Release Party: If Two of Them Are Dead, family

May 23, 2014

Abraham Westbrook is a millionaire who both inherited his money and made his own millions. Growing up, he was well indoctrinated with the idea that he would be the head of the family and the business one day. He needed heirs, and his father had no compunction about selecting Abraham a bride from a good family. Abraham had no desire to be married, but had accepted it was inevitable for a man of his status.

 

When he met Minerva, Abraham knew he had found a perfect compromise between his true desires and his duty. Minerva was bright and inventive and his best friend even though he didn’t greatly desire her. They had three children, Abe, his first born son and namesake and then the twins, Harrison and Vivian. Minerva died in childbirth along with their second daughter. He mourned the loss of his friend, but felt absolutely no need to remarry. Abraham ignored the demands of society to take another wife for the sake of his children. He considered his duty done.

 

Abraham is naturally aware of the fact Victor takes the children as a sign that Abraham would have no interest in him. Victor isn’t tremendously surprised, however, when he learns the truth. It’s hardly an isolated case. Abraham loves and nurtures his children. He would do anything for them.

 

While not everyone likes stories with children in them, I think it can add another dimension to the relationship. Anyone have a good dealing with kids story they want to share? Or how about a story where the kids stole the show?

 

Release Party: If Two of Them Are Dead

May 23, 2014

Here’s another excerpt from early on just a few hours after their first meeting. Enjoy.

 

Unsurprisingly, wealthy men like Abraham Westbrook thought they were in charge of everything. Victor had expected it, but that didn’t make it any less aggravating when Abraham insisted on meeting his brother at the airstrip. When Victor couldn’t dissuade him, he allowed Westbrook to accompany him in his police-issued horseless carriage to the small strip out on the edge of town, where it wouldn’t bother the well-heeled Hyde Park residents.

 

From the red, black, and yellow bladder on the airship, Victor knew it was from the Dunn line. There probably wasn’t an airship he couldn’t name after a quick glance. A frisson of grief over his injury-ended career as an airman peeked out of a dark corner of Victor’s mind as it so often did whenever he was at an airstrip. Next to him, Abraham shifted his weight back and forth as they waited for the Dunn ship to dock.

 

“You don’t have to be here, sir. If you need time to yourself after what’s happened, you could wait in the station.” Victor pointed back over his shoulder at the small but well-appointed building. “Or the automobile.”

 

Abraham offered a weary smile. “Thank you for the concern, Detective. I need to be here for my brother.”

 

Victor nodded. He doubted he would be any different. In retrospect, it might be good Abraham had insisted on coming, because Victor didn’t know what Benjamin looked like. He followed Abraham’s lead once the passengers began to disembark. He probably could have picked Benjamin Westbrook out of the crowd based on the stiffness of his posture and the anguish etched into his face.

 

Benjamin Westbrook was quite different from his brother. He wore a suit—that probably cost half-a-year’s pay for Victor—impeccable in every sense and traditional, stolid deep blue with a white shirt. While Abraham’s hair was longer than was usual and a deep brown, Benjamin’s hair might even be more conservative than Victor’s, a more muddy and unattractive shade of brown. He lacked his brother’s tall, lanky form. Victor knew he had nothing to base it on, but Benjamin’s face didn’t look like he smiled often.

 

Abraham briefly embraced his brother, and Victor overheard his mumbled “I’m sorry, Ben.”

 

Benjamin caught his brother’s wrist. “Is it true? Is Permelia dead? What are they doing about it?”

 

“It’s true. I truly am sorry, Ben.” Abraham beckoned Victor forward. “This is Detective Victor Van Voorhis. He’s going to get to the bottom of this for us, and he has some questions for you.”

 

Victor certainly hoped Abraham was right. Benjamin looked less convinced. His pinched face was as cold as Abraham’s had been warm.

Release Party:If Two of Them Are Dead, Wealth

May 23, 2014

I settled on Hyde Park, NY as the backdrop for If Two of Them Are Dead. I used to live close to that and it was a great setting for story set in the 1880s (and I was sure I wanted a setting other than London). Once I had selected the setting, I knew the victim and her family had to come from money. This small rural town doubled as the home for some of the country’s most wealthy families. The Roosevelts have a home there, and the Vanderbilt mansion would have been a common sight to Abraham Westbrook and in fact, I shameless stole the facade of this house for my novella. It’s an amazing Beaux Art building. Have a look. Isn’t it magnificent?

 photo hyde-park-vanderbilt-mansion_zps117ed38b.jpg

Victor, however, is not that impressed by the house. He thinks it looks cold and like a mausoleum. Of course, once he’s inside Abraham’s home, he’s quite blown away and more than a little intimidated. Victor’s entire dwelling could probably fit in Abraham’s ballroom.

Wealth and classism do play a prominent role in the story. It stands between Victor and doing his job, not to mention between him and Abraham. I placed Abraham and his brother, Benjamin firmly among the legendary 400, who are mentioned in the story. For those unfamiliar with the term, it came from Mrs. Caroline Astor. It was said her ballroom could hold four hundred people.

Abraham and Benjamin belong to this group. They were born into their family’s astonishing wealth and both have taken it to even higher levels, Ben continuing in the fur and textile business their father left them, while Abraham went off on his own making airship engines and other fantastical steam-driven inventions. However, being richer than Croesus hasn’t always made Abraham happy. He inherited a ton of responsibilities. He has no respect for people in his class who just sit about doing nothing but spending their inheritance. He’s a man who prizes intellect and ingenuity more than money.

Abraham is already something of an outcast for his love of inventing and working with metal. He’d rather be talking to and funding Nikolai Tesla than attending one of Lady Astor’s parties. Playing up the eccentric millionaire gives Abraham the perfect out when it comes to befriending Victor. His determination to pursue the relationship makes all the difference.

 

Since Steampunk does seem to love London, what do you think of a completely different setting? What setting would you love to see a Steampunk use?

Release Party: If Two of Them Are Dead

May 23, 2014

How about an excerpt from the novella? I hope you enjoy.

“I’m Detective Victor Van Voorhis. I need to speak to the master of the house.”

“He’s expecting you. You can give your coat to Justin.” She waved her hand to indicate what looked like a tree stand with hands. She pressed the brass dogwood flower-shaped button in its center and the thing rumbled.

It wheezed and hissed little puffs of steam, and the arms extended as the contraption lurched forward on its wheeled base, startling Victor. He studied the machine, having never seen anything like it. He wondered how the mechanical butler worked, but it didn’t seem to work without someone there to turn it on. Was it more than a mechanized coat rack? Victor would have to ask.

“Do you like Justin?”

The male voice dragged Victor’s attention away. A tall, almost overly thin man stood in an interior doorway that led deeper into the home. He was surprisingly clean-shaven, though his walnut hair was mussed. Grief pinched his otherwise fine features.

“You named a machine?”

The man offered a wan smile. “It’s a quirk of mine, one of many. I name all my inventions. I’m Abraham Westbrook.”

To Victor’s surprise, this wealthy man stuck out his hand to shake. Victor felt nicks and calluses he hadn’t expected to find on a rich man’s hands. “I’m Detective Victor Van Voorhis. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Abraham nodded. “Thank you. Her children are upstairs with mine and their nannies. They weren’t here when it happened. Will you need to speak to them? They’re naturally very upset.”

“Later,” Victor said, handing his coat to Justin, who rolled away back to its corner. “Just briefly about the morning, before they left. You can be present, of course. However, I have questions for you, sir, about your sister-in-law. I understand your brother is in the city. Were you and your wife at home this morning and afternoon?” Victor had no real idea how the rich spent their days. Why wasn’t this man at work? Did he even work?

“I was here in my workshop.” Abraham gestured toward a hallway. “My wife passed over five years ago.”

“I’m sorry.” The generic words of sympathy tumbled out of him. Victor was used to saying them several times a day when working a case.

“It’s fine, Detective. Come with me. We can talk in my library. It will be more comfortable.”

“Of course.”

Victor followed him through a living room roughly the size of Victor’s house, then down a hall with carpeting that ate all the sounds of their passage and felt like walking on a cloud. The scent of old books, slightly musty and even dustier, hit Victor’s nose as they entered the library. A large marble fireplace dominated one wall, with comfortable-looking chairs and a table with a whiskey decanter and glasses set out in front of it. Rows of books lined every other surface, along with more knickknacks and other memorabilia than Victor could easily take in.

Release Party: If Two of Them Are Dead. Mysteries

May 23, 2014

For all its steampunk trappings, If Two of Them Are Dead, is a mystery at its heart. It has been my go-to genre since I started reading novels from Nancy Drew on. I started the story knowing who would die: Permelia Westbrook, wife and sister-in-law of two wealthy brothers, Benjamin and Abraham respectively. However, that was all I knew about these characters. I didn’t even know who had killed her and why.

Poor Permelia had to die so that her brother-in-law, Abraham could cross paths with Victor, the detective trying to solve her murder. At first I thought, the easiest way to work up a motive would be to have a love triangle and that would suffice. It’s a common motive, after all, but I wanted something more.

There isn’t much more I can say about that without giving away the plot. Of course, Abraham becomes an instant suspect. As a rather eccentric millionaire, he was in his nearby home working on his inventions while his brother, Benjamin, was down in New York City dealing with the family business. Abraham had access to the victim, and Permelia and he didn’t particularly like each other.

Victor is instantly attracted to Abraham but fights to put him out of mind. He can’t possibly get involved with a suspect. Victor quickly learns there is no shortage of suspects and motives. However, finding a way to clear Abraham and his brother will prove harder. Victor’s attraction to Abraham distracts him from his job. Soon, it becomes a race to the find the killer before someone else dies.

As I said above, mysteries is my all-time favorite genre. I love the classics from Agatha Christie to Ngaio Marsh to Arthur Conan Doyle. I love too many new ones to even name but C.S. Harris, Jaqueline Winspear, Tess Gerritsen, Preston & Child all top that list. Who is your favorite mystery writer or your favorite detective? It really is hard to top Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Release Party: If Two of Them Are Dead

May 23, 2014

 photo IfTwoOfThemAreDeadFS_zps8757afbf.jpg

Hello everyone. Thanks for being here with me. I’m getting a bit of a late start today but I’ll be with you for a while talking about my steampunk-mystery novella, If Two of Them Are Dead. I’ve wanted to write a steampunk story for a long time. I didn’t know where to go with it initially. I didn’t want to do the war story or airship pirates. Sure, those are great fun, but they are almost expected of the genre. I wanted to do something a little different.

The steampunk is the backdrop for the story more than the driving force. It is, at its heart a mystery with a fantastical setting. Getting the steampunk to even out with the mystery was a balancing act. I didn’t want to give the detective too much technology that wouldn’t have been around at the time. Nicolai Tesla’s and Abraham’s little toy at the end was really about the only weapon that wasn’t period. And how could I pass up the chance for Abraham to know Tesla? I love Tesla.

There are airships, however, and Victor was an airman before he entered the police force. Abraham makes engines for airships, which is part of his wealth. He’s also busy making his own personal small airships for fun. Steam-driven automobiles are slightly more prevalent and advanced than they would have been at the time. I wish I had more time to play with Abraham’s inventions, especially Cerberus, the mechanical dog he created for his son. Like many men of his social circle, Abraham had been pressured into marrying young and starting a family, though his wife passed several years before the opening of the story.

What I love about steampunk is the creativity. I love all the clothes, the backstories people give their characters, and especially the music – Abney Park anyone? Steam-Powered Giraffe? I wish I still had the ability to make my own clothes (a hand injury makes that hard now). However, I will say even though I’m a cosplayer going on nearly thirty years now, I probably was never good enough to make a Victoriana styled gown.

So what is your favorite thing about steampunk? Recommend a band or book for everyone if you’d like. At the end of my time with you, I’ll be giving away a copy of the novella to someone answering the questions along the way. I’ll be back with you soon with more!

Release Party I Heart You by H.C. Brown

May 21, 2014

I Heart You Release Party Winners:

 I added a mystery prize too :-)

Antonia  

amaquilante@gmail.com

JenC

jczlapin@gmail.com   —- Mystery prize

Theo
nemo_amarcord@hotmail.com

 Jen

rescuemama2007@yahoo.com

 

Thank you all for joining me it has been great fun.

I will be in touch with your prizes ASAP.

H.C. Brown

Release Party: I Heart You by H.C. Brown

May 21, 2014

Well, this has been fun but I guess you guys would like to go to bed about now? Here in Australia the sun is shining and the time is around noon.

DSCN0113

Thank you for joining me. I will go through all the comments and select my winners and place them in the next post . So as you are in a different time zone to me, I will leave this announcement for a few hours so you can get your comments posted.

In the meantime you can find me here:

Web

Blog:

Facebook:

Twitter: @ HCBrownauthor

Don’t forget all my Dreamspinner titles including I Heart You,  are included in Dreamspinner’s Seven Year Celebration.

       

I Heart You Buy Link

 

H.C. Brown

Release Party: I Heart You by H.C. Brown

May 21, 2014

I write in a great variety of genres but what turns you on the most? Firefighters, cowboys, rockstars, strippers?

In I Heart You, I have written about  guys sunkissed by the Australian endless summer.

 

What type of manlove pushes your sexometer buttons?

I have a copy of  Take Me, Break Me  for  the most stimulating reply ;-)  Don’t forget to leave your email address.

Release Party: I Heart You by H.C. Brown

May 21, 2014

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4989

 

Well I am having so much fun, I almost forgot to give you an excert LOL. Here goes:

KALE STONE dropped his bags on the glossy tiled floor and stared out the thick glass windows of Brisbane Airport into the shimmering Australian heat. The place had changed in the past six years. Lord, he hardly recognized the landscape. Set apart from the Domestic terminal, the new glass-and-chrome International Airport rose from the gray blacktop in a feat of modern architectural brilliance. A young couple bustled by. He smiled. Hell, it’s good to hear the Aussie accent again.

 

Turning away from the window, Kale recognized Tyler Duram’s lean, muscular frame resting casually against the Arrivals doorway. He drew a deep breath. Tyler reminded him of the beach; his blue shirt hung open to display a yard of golden tanned skin, stretched over an impressive six-pack. Tousled, sun-streaked brown hair tumbled past his collar, and those eyes… deep and dangerous as the ocean.

 

Kale lifted his bags and headed toward him. Oh Lord, the sight of Tyler made him hard. He grinned at him. His hunger for Tyler reignited at his friend’s frank sexual appraisal and slow, sultry smile. The emotions he thought long lost awakened and swirled inside him. Kale swallowed hard.

 

Tyler pushed away from the wall and sauntered toward him. “Welcome home, Mr. Stone. I’m sorry about your dad.” He tucked his thumbs into the loops on his jeans and wet his bottom lip with the tip of his tongue.

 

Kale met his gaze with a smile. When Tyler reached for the bags and brushed the knuckles of one suntanned hand against Kale’s thigh, his heart pounded. Settle down.

 

He sucked in a deep breath. How could Tyler send his libido into overdrive after such a long time? He forced his words to remain casual. “I’m not upset in the least, and it wasn’t ‘Mr. Stone’ when we were kids, Tyler.”

 

“You weren’t my boss then.” Tyler ran a hand through his hair.

 

“It’s still Kale, same as always. My father was Mr. Stone.” Kale chuckled. “So, Tyler, do you really work for me? You’ll have to tell me how that happened.” He reached for the suitcases. “Thanks, I can carry my own things.”

 

“Well, then, welcome home, Kale. It’s good to see you, man.” Tyler released Kale’s bag and slapped him on the back. “I thought maybe things would be different between us now that you’re a big-shot French vintner.”

 

Everything had changed. Tyler’s body, for one. Kale wanted to push him against the wall and slip straight into his fine ass. He swallowed hard and averted his gaze. One look into those hooded blue eyes and he’d say something stupid.

 

“I’m older and I know a lot more about wine, but I’m still the same person my old man threw out. I’m still proud to be gay, and I don’t give a damn who knows. Now what about you? How did you come to work for the old man? He obviously didn’t discover your orientation.”

 

“Me? No, your dad never found out about me.” Tyler gave him a slow smile. “I came with the ranch. Part of the deal when he purchased my parents’ property. I have no complaints. I’ve always had an interest in winemaking. Hell, I practically grew up at your winery. I went to college, worked my way up to manager, and now I work for you.” He smiled. “Hey, do you remember old Bluey? And the day we filled up his work boots with cement and his hat with horse shit?”

 

Kale grinned “Sure, and I remember the whipping I got too; better still was the day we filled his hubcaps up with shrimp shells. The poor old bastard was trying to find out where the smell was coming from for weeks.”

 

“Yeah, those were the days.” Tyler chuckled and led the way to the exit.

 

“Sure were, the summers went on forever. Two wild, out-of-control kids raising hell. I’m surprised we didn’t end up in prison. We were lucky. Is old Bluey still alive?”

 

“Oh, yeah. The old coot is waiting by my rig. He insisted on coming. I guess he thought I might go to the pub or something. He still thinks I’m eighteen.” Tyler laughed.

 

“Do you spend a lot of time in the pub?”

 

“Nah, not really. I prefer a nice, intimate meal at a restaurant—and wine. Most of the guys at the pub would tar and feather me if I asked for a glass of chardonnay.” He flicked a long-lashed glance at Kale.

 

“That would be my kind of perfect too. It looks like we’ve a lot of catching up to do.”

 

“Uh-huh.” Tyler winked. “A good place to start is why you left. Hell, I woke up one morning and you were gone. My best friend had fucked off without a word. You didn’t bother to contact me or send an e-mail, in what—six years?” His forehead wrinkled in a frown. “That hurt.”

 

Kale stopped in midstride and spun to face him. “Left? My father threw me out with nothing but the clothes on my back! I didn’t have your e-mail address or phone number, and with the shock of the old bastard kicking me to the curb, I’m surprised I remembered my own name. I wasn’t allowed to take anything, not a photograph of my mother or even a fucking clean shirt. No phone, nothing, and I lost everyone’s damn contacts. It’s not like you had a Facebook page, is it? I did write to you, though, but it’s hard to keep up a one-sided conversation. If you didn’t receive my letters, I can only assume your parents withheld them. Maybe they discovered the reason my old man chucked me out. I called too, but the number had been disconnected.”

 

“I’m not sure what happened to the mail. My parents moved out a week after you left, so all the mail went to the big house.” Tyler rubbed his chin. “I guess your dad had a hand in destroying your letters. How did you get to France? It’s a bit far to hitchhike.”

 

“I had a small legacy from Mom and went to live with my uncle in France.”

 

“So, tell me why.” Tyler’s eyes narrowed. “Or is it a state secret?”

 

“My dad found out I’m gay.”

 

“Yeah, like that was a secret.” Tyler continued toward the exit.

 

Kale chewed on his lip, painfully remembering the last argument with his father. There could be no reasoning with him. God, he had only embraced Sam Jones in the crushing shed, and that would not have been enough reason for his father to disown him. Someone must have informed his father about his sexuality, but who? He lifted his shoulder, wincing at the pain still present after six years of physiotherapy. Truthfully, his father’s passing had brought a feeling of relief rather than sorrow.

 

The glass doors leading from the airport slid silently open, and a blast of scorching air rammed into Kale. Holy cow, he’d forgotten how high the temperature got in Queensland in January. He dropped his bags by his feet and wrenched off his jacket, then rolled up the sleeves of his long-sleeved white business shirt.

 

“You might want to lose the tie; it’s forty degrees centigrade. That’s over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, in case you’ve forgotten.” Tyler chuckled, bending to lift one of the bags.

 

Kale ripped off his tie, stuffed it in his pants pocket, and picked up his other bag.

 

“Wonderful.”

 

Following Tyler to the parking lot, he grinned when he saw Bluey leaning against a sparkling black SUV.

 

“Good to see you, Bluey. You haven’t changed a bit.”

 

“Well, you sure have filled out. Grown a might too. I wasn’t too sure I’d recognize you. It’s been… what… six years since you left? Are you glad to be back?” The old man’s dark brown face wrinkled into a smile, his pale blue eyes a sharp contrast against his tanned skin.

 

Kale threw his bag in the backseat, then turned to the old man.

 

“To be honest, I would rather stay in Provence. I didn’t intend to return to Australia. This will only be a short visit. We finished pruning the vines before I left, and the manager is quite capable of organizing the frost watch.”

 

“So you never had the chance to mend fences with your dad? Shame that, but I admit he was a cantankerous old bastard. You’ll be glad to know Vine Mountain is doing well, but your expertise will help it along. The Riesling vines have a great crop of fruit, and it looks like we’ll be right on schedule to pick end of March. The place has expanded some since you left. Your father bought the Durum cattle ranch and planted right up to Blackstone Mountain. Those vines should be productive next year. Yeah, and two years after you left, the Tourist Commission put Vine Mountain on the damn winery tour. We have a tasting twice a week. Stone Brothers’ Riesling is one of the top-selling wines in the state.” He climbed into the backseat of the SUV. “No harm done if you want to go back to France. Tyler here is a damn good manager. He runs the place, from harvest to bottle. He’s got a fine palate, knows his stuff, does Tyler.”

 

Tyler rolled his eyes and Kale grinned. “I’m glad to hear the place is in good hands.” He met Tyler’s gaze. “Does Sam Jones still hold the transport contract?”

 

Tyler stiffened and his lips formed a thin line. “I only give him work when we can’t get anyone else—the guy is trouble, Kale, a fucking predator.” He gave Kale a knowing glance. “Or have you got a short memory?” He cleared his throat. “You were lucky to be in France, away from the asshole—and don’t ask me for details. Trust me, you don’t want to know.”

 

Kale walked around to the passenger side of the rig, climbed in, and dropped into the comfortable black leather seat. Memories of Sam Jones filled his head. He had been young and vulnerable, and Sam had taken advantage of him. He understood that now, but at the time, Sam had taught him the savage delight of man love. The thought that Tyler shared a similar memory unnerved him. He dismissed the thought when Tyler slid in beside him. Hell, his heart raced with the mere closeness of this man. Lord, the scent of him—pine and warm man—made his mouth water. His cock twitched in anticipation the moment Tyler leaned toward him, reaching over his shoulder to gather the seat belt.

 

“Buckle up. It’s a $300 fine. You too, Blue.” He turned his head to grin at the old man in the backseat.

 

Tyler brushed his long, tanned fingers against Kale’s crotch to fix the seat belt. Looking at his transparent reflection in the windshield, Kale tried to think of something, anything, to slow his erection. He stifled a groan. Peppermint breath brushed his cheek and their eyes met. A memory long-suppressed eased to the surface, sending his libido into overdrive. His want for this man overflowed, and he swallowed hard, pushing desire to the back of his mind. The effort to disguise his interest had not fooled his friend. The knowing look Tyler gave him made his words come out in a rush. “Where are you living now, Tyler?”

 

“I’m living in the big house. Do you mind?” Tyler started the engine, and they moved off into a line of traffic exiting the parking lot.

 

Heat shimmered off the blacktop, but nothing came close to the heat curling around his balls. Kale swallowed and kept his eyes ahead. He shrugged, hoping to display an air of nonchalance. “No, of course not. I’d really enjoy your company.” More than you’ll ever know.

 

“Good. I prefer to be away from the live-in employees. I believe to keep order I can’t be one of the boys. Did you know your old man built a block of self-contained units, fourteen all together?” Tyler flashed him a too-white grin. “We’ve been busy in your absence.”

 

Kale racked his brain. He had picked up an Australian newspaper that mentioned the winery’s revamp a year after he’d left. “Ah, yeah, I heard something ages ago. So how many live-in employees do we have? I’m guessing we still have permanent staff and the casual workers for the harvest?”

 

“The casual workers vary, but with the new building and the old bunk house, you have twenty-five men onsite, a secretary—sweet little Joanie Smith—then there’s buxom Betty, the cook, and her four daughters, all as hot as hell.”

 

“You’ll have to watch him with the womenfolk, Kale. It’s like having a stud bull around.” Blue leaned forward and grasped the back of Kale’s headrest. “He can’t keep it in his pants for more than a day. You should hire him out and make some extra cash.” He chuckled deep in his chest.

 

Kale grinned and turned in his seat to face the old man. “Is that so? Well, don’t worry, Blue, I’m guessing the old man’s stock whip is still hanging in the study.”

 

“Yep, it’s still there.” Blue slapped Tyler on the shoulder. “But I’m guessin’ he runs fast too—has to with all the husbands in the valley after him.”

 

“Be careful, Blue. Kale’s got a reputation too.” Tyler glanced at Kale and raised a dark brow before returning his gaze to the road. “I hear you’ve handled a lot of horny men in your time.” He chuckled and turned his head to wink at Kale.

 

Concentrating on just taking the next breath, Kale shrugged. “No, not a lot… just a select few.”

 

 

 

 

 

JET LAG and sheer exhaustion claimed Kale on the journey home. He rested his head against the padded seat and dozed. The dry Queensland countryside flashed past. The changing landscape never failed to amaze him. Lush green trees and pasture in the rainy season turned to crisp brown scrub in days under the summer sun. A familiar scent of fire filtered into the cabin, and he opened one eye to catch a glimpse of a charred forest blackened by a recent bushfire. Nothing had changed; life in Australia had continued without him.

 

Three hours later, he caught sight of the homestead. The one-hundred-year-old house had received a new coat of white paint and shimmered like a confection of white meringue in the sunshine. A small fenced garden filled with vegetables sat in the shade of a new water tank. The abundance of lettuce and tomatoes was the only splash of color in the dusty earth.

 

He opened the door and slid from the seat. A burst of heat cut through his shirt and stopped his next breath. Jesus, he had to get inside before his blood boiled. He moved swiftly toward the house and taking the steps two at a time, reached the front door. He paused beneath the wide awning, a mixture of revulsion and regret churning his gut. He’d left this place and swore he’d never return. Tyler moved to his side, his face creased in a grin. Kale turned to him and raised a brow. “Spill it, what happened with Sam?”

 

“He wanted me to be his boy.” Tyler shrugged. “I guess he missed you.”

 

“And… did he get you?”

 

Color pinked Tyler’s cheeks, but anger flashed in his eyes. “That was a long time ago, and like I said, it’s better you don’t know, and I’d rather keep the details to myself, okay?”

 

“What the fuck did he do to you?”

 

“Let it go, Kale. It’s better this way.” Tyler bounded up the stairs and pushed open the front door.

 

God, the musky scent of Tyler washed over him, driving him insane. What had happened between Tyler and Sam to cause such a reaction?

 

“Ah, Barns will be waiting for you. I noticed his car outside.” Tyler waited for him to enter and shut the door. “He’ll want to speak to you about the will. I’ll let Betty know we’re back. She’ll have made something special to eat. She likes to make a fuss.” He strolled toward the kitchen.

 

Blissfully cool inside the air-conditioned house, Kale glanced around the home. Strange after being away that the house appeared smaller than he remembered. He stared at his father’s office door with trepidation. He didn’t want to deal with this right now. His head ached with exhaustion. He drew a deep breath and walked into his father’s office to greet the family solicitor. The aged, balding lawyer, in an impeccably tailored brown suit, rose from behind his father’s carved mahogany desk and peered at him over the glasses perched on the end of his nose.

 

Kale ran a hand through his damp hair and met his gaze. “My apologies, Mr. Barns. I understand you’ve been waiting some time?”

 

“Not to worry, plenty here to keep me occupied.” He tapped the papers littering the desk. “I thought it best to get all the legal documents out of the way so you could get yourself settled.” He offered his hand. “Welcome home.”

 

“I appreciate you coming. I’ll need to acclimatize before I venture too far. It was snowing in France when I left, and I’d forgotten how hot it gets here.”

 

Kale shook his hand, turned, and collapsed into the chair opposite the desk. The smell of cigars and sweat brought back a rush of memories. His father standing over him, fists clenched, his eyes blazing with disgust. His stomach became jittery just thinking about it. How his father had changed after his mother died. He’d become a ruthless bastard in less than a year. Once Kale had loved him, but now it had become too late for forgiveness.

 

The papers rustled on the desk, bringing Kale’s attention back to Mr. Barns. He forced his mind to concentrate on Barn’s soft voice.

 

“It’s all pretty straightforward, Kale, but there is a condition. Vine Mountain goes to you, lock, stock, and barrel with $100,000. The rest of your father’s fortune, amounting to about $27.5 million, will be held in trust until you reach the age of thirty-five, unless you marry. He was very aware of the recent High Court ruling against same-sex marriages, and although I did insist the government’s position could change, he would have none of it. He insisted Australian politicians were too ‘old school tie’ and set in their ways to change the law in the next millennium.” The lawyer rested his glasses on the desk, his face creased in a deep frown. “I did explain the difficulty this would impose on you at the time the will was drawn, but your father refused to budge. He was of the opinion with enough incentive you would change your sexuality. The terms will stand up in court.”

 

Anger straightened Kale’s spine. He dragged in a deep breath, trying to absorb the implications. “But it doesn’t specify I must marry a woman?”

 

“No, the term is not gender specific. There is a loophole. It does not state a requirement for an Australian marriage license either. You must simply produce a certificate of marriage to inherit the estate.”

 

Kale scrubbed his hands over his face. His father expected him to fail—$100,000 would not pay for the running of Vine Mountain Winery for a month. He sighed. What’s new?

 

“Is that for me, personally? Did he leave anything to run the bloody company?”

 

“That’s it. I used my powers as executor to pay the employees until the end of next quarter and to cover any outstanding debts. You’ll have a few months grace before you need funds. I’m sorry, Kale. He insisted this was for your own good. He couldn’t accept the fact you are gay.” Barns held out his father’s last will and testament.

 

Taking the offered document, Kale set his gaze on him. “How long will it take to get the transfer of ownership for all of this?”

 

“Two weeks.”

 

Running a hand through his hair, Kale glanced at the calendar. January 15.

 

“Well, my only course of action is to sell the winery. I’m not planning on marrying in the next three months.” He chewed on his bottom lip. “How long will it take for a sale to go through?”

 

“If all the funds are available, usually the transfers and other paraphernalia take about six weeks.” Barns raised a brow. “But you have to get someone to buy it, and the market is down at the moment. It won’t be easy.” He let out a long sigh. “What about the people who work here and have made it their home? Some of them have been employed here for twenty years or more, or does loyalty mean nothing to you?”

 

Kale pressed his lips together. Disbelief rode heavy on his shoulders. His father’s homophobia would destroy a very lucrative business that had been in the family for generations. As if he’d marry anyone under false pretenses to suit his father. He leaned back in his chair and sucked in a deep breath. Selling was the only option. He rested his elbows on the arms of the wooden chair, steepled his fingers, and turned his attention back to Barns. “I might be able to get someone to take on the crew if the price is right. If not, I’ll contact the other wineries in the state and try to get them employment, but you’ll have to guarantee the two weeks’ severance pay.”

 

“I’m sure that’s within my duty of care. Nevertheless, Kale, this is a multimillion-dollar business. If you could hang on for one year, last year’s vintage will be ready for sale, and if you need cash, there’s plenty of vintage stock in the cellar.”

 

“Yes, but if I liquidate that, I’ll lose the hook to sell the winery. It will look like the business is going bad. I need a quick sale so I can return to France. I like my work there, and a third share in a small business suits me fine. I’ll manage. I have for the past six years without my father’s help.” He grimaced. “I’ll get the money when I turn thirty-five. It will be something to look forward to.”

 

“Very well. Do you want me to handle the sale?” Barns collected the paperwork and pushed it into a folder. He peered over the top of his glasses with an expression of weariness.

 

Exhaustion seeped into Kale’s muscles, and the grit from travelling scratched his eyes. He wanted to find a bed and sleep for a week. He forced his lips into a smile. “Yes, thank you. I will consider all offers.”

 

 

 

 

 

KALE STAGGERED up the stairs to his old bedroom, only to find it completely stripped of all his personal belongings. Nothing remained of his childhood; the furniture, the gifts his mother gave him on his birthday before she died, all of them were missing. Everything had changed and recently too. The room had a sterile, newly painted odor. A new king-size bed sat against one wall, mirrored wardrobes had replaced the old cupboard once crammed with memories. His father had tried to wipe out his existence.

 

He threw off his clothes, too weary to care, and flopped down on the bed. Sometime later, he awoke in darkness, coated in sweat. He reached for the bedside lamp and rubbed his eyes. The alarm clock gave the time of 5:00 a.m. He wiped sweaty palms down his thighs. “Jesus fucking Christ, what idiot turned off the bloody air-conditioning?”

 

He pushed to his feet and stamped across the room. He flicked the switch on the wall thermostat, turning the temperature to the lowest setting. The machine hummed into action and sent a wave of hot air into his face. “Fuck! Get a move on and cool down this place.” He pushed sweat-soaked hair from his face and headed into the bathroom to take a long cold shower. I hope we have water.

 

A short while later, he moved out into the dark hallway and made his way downstairs. The wonderful aroma of breakfast wafted up from below. His stomach growled in appreciation. It had been a long time since he had eaten the meager meal offered on the plane. A glow shone under the kitchen door, making a triangle of light in the hallway. He could hear voices coming from inside. He strolled down the corridor and pushed open the door. A middle-aged woman stood at the stove in deep conversation with Tyler. His friend sat at the table, drinking from a mug, a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him. He raised his blue gaze, and his full lips quirked up in a smile.

 

“Hey, boss, must say I’m surprised to see you up this early.” He grinned. “Has your jet stopped lagging?”

 

“Very funny. Shame you don’t dress as sharp as your wit.” Kale flopped down in the chair next to Tyler and yawned. “What day is it? I’m starving and I feel like I’ve just walked across the Simpson Desert.”

 

“You’ve been asleep for about fourteen hours. This is Betty, by the way. Betty, meet our boss, Kale Stone.”

 

Kale raised his head and smiled at the tidy, round woman. “Nice to meet you, Betty. Can you make me some of what he’s got?”

 

“No worries, Mr. Kale.” She filled a cup with coffee and pushed it toward him, then turned back to the stove.

 

“Sleep well?” Tyler ran his hand slowly up Kale’s thigh.

 

What the fuck? His impression of Tyler’s sexual orientation slipped a few notches. Hope rose in his chest, hungry with expectation. He sucked in a deep breath and willed his cock not to react to his friend’s inquisitive touch. Too late. I’m going to be hard all day. Kale met his gaze and searched his shattered mind for a few coherent words. “I slept like the dead. How about you? Do you usually get up this early?”

 

“Oh, you can get me up any time of the night.” Tyler squeezed Kale’s leg. His touch became bolder by the second, moving up his thigh to rest on his groin. “Do you still ride?”

 

Kale choked on his coffee and met Tyler’s amused gaze. “Sorry?”

 

“I have a couple of horses, and I like to go for a ride before work. Thought you might like to come—of course, after you’ve recovered from jet lag. There’s been a heap of improvements since you left. We can ride up to the new plantings. I’ll show you around.”

 

Kale accepted a plate of hot food from Betty and then turned his gaze to Tyler. “Sounds good, but I have a pile of paperwork to go over, so give me a couple of days.” He sipped his coffee. “Tell me, are you still doing the rodeo circuit?”

 

“Nah, no time, but I do enter the local events. I won a thousand bucks last year, bull riding.”

 

Kale raised a brow. “Bull riding? Hell, that’s dangerous.”

 

“Depends on the bull.” Tyler grinned wolfishly.

 

HC