NSFW Finding Jackie Excerpt… Bath time in Seattle (X)

May 18, 2013

Skip this if explicit material offends you, or if you are not of legal age in the country where you live. That is all.

Luki and Sonny had checked into their hotel room before they went to the market, but they’d only had their bags placed inside the room; they’d never even gone in. They had decided to stay this time at a different hotel altogether, thinking the Fairmont was beautiful but the memories of their previous stay mostly not so good. At the Monaco, they’d been offered the Ambassador Suite, but Sonny had insisted the purple furniture would prevent him from sleeping, so they ended up with the Monte Carlo suite. They walked back to the hotel after their business and pleasure at the market was done, and Sonny sighed.

Luki said, “What?”

“Nothing,” Sonny said, sounding like a martyr. “It’s just… interesting wallpaper.”

“Baby,” Luki said, not understanding at all but willing to go to any lengths to please his man, “If you hate it—”
“No, no, I don’t. I mean, it’s not bad—it’s probably even good. I just need to get used to it. The colors in here are gorgeous, truthfully. And you know what?”

Luki’s eyes followed his husband, who paced from side to side, peeked around curtains and walls, opened doors. He made a sound, something like “Mm,” knowing Sonny wasn’t really looking for a response, but would appreciate knowing Luki was paying attention. He also smiled. Something about the quirky way Sonny settled himself into a space was too sweet for words.

“You know what I need to do, honey?”

Luki noted with glee that Sonny had begun to strip. This time, when he said, “Mm,” he didn’t have to feign interest.

“I need to get in that bathtub—do you see that thing? It’s like a swimming pool. I need to get in there and soak, all nice and relaxed, and take in that wallpaper until it seems normal to me.”

The man is fucking crazy, Luki thought, both disappointed and surprised. Sonny was already in the bathroom, fine-tuning the water temperature. Luki put his hands in his pockets—not a characteristic posture at all, but he was at a loss. He literally jumped when Sonny whooped and yelled.

“Yes! There’s bubble bath in here!”

Now, Luki was so nonplussed that he sat down on the couch, rather hard. When he tried to think of something he might be doing the only two things that came to mind were jerking off—which he dismissed immediately—and eating a hamburger. He considered the hamburger carefully, decided against, and got up to wander into the strangely wall-papered, thoroughly lavender-scented bathroom.

“This is a big tub, Luki.”
Luki stepped closer to Sonny and pushed a long strand of dark hair off his chest, letting it join its fellows falling down Sonny’s back.

Sonny grabbed Luki’s belt at the buckle and made as if to undo it. “Get in, Luki. There’s room. Look.” He lifted a foot out of the water. “See, my feet don’t even reach all the way to the other side. Not crowded at all.”

Luki stood silent, chewing his lip. He wasn’t one for shower play, which Sonny knew. It just reminded him too much of lonelier days. He never took baths, especially bubble baths. And, he really, really didn’t want to smell like flowers. But he loved his husband so much, and there the man was, asking for this simple, little thing.

“Luki, take a bath with me. Come on.”

Luki started to strip, tossing his clothes back out onto the chair in the bedroom. He was, of course, hard by the time he was naked, which was something Sonny certainly didn’t fail to notice, even though he said nothing. Luki stood there, feeling confused, never before having realized that deciding how to get into a bathtub and situate oneself was so difficult.

“Luki, you can just sit on that side, facing me so I can look at your eyes and we can talk. Okay? That way you won’t feel so awkward.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s something in that statement I should scold you for, Sonny Bly, I just haven’t figured out what it is,” Luki said that while climbing in and turning around and sitting down as instructed. But once he settled, his hands found Sonny’s legs, and he couldn’t help but rub them. And then Sonny found his foot, and as Sonny well knew, Luki’s toes were really sensitive. And Sonny played with them. All the while they looked each other in the eyes.

“Luki,” Sonny said, finally, “you don’t play in the shower.”

“No. What’s your point?”

For answer, Sonny took Luki’s foot and laid it along his own erection, which was one of the sexiest things that had ever happened to Luki. Then Sonny took his size a-very-large-number foot, with its long, nearly prehensile toes, and not too gently stroked it up and down Luki’s cock, and Luki spent a few seconds catching his breath.

“This isn’t a shower,” Sonny said.

Luki nodded. “Right.”

Sonny let a little water out, added some hot to adjust the temperature. “We could fuck here, if we so desired, which I do.” Sonny actually looked hopeful, as if he was a little afraid Luki would say no, or maybe scoff.

Luki wasn’t about to do either one. Sonny was the most beautiful, lovable, eminently fuckable person on the planet, and Luki wasn’t about to fail him. As he’d explained to Sonny just the other day, fucking Sonny happy was his personal joy. He licked his lips. “Come here, baby.”

Sonny more or less slithered up Luki’s body, dragging his weight over Luki’s flesh until he’d brought his lips even with Luki’s. He stopped, offering his slightly open lips, but waiting for Luki to take them. Luki did, starting with a suck and nibble of Sonny’s lower lip, then licking with just the hard tip of his tongue along the underside of Sonny’s upper lip. He kept it up, nibbling, sucking, licking, lingering at the sensitive corners. Sonny made a move to kiss back, but Luki pulled away, and answered Sonny’s widened eyes by kissing them. He smiled, biting his own lip, made sure Sonny saw the expression, then whispered in his ear. “Just let me do whatever I want to you, baby, okay? It’ll be good, I promise, and when I want you to kiss me back, I’ll tell you. Okay?”

“Oh!” Sonny’s breath puffed out; then he nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Yes, Luki. Okay.”

The water, hot and ever so slightly silky from the bubble bath, made touching—running his hands along Sonny’s back, over his ass, down his legs—a little bit different than touching had ever been before, for Luki. And by different he meant, damn, that’s nice! And Sonny, who was never, ever still unless specifically instructed, kept squirming and rocking, moving his body side to side over Luki’s. And the water lifted him just a little bit so Luki felt little weight on him, only a teasingly sweet, achingly light friction.
He pulled his lover tight against his chest. “Sonny, baby, you are so damn sweet!”

Sonny was not very coherent. “Mmm, mm… ooooh! Luki!”

Luki chuckled. He couldn’t help it. Then he took hold of Sonny’s forelock and tilted his head back until he was sure he had Sonny’s eyes, and he said, “Stick out your tongue.”

Sonny did so, a little, and said, “Aauuh?”

Luki smiled. “More.”

When Sonny obeyed, he said, “Yeah, like that.” Then he laid his own tongue alongside it, teased it, licking at its tip, and finally closed his lips around it and sucked it into his mouth, meanwhile invading Sonny’s mouth with his own tongue, and touching every part of Sonny he could reach with any limb, and rocking Sonny over him, cock to cock, chest to chest. At some point he said, “Okay, kiss me back, Sonny.” Finally, after a long interval of bliss, or else torture, Luki asked the question he almost always asked when they made love. “What do you want, baby?”

Unlike his earlier efforts at speech, Sonny answered clear and concise. “Fuck me.” Then he buried his face in Luki’s neck, where he commenced licking, sucking, and yes, even biting.

Luki gasped at the sensations that weren’t quite tickle, weren’t quite pain, “So you’re serious, you want to fuck here? In the bath?”

“Mmm-mmm.”
“Turn over, baby, and turn around; get up on your knees. I want your ass right here, up close and personal.”

***
Sonny blushed, but he wasn’t embarrassed much. He had no time, or energy, or room for feeling anything else but desire. Or lust. And love. For Luki. So he did just as directed. Put his knees outside Luki’s and arched his back so that his ass cheeks would be high and open and not more than six inches from Luki’s face. He heard Luki gasp, felt his breath rush out and skim over the wet skin of his ass and balls. Luki took hold of his hips and pulled him back, and the next thing Sonny felt was Luki’s slick, talented tongue snaking up from the base of his cock, tugging at his balls, sliding up his perineum and stopping, pushing at his hole. Luki played for a while, and Sonny heard himself once again making noises no one could decipher. But he was pretty sure Luki knew what they meant, because every now and then he stopped, light stubble on his cheek or chin still scratching so sweetly on Sonny’s ass, and say “yeah, baby,” or “it’s okay,” or “sweet, Sonny, so sweet.”

And every time he heard those things in Luki’s scratchy voice, Sonny groaned with pleasure, with something very like fulfillment.

But after a while he simply couldn’t wait. He needed Luki inside him, felt like he needed it the way he once needed dope—like he’d be sick damn near to death if he didn’t have it. “Please,” he said.

“Yes,” Luki said, soothing but not promising.

“Please, Luki!”

“What, baby? You want me inside you?” Luki’s fingers were at work, already. He had rummaged quickly through the small bottles on the shelf beside the bath, opened one, and let the cool contents run down Sonny’s crack, all over Luki’s fingers. Now he had a finger in, and it burned a little, even though Sonny had felt like he was so wide open he could handle Luki’s swollen cock without preamble. Sonny was once again glad Luki was in charge. Luki always took good care of him.

“What is that, Luki?”

“The label says it’s olive oil, sweetie. Just scented olive oil. Okay?”
Sonny grunted an answer, and now Luki used two fingers, fucking in and out. His long middle finger nudged Sonny’s prostate, but only once, twice. Teasing. Luki leaving it for later, the best for last, Sonny thought. “Please,” Sonny said again.

“Please what, baby?” Three fingers.
Oh, Sonny thought, my God. Then he thought, Oh, Luki. And for him, at that moment, the two thoughts were the same. “Please fuck me. Please!”

“Yes, baby. Well, I can’t really.”

“What?”

“Sonny, take it easy. I didn’t say we couldn’t fuck. It’s just you’re going to have to ride me, okay? I can’t figure out how else to arrange our big ol’ man bodies in here. It’s a big tub, but not quite big enough, I don’t think. Okay? Whenever you’re ready, just sit here in my lap, sweetie.” Sonny did, wasting no time, changing his angle to come down on the hard, thick erection Luki was holding up for him. He slid down over his lover like a glove, and heard Luki sigh. He started to move—small movements, contained, so as not to create a storm in the bathwater, but it didn’t matter. Once Luki was in there deep, Sonny knew right where he wanted to put things. As usual, his excitement built until he started to lose control of his muscles. He said, “Oh!” And he must have sounded mournful—he felt that way, afraid he was going to lose what he’d worked so hard and sweetly to build. “Oh!”

“All right, baby, I’ve got you.” Luki wrapped his arms tight around Sonny’s chest and helped, lifting him and bringing him down in short, hard strokes against his body. The even rhythm he held them to started the water rocking, and the waves played over their skin, soothing and stroking like warm, wet hands. Now, every time Luki pulled Sonny down to sheath his cock, sure of his aim, he tapped against Sonny’s hidden gland. And their testes touched and slid together, the most insistent tickle. Sonny knew Luki had to be close to his own orgasm, but his strength never flagged, and Sonny didn’t worry—he knew Luki would hold on, determined to give Sonny what he needed, and that realization put what Luki had said about orgasms in a new light. For just a few seconds, Sonny thought about how he was the luckiest, most protected, cherished, loved man in the world.

He moved his hand to his own slick, hard penis and began to stroke, rougher than usual, but with the water and steam it felt right, felt necessary. He squeezed precum into his cupped fingers, brought them to his mouth and sucked them in.

“Oh,” Luki breathed. “Oh, Sonny, you know damn well what that does to me. You’re so goddamn beautiful. Sweet man. Sweet, sweet man.”

Sonny whispered, “Luki.” Then he came.

The orgasm lasted several seconds or forever, and just as it started to subside, he felt and heard Luki explode inside him. And as embarrassing as it would have been at any other time with any other man, Sonny felt tears roll down his cheeks, and he didn’t try to stop them.

Fucking Luki in the bath had been good, better, more than beautiful.

Getting out of the tub, not so much.

A Finding Jackie Excerpt: Wedding on a Windy Hawaiian Hilltop

May 18, 2013

I’ve decided to share their whole darned wedding.

The ceremony involved simple words, panic, laughter, and tears.

First, Kaholo led them through some traditional vows. To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, and so forth. Luki stopped himself from thinking, yada, yada.

Then it was Luki’s turn to wing it. He’d rehearsed only a little and never really planned the words. He was surprised how easy they came, how good they felt. “Sonny, I promise to love you, never to try to change you, to trust you with my heart and with everything I have, and always to remember how precious, how fine, how beautiful you are to me. And I’ll keep you safe, Sonny. I’ll always keep you safe.”

Panic entered the picture when it came time for Sonny to respond—which he couldn’t seem to do, really. “I… I… Luki, I… oh.” Tears started, and Luki had no idea what to do until Josh nudged him and mouthed the word handkerchief.

“Oh!” Luki said. “Yeah. Here, baby.” He held the snowy-white square out as if he was going to wipe his groom’s nose, but Sonny snatched it away, swiped it down his face, and then grabbed hold of Luki’s shoulders, bending slightly to bury his face in Luki’s neck. Luki reached up and put his two big hands over Sonny’s slender ones—Sonny’s trembling hands that seemed so vulnerable. “Shh, sweetie. It’s okay. You don’t have to say anyth—”

“Shut up, Luki, of course I have to say something.”

Those words left Luki slack-jawed again, but the need to decide what to say or do was swept away from him as Sonny stood away once more, grabbing both of Luki’s hands and holding them to his chest, where the many-colored scarf buffeted against them in the breeze, tickling. Luki met his lover’s dark, dark eyes, and found them smoldering despite the rim of moisture, smoldering with such intense sincerity or need that Luki wondered absently if a spark would ignite them like oil on water.

“Yes, Luki. I have to say things. I have to tell you that I… will love you and no other, body and soul… will honor your strength and cherish it. And, Luki, I promise to give you what I am. Every day I want to show you beauty—the beauty I see in the world. That vision is the best I have to give, the best of what I am. And….” His voice trailed to a whisper. “Thank you, Luki, for loving me so much.”

“The rings,” Kaholo said, somehow managing to put an audial eye roll in the words. Josh passed one to Luki, and Jackie passed one to Sonny, and chuckling with their guests they pushed them past knuckles that seemed to have recently grown too large.

“Kiss, then,” Kaholo ordered, and pronounced them a pair of husbands.

Everyone had survived. The boys began to help the guests line up for congratulations. Neither of the grooms had wanted a receiving line, but Kaholo and Leilani insisted. Both of the men looked a little shell-shocked, but a worried look suddenly flashed across Luki’s face. “Wait!”

All eyes turned Luki’s way as he dropped Sonny’s hand and reached into his vest pocket. “I forgot something important. Sonny, this is a wedding present. I know it isn’t all glamorous or anything, but… I hope you’re happy with it.” He held out a hand to Kaholo, a hand holding a half-smoked pack of cigarettes and his dad’s USS Vincent/Dennis the Menace vintage lighter. “Uncle, please take these. I’m quitting. As of right now, I don’t smoke.”

More visual inspiration-excerpt #3

April 7, 2013

Since my novel spans so many years I needed a vision of an older Preston and Konrad so I trolled the internet for more images. I don’t know if other writers work this way, but as I said, I need a visual or a playlist to help me along. Of course I could continue to use more images of Nacho Figueras, the to-die-for face of Ralph Lauren Polo, but I had someone a little different in mind.

Here’s an older Preston and Konrad, plus another excerpt.

This scene takes place in Seville, Spain where the boys have gone to check out the Andalusian horses.

The next morning, we took a bus to a stud farm in Jerez de la Frontera. We passed the two-hour drive by feasting on the bocadillos we’d purchased at the bar near the hostel. The “sandwiches” were stuffed with salty Iberian ham and goat cheese, and we shared a wedge of cold potato omelet spiked with chorizo. Two liters of mineral water helped to wash down the hefty breakfast, and then we napped the rest of the way. By the time we arrived at Finca Mejia, where the horses were bred and controlled, we were eager to begin our tour.

I’d never seen an Andalusian, although I’d heard about this special breed. Anyone who loved horses knew they existed, but few had the money to own one. Highly prized as a warhorse, due to their speed and agility, their numbers had dwindled throughout the centuries. After reaching dangerously low levels, exportation of mares had been strictly forbidden to give Spanish and Portuguese breeders the opportunity to develop and expand their stock. The majority of them were bred here in the Andalusia province of Spain, thus the name. In Portugal they were called Lusitanos. Universally, they were known as the pure Spanish or Iberian horse.

Kon and I sat side by side with other prospective buyers and horse aficionados, hardly able to contain our excitement. The owner of this particular stud farm was quite aware of the impact his animals made as they entered the arena. There was a collective murmur from the crowd when the string of horses stopped within ten feet of the wooden fence separating them from the audience. They were magnificent! Most of them were gray and averaged fifteen and a half hands. Abundantly thick manes and long flowing tails set low and tight against their bodies, were distinctive features.

Before the animals were allowed to circle the ring so we could admire them from different angles, the owner gave a brief lecture on the origin of this ancient breed. In heavily accented English, he explained that these horses had lived on the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years. Known for their strong but elegant build, they were prized as a war or cavalry horse until mounted knights began using heavier and heavier armor. They were soon replaced with larger but slower moving draft horses. The trend was later reversed with the development of firearms and the need for a more rapid and agile animal.

“Why were they in such demand?” a visitor asked. “They’re good looking but so is the Arabian.”

The owner of the farm was a white-haired gentleman who sat on a horse like a warrior. The pride in his voice was clearly evident as he extolled the virtues of this particular breed. “These horses evolved in hilly and rugged terrains, señor. Fighting for survival and grazing amidst the rocky landscape led to the development of a strong arched neck, hind legs positioned well underneath the body, with strong hock action, and small rounded hoofs. These attributes make the horse much more agile than the standard Arabian or other breeds, and they are, without a doubt, quite beautiful.”

“I see,” the man nodded.

“But your prices are outrageous,” another person commented. “I can buy two thoroughbreds for the price of one Andalusian.”

“You can also drive a Fiat rather than a Mercedes,” the Spaniard acknowledged haughtily. “Furthermore, your attitude has already cost you one of my animals. I suggest you visit another stud farm if you intend to buy.”

“My money is as good as anyone else’s,” the guy volleyed.

“It’s not always about money,” the Spaniard replied. “I’m very selective about my buyers. I would never sell one of my horses to anyone who couldn’t fully appreciate its value.”

“Bah!” the prospective buyer spat out before standing and blundering out of the arena.

“Shall we proceed?” the Spaniard asked coldly, scanning the rest of us to see if there were other visitors who wanted to join the deserter.

“Yes,” the group begged collectively.

What followed was an educational afternoon, learning about his magnificent animals, their care, their bloodlines, and their availability. We drifted off into small groups, each with a guide, so we could ask questions and take our time without worrying about someone else’s agenda. Our companion was Miguel, a young Gaucho about Kon’s age. He walked and talked with the swagger of ownership, which prompted me to ask, “Are you a family member?”

“Don Alvaro is my grandfather.”

“The old dude?”

Si.” Yes, he said, nodding.

“Is he as tough as he sounds?”

Miguel laughed. “Tougher.”

“I know all about those kind of men,” I admitted. “My Dad is demanding as hell.”

Abuelo loves his animals more than anything else.”

Konrad whistled suddenly and we stopped. “Now, that is a beauty,” he said, walking toward a frisky young mare that pranced as he approached. She was dark gray with a snowy white mane and tail. Her oval eyes sparkled with intelligence, and she bobbed her head as Kon got closer, acknowledging his presence with a flick of her tail and a flutter of long lashes.

“She’s flirting with him,” I said, astounded.

Es una coqueta, a teaser,” Miguel said.

“She’s a sweetheart,” Kon said, stroking her gently. “What’s her name?”

“Dulce,” Miguel said. “It means ‘sweet’.”

“What a perfect name,” Kon said admiringly. “May I ride her?”

“What is your profession if you don’t mind my asking?” Miguel stated, trained to cross-examine potential riders.

“I’m a professional polo player.”

Miguel looked Konrad up and down appreciatively. His eyes lingered a little too long, in my opinion, making my hackles rise. The young Spaniard was just as hot as Kon in a swarthier, dark-haired kind of way. If I hadn’t been so madly in love, I would have paid a lot more attention to the slim-hipped brunet who was staring at Konrad with blatant interest.

More Inspiration-Excerpt #2

April 7, 2013

Once the idea was firmly planted, I needed an image of my own characters to keep me inspired. I like them to stick around while I’m writing so I usually have them as a header on the current chapter I’m working on. Preston is thirteen in this next scene and the young model below fit the image in my head.

Konrad is eighteen, blond, blue-eyed, and buff. This guy fit the part.

Here’s a scene from Konrad’s first introduction into professional polo.

I stared out the window, paying little attention to the landscape which was miles and miles of steaming hot nada. August in Texas wasn’t exactly paradise, so there were no distractions from my melancholy thoughts. It never occurred to me that Konrad might change as well, but of course it was a very real possibility. I’d had his undivided attention for three years, and it would be over by the end of next week. Once we were let loose in the world, there’s was no telling what could happen.

I got a little preview of the future as soon as we drove past the great willow tree marking the entrance of the club. A small crowd of people gathered near the clubhouse, greeting players and their retinue. I assumed these were the big shots in charge of the tournament. I recognized a few faces from pictures I’d seen in polo magazines and was impressed anew. One of the greatest Texans to play the sport, Cecil Smith, now in his late seventies, was a part of the group, along with the owner of the club, Norman Brinker. They were meeting and greeting the arrivals, and when our turn came, Konrad was acknowledged with backslapping enthusiasm.

“So you’re the young man Cecil has been jawing about,” Mr. Brinker remarked. “Welcome to Willow Bend.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’m glad you could make it, son,” Cecil added, joining in the conversation.

“Thank you for the opportunity, sir,” Konrad said, removing his hat respectfully and shaking the older man’s hand with the same reverence he’d have paid God. If Konrad idolized anyone it was Cecil Smith. The legendary wrangler-turned-polo- player had been instrumental in arranging for Kon’s invitation to play in this tournament.

In his prime, Cecil Smith had been a 10 goal player for twenty-six consecutive years, the highest ranking one could attain in the sport. He’d also been credited with taking polo out of the drawing room and into the bunkhouse. His glory days had marked the zenith of American Polo, and long after he’d retired in 1967, he had continued to ride and train polo ponies on his ranch out in Boerne, not too far from our San Antonio home. He was always on the lookout for homegrown talent, and Konrad had caught his eye a while back. It was always a great source of pride for Cecil whenever a local boy could stick it to the millionaires and upper-class stiffs. He had shown the world that one needn’t be a blue blood to succeed in polo. All you needed was talent, guts, and a love for the sport and the animals that were the true players. Without a good pony you were nothing.

“Go out there and make me proud, son.”

“Yes, sir…thank you, sir,” Konrad stammered, tripping over his words in embarrassment.

“And who’s this young man?” Cecil asked, finally acknowledging my presence.

“This here is Pres, Mr. Smith. He’s an upcoming rider and acting as my groom today.”

“A good groom is harder to come by than a wishing well in the middle of Hill Country,” he drawled. “Are you any good, boy?”

“I try to be, sir.”

“Tryin’ is only good in horseshoes, Pres. Grooms are the unsung heroes of polo and I would expect you to go the extra mile for your friend and his ponies. How many do you have?” he asked, turning back to Konrad.

“Just the two for now,” Kon admitted.

“You’re goin’ to need at least three more, son.”

“I understand, sir. I can’t afford them yet.”

“You show me what’s what this weekend and I’ll see what I can do about getting you another pony.”

Konrad’s mouth dropped open in shock. “I’ll do my best to make you proud, sir.”

“See that you do, boy…see that you do.” He doffed his Stetson at the two of us and walked off toward another group.

“Holy shit,” Konrad breathed.

“No pressure,” I said, grinning up at him.

He let out a whoop and dragged me off toward the stables. Kon’s parents and Monica had long since taken off to check into the motel rooms they’d booked for our stay. The clubhouse accommodations were allotted to the royals and other more famous players. We nobodies had to fend for ourselves.

I craned my head in all directions, trying to spy a world-renowned figure, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a group of men leading horses covered in red blankets with the letter H embroidered in gold. I assumed these were the Harriott horses belonging to the brothers from Argentina, some of the best players of our time.

“Stop gawking,” Kon scolded.

“Can’t help it,” I said. “Isn’t that Prince Charles?” I whispered, pointing out the familiar face.

“Don’t point!” Kon barked. “People will think we’re a bunch of hillbillies.”

“We are,” I reminded him.

“Shut up, Flea,” he said, prodding me forward. We were approached by a stable hand who showed us our assigned stall and encouraged us to make use of whatever we needed. There were bales of hay and bins of feed for the taking. I stopped thinking about celebrities and got down to the business of making our horses comfortable. While I pitched hay and mixed feed, Kon went to get his pair of ponies. I imagined myself in the role of player instead of helper. One day I’d be a part of this world and people would be waiting on me instead of the reverse. I hoped that my friendship with Konrad would withstand our separation. It was the only damper on the horizon but one I tried to rationalize as necessary to my growth. Mom had promised to let me return home each summer but assured me with a knowing smile that I’d stop wanting to after a while. I doubted it. Leaving Konrad was the hardest thing I’d do in my short life. There was a part of me that wanted time to stand still, but I knew that change was inevitable.

What Inspires A Story

April 7, 2013

A while back,I watched a Barbara Walters Special featuring Nacho Figueras. He’s one of the most easily recognized faces in professional polo, not only for his looks, but also his spectacular skills. The guy definitely inspired my muse and sparked a memory, which I banked for a time until I could create a story within this rarefied world.

Fire Horse is about two cowboys from San Antonio Texas, who fell in love with the sport, and not surprisingly, with each other. It spans thirty-five years, 1976 to the present, and takes us on a fast-paced and exciting journey from the arid plains of Texas to England, Spain, and beyond. I hope you get a chance to meet the characters in my new universe. Konrad Schnell is a home grown Texan while Preston Fawkes is the product of two very different cultures–a cowboy father and a very proper English mother. They’re both wonderfully complex and I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love with these guys. I know I have.

Here’s the first excerpt:

San Antonio, Texas 1976

I was ten years old when I met Konrad Schnell, Monica’s only brother. Konrad, with a K, had been fifteen at the time, and already someone to be reckoned with on the polo field. Taller than the tallest person I knew―my dad―Kon was everything I wanted to be and more. I’d never have his golden hair or meaty limbs; I wasn’t built like that, but I did have the blue eyes, although not quite as arresting as his. Konrad stood out in a crowd, so good-looking he practically sparkled.

The kids had dubbed him Big Foot because his size-fifteen riding boots had to be custom made by a specialty shop in Dallas. He was graceless on the ground but fluid and masterful on horseback. I’d met him the day he spied me losing my balance on the wooden practice pony and tumbling headlong onto the dirt-packed floor. The sound of his throaty laugh had reverberated in the barn, and my first reaction was to retaliate, but his size was so intimidating I didn’t think I’d stand a chance.

Amazingly, Konrad stopped laughing as soon as he saw my flushed face and clenched fists. What he did instead was stick his big hands under my armpits and lift me back up on the pony as if I were weightless.

“Try and grip with your knees this time, kiddo, and don’t bend over too far. If this was the real McCoy, you’d be sporting hoofprints.”

“I wish I could practice on a real pony.”

“Why don’t you?”

“My dad gets pissed every time I mention it.”

“Then why did he join this club?”

“My mother’s a big fan so he signed up to keep the peace. As for me, he’d rather I learn how to rope and steer our cattle like a proper cowboy. He thinks polo is for rich guys who have nothing better to do than chase a ball across a field and flirt with the women in big hats.”

“It takes talent and guts to play the sport,” Konrad said heatedly. “He should try it sometime―maybe then he’d change his opinion.”

“He’d rather die than admit he’s wrong,” I said. “I don’t understand what my mom was thinking when she married him. He’s not right for her.”

Konrad hooted at my audacious statement. “What qualifies you as an authority on marriage?”

“I know when something isn’t working,” I said softly.

“You don’t know Jack, kiddo. Talk to me when your balls drop and they’re covered with hair.”

My mouth sagged open. No one in my immediate vicinity ever talked about body parts, especially mine.

Konrad punched my arm playfully when he saw the expression on my face. “Come on, you little flea. Show me some moves.”

His challenge had started the ball rolling and marked the beginning of the most important relationship in my life. I became Konrad’s shadow, and he took on the role as mentor, friend, and most importantly, champion. I think he was flattered by my open admiration, and knowing I was risking punishment by escaping to the Polo Club whenever I had a chance, had made every minute together count. I usually burst through the stable doors half an hour after school let out and his first question was always, “How much time do we have?”

Mom was our conspirator, managing the duplicity by concocting one excuse after another to keep Dad in the dark. She was still working on him to let me go to boarding school, but in the meantime, daily lessons by the local superstar would provide a good foundation for my future.

I was grateful Konrad bothered with me at all. He could have been out there carousing with his friends or warding off the beautiful women hovering around him like gnats, instead of futzing around with a snot-nosed kid who was too precocious for his own good. But we’d established a connection the afternoon he’d wiped the dirt off my breeches and plunked me back on Woody, the practice tool every aspiring polo player had to contend with. Some inexplicable thread had woven its way between the two of us and it grew tighter with each passing day.

He’d allowed me to hang out with him and his friends. The boys, all in their mid-teens, treated me like their mascot but used me like a stable boy, having me fetch and carry at will. It never felt degrading, though, only exciting. I knew I was being groomed by learning from the bottom up. Shoveling manure, and laying fresh hay for the polo ponies, was mixed in with impromptu tutorials on Woody’s back. The guys would point out my mistakes, and Konrad always stayed behind to make sure I didn’t dismount without correcting my blunders.

“It’s critical to your safety and everyone around you that you perfect this move, Flea.”

“I’m so bored,” I moaned and whined, complaining about the repetition.

“It’s a part of your training,” he’d say doggedly. “If you’re going to be a slacker, do it somewhere else.”

“Why can’t I practice on one of your ponies?”

“Not until I’m sure you won’t cause them any harm.”

Konrad treated his ponies like precious children. Later, I’d come to find out why. A polo player was only as good as his mount. The deep connection between rider and steed was never as apparent as it was in this fast and dangerous sport. They became extensions of each other, and a subtle press of knee or inadvertent pull on reigns could mean the difference between making a goal and flubbing the entire match. They had to be as fearless as their riders, galloping headlong toward goal posts while players all around them pushed and shoved them out of the way, screaming invectives, and did everything in their power to prevent them from reaching the other side. Without the element of trust between horse and rider, there was no hope of excelling on the field.

“The only way you can connect with your pony is through respect.”

“What do you mean?”

“Love them with all your heart but always be their master.”

“I’m not sure I understand you, Kon.”

“Feed them when they’re hungry, soothe them when they hurt, make sure they’re always warm and dry at night, but when you’re out on the playing field, whip them if necessary. By feeling your strength and positive energy, they’ll respond with equal enthusiasm. If you show fear or weakness, they’ll get skittish and back off.”

“Do I have to do anything special to show them I’m master?”

“Love them above anything else.”

“Do you?”

“Natch.”

Analyzing Emory– One More Excerpt

January 4, 2013

I want to thank everyone who popped by today. Before I sign-off, I thought I’d leave you with one last excerpt. This is from Chapter 4. Emory and Kyle are each working through their feelings about their one-night stand. Ben is Emory’s best friend and co-worker at the music store.

Excerpt #2 (PG)

“Seriously, dude, this pouting, petulant thing you have going on is really wiggin’ me out.”

Startled, Emory almost dropped the stack of CDs he was holding as he organized the New Release rack. He turned and scowled at Ben.

“I am not pouting and petulant!”

“Riiiight.” Ben crossed his arms over his chest, leaned further back in his chair, and kicked his feet up on the counter. “What the hell did you get up to over the weekend?”

“What do you mean?” Emory shoved a few more CDs back into their correct rack a little harder than necessary before he turned to face his friend.

“I mean something must have gone down this weekend. First you don’t return my calls all day Saturday. Then when you finally do call, it’s to cancel coming over to hang out on Sunday. And today”—Ben surveyed Emory, shaking his head—“you’re just all… weird.”

“I am not and screw you.”

Ben just chuckled, taking no offense whatsoever. “You told me you were going to hit up Spin Friday night. What happened? Did someone actually have the audacity to turn you down or something? Is that why your panties are in a bunch?”

“Okay.” Emory whipped around, and at the last second refrained from winging the CD he held in his hand at Ben’s head. “My panties are in no way bunched, fuck you very much.”

“Ah, there we go.” Ben grinned, pushed his feet off the counter, and launched himself into a standing position. “There’s the sarcastic, razor-sharp wit sprinkled with just the right amount of profanity that I know and love!”

As much as Emory wanted to resist, he couldn’t help smiling.

“And Benji even gets a smile.” Ben’s eyebrows wiggled comically as he swaggered across the store isle. “Seriously, bro, I was getting concerned with all the moping into the CDs.” He slung an arm around Emory’s shoulders, and his face became more serious. “You sure you’re okay?”

Emory took a deep breath and sighed. All kidding aside, Ben was his best friend and really the only person he trusted. “Yeah… no… I don’t know.”

“I take it Friday night didn’t exactly go to plan?” Ben stepped back, removing the handful of CDs Emory still clutched “Come and take a load off. These CDs will still be here in need of being put away after we’ve talked.”

Alternative Scene was currently devoid of customers. Clearly Monday morning was not when people decided they needed to pick up a few new CDs. Emory and Ben made their way back behind the cash register, plopped down in the two chairs that were always there, and propped their feet up against the counter. Ben gave Emory a pointed look, and Emory knew that was his cue to start talking.

“So, I was at Spin on Friday—”

“Planning on picking up your usual one-night stand?”

Emory smirked but gave an affirmative nod. Ben might be straight with a girlfriend, but he was open-minded, nonjudgmental, and understood how Emory operated.

Emory blew out a gust of air. The thing was, nothing had been usual about his encounter with Kyle. He had spent all weekend in a funk trying to wrap his mind around it. He couldn’t understand why the psychologist had gotten under his skin. The sex had been mind-blowing. That wasn’t the problem. It was everything else. Not only had he stayed the night at Kyle’s place, he had actually stayed for breakfast as well. He tried to rationalize it to himself later, that it just would have been too rude to run out before eating, but he knew that was bull. It was a little awkward at first, and Emory hadn’t had a clue how to act, having never had a conversation with anyone post fucking before, but in the end, he had enjoyed the meal. It had been… nice. What had him most on edge, though, was when Kyle asked to see him again. He must be going insane, because for one brief, crazy, nanosecond, he almost thought he had wanted to say yes. Emory still didn’t know what had come over him when he kissed Kyle good-bye.

Ben looked at him expectantly, and after steeling himself, Emory opened up his mouth and summarized his Friday night for his friend. After he had finished telling his story, leaving out most of the naked, gory details, Emory waited for Ben to say something.

“So, you’re telling me that you went home with a gorgeous, smart guy who lives in an amazing loft apartment, who was great in bed, and didn’t just want to fuck you—he was more considerate and wanted to see you again—and breakfast was included?”

Emory opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. He didn’t remember the words coming out of his mouth quite like that.

“I know you have your ‘no muss, no fuss’ credo or whatever about getting involved with people.” Ben waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “But tell me again why seeing Dr. Psychologist-Dreamboat-Great-In-Bed-Brunch-Chef-Extraordinaire again would be a bad thing?”

*****

Kyle spent the weekend unpacking the rest of the boxes that littered his apartment and getting everything arranged just so with almost psychotic determination. Not doing so gave him too much time to think, and for the past thirty-six hours all he’d been able to think about was Emory. Emory’s smile and eyes. Emory’s sharp tongue and humor. Emory naked and writhing on his bed. Emory who had sex but not relationships. Hell, he didn’t even know Emory’s last name.

Kyle broke down the last box with more force than was necessary. Besides the large pile of cardboard he would need to take out for recycling, thanks to his manic cleaning and desire to stay occupied, his apartment was now in live-in condition.

He was exhausted and glad it was already early evening. He would make something simple for dinner and then get a good night’s sleep. He didn’t start work for another week, but he had promised Richard he would meet him tomorrow at the GLBT Center to get a tour of the place and discuss how he would fit into the program. The Center, completed about five years ago, was Richard’s labor of love. He had left his high-powered career in finance, where he had managed large fund-raising campaigns and capital endowments, and used his knowledge to raise money to build a multifunctional GLBT Center for the Chicago area. The inviting, modern architecture and enormous plate-glass windows housed not only a community center with support groups, activities, and programs, but also a shelter for gay and lesbian youth, a free health clinic, and educational and career services. It was truly a one-stop shop, and Kyle was the newly appointed resident psychologist.

After shoveling some spaghetti into his mouth and plopping down in front of the television, Kyle found his eyelids drooping by nine. He grimaced as he stood up, his back protesting over lifting one heavy box too many and spending much of the day hunched over, and made his way to the bedroom. He paused when he got within several feet of the bed. He knew he should change the sheets. He should have changed them Saturday. Steeling his jaw, Kyle stripped off his clothes, leaving them strewn on the floor, and climbed between the sheets nude. He rationalized he was too tired to change them now, and his exhausted brain refused to analyze how crazy it made him that he loved still being able to smell Emory on the pillow next to his.

******

It’s been great hanging-out with all of you today! Don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d like to be in the running to win a copy of Analyzing Emory and stop by my blog, Twitter or Facebook and say hello!

Thanks all!

xo,

Lily

Analyzing Emory– Release Party and Giveaway!

January 4, 2013

Hello all!

I’m Lily Grace and I’m thrilled to be holding a release party today for my first novel and first release with Dreamspinner Press, Analyzing Emory. I’ll be sharing some excerpts and a few other goodies throughout the day. Anyone who comments on any of my posts today will be entered to win an ebook copy of Analyzing Emory. Please include your email address in your comment so I know how to get in touch with you.

I’m working at the good ‘ol day job today (I mean, seriously, I don’t get a special book release vacation day?!), and though I have several posts all cued up and ready to go, it’ll probably be later in the day before I have the opportunity to reply to comments. So, thanks in advance for your patience!

I’m beyond excited to be part of the Dreamspinner family and to finally be able to share my book with you all today. I’d like to take a moment to thank L.C. Chase for creating such amazing cover art. It encapsulates all the feelings and elements I wanted in my book cover. I think it’s absolutely beautiful, so thank you so much L.C.!

First off, here’s what Analyzing Emory is about:

Blurb

When a family friend offers him the job of resident psychologist at Chicago’s GLBT Center, Kyle Michelson jumps at the chance to reinvigorate his career, move on from his recent breakup, and get his life back on track. Kyle hopes returning to the familiar territory of his hometown will do him good, but meeting Emory Brenner at a club changes everything.

Anything but familiar, Emory leaves Kyle breathless from the start. There’s just one problem: Kyle wants more than a one-night stand, Emory doesn’t do relationships, and neither man can resist the other. Luckily for Emory, he never has to see Kyle again. Or so Emory thinks until he runs into him while volunteering at the GLBT Center.

Kyle makes Emory want things he never thought he could have and chips away at secrets Emory has kept locked away for years. On the surface, Emory’s recovered from his past: he has a job at a record store and a roof over his head. But putting his trust in another person, having a relationship, means opening himself to more pain—and that is a risk he can’t take.

The first chapter can be found on the DSP website or on my blog, so I thought I’d start off today by sharing another excerpt. Enjoy!

Excerpt (PG)

Kyle cracked another egg into the mixing bowl and began to whisk vigorously. What the hell did he think he was doing? He shook his head and blew out a gust of air. He was making a delicious breakfast for his one-night stand, that’s what he was doing. It had been hard getting out of bed and leaving Emory still sleeping. Kyle had woken up with Emory still cradled in his arms and realized how much he missed waking up with someone. It also didn’t escape his notice how good if felt with Emory—specifically—in his arms. God, he looked like some sort of beautiful, dark angel while asleep.

Kyle rolled his eyes and scoffed at his own sappy notions. He considered himself a relatively romantic guy, but that was a pretty gooey thought even for him—especially since that thought was directed at someone he just met. Kyle was used to relationships, not random sex. Maybe that was why he had no idea how to do this. He still wasn’t quite sure what came over him last night when he decided to take Emory home. He hadn’t really expected anything when he walked through the doors of Spin, but as soon as he saw Emory he had felt an incredible magnetic pull. He couldn’t have said no. Not to him. Sure, Emory was perhaps the most beautiful man to ever grace Kyle’s sheets, but there was something else. Talk had been relatively limited, but something about Emory intrigued him. Those soulful eyes—he found himself aching to learn more about what was behind them.

As he cut up some veggies, Kyle couldn’t deny he wanted to get to know Emory better. But how did one go from a one-night stand to dating? Maybe he was even crazy for thinking it. He shrugged. Breakfast was as good a place to start as any.

Feelings aside, the sex had been—amazing just didn’t quite seem to cover it. It would be easy to become addicted to Emory’s perfect, lean body and pert ass. There were a few things about the evening that gave Kyle pause, though. Maybe it was all in his head, but Emory had seemed to shy away when things got too tender or intimate. When it felt like they were teetering on making love, Emory had looked almost panicked, quickly getting on his hands and knees and hurriedly prepping himself, effectively shifting things back to simple fucking. Maybe Kyle was reading too much into it. He wasn’t exactly an expert on casual sex. He refocused on dicing the tomatoes.

“H-hi.”

Kyle somehow managed not to slice his own finger off when Emory’s voice reached his ears. He stood a few steps inside the kitchen. He shuffled his feet and shoved his hands further into the pockets of his now-rumpled skintight jeans from the previous night. His face still had that doughy, flushed, post-sleep glow, and his black hair, now mostly devoid of product, curled ever so slightly below his ears and stood up in one or two odd places around the back of his head. It was all Kyle could do not to drag him back to the bedroom and do further ungodly things to him.

“Good morning. How’d you sleep?” Kyle managed to keep his suddenly raging libido in check and play the part of the good host.

Emory’s eyes widened. “Fine. Your bed’s really comfy.” He gave a small smile and his cheeks seemed to turn even rosier.

Kyle chuckled at that. “Yeah. I know firm mattresses are supposed to be better for your back. But I’ve always liked to sink right in and be surrounded by downy softness.” He smirked. “I can always go to a chiropractor if I have to, but I won’t give up my bed.”

Emory gave a brief smile, and then his eyes flitted toward the door. “Um, well, I better get going. It, um, it was nice to meet you, Kyle.” He ran a hand through his hair and tucked it behind his ear as he began moving hastily in the direction of the front door.

Kyle was frozen for a minute as he processed what was happening. The knife still in his hand clattered against the cutting board, and Kyle followed a swiftly retreating Emory.

“Wait a minute.” Kyle caught up to Emory and gently grabbed his arm before he could reach for the door handle. “Stay for breakfast.”

Emory’s mouth opened and closed, and for a moment he resembled a guppy. “I can’t. But thanks.”

“Do you really have somewhere you have to be?” Kyle gently pushed.

“Well, um, no, I just….” Emory got that panicked look on his face again, and Kyle let go of his arm.

“Don’t worry about it. If you’d rather not, that’s fine. I just¼ I thought it would be nice.” Kyle tried to give him a sincere smile without looking too disappointed.

“It’s not that I don’t want to.” Emory looked surprised at his own words. “I just, I don’t want you to go to any extra trouble. I mean, I certainly didn’t expect….” He trailed off, clearly not knowing how to proceed.

Kyle took a deep breath. He didn’t know how to do one-night stands, and it seemed Emory was a master of them but had no idea what to do the morning after. What a pair they made.

“It’s no trouble. I promise. We both have to eat, don’t we?” One side of his mouth quirked up. “Besides, I’d like you to stay. Really.”

Emory considered this, his lips still parted, his tongue darting out to moisten them. Then he slowly nodded.

“O-okay.”

“Great!” Kyle beamed and took the liberty of placing his hand on the center of Emory’s back, leading him back to the kitchen.

There were bar stools on the far side of the large granite-topped island that held the range top, and Kyle deposited Emory next to one of them. He had already set the table, but it would be easier for them to talk while he finished up breakfast with Emory sitting closer.

“Are eggs okay?” Kyle peered over his shoulder as he shoved the remaining veggies back in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. “If not, I can make pancakes instead. I also have bagels, cereal, toast¼.”

Emory’s expression was one of bemusement and bewilderment as he perched himself on the nearest stool. “Eggs are just fine.”

“What do you want in your omelet, then? I have tomato, onion, green pepper, and mushrooms. There’s ham and bacon. And either feta or cheddar cheese.” Kyle looked at the little chopped piles, making sure he hadn’t missed any of the choices before looking up again at Emory.

He found his morning companion laughing softly. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“What?” Kyle looked down at the chopped food and back up at Emory.

“I thought you were a psychologist. Do you also moonlight as a brunch chef on occasion?”

Kyle blushed and ducked his head. Maybe he had gone a little overboard. But he loved to cook, and he hadn’t had anyone to cook for in a while.

“I just like to cook. And”—he shrugged—“I’m a big fan of brunch.”

He grinned at the man sitting at his kitchen counter. It was nice to see Emory’s impish smile and wit return. The shock of having “breakfast included” must be wearing off.

“So, what’ll it be?” Kyle wiggled his eyebrows.

“Um,” Emory chuckled. “Tomatoes, mushrooms, feta cheese, and just a little bacon on the side, please.”

“You got it.” Kyle poured some of the beaten egg mixture into the already-buttered skillet. “There’s coffee made and mugs are in the cabinet right above the pot, so help yourself.”

“Cool.” Emory gave him an appreciative smile and slid off his stool in a quest for caffeine.

A few moments later Kyle plated two perfectly formed omelets, added a side of bacon to Emory’s, and carried them over to the table. He placed the coffee pot on a trivet between the two place settings and scanned the table for anything he had missed.

“Wow. This looks so good.” Emory sat down at the table and immediately picked up a piece of bacon with his fingers and took a bite.

Kyle found he was terribly pleased Emory was so appreciative of his efforts in the kitchen. He smiled and sat down himself.

“Do you want juice? I have orange or cranberry.”

Emory swallowed his mouthful of bacon, and Kyle was briefly mesmerized by his bobbing Adam’s apple. “No, thanks. I’m good with just coffee.”

“Okay.” Confident that Emory had everything he needed, Kyle took off his hostess hat and dug into his omelet.

Kyle was amazed how hungry he was this morning. He guessed his impromptu workout the previous evening accounted for it. Images from the previous night quickly flooded his brain, and he swiftly lifted his coffee mug and took a large sip to hide the sudden arousal he worried was written all over his face. He surreptitiously watched Emory eat out of the corner of his eye. Kyle would kill to know what was going through the beautiful man’s head this morning.

Aria Release Party: Excerpt #3 and Giveaways!

December 24, 2012

Here’s the last excerpt from my brand new Dreamspinner Press release, Aria (Blue Notes #3) ! I’m running a bunch of giveaways to celebrate release day.  Enter by leaving your name and email on my blog.  I will draw a name from the comments for each of the drawings tonight. So comment once, and you’re entered into all the drawings!

One of the drawings is for a t-shirt with the gorgeous cover of Aria (art by Catt Ford) smack dab center. I’ve got a pretty good selection of sizes, too. XD The photo, by the way, features the incredible interior of the La Scala opera house in Milan, which appears in a few of the Blue Note Series books, including Aria and The Melody Thief. It’s probably one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world, and along with Covent Garden in London and The Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center in New York, is one of the ultimate performing venues for an opera singer. Not surprisingly, opera sensation Aiden Lind, one of the main characters in Aria, sings in all of these amazing places. I guess in that sense, Aria is a bit of my own fantasy come true.

Ever wonder how opera singers manage to be heard in these huge venues that seat thousands of patrons? It’s a combination of things, really. First, the accoustics of these opera houses are amazing. They were built so that a human voice could fill the space without amplification. But not just any human voice. Big human voices (yes, that’s the term for loud voices in opera speak). The kind of voices that sing in large houses like these are ones you could hear from a mile away (not that much of an exaggeration!). How do you “get” a big voice? Most of it is genetics–the way your jaw, mouth and throat are made. But there’s also technique that you can learn to help project your voice, most of which has to do with breath support (singing over the breath, much like a violin bow vibrating across a string). Do it wrong, and you can hurt your vocal chords and end up with vocal “nodes,” which are a bit like a callous and interfere with the vibrations of the voice (and make you sound hoarse or raspy).

Interested in reading a bit more of Aria? Here’s another excerpt for you, from Chapter Two. Hope you enjoy it! -Shira

*********************

Blurb: Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.

Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.

When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.

**************

Chapter Two

London

“MR. LIND!” the reporter shouted at him as he walked out the side door from Covent Garden. “Do you have a minute?”

Aiden had just finished rehearsing for his London debut in a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He was exhausted and looking forward to a hot shower back at his place. He pulled up the collar of his wool coat and tucked his scarf a bit tighter around his neck. With all the insanity that seemed to swirl around him recently, the last thing he wanted was to get sick and have to cancel a performance. He could see the headline now: Lovesick Opera Star Misses Opening Night.

Deep breath. I can do this. He turned and flashed his best, most confident smile at the woman. Opera singers never got much press attention, but ever since he’d met Cameron Sherrington, Aiden had been on the radar screen. Cam wasn’t only the outrageously wealthy heir to a global hotel conglomerate, he was also a sometime impresario who financed Broadway-bound productions and even a movie or two when it struck his fancy.

“Mr. Lind, I’m Janine Thomas, from the Sunday Press,” the woman said as he shook her hand. “I was hoping to ask you a few questions.”

“Sure.”

He had been expecting the usual “Did you know that the queen will be attending your debut?” or “Are you and Lord Sherrington planning another vacation aboard his yacht this summer?” So he was entirely unprepared when she asked, “Is it true about Lord Sherrington and Jarrod Jameson?”

“What?” He stared at her for a split second, then swallowed hard and fought to regain his composure.

He knew Jarrod. Cam had invited him and about a hundred other guests to a party a few months before at “the castle,” as Aiden liked to call Cam’s family’s sprawling estate about an hour out of London, at which he and Cam sometimes spent the weekend. Jarrod was an Olympic swimmer and recent gold medalist in the European games held only six months before. Lean, muscular body, model good looks. Gay.

The reporter—Aiden had already forgotten her name—thrust a large glossy photograph into his hands. He knew he should hand it back to her, but he was so rattled he couldn’t think straight. The photo was grainy, obviously taken at night. It showed two men entwined and kissing behind a tall iron gate. The kiss was not chaste.

Aiden’s mouth went dry. He knew that gate—the gate in front of the London home he and Cam shared in Bloomsbury. One of the men looked a lot like Jameson, although he couldn’t be sure. And the other man… Aiden was pretty sure he recognized the familiar high cheekbones, the short brown hair that was always stylishly mussed, and the lean, athletic frame that looked so striking in an expensive suit. And well he should. He’d been living with the man for nearly a year.

He shoved the photograph back at her. “No comment.” His jaw tensed as he strode quickly over to the curb and flagged down a taxi.

“Mr. Lind!” she shouted as he ducked into the cab and shut the door. He ignored her and gave the driver his address.

AT NEARLY two in the morning, Aiden heard the front door open and close. He had spent the better part of the past three hours making a serious dent in the contents of a cut crystal carafe filled with expensive scotch. He was drunk, but not so drunk that he didn’t care. He wished to hell he was. He didn’t want to care. It hurt too much.

It was still so surreal, living in this incredible Edwardian house in one of the most expensive London neighborhoods. He had grown up in rural Mississippi in a three-bedroom ranch on his grandfather’s farm. The house had been comfortable but small, built in the late 1960s, when his father married his mother. A wedding present. Aiden had always wondered how his mother must have felt, having her front door a few hundred feet from her in-laws’ home. But if it had bothered her, she’d never mentioned it. Elizabeth Lind was the perfect wife and mother, attending church, cooking and cleaning and raising her two children. His mother’s world was far removed from the one into which Cameron Sherrington had been born—one of wealth and privilege. Aiden still felt like a usurper, a pretender to his current circumstances.

“Waiting up for me, sweetheart? I told you I’d be at the gallery opening late. Lady Billingsley insisted we go out for drinks afterwards, and you know how she is.” Cameron laid his coat over the back of the loveseat, walked over to Aiden, and bent down to kiss him on the head.

“I looked online,” Aiden said, his voice a monotone. “The gallery opening was last week.”

“Checking up on me?” Cam laughed and kissed Aiden again. “I’m sure you’re mistaken.” He walked over to the buffet and poured himself a glass of sherry. “I hardly imagined the party tonight. And it was a dull one, frankly. If Sarah hadn’t been there, I’d—”

“Was he good, Cam?” Aiden got up from the couch and stood in front of the fireplace.

“What on Earth are you talking about? And who is he?”

“Jarrod Jameson.”

The slight twitch in Cam’s cheek told Aiden everything he needed to know.

“Jameson? You mean the swimmer? What would I know about him?” Cam refilled his glass and waved it in Aiden’s direction.

“I know you’ve been fucking him.”

Cam raised an eyebrow. “You’re drunk.”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“We can talk about it in the morning, when you’ve sobered up a bit.” Cam gave him a long-suffering look that made Aiden feel like he was six years old again.

“Cam. Shit. You promised you wouldn’t—”

“Shhh.” Cam took Aiden in his arms and ran his hands through Aiden’s hair.

Aiden wanted to pull away, but he couldn’t do it. Instead he melted into Cam’s arms.

“You know I love you. What happens out there, it’s not us. This,” he continued, “here, this is who we are.”

The fire spit angrily, and Aiden watched it with calm detachment over Cam’s shoulder. Cam was right. This was home. He loved this old place with its creaky stairs, wood paneling, painted doors, and beautifully worn oak floors. They had picked out the furniture together, shopping the antique stores of Portobello Road until they found the perfect pieces.

“Cam, I—”

“You’re being paranoid, sweetheart,” Cam interrupted. He ran a thumb over Aiden’s mouth, tracing his lips until Aiden closed his eyes. “You worry too much. You always do.”

Aiden took a deep breath. Maybe Cam was right. Maybe he was being paranoid. The photograph had been taken at night, after all. And he hadn’t been sure it was Cam.

“Come to bed, Aiden,” Cam purred as he licked a line from Aiden’s chin to the sensitive spot under his ear. “And let me show you how much you mean to me.”

“AIDEN?”

Shit. He had missed his entrance. Again.

“Sorry, David. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”

David Somers peered at him over the rim of his reading glasses and frowned. “It’s about time for lunch anyhow,” the conductor said as he stood up from the piano. “How about it? My treat.”

“I… ah… sure.” Aiden had eaten with David before, but he still felt supremely awkward around the superstar conductor whose old-world grace and sophistication were so far removed from Aiden’s humble upbringing. David was classical music royalty, and Aiden was the hick kid with the incredible voice.

They’d met three and a half years before, not long after he’d arrived in Germany. David had taken Aiden under his wing, gotten him work in the larger European houses, introduced him to the best European conductors. David was the reason Aiden was making his Covent Garden debut; in the terms of his contract, he had insisted on Aiden singing the title role. David had even sent Aiden to a friend who had his own line of clothing with one of the largest European fashion houses for a “bit of polish,” as David had put it. David had taught Aiden about good wine and good food. Aiden’s best friend, Cary Redding, loved to tease Aiden that David was his fairy godfather.

When David’s driver let them out in front of a small fish and chips place near Piccadilly Circus, Aiden was more than a little surprised. He’d been expecting something a bit more posh. David was clearly amused to see Aiden’s reaction.

“Fish and chips is an art form in its own right,” David told Aiden in his upper-crust New England accent. “Not everything on your plate needs to be haute cuisine.”

Ten minutes later, settled at a table near the back of the tiny restaurant, Aiden nodded in hearty agreement as he bit into a delicately battered piece of fish that melted on his tongue. “This is incredible.”

David’s response was a knowing but reserved smile. David never laughed, as far as Aiden could tell, and right now, Aiden was thankful for it.

“Something’s on your mind, Aiden,” David said. He never did beat around the bush.

“It’s nothing.” Aiden wiped his lips and tried not to blush.

“I’ve never seen you this distracted.”

Aiden was utterly embarrassed. It wasn’t as if he was going to discuss his love life with someone like David Somers. Why would David even care?

“I am not entirely oblivious to your situation,” David continued, apparently unfazed by Aiden’s silence. “I knew Lord Sherrington’s parents quite well.”

Oh God, Aiden thought. Can it get any worse? He waited for the other shoe to drop. David would fire him now, wouldn’t he?

“That’s interesting,” Aiden said, knowing he looked like a complete fool and reminding himself that there were other jobs to be had. Of course, none of the other jobs he’d gotten since coming to Europe were anywhere near his current gig: performing at the best opera house in Great Britain with the best conductor around, singing the title role in Don Giovanni.

“I simply wanted you to know that if you need anything,” David continued, “I’m here to assist. I have several spare bedrooms at my London flat.”

Aiden’s mouth fell open. Was the man offering to put him up if he left Cam?

David offered Aiden a warm smile. “I put very little stock in the gossip rags,” he said as he tore a piece of fish off with his bare hands, “but I am not so naïve as to believe that there is never a grain of truth to be found between their covers.”

“You… you would do that?” Aiden stammered as David’s words began to work their way to his fuzzy brain. “Put me up?”

“Of course. Aren’t we friends?”

Aiden coughed and choked on a piece of fish until tears appeared in the corners of his eyes.

David handed him an extra napkin with casual aplomb. Does anything ruffle this man? Aiden wondered. Friends? Me and David Somers?

“It would be my pleasure.”

“I… uh… I mean… that’s very kind of you and all, but….”

“Aiden.” David’s face was serious now, his expression sympathetic and kind. “You have far too little faith in your own abilities both on and off the stage. It isn’t my place to give you advice as to your private affairs, but I feel it’s my duty as your friend to remind you that I am here should you ever need my help.”

“I… uh… thanks, David. I’m honored. I mean, I’m—”

“There’s no need to thank me. And no need to speak of it further.” He gestured to Aiden’s plate. “By the way,” he continued, “the fish is far better consumed hot.”

Aiden nodded dumbly and went back to work on his food, knowing the heat in his cheeks was visible to his companion but unable to do anything about it. There was no doubt in his mind that David’s offer was entirely genuine.

David Somers wants to be my friend? It seemed so improbable, so surreal. And yet, there it was.

“YOU were splendid, darling,” Cam gushed as he met Aiden in the front entrance of his family’s estate and planted a kiss on his lips. “Not that I expected anything else, of course.”

Cameron had invited the entire Don Giovanni cast back to the castle to celebrate iden’s London debut. And the orchestra. And the stage crew. Half of London, really.

Cam guided Aiden into the grand ballroom of the estate to a round of applause from the guests. Aiden caught David Somers’s eye, and the conductor raised his glass and smiled.

The place was magnificent. Glittering chandeliers cast flickering slivers of light on the polished marble floors. The ceiling was painted with tiny stars on a deep blue background, the walls paneled in well-oiled wood that shone and reflected blue and white with the crystals overhead. Toward the back of the ballroom, enormous arched doors led out onto a patio running the length of the room. Aiden was reminded of the dizzying effect of a disco ball, only far more ethereal.

A jazz orchestra played at one end of the high-ceilinged room as women in ball gowns danced with men in tuxedos. Aiden had begged Cam for a little party at their own home. He was entirely out of his element here, amidst the titled guests and local celebrities. Cam, however, had insisted that Aiden deserved the lavish celebration, and Aiden, knowing it was useless to argue, had finally relented.

For nearly two hours, Aiden smiled politely as guest after guest congratulated him on his performance. Finally, at the end of his patience and feeling the usual exhaustion that followed an evening of singing, he walked onto the patio and into the damp evening air. The midwinter chill on the breeze helped clear his mind.

It was quiet here, overlooking the formal gardens. Beyond, Aiden could barely make out the copse of trees he and Cam had often picnicked under. Beyond that were the woods where they’d ridden on horseback—where Cam had taught Aiden to ride. Even now, as winter began to weave its tendrils throughout the countryside, it was still lovely. In spring, the trees and flowers would burst into a frenzy of color, each plant painstakingly placed for maximum visual impact. Aiden wished his mother could see this. She’d always loved to tend her garden.

Overhead, a plane made its way to parts unknown, but the only thing Aiden could hear was the wind as it moved through the trees and shrubs. He wondered what it must have been like for Cam, growing up in this beautiful but formidable place. They often spent weekends here in the spring and summer, but it never felt like home to Aiden. He couldn’t get used to the servants who pressed his clothing and turned down the bed at night, or the elaborate breakfasts that greeted them in the mornings with food enough for ten people.

In all his stays at the castle, Aiden had never once met Cameron’s mother. He once asked Cam how often he saw her, but Cam only laughed and pointed out that Aiden hadn’t seen his own parents or his sister in more than two years. Funny, thought Aiden, how he still missed his parents sometimes. But then again, John Lind had made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing to do with his only son. Aiden’s mother wouldn’t defy her husband, although she wrote to Aiden regularly by e-mail. His sister, Deb, had also made the effort to stay in touch, and he saw her once a year at most.

“Aiden!” he heard Cam call from the glass doors behind him. “You must meet Lord Cook and his wife, Audrey.”

With a sigh, Aiden turned and walked back into the ballroom.

AT NEARLY three in the morning, Aiden climbed the back stairs to the enormous bedroom he and Cameron shared. The room, as the rest of the house, was decorated in antiques. The bed was the only compromise in the room. Made of reclaimed wood Cam had told him once made up a wall-sized cabinet, it had been crafted to resemble the other pieces. Mahogany, finely detailed carving. Outrageously expensive. Cam had told him it was French and several hundred years old. Oil paintings of the English countryside hung at perfectly placed intervals on the damask-covered walls.

The party still continued below. It would go on until sunrise, Aiden guessed, but Cam would forgive him for turning in early. Not that Cam would hesitate to tease him mercilessly about being an early bird the next day. Aiden had a difficult enough time keeping up with Cam’s seemingly boundless energy, but after a long day and performance, Aiden knew it was a lost cause even to attempt it.

Aiden shed his tux, slipped into a heavenly pair of silk pajamas Cam had given him as a gift—one of many gifts—and washed his face in the spacious bathroom attached to their room. He reached for the toothbrush, neatly laid out on the glass shelf above the sink, when his stomach rumbled loudly enough for him to hear. He laughed. In all the chaos of the evening, he had forgotten to eat.

He never did eat much before a performance. He was loath to admit it, but he desperately feared burping when he was on stage. Not that he ever had. Still, it was a bit like a good luck charm for him, not eating. But afterward….

Damn. The servants would all be helping out at the party, so it wouldn’t be easy to find someone to bring him a snack. He didn’t want to get dressed again, he was too comfortable. He’d have to get the food himself without being noticed. Aiden smiled at the thought that he knew his way to the kitchen without descending the main staircase. He and Cam had sneaked down to the kitchen by way of the servants’ stairs more than a few times to snag leftovers after a particularly athletic round of sex.

He pulled on a pair of slippers and tied a warm woolen robe around himself. He made his way down the long hallway that joined the east wing of the house with the west, past the enormous staircase that led to the front entry, and toward the back stairs. He had nearly reached the stairs when he heard it—the sound of voices from a sitting room that joined a pair of bedrooms.

“Right… oh, yes… right there. That’s it. Just a little more. Oh… fuck!”

Aiden laughed to himself. He wasn’t all that surprised that some of the guests had made their way up here for a little added entertainment. The servants had been instructed to make the guest bedrooms available to Cam’s “good friends,” which in Aiden’s experience meant anyone who asked to stay.

He quickened his pace, not wanting to eavesdrop. The door to the sitting room was slightly ajar, so he kept his eyes focused on the stairwell so he wouldn’t be tempted to look inside. But then he heard a second voice, and he froze where he stood.

“Damn, but you’re tight tonight, sweetheart. Have you missed me? Have you been saving yourself for me? Because that tight little ass of yours is too delicious—”

Aiden’s gut roiled. He stormed over to the door and kicked it open with such violence that the sound echoed down the hallway. What he saw inside made him sick.

Jarrod Jameson was bent over an overstuffed settee. Naked. Cam, fully dressed, was ramming him from behind, his hands grasping Jarrod’s waist. Later, Aiden would realize that his gaze hadn’t focused as much on the men as on the antique sofa, with its beautiful carved scrollwork and hand-embroidered upholstery. Cam had taught him to appreciate the delicate beauty of just such an antique.

“Get the fuck out of here!” Aiden shouted at Jarrod as the two men abruptly separated.

“Aiden, sweetheart, I—”

“Shut up,” Aiden snapped at Cam as Jarrod picked up his scattered clothing from the Persian rug and ran out of the room, still naked. It was a good thing Jarrod left so quickly, because Aiden’s hands were balled in fists and he was having a hard time restraining himself from punching Jarrod’s face in.

Cam opened his mouth to speak, but Aiden didn’t give him the opportunity. “Don’t fucking try it, Cameron. It won’t work this time.” He turned and left, slamming the door to the sitting room behind him.

Back in his room—their room—a minute later, Aiden threw off his pajamas, pulled on a pair of jeans and a cashmere sweater, slipped on a pair of moccasins and a wool jacket, grabbed his wallet, and headed down the main stairway. He’d get his things later. He couldn’t stay a second longer.

Several guests were milling about the front door, drinks in hand, laughing. They barely looked at him in his street clothes. Maybe they didn’t recognize him.

Or maybe they don’t give a shit.

“I’m taking the Jag,” Aiden told one of the servants. The man looked at him with surprise but complied, returning a moment later to let him know the driver would be bringing the car around. Aiden was on the road back to London a few minutes later.

WHEN Cameron returned from the castle the next morning, Aiden had several suitcases spread around the bedroom and was packing his belongings. Aiden had tried to sleep but had given up in the end, deciding instead to get his things together. He couldn’t do this anymore. How could he have been so naïve? He had stupidly believed the man the first time. But the second….

What’s the old expression? Fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me?

God, his chest hurt. His eyes were red from lack of sleep and tears. Ironic that the biggest night of his career would be the worst night for his heart.

“Darling,” Cam said as he looked into the bedroom at the array of suitcases on the floor and on the bed, “don’t do this.”

“Do what, Cam? Because last time I checked, I wasn’t the one doing anything. It was you, doing it to us.”

“Darling, please!”

“Don’t you fucking call me that! You don’t deserve to call me that.”

“Dar—Aiden,” Cam began again, “let’s talk about this. We can straighten this out.”

“Sure. We can straighten it out. I’ll forgive you again and you’ll go on doing what you want, won’t you?”

“You’re jealous. You always were.”

“Cam, for God’s sake! Of course I’m jealous. We live together, and I just caught you fucking some—”

“Sweetheart. Aiden.” Cam walked over to Aiden and took him in his arms. “Don’t do this.”

Aiden did his utmost not to respond to that touch, to the touch that had once sustained him through the ups and downs of his career. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done, not to melt into Cam’s arms as he loved to do.

“It’s over, Cam. I can’t live like this. It’s not what I thought we were about.” Aiden’s voice cracked.

“I’ll never speak to Jarrod again.” Cam’s tone was reassuring. “I promise you.”

“It’s not him. Don’t you understand? You’ll just find someone else. I’m obviously not enough for you.”

There. He had said it. And it was true. Because no matter how much he told himself he deserved better, it all seemed to come down to his own failings. He, Aiden Reuben Lind, hadn’t been able to keep Cameron happy. It didn’t matter how he looked at it. He had failed. It was time to admit it. Time to leave. Time to move on.

“I want you.”

Aiden pulled out of Cam’s arms and walked silently to the bathroom, grabbed his toiletry bag, and tossed it into the suitcase he’d been working on. “It’s over, Cam,” he said as he latched the case and pulled it off the bed.

“What will you do without me?”

The question scared Aiden to death. “I’ll be fine,” he said under his breath. He hoped he sounded more convinced than he really was.

“You need me, Aiden. You need what I can give you. Money. Better name recognition. Work.”

Work. Aiden hoped to God Cameron wouldn’t interfere with his work. Would he do that?

“I’ll be fine,” he repeated.

“You’ll regret this, Aiden. I assure you.”

Was that a threat? He didn’t dare ask. “Good-bye, Cam,” he said. He picked up the suitcase and headed out the bedroom door. “I’ll send someone around to pick up the others.”

Cameron said nothing.

“DAVID,” Aiden said an hour later as he stood on the doorstep of David Somers’s London flat, “it’s good to see you. I hope I’m not coming at a bad time.”

David smiled and opened the door for Aiden, took the suitcase over Aiden’s protests, and led him inside. “The offer to stay here didn’t have an expiration date.” He gave Aiden’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “You can stay as long as you like.”

Aria (Blue Notes #3) is at the Dreamspinner Press website.

Aria Release Day: Giveaways and Excerpt #2

December 24, 2012

Welcome to the release party for my new novel, Aria, the third in my Blue Notes Series of classical music themed gay romances!  I’m running a bunch of giveaways on my blog, so stop by and comment to be entered into all of them.  I’ll be drawing winners at midnight tonight!

One of the today’s giveaway is for a paperback copy of Blue Notes, the original book in the series. Loosely based on my experiences growing up in France, Blue Notes is the story of former pianist, now lawyer Jason Greene, and jazz violinist Jules Bardon. The two meet in a Paris jazz club after Jason runs away from his life in the US when he catches his fiancee cheating on him.

Like Blue Notes, Aria is a story about a musician and a lawyer. In fact, Sam Ryan from Aria and Jason from Blue Notes almost end up in bed together at one point in the original story. They’re former courtroom rivals who meet after Jason’s heart has been broken. Instead, the two men become close friends and when Sam visits Jason in Paris, Sam runs into former lover and international opera sensation Aiden Lind. So begins their rekindled romance.

Aria is at times sad, at times sweet and funny, and of course, there’s a happily ever after (no spoilers here – I only write books with happy endings!). In fact, the HEA in Aria is probably my favorite so far in the series. But that’s all I’m saying!

Aria has a bit of the backstage world of opera. From the wigs, to the pancake makeup that tends to run down your face when you sweat under the hot lights (the heavy costumes don’t help much either), it’s really hard work. They say singing an opera is a bit like running a marathon. Not sure about that (I’ve never run a marathon!), but I do know that it’s a physical career. And no, in this day and age, most opera singers are not fat. In fact, the thinnest I’ve ever been was when I was singing. You really do have to look the part! Tosca, by the way, was supposed to be a sexy opera singer. ;-) Want to see what I call sexy when it comes to opera singers? Check out this excerpt from Bizet’s “The Pearlfishers” – the operatic equivalent of a bromance. That would be Aiden (the baritone) on the right in the clip. Yummy! See, opera singers can be hot!

I’ll leave you with a NSFW excerpt from Aria. This is the scene where Aiden and Sam first meet, five years before present day action. It’s a long and hot one. Enjoy! -Shira

*********************

Blurb: Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.

Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.

When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.

**************

Chapter Five:

New York, New York

The SoHo bar was crowded when Sam arrived a few minutes after eight o’clock. Some of his friends had recommended it to him, but he had never been inside. Typical of many establishments in the area, the walls were stripped bare of years of paint. Modern canvasses in various sizes and shapes broke the monotony of the ancient brick. Italian track lighting hung from the drop ceiling illuminated the artwork and the tables. Sam could make out the strains of classic jazz over the low drone of conversation. The smells of alcohol, aftershave, and musk hung in the air.

Sam realized his hand rested on his briefcase. He thought briefly of the metal cookie tin inside, which inevitably made him think of Nick. He and Nick first met in a bar, but Sam had never liked them much. As a couple, they had mostly socialized with friends, alternating hosting get-togethers at their loft apartment and spending weekends upstate in small B and Bs.

Sam felt overwhelmed as he sat down at the end of the bar and ordered a drink. He reminded himself that he was just here for the alcohol, but the Manhattan gay scene loomed frighteningly on the horizon, and he was woefully unprepared. Even now, a year after Nick’s death, he knew he wasn’t ready, though he’d already received a few appreciative looks in the few minutes since his arrival. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for it again—it had been intimidating enough the first time around.

“Vodka tonic,” he told the bartender. Tonight he needed something stronger than his usual beer. Running a hand through his hair, he took a look around the bar for the first time. There was no dance floor, so the action was subtler. Men filled nearly every seat at the long bar, chatting in undertones over drinks. He fought the urge to leave. When the bartender placed a drink in front of him, he thanked the man and took a long, desperate swallow. The comforting effect of the alcohol began to kick in.

What am I doing here?

The man seated to his left got up and threw a twenty down on the bar, then waved to the bartender and the other men at the counter. Sam finished his drink in one long swallow and looked up again, this time into a pair of warm brown eyes framed by long lashes. The newcomer smiled affably at him. Sam managed to return the smile before quickly looking back down at his empty glass.

This was a mistake. He pulled his wallet out of his jacket and rummaged for a twenty.

“I hope you’re not leaving on my account,” said the man next to him. And, God, what a voice! A resonant, sexy-as-fuck baritone that went straight from Sam’s ears to his cock.

“Aiden Lind,” he said more formally as he offered Sam his hand.

“Sam Ryan. Nice to meet you.” Sam’s hand was warm, his grip firm.

Aiden gestured to the bartender. “Two more. On me.”

“I was just about to leave.” Sam didn’t want to be rude, but he needed to get out of the place. Coming here had been a mistake.

“Sure I can’t convince you to stay?”

“No. But thanks, Aiden. It was good meeting you.” Sam forced a smile and picked up his satchel before heading for the door. A moment later he stepped out into the chilly night air, taking deep breaths to calm his racing heart.

He wasn’t ready. He pulled his jacket collar up, then started for the subway station.

“Sam!”

Sam turned around to see someone running after him down the street. What was his name? Aiden.

“Look, Aiden,” Sam said as he caught up with him, “I’m tired.”

Aiden blinked. “Oh. No. It’s not like that.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wallet. Sam’s wallet.

Shit. The guy was being nice, and Sam had tried to blow him off.

Sam took the wallet and their fingers brushed. Sam’s cheeks warmed as their eyes met. Uncomfortable, he shifted his briefcase from one hand to another. “Thanks. Damn good thing my head’s attached to my body tonight.”

“No problem.” Aiden shoved his hands back into his pockets.

“It was good meeting you.” Sam was hard-pressed not to like the man.

“You too, Sam.” Aiden hesitated a second longer, then turned and waved as he headed back toward the bar.

It’s only a drink. No strings. It’s not like you have anyone waiting at home.

“On second thought,” Sam called after Aiden, “I think I’ll have that drink.”

“Great!” Aiden turned around and beamed at him, and Sam’s initial hesitation evaporated in the warmth of Aiden’s smile.

A few minutes later, they walked back into the bar. Aiden motioned to a free table. “This okay with you?”

“Sure.” Sam set his briefcase back down and settled into one of the metal chairs.

“What are you drinking?” Aiden asked.

“Vodka tonic.”

“Great. I’ll be right back.” Aiden headed for the bar before Sam could offer to spring for the drinks.

Now that they were back inside in the light, Sam got his first good look at Aiden. He hadn’t noticed when they were sitting down, but Aiden was nearly as tall as he, probably around six feet. He’d already noticed Aiden’s curly hair, high cheekbones, and the strong line of his jaw. Now, Sam couldn’t help but notice the black jeans that hugged Aiden’s firm ass and the long-sleeved Henley that fit his upper torso tightly enough to hint at the muscle beneath. Casual but undeniably sexy.

Back a minute later, Aiden sat facing Sam, and Sam noticed Aiden’s foot tapping the leg of his chair.

He’s nervous too. That surprised Sam. The guy was good-looking, friendly. Trying to quell his own anxiety, Sam took a deep breath. “Thanks for the drink. And thanks again for the wallet.”

Aiden seemed buoyed by Sam’s change of heart. “Long day?” He brushed a stray lock of hair from his eyes.

“You could say that.” Sam shook his head and exhaled audibly. If only you knew….

A waiter brought their drinks. “Cheers.” Sam held up his glass and Aiden touched his beer against it.

“Cheers.”

They drank in silence for a few moments until Sam realized he must have been staring, because Aiden leaned in and gazed at him—a gaze that held more than a whisper of lust. For the past year, Sam hadn’t even considered how he looked to the world at large. He donned his expensive suits like the uniforms they were, shaved, and combed his unruly hair, but he’d just gone on living, nothing more. He’d had a few blind dates friends had set him up on, but none of them had gone anywhere and he hadn’t cared. Now he was suddenly self-conscious, his suit rumpled after a long day bent over piles of documents, his hair undoubtedly sticking up in odd places as it liked to do.

When did it get so hot in here?

Sam pulled off his jacket and draped it over the back of his chair. As the second drink went straight to his shoulders, he felt his old confidence return. “What do you do for a living, Aiden?”

“Musician.”

“Really? What kind?”

Aiden appeared uncomfortable, almost apologetic. “I’m a singer. An opera singer.”

“You’re serious?” Explains the voice of God vibe.

“Yeah.” Aiden shifted in his seat.

“That’s cool,” Sam said enthusiastically.

“You think?”

“Yes, definitely.”

Aiden laughed—a warm, rumbled laugh that made Sam melt like a puddle into his seat. Aiden Lind was a handsome man, even more so when he laughed. “I get a lot of flak from my family about it.”

“Really? Why?” Sam finished his drink and flagged down the waiter for another round.

“They think it’s queer. I used to sing rock and gospel. That was okay with them. But opera? And shit, if they knew I liked men and women….” He laughed again, but Sam heard an edge to the sound this time and saw a flash of something like pain in Aiden’s eyes. “So what do you do, Sam?”

“Compared to singing opera? Just boring stuff. I’m a lawyer for a firm near Wall Street.”

“I sort of guessed. Nice suit, briefcase ’n all. Nice tie too.” Aiden wasn’t looking at Sam’s tie, though; his gaze never left Sam’s.

Maybe it was the booze, but Sam wasn’t in the slightest bit tempted to look away. Instead, he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt.

“So what kind of law do you practice?”

Shit. What was it about Aiden that made everything he said sound like an invitation to do something sexual? The voice. Definitely the voice.

“Personal injury. Not my first choice.” Sam had rationalized taking the job for many reasons, but one in particular topped the list: the prospect of going home to Tennessee and back into the same dark and claustrophobic closet he had come out of was too horrible to contemplate.

“What would you rather be doing?”

At that moment Sam could think of a few things he’d rather be doing that had nothing to do with practicing law. “Employment law. Plaintiff’s work. You know, the underdogs?”

“Nothing wrong with that, is there?”

“No. Nothing at all.” The job had been a compromise: it hadn’t been what Sam had wanted, but it hadn’t been part of Samuel Stetson Ryan III’s “plan” either. It had been a huge disappointment to the old man that Sam didn’t return to Memphis to work for his firm.

Sam shifted in his seat, brushing Aiden’s foot by accident. At least he thought he’d done it by accident. “So.” Sam changed the subject and tried to focus on something other than Aiden’s foot rubbing against his own. “What’s it like, singing opera?”

The waiter came with another round of drinks—Sam lost count of how many he’d downed. Was this three already? It was hard to focus, and Sam was pretty sure it wasn’t the alcohol that was turning his brain to mush.

Aiden leaned back in his seat with his legs slightly apart. It was an inviting pose. Aiden held his beer in his right hand and gesticulated with it as he spoke. As Aiden’s leg pressed against Sam’s, Sam did his utmost to keep his eyes focused on his companion’s face. His own face felt warm.

“It’s great,” Aiden replied. “I’m planning to go to Germany soon, maybe do a few auditions there.”

“Sounds exciting. What would you be auditioning for?” Laughter erupted from the bar, and Sam moved his chair closer to better hear Aiden’s answer.

“Most of the larger German cities hire contract singers for their opera houses. It’s better than in the States. Here, you mostly just string gigs together to make a living. There, you have a steady job for a year at a time, do stuff in repertory. Beats waiting tables.”

“I didn’t realize it was that tough getting work.” He and Aiden were only about a foot apart now. From this distance, Sam could see the hint of Aiden’s hard nipples beneath the close-fitting Henley. It was difficult to focus on the conversation when his mind was busy imagining how he might take one of those nubs between his teeth.

“Once you get an agent, it gets better. I only graduated from school a few years ago, and it’s hard to get hired for big roles right away.”

“Kind of like getting stuck doing the grunt work right out of law school.” Sam knew the feeling well. He’d only made partner last year, and he’d done his share of shit jobs before that.

“Yep.” Aiden finished the rest of his beer, lingering over the mouth of the bottle before giving Sam a smile.

Sam swallowed hard and tried to ignore the renewed jolt of sexual heat he sensed in Aiden’s gaze. He looked down at his drink. It definitely wasn’t only the booze talking. He got hard just thinking about kissing Aiden, tasting him. “Are you from around here, originally?”

“Nah. I’m from Mississippi. Little town named Fenton, right outside of Jackson.”

“Really? Hell, I grew up in Memphis.”

“No shit.” Aiden laughed. “I thought I heard a little Tennessee in you.”

“You had me fooled. I figured you were from up north.”

“Comes with the territory. Good ear. Had to study French, German, and Italian in school. You lose the drawl fast or they beat it out of you.”

They talked about growing up in the South for a few minutes. Comfortable, easy conversation. How long had it been, Sam wondered, since he’d had a conversation like this with someone other than Nick?

Too long.

“Listen,” Aiden began as he stared awkwardly at his beer, which was now clearly empty, “would you like to get out of here?”

Since Nick died, Sam had said no to anything but casual hints at dating. This was much more of an offer.

“I’d like that,” he heard himself say.

Aiden looked surprised and pleased, but no more than Sam. Had he really said yes?

“I live over in Alphabet City. It’s not much, but….”

“That’d be fine,” Sam reassured him. He might be ready to spend the night with someone, but he sure as hell wasn’t ready to take a man back to his own apartment—the apartment he and Nick had shared. Not yet, anyhow.

Maybe never.

After a short cab ride, Sam followed Aiden up the stairs of a third-floor walkup off Avenue C and into a small two-bedroom apartment. The living room appeared to double as a third bedroom. Pots, pans, and cooking utensils hung from every inch of the high-ceilinged walls of the tiny kitchen. An electronic keyboard sat atop a cardboard box, and piles of music filled the built-in shelves. In spite of the clutter, the apartment was clean and smelled vaguely of lemon.

“I live with two other singers,” Aiden said. “Mark works nights, and Rob is out of town at a gig, so we have the place to ourselves.”

Sam put his briefcase down and tossed his coat onto the couch. He turned to find Aiden only a few inches away. In the shadows of the semidarkness, Aiden’s high cheekbones were more defined, his body backlit by the light from the streetlamp outside.

A moment later they were kissing. Rough, hungry lips met with equally awkward eagerness, teeth tapping against each other as Sam and Aiden found their bearings. Sam ran his tongue against Aiden’s lower lip and gained entry before pressing inward to find the warmth that waited there. Aiden’s mouth tasted good, with a hint of dark beer that lingered from the bar.

“Bed?” Sam asked.

Aiden’s answer was a low growl with the same deep resonance of his speaking voice. Sam had never realized the sound of someone’s voice could be such a turn-on. His body was thrumming now, and he knew there was no going back. He’d waited so long, denying himself in silent penance for circumstances over which he’d never had any control. Now he would let that final piece of Nick go and give his body over to someone new.

You know he would have wanted this for you.

Aiden put his arm around Sam’s waist as he led him down the short hallway, then pushed the bedroom door open with his foot. Sam felt the bed at the backs of his knees as Aiden pushed him down on top of the ragged comforter. The bedding smelled clean, though. Sam didn’t have a chance to take in the rest of the room before they were kissing again. Sam scrabbled for purchase on Aiden’s shirt, reaching to pull it over his head. He needed to feel Aiden’s chest, to feel someone else’s skin beneath his fingers.

Aiden’s body was as finely honed as Sam had imagined it to be back at the bar. Lean—not the overly sculpted abs that graced Times Square billboards—but just the way Sam liked them, with more than a dusting of dark, curly hair between his nipples. He pressed his hand to Aiden’s enticing skin. He wondered what it would be like to feel that chest vibrate when the other man sang. The thought led him to a renewed jolt of desire, and he pinned Aiden to the bed before pushing down Aiden’s dark jeans along with the gray boxer briefs to reveal the purple tip of a sizeable cock. It took only another minute before Aiden was completely naked on the bed. The fact that Sam was still fully dressed only served to arouse him more.

He didn’t need any encouragement to take Aiden’s erection in his mouth; he had to taste it. God, but the man tasted so good! Sam swallowed Aiden’s long cock down, pulling back the foreskin as he went and grabbing the base with his hand, slicked up with saliva. For a man who made his living with his voice, Aiden remained remarkably silent, but the upward arch of his body was tacit reassurance. Sam licked with abandon at the underside of Aiden’s hard width, then tightened the suction until he was rewarded with a gasp.

Sam’s ran his teeth and lips over Aiden’s cock as he moved upward to the tip, then nibbled his way around the crown and probed the leaking slit with his tongue, sucking to milk the salty essence there. He could feel his own hard-on pressed against his pants, which only served to intensify the experience. Denial for now. But later….

“Shit, Sam,” Aiden murmured in a distant rumble. “So good. So fucking good….”

Sam smiled wickedly, happy to have finally coaxed a sound from Aiden’s lips. He reached his free hand underneath Aiden’s balls, rolled them in his palm, then licked them, all the while fisting Aiden’s hard cock. He swallowed it again, skating wet fingers to find the clenched ring of muscles between the tight asscheeks. The press of his finger against the tight opening was rewarded with a low drawn-out groan, so he teased it again.

“Lube?” he whispered as he released Aiden’s cock for a moment.

“Don’t want any,” came the tense response. “Just push your finger in.”

Sam hesitated.

“Nah, Sam. It’s good like that… I like it like that sometimes.”

The words shot through Sam like fire. He pressed his saliva-slicked finger inside and felt Aiden’s big hands grasp his shoulders and pull him closer, encouraging him to push deeper. Sam hollowed his cheeks and increased the suction, pulling and licking until he could feel Aiden’s balls pull tight against his forearm.

“Shit… Sam… gonna… come,” Aiden warned.

Sam released Aiden’s cock from his mouth but continued to rub his lips and hand over it until he felt the warmth of Aiden’s come on his cheek. After Aiden stopped shaking, Sam met his warm brown eyes and smiled.

Aiden reached up and wiped Aiden’s cheek with the sheet, then leaned back against the pillow and inhaled long and deep. “Good God,” he said in an impossibly low, sexy voice, “that was incredible.”

Sam’s face warmed at the compliment, and he fought the urge to protest. Even after so many years of living in New York as an openly gay man, he still felt the stirrings of shame from time to time, his Southern Baptist roots too well ingrained to ignore. But the moment of embarrassment was short-lived, eclipsed by his own unsatisfied need.

“I want to fuck you,” he whispered. “If that’s okay….” He had never been hesitant before, but he felt like he was seventeen all over again, doing it for the first time in the woods behind the cabins at summer camp.

“You’re joking, right?” Aiden laughed. “Hell, yeah.” He reached under the mattress and pulled out a box of condoms and a small bottle of lube, then tossed them within Sam’s reach.

The tension in Sam’s shoulders relaxed until he felt his companion’s hand rubbing at the crotch of his pants. His breath caught in his throat. Too long. Way too long. He started to loosen his tie, but Aiden stopped him.

“Fuck me in that suit. It’s so damn hot.” He rolled onto his stomach and lifted his ass in blatant invitation. “I want you to fuck me in your clothes.”

“Damn,” Sam hissed as he unzipped his fly and pulled his cock out. There was something thrilling about the way Aiden had taken control, something about the way Aiden’s words had sounded almost like an order that made Sam shiver. And, oh God, the globes of Aiden’s ass beckoned, tight and smooth. Sam began to stroke him while he uncapped the lube and slathered his fingers with it, then reached around to press at the hole he had only barely breached before.

“No prep,” Aiden rumbled. “Lube it up. I like it when it hurts a little.”

What the hell do I say to that?

Sam knew the feeling himself, although he had never admitted it to Nick. He and Nick had been tender lovers—the kind of lovers who explored every inch of each other’s bodies with gentle fingers and tongues. Their lovemaking had never approached the rough animal sex Sam had often fantasized about. That hadn’t been Nick’s style; he had been as laid-back and slow in bed as he was in life, and Sam had loved that about him. The sex had been great. Better than great, but now….

Sam rolled the condom over his erection and greased it well, then leaned over and spread Aiden wider. Aiden’s low laugh was an invitation, and Sam looked up to see Aiden’s eyes filled with a mixture of need and playfulness. He pressed the head of his cock against Aiden’s hole, inhaling sharply as the outer ring of muscle gave way and he felt the warm tightness nip at his sensitive tip.

“Come on,” Aiden urged him. “I want it all the way inside.”

He pushed harder, Aiden’s inner muscles gradually releasing with some resistance until Sam was seated up to his balls. Aiden was half-hard again, and Sam grasped his thickening flesh with one hand as he pulled out. Then he pushed in once more, making sure he brushed against Aiden’s prostate. He felt Aiden’s shudder and saw the look of pleasure on his face.

“Harder, Sam. Need it harder.”

“Oh God, yes. But it’s been too long. I won’t be able to….”

“I don’t care.” Aiden’s voice was now rough, husky with need. “Do it like you know you want to.”

The realization that Aiden had guessed at something Sam himself had long denied only served to intensify the urge to pound Aiden senseless. “Fuck,” he panted. “You’re so tight.”

The bed shook as he picked up speed, pistoning back and forth, letting go of all of his repressed desire. His shirt clung to his skin, his pants rode up his ass, but that only increased the pleasure that ran from his cock up his spine and pulled his sac tight. He came with a shout and a series of shudders, then leaned down so his face was only inches away from Aiden’s.

Their eyes met. For Sam it was like diving into dark water—he didn’t know what he might find, but he was caught in the siren song. Aiden’s lips met his, and something deep inside Sam’s heart let go. A door he had closed when Nick died opened just a crack. It stayed open for a brief instant before he felt ice in his veins as fear seeped back inside.

“Stay?” Aiden offered hopefully.

“I….” Sam hesitated. “Okay.” He knew he should leave, that he wasn’t ready for this, but he couldn’t do it. He was so raw, so hungry for Aiden’s touch. He wanted more.

Aiden smiled at Sam and began to unbutton his shirt.

Release Day: Aria (Blue Notes #3)

December 24, 2012

I’m getting the release party started today, counting down to Christmas Eve, when Aria will be released by Dreamspinner Press! Each day, I will have a different contest for goodies. Enter by leaving your name and email on my blog. On Monday night, 12/24, I will draw a name from the comments for each of the drawings. So comment once, and you’re entered into all the drawings! You can purchase Aria here.

For those of you not familiar with the Blue Notes Series, each of the novels in the series is a standalone story that can be read in any order. Secondary characters in one story often become the main characters in another. Aria is no exception.

In Aria, we meet Sam Ryan from the original Blue Notes, a year after he’s lost the love of his life and his longtime partner, Nick Savakis. To say Sam is floundering is an understatement. He goes through the paces of everyday life as a Manhattan attorney, does his job well, but he’s forgotten how to live. On the night he finally gathers the courage to spread Nick’s ashes over the water at New York Harbor, Sam goes to a gay bar for a drink. He’s not looking for anything except maybe a one-night stand–something to make the pain go away. The last thing he expects is that he’ll meet someone he really likes: struggling opera singer Aiden Lind.

Aria is a story of love, loss, and moving on with your life. It’s also the story of the very real challenges of a long-distance relationship. Based in part on my experiences when I was traveling and singing, Aria gives the reader a taste of what isn’t as glamorous a life as you might expect. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

I’ll leave you all with a little taste of the first chapter of Aria, the bittersweet scene at the beginning of the book as Sam tries to say good-bye to Nick in Battery Park. More excerpts to come throughout the day today, including a few NSFW I promise will warm you up, so check back later! -Shira

*********************

Blurb: Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all: fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with. Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi. Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.

Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried. Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance. First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him. Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.

When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful. But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect. If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.

**************

Excerpt from Chapter One:

THE ashes flew from his fingers the moment he lifted his hand to the wind. Weightless, ephemeral, they caught the stiff breeze and vanished over the water. The sky grew darker; a sunset painted in bands of fuchsia, orange, yellow, and dark purple streaked the clouds. Lady Liberty stood sentinel against the vibrant backdrop as a ferry made its way toward Staten Island.

Goodbye, Nick.

Sam looked down at the now empty tin in his hands. He replaced the cover and sat down on one of the benches at the edge of Battery Park, smiling to see the words Macadamia Chocolate Chip printed on the top. How many times had he seen his lover toss his tubes of oil paints into the battered cookie tin as they headed to the park for a Sunday afternoon picnic? Even after Nicholas Savakis had made his name as a rising young painter, he never replaced that metal tin.

“Who needs all the bullshit?” Nick said when Sam suggested they buy him a new box for his paints. “This works fine.” So when the funeral director tried to sell Sam a fancy urn, he refused. Instead, he took Nick’s ashes in the hard plastic box and transferred half of them to the tin. He gave the rest to Nick’s family.

It’s what Nick would have wanted.

Sam had decided on this spot even before the funeral, but it took him more than a year to gather his courage to come here. This had been Nick’s favorite place to sit and paint. Sam had often met him here after work during the six years they lived together.

Sam loved to watch Nick’s dark hair blow about his face as his lean hands moved with careful precision over the canvas, his long brushstrokes capturing the multilayered colors of the water and sky. To someone unfamiliar with Nick’s work, his paintings might seem only an enticing blur of paint and texture. But over the years, Sam had come to see the world through the eyes of the lanky, slightly awkward man whose stained jeans echoed the blue and turquoise he favored in his art. The paintings were whispers of Nick’s soul, the beautiful soul Sam had cherished. Sam had hoped to spend the rest of his life with that perfect soul.

He inhaled the salty air and closed his eyes. In the distance, he could hear the drone of traffic. The air was warm for mid-November, but as the sun set below the water, he shivered. The lightweight coat over his suit jacket did nothing to stop the biting wind. Sam had planned to do this the summer after Nick’s death. Nick would have laughed at him; he’d have told Sam he always took too long to decide things.

“S’only your fault you’re sitting here freezing your ass off,” Sam could almost hear him tease.

I love you, Nick. Wherever you are.

He opened his eyes once more, realizing he still held the cookie tin in his hands. He stood up and slipped it back into his briefcase, then slung the strap of the case over his shoulder. He needed a drink; he wasn’t ready to face the empty apartment yet. Not tonight, of all nights.

You purchase Aria on Dreamspinner Press!