Tino Takes the Cake: Epilogue, American Road Trip by Sarah Black

March 16, 2018



Chapter One Thursday

I bolted upright, a scream caught in my throat. The room was still dark, and Easy stirred next to me, reached up and whacked me between the shoulder blades. I coughed, then took a deep breath, sank back down on the pillow. I couldn’t stop shaking. Easy reached for me, pulled me over until I could bury my face in the warm skin of his neck. “Was it the dream again? The wedding?”

“A new one,” I said. “Tino. That little shit was walking up the aisle, wearing a white veil. At every row of chairs, he stopped, lifted his leg, and peed on the feet of the…”

Easy sat up, cutting me off. “I swear to God, I’m giving you a pill.”

“There is no pill,” I said, trying to stuff the pillow over my face. “No pill, no power on earth. I mean, do we even know how old he is? I think he’s something like twenty-three. That isn’t normal.”

“Twenty-three is just a baby.” Easy rolled out of bed. “I’m putting the coffee on.”

“Twenty-three is not a baby in dog years,” I said, but I was already talking to his back. I was seriously considering the possibility that Tino was one of the undead.

Maybe the wedding was causing me to take leave of my senses, as Easy has suggested more than once in the last two weeks. But it wasn’t just the wedding. It had been a busy time. We’d moved to Flagstaff, with Tino and Austin, Easy’s cousin. We’d moved into a new apartment near the university, and Easy was already working as a barber. Mr. Dawes, from the Grizzly Motel, was letting Austin help with landscaping around the motel. The motel was mostly paved parking lot, with eight single-story rooms in the old motor-court style, so I wasn’t sure what needed to be landscaped. The motel was famous for the life-sized stuffed grizzly by the front door. When I went by to check on things, Austin was usually sweeping the parking lot, Tino dancing around his feet. Occasionally I spotted Mr. Dawes with Tino on his lap, both asleep in the big green recliner he had in the back of the reception area.

The Grizzly Motel was near Fat Man’s Loop, a popular Flagstaff hiking trail. I secretly dreamed of Tino trying to hike Fat Man’s Loop, and then a bear, or maybe a mountain lion, would slink between the sandstone and gypsum rocks, paws silent on the red dirt path. Tino would be trotting along the path, his overgrown battered black ears revolving like satellite dishes. The mountain lion would…

“James Lee. You’re fading out again.” Easy was standing in front of me, holding a cup of coffee. “You got to get it together, Captain. We’re still two days away and you’ve got too much to do to fall apart. You need to freak out, wait for the honeymoon.”

I grabbed the coffee, buried my nose in the cup. “Fine. I’m fine. I’ve got it all organized. Don’t worry. I’m on top of it. What time is it? We need to leave for the airport by seven.”

“We got time for showers and shaves. I sent Evelyn an email to remind her we’re coming by after we pick up mom.”

The complicated wedding logistics were organized like a military campaign. Nothing would go wrong, as long as the two wildcards in our hand behaved. Tino and Austin just had to do what they were ordered to do, exactly as ordered, and everything would go off as planned and on schedule. Easy I didn’t worry about. He knew how to follow a plan. We had a division of labor that was a natural for us, one that had been honed by years of working together in the same infantry unit. We were good. The problem was there were all these other people involved, and then there was Tino.

The dreams had started a while back, when I first started planning the wedding. The perfect plans, the perfect day, the perfect wedding in my dreams, and then Tino would be chewing on the cummerbunds, or biting the ankle of the minister. He would pop up in the back of the limo when we were leaving the church. He would howl like a coyote throughout the ceremony, drowning out the I Dos. He would climb into my mom’s suitcase, pee on her mother-of-the-groom dress. Every night, a new nightmare. I spent too much time trying to figure out what he was plotting.

What made it worse was Tino was behaving like an angel since we’d all moved into our new place. He slept in Austin’s room. We put his old pillow down at the foot of the bed, and he would curl up on the pillow to go to sleep, then by morning he would be snuggled into Austin’s side, his head pillowed in the V of a warm elbow. They were sympatico, and Tino seemed happier than I had ever known him. He was acting like a normal dog, not a demon from some Mexican dog-hell. But I knew him. I knew his black Chihuahua soul. He was biding his time, waiting for the wedding.


Chapter Two

“The bun’s more formal, but the braid seems more like you. It’s up to you, really. Just don’t leave it down. The women in the audience will spend the whole ceremony staring at your hair and wondering what product you use.”

“What?” I was fuzzing out again, thinking about Tino swallowing the rings, choking to death at the altar while the minister tried to do CPR. “What product?”

“That’s my point.” He looked at me for a long moment. “James Lee,” his voice was quieter, gentle now. “How would you like your hair for the wedding?”

“I don’t care. Whatever you think.” Easy was in charge of all hair-related wedding prep, as he was the barber. He was taking his responsibility seriously.

“A braid, then. Over your shoulder. The way you wear it when you’re relaxed, about to do your tai chi. It’s gonna be fine. Everything’s gonna be fine.” His voice was soothing, and he was petting my leg.

“Where’re the rings? Have you seen them?”

“I put them in a safe place. I don’t want to give them to Austin until the last possible minute.”

“What safe place?”

“The freezer.”

The freezer? I thought about sticking my tongue on a piece of frozen metal, like that kid in the Christmas movie.

He looked over at me, started grinning. “Yeah, happy we went with the traditional rings! They won’t be cold by the time we put them on. Austin puts out a lot of heat.”

My father had come out to Flagstaff when we told my parents and Easy’s mom we were getting married. He wanted to tell both of us they were happy about our decision, and he gave me a check for five thousand dollars. He said it was left over from my college fund, since I’d got an ROTC scholarship, and he’d been saving it for whatever I needed.

I needed to put together a good wedding, something we could be proud of and look back on for the rest of our lives. I didn’t want anything slapdash and put together on the cheap. My dad knew that about me, or had guessed it. Easy said he came out to see us in person so I wouldn’t turn all proud and refuse the money. I immediately put half the money into an emergency fund.

I asked Easy what he wanted, and he took some time thinking about it. He liked the symbols, he said. But he wanted to feel like himself. Nothing fancy, to make him feel like a fool. If it was up to him, he said, we could just have a barbecue. Something the guys in the platoon could come to, and have fun, but our families could enjoy as well. A church wedding, with a real minister. Something real, he said, and something like us. I could work with those fragments of ideas. So we bought rings that would last a lifetime, and I figured out how to make a wedding with the money that was left.

Easy was shy around my dad, but Austin was even more gregarious that usual, took him hiking around Fat Man’s Loop. When they came back, my dad sent Austin out for Thai takeout, put a tired hand on my shoulder. “Son, that boy never stopped talking. Two and a half miles. I know more about Kaibab squirrels and surfboards than I ever wanted to know. I hope you two know what you’re doing.”

I gave him a quick hug. “If Easy and I know anything, it’s that Austin belongs here with us.” We were used to him chattering away nonstop. He’d done it for four years, wearing Army green. His TBI just made the topics of his conversations more interesting. “Did he bring Tino on the hike?”
My dad looked pained again. “He carried him in a baby sling. My God, I can’t believe that dog is still alive.”


We were picking up Easy’s mom at Sky Harbor International, and on the way back up to Flag we were going to pick up Evelyn, the Navajo woman who had hosted us at her hotel on our trip looking for Austin. Her husband had died a month ago, and she had closed up the hotel. Easy talked to her at the funeral, and she said she didn’t know yet what she was going to do. We asked her to come stay for the wedding.

Mr. Dawes, the proprietor of the Grizzly Motel, had reserved rooms for our guests leading up to the big day. We were getting married in the church downtown, and then we were coming back to the Grizzly for an outdoor reception, as close to a Tennessee barbecue as I could manage, with a ring of picnic tables under the big pines and Double XLs, the second best green chili cheeseburger in New Mexico, 1987, on the menu.
After the ceremony, Easy and I were going on a little honeymoon, a short trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Austin and Tino were going to stay with Mr. Dawes for a couple of days while we were gone. We were still debating the wisdom of leaving Austin and Tino alone and unsupervised, but Mr. Dawes said he had a project that would keep both of them busy for the weekend, so we could stop worrying.

The plane from Tennessee arrived on time and in one piece, though I could tell by the way Easy kept glancing at the board and looking around for emergency first responders he was sure disaster would strike. I told him if he mentioned birds, drones, or red laser pointers one more time, I was locking him in the van and picking her up myself.

“This is a big deal, her coming out here,” he explained, not for the first time. “She doesn’t like to get out of her safe zone. Sometimes I think she would make up a cot in the storage room at the library and stay there if she could.”

“Is it anxiety? A phobia or something?”

Easy shrugged. “I don’t think so. More like shyness.”

I didn’t say anything. Shyness and a cot in the storage room at the library were a bit of a disconnect for me, but we had enough to worry about. She came through the gate, and I knew her immediately. I felt my heart turn over in my chest with tenderness. She had Easy’s soft sandy hair and eyes of a stormy blue-gray in a face that was delicate, with high cheekbones. Her long fingers were white, wrapped around the handle of her purse like she was holding on for dear life. I nearly knocked a family of four aside to get to her. She looked startled for a moment when I put a protective arm around her, then she must have recognized me. Her face flooded with relief at seeing me, and she tilted her head onto my shoulder, murmured my name in that soft Southern accent. Then Easy was there, picked her bodily up and carried her out of the crowd.

“Easy, put me down.” He did, but kept his arms around her. “I’m so happy to see you two boys.” She blinked hard, then settled her purse again, put her hand gently against Easy’s cheek. He was staring into her face like he was checking a piece of crystal for cracks. “Son, I’m fine. It was a good flight. No problems.”

She looked like a character out of a Tennessee Williams play, in a pale blue shirtwaist and cardigan. She had probably been sheltered and wrapped up against the storms for her whole life. She turned to me and smiled. “James Lee. I am so pleased to meet you. You’re even more handsome than the pictures Easy sent me!”

“I’m pleased to meet you, too. And thank you for making the long trip out here for our wedding.” She slipped her arm through mine, and I gave Easy a look, pointed my chin toward her bag. “Have you ever been to Arizona?”

“No, I haven’t. I tried to get a look out of the plane windows but it mostly looked like city.”

“What would you like to see while you’re here? The Grand Canyon?” I was ready to invite her along on the honeymoon.

“Oh, no, you boys don’t bother with me. I know you must be busy. I came to see you, nothing else. You both look so happy.”

Easy was looking cranky I’d hijacked his mother and I looked as psychotic as most people look, two days before their wedding. I smiled weakly. “We are. Very happy. Especially now you’re here.”

Easy cleared his throat behind me. “Mamma, you hungry? We could get a burger before we get back on the road.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, honey. I don’t think so. My stomach, it’s still a little nervous from the plane. But you boys go ahead if you want something. I can just have a cup of tea.”

I had seen Easy put an emergency Slim Jim in the glove box of the van when we left Flag. He would be fine. “Tea and bananas,” I said heartily. “That’s what I always like when my stomach feels nervous.” I could feel Easy’s eyes boring into the back of my head all the way down the concourse.


Chapter Three

Evelyn looked tired, her little roadside motel forlorn and a bit sad without the hopeful circle of lawn chairs in the courtyard. Her bag was packed and sitting next to the door, like she had been ready to leave for some time. She’d cut her hair off before her husband’s funeral, and I knew Easy was itching to straighten the ragged edges and give it some shape.

She climbed into the van, and I heard her and Easy’s mom murmuring greetings to each other. Easy carried her bag to the back, then climbed back behind the wheel.

“How is the little dog?” Evelyn went straight for the jugular.

“He’s good,” I lied. “He’s fine.” I heard her explaining about the javalina attack that had cost Tino one eye.

“I’ve never seen a javalina,” I heard Easy’s mom say, “though I have seen pictures of them. “They look like pigs, is that right?” I was having a bit of trouble calling her by her name, Janelle, and Mrs. Jacobs sounded too formal. Mom wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t call her mamma, like Easy. I had always thought of her as Easy’s Mom, but suddenly here she was, an entire person in her own right. Suddenly the name issue seemed like a critical piece of the puzzle I had somehow neglected. What was I supposed to call my new mother-in-law?

“What should I call her?” I asked Easy, out of the corner of my mouth. I heard Evelyn in the back seat explaining that javalinas were, in fact, cannibals.

Easy ignored me. “Hand me that Slim Jim, James Lee. I’m hungry.”

I should have thought of tea for nervous stomachs. There would probably be nervous stomachs all around. I could get a special blend from Adagio teas. That fancy cook shop downtown carried them. Maybe a small teapot, a cup, and tea bags and demerara sugar for each of the ladies. Mr. Dawes would let them brew tea in their rooms, right? I had seen this tea, hibiscus flowers and blood orange. It was a beautiful rich pink-purple, and it had a fruity, citrus flavor. Maybe that would be good for the wedding tea. Why had I not thought of wedding tea before now?
I turned to the back seat. “Is there anything you can’t eat? Food allergies? No problem with hibiscus? Rose hips?”

They both stared at me, startled, and shook their heads. I turned back around, thinking. Easy was giving me the side eye. “Why didn’t you remind me to get some wedding tea?”

“Settle down.”

I saw Evelyn hand Easy a green corn tamale from the back seat, steaming and wrapped in a paper towel. She had a little insulated lunchbox unzipped on her lap. He reached for it like the hungry boy he always was when under stress.

I looked back at them, and she passed one to me. Her face was impassive, but I thought I detected a bit of humor in her eyes. Like maybe I needed something tranquilizing in my tamale.

We settled them into their rooms at the Grizzly motel. Easy was going to stay with them, walk his mom and Evelyn around Flag if they wanted to stretch out after the drive. I suspected he had his gray leather pack of barber’s tools somewhere about his person. Evelyn had cut her hair off at shoulder length with a pocket knife after her husband died. She said that was the traditional way, and that actually, she liked it short.

Mr. Dawes had known Evelyn’s husband, in the way of the remaining few independent owners of roadside motels in Arizona knew each other, and I heard him offering his sympathy. Everyone looked busy, so I grabbed Austin for an emergency tea run. “Leave shithead here,” I said. Tino was already dancing around, racing from Janelle to Evelyn and sniffing at the luggage.

“We got wedding business, Captain?”

“We do,” I said. “We need to get some special wedding tea so each lady can have some tea in her room.”


We walked downtown, parallel to the railroad tracks. “So,” I said, “what’s the latest sighting?”

When we’d first come to Flagstaff, we went up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to stay in one of their camping cabins. One of the rangers told Austin about the Kaibab squirrels, a breed that only lived on the North Rim. It had developed into a unique species in the geographic isolation. The reclusive and shy squirrels seemed to like Austin, or maybe they liked Tino. He had been smuggled into the cabin in a baby sling. Austin saw them everywhere, their distinctive pointed ears making identification easy. Easy and me, we got used to relaxing in the quiet of the north woods, only to have Austin jump up, pointing and shouting, “Kaibab!”

Since we got back to Flag, he continued tracking the elusive squirrel, sure he had spotted several outside of their natural isolation up on the North Rim. His theory was that some of the squirrels had hitched rides in pickups or RVs, and were busy establishing a population in the trees of Flagstaff. He had started wearing both the baby sling and a pair of tiny binoculars around his neck.

“I think I’ve identified a nesting pair in those lodgepole pines back of the Grizzly.”

“A nesting pair? So that means we’re gonna see baby Kaibabs soon? When do they have babies?”

“Should be spring,” Austin said, with the expertise of a man who had been researching the breeding habits of squirrels. “But they stay in the nest until it’s safe. The thing is, there are hawks in those trees, too. That’s what I’m worried about.”

There had been long discussions around our place about what we were going to use in place of rice when the grooms left the church. Austin lobbied hard for pinons, as this little pine nut would bring the reclusive Kaibabs out of hiding. I offered wild bird feed, which would cover both the birds and squirrels, as pure pinons would be ruinously expensive. Easy put his foot down, nixed anything being thrown. “What the fuck is wrong with you two?” he’s said, effectively ending the discussion. “We walk out of the church, get in my pickup and drive away. That’s it.” The Kaibabs were on their own.

In the cook shop, we studied the array of teas. Austin looked at cups and teapots. “Hey. There’s a set here with Bride and Groom on the cups! Think they’ll sell us two Grooms?”

“Look for flowers,” I instructed, ignoring this. “Little violets or lavender, something like that.” Austin wandered off, and I saw him looking at spatulas with smiles cut into the silicone. A lady about the age of my mother came over to save me.

I explained what I wanted, and she nodded. “A tea service for one, matching cups and teapots, three different ladies, wedding weekend, so something special without breaking the bank. Teabags or loose?”

“Teabags,” I decided. “I don’t know about two of the ladies, but my own mother uses teabags.”

“You want a black tea, a green, like Jasmine or another floral, and some fruit-rich herbal.”

“Yes, exactly,” I said. “I had this tea here once, it was the most gorgeous purple color. Rose buds and blood orange?”

“Blood orange, hibiscus, and rose hips. Excellent choice,” she said. “Very high in Vitamin C. Good for the stress.” She patted me gently on the arm. “An Earl Grey? Earl Grey Moonlight is creamy, really lovely, and then something special, maybe Jasmine Dragon Pearls?” Her eyebrows winged up at this last, and she patted herself over the chest. “That one is truly extraordinary. If you bought a box of each, you could mix and match the teabags among the ladies. That would be three teabags of each variety, plus a few extras for you.”

“Perfect.” I had a feeling the Jasmine Dragon Pearls were going to cost as much as the rest of the party combined, but I was feeling both reckless and committed, a feeling I was starting to associate with wedding planning.

“We need tiny glass teapots,” she said firmly. “Part of the joy of these teas is to watch them steep, watch the colors develop, to see the dragon pearls unfold.”

“Okay,” I said. This train was picking up speed.

“May I suggest something?” She was biting her lip.

“Of course,” I said.

“Will you allow me to choose for you, and I can have everything packaged up for you in a half-hour? If you need to see about other arrangements?”

“Wonderful. Perfect.”

“I have seen you with your young man, down at the bakers. It’s my sister in law who’s baking your cake! I have some teacups that I think will match those sugared violets she’s putting on your wedding cake!”

I hadn’t realized how carefully I had been avoiding mentioning the gender of my partner in marriage until she spoke. I relaxed suddenly, felt the awkwardness and anxiety flow off of my shoulders like water. “Thank you,” I said, clasping her hands. “I trust you implicitly. We’ll be back in a half-hour.”

“You must have a look at your wedding topper,” she said, with a sparkling smile. I pulled Austin out of the shop, left her choosing boxes of tea from the shelf.

“We’re going to be eating peanut butter crackers for a month,” I told Austin, when we were back on the sidewalk.

“Okay with me.”

I looked back at him for a moment. I forgot sometimes how fond of him I was, his easygoing nature and strange squirrel fascinations. “Am I forgetting anything?”

He pulled out the list. “Tea, check in with the bakery, rosemary bushes.”

“Okay, let’s hit the bakery next.”

The bakery had a collage in the window that included wedding toppers of various gender-mixes, to be perfectly clear before a person walked into the door where they stood. Annie, the wedding cake specialist, wore a blue cowboy bandana around her head, a denim shirt and jeans dusted with flour. She came to the counter from the back, opened a little box with the cake topper. Two tiny men in black, one with a sandy blond flat top, one with a long black ponytail.

“Holy shit!” Austin was excited. “It looks just like them!”

Annie tucked it away again. “No touching.” She looked at me. “Delivery 0800 Saturday. Everything’s fine. We’re on track. Don’t call again, James Lee. I can’t spend all day on the phone.” Annie had been Navy. She understood me.

We swung by the nursery, made sure our small rosemary bushes in white ceramic pots were ready for delivery to the reception, then picked up the tea at the cook shop. The sales clerk had everything packaged up, just as she said, and I managed not to hyperventilate over the price. It would be worth it, I told myself, not for the first time. Our wedding was worth Jasmine Dragon Pearls.


Chapter Four

Easy had Evelyn sitting in his antique barber’s chair, the only piece of furniture he’d had shipped from Tennessee. His tools were laid out in their gray leather pouch, and Tino was curled up in her lap, asleep. His mom was in the kitchen, prepping a salad. Austin told me he was going to check on the Kaibabs. He wandered off, polishing the binoculars.

She gave me her sweet, shy smile when I went into the kitchen. I put the box down on the counter and turned to her. “I don’t know what to call you,” I confessed. “What do you think?”

“I was wondering if I should call you James Lee or Jamie,” she said. “For so long now Easy has called you James Lee when he talked about you. But do you prefer Jamie?”

“James Lee is fine with me. I’m just happy Easy’s talking to me at all.”

“I wonder if you would feel comfortable calling me Janelle? That seems best, don’t you think?”

“Janelle, then. Thanks for getting the salad together.”

“I needed something to do with my hands. Easy’s the same way. He needs to have something physical to do, because if he disappears in a book, you won’t see him for hours.”

“Did he read under the covers at night when he was a kid?”

She nodded, smiling. “I always wondered if other people slept with as many books in their beds as we did. If his books were overdue, I would check under the pillows and blankets first. Do you think everyone likes cucumbers?”

“As far as I know.”

“Oh, your mom called, said they had landed in Albuquerque, no problems, and were going to Moriarty to pick up John. They were heading this way early tomorrow.”

“Perfect.” I started running over logistics in my mind, wondering what I had forgotten. A couple of guys from the platoon were coming in tomorrow morning, just staying for the wedding and reception. Their room at the Grizzly was reserved. Easy had warned them we didn’t want any screwball antics, though I was planning to search their luggage myself for bells, cans of spray foam, glitter, old Army boots, and whatever else knuckleheads would be likely to attach to the back of a pickup truck. I didn’t even think about the reception. My parents were in charge of the reception, along with John, who was bringing his big catering grill. He would be serving Double XLs or some version of the same, as well as hot dogs, and was bringing a box of tee shirts in case anyone wanted to take the challenge. I just hoped that Easy and me would be far away before people started booting. Champagne and green chili cheeseburgers. My God, and wedding cake on top of that.

Janelle reached out, put a soft hand on top of mine. “It will all happen, one way or the other, James Lee. Some people and events are out of your control. It’s time for you to start enjoying your wedding, don’t you think?”

She said that now, but just wait until there was a seven inch Double XL sitting on her wedding china. “Would you like a cup of tea? We could try out the Blood orange and hibiscus. We’ve also got Earl Grey and something called Jasmine Dragon Pearls.”

Her eyes got wide at that. “I read something about those tea pearls, where was that? Maybe National Geographic, or Smithsonian? Anyway, each pearl is formed by two baby tea leaves, with an older leaf rolled around. They’re formed by hand, dried into the little ball. Then when they steep, the pearls unroll and the leaves infuse the hot water. The leaves are supposed to look like little dragons hatching from their eggs.”

“Jasmine Dragon Pearls it is.” I unpacked the box, noticed the lady at the cook shop had put in some tiny sugar spoons, tied lavender ribbon around the handles. I put everything out on the counter and filled the tea kettle. “I’ll let you do this part,” I said. Janelle was already reading the tea box. “Let me see if Evelyn and Easy want something.”

“Want some tea?” I asked, but Easy turned around, waved me off. I walked around the chair to see Evelyn. She had her eyes closed, the plastic cape snug around her neck. “Evelyn? Would you like some tea?”

“When we’re done,” she said. “If I move, he will give me a pixie.”

“I think you would look great in a pixie,” Easy said, “but also a pageboy.” I could tell I had walked into the middle of a complex discussion.
Tino hopped down from her lap, followed me back to the kitchen. Janelle held one tiny Jasmine Dragon Pearl in her fingers, then put it in her palm and held it out to Tino. He sniffed carefully, then picked up the tiny ball of tea in his teeth and carried it to his pillow. “I think he likes it! I’ve heard about the javalinas, and Austin told me it was a boomerang. Easy mentioned a knitting needle and a bar fight. So how did Tino lose his eye?”

“He used to ride with this motorcycle gang,” I said, watching her drop tea pearls into the glass tea pot. “He fell out of the sidecar and got run over.”

“Really. Interesting.”

The tea was good, very aromatic, and with a clear bright taste that I guessed had more significance than I realized. We watched the tiny pearls unfurl into their individual leaves, and I decided that the cook shop lady was on target about the clear glass teapots. Clearly tea theater was a bigger deal than I had previously understood.

Austin came back in with news of action in one of the Kaibab nests. “Either it’s a group home, or that nest is full of babies,” he said, looking toward the big barber chair. Easy had been trying to catch him for a buff-up for the last week. “Hey, have you heard about those guys who are climbing the big redwoods out in California? They have special gear, like spikes on their shoes, and they can even sleep up in the trees. Like, suspended in hammocks or something. I could climb up the next lodgepole over, get a look down into the nest. If I stayed there for a couple of days, they would get used to seeing me, right? And then they wouldn’t be afraid.”

The squirrels wouldn’t be afraid, I thought blackly, but I would have to tranquilize Easy until Austin rappelled down from the pines. “Let’s do our research first,” I suggested. “Maybe practice a bit. When we get back from the honeymoon, we can rig a practice harness like you used in basic. Remember, the buddy system.”

“Right,” Austin grinned and turned to Janelle. “Captain Hooker, he’s like a maniac about the buddy system.”

I folded my arms across my chest, stared him down until he stopped grinning and crossed his finger over his heart in a solemn X. He looked past me then, and his eyes got wide. He let out a hoarse shout and leapt forward. “Tino! What the hell!”

I whirled around. Tino was on his little kitchen cushion, on his back, all four legs in the air, like some cartoon version of a dead dog in the middle of the road. Austin snatched him up, gave him a vigorous shake, squeezed his tiny chest in both hands. Tino coughed, and the Jasmine Dragon Pearl Janelle had given him flew out of his mouth, bounced across the kitchen floor.

I stared down at the tiny sodden thing. So close, and yet so far. “That was rolled by hand, Tino,” I said, stupidly. I shook my head at the pair of them. Janelle was petting every part of him she could reach, exclaiming in horror over the narrow escape, and Austin was trying to bend an ear to Tino’s chest to listen to his black heart beating. Tino seemed to be enjoying himself, gave a happy little wriggle.

I stuck my head around the door. Easy and Evelyn were trying to unwrap the cape, to come in and check out the action. I waved them back down. “All quiet on the western front,” I said. “The little shit still lives.”

Easy gave me a slow shake of the head. If we’d been alone, he would have finished off that look by saying, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I turned back to the kitchen in time to see Tino snuggled against Janelle’s neck. His remaining eye was closed in ecstasy. She was stroking his back like she was burping a baby. Here was another one, turned to the dark side.


Chapter Five Very Early Friday Morning

Easy pulled me into his arms for a cuddle. The night light was on in the hall, and Tino and Austin were both bedded down in their room. The ladies had gone off to the Grizzly after supper, leaving me free to fret in relative solitude. Easy put a stop to that. “See, the thing with you is, if there ain’t nothing to worry about, you’re liable to just invent some disaster that needs fixing. Like tea. Keeps your mind busy.”

I wasn’t listening. I had my nose buried in the sweet salty skin where his neck and shoulder met. “The first time I met you, I was ready to go down on one knee and pledge the rest of my life to you. Did you know that?”

“Yep. I felt the same way. We just had to go through a bunch of cherry pie and bullshit to get back to the I Do part of the program, right? Isn’t that the way the world works?”

“I don’t know. I’m still confused at my own life, not to mention the life of the world around us. I don’t know what it all means. I know that I won’t ever take you for granted.”

“And I won’t ever take you for granted. Because I’ll remember what it was like to lose you, to miss you so much it felt like my bones were breaking under the weight of it all.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, leaning up on an elbow and looking down into his face. His eyes were very tender in his tough-guy face. “I know we said we weren’t going to say sorry any more, we were going to move on from here. This is my last one. I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to never hurt you again.”

“Okay,” Easy said. He stared up at me, then tucked a long piece of black hair behind my ear. “You want to get married? You want to fool around?”

“I do.”

“I do, too.”

I stared at the wall. “Hold that thought.”

“I already locked up.”

“I’ve got to check the freezer.”

I went down the hall to the kitchen, pulled open the freezer door. The tiny black box with the rings was still there, fuzzy with frost. I opened it up, looked down at the rings, simple white gold, with a plain matt finish. They were wide, Easy’s a little bigger than mine, because his hand was bigger. They looked strong and beautiful. Rings that would last. Okay. All was well. When I got back to our bedroom, Easy was staring up at the ceiling, shaking his head.

He fell asleep, and I used his big chest for a pillow. I listened to his strong heart beat against my cheek, his hand tangled in my hair, and I made many promises for our future together that were as heartfelt as they were useless.

When I woke, he was gone, but a note on the bedside table told me my parents and John had arrived from Albuquerque and were setting up over at the Grizzly. Setting up? I had seen John’s monster catering grill in action a few times. The knuckleheads from my platoon, they would be in line to eat a burger with two pounds of beef and enough roasted green chili to choke a pig. They would probably also drink many beers first. Easy would handle it. He wouldn’t let anyone boot all over Mr. Dawes’ immaculate parking lot.

I walked over to the Grizzly. It was already after ten, so John’s red Igloo cooler was open, packed with ice and studded with bottles of beer. The women were gone. My dad walked over to give me a hug. “You mother went off with Evelyn and Janelle. They said they were going to Tuba City to the trading post to look at rugs.”

I stared longingly north. I could have used a quiet trip to Tuba City. Driving through Navajo country was very peaceful. My dad was holding an insulated cup of coffee. “Mr. Dawes has coffee and donuts in the little lobby.” I was watching the insanity unfold. Easy was wearing his Double XL t-shirt, which would no doubt goad the others on to try and earn theirs. John already had the grill smoking, with piles of onions and green chilies sending out enticing scents.

Mitchell, one of the platoon, had a Corona in his hand, waved to me madly. “Hey, Captain Hooker! Looking good! I totally dig the hair!” I could tell he was prepared to make a fool of himself in the name of celebration. “Hey, you and Easy, right? Like, we knew, everybody knew, but we kept it on the downlow in case Easy decided to kick our asses.”

“Really?” My voice sounded weak. He wrapped me up in a sweaty, beer-infused hug, and I was suddenly hit with a wave of déjà vu. It was an Army smell, beer and sweat. They were assholes, but I loved them.

Johnson shouted across the parking lot, “Hey, here comes the bride!” Mostly they were assholes. Easy reached around, wrapped a big arm around Johnson’s neck and pulled him backward. I had the pleasure of watching his eyes bug out in alarm, then Easy pulled him close for a little inservice on wedding etiquette. Mitchell was laughing, the peculiar sound of a donkey in the throes of passion. Austin was sitting on a picnic table, staring into the lodgepole piles through his little binoculars, looking for Kaibabs. I walked over to the grill to tell John hello.

He was wearing a huge apron, bright red, with a Double XL gracing the front. He reached down with his big spatula and flipped a pile of grilling onions. “Hey, Jamie! Looking good. Everything’s under control.” He’d gotten a trim and combed his hair carefully, and was wearing black Rockport sneakers under his jeans, instead of his usual yellow Crocs. He must have spruced up because my mother was along. He’d told me once, under the influence of my first Double XL, he might have married my mother if my dad hadn’t come along and stole her away. The wounds of sixteen apparently never fade. “I’m gonna feed these boys some lunch, then I’ll get everything ready for tomorrow. Have you checked the weather?”

“Last report, sunny and cool.”

“Perfect day to get married.” He looked up, studied the horseplay. “I knew that boy would get you squared away.”

My dad had my arm now, was moving me toward the office. Mr. Dawes was watching the action from behind his reception desk, looking both pleased and a bit alarmed at the Army antics and smoking grill that had taken over his parking lot. “Sir, I hope this isn’t all more than you bargained for. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

“You have told me, James Lee, more than once. I’m happy to see some life around the place. If John kept that monster grill going, we’d have more drive-by traffic than we could handle!”

“Don’t try a Double XL,” I begged. “One of those things would carry you off.”

He handed me a cream filled donut, dusted with sugar and wrapped in a napkin. “I’m going thirds on one with your mom and dad,” he assured me gently. “Don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be fine. I’ll watch out over the boy and little Tino while you’re gone. Everything’s gonna be great, don’t you worry.” He had the soothing rhythm in his voice of a man who was rocking a cranky toddler to sleep. I stuffed donut into my mouth.
“Son, let’s you and me walk back over to your place, make sure everything’s in order.”

“Good, perfect,” I said, swallowing hard. “I want to just double-check a few things.”

“You look tired,” he said, when we waved at the guys but kept walking. “Easy said you weren’t sleeping very well.”

“I want everything to go perfectly. We’ve had too many screw ups. I need to make sure we can start right.”

“Starting right depends more on love and respect and patience, son. This is all just window dressing. Remember, not everything is under your control. Some things you have to let go. Oh, by the way. Your mom loves her tea.”

I wondered if we were about to have one of those father-son talks. When I was fifteen, he’d sat me down, explained about love and respect being more important than sex when you wanted to have a relationship with someone. The talk had gone on for a good long while before I realized it was the sex talk fathers were required to have with teenage sons. Hoping to avoid the birth control section, I blurted out that I thought I might be gay. He looked at me, said he knew already, and was I listening to him? I hadn’t been. I’d been thinking about how to say it, the words I should use to ease him into it gently. So he’d started again, telling me about respect, and thoughtfulness, and love.

“I like Easy,” he told me now, “very much. He seems like such a regular guy on the surface, but he’s a little more complex, isn’t he? Smart and tough. He’ll take care of you. And you’ll take care of him. It’s good. Have you two decided if you want to have kids?”

“We’ve got Tino,” I said, without thinking. “I don’t know if I can take anymore.”

“I remember when your mom was sixteen, I’d go over to her house to pick her up, and that little shit would leap out of the bushes by the front door. It’s a wonder I didn’t keel over with a heart attack. I swear he was trying to take a bite out of my balls.”

“When mom was sixteen? Is that the same Tino? That would make him like, 200 years old in dog years. Not surprised, really. I’m starting to think he can’t be killed.”

“Your grandmother always seemed to have Chihuahuas, and they always looked alike. Same personality. Same little teeth. Maybe they’re the sons and grandsons and great grandsons of the original Tino.”

“You know how he lost his eye?”

My dad shook his head. “I heard it was an arrow. A scrap down on the Mexican border. Pancho Villa or Apaches or something.”


Back at the apartment, I pulled our suits out of the closet, took the plastic off and shook out the shirts. We were wearing suits, deep charcoal gray, with blue gray shirts the color of Easy’s eyes. Austin’s was a lighter gray, the color of pewter, and he’d picked matching yellow silk ties the color of lemon ice. The color, he explained to us, of his surfboard. I was happy with surfboard yellow. They could have been Kaibab brown. The suits would give us double duty for job interviews, funerals, and whatever other formal occasions occurred in the next few years.

I looked in the freezer again, noted the frost on the black jeweler’s box was getting thicker. I pulled our go bag down from the closet, packed for our weekend honeymoon. All we would need would be jeans and boots, a couple of pairs of skivvies, sweatshirts and caps. It was always cold in the morning, at that high elevation.

“Okay, what else?” I turned around in a circle, looking for something that needed doing. Nothing. The apartment was clean, everything was done, the guests were here and the rings were in the freezer. “My God! I don’t think I can take hours more of this.”

“Son, settle down. You mother gave me a single emergency valium. I’m going to give it to you.”

I shook my head. “Save it. We may need it later. God knows what Tino has up his sleeve.”

My father leaned into my closet, dug around until he found the Vibram FiveFingers I wore for tai chi. He tossed them to me. “Go do your thing. I’m going back to the Grizzly.”


Chapter Six

I was lying on our bed, staring at the ceiling when Easy came in. He sat down on the side of the bed to kick off his boots, then he stretched out beside me with a sigh. He smelled like beer and grilled onions, sweat and a sharp resin, like pine tar. Pine tar? I reached for one of his hands, studied the sticky debris and scrapes across the palm. “I told him to wait until we got back from the honeymoon before he tried to climb the trees.”

“It wasn’t Austin, at least, not at first.” He shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Everybody’s down, asses have been chewed, Kaibabs are intact. I left your father in charge. He looks enough like you, only tougher, I think he can probably reign in the high spirits.”

I rolled over, buried my nose in the soft skin of his neck. He reached a tired arm around to hold me close. “Your mom and dad are so very good-looking,” he mused. “You’re gonna stay good-looking your whole life. My people start to look like potatoes when we get old.”

“Your mom doesn’t look like a potato. Besides, I love potatoes.” I nuzzled a bit, felt the pulse at his throat quicken.

“The moms are back from Tuba City, and they both bought Navajo rugs. They’ve gone downtown.”

“How’s Evelyn?”

“She looks happier. She had a good time being back up on the rez, seeing her people. Her new pageboy was much admired.” He gave me a little shake. “Have you talked to Annie? Everything okay with the cake?”

“I saw her yesterday. Instructions to stop calling. The cake topper is here and looks just like us. What else?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. The picnic tables were delivered, and I put the guys to work moving them around the parking lot and under the pine trees. The little rosemary bushes came. Tino peed on a couple until Austin caught him. We sure about the weather?”

“At last check. Sunny and cool enough we can warm up with some vigorous dancing.”

Easy leaned up on an elbow, stared down at me. “Do you really expect me to dance with you in public? At our wedding reception with everybody looking at us?”

“You remember our first dance? We went out to the alley, danced in front of a dumpster and feral cat.”

“I still only dance in front of dumpsters.”

“Up to you.”

“It’s private, James Lee.” He reached for my hand.

“How about I dance with your mom, and you dance with my mom. Then we can switch.”

“I wouldn’t mind dancing with your dad.”

I started laughing them, and he pulled me over until I was sprawled on top of him, his hands buried in my hair. “Are you getting pine tar in my hair?”

“I’ll get it out,” he promised. “I’ve got a yellow silk ribbon for your braid. It matches the tie.”

“Really? You’re going to tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree of my braid?”

He thought a moment, his nose buried in my hair. “Okay, well. We’ll see.”

We were still wrapped around each other, enjoying the quiet, when there was a tiny tap on the door. Then another. My mom pushed the door open, and I could see Janelle, Evelyn, and my mom looking in at us, worry on their faces. My mom took charge. “Okay, boys? Don’t panic.”

We both sat up double time, and Easy swung his feet off the bed and grabbed for his boots. “What’s happened?”

“We were downtown having tea at the hotel, and we saw a fire truck go by. It went to the bakery. You know, your bakery. Where the cake is.”
We were half a block from the bakery when the police line stopped us. I couldn’t see any smoke in the air, but there were enough emergency vehicles that the bakery’s supply of donuts and cookies were going to be wiped out, if the building was still standing. I sent Annie a text. We’re outside. What can we do to help?

She came out a moment later, looking frazzled and bringing with her the unmistakable smell of burnt sugar. Her blue bandana was askew, hair standing straight up on her forehead. I reached out to give her a hug, but she pushed me away. “James Lee, I’m covered in soot.”

“It’s okay. Easy already put pine tar in my hair.”

“That’s not coming out anytime soon.”

“Is everybody okay? What can we do to help?”

She gave me a side glance. “Aren’t you going to ask about your cake?”

“Before we ask about the people in the bakery? I don’t think so.”

“Everybody’s okay. I think some sugar spilled and caught fire in the bottom of one of the ovens. Blueberry pies. It was contained, but a customer out front panicked and pulled the alarm and called 911. Mostly noise and excitement.”

A girl who had been through the Navy’s firefighting courses could handle an oven fire in her sleep.

“Your beautiful cake is done and it’s fine. I’m putting the sugared flowers on it in the morning so they don’t wilt.”

“Don’t eat before the reception,” I cautioned her. “Remember I told you about the Double XLs?”

“I remember,” she said, patting my shoulder. She looked back at one of the firemen, moving the barrier. “Okay, back to work. Thanks, guys.”
We walked back home, the mild evening perfect for a stroll. I was still revved up from the words ‘fire’ and ‘bakery’ in the same sentence. “All of these near misses,” I said. “It reminds me of combat. Crisis, wait, crisis, wait. First I forget the wedding tea, then the bakery tries to burn down. Is this fate just toying with us, or is everything really going to go off without a hitch? At least if the cake had burned up, we could have said, okay, well, that’s the disaster, and we could reasonably expect everything else to go smoothly. Right?”

“The only thing I’m really worried about is Tino,” Easy confessed. “And it’s your fault. You’ve got me paranoid.”

“He wasn’t down at the bakery, was he?” I had a sudden image of Tino, his tail in flames, running through downtown.

“He’s old, James Lee. He’s probably more frail that we think. What if he gets trampled underfoot or run over or something? It would be monster bad luck. He deserves a better end, a little dog that lost an eye to Pancho Villa.”

I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. “Austin does know that Tino can’t come to the church, right? He has to stay at home, on his little pillow. No baby slings.”

“He knows. He is going to bring him to the reception, though, so John can give him a tiny Dog-Double XL. Maybe we can give him a piece of wedding cake, and that will break this curse you’ve put on him.”

“A wedding cake that has now made it through a fire? I don’t think so. The cake is sacred. I just hope the Dog-Double XL doesn’t kill him.” I thought about Mary for a moment, the old woman who ran the motel in Moriarty, telling John, you’re gonna kill somebody one day with that thing. The thought cheered me.


Chapter Seven

Easy’s mom took us all out to dinner that night at the Thai place downtown, and when we got home, Evelyn pulled us aside. “I brought you something for the wedding,” she said. She pulled it out of her pocket, wrapped in a white handkerchief. “I wore this for my wedding. You have it now.” It was very old, a heavy sandcast silver comb with turquoise and carnelian.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, reaching out to her for a hug.

She fussed with my hair, twisted it and secured the comb. “This old thing, it loves to be part of a wedding. You keep it, give it to your children.” She was running her fingers through my hair. “What is this? It’s sticky.”

Easy gave her a guilty look. “My fault. I got pine tar in his hair this afternoon, and then we let it dry. Now it won’t comb out.”

“I know how to get it out,” she said. “Pinon salve will help it dissolve. I’ve got some in my purse.”

“I’m going to smell like a pine forest,” I told Easy. “I hope the Kaibabs don’t mob us.”

Evelyn opened a tiny round metal container, dabbed the pinon salve on the pine tar and worked it through with her fingers.

“Did you have a good time up in Tuba City?”

“Yes,” Evelyn said. “I was thinking about something. For the future, you know. Teaching weaving, or maybe selling rugs.”

“If you taught weaving classes, people who came could stay in the hotel. Or would you rather move closer to your family?”

“I don’t know yet,” she said, working a comb through the tangles. “I long for home, but then too much time with my family makes me tired. I think I want solitude, but really I just wish I still had my husband’s company.” She looked up suddenly. “Don’t worry about me the night before your wedding.” She stood to go, and Easy draped a casual arm over her shoulders. She patted him gently.

When she had gone, Easy pulled the comb out and studied it. “This is gorgeous. See how heavy it is? I may have to rethink the hair for the wedding.”

“Since we have less than twelve hours to go, you better think fast.” I went into the bathroom, stood for a long time under the hot water. Less than twelve hours to go. What could still go wrong? Anything. Everything.

Tino was curled asleep on my pillow, and I put him off the bed and climbed in. “Go check the freezer,” I called.

Easy stuck his head in the door, gave me a thumbs up. “Still there. The frost is getting thick.” He was rubbing his flat top dry with a towel, nearly stepped on Tino, who was dancing about underfoot. “Oh, hell, no. Not that again.” He picked up the little dog, put him outside the bedroom door. “I am not cutting up a Wheaties box in the middle of the night to make him a splint.”

We heard a forlorn little scratch on the door, then another, and then Tino howled, a mournful coyote sound I remembered from the day my grandmother died. “Let him in here,” I told Easy. “He’s upset. I don’t know why.”

Tino hopped up on the bed, scooted between us, then started wiggling belly down until he was next to my face on the pillow. He reached over, licked my chin. “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” I told him. He seemed to be listening to me, burrowed down until his little dog face was buried in my hair. “Some days, I actually think he’s a normal dog,” I told Easy. “This probably isn’t a good time to let down my guard.”

Tino moved over to Easy, snuggled under his chin. “Dogs have a sense,” Easy said. “They know when things are happening. He just wants to spend tonight with us, you know, to wish us well. Our last night as bachelors.”

Tino was nosing around again, burying his head in my hair. “I bet he likes that pine smell,” I said. “I could still smell it after the shower. We’ll have to ask Evelyn where she got that pinon salve. Up on the reservation, I bet.” I lay there, warm, with Easy lying quiet next to me, our fingers intertwined, Tino burrowing in my hair. I thought about something, the way he loved to trip around in the pine trees out back of the Grizzly Motel. It was his favorite bathroom spot, those pine trees. Easy bounded up suddenly, reached over and snatched up the little dog just as he hiked a leg to pee on my hair. We stared at each other, Tino wiggling in his hands. I could feel my eyes wheeling around in my head. I pointed to the door. “Out.”

When Easy got back to our room, I was sitting up against the headboard. “Austin’s got him,” he said. “Did he get you? Do we need to change the sheets?”

I shook my head. “My dad left a single Valium here with me. For an emergency. I suggest we split it.”


Chapter Eight Saturday Morning

“Hey, um, Captain? Maybe you better get up. It’s nearly eight.” Austin was peeking around the door at us.

After staring at the ceiling for half the night, we were close to sleeping through the wedding. “Is the coffee on?” I shook Easy by the shoulder.
He bolted upright, shouted, “Tino, no!” He looked around the room in confusion, then glared at me and fell back on the pillow. He pointed a finger at me. “You. You did this.”

I climbed out of bed, went into the kitchen and poured coffee that was thick and dark as Army sludge. I wondered if we would have time for Eight Brocades. We needed to make time. Balance was critical. I brought Easy a cup, wrapped my hand around the back of his head and brought him in for a kiss. “Come on. Let’s hold up the heavens.”

He grumbled, but followed me into the living room, mirrored my moves until we were both limber, relaxed, and back to our usual happy selves. Tino laid on his little pillow, watching us, his head cushioned on his paws. If I didn’t know what a demon he was, I would have thought he was feeling guilty.

Easy went for a quick shower, and I picked up the phone when it rang. My dad was checking in that we were up and ready. “We’ll be ready to walk out the door in thirty minutes,” I said. That might have been optimistic, but I had the feeling we needed to get it in gear and get to the church. No need to hang around, waiting to get peed on.

Everyone looked good in their suits, the bright lemon yellow of the ties like sunshine. “Austin, you picked out a good color for the ties. I like it.”
I looked around, saw Easy had him in a bear hug, giving him a little rock. Easy looked over at me. “Come on. Let’s do the hair.”

He gave my hair a short braid, just enough to hold the beautiful silver comb, and then let the rest of it flow down my back. The pinon salve seemed to have given it an extra shine. My mother brought over tiny flower corsages, and after we pinned them on we followed her out the door. Easy remembered the rings before we got in the car. The little box had frozen into the frost in the freezer, so he left it, brought the rings in his pocket. I saw Tino looking out the front window, between the curtains, as we drove to the church.

I had a hard time concentrating on what the minister was saying. My mind kept circling around and around. I wondered if he would forget and tell Easy he could now kiss the bride. How many weddings of grooms had he done? Would he remember? Easy was glaring around, waiting for someone to object. Austin cried, and dropped one of the rings. But then everything smoothed out. Easy took my hand, and I took his, and we gave each other a ring and a promise. We might have been standing alone. The church was utterly quiet. We held hands, and looked at each other, saw what forever would look like, and it was done.

After that, things seemed to move at double speed. Before I knew what was happening, we were dancing with our moms, twirling them in their beautiful dresses. The cake had a place of honor, three layers of dazzling white, covered with sugared violets and nasturtiums, with a couple of grooms on top that looked remarkably like me and Easy. The picnic tables were draped in white cloths, each held down with a tiny rosemary bush in a white ceramic pot. My dad popped the corks off the champagne, filled glasses, and we were offered long life and love by our friends and family. I cut the cake, and Easy passed out slices, his mom putting little forks and napkins on the plates. The cake was lemon, a frosty yellow that matched our wedding ties.

After the cake, we all went back home to change into comfortable clothes, and John fired up the grill. By the time Easy and I got back to the Grizzly, wearing boots and jeans and sweatshirts, the smell of grilling green chilies, onions and burgers, was drifting across the parking lot. Everyone looked more relaxed now they were back in their barbecue clothes. I kept rubbing my wedding ring with my thumb. It felt good, weighty. I couldn’t seem to ignore it, but kept glancing down seeing my hand looking like a stranger’s hand. Easy was turning his ring around and around on his finger. He saw me doing the same, grinned at me, then wandered back over to the cake for another piece.

I heard Easy shout, then something crashed to the ground. “Tino, you little shit! Come back here!”

I turned around in time to see Tino shoot out from under the table that held our wedding cake, Easy in pursuit. Either he was foaming at the mouth or he had been into the frosting, and he held the wedding topper between his teeth, two little grooms. Tino darted between the lodgepole pines behind the Grizzly, his tiny feet kicking up dust. Austin took off after him, his binoculars bouncing on his chest. Mitchell and Johnson stood up from where they had been squatting behind Easy’s pickup. They looked around, then joined the chase. “Don’t worry! We’ll catch him, Captain!”

“It’s okay,” I said, faintly. Tino was headed to Fat Man’s Loop, a line of former Army infantry in pursuit. “Just let him go. He’ll find his way back home eventually.” Or not.

Easy was coming back down the hill. He made straight for the wedding cake. “I am not chasing that dog all over Fat Man’s Loop.”
“Good. Have another piece.” I cut him a new piece of cake, one without any dog teeth marks. He took the plate, broke the piece of cake in half, and popped a bite into my mouth. It might have been the best cake I had ever eaten.


Check out American Road Trip today!





A single moment—or a single mistake—can change everything.

When Captain James Lee Hooker and his lover, Sergeant Easy Jacobs, were in the Army, they made a mistake that got a young soldier hurt. Three years later, they’re civilians again, living far apart, haunted by what they lost. Now that young soldier needs their help.

With his grandmother’s one-eyed Chihuahua riding shotgun, James Lee climbs into Easy’s pickup for a trip across the American Southwest. They set out to rescue a friend, but their journey transforms them with the power of forgiveness.


Author Bio:

Sarah Black is a writer, artist, veteran, and mother. She’s a Lambda finalist and has been nominated for a Pushcart.
Contact her at sarahblack5@yahoo.com.


Hello, World by Laura Lascarso + Giveaway

March 14, 2018

hello world



Hi, everybody, it’s nice to meet you. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Laura Lascarso, and I still feel relatively new to the M/M romance world. I came here from the land of young adult, which is why many of my stories tend to focus around the teenaged years, though I am beginning to branch out into ye olden years of the early twenties.

I think I like the age range of late teens because that is when the world begins to bloom, and life seems at times both unpredictable and terrifying. It’s an emotional time too, and I love delving into all kinds of feelings with my characters, which is what you will find with my latest novel, When Everything Is Blue.

I sometimes write sexual relationships between young adults because I think fiction is a relatively safe environment for people of all ages to explore physical and emotional intimacy. Because there are so few mainstream young adult books featuring LGBTQIA main characters, representing a variety of relationships, sexual or not, is all the more important.

(I don’t know if I’m getting everything right, but I promise you I am trying.)

I came to Dreamspinner Press and M/M romance in a roundabout way. Basically, I kept writing stories that were getting rejected by mainstream for various reasons (the fault is my own), so I decided to go outside the traditional publishing route to find readers elsewhere. And that’s how I came to find you!

The best thing about romance readers, in particular M/M, is your enthusiasm and voraciousness in reading. I’m a bit of an online voyeur so one of my favorite things is to not only read book reviews (mine and others), but also read the comments back and forth discussing the book. I learn so much about readers’ tastes, likes and dislikes. I also find new authors and books to love.

There seems to be a real camaraderie between readers on Goodreads, which is kind of like having a really big online book club, which to me sounds like the absolute best way to spend your free time.

And sometimes there’s a bit of drama, but I feel like that happens in any community where people are passionate about their subject and invested in their relationships.

So, all of this is to say that I’m very happy to be here, and I appreciate all of the encouragement and support readers have sent my way. I can’t speak for other writers, but I truly value your input and feedback on my creative projects and hope that as I grow as a writer, I can continue to craft stories that will entertain and engage you.

–Laura Lascarso


Check out When Everything is Blue today!




Dreamspinner Press



Sometimes the people we need most aren’t bonded by blood but by something deeper.

When they were kids, golden boy Chris Mitcham rescued dweeby Theo Wooten from the neighborhood bullies and taught him how to “be cool.” Now, years later, Theo’s developed feelings for his best friend that “arise” at the most inopportune times. Theo hates lying to Chris, but in coming out, he might lose the one person who understands him best, a risk he’s not willing to take.

When a relationship with another young man goes south, Theo is forced to confront his own sexuality along with his growing attraction to Chris and the stunted, tenuous relationship Theo has with his father. Will Chris abandon Theo when he learns the truth, or will he stand by him in this tumultuous season of self-discovery? In this quirky coming-of-age romance, Theo’s path to manhood is fraught with several awkward firsts, a few haters, but also the tender comfort of an unexpected lover.


Author Bio:

Laura Lascarso wants you to stay up way past your bedtime reading her stories. She aims to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of storytelling to heal and transform a society. When not writing, Laura can be found screaming “finish” on the soccer fields, rewatching Veronica Mars, and trying to convince politicians that climate change is real. She lives in North Florida with her darling husband and two kids. She loves hearing from readers, and she’d be delighted to hear from you.
Website: lauralascarso.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lascarso
Twitter: @lauralascarso


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New New Mexican by BA Tortuga

March 9, 2018

New New Mexico



Hey, y’all! I’m BA Tortuga, resident redneck and new New Mexican.

Okay, so I moved to New Mexico…Lord, five years ago in May. O.o

Whoa, I have to process that a second. I swear to God, y’all. It feels like I JUST left Austin. Like yesterday just.


At any rate, I’m here and I love it. I chose our house because the kitchen, sun room, studio, and office face the mountains. I love the desert. I love the people. I love the sunshine. I love the seasons and the lack of humidity and the artwork.

I’ve noticed with my books that I’ve slowly started to slide over to the west. I still write my love letters to Texas, I still consider myself a Texan, but more and more, I find myself wanting to tell stories about my new home and share all the beauty I’ve found here.

The green chile, the way the sun climbs over the Sandias, the O-o-O accent, the adobe walls, the Zia sun.

The new colloquialisms (yes, my editor hates me).

This is my place now,

Much love, y’all!



Check out Cowboy in the Crosshairs today!





Once upon a time, a prince lived in a magical kingdom called Turquoise, New Mexico.

Well, really, TJ is a small-town police chief. Every Friday he holds court in the diner with the local holy roller, the art colonists, and the horsey people. But the Benes, who own the rodeo company, keep to themselves. TJ knows, because he was once hot and heavy with the oldest Bene son.

When Wacey Bene gets trampled by a remuda and comes home to heal, he’s none too happy to run into TJ, or his two little boys and their momma. The story might end there—if it wasn’t for some pesky bastard trying to kill Wacey.

The law steps in, and the townsfolk are cross about somebody messing with one of their own.

But once the bad guy is put away, can TJ and Wacey make their place in this wild and eccentric town a permanent one?



About BA Tortuga

Texan to the bone and an unrepentant Daddy’s Girl, BA Tortuga spends her days with her basset hounds and her beloved wife, texting her sisters, and eating Mexican food. When she’s not doing that, she’s writing. She spends her days off watching rodeo, knitting and surfing Pinterest in the name of research. BA’s personal saviors include her wife, Julia Talbot, her best friend, Sean Michael, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Really good coffee.

Having written everything from fist-fighting rednecks to hard-core cowboys to werewolves, BA does her damnedest to tell the stories of her heart, which was raised in Northeast Texas, but has heard the call of the  high desert and lives in the Sandias. With books ranging from hard-hitting GLBT romance, to fiery menages, to the most traditional of love stories, BA refuses to be pigeon-holed by anyone but the voices in her head. Find her on the web at www.batortuga.com

Top 6 Facts About Exodus by CC Bridges

February 27, 2018

Top 6 Facts


When I first wrote Angel 1089, two of the secondary characters, Hank and Ian, immediately took on lives of their own. I knew from the beginning that I would have to tell their story, why they left the shining city in the sky named Heaven and chose to live on the devastated Earth below.

To do that I had to go back, back into time, to what happened before the events of Angel 1089. And that story is Exodus.

Exodus takes us to the floating city that should be a paradise. No one wants for anything. All citizens are fed and given shelter. And yet, its gloss is a little bit dimmed, especially for anyone who doesn’t fit into the proper mold or who violates the strict Morality Laws. If someone isn’t a member of the highest ruling class, deviation calls for strict re-programming.

Here we have Hank and Ian. Hank, who is a member of that ruling class who can do what he likes, and his bodyguard, Ian, who has secrets of his own. If Ian’s secrets should get out, he’d be first in line to be mind-wiped.

That is only the beginning.

To celebrate the release of the 2nd edition, I present some fun facts about Exodus:

1. The original title was “Exiles” but we decided to change it before publication. Exodus fit better.

2. I wrote the original draft of Exodus in OpenOffice on a 10 inch eeePC. (which is smaller, yet heavier than the Chromebook I use to draft now).

Image result for eeepc


3. Hank and Ian also make an appearance in the third book, Angels Rising, coming out in May!

4. The heroes of Angels Rising, Uriel and Raphael, make an appearance in Exodus. Be sure to look out for them!

5. I mentally cast the actor Chris Pine as Hank and he’s been that way in my head ever since. I’ve never really managed to find a good actor for Ian.

6. The new Heaven Corp Covers are now unified and look awesome in my opinion. (Although you’ll have to wait a bit to see the third one!)


Check out Exodus today!




The truth could lead to war.

Henry “Hank” Abraham enjoys being one of the most sought-after personalities in Heaven. Life is good in the floating city for someone born to one of the wealthy and influential Founding Families. Hank parties with the privileged and beds someone different every night, flouting the morality laws that control the lives of the common people on the city’s lower levels. Then someone tries to kill him—repeatedly. Terrorists have Hank in their crosshairs, and his long disinterest in politics has come home to roost.

Ian Caldwell has been a security guard for the Abraham family for years. He survives the hypocrisy by sneaking away to the BDSM clubs on Earth to feed his baser desires. When he’s assigned to protect Hank, Ian pushes his attraction for his client aside. That kind of thing could get him reprogrammed. But he doesn’t count on actually falling for a man who isn’t as shallow and self-absorbed as he seems. Neither of them is prepared for the truth behind the attacks. Their journey will take them from Heaven to hell and beyond… and it might bring the tension between the classes to a violent head at last.



CC Bridges is a mild-mannered librarian by day, but by night she writes about worlds of adventure and romance. When she’s not busy solving puzzles in an escape room, she can be found diving into comics or binge-watching superhero movies. She writes surrounded by books, spare computing equipment, a fluffy dog, and a long-suffering husband in the state of New Jersey.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ccbridgeswriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ccbridgeswriter
Blog: http://blog.ccbridges.net/
Website: http://www.ccbridges.net
Subscribe to my infrequent newsletter: http://ccbridges.net/phplist/?p=subscribe&id=1


Exclusive Excerpt by Liv Olteano + Giveaway

February 26, 2018

Liv Olteano Exclusive Excerpt



” “So, what have you been up to during these last few years?” I asked, and got back to finishing my burger.
He shrugged. “This and that. I worked small jobs, just like this one. I thought about moving from New Jersey for a while, and I finally did it. There was too much history there,” he added in a small voice.
My stomach clenched with guilt. “You moved straight to Seattle?”
“How did your family react?”
“They weren’t thrilled. But they’d finally given up on trying to push me out of my gayness in order to marry their neighbor’s daughter, so they didn’t make that much of a fuss either.”
“Are you happier here?”
He looked away. “I guess. Some things are the same, but at least the scenery is new. I’m not trying to rock my own pity party here. It’s just been tough.”
“Did you go through a bad breakup before moving away? I mean, if it’s not too personal to ask.”
“You mean another one, after ours?” he said with his face still turned away, but glancing at me from the corner of his eye.
“I dated a few guys, but it never seemed to work out. So I can’t say there was any major breakup since us. What about you?”
“I dated casually, but not that much.”
“I don’t know if I should find that insulting or comforting,” he said, frowning. “It would have made more sense if you’d dumped me for someone else. Now you’re saying you dumped me for a series of random fucks?”
I bit my lower lip. “It sounds really bad if you put it like that. I ‘dumped’ you because I was confused and my mind was messed up. It wasn’t about wanting to date anyone else.”
“So I killed your appetite for relationships altogether? Wow.”
I reached out and set my hand over his on the coffee cup. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
We both stared at the point of contact. I felt sparks flying from that simple touch. Goddamn me, I wanted him back so bad right now.
“The fact that you left is still raw, all these years later. It’s why I know I still have feelings for you. If I didn’t, then seeing you again wouldn’t have gotten me too worked up, right?”
“You’re worked up?”
He rolled his eyes.
“I think you’re right. It’s how I know I still love you. Because seeing you did get me all sorts of worked up.”
“But if we do give it another shot, the resentment will pop up every now and then. Or more often. Or all the time. And I won’t act like it’s not there.”
“I wouldn’t want you to pretend.”
“Are you really sure you want to go down this road?” he asked, still staring at our touching hands.
I took a moment to think about it. “Yes. I am sure. And I’m aware that it won’t be easy.”
He looked up at me and smiled. “Where’s the fun in easy, right?”
I smiled back. “Right.”
“My break is kind of over. I’ll get your cinnamon rolls and the café frappe, okay?”
“Thanks for spending your break with me.”
He got up, grabbing his coffee cup and my empty plates. As he was leaving, he said over his shoulder, “I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”
“I’m happy you feel that way.” ”


Check out Lover, Lover today!







Twin souls reunited.

Drew’s always been a fighter: first in martial arts competitions, and now as a dreamcatcher—keeping the people of Seattle safe from spaga attacks that would drain their life force in their sleep. All he has to do to become a full member of Team 32 is complete his first mission.

But the first person he must defend is his ex, Angelo… the only man Drew ever loved, even if he was the one to leave. Drew never got over Angelo, and it seems Angelo might feel the same, despite the heartbreak he suffered at Drew’s hands.

As the chase after a powerful and resourceful caster hits close to home, old feelings resurface. But if Angelo learns of the dreamcatchers, he’ll be a target for the spaga. And how can he trust Drew now that Drew’s keeping bigger secrets than ever?



About Liv Olteano:

Liv Olteano is a voracious reader, music lover, and coffee addict extraordinaire. And occasional geek. Okay, more than occasional.

She believes stories are the best kind of magic there is. And life would be horrible without magic. Her hobbies include losing herself in the minds and souls of characters, giving up countless nights of sleep to get to know said characters, and trying to introduce them to the world. Sometimes they appreciate her efforts. The process would probably go quicker if they’d bring her a cup of coffee now and then when stopping by. Characters—what can you do, right?

Liv has a penchant for quirky stories and is a reverent lover of diversity. She can be found loitering around the Internet at odd hours and being generally awkward and goofy at all times.
Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/zZ7T9

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Explosive Distractions by BA Tortuga – NSFW

February 22, 2018

explosive distractions


“Wait.” Sonny lifted his head, feeling the bridge of his nose cut through the thick, humid July air like a dull knife through cake. Fucking Florida in July. He could be under a palm tree in Aruba. “We’re in Florida for fireworks? How patriotic of you, Precious.”

“Yep. There’s a warehouse over there full of them. You’ll have to dock for a couple hours and then I’ll be back.” Oh. Someone was getting bored.

“Whut?” Something didn’t add up. He’d been promised new boots and maybe a corny dog. Not so much with the corny dogs in Aruba, so he took any chance he could to get them in the States.

“I’m going to go… explore a bit. Restock. Uh. Create a touch of private chaos. Nothing fatal. You’re going to go stalk the pier and buy some fudge.”

“Nope.” He rolled to a sitting position, crossing his arms and shaking his head. “We were supposed to stalk the pier for fair food together.”

“I can’t blow up the warehouse from the fair, Sunshine.”

“Right. Because that’s more important than keeping your redneck happy.” He batted his eyelashes, rubbing his bare chest.

MJ arched one eyebrow, mouth open to snap something back, eyes following his hands.

“You’ll catch flies…” Sonny pinched one of his own nipples, just grinning to beat the band.

“Huh?” Must be boredom; it took more to distract his Precious from a paying gig.

“With your mouth hanging open that way.” Sonny spread his legs, letting it all hang out. “Don’t you want to make me happy, MJ?”

“I do. I make you happy, asshole.”

“Well, come make me a happy asshole and show me you love me more than explosions.” That was pushing it, and Sonny knew it, but he couldn’t help it. He’d been pushing his Precious since they met.

“I don’t know… I’m damn fond of explosions…” MJ wandered right up to him, hand cupping his balls and giving them a roll and a tug.

Little hairs stood up all over his body, and God knew he had enough of them. Sonny moaned a little, licking his lips. “I know…”

“Mmhmm.” MJ’d forgotten all about the boom; Sonny could tell. He fucking rocked at this whole ‘distract the terrorist’ thing.

He reached out and grabbed one lean hip, his fingers sliding over ink and skin. “‘Course, I like fast cars. But I like you better.”

“You like me in fast cars.” MJ stepped closer, palming his balls, fingers sliding behind. “You like blow jobs in muscle cars where the truckers can fucking look in and be jealous.”

“And you like hand jobs with hostages in the back seat. We’re well matched.” Yanking MJ down on his lap put his balls in danger, but made his cock pretty damned happy.

“Uhn. Hey.” MJ grinned down at him, leaned in to bite the living Hell out of his bottom lip.

“Mmmm.” Hell, Sonny figured he’d forgotten the question, too. Naked skin trumped just about anything. He just grabbed that tight ass, pulling MJ right up against him.

“Weren’t we… uh… Yeah.” MJ shrugged, pushed fucking hard and toppled them, landing square on top of him so that their mouths crashed together.

Licking and biting, he took the kiss, his mouth opening under MJ’s. Goddamn. MJ said he was oral? That man could flat out kiss.

“Sunshine.” MJ tilted his head, just a little, and that fucking kiss went deeper, MJ just fucking his mouth.

Sonny rolled them, pushing MJ down on the deck, his hands on those strong shoulders so he could hold MJ down and hump like he was riding the pony or some shit. Who was fucking distracting who, yeah?

Those little fucking noises MJ made? Settled right in his balls, sweet as anything. His back arched, his hips working away, rubbing his cock against MJ’s belly. Ping! Friction. Go him. Sonny liked friction.

“Gonna have deck burn on your knees. My ass.” Fucker was laughing at him.

“Adds spice, Precious.” He’d show that man deck burns. Pushing back, Sonny knelt up between MJ’s thighs, spreading and lifting until he could bend and lick the line of skin behind MJ’s balls.

“Oh. Oh, fuck. Sunshine.” Uh-huh. Yep. Just like that.

The way MJ’s legs curled around his shoulders made Sonny feel like a god. A horny, really hard god who wanted to just fuck until sunrise.

“Fucking need you.” MJ’s fingers were scrabbling on the deck; he could hear them and Sonny knew MJ wasn’t thinking about any explosions.

“Gonna give you everything.” His tongue moved those balls back and forth and he could feel the skin shiver and draw up, could feel MJ shudder. Then he went for that tight little hole, pushing his tongue right in.

MJ grunted and jerked, this raw-ass sound coming out as those thighs on his shoulders went tight as stone.

Yeah. Somebody loved his mouth, yes they did. Goddamn, he loved the way MJ spread for him. Fucking needed it all the damned time. Sonny worked that tiny ring of muscle until it was loose, open for him. Yeah. Then he’d go to town.

He just heard MJ’s voice, begging for it in that fucking surfer dude accent, asking for his prick, hot and hard and ‘goddamn it, Sunshine, now’.

Laughing for the sheer joy of it, Sonny lowered MJ back down, his own thighs pushing against the insides of MJ’s, opening the man wide.

That little son of a bitch could spread like butter for a hot knife, cock curving over that pretty belly, hole right there, begging for him.

“Jesus fuck, Precious. Make a dead man come.” He was very much alive, though. Damn. Sonny pushed his cock right where it wanted to go, just grunting and squeezing in.

“Sonny.” MJ blinked up at him, eyes rolling like dice. Yeah. Hell, yeah. This was only fucking his.

Never anyone else’s. Just like his hairy redneck ass was MJ’s. All the way to the ground. He started rocking, just pushing and moving, needing more.

MJ got up on his elbows, adding his strength to their fucking, causing pure electricity to slide down Sonny’s spine.

“MJ. Christ.” Though Christ should wait for the second coming, not the first. Which was close. Very close.

“Yeah.” MJ’s hands found that leaking cock, started pulling and tugging and giving him a show.

“Oh, fuck. Fuck. Soon.” He was gonna explode. He’d never been in that man without feeling like he was gonna die happy.

“Uh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” MJ nodded, too-long hair bouncing as that pretty ass went tight-tight.

His eyes rolled, too, just like MJ’s had, and Sonny let out a surprised grunt. He was coming so fast he hardly had time to tense up, just shooting like crazy. There was spunk all over his belly when he came back down, MJ relaxed and moaning under him.

“Oh.” Humming, he stroked MJ’s hip, licking sweat off one cheek. “Better.”

“Uh-huh. Much.” MJ was blinking nice and slow, humming as his tongue traced the line of the scar leading up MJ’s face.

His fucking mark. Did it get any better than that? “So. Corny dog?”

“Mmm. I do like those. Do I get funnel cake too?”

“You do.” He’d get anything MJ wanted as long as they didn’t blow anything up.

“Okay. Maybe we can find a nice quiet place to blow each other during the fireworks tonight.”

“Oh, that sounds like a fine idea, Precious. The best you’ve had in an age.” He stroked that wild hair, smiling at the sky. Yeah. That would set off all sorts of sparks.


Man, they’d eaten more than a bunch of middle-aged stoners at an all-you-can-eat banquet.

And MJ could say that from experience.

They’d splurged and found a top floor hotel room, with balcony and wet bar and bed the size of the boat.

MJ fucking approved.

He was sprawled on a deck chair, sunglasses on, wearing nothing put a pair of Miami Heat shorts and a smile.

He may never look at a corny dog again.

A cold, wet bottle hit his belly, making him jump. “Looking good, Precious.”

“Mmm.” Sonny was being all smug about the distracting, no-explosion thing. He’d be irritated if it wasn’t sort of cute. Vaguely. Besides, he was too full to blow shit up.

“Good food, huh?” Sonny flopped down on the chair next to him, long legs just going on and on.

“I’m never fucking eating again.”

“Bullshit. You’ll work it off. I promise.” Oh, listen to that drawl. It always meant good things after a nap happened.

“You think so? You think you can get my heart racing? I mean, I could be blowing shit up.” He reached out with one foot, tugged the hair on Sonny’s leg.

“Ow. I think I could, for sure. In fact, I have a fine track record.” Those long fingers slid over his foot, Sonny teasing him a little.

“Yeah, well, I admit that funnel cake thing? Almost as good as chocolate. Maybe better than sex.”

“I’m not sure I want to take a backseat to fried bread.” Still, Sonny was grinning huge, nodding. “It was good, though.”

The first splash of light hit the sky, the colors just a little dull because it wasn’t quite dark enough. “Ah, it’s starting.”

“Uh-huh. We should move closer together.” Putting actions to words, Sonny scooted his chair on over, right where they could press up together. Oh, warm.

“You know, I…” He was sure he had some deep, internal, political statement to make about Independence Day. He did.

Hell, it was probably fascinating.

But Sonny’s lips crashed into his, hard enough to derail him, to send him flying away with the little flecks of magnesium and copper that were burning.

Sonny never let him talk politics.

Fuck, that was good. All that naked skin pressing up against him, Sonny sucking his tongue until his eyes crossed. Yeah. His legs spread, toes curling up as Sonny’s fingers wrapped around his balls, tugging enough that he felt it in his belly.

That man had the fastest hands east of… Well. Anywhere he could remember. Except maybe Singapore. Wait. That would be west, right?

Then Sonny tugged a little harder, rumbling deep in his chest, and MJ lost track of why he gave a shit. Look. Purple lights. Red. “Damn.”

“Mmmmhmm. Damn, Precious. Look at all the sparklies.” Those fingers moved just right, making his whole body bounce on the chair.

“Uh. Uh-huh. I.” Yeah. Lights. Jesus, Sonny had amazing fucking hands.

“You like that, huh?” Oh, Sonny knew just how much he liked it when those rough fingers slid behind his balls, pressing hard at the tiny strip of skin there.

“Fuck.” One of his legs jerked up, just like there was a button back there, controlling him.

“MJ. Hotter than any Fourth of July…” Sonny kissed him again, making his head spin, extra little lights going off behind his eyes. The deck chairs creaked and groaned, reminding him a little of fucking on the boat, of the way everything moved for them as they played.

“What do you want, Precious?” Oh, he was supposed to think when those lips wrapped around his nipple and Sonny’s fingers traced his hole?

His foot slammed onto the concrete, hips pushing up as he groaned. Those teeth caught him, the sting and burn just enough to make toes curl. Sonny bit harder, really making him feel it when one finger slid inside him, scratching all the way in. Oh, God.

“More.” The lights just kept flashing – reds and blues and purples and fucking greens.

“More? Like this, more?” Two fingers, then three… yeah. That was more. That was ping and stretch and goddamn.

“Uhn.” Yeah. Yeah. He pushed up, staring into Sonny’s eyes, just about ready to pop off. “Sunshine.”

“Fucking love that look. Love how you want it.” Those dark eyes stared right back, Sonny smiling for him, that razor’s edge grin that meant the man was right there with him.

“You love me.” Oh. Dude. Fireworks. Fucking fireworks.

“I do. Now, Precious.” Those fingers pushed in hard, pegging his gland, Sonny growling for him deep and low.

“Now.” He jerked, coming so hard that the fireworks just burst, colors firing. That his fucking eyes were closed was completely beside the point.

“Fucking beautiful.” Sonny crawled right into his chair, knees on either side of his thighs, that hard cock humping his belly.

He grabbed Sonny’s ass, pulling up and scooting down at the same time. He got his lips wrapped around Sonny’s prick, pulling hard, needing that bitter-salt.

“Shit! MJ. Harder. Touch me.” Those strong muscles went so tight, so hard, Sonny giving him everything.

He sucked hard enough he saw stars, fingers tapping the tight, hot little hole.

“Uhn!” The last explosion was always the best. Sonny filled his mouth, gave him all that heat and wet and bitter, just boom. Incendiary.

They slumped down, the chair just creaking like an old house. It worked though, held them both up. It was hot. He could taste Sonny. The smell of cordite was in the air.

Life was fucking amazing.


Sonny woke up, every muscle tensing up when he reached over to pat MJ’s butt and it wasn’t there.

Really, the lack of MJ butt was a terrifying thing. The man should still be asleep, ass up in the air, ink showing stark on that skin. If MJ wasn’t asleep, and Sonny couldn’t hear the shower running, it was time to get up and move.

Rolling out of bed, Sonny started looking, even peeking behind the curtains.


No MJ in the room.

No MJ in the bath.

No MJ shoes.

No MJ little black bag.

Goddamn it.

He damn near missed the note, taped on the fucking a/c unit. “Sunshine. Morning. Look over the water. M.”

Sonny threw on a pair of jeans and shirt, grabbed his gun and tucked it in his waistband and pulled out his own little kit full of syringes and vials. Only then did he open the sliding glass doors and go out on the balcony.

Just like magic, one explosion after another started, warehouses full of fireworks just going straight to Hell.

Okay, not even MJ was that good. Where was the little fucker hiding with the detonator?

He scanned the roof of their hotel, where their little paradise was from the night before. No MJ. Okay. Okay, find the most likely places, Redneck, he told himself.

He turned around, looking away from the fireworks and saw the little fuck, three balconies over, drinking a cup of coffee and watching him.

Oh, that little bastard. Fucking motherfucker. The explosions were bad enough, but to leave him our of it… Sonny lifted his hand and gave MJ a one-fingered salute, turning and marching right back into the hotel room. He’d pack his shit and leave that little fuck for the police.

MJ appeared before he got all packed, looking about as cool as a cucumber. “Enjoy the show?”

Sonny took a deep breath and let it out his nose. “Are you stupid?”

“Not last time I checked. IQs change.”

“They must.” His little kit was the last thing he put it away, and Sonny sure did think about using it, first.

“Right. Okay, then. I guess I’ll see you at the dock. My fee will’ve transferred by then.” MJ grabbed his laptop and ditty bag, heading straight for the door.

“Fee…” What the fuck? “You never mentioned a fee, Precious. You just said you wanted to blow up fireworks. I think I might have to beat you…”

“You’d have to catch me first.” One eyebrow went up. “I know how you feel about the random jobs. Money was good, though. Real good.”

“Uh-huh.” Casually, slow-like, Sonny moved close enough to tackle MJ. “You know what’s worst? You left me asleep while you went to work.”

“You looked cute.” Cute.


He was not the one who came out swinging on cute, though. Really. His hands clenching meant nothing. “What are you going to do to make it up to me, Precious?”

“There’s a muscle car show starting at noon and I have a wad of cash. What do you think, Sunshine?” The asshole actually cracked a smile, eyes dancing.

Oh. Well. That could work. “Is this car show far enough away that we won’t have to leave it at a run?” He wanted to actually look this time.

“You know it. It’s a holiday weekend, after all, and it would look odd, to leave so soon after that terrible accident.”

“There you go. Okay, then. We’ll go. You buy me a nice car, Precious, and I’ll blow you in public.” MJ would like that. All danger man.

“Works for me.” MJ pushed close, tugged him down into a kiss that made his ears ring. Mmm. Coffee. “Let’s go get waffles.”

“Waffles…” Sonny blinked, following his cock, which was following MJ. “Sausage?”

“All you can eat, Redneck.”

“You’re cruising, Precious.” His hand landed on MJ’s ass, just hard enough to sting, but he wasn’t mad anymore. Nope, his mood improved apace.

“I was just trying to give you fireworks.”

Uh-huh. Just. Pure philanthropist, his Precious.

Balls to bones.


Copyright 2007 BA Tortuga


Much love, y’all.



Check out Road Trip Vol. 2 today!




Road Trip Collection

The course of love is a rough ride, but for ecoterrorist MJ, ridge runner Sonny, physicist Paddy, psychic Neil, genetically enhanced English professor Duncan, and the assassin known as Cowboy, the road to romance is a heart-stopping trip—one full of kidnappings, explosions, secret programs, and supersoldiers. They’re an awful ragged bunch to be considered heroes.

Under Pressure

Sonny and MJ’s retirement may be in jeopardy, but at least they’re together on a new boat—with no annoying hostages. Then Cowboy, MJ’s old friend, gets in touch, bringing with him a host of complications, including Professor Duncan, who has ties to the Program. A call for help from Paddy sets them all on a collision course with a deadly specter from the past. As MJ makes his plans, Sonny is shaken by the possibility of losing everything.

Walking on the Sun

Sonny is determined to raise hell to hunt for MJ—problem is, will MJ know anyone, or himself, once they catch up to him? Neil and Paddy are healing but reluctantly join the effort, as Cowboy and Duncan help Sonny prepare for a showdown. Sonny might be ragged, but he’s MJ’s hero, and he is not about to give up on the most important thing in his life, even if it kills him. Will everyone survive the last epic battle, or will they go out in a blaze of glory?

First Edition of Under Pressure published by Torquere Press Publishers, March 2009.
First Edition of Walking on the Sun published by Torquere Press Publishers, September 2010.



About BA Tortuga

Texan to the bone and an unrepentant Daddy’s Girl, BA Tortuga spends her days with her basset hounds and her beloved wife, texting her sisters, and eating Mexican food. When she’s not doing that, she’s writing. She spends her days off watching rodeo, knitting and surfing Pinterest in the name of research. BA’s personal saviors include her wife, Julia Talbot, her best friend, Sean Michael, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Really good coffee.

Having written everything from fist-fighting rednecks to hard-core cowboys to werewolves, BA does her damnedest to tell the stories of her heart, which was raised in Northeast Texas, but has heard the call of the  high desert and lives in the Sandias. With books ranging from hard-hitting GLBT romance, to fiery menages, to the most traditional of love stories, BA refuses to be pigeon-holed by anyone but the voices in her head. Find her on the web at www.batortuga.com

An Interview with J. Scott Coatsworth

February 19, 2018


an interview with j. scott coatsworth


Describe yourself using an animal.

Okay, so this one is easy. It’s clearly a mongoose with a rainbow tail LOL… The whole mongoose thing got started when we launched our web design business back in the nineties just before we moved to Hawaii. We needed a business that was portable, and chose web design, but when it came to a name for the business, we were stumped. So when we visited Kauai to look for a condo, and the only “bad” news was about a possible mongoose loose on the island, “Mongoose on the Loose Web Design” was born.

Flash forward a few years, and Mischief Corner Books asked me for an animal to represent me. Mark and I were already the “Mongoose Boys,” so it was an easy leap.

And the rainbow tail?

I’d bought that at pride the year before, and it seemed to fit.

The lovely and talented Catherine Dair did the logo to make it all official. :P


What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

It’s not weird, not really. But it was kinda cool. When I was writing “Through the Veil,” a story about a post-climate-change San Francisco, I needed to “see” what a thirty or forty foot rise in sea level would really look like. So Mark and I hopped into the car and drove to the City, walking the route for part of the story. It was a really cool way to see how folks might get around on rooftops and on top of covered walkways that would still be above water in such a scenario, and I think it added a great level of realistic detail to the story.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Don’t stop. When you feel like your writing is shit, don’t stop. When you are roundly rejected by every major fantasy-sci fi publishing house in New York, don’t stop. When you are exhausted at midnight trying to finish a story and have to go to bed to get at least a little sleep before work the next day, don’t stop. Keep writing. Keep submitting. You will get there.


How does the world end?

You’ll have to read “The Stark Divide” to find out. LOL… but seriously, who the hell knows? I suspect it won’t, but might continue on in a form almost unrecognizable to us today, whether or not we manage to tame climate change.


How long have you been writing?

Oh, that’s a loaded question. LOL… I’m turning fifty this year, and started when I was in Fifth grade, or about the age of 11, so… 39 years? Holy crap. I first started SERIOUSLY writing after high school, and I’ve been working to make a career out of it for about five years now.


What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?

So many things.

After “Lander”, the next up is “The River City Chronicles,” the book form of my successful web serial about a group of friends (mostly queer) in Sacramento. It will be my first self-published work.

In October, “The Rising Tide” comes out – book two of “Liminal Sky” (after “The Stark Divide).

Sometime this year, Mischief Corner Books should start releasing “Marionettes in the Mist,” a four author serial I participated in over there, as a trilogy.

I’m already writing my 2019 releases – “Ithani” will be the last book in the Oberon Cycle, and “The Shoreless Sea” the last in the “Liminal Sky” trilogy.

Oh, and I have a bunch of stories coming back to me from anthologies and the like that I might either turn into an anthology, release as self-published stand-alones, or expand to full novels. Or all three!

Check out Lander today!



Dreamspinner Press
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
QueeRomance Ink
Goodreads Link


Author Bio:

Scott was ushered into the fantasy and sci-fi world at the tender age of nine by his mother. He devoured her library of Asimovs, Clarkes, and McCaffreys, but as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were. He decided that if there weren’t gay characters in his favorite books, he would just have to write them himself. Scott runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, communities that celebrate fiction that reflects queer life and love.

Facebook Profile: www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth
Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/
Author Website/Blog: www.jscottcoatsworth.com
Dreamspinner Page: www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_1189
QueeRomance Ink Author Page: www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/
Goodreads Author Page: www.goodreads.com/author/show/8392709.J_Scott_Coatsworth
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/J.-Scott-Coatsworth/e/B011AFO4OQ

Births and Dedications w/ j. leigh bailey + Giveaway

February 12, 2018

births & dedications


Thank you for joining me to celebrate the release of CHASING THUNDERBIRD (Dreamspun Beyond #13), the second book in my Shifter U series.

The release of CHASING THUNDERBIRD is a bit of a bittersweet moment for me. I’d dedicated it to my aunts (both of whom had the unforgivable habit of calling me Fer-Fer!). One of them, my aunt Sharron, lost a battle with cancer before I had the chance to show her the dedication.  She loved words in all their forms—she was a poet, an actress, a story teller, a voracious reader—and I think she’d have been tickled to see the shout-out in one of my books. While going through her things, I came across a letter my grandmother wrote to my grandfather (who was stationed in Europe during World War II) telling him of the birth of their first child, my aunt Sharron.



In CHASING THUNDERBIRD, much of Simon’s family history (and his relationship with his grandfather who was battling cancer) drives his determination to prove to the world that thunderbirds exists. So when I came across a document from my own family history, it was too perfect not to share. And, it feels like a fitting tribute to Sharron, who’s birth stopped a war (so to speak…).

So here’s the letter. I’ve typed exactly how it was written, spelling and punctuation and all. And, head’s up, there’s some pretty frank descriptions of a birth 1940s-style…


Wednesday afternoon
August 15, 1945

My dearest darling Eddie (daddy)

 Yep! Honey it’s all over with except the shouting and I aint talking about the war! I hope you have my cable by now. Sharron Kay arrived about ten minutes after six last night. Darling I wish you could see her! She is a perfect little doll. Lots of black hair and eyes that are so dark blue that they look black. She is, I’m sure, the most wonderful little girl ever to be born.

Yesterday morning I got up feeling fine except every time I moved I almost left a puddle of water behind. Pa brought me down. Got here at 12:30 and I still felt fine except I was still flooding. The nurse brought me in and undressed me, then took me to the bathroom for an enema. About two o’clock I started having pains five minutes apart but they were easy. About three thirty they came every two or three minutes and got harder and harder. Was in a bit of misery from about four until five minutes till six when they had me on the push cart and took me to the delivery room. Things really began to happen fast and furious then and about the third hard pain I had out popped the baby. It was fine from there on out and I’ve never had a single hurt. President Truman was just starting his VJ speech when Sherry made her debut with a loud bawl and by the time she quit crying, the Pres. was thru talking. Sure starting the life out as an important one isn’t she? Guess she is too!

She sure is grand. I sorta hoped for your sake that it would be a boy but we can have him when you come back. She is so bright eyed and lively. After they bathed her when she was born they brought her in and I darn near blew a fuse with pride. She is so sweet. Then this morning at six they brought her in to nurse. When she snuggled her little pug nose up against me I felt like I was the only woman in the world. And how she did suck. She is a regular glutton although there is nothing much but watery milk in my breasts yet. I hope I can continue to nurse her.

I’m so glad the war is finally over. Now maybe you can come home to us before too long. We sure hope so.

We love you very much Eddie and hope you are half as tickled as we are. I really feel wonderful. Loads of love and hugs and kisses. Toots + Sherry


Anyway, I love that my aunt was born literally as the US’s involvement in World War II was ending, and I love that I got her same fascination and appreciation for words and stories of all kinds.


**GIVEAWAY** I’ll be giving away an access code for the audio version of Stalking Buffalo Bill to a random commenter who shares with me: Do you have any fun family stories that carried down through generations? Superstitions?



Back at home, I’d barely hung my coat up when my phone quacked at me. I smiled at the familiar ringtone. Years ago, I’d set my phone to quack like a duck whenever my grandfather called. My mother cringed at the noise. I didn’t know if she objected to the not-very-refined sound or if she resented the relationship I had with my grandfather. I’d been named after him, but they were a little disturbed by how closely I followed in his footsteps. I knew absolutely that she blamed him for my interest in cryptids, especially thunderbirds.

I wondered if somehow Grandpa knew I needed someone to talk to. It wouldn’t be the first time a phone call came at exactly the right time. Hitting the Accept icon, I lifted the phone to my ear. “Hey, Gramps. What’s up?”

“Hey, kiddo. How’s Wyoming treating you?”

My breath caught a bit. Every time I spoke with him, it seemed his voice grew shakier and weaker. It was a constant reminder, a subtle countdown to the day he’d no longer be a part of my life. I made sure my own tone was light, free from worry, when I answered. “Oh, you know. The semester just started, so things are a little unsettled. I’m getting there.” For a second I considered telling him about my evening. He’d always given me good advice, or just let me vent if that’s what I needed. And he always knew which I was looking for without me having to clarify. But he didn’t need any additional stress in his life. I pulled my phone away for a second to check the time. It was after ten here, which meant it was almost midnight in Illinois. “A little late for you, isn’t it?”

Grandpa snorted. It was weaker, rougher than it used to be, but I took comfort in the sound. “I’m retired, boy. I set my own hours.”

I bit back a laugh. He might set his own hours, but Loretta, the nurse at the assisted-living facility Grandpa stayed at, would take away his phone if she knew he was up so late. The thought sent guilt eating at my guts. I hadn’t called in a few weeks—too busy with the new house, new school, new job. I shouldn’t have let it go so long. Grandpa had stage four lung cancer, and his condition was worsening almost daily. Weeks-long gaps in phone calls were inexcusable.

“So, what’s up? You know I’m happy to talk with you, but it is a little late for you to call.”

He harrumphed, and nostalgia and grief nearly overwhelmed me. I was going to miss that about him. “I got a strange phone call.”

“A phone call? From whom?”

“Called himself Richard Smith. Said he was a researcher. Claimed to be interested in the family legends.”

Doubt twisted in my gut. “The family legends?”

Another wet cough and a wheezing breath. I knew the muffled sound I caught next was him spitting into a tissue. Lung cancer sucked.

“In fact,” Grandpa said after clearing his throat, “seems he ran into an artifact from 1897 that he thought I’d be interested in.”

I stilled. It couldn’t be. “You don’t actually think….” I couldn’t bring myself to voice the question. What were the chances after all this time?

Back in the late 1890s, an ancestor of mine had shot a huge bird out of the sky. Its feathers were pitch-black, so dark that light didn’t reflect off them but was instead absorbed into the filaments. He claimed its wingspan was nearly twenty feet—larger than any living bird on record, then or now. It had a hodgepodge of features that, in combination, didn’t fit any other known bird species. According to his journal entry—and a very badly executed drawing—the animal had a relatively narrow sternum with unusually strong flight muscles, a broad wingspan with primary feathers that tilted up like an Andean condor. Instead of the condor’s nearly featherless neck and head, this bird’s head more closely resembled the shorter-necked, sleek-feathered, and hook-beaked golden eagle. Unlike either the condor or the eagle, it also had a pair of long paddle-shaped feathers that stretched out nearly a yard behind the broader, denser tail feathers.

So my relative did what anyone would do with such a creature. He dragged the local newspaperman—the only person in a fifty-mile radius who had a camera—to take a picture of the fantastical bird. The Arizona newspaper even ran the article. But not too long after, all copies of the newspaper and the photographic image plate had disappeared.


Check out Chasing Thunderbird today!





A Shifter U Tale

A legendary love.

Ornithology professor Simon Coleman’s reputation is at risk, and the only way to save his name is to prove thunderbirds are more than creatures of Native American myth. Grad student and part-time barista Ford Whitney has a lot on his plate, but it’s also his duty to make sure the resident bird nerd doesn’t discover shape-shifters—like himself—live on campus.

When a series of incidents related to Simon’s search put him in harm’s way, Ford’s instincts kick in, and they become closer than is strictly proper for student and teacher. Ford is forced to reveal his secrets to Simon, and their relationship is put to the test—Simon must choose between salvaging his reputation and protecting the man who protected him….



Author Bio

j. leigh bailey is an office drone by day and the author of Young Adult and New Adult LGBT Romance by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything…but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation or paranormal affiliation deserves a happy ending. For upcoming releases and appearances information, sign up for her newsletter athttps://t.co/FfL9gFVJLQ.

Social Media Links

Twitter @JenniWrites 
Facebook @JLeighBailey
Instagram @j.leigh.bailey_author

Maple Dreams by Emjay Haze – Recipes + Giveaway

January 31, 2018

maple dreams


Hi everyone. Thank you DreamSpinner Press for hosting the next stop on my blog tour. My new release, Home is Where You Are is set in rural Vermont at a maple orchard and sugar house.

I love pure Vermont Maple syrup. But, it’s not just for pancakes. There is Maple Sugar, Maple Cream, and my favorite Maple leaf candy.  And, maple syrup is a great substitute for white sugar. You use less and it has a lot of nutrients and anti-oxidants.

I thought it would be fun to share a few maple syrup recipes, including the drink Darla makes for Eric, Vermont Harvest Moon and a surprise at the end.


Maple Cream

There’s only 1 ingredient for this tasty treat that’s sweet like maple syrup, but has the consistency of peanut butter so you can spread it on toast or pancakes.

Pure Vermont Maple Syrup

Basically, you want to boil the syrup (don’t stir) until it reaches 235 degrees, or according to Spruce.com, 24 degrees over the boiling temperature of water. Add a little butter or oil to keep the foaming down

Once it’s done, you want to cool the pan, using an ice bath and then pour into glass containers.

All directions are here at Spruce.com. They also have a great recipe for Maple Leaf Candy, Courtesy of Spruce.com.


Traditional Vermont Maple Pie

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups pure Vermont Maple Syrup
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 – 9 in unbaked pie shell

Visit VermontMaple.org for the entire recipe, courtesy of Vermont Public television.


Eric’s Vermont Harvest Moon

When I first searched for a cocktail made using maple syrup, I found several different versions, but I can’t find the one I based the one in the book on any longer, so I improvised.

3 parts Hard Apple Cider
1 parts Cranberry Juice (Not cocktail)
1 (or 2) shots vodka
Teaspoon maple syrup
Slice of Orange

Pour hard apple cider in a glass
Then add the cranberry juice
Pour shot of vodka into the glass
Add the maple syrup
Top with slice of orange


Vermont Maple Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup of dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon of maple syrup (Grade B preferably)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts

For complete directions, visit SimplyRecipes.com, courtesy of Simply Recipes.


And last but not least, the ultimate comfort food. This is my recipe. My family loves it!

Mrs. B’s homemade Chicken Pot-Pie

3 cups chicken broth (made ahead of time)
½ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup cubed potatoes
1 cup peas
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced onions
½ cup chopped mushrooms
2 cups cooked chicken small pieces ( I bake chicken tenders at 350 for 30 minutes and then shred)
1/4 cup flour (I use glutenfree)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp pure Vermont maple syrup


If cooking chicken, make it first and then cut up
On medium-high, heat to boiling chicken broth, bay leaf and thyme,
Add carrots and potatoes and cook till tender, about 10 minutes
Remove bay leaf
Add wine
Mix flour and cream and whisk together
Slowly stir in flour/cream mixture until it thickens
Add celery, onion, and mushroom
Remove from heat
Fold in peas, chicken and maple syrup
Pour mixture into 4 individual oven safe bowls or one pie pan
Cover each with pie crust (I use gluten-free)
Melt 1 tsp butter and 1/4 tsp maple syrup
Brush butter mixture over each pie crust
Crinkle the edges, and fork the middle three times
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown


I have a rafflecopter giveaway of 3 e-copies of Home is Where you Are, and a Grand prize of the e-book and a gift pack of Vermont maple syrup and maple candy.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out Home Is Where You Are today!



Dreamspinner Press
Google Books



For a chance at a future filled with love, he’ll have to face a painful past.

Eric, recently dumped by his boyfriend, is summoned home after his dad suffers a stroke. His family farm in rural Vermont holds memories he’d rather forget, but he—with his degree in agricultural business—is needed to clear up a predicament with the bank. In trying to forget the bad, Eric has also lost sight of the good: green meadows dotted with grass-fed dairy cows and the sugar maples that once produced the area’s finest maple syrup. With Eric’s help, they will again.

A captivating farmhand named Phil tempts Eric to give the countryside another chance, but before they can consider being together, Eric must move past more than his feelings for his ex-boyfriend—he’ll need to stand up to the ghosts that sent him running from the farm in the first place….


Emjay Haze profile pic

Author Bio:

Emjay Haze is a Pennsylvania girl living in a Virginia world, growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs and moving to Northern Virginia to follow her now husband of twenty-plus years. She has two kids in college, a year-old puppy named Max, a black-and-white cat named Tux, a gecko named Rex, a yellow tang called Reggie, and we hear the eels are coming this week.

The family pastime is baseball, specifically the Nationals. She’s also a huge Redskins fans and loves classic rock. Emjay graduated with a degree in Creative Writing in 2015 after realizing it was the only thing she really wanted to do.

She has a wide and diverse work history in the fields of travel, hotel management, high-tech communications, web development, real estate, and the nonprofit health care industry where she has held positions such as travel agent, hotel concierge, web programmer, Realtor, account manager, and many, many others, giving her a varied and unique set of experiences that she draws upon in her stories and characters.

Emjay fell in love with the m/m romance genre after discovering the world of fanfiction several years ago and hasn’t looked back. Her family keeps asking when she’ll write something they can read, but she’s still having too much fun with her boys. Her goal is to broaden the minds of those who might not normally pick up a gay romance because it’s more about the person than the sexuality. She’ll take you on a roller-coaster journey, but you’ll always get a happy ending.

Website: www.mjhauthor.com/emjayhaze
Twitter: @emjayhaze
Facebook: www.facebook.com/emjayhaze
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14254769.Emjay_Haze


Falling Into Place w/ Deanna Wadsworth + Excerpt

January 30, 2018

falling into place


I’m really excited about all the positive feedback I’ve gotten so far about two of my favorite heroes I’ve written, Forrester and Kyle from LA FAMIGLIA, the second official Men of Gilead book. My holiday advent story WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER also takes place in my Ohio small town of Gilead, if you’d like to catch all of the books so far.

Forrester and Kyle have been in my head for a long time, and they have  through many unfinished versions and rewrites. When I finally realized that Kyle was deaf (all the clues had been there for me but I wasn’t seeing them) the story just fell together so very quickly. I brought along an excerpt to share of they way they flirt before their first date.


Men of Gilead 3



“So, Forrester.” Kyle said his name in a way that never ceased to send shockwaves down his back and straight to his cock. “How does one go about trading in books around here?”

Forrester pressed his groin closer to the back of the checkout counter, not wanting his thin khakis to reveal what Kyle’s voice did to him. He knew it wasn’t an accent anymore, but the soft way Kyle spoke lured him in like a siren’s song.

Since no one else waited to check out, Forrester took a moment to soak in those gorgeous hazel eyes, then smiled impishly. “First you have to bring them in.”

“That would be helpful.” Kyle’s generous mouth cracked a grin.

He tried his damnedest not to picture those downright kissable lips wrapped around his cock while he ran his fingers through Kyle’s sun-streaked hair.

He’d always had a thing for blonds.

He plucked up one of the flyers from the counter. Somehow he managed to sound professional, educated even, when he handed it over. “Our policy is we only take gently used books.”

“Mine are in great shape.”

“I bet they are,” Forrester drawled.

“They’re like new,” he insisted. “No folded corners, never dropped one in a tub either.”

“Good to hear. I hate it when people ruin a good book.” Dammit, now I’m picturing Kyle in a bathtub!

“Me too.” Kyle folded the flyer and tucked it into his pocket.

“For every book you trade in, we give 15 percent off the purchase of a new book or 25 percent off a used one. And for every three books, you get a free used book or half off a new one.”

Kyle flashed those pearly whites, making his eyes crinkle and his dimples deepen so much Forrester longed to flick his tongue inside them. “Guess I got some free books coming.”

“I guess you do,” he quipped. “Do you want to buy these today or wait till you do the trade?”

Kyle withdrew his card. “Nah, I’ll buy them now. I’ve been dying to see what happens since you got me hooked on this series. And Scott already signed this one.”

Forrester offered him a sideways smile. “I’ll just give you 15 percent off on good faith.”

“Gosh, you don’t have to do that.”

Good Lord, the guy said gosh. Could he be more adorable?

When Forrester noticed Holly watching them, he resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her. Instead, he shrugged off Kyle’s modesty and entered the discount into his computer. “No problem. Just make sure you bring me some good stuff, capisci?”

“Will do. Thanks a lot.”

Forrester swiped his card, then offered Kyle another inviting smile. The one Ma called his suck-up smile. “Can I get you anything else? Answer any more of your questions?”

Kyle kept smiling. “No. You’ve been pretty thorough, as usual.”

“You sure?” he prompted, unable to stop flirting so shamelessly. “You don’t need to know anything else? What’s on the bestseller list? Today’s weather? The meaning of life?”


Official report: Forrester was in love with Kyle Benson.

Or at least in serious lust.

His grin widened so big he swore his face might crack. “A Hitchhiker fan. I should’ve known.” He tore off the receipt and slid it forward for Kyle to sign.

“Hells yeah.” Kyle laughed.

Forrester bagged the books. “Receipt with you or in the bag?”

“Bag’s fine.” He accepted his purchases, then cleared his throat and fiddled with the bag. “All right, um, thank you, Forrester. Always a pleasure.” He extended a hand and Forrester took it, electric jolts running through his blood at the feel of those lightly calloused fingers.

“No problem,” he managed, not letting go.

Kyle kept his gaze locked on Forrester, blinking and glancing from his eyes to his mouth. Warming, Forrester ran his thumb across the back of his hand. He couldn’t believe his forwardness, but Kyle had some kind of tractor beam sucking him in. Powerless against its pull, he stroked the soft skin once more with a nervous, light touch, pulses of heat and desire stirring inside him.

Forrester let go and cleared his throat. “Um, Kyle?”


The phone rang, shattering the moment.

Sighing, he snagged it on the third ring. “Thank you for calling A Novel Idea. This is Forrester, how may I help you?”

“Hey, it’s me.”

Only real friends or family could answer a phone with an “it’s me.” Lucas Beale was the former. Though totally weird, and he hated sports of all kinds, Lucas was Forrester’s “boy best friend”—Holly having the honor of being his “girl best friend.” He didn’t know what he would do without either of them.

“Hey, Lucas, what’s up?” He tried not to sound annoyed at the telephone cockblock.

Kyle waved goodbye. “I guess I’ll see ya later, Forrester.”

“Can’t wait.”

“Can’t wait for what?” Lucas asked in confusion.

He covered the receiver, hoping he didn’t sound lame to Kyle. “I mean… uh, I can’t wait to read that book together?” His entire body froze in one breath of anticipation.

Kyle cocked his head to the side, then smiled. “Absolutely.”

Still grinning, Kyle turned and walked away.

Ignoring Lucas as he started talking again, Forrester watched Kyle’s spectacular ass as he headed to the door. A woman was coming in and, like a perfect gentleman, Kyle held the door for her. Outside, Kyle slid on and strapped his helmet. Then he threw his leg over and straddled the chrome-and-black Sportster parked out front.

I got something he can straddle and ride…. Forrester’s skin flushed all the way to his toes. Was Kyle a top or a bottom? Being versatile, he really didn’t care. As long as there was manly skin touching his, lots of kissing, and he got to come, Forrester was a happy camper. But the prospect of finding out what Kyle liked made his entire body warm.

He watched Kyle put his bike into gear and walk it back out of the space. As it did every time Kyle left, a deep ache settled in his stomach.

God, I just need to marry him.


Check out La Famiglia today!



AmazonDreamspinneriTunesGoogle Play │KoboB&N



Forrester Giordano comes from a huge, nosy Italian family, and with their homophobic jokes and slurs, he’s decided to stay in the closet. He finds respite in his bookstore in the quaint village of Gilead—where he has a huge crush on one of his customers, Kyle Benson.

Kyle is determined to live his dreams, and though life isn’t easy being deaf, one by one he’s making them come true. He’s scored a great job practicing law, bought a cute bungalow where he can finally have a big flower garden, and he has a dog he loves, Jasper. Now he just needs one thing to complete his happiness: a family of his own to make up for the one he never had.

Forrester and Kyle’s relationship starts off hot and heavy, and neither man can deny the depth of their connection. When Forrester’s little brother gets mixed up with their heroin-dealing cousin and his mother falls ill, Forrester has a decision to make—maybe the hardest of his life. For the first time, he’s found a man worth coming out for.

Unfortunately nothing ever goes according to plan with la famiglia.


Author Bio:

Deanna Wadsworth might be a bestselling erotica author, but she leads a pretty vanilla life in Ohio with her wonderful husband and a couple adorable cocker spaniels. She has been spinning tales and penning stories since childhood, and her first erotic novella was published in 2010. She has served multiple board positions for different RWA chapters, including President of the Rainbow Romance Writers in 2017. When she isn’t writing books or brainstorming with friends, you can find her making people gorgeous in a beauty salon. An avid reader, she also loves gardening, cooking, music, and dancing. Often she can be seen hanging out on the sandbar in the muddy Maumee River or chilling with her hubby and a cocktail in their basement bar. In between all that fun, Deanna cherishes the quiet times when she can let her wildly active imagination have the full run of her mind. Her fascination with people and the interworkings of their relationships have always inspired her to write romance with spice and love without boundaries.


You can also find her young adult alter ego, K.D. Worth FacebookTwitter

Buy Deanna’s books at Dreamspinner Press, Decadent Publishing or at any reputable eBook seller like Amazon