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

Archive for the tag “books”

‘Hard Press’ is a new kind of novel for me

My latest novel, “Hard Press,” is releasing Aug. 18. And I think there will probably be some readers who will be surprised the same author wrote both “Catching Jaime” and “Hard Press.”

Most of my earlier works, including “Catching Jaime,” tend to be sweet romances. There are varying levels of sex in them — ranging from no sex (Rewriting His Love Life) to your typical, vanilla sex (Source of Protection, Winter Blom) — but none of them would be described as racy or sizzling hot. The stories are more about the romance, and sex is a natural part of the evolution of a relationship.

“Hard Press” stands out from the other novels in that regard.

julian quotesWhile there are elements of sweet romance in it, the characters aren’t all that sweet. Julian begins his journey as a “vain brat” (Elliott’s words, not … well, yes, they are mine, but you know what I mean). Elliott, who is stressed to the max due to his family situation, finds Julian’s submissive nature liberating — finally, he can take control of something — and comes off as pushy, and occasionally, like a bit of an asshole.

Somehow, it works for them both. So who was I to question it?

But of course I did.

Power play is not my favorite trope, and actually I debated quite a bit about whether to go that direction with the book, even with only mild themes of submission. It wouldn’t have been my first choice. Because, you see, it pushed me a bit out of my comfort zone.

But the characters were demanding it, from pretty much their first meeting. They weren’t cut out to be a sweet romance, and they weren’t going to let me dictate that.

When I started writing books, I thought it would be a good opportunity to create the stories I crave as a reader. That is maybe a little bit true. But the larger truth is that each book in Ashe Sentinel Connections is different, because the characters are different. And as it turns out, they’re the boss. Not me.

Each book takes on a life of its own, and it’s not entirely within my control.

And that’s how I happened to write a love story about a vain, rather unlikeable man and a stressed-out, aggressive man who both needed something the other had to offer.

In the end, I like to think they helped each other grow into better human beings, too. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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About Hard Press

Julian has everything: good looks, flashy cars, a high-end condo. Until his girlfriend dumps him after a disastrous attempt to have a threesome. To top it off, he rear-ends a motorcycle and meets a pissed off biker who calls him on his shit. But there’s something about the man that hits his repressed buttons, and makes him want to finally pull his desires out into the light. But living up to the standards of an edgy but caring man proves a challenge.

Elliott feels like his world has spun off its axis, and if he can just get control of his life, he can breathe again. His parents’ deaths and his autistic brother’s need for a boarding school weigh heavily on him. When Julian hits his bike outside the news office where he works in the press room, he thinks the sultry man is a spoiled brat who knows nothing of real pain. But bringing him under control soothes something in Elliott’s soul — and Julian seems to need a steady hand, too.

Can these two very different men navigate the give-and-take of a relationship unlike any other they’ve experienced? For both of them, it will be a hard press.

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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.

It’s time to take pride in our love of gay fiction

I’m relatively new to this authoring business (although I’m an old hand at the aspiring bit). Recently, I told a couple of friends that I’d written some books in the gay romance genre. Their first reaction: “Oh, you write gay porn? Good for you!”

Okay, so they’re more open-minded than some people, and that’s good. But why would their first assumption be that gay romance equates to porn? If I’d said I write romance stories, would they have made the same leap? Probably not. And that’s what makes so many of us gay romance writers and readers hide out in our own metaphorical closets. I suppose a few people are embarrassed to read mainstream romance, but the bigger issue is the misconceptions about gay romance.

Yes, gay erotica is a subset of the gay romance genre. But it’s not the entire genre. There’s sweet romance and romantic suspense, paranormal romance and so much more in the genre. Some of these books contain erotic sex scenes, some contain tame sex scenes and some contain no sex at all.

lanyonbookI have to thank Josh Lanyon for drawing me into the genre. If I hadn’t come across the Adrien English series — a fantastic set of romantic mysteries — I might not have delved further into the genre and discovered many more quality authors of LGBT books.

Lanyon’s series also demonstrates an important point: gay fiction — even gay romance —  is about a lot more than gay sex. The Adrien English series should appeal to any reader who enjoys a good amateur sleuth story. It probably won’t reach a lot of potential readers because its protagonist is gay, and that’s a shame, because Adrien and Jake’s love story, as it unfolds over the course of the series, is complex and deeply moving.

Right now, I’m new to publishing. I’ve written a few novellas that are sweet gay romance stories centered on a small-town newspaper staff and their sources. I hope to keep evolving, and to someday write something as meaningful as some of the highly regarded authors of LGBT books.

Authors and readers alike should take pride in their love of gay fiction. It’s just as good as any other genre, and if you ask me, it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than yet another boy-meets-girl story. After all, that’s the story of my life. I don’t really need to read about it.

You can find the Adrien English series here. Josh Lanyon has many other books available as well, but this series is — in my opinion — his best work.

If you’d like to explore my writing, you can find the Ashe Sentinel Connections series here. They’re also available on most ebook retailers, including Oyster and Amazon. The first book is free. My third novella will be released Oct. 1.

 

 

“Source of Protection” preview

My second book in the Ashe Sentinel Connections series releases Aug. 29. In honor of the new release, I thought I’d offer a preview of “Source of Protection,” Rick and Will’s story. You can find the book on Smashwords, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble,  and various other e-book retailer sites. 

 

SOURCE OF PROTECTION fnal coverWILL McCALL STARED AT THE BODY ON THE GROUND, so still, while the rest of the world spun like a Tilt-a-Whirl at the county carnival.

Not just a body. His boss. Michael Jameson.

Jameson, like the liquor. Which was fitting, because he was the owner of a liquor store that stocked plenty of Jameson whiskey. Also sad because his body was laid out flat in the alley right behind that store.

Will moaned. Just now, he felt as if he’d drunk one too many shots of whiskey. His stomach twisted, and he clenched his teeth against the urge to heave up his breakfast, thinking that it would add insult to injury to hurl all over Michael.

Even if he could be an asshole sometimes.

A dead asshole now.

Will’s limbs trembled, and he realized belatedly he was leaning over Michael’s body, a quiver from collapsing right on top of him. He didn’t hear the back exit of the store open, didn’t notice the footsteps behind him.

He didn’t register another presence at all until he heard the deep voice behind him.

“Put your hands where I can see them.”

Will looked over his shoulder, and his heart lurched. The barrel of a gun stared him in the face.

 

“Don’t kill me,” he pleaded.

A man loomed over him, his feet spread wide and arms extended in a stance that said he was ready to fire at will. His position only made his shoulders look broader under his leather jacket. He could break Will in half, and that was without bullets.

“I didn’t see anything!”

Will lifted his hands so quickly he lost his balance and sprawled back on his butt in the muddy alley. Liquid seeped through the denim of his jeans, but he hardly felt it. He couldn’t take his eyes off the gun. Not even to look into the eyes of the man who might very well kill him.

“No one else has to get hurt,” the gunman stated calmly. “Just tell me the truth. Do you have any weapons on you?”

Will shook his head mutely. He was confused. The world had stopped making any kind of sense when he found Michael.

Oh God, he’s dead? Why is he dead?

The gunman stepped closer, and Will’s panic amped up a notch. The man crouched down and tried to look him in the eye. Will’s gaze kept drifting back to the gun, convinced if he let it out of his sight it would suddenly fire a deadly bullet into him. He could feel his forehead burning, as if a target had been branded there.

“Did you kill this man?”

What an odd question for the killer to ask. Why would he ask that? Will blinked, trying to bring order to his world. Maybe this man was looking to make Will the scapegoat?

Will started to speak, but couldn’t find his voice. What was the right answer? Should he answer honestly? Or would that earn him a bullet between the eyes? Was this one of those trick questions where the killer let you go if you got it right? He’d heard of stories like that.

The more he thought about it, the more panicky he felt. He gasped for air, but couldn’t seem to catch his breath. A loud buzzing took up residence in his head, the staticky sound muffling the curse the gunman let out.

“Oh Christ!” he heard, just as the edges of his vision crumpled inward and his eyes rolled back in his head.

***

Sgt. Rick Wilson cursed, and grabbed for the perp one-armed, while keeping his service revolver well out of reach with the other.

Perp, yeah right.

He’d seen nothing but fear and confusion in the man’s green eyes. Sure, it could have been fear at getting caught. But Rick didn’t think so.

He stared down in concern. He’d caught a real beauty this time. Strawberry blond curls and creamy white skin, probably paler than usual today.

Rick had a knack for scaring the bejesus out of gorgeous men. It was part and parcel of working with the police department, he supposed. Especially when the only eligible men he met were at crime scenes. Ashe, Kansas, was a small town. There were no convenient gay bars or cruising strips to pick up guys.

The last man he’d felt drawn to had been pale and trembling too, after a close call with a bullet while reporting on a stand-off for The Ashe Sentinel.

Jorge Ortiz had a beautiful caramel complexion and dark, intense eyes — quite a contrast to his perp today. Unfortunately, Jorge’s co-worker Mac had moved fast to snap him up. Mac was a looker himself, Rick’s first love in fact. He couldn’t begrudge his ex his good fortune with Jorge, not after Rick had walked away from Mac in his early days on the force when he was determined to stay in the closet for the sake of his career.

He’d since learned there were far worse things than being the gay officer in the department. Hell, being gay is half the reason he was selected as the police spokesman, of all the ironies. No one said so, but Rick knew the department heads thought promoting a gay man to a high-profile position would give them a better reputation for tolerance.

Rick holstered his weapon, and pulled out his cell to call in an update to the department. They’d need to process the scene as a homicide instead of the crime in progress he’d reported before stepping out into the alley.

That done, he set about doing a quick frisk of the man in his arms. He felt around his ankles, and slid hands quickly up each leg. So far so good, he thought, as he moved his hands to check pockets. Nothing but a pack of gum and a wallet. He flipped it open one-handed, but there was no driver’s license in the display window.

That was a little suspicious. Who didn’t have a license these days?

He shoved the wallet back in the man’s back pocket, and resumed his frisk. The man’s snug T-shirt couldn’t possibly hide a weapon, but some idiots thought it was a good idea to stash weapons in their waistband. It was a miracle more perps didn’t blow off their dicks. Or maybe it was a pity.

Rick smiled grimly at the thought, and slipped his fingertips under the man’s waistband, sliding his hand quickly around the front, then the back. He kept his touch brief and impersonal, though the softness of the skin beneath his fingers didn’t escape his notice.

Just another perp, Rick. No need to get pervy about it.

A siren bleated from down the alley, and to his relief sleeping beauty stirred. Dazed green eyes blinked up at him, and the body collapsed half in his lap tensed.

“Shhh, you’re okay,” he said as gently as if he were speaking to a skittish colt. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m Sgt. Wilson with the police department, and the officers pulling up now are going to have questions for you. Understand?”

The guy’s gaze jerked toward the police car rolling to a stop a few feet from where they half-reclined against the brick wall of the liquor store. He tried to pull away from Rick.

“Easy,” Rick said, tightening his hold on the suspect. “No sudden movements. Why don’t you tell me your name?”

Wide eyes still fogged with shock swung back to his face. A pink tongue darted out to moisten dry lips.

“Will McCall. I work here.”

Rick thought he’d recognized him as one of the store’s clerks.

“Will, that’s a good name. Suits you. Do you know the man on the ground?” Rick asked, letting Will pull away gradually now that he wasn’t likely to bolt and get himself shot.

“Michael Jameson. He owns the store.”

He glanced over at the two uniformed officers headed their way. “Owned the store,” Will corrected himself in a whisper.

Being off-duty, Rick was dressed casually­­­­­­­ in jeans and T-shirt, with a leather jacket thrown over top. No wo­­­nder Will hadn’t realized he was an officer and panicked. He should have announced himself as police immediately.

Rick dealt with the press more than criminals, or even scared witnesses, these days. He was good at his job as the spokesman for the department, but he’d never felt less like police than when he’d drawn on a civilian.

“I didn’t do anything,” Will added. “I just found him, I swear.”

“Don’t worry, Will. We’ll figure it all out. The officers will have to question you.”

“But—”

“You’re covered in blood, Will,” Rick said gently.

Will looked down, and there was no missing the horror in his expression.

“Oh God, I thought that was mud,” he moaned, his face starting to lose color again. “Oh Jesus.”

Rick pulled Will to his feet and propped him against the brick wall. “Deep breaths, Will. You’re alright.”

Officers Jones and Tibbitts strolled up.

“What have we got here, Sergeant?” Jones asked politely. His blue eyes fixed on Will speculatively.

Tibbitts headed straight to the body, crouching next to it and feeling for a pulse.

“Definitely dead. I’ll call it in,” he said over his shoulder, before depressing the button on his radio to report the DB.

“Already updated the station,” Rick told him. “Homicide should be on scene shortly.”

Rick could feel Will shrinking back from the sight of the body, trembling as shock took hold. Rick would have liked to comfort him, but he didn’t. Guilty or not, Will was a suspect.

“This is Will McCall,” Rick said. “He was on scene when I arrived. He says the dead man is Michael Jameson, his boss. As you can see, he’s got blood evidence on his clothing and was in close proximity to the victim. I’m sure homicide will want to question him.”

***

Will listened to the sergeant  spell out exactly how guilty he looked, kneeling over his dead boss in an alley.

God, would he go to jail? It’s not like he could come up with an alibi. The man saw him leaning over a dead body! Wasn’t that the very definition of caught red-handed?

It was just his luck, too.

Will had barely escaped his abusive ex-boyfriend. He moved halfway across the country to start over, and enrolled at the local community college to finish an education he’d given up on years ago.

And now this.

“I’m not a killer,” he interrupted desperately. “I swear!”

“Sir, calm down,” Officer Jones said firmly. “No one’s under arrest. But I do need to ask, sir, do you have any weapons on you?”

Will shook his head. Jones glanced at the sergeant. “Did you frisk him?”

“Not completely. I checked for weapons as best I could when he fainted.”

Will grimaced at that. God, no wonder Michael always called him a pansy.

Used to call him … he wouldn’t be hurling any good-natured insults anymore.

Grief welled up, and Will had to force back the tears that burned behind his eyes. Michael might have been an asshole, but he’d also been Will’s only friend in this town. And he definitely didn’t deserve this.

“Didn’t find anything,” Rick continued as Will bit down on his lip hard to suppress the sob rising in his throat. “You should check, though.”

“Will, please turn around and place your hands on the wall,” Officer Jones ordered.

Will turned pleading eyes on the sergeant. His jaw was clenched, and he wouldn’t meet Will’s eyes. Shit. He thought Will was guilty, too.

He turned, slapping his palms against the brick exterior of the liquor store.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he repeated. “I didn’t … I would never—”

His voice broke, and he couldn’t continue. His breathing sounded too loud again. Don’t faint, don’t faint, not again.

The officer’s hands roughly smoothed down his sides, and patted at his pockets. The man paused to pull out Will’s wallet, handing it to the other officer to inspect, then continued his task. Hands ran up the inside of his legs and down around his ankles. He barely felt the touch, too numbed by the shock of this new reality.

He heard the sergeant’s voice as if from a distance.

“Will, no one is accusing you of anything. You’ll have your chance to tell the homicide detective everything soon enough.”

“No weapons,” the younger officer confirmed. “You can turn around.”

Will turned, to see another police cruiser pulling up, along with an unmarked police car. A man in a badly wrinkled suit stepped out and scratched at stubble on his jaw. He looked as if he’d just woken up, or perhaps been up all night. What time was it anyway? He’d arrived at the store around 10:30 … so 11? 11:30?

Hell of a day, Will, when you can’t even make it until lunchtime without fucking up.

Will flinched as his ex-boyfriend’s voice ghosted through his mind.

The sergeant who’d found him strolled over to the rumpled man, probably the detective. He stared after him, feeling like his safety blanket had been taken away.

It didn’t make any sense; he’d been terrified the man was going to shoot him. Now, he wanted him to come back and protect him from the officers, from the inevitable questioning and arrest, from his own memories.

“Will, we’re going to need you to take a seat in the back of the police car,” Officer Tibbitts announced. He grabbed Will’s arm and started pushing him not-so-subtly toward the car.

“Oh, but—”

“Detective Nielsen will have questions for you. Most likely, we’ll need to take you downtown. Your clothes will need to be processed.”

“My clothes,” Will repeated blankly.

Officer Jones nodded. “Evidence,” he explained, as his partner put a hand on Will’s head and shoved him into the backseat.

They didn’t cuff him. Small favors and all that. The doors had no handles, though, so once he was in, he was stuck there.

Evidence. Will thought of all the crime shows he’d watched on TV. The cops were always searching for forensic evidence to place the killer at the scene. Blood on his clothes. A hair. A fingerprint.

They had all that on Will already, didn’t they? How would he possibly prove he didn’t kill Michael Jameson, especially when he’d yelled at Michael just two days ago, threatened to kill him if he betrayed Will’s trust again?

Motive, opportunity, presence at the crime scene. He was as good as convicted already.

Dystopian malaise

I have the dystopian malaise.

I’m generally the ideal fan for the dystopian novel. I loved The Hunger Games, and the Legend and Divergent series. I enjoyed the first two books in the Matched series by Ally Condie — I’m sure I’ll get around to book three — as well as The Debt Collector serial on Kindle.

But the market has become so flooded that it’s difficult to find the quality gems mixed in with the wreckage of an over-saturated genre. And right along with the dystopian influx, is the overabundance of books told in the first-person perspective. If done right, both of these methods can still be a big win for authors. Unfortunately, the clutter in bookstores may turn off some readers. I, for one, could use a break.

Here’s a look at a few dystopian novels I picked up in the past few months:

Ya book reviewsContributor, by Nicole Ciacchella
This was one of the better dystopian novels I read — based mainly on the fact that I actually finished it. Not exactly high praise. This first book in a new series introduces the idea of a society that is highly motivated to succeed on a career path. If they do, they are greatly rewarded. If they do not, they are ostracized. And if they cannot contribute due to injury or illness, they are disposable. This type of society encourages brilliance — and also ruthlessness — as young people compete for coveted training spots that will position them for leadership in their fields. There was nothing exactly “wrong” with this book, but there was also no great drama or love interests to keep me really hooked. It felt a little ho-hum. The similarity it bears to a highly competitive workplace in America is an intriguing commentary on our society, though. 

Ya book reviewsAberrant, by Ruth Silver
It’s possible I didn’t give this one a fair shot, but its similarities almost immediately to the premise of the well-known “Matched” series — in which society matches up spouses — bugged me. Also, the writing wasn’t at all on the same level. Almost immediately, our protagonist is being hauled away, for some unknown offense, and I really didn’t care. That’s when I decided to give it up.

ya book reviewsThe Elite (Selection series), by Kiera Cass
The first book of the Selection series drew me in a bit more than the others mentioned here. In this society, families are divided into scores — 3s, 4s, 5s etc. Girls can marry up, but men who marry someone higher than their rank bring their wives down a notch. Each level determines your profession in life — from servants to artists to the very wealthy. When a contest is held, similar to The Bachelor, to select the prince’s wife, America Singer finds herself in the running — despite being in love with a 6 who is below her station. Though the plot, at least in this first book, seems a little thin, it kept me interested — which is more than a lot of books in the genre do these days.

YA book reviewsDelirium, by Lauren Oliver
I’m still working my way through this one. Initially, I was intrigued by the concept: Love as a disease. In this world, the people have a procedure at age 18 that “cures” them of the ailment and ensures a peaceful life. As in other books I’ve read, they are then “matched” with a suitable spouse. There are “invalids” living in the wilds, however, who have never been cured and threaten the stability of their society. As interesting as the premise is, it took me a long time to connect with the main character, and this is one example where the first-person POV grates on me.

Lunar Chronicles a creative series worth exploring

YA book blogA series including cyborgs, androids, wolves, royalty, people of the moon … what more could you ask for?

In February, Marissa Meyer released the second of her series, The Lunar Chronicles. If you’re like me, you’re always in the market for a good series, and you can’t go wrong with this one.

I was hesitant to read it, at first, despite the good reviews the first book, “Cinder,” had received. The series has some decided fairy tale themes I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. For one thing, I’ve come across many other stories using this approach. “Wicked” and “The Ugly Stepsister” are highly successful examples of the fairy tale spin-off, and too many tween movies are the examples of how wrong it can go.

You can guess from the names what fairy tales “Cinder” and “Scarlet” draw from. Yet, I have to say, Meyer surprised me. Who in their right mind thinks, “I want to do a Cinderella spin-off. Hey, I know! I’ll write about a cyborg who meets a prince while there is a massive plague outbreak and enemies from the moon are trying to manipulate their way into a self-serving marriage alliance!” Meyer pulls it off with flying colors.

“Cinder” gripped me from the first line. There was something very real about Cinder, a cyborg who is treated like a second-class citizen by other townspeople, including her own adopted family. She works as a mechanic, fixing androids, to support the family. Prince Kai, having heard that Cinder was the best mechanic in the area, brings an android containing sensitive information to her for repair, and thus begins the saga of Cinder and Kai. They meet again after she is at the palace, having been drawn into a program working to find a cure for the plague.

As you might expect, there is a ball, though it will not go as you might expect. Cinder and Kai’s happily ever after won’t be as neatly foretold as in the classic, and you have to read on in the second novel to find out how their saga plays out as Scarlet and Wolf and introduced into the story line.
YA book blog Scarlet, a young woman desperate to find her grandmother after she goes missing, accepts the help of a stranger in town who goes by the name of Wolf. She knows she shouldn’t trust him, but he seems her only hope in tracking down the gang that stole her grandmother. There’s a larger plot at work, which includes secret lunar agents who have undergone genetic mutation. Meanwhile, the Lunar leader continues to make trouble for Cinder and Kai, unleashing violence on the kingdom in an effort to get Kai to marry her.

Even with the fairy tale parallels, the series never comes close to being anything but original. If you’re looking for a new series to read, I highly recommend it, even though you’ll be left waiting anxiously for the third book’s release.

‘Skin’ delves deep in emotional transformation story

YA book reviews“Skin,” by Donna Jo Napoli, is one of those special reads: One so full of truth and pain a book review simply cannot do it justice.

The book surprised me in its intensity as it pulled me into the heart and mind of a teenage girl on the brink of the biggest, most terrifying change of her life.  Sixteen-year-old Sep wakes up one morning with white lips, as in, completely absent of color. Naturally, she freaks out just a bit. But a bit of lipstick, and she can hide the oddity …until it spreads. Until she’s diagnosed with vitiligo, a rare skin condition for which there is no cure.

Sep is horrified by the news, which has turned her expectations for the world upside down. But ironically, Sep’s new use of lipstick to hide her secret also draws out long-ago close friend Josh, who is suddenly offering her something good to hold onto as she confronts her changing reality. She engages in a whirlwind romance, eager to experience as much as she can before the vitiligo spreads and she has to let him go. Sep prolongs the inevitable as long as she can with concealers, scarves, lipstick and hand-drawn tattoos on her hand, but she knows she’s running out of time before she becomes the subject of ridicule.

Napoli holds no punches as she takes the reader on this journey into a very difficult chapter in Sep’s life. She makes you feel every moment of fear, of grief, of bittersweet love and happiness as biology catapults Sep toward a reality she cannot change. There’s something so real about “Skin,” you’ll be convinced that the searing heartache is your own.

Ultimately, Sep must find the inner strength not only to face her friends with this new condition, but to face herself. Her own hate and disgust is just as virulent, if not more so, than anything her loved ones or peers could ever throw at her. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that she may have underestimated the depths of the people around her, and in her fear of getting hurt, she may end up hurting the ones she loves.

The book is available for $3.99 on Kindle.

‘Notable’ takes YA series on adventurous detour from high school

Notable by Marni Bates“Notable,” a companion novel to “Awkward” and “Invisible” gets off to a slow start, but takes readers of Marni Bates’ Smith High novels on a new, exotic journey with plenty of adventure before they reach the final page. Though “Notable’ is a continuation of a series, it can also stand on its own.

Chelsea Halloway, queen of the Notables and top of the high school social ladder, is misunderstood by many people, including her own parents. When they attempt to give her a wake-up call, while conveniently packing her off to a trip abroad to Cambodia while they deal with their divorce, everyone gets more than they bargained on.

Chelsea is thrust into a totally foreign atmosphere that takes her out of her comfort zone. Rather than adoring high school peers, she’s traveling with college students who don’t take her seriously — and one who seems to hold her in particularly low esteem after hearing about her past indiscretions from her father.

Invisible by Marni BatesWhen their professor ends up on the wrong side of a drug lord, Chelsea discovers what she’s made of — plenty of spunk and a heavy dose of reckless good intention. She’s determined to save her professor from prison — and almost certain death at the hands of angry drug dealers. But it will require all the negotiating power she’s gathered on her climb up the social strata and then some.

“Notable” has a different vibe than “Invisible.” Chelsea is in a pretty dark place when the book starts, and her anger and discontent is a constant companion. Her complaining makes it a little more difficult to enjoy the story. But like “Invisible,” this book is also a story of self-discovery, and as Chelsea learns who she really is — outside of her classmates’ perception and her parents’ projection — she becomes an immensely more likable character. Throw in a little romantic tension with a judgmental college boy, and you’ve got the makings of a good YA read if you have the patience to get there.

“You Are Mine” a beautifully told journey from oppression to expression

You are MineWhen delving into a self-published work, you never know for sure what you’ll get. Books like “You Are Mine,” by Janeal Falor, are precisely the reason I take the gamble.

The beautifully told story of Serena, an oppressed girl in a society where women are the property of warlocks, captured me from Page 1. Serena is a fascinating character: a girl with a spark of independence barely held in check by her restrictive society. The strong voice in her head, and the silence she must hold to avoid painful punishments, are at odds.  Between the two, they form a strong young woman who, when given the chance, will fight for a different life.

Serena is promised to a young, talented warlock who she despises. When he dies during a tournament, with all his belongings going to a winner from a foreign land, the course of her future will change drastically. Serena will struggle to understand her new betrothed —  and whether she can trust his tolerance to last. In her experience, all warlocks are abusive and cruel, but he seems to be the exception. She’s lived her life being told that if she doesn’t follow society’s rules she will be tarnished — spelled to be bald, inked and ostracized. Now, as her warlock ignores her small infractions, Serena begins to explore a new way of life.

Not everyone will like the boundaries she and her betrothed begin to push. As with any society, fighting its restrictions comes with consequences and rewards.

Besides being extremely well-written — I never would have guessed it was self-published based on the high quality — I love the way “You Are Mine” sheds light on what it’s like to experience oppression. Sadly, there are still places in the world today where women’s voices are suppressed and their lives are threatened with violence.

Though “You Are Mine” is a fantasy with romantic undertones, it’s more of a journey from oppression to expression. Serena’s evolution from a fearful girl to the strong-willed, independent woman she is meant to be is beautiful to watch.

The book is the first in a series. It is available on Kindle for $2.99 or approximately $12.99 for paperback through Amazon.

‘If You Could Be Mine’: A story of love and sacrifice

In the US, the social, political, familial and religious pressures and prejudices can be overwhelming for a gay couple. So imagine, if you will, how much higher the stakes are for two girls in love in Iran — and you’ll have the barest glimmer of what “If You Could be Mine” has in store.

Author Sara Farizan shares the story of Sahar and Nasrin, 17. They’ve shared kisses and romantic promises, but Iran is not like the US. It’s dangerous for two girls in love. Should their relationship be revealed, Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned or even executed. Add in the arranged marriage on the horizon for Nasrin, and Sahar’s heartbreak and desperation will become your own.

If you could be mine

After Nasrin is engaged, she wants to continue her secretive relationship with Sahar, but Sahar cannot stomach the idea of sharing Nasrin or carrying on an affair with a married woman. She wants to love Nasrin openly. Her love is so strong, she begins to consider a radical solution: In Iran, homosexuality is a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as a mistake of nature, and sex reassignment is legal. If she were a man, Sahar would be free to marry Nasrin.

Sahar’s willingness to sacrifice and risk everything for Nasrin is remarkable — and above and beyond what most of us would consider.

“If You Could Be Mine” takes you on a dark journey with Sahar. She can remain true to herself and lose Nasrin, the only girl she’s ever loved, or she can sacrifice her own gender identity to hold on to Nasrin.

As she struggles with the choice — and Nasrin’s more self-centered nature is revealed — there were times i wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading. I felt as devastated as Sahar, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. But like all great books, “If You Could Be Mine” is a journey — and it was worth experiencing Sahar’s downward spiral to also gain an insight into the lessons she learned about herself and the inner strength she finds to move forward, with hope once more on the horizon.

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