4/01/2015

New Release! Heart of Clay Now Available #mmromance #contemporary #ghostinthehouse



Heart of Clay

A Contemporary M/M Romance
with a ghostly touch

 Purchase links: Smashwords
 Direct from Author via Payhip
Amazon & Barnes & Noble Links to Follow 





Blurb: 

The ghost at the heart of the problem…       

Clayton Merk, accomplished, yet arrogant, businessman, has a reputation for one-night stands and being steadfastly anti-relationship. When he decides to return home—to the root of all his problems—he brings a co-worker with him as a buffer against the past. Even though he’s ready to lay old ghosts to rest, he certainly didn’t expect a literal ghost to lend a hand.

Brad Jorgensen, Clay’s former best friend, has also clung to the past in an unhealthy way. He resents Clay for a lot of things, not the least of which is his cousin’s death decades earlier. At one time they’d been closer than brothers, but blame and anger are powerful weapons of destruction, and they’ve left Brad in a wasteland of self-doubt, hatred, and loneliness.

The ghost at the heart of the problem has had enough. Bobby isn’t pleased with his cousin or his ex. Their refusal to let go of the past has kept him on a plane where he doesn’t belong and isn’t at home. He’s expended all his energy trying to get through to Brad, without success, but Clay’s return finally gives him a foot in the door…or out the door.

If he could just get the two stubborn men together.

EXCERPT:
Heart of Clay
Chapter One
The garden was overgrown now.

The screen door rattled shut, cutting off the sounds of Nan and Pip chatting over iced tea on the enclosed back porch with a hapless Augie Cruthers. Faint strains of clarinets and snatches of sulky vocals followed Clay down the much worn wood steps.
When he was very small, and his parents had brought him here for summer breaks, he'd tripped on the lowest step and split his lip. His tongue flicked over the tiny scar at the memory. Since then they'd talked dozens of times about replacing the narrow steps, but apparently now, just like in his childhood, it was a task for another day.
Clay left the path and wandered over cropped grass, in a lawn that seemed a lot smaller than it had been, until he reached an area where it was clearly not maintained any longer. He couldn’t hear Nan, Pip, or Augie from here, but if he turned, he could see their forms, dark shadows behind the blurring screens of the porch.
Last Friday his young coworker had been undisguisedly dumbfounded by the invitation to visit Clay's patriarchal home, but after exchanging alarmed glances with his gape-jawed secretary and blushing profusely, he'd accepted gamely. No doubt he thought he was next on his notorious superior's never-ending list of conquests, but the fact was that Clay wasn't interested. Augie was sweet, and cute enough, but sweet bored Clay. He preferred striking to cute, and fleeting to long-lasting when it came to bed partners.
All of which made fucking a man from his office a bad plan, especially someone like Augie who had happily-ever-after written all over his sparkling green eyes, softly styled five o'clock shadow, and barely tamed auburn curls. No, it wasn't sex that Clay had on his mind, it was distraction.
Clayton J. Merk could have told the man that he'd be serving more as a shield, a barrier to memories and emotions that Clay didn't want to experience again, but he figured that would become evident soon enough, when they retired to their own beds at night.
Some small part of him might have been trying to shock Nan and Pip, to maybe rub his gayness in their conservative family values a little, but that part had been made to feel small and insignificant when Nan's faded blue eyes had brightened with delight to see that Clay had brought a guest. In fact, his grandparents had been so warm and welcoming, not even blinking twice at Augie's gentle lisp and painted nails that at first Clay had thought they'd both gone blind.
Then they'd been escorted to two very separate rooms and firmly informed that the floorboards creaked, which Clay well remembered, and instructed to show up for dinner in thirty minutes.
Over dinner, Augie proved his value as a distraction by displaying a very unlikely but undeniably thorough knowledge of big band music, and Clay was able to just sit and eat fried chicken and mashed potatoes as though his doctor hadn't just told him that he could stand to lose twenty pounds.
Surveying the chaos of his grandparents' farm, Clay tried to stifle his dismay. It had been years, closer to decades, really since he'd been here, but it should have at least felt familiar, shouldn’t it? Instead, it was as though the wilderness that his ancestors had carved a farm out of hundreds of years ago was slowly taking back what it had ceded.
It was at once both more and less than memory had painted it.
It was greener, lusher, more primal. Adam and Eve or a court of elves might have cavorted here as it was now.
Less manicured, tidy, or functional. It was difficult to imagine the precisely laid out kitchen garden that his grandmother used to plant here every year, row upon row of tomato vines and pepper plants, hills of sweet, flowery cantaloupe, juicy watermelon, and prickly cucumbers interspersed with plots of herbs and six foot corn stalks with their razor sharp leaves.
The fields that used to line the drive on the way in were no longer planted with crops, just acres of rolling green grasses, up hills and down into tree-dense hollows, hollers as the locals called them. It was beautiful, but when the grass came up to your knees, as it did outside the magic circle of manicured lawn surrounding the sixteen room colonial farmstead, that beauty was overshadowed with the unknown.
It was amazing how something like tall grass could turn a place he'd thought he knew like the back of his hand into some jungle of uncertainty that made him question all the things he thought he'd decided upon before he even left the city.
Somewhere at the bottom of the garden was a bench. Raising a hand to shade his eyes, Clay squinted into the shadows of the setting sun. Of course, with the garden overgrown now, it was impossible to find.
Crickets chirped and fireflies signaled frantically in the growing darkness. He dragged in a deep breath, redolent with the heavy scent of dogwood and rain. The fresh, gasoline-enhanced odor of cut grass announced that someone had cut the lawn just that day. His feet ignored the frantic voice in his head that ordered him to stay put, or to go back to the house, at the very least.
Chiggers, and ticks, and the lightning quick stings of any of a dozen other belligerent plants and animals assaulted his bared ankles, but his treacherous, sandal-clad feet forged forward, and he couldn't break his gaze away from that northwest corner.
He knew where it should be, there in the darkest spot, deep in the shadows, where the north boundary fence met the west boundary fence, under the branches of a gnarled old peach tree, which had stood sentinel over both farmsteads for so long that it had grown up and around and surrounded the barbed wire fence.
The tree marked the border and was marked by it. Somewhere down there, in that dark recess, was the bench. Crafted and carved by hand generations ago by a tender-hearted lover whose bride had a fondness for sunsets. Carved of local limestone, smooth and white, once it had gleamed eerily, catching the moonlight and spinning his boyish imagination into fantasies unbound.
Back when Pip and Nan had been, as Nan put it, full of vim and vigor, and maintained the property to the nines, that was.
Now? When they scarce seemed to care about the house itself and relied on some local boy to mow the simple acre of grass on which the house sat, the rest of the hundred acres was left to go wild, much as he had every summer as a boy.
And his feet were moving faster, tumbling him pell-mell down that hill with a speed that left him breathless and clutching at his side, soothing the physical ache because the one in his heart was so damned old and familiar that he could almost ignore it.
Almost.
Except that…there it was.
In tall grass, dingy with dirt and pollen, bird excrement and murky leaves, sloping down so one end wasn't even visible, was the bench.
Clay sank down on the limestone and buried his head in his hands, shaking with the effort not to feel. Dragging in a deep breath, he consciously stiffened his spine and forced his hands down. He clenched the filthy seat in one hand and pushed back his hair with the other.
The field on the other side of the fence was everything his grandparents' place wasn't. Furrows of brown earth promised a future harvest, promised life.
As hard as he strained his eyes, that was all he could see.
"You've got a damned nerve, coming down here. I couldn't believe it when they said you were coming." The angry words rumbled over him, stabbing him with their hate and scorn. "You could at least have had the decency to stay up at the house instead of coming down here and flaunting your presence."
Clay stretched, feigning a casual attitude though icy sweat dampened the back of his polo shirt. "Brad? It's been a long time."
"Not fucking long enough, Merk."

Purchase links:
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3/31/2015

When Ghost and Demon Meet #pulpfriction #mmromance #gethooked


Pulp Friction heads to New Orleans... 
And finds it an Altered State

Drawing Dead 

Jack of Spades #1 

Available at
Amazon     All Romance 





EXCERPT
The doorknob rattled. Bart affected an expression of disdain and pretended an interest in the blousy female that he didn’t feel.
The door opened, and he kept his attention on the television. Let Sabine know that he wasn’t the center of Bart’s existence.
“Well now, that gumbo does smell good.”
Bart shot up a few more inches into the air and turned his head at dizzying speed. It wasn’t Sabine, coming home repentant and ready to make amends for his earlier behavior. The man who entered bore only a vague resemblance to his lover, being dark-haired and slender. Laurant.
Bart sat upright and floated downward, until he sat on the sofa. Laurant intrigued him. The man was devilishly handsome, a real charmer, who could probably have any man or woman he wanted, and yet he seemed always to be so…alone. So lonely. He had an aura of otherness, a poetic sort of soul. Reminded Bart of a drunken slob of a man he’d met in Boston once…Edgar Poe.
Laurant wasn’t human of course, but in retrospect, perhaps Edgar hadn’t been as human as he’d pretended either. Regardless, the incubus fascinated Bart. They were a lot alike, and if only the man would pick something up… Laurant visited Sabine frequently and was familiar with the layout of the apartment. Innate curiosity sent him roaming…but soul-deep sensuality made him touch. He probably wasn’t even aware that he did it…as he passed the sofa on the way to the kitchen he stroked one lean long-fingered hand along the supple leather. In the kitchen he brushed a hand over the lush cotton dish towels, caressed a silver spoon with a delicate touch. Everything, every sensation seemed to please him.
Bart watched avidly, following him into the kitchen where he checked the gumbo, sniffing appreciatively. “What’s going on?” Bart asked, well aware that his words would go unheeded, willing Laurant to pick up a gold coin, or the spectacles on the coffee table, one of the volumes of literature from the bookshelf…even that. “Why are you here? Where’s Sabine?”
Laurant’s head tilted to the side, his gaze scanned the apartment. “I know you’re here. I can feel you watching me. Show yourself.”
Hah. “If it were that easy, don’t you think you’d have seen me in the last few years you’ve been playing games here? And by the way, you can’t play cards for shit. You fold too easy. And you talk too much during a game. You’d have been shot…” He trailed off and those deep set eyes seemed to track him. He almost believed Laurant could hear him. “I should know, after all. It’s a bloody good thing you don’t make your living playing cards. Oh come on. Pick something of mine up, damn it!” The last burst out as Laurant fondled a silver filigree box that had belonged to Sabine’s grandfather.
Bart didn’t like the box. It seemed to disapprove of him, which Sabine said was ridiculous, but as Bart reminded him, the whole concept of a them was sublimely ridiculous in a farcical way.
“Yes! That’s it. Pick. It. Up.” He growled as Laurant replaced the box and moved on to a rosewood trinket box. As soon as the man’s hand closed on the bit of wood, Bart focused everything he could pull together into being. “It’s about time!” he groused, hoping the man wasn’t one of those non-believers who’d be blocked by his own certainty that ghosts didn’t exist, weren’t real, or were the product of indigestion.
“Bart, I presume?”
Bart suppressed a shiver at the sensual voice. It seemed the timbre of the man’s voice echoed, stirred the very atoms of Bart’s being. The effect of the man…being the recipient of that intense stare, was so much more powerful when Bart was physically present. “Don’t do that,” he protested, struggling to keep himself together.
“Did I do something?” Laurant seemed surprised. He held out a pale hand. “I’m Laurant. It’s a pleasure to finally meet the…man…Sabine has spoken of so often.”
“Does he?” He realized the other man still held his hand out, though his smile was fading rapidly. “I can’t shake your hand.”
“Forgive me. I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“It’s…Sabine would have to explain the science behind it. I didn’t pay enough attention, and I dare say the field of physics has changed enough since 1829 that, even if I had, it wouldn’t make any difference to my understanding of my own existence.” He stopped talking and just stared as Laurant’s eyes dulled and his smile froze. “Indeed. So where is he?”
“I have no idea.” Laurant sniffed. “I don’t smell any sulfur or brimstone. Nothing but gumbo really.” He reached out a hand then snatched it back.
“Please don’t, thank you. It hurts when you put your hand through me, and”—Bart frowned—“I’m not a demon.”
“I see. Speaking of which…how is it that I can see you now and never have before?” Laurant let the box go as though just realizing he’d been touching it, and Bart sighed.
“Great Caesar's ghost. Now I suppose I’ll have to wait an hour for the fool to lay his hands on something else of mine.”
“You ought not to speak about people that way. Not to their faces, in any event.”
“You can still see me?” Bart peered closely at Laurant, who stepped back a little, holding up a hand.
“I can see something…shimmery about the air, like heat on the highway in the summer, but I can hear you quite clearly.”


3/30/2015

Story Orgy Presents: Like a Wolf Part Eleven #mmromance #storyorgy #serial #blogstory




Welcome back and good morning all! 
Today is predicted to be absolutely gorgeous here in the countryside, and that means only one thing. It's going to be real hard to stay in this chair and focused on getting the work done that needs to be done today!  



Like A Wolf


Chapter Eleven
What was he supposed to do with that?

And what was he supposed to do with that? Robert eyed the soft white fabric swatch Bree held dubiously. “Are you serious?” Some sort of baby magic hovered in the atmosphere of the tiny house… he could smell it, softening the air, melting everyone who came in contact with it. Soft snuffling noises, delicate breaths, emanated from a cocoon of blue fluff nestled in a wicker basket bedecked with white ruffles.
“Trust me.” Leaning toward him, Bree nodded tightly, a smile fighting with her lips. “You’re going to want to put that on your shoulder. It’s only been a week, and I’ve already halved my wardrobe.” She indicated a darker spot on the shoulder of her green blouse with one hand. “It doesn’t wash out.” Her tone said she didn’t really mind the damage to her wardrobe. Robert imagined that the compensations far outweighed the negatives when it came to that fuzzy little blue bundle.
“If you say so.” He took the thing and let Bree show him how to drape it over his shoulder. She smelled of sweet baby powder and some sort of not unpleasant sourness. “Now can I hold him?” He glanced impatiently at the ruffle bedecked bassinet on the floor by Ruby’s rocking chair. “I promise. I won’t drop him.”
“I’m more worried about him barfing on your nice shirt.” Ruby smiled tiredly at him from the bentwood rocker. “Thanks for coming to see us. And I don’t know if I ever thought to thank you last week, when you drove me over to the hospital.”
“No thanks necessary. All I did was drive.” He sat on a small overstuffed sofa and held out his arms. Bree scooped little Reuben up and helped Robert arrange him on his shoulder. The sweet weight was so slight, he had to check in fear to see that he’d actually gotten the baby and not a handful of empty blanket while the baby slipped to the floor. “Hello, Reuben. I’m your Uncle Robbie.” He glanced apologetically at Ruby, surprising a tender smile on her face. “I hope you don’t mind. This is the first baby I’ve had any contact with…and it’s presumptuous, I know. I don’t have to be an uncle.” He hastily tacked the last part on as a tear trailed down Ruby’s cheek, glittering in the sunlight that poured over his shoulder from the open curtains.
“No. It’s perfect. I…and Reuben…would be thrilled for you to be his uncle.” Her lip quivered, then firmed into another of those tender smiles. This one was directed over his shoulder, and he turned his head to see Bree blushing under it. “We don’t have a lot of family here. Just Bree.”
Tires ground through the gravel drive and a horn tooted. A car door slammed and footsteps thumped up the walk.
Bree stiffened, glanced out the window behind Robbie. “That’s my ride.” she darted across the room and grabbed a white chef coat off the floor. “My boss.” She glanced sheepishly at Ruby. “I sort of promised him he could see the baby, I hope you don’t mind. He’s been so good about picking me up and all since my car broke down last weekend.”
“Of course I don’t mind.” Ruby cast a teasing glance at Robbie. “If you can coax Robbie to let go of him that is.”
The doorbell rang, and the baby cried, probably because Robbie had just caught a glimpse of an ornate H embroidered on the white linen jacket and tensed before he could control his reaction.
Bree darted from the room, and Robbie jumped from the sofa, leaning down to hand the baby back to his mother. “Here, you take him.” His hands were shaking, and he couldn’t tell why, except that he’d been waiting for a week for Hank to call and make good on that rain check he’d promised. “She works at Hungry?” Why be surprised? Of course Ruby the food editor and critic would have close ties and connections with the restaurants in town.
“Bree is my sous chef.” Hank’s voice rumbled from the doorway. “Hello Red, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
That’s what he said, but Robert recognized the lie for what it was. His car was parked in the drive, and short notice though it might have been, he’d had that much time to decide what to say and how to respond to Robert’s presence.
More time than Robbie had had anyway. “Hi Hank, I was just leaving. Got to take over at the diner.” He ducked his head before reason told him that, no, he didn’t owe this man any deference, or have any reason to hide from him. So he raised his chin defiantly, and met Hank’s gaze steadily. “But I wanted to come see my new man before I started the shift.”
Hank’s face froze. “He’s here? Your…” He shook his head, paling. “Bree, we need to get moving. I’ve got perishables in the truck for dinner.”
“Oh, I thought you’d stay a bit…” Bree seemed to catch the sudden shift in Hank’s mood. “I’m ready.” She crossed the small living room to brush a kiss on the baby’s forehead and another on a silent Ruby’s cheek. “I’ll be back later.”
Hank didn’t wait, he spun about and left, slamming the front door behind him.
“Hank!” Suddenly spurred into action, Robert smiled weakly at the startled women and quick stepped toward the door. “I’m going to see if I can catch him. We have…um…unfinished business.”
“Go on,” Bree waved. “He won’t leave without me, at least I hope he won’t.” She added as the car horn beeped several times in rapid succession.
“Come back in after, would you?” Ruby asked. “I never got the chance to tell you why I stopped by the diner last week, other than you know, to cadge a ride to the hospital and practically give birth in your dining room.”
“Oh, okay.” He glanced impatiently at the window. Hank was sitting behind the wheel of the truck, watching the front door with an intent, dark expression.
***
His heart leaped when the door opened, because he knew…without the shadow of a doubt, that it wasn’t Bree who had exited the house. Get out. Meet him half way. Suiting action to thought, Hank turned off the truck engine and jumped out of the cab.
“Red—”
“Hank—”
Their voices clashed in the afternoon sun, and Hank fell silent, gesturing for Red to go ahead. His eyes followed the glint of sunlight sparkling on auburn hair, noted the trimmer figure, the sparkle in his eyes. “You look good,” he blurted, despite having indicated that Red should speak first.
“Um…thanks.” Red blushed, an innocent, honest reaction that charmed Hank as it always had. “I…just wanted to ask…You never called.” He finally stopped moving, and stood looking up at Hank with an open, troubled expression. “Last week, you said we’d get together and talk. Then…Did I miss your call?”
“No. I just realized how silly I was being.”
“About what?” Red tossed his head, sending the auburn hair flying.
“Manny Dyer ate dinner in my restaurant.” Hank tried to recapture some of the excitement he’d felt that night, before he’d found out about Red’s new love. Red’s brows knit together, and a frown tugged his lips. “See? I told you. Not as big a deal as it seemed at the time.”
“Oh no, it’s a big deal all right. Did he like your food? Because I’m pretty sure he hated mine.” Red shook his head, and his smile dimmed just the slightest bit.
“That’s not possible. Your food is amazing. You’re amazing.” Without consciously choosing to do so, Hank reached out and brushed auburn hair off Red’s brow. Oh shit. That wasn’t right. He glanced quickly at the open window to the living room, expecting to see a jealous boyfriend, but instead caught only the serene image of Ruby, gazing worshipfully down at her newborn as she rocked slowly in the bentwood chair. He snatched his hand back. “Sorry, um…I didn’t mean to.”
Red reached for his hand, held it in a warm, tight grip. “That’s okay. Really, Hank. It’s not a big deal. And I don’t care if Manny Dyer hated every bite…the few of them he took…of my macaroni and cheese.”
“Ruby said to tell you she needs to talk to you about that.” Bree stepped out of the house, and sauntered toward them. “Sorry, Boss. I tried to give you some time to mend your fences, but…" She shrugged elegantly. “Well, I saw the prep list you emailed after the market this morning, and we’d better get moving or we won’t be ready for opening.”
Hank tugged his hand out of Red’s grip, reluctance to leave warring with gratitude at what felt like a rescue. “Sorry Red, got to go. Maybe…” Why couldn’t he just get in the truck and drive off?
His gaze was drawn to Red’s mouth, watching his lips move soundlessly for a second or two before words followed. “Can I come over after work? Please, Hank? We really need to talk.”
He didn’t know if he’d agreed or not, all he really felt was a numbing desire to trace those plump lips with his tongue…to taste the sweetness that was Red one more time. A stirring south of his belt buckle had little to do with it, though he doubted he’d ever set eyes on Red without wanting him. For the most part, he wanted the taste of Red on his tongue, even though he knew that taste wouldn’t erase, or even ease the craving that tormented his soul.
“Boss?”
Shaking off the fog of wants, Hank realized he was in the truck, driving toward the restaurant on autopilot with Bree beside him. “Yeah?” His voice came out thick and his throat felt clogged with emotion. He cleared it, hoping for clarity.
“You realize that kid worships the ground you walk on?”
Wouldn’t that be nice? “I don’t think so. He was telling me all about his amazing new boyfriend just a week ago.”
That shut Bree up. Not that she was talkative. Hank stiffened his spine, adjusted the seat position unnecessarily, and glared straight ahead through narrowed eyes. God save him from well-meaning friends.
Pain exploded in his shoulder, not debilitating, but enough to make him flinch and swerve out of his lane. A sudden series of honking horns and a burst of adrenaline cleared the last of the fog from Hank’s brain. “What the fuck, Bree? I thought you wanted to live to see that baby go to college?”
“I do. And so does Robert Redding.”
Hank focused on driving for a minute. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means that I have a great deal of respect for you as a chef. As an employer you’re marginal--”
“Hey! I told you, I’m looking into a benefits program! It’s not all that easy to find programs that are friendly to same sex couples, you know.”
“Ruby doesn’t need my insurance.” Bree slashed the air with a peremptory hand. “That’s not what I mean. This spontaneous cooking thing is great—but it doesn’t allow any of the rest of the staff to have any creative input, which is difficult for those of us who are trained chefs. But that is so not the point.”
“Get to the point then,” He growled, scowling at the glare of the sun on the windshield.
“He doesn’t have a new boyfriend, unless that boyfriend’s name is Reuben.”




TO BE CONTINUED 

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3/29/2015

Sunday Snippets: The Jealous Guy #2 #storyorgy #mmromance #deepdiscount



  1. The Jealous Guy


A Story Orgy Single

50% off at Select Retailers

The Jealous Guy
(Scene from Chapter Two)
***
Dish after dish came and went, soup and salad and fish and beef.
Max was afraid at first, cautious of the strange surroundings and worried that despite Syd's protestations the others around them were judging his casual garb. He was out of his depth with food like this, in a place like this, and he was very much afraid that it showed in his hesitations and reactions to the unusual dishes.
Finally, dessert was served, and it was something he recognized. "That looks beautiful."
Rich shortbread cookies drizzled with dark chocolate, caramel, and sprinkled with sea salt garnished a single glistening mound of vanilla ice cream.
Syd spooned up a bit of the ice cream and cut a portion of cookie, making sure that each element of the dish mingled on his spoon. "Try it." The spoon hovered in front of Max's mouth, and he obediently opened up. The creamy delicious morsel landed on his tongue, and his mouth exploded in flavor.
"That is amazing." He picked up his own spoon. "So, this is something you do a lot?"
"Eat? At least three times a day."
The teasing deserved a like response, so Max licked his spoon clean before scooping up another bite. Syd groaned softly under his breath, but Max heard it and ducked his head to hide a satisfied smile. "Eat like this. I had you pegged as safe, structured…"
"Boring, you mean." Syd sounded so disappointed, Max decided there was no harm in letting the man know how he felt.
"Sexy," he whispered across the single flickering candle. "With those glasses and suave suits, I couldn't help wondering what was underneath. Every time you loosened your tie in my section, I wanted to whoop and holler and scream 'take it all off"."
"You're not disappointed? That I'm more than a human calculator?"
Even in the dim light, he could see Syd's flush of pleasure, but he felt the intensity of his gaze. Syd wanted him, and Max was ready to take what he could get.
"Disappointed? That beneath the ultra-intelligent, hot geek exterior beats the heart of a wild man? An adventurous spirit? A man who makes a meal a sensual experience?"
"That's leading up to no, isn't it?"
"No, I'm not disappointed. Yes, your wild side meets with my approval." He leaned in close enough to feel the heat of the candle on his chin, to hear the catch of Syd's breath. "Yes, your gamble paid off. Yes, you're getting lucky. How do we pay the bill at this joint, and please tell me you don't have roommates?"
Syd pushed back his chair and held out a hand to help Max from the seat. Pleased by the courteous gesture, which seemed to contradict the strange atmosphere, Max allowed himself to be towed to his feet. "The bill is paid in advance. That's how he does things. Underground dining is different than anything we know about how restaurant business is supposed to work. It's an experience, an adventure, as you said, all its own."
Max's phone vibrated against his thigh and he stifled a curse. Freeing his hand, he shot Syd an apologetic glance. "Sorry, I have to take this." He turned to the side slightly, but was conscious every second of Syd's presence at his side, his stomach leapt pleasantly, his skin heated as though touched. He was so going to enjoy everything this strange evening offered.
"Max?"
"What's up, Kyle? I left your dinner in the microwave and your homework checked out okay." A raucous noise erupted across the line. "Kyle? Where are you?" Their neighborhood was noisy, but that sounded more like a rave or a concert.
"You know how I told you Bentley and Fracker were having a party?"
Everything went still. Syd's hand landed on his shoulder and Max jerked away instinctively. "The party we agreed you wouldn't go to?" A slow thread of anger and fear twined through him, squeezing out the desire and happiness. Kyle was seventeen, an emancipated minor, but he was still Max's brother and he couldn't help feeling responsible for him.
His brother sighed heavily. "Yeah, that party. Well, when you said you were going out and not to wait up, and they texted me at work, well, fuck. I told them I'd just stop by on my way home. I never planned to stay longer than it took to say happy graduation and—”
"You got off work at eight; it's nine now." He glanced over at Syd, who stood frowning, arms crossed. "Sorry," he mouthed softly.
"I know. The thing is, I got here, and someone gave me a Coke, and well, Max, I think there was something in it because I'm sweating, and I feel like I'm going to puke and…I can't ride my bike home. Can you pick me up?"
"Of course I can. Do you need to go to the emergency room? We might want to get your stomach pumped."
"I don't know. Just…we can decide later. But I want to get out of here." Hearing his usually stoic brother near tears ripped Max's heart out.
"I'm on my way. Frack's place, right?"
"Yeah. Thanks, bro."
Max hung up his phone and turned back to face Syd, who was positively glowering. Wow. Max stepped back automatically. In his experience, expressions like that were portents of danger. "I have to go." He smiled tentatively at Syd, whose frown deepened.
"Why? I thought we were…"
"Yes, it's just that Kyle needs me right now, and he's always going to be my little brother, even though he's more grown up than our parents will ever be." And that was way too much oversharing for a first date. From the look on Syd's face, it might be their only date. The man sure was upset by the early conclusion to their night. "I'm sorry."
Syd stood still for a minute, then seemed to consciously force a smile. "It's fine. Your brother, huh? I'm an only child myself."
They exited the gas station turned restaurant and Max found himself hovering in the sultry evening air. He needed to go, to get Kyle and see for himself if his brother needed a doctor or could sleep it off, but he was reluctant to let this time with Syd end, especially when it looked like circumstances might have ended any chance for another evening like it. "It's just me and Kyle. Our parents, they're…um, not good for us. I moved out as soon as I could when I turned eighteen, and that left Kyle alone with them at thirteen."
"Uh huh." Syd was glancing around the parking lot. "Where's your car? I'm over at the bank, under the streetlight. I take it Kyle wasn't able to stay at home if he's emancipated?"
"I’m here, next to the rusted gas pump. And yeah, when he turned sixteen, he couldn't take it anymore. He got a social worker to help him, and …we're roommates, which is why if we'd…well, why we'd have gone to your place." The tension between them was easing, and Syd's arm felt great wrapped around his waist as he guided Max to his beat up old Volkswagen Bug.
At the car, he turned to face Syd. "I'm sorry to have to leave like this. I was really enjoying your company and looking forward to seeing your place."
"You could pick up your brother and then come over." Syd's green eyes sparkled down at him, his lips slightly parted.
Max's heart rate increased, his breath caught in his throat. The slow simmer of awareness that he'd been enjoying all night sparked into a small flame of want. "I…"
Syd bent and covered his mouth with firm, demanding lips and whatever he'd been about to say disappeared. Max's lips parted of their own volition, and Syd took immediate advantage, slanting his lips and darting a questing tongue inside. Eagerly, Max sucked the tongue, rubbed it with his own.
Twisting, he wound his fingers into the short strand of hair at Syd's nape and leaned into the taller man. They traded breath, stoked the embers of lust into an inferno with nibbles and licks and that damned tongue that dominated his mouth like Syd owned him. At last, breathing heavily, Max forced himself away with a whimper. "Damn." He touched his mouth, lips damp and swollen. He could taste Syd…and he wanted more.
Syd smiled challengingly at him. "You can come over after you drop your brother off."
"Kyle?" Oh shit. "No. I have to pick him up. He needs me." He shook off Syd's arm around his waist and opened his car door.
Syd pouted. "I'm going to let you run off, but only if you promise me that I can have another chance to impress you."
Sighing, Max slid into his car and rolled down the window. "You don't need to impress me, but if that means you're willing to go out with me again, then the answer is yes."
The brilliant smile Syd flashed him as he shut the car door vanquished the demons of doubt that had crept in over the past few minutes. It was okay for Syd to be disappointed, hell Max was disappointed. "I'll see you at lunch tomorrow, okay? We'll sort it out then."

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Be Yourself

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955