breaks stereotypes. Toby — despite being extremely new to the scene and so, so young — has exactly the right brand of sugar-coated sadism to give Laurie something real.

You can find the book here in whatever format you might read: https://goo.gl/Dxu15C

floodNot all of the Spires novels are BDSM-themed, although I do suspect sad, heartbroken men may feature in many of them. I went on to read “Waiting For the Flood,” the story of Edwin Tully, a quiet man who tends to damaged books while also preserving a broken heart. When a flood brings a new man into his life from the environment agency, hope for a future springs anew.

To explore Alexis Hall’s Spires books, click here.


DJ Jamison is a book blogger and author of the Ashe Sentinel Connections series of novellas. To explore her books — including a freebie — click here

A sneak peek at “Rewriting His Love Life”

“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.

Chapter 1

rewritinghislovelifeA 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.

“Shit!”

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.

***

2Tyler 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.

“What?”

“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.”

Chapter 2

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.

“Oh.”

“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.”

“I know.”

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.”

“Thanks, Jen.”

***

1As 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.

“Nothing!”

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.”

“Like what?”

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.

“What?”

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.

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