Announcing the Re-release of The Man Trap
Greetings friends! *sips coffee* *grins* I'm excited today to announce that I have finalized the re-release arrangements for another of my former Breathless Press books. As you may recall, Breathless Press closed its doors in May of 2015 after five years in the publishing business. This left about eighteen of my stories without homes in the e-book market. I've been working ever since to get them back out and available to readers.
The Man Trap is one of my first Story Orgy stories as well. It's a sweet, romantic tale of second chances and missed opportunities. The gorgeous cover art was designed by Breathless Press cover artist Victoria Miller for the original edition, and I was thrilled to be able to purchase it for the second edition. .
THE MAN TRAP
A Contemporary M/M Romance
When former classmate Alexi Manetas wanders into his book store, Simon Harris seizes the opportunity to rekindle a flame he'd carelessly extinguished years earlier.
Simon Harris has proclaimed his bisexuality loudly since college, despite never having dated a man. While his family and friends laugh, he knows the truth: there is one man he's always been attracted to. Once, fear kept him from acknowledging that attraction. No more. The next time he finds himself wanting to kiss a guy, he's going for it.
Alexi Manetas has never gotten over his schoolboy crush on Simon. When Simon graduated, Alexi moved on. He may not have pined for Simon, but he never forgot, and always, lurking at the back of his mind, buried deep in his heart there's been Simon and the hope that they would meet again.
A little help from an old lover and a busybody sister-in-law brings Alexi and Simon together, but Simon's fears might still tear them apart…
Try as I might, I couldn't keep my gaze from straying to the slender, dark-haired man resting on his heels on the faded green carpet in the third aisle. He kept sliding his pale fingers along the bindings of the books on the shelves, and I swear every time he did I felt the touch as a caress on my own skin. Jeannie, damn her, noticed my inattention immediately.
"Who is that, Simon?" my blonde sister-in-law demanded nosily, peering intently at the man I had discreetly eyed since he crossed the threshold of my bookshop that morning. He'd actually become a Saturday morning regular at my shop during the past month. He wandered in and browsed the cookbooks, the classics, and the science fiction section. He always bought something, but never when I stood at the register. I swear he waited till I turned my back before he’d buy his books. Today was going to be different. I planned to stay at the register until he checked out or hell froze over, whichever came first.
I jerked my gaze around to her inquiring blue eyes. "Who is who?"
She snorted, par for the course. Despite her delicate blonde appearance, Jeannie made no pretense at being ladylike, or even mannerly. Her blunt attitude was both refreshing and disgusting all at once. If family pressure hadn't assured me she'd make an admirable assistant, I never would have trusted her around the customers. I needed someone to man the shop while I visited estate sales, sure, but usually shopkeepers prefer to have assistants who treat customers nicely.
"The remarkably pretty, vaguely familiar guy in the cooking section who comes here every Saturday morning. The man you're watching out the corner of your eye like a poor imitation of Mike Hammer. That's who."
Oh yes. Thank you, Jean, for pointing out my lack of subtlety and discretion. I shuffled a stack of shipping invoices from the printer to the corner of the counter and dumped the cardboard box I'd carried from the storeroom in their place. "That, Jeannie, darling, is the reason—other than an insane crush on Brad Pitt and unrequited lust for Johnny Depp—I can say with absolute certainty I am bisexual, not straight."
Jeannie scoffed at me, as the rest of my family and friends always did when I made the claim. I'm not sure what they thought, that I was trying to be cool or something with my claim to bisexuality. Only people who aren't gay think being gay is cool. When you've thought about your sexuality and agonized over why you like men, it's enough just to accept it. They never believed me. The skepticism could, I suppose, have something to do with the fact I'd only ever dated women. Could I help it if Brad Pitt never returned my calls?
Jeannie nodded dubiously, continuing to print shipping labels and eyeing the man in aisle three, absorbed in perusing cookbooks. I smacked her in the shoulder swiftly. "Stop staring; he'll see you looking at him."
"I don't get it. Who is he? And what's all this crap doing on the counter?" She waved a manicured hand at the battered brown cardboard box of high school memorabilia.
My used bookshop, specializing in rare and antique editions, does a thriving e-business, and we reserve the front counter with its glass display cases for the books, orders, and wrapping materials comprising that business. Random stuff gets in the way, so we have an unstated rule nothing goes on the counter unless a customer makes a purchase. I had visited several estate sales that week, and a few customers brought in boxes of books for exchange value. Books lay in tottering piles on my desk, the floor, and the shelving in the area around the counter. The new material needed logging into inventory, pricing, and shelving. What this meant in the long run was there was no place else to put my "crap," as Jeannie so lovingly labeled the mementos of what I cherished as the best moments of my life. Simon Harris in a box, that's what I'd just put on the counter.
Some people claim high school is hell, and the premise sure seemed accurate while I attended the local one. Classes started too early, teachers made too many demands, classmates were jerk-offs or punks, and sports were a huge waste of time. I hated teachers telling me what to read and what to think. I lived to party and school interrupted my fun. Of course, the man in the cookbook aisle had been a big part of my high school days, and a big part of why I cherished the memories in this box.
Alexi Manetas had been a grade below me in school, but because he was an overachiever and I an underperformer, we ended up in the same classes a lot during high school. I couldn't miss the fact that the boy with the big gray eyes and ink-black curls was infatuated with me. I swear he never even attempted to hide how he felt.
You can imagine how that went for the kid. And me—I had nothing against Alexi, but I wasn't up to being into guys. Plenty of girls wanted to date me and I found them attractive enough. If Alexi's gray eyes and black curls snuck into my dreams at night, well, a man can't control his dreams. Who I ate lunch with, who I took to the dances—those choices I made consciously. I played it cool, and Alexi didn't create drama, so everything was all right. I didn't encourage him, but to my shame I didn't discourage him, and I never had the guts to tell the others in the crowd to lay off the kid and cut him some slack, either. Hormones are hell, but peer pressure is even worse.
So all through high school, I had this ego boost. No matter what chick dumped me or rejected me, or how low my grades dropped, there was always this knowledge in the deepest recesses of my mind. Hey, I couldn't be all bad if Alexi could love me, right?
So I had my emotional security blanket all wrapped around me throughout years of torture, and when graduation day arrived, I hit the high road and never thought I'd ever look back.
Like a lot of dumb kids, I enrolled in a school as far away from my hometown as my budget would let me. High school doesn't prepare you for college. Don't let anyone fool you that it does. No matter how smart you are, there's going to be someone smarter. No matter how hot you are, there's going to be someone hotter. And no matter how popular you were in high school, you're going to be fucking lonely in the freshman dorm.
I was. And you remember those dreams about silky dark curls and big gray eyes? That's what I missed. Not the fluffy blonde cheerleader I dated exclusively senior year or the succession of girls who'd preceded her. I missed Alexi.
When Christmas break arrived, I determined to man up and talk to Alexi, but got the shock of my life to discover he'd apparently gotten over his infatuation and moved on—to no less than the star quarterback of the varsity football team, the biggest culprit when it came to teasing Alexi about his crush on me. I guess jealousy motivated him.
In a mind-boggling fit of desolation, jealousy, and self-pity, I wrote Alexi a letter I intended to send to him before I left town. Fortunately, or unfortunately, however you choose to look at the situation, reason prevailed and I never sent it. Or maybe cowardice prevailed. I didn't send the letter, but I kept it. Now my bitter outpouring of teenage angst lay in this box right in front of me on the counter of my bookstore, along with the Christmas gift I'd bought and intended to give to Alexi that long-ago holiday.
Alexi hadn't changed much since I'd last seen him strolling across campus hand-in-hand with the jock. He still barely reached my chin; I'd have to bend down to kiss him. The gift, wrapped in unimaginative blue snowman paper, was a sweatshirt from my alma mater. The navy blue shirt should fit just fine. I'd bought the smallest size available at the campus bookstore, and had planned to ask him to wear it for me. Now, the opportunity had come to pass the letter and the gift along to their rightful owner.
At the very least, giving him these belated tokens of my esteem would force Alexi to acknowledge me—that he recognized me—that if I was right, he wandered into my shop every Saturday because of me, not a selection of ancient cookbooks. I tugged a yearbook from the box and flipped to the photo I recalled, then settled against the counter to outwait my prey.
It scared me a bit how fortuitous his reappearance in my life had been. I mean, I only even have a shop for storage. Random foot traffic brings in some money, of course, but I make the big bucks on eBay, Amazon, and my website.
And thanks to that random foot traffic, I had a second chance with the only man I'd ever truly wanted. Johnny and Brad were only fantasies. Alexi was very real and approaching the counter right in front of me. Time to spring the trap.
He pretended not to see me as he placed a copy of Colorado Cache on the counter and acted like the magnetic bookmarks my sister-in-law insisted I sell engrossed him.
"Hi, Alexi." I demanded he acknowledge the past connection between us, admit he recognized me. Since he didn't meet my eyes, I let my gaze roam across the very familiar planes of his face. Fine pale skin, the faintest hint of beard shadow, and those same enticing plump bee-stung lips that had haunted my high school dreams.
"I'm sorry?" Vacant gray eyes met mine.
Right. Now, I may be thirty–one and not eighteen anymore, but I don't look much different than I did in high school. I still keep my brown hair in the same longish skate-boy cut, still carry my summer tan year-round, and former classmates swear I haven't aged so much as a day since graduation. My brother swears I haven't matured emotionally either, but I know better. At sixteen I was a taker, and I'd taken Alexi's affection for granted. The intervening years had taught me a thing or two about appreciating the finer things in life. Alexi was the finest life had to offer.
I leaned on the counter, stared straight into his eyes, and tapped the yearbook photo between us. His eyes followed the direction of my finger and widened, as they landed on the picture of the Chess Club we'd both—briefly—been members of. "That's you," I said, smiling in amusement. I dragged my finger over the picture. "That's me you're staring at." That's me you're worshiping with your eyes, adoring with your posture. Don't tell me you don't remember!
"Umm, yeah—okay—you got it, that's me, Alexi Manetas. That would make you—" He pretended to read the caption under the photo upside-down. "—Simon Harris."
Jeannie's interested gaze never left us, and Alexi sneaked peeks at her as he fumbled with his wallet and nudged the cookbook toward me.
I smiled at him, "Yes." I rang up his purchase and shoved the book in a bag as he passed me a credit card.
He nodded, swallowing. "I remember you."
"I thought you might. I have some things that belong to you." I dug through the box again to retrieve the package and the letter.
I read the confusion in his eyes as he stared at me. He blinked, breaking the connection, and picked up his bag, shaking his head. "Those aren't mine. I don't understand what you're talking about."
He stepped away and pivoted on his heel to leave, but I lunged across the counter, sending stacks of invoices and their matching books flying. "Oh, but they are yours." I tilted the articles so he could see his name clearly written on each, the envelope and the package. The trap couldn't close if he didn't take the bait, now, could it?
Clear gray eyes met mine again, his cheeks flushed the delicate shade that had haunted my high school fantasies, and I released a breath I didn't realize I held. His hand trembled as he touched the letter, and something in the involuntary response caused the light to glint off a gold band on his ring finger.
The Man Trap release 8/24