Wrapped Up in Chains Release Party!

March 14, 2014

Hi! I’m Cindy Sutherland and I’m here with you today celebrating the release of my latest book and first full length novel, Wrapped Up in Chains. I’m so glad to be here, and I’m really excited because I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m going to be hanging out throughout the day, chatting and answering any questions you might have. I’m actually have the day off because the flu has been running rampant through my house and it’s finally my turn. At least it waited until everyone else was over it!

I’m going to be giving away a copy of the ebook version of the novel and you can win by commenting below and answering this question:

Would you rather spend an hour as a sub or as a Dom…no judgements, just for fun! I’ll tell you my answer at the end of the day.

I’m going to start by sharing the blurb with you.

Devon West is a professional Dom who runs his own club, doesn’t believe in romance, and had never been in a long-term relationship. All this changes when he rescues Chase Mackenzie.

Chase is a runaway who has been kept as a slave since he was sixteen. Now twenty-three, he’s still innocent and sweet despite being severely abused and left behind by his Dom.

When Devon finds out that the man who held Chase hostage is the same man who hurt him terribly when he started learning about the sub/Dom lifestyle, he knows he has to keep Chase safe.

Spoiled rich boy and sociopath James Kingston is obsessed with Devon. He’s convinced Devon would be his perfect sub and Devon only thinks he’s a Dom because he needs proper discipline. Losing Chase to Devon is like rubbing salt in the wound, and he’s determined to get them both under thumb. This time, Chase may need to rescue Devon.

You can get Wrapped Up in Chains here. It’s also available here in paperback and the first twenty copies of that are autographed by me!

I look forward to spending the day with you all and lets have a little fun! I’d love to answer any questions you might have.

 

Harmony Ink New Release: March 13, 2014

March 13, 2014

Ghost Songs by Andrew Demcak

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

Todd and Jennifer work together to overcome their problems—a bad parent and physical abuse. Growing up is scarier than Todd ever imagined. Ghost Songs by Andrew Demcak, a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

GhostSongsFS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not easy being Todd Williams, a fourteen-and-a-half-year-old gay musical prodigy. The bullies, Bob and Ari, at his fancy private school make his life a living hell.  Todd’s drunken, irresponsible mother, Eddie, constantly embarrasses him and puts his artistic future in jeopardy.  And now, his best friend, Jennifer, who plays clarinet with him in the orchestra, isn’t speaking to him. Maybe Leroy, Todd’s friendly poltergeist, knows what’s going on with her.  To top it off, he can no longer rely on Jennifer’s help in the race to solve a puzzle that could lead to a buried treasure.  Todd must learn to stand alone.  He’s finding out that growing up is far scarier than he ever imagined.

Length: Novel (210p.) | Genre: Paranormal: Ghosts and Spirits, Young Adult, Gay | Release Date: March 13, 2014

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-796-7) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-62798-795-0)

Harmony Ink New Release: February 20, 2014

February 20, 2014

The Red Sheet by Mia Kerick

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

Bryan was a bully, until one morning he wakes up a different person—helpful and kind. But Scott, Bryan’s former victim, is not convinced. The Red Sheet by Mia Kerick, a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

RedSheet[The]FS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One October morning, high school junior Bryan Dennison wakes up a different person—helpful, generous, and chivalrous—a person whose new admirable qualities he doesn’t recognize. Stranger still is the urge to tie a red sheet around his neck like a cape.

Bryan soon realizes this compulsion to wear a red cape is accompanied by more unusual behavior. He can’t hold back from retrieving kittens from tall trees, helping little old ladies cross busy streets, and defending innocence anywhere he finds it.

Shockingly, at school, he realizes he used to be a bully. He’s attracted to the former victim of his bullying, Scott Beckett, though he has no memory of Scott from before “the change.” Where he’d been lazy in academics, overly aggressive in sports, and socially insecure, he’s a new person. And although he can recall behaving egotistically, he cannot remember his motivations.

Everyone, from his mother to his teachers to his “superjock” former pals, is shocked by his dramatic transformation. However, Scott Beckett is not impressed by Bryan’s newfound virtue. And convincing Scott he’s genuinely changed and improved, hopefully gaining Scott’s trust and maybe even his love, becomes Bryan’s obsession.

With a foreword by C. Kennedy

Length: Novel (190p.) | Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Gay | Release Date: February 20, 2014

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-717-2 ) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-62798-715-8)

Exclusive Excerpt of Holding on to Hope

February 14, 2014

I am sending my hunky waiters around to serve you all some drinks ;) Please enjoy while I share an excerpt from my book – Holding on to Hope.

 

Excerpt

Holding on to HopeLeslie felt eyes on her, and she looked across their table. A pair of freakishly blue eyes stared in their direction. They belonged to a man, a bit older in age—probably in his fifties, she guessed—with long gray hair. His face was round and wrinkled, making him look very ugly. He wore a black trench coat over a white shirt and a striped tie. Leslie noticed the big rings on his finger and deduced that he must be some wealthy man. However, his stare was making him appear scary.

When he realized he was caught in the act, his lips curved into a cold smile.

She quickly looked away and tried to concentrate on what her boyfriend was saying. However, Leslie kept getting the weirdest feeling that nothing around her was safe anymore. The worrisome thoughts kept her occupied. An unmistakable panic was slowly settling in.

All because of an old man who was probably innocently looking at the college kids as they sat right across from him and reminiscing about his past!

Leslie shivered. “Guys,” her voice wavered. “I’ll be right back.”

Thankfully, none of the boys noticed the change in her tone, and she quickly made her way to the ladies room. Once she was in, the first thing she did was empty her bladder.

Somehow, the old man had freaked her out so much that she felt the need to pee. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was exactly that triggered such emotions in her. This had never happened to her before.

She splashed some cold water on her face, fixed her makeup once again, and exhaled, feeling a lot better than before. Hoping that the old man was gone, she slowly stepped out.

Her heart felt lighter when she saw his seat was empty, and the smile then came easy to her. At that moment, she even wanted to laugh at herself for having a stupid panic attack.

After all, he was a harmless old man.

She found her boyfriend standing by the counter, buying another coffee for himself. She walked over to him. “I thought you promised me that you’d cut down on your caffeine consumption for a day.” Leslie narrowed her eyes. He looked at her like a deer caught in the headlights and smiled very cutely.

“I told you too much coffee isn’t good for my Patty-pie’s health.”

“I promise this is the last one,” he said and leaned down to kiss her. He obviously wasn’t going to keep his promise. But she let it slip. Pushing the matter wasn’t going to help. Leslie believed that Patrick needed to decide to stop on his own.

However, she couldn’t help but worry too.

When he broke the kiss, she shook her head, giggling slightly, and looked in the direction of their booth. “Where’s Brad?”

Patrick turned to look. “I don’t know. He was sitting right there before you came back out.” They trailed back in the direction of their booth. “Maybe he went to the restroom.”

“Couldn’t have happened.” Leslie shook her head. “Or else I would have seen him when I came out.”

“I don’t understand.” Patrick gazed at her. “He was right here a minute ago, talking to the old dude, and I went to get….”

“Old dude?” Leslie’s heart skipped a beat. “Who?”

“I don’t know who he was, but I guess he was sitting in this booth.” He pointed to the space where the scary old man had once been. “He came over to Brad and was like, ‘Can I talk to you in private?’ So I just left the booth for them to talk.”

“Pat!” Her blood was running cold by then. “How could you leave him alone with a stranger?”

“Baby, overreact much?” Patrick looked around, and Leslie realized that everyone was looking in their direction. “Brad is not a little child.”

“Hey, what’s the matter?” Ian’s voice interrupted them, and Pat tightened his jaw.

Leslie tried to calm herself down before replying. “Brad is… I don’t know… he went somewhere. It’s probably nothing, but Pat says he was talking to this old man before and….”

“Shit, no!” Ian yelled. “Old man? What did he look like?”

There was panic in his eyes, and his voice and fright suddenly found a home in Leslie’s system. “Freakishly blue eyes, wrinkled face, Rings on his fingers.”

“Long gray hair?” Ian asked anxiously.

“Yes!” Leslie was certain something pretty awful had happened to Brad, and she couldn’t stop cursing herself for lack of better judgment. “Ian, do you know something?”

His lip quivered. “I do.” He stepped closer and looked between the two of them. “Brad is in big trouble right now, and there’s only one person who can get him out of it.”

Harmony Ink New Releases: January 23, 2014

January 23, 2014

Beloved Pilgrim by Christopher Hawthorne Moss

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

During the Crusades, Elisabeth longs to be the person she knows is hidden inside. When her twin dies, she lives as a knight. Beloved Pilgrim by Christopher Hawthorne Moss,  a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

BelovedPilgrimLG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Edition

At the time of the earliest Crusades, young noblewoman Elisabeth longs to be the person she’s always known is hidden inside. When her twin brother perishes from a fever, Elisabeth takes his identity to live as a man, a knight. As Elias, he travels to the Holy Land, to adventure, passion, death, and a lesson that honor is sometimes found in unexpected places.

Elias must pass among knights and soldiers, survive furious battle, deadly privations, moral uncertainty, and treachery if he’ll have any chance of returning to his newfound love in the magnificent city of Constantinople.

1st edition by Nan Hawthorne published by Shieldwall Books, February 2011

Length: Novel (304p.) | Genre: Historical, Historical-European, Young Adult, Transgender | Release Date: January 23, 2014

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-539-0) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-62798-538-3)

 

Heavyweight by MB Mulhall

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

As a gay teen in a backwater southern town, Ian keeps many secrets. As those secrets come to light, Ian’s world crumbles. Heavyweight by MB Mulhall,  a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

HeavyweightLG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secrets. Their weight can be crushing, but their release can change everything—and not necessarily for the better. Ian is no stranger to secrets. Being a gay teen in a backwater southern town, Ian must keep his orientation under wraps, especially since he spends a lot of time with his hands all over members of the same sex, pinning their sweaty, hard bodies to the wrestling mat.

When he’s trying not to stare at teammates in the locker room, he’s busy hiding another secret—that he starves himself so he doesn’t get bumped to the next weight class.

Enter Julian Yang, an Adonis with mesmerizing looks and punk rocker style. Befriending the flirtatious artist not only raises suspicion among his classmates, but leaves Ian terrified he’ll give in to the desires he’s fought to ignore.

As secrets come to light, Ian’s world crumbles. Disowned, defriended, and deserted by nearly everyone, Ian’s one-way ticket out of town is revoked, leaving him trapped in a world he hates—and one that hates him back.

Length: Novel (304p.) | Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Gay | Release Date: January 23, 2014

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-713-4) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-62798-712-7)

Harmony Ink New Release: January 16, 2014

January 16, 2014

Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

Joshua is captivated by the Ojibwe legend of Pukawiss, whose nontraditional lifestyle inspires Joshua to embrace his sexuality. Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke, a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

PukawissLG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When family complications take Joshua away from his fundamentalist Christian mother and leave him with his grandfather, he finds himself immersed in a mysterious and magical world. Joshua’s grandfather is a Wisconsin Ojibwe Indian who, along with an array of quirky characters, runs a recreated sixteenth-century village for the tourists who visit the reservation. Joshua’s mother kept him from his Ojibwe heritage, so living on the reservation is liberating for him. The more he learns about Ojibwe traditions, the more he feels at home.

One Ojibwe legend in particular captivates him. Pukawiss was a powerful manitou known for introducing dance to his people, and his nontraditional lifestyle inspires Joshua to embrace both his burgeoning sexuality and his status as an outcast. Ultimately, Joshua summons the courage necessary to reject his strict upbringing and to accept the mysterious path set before him.

Length: Novel (204p.) | Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Gay | Release Date: January 16, 2014

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-647-2) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-62798-646-5)

Harmony Ink New Release: December 12, 2013

December 12, 2013

Private Display of Affection by Winter Sandberg

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

Hugo and Kevin become more than friends, but keep their relationship a secret. Will they find a sanctuary big enough to hold their feelings? Private Display of Affection by Winter Sandberg, a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

PrivateDisplayofAffectionFS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hugo Thorson knows he’s gay, but coming out during high school is not part of his plan. His parents are open-minded, but Hugo doesn’t want to add more stress for anybody, especially his dad, who is fighting terminal cancer.

At a summer job he meets and befriends Kevin Magnus, and before long, their friendship becomes something more. Kevin knows this will anger his overbearing father, so he decides to protect his secret by dating a girl at school.

Hugo plays along, but it’s still hard to watch the two of them together just to make Kevin’s homophobic father happy. And when Hugo’s father dies, he realizes he can’t go on living the lie. He comes clean to Kevin, who decides Hugo’s true feelings are more important than his father’s expectations.

One fact remains: Kevin and Hugo’s relationship must always be hidden behind friendship, lies, girlfriends, or secret kisses. Will they find a sanctuary big enough to hold their feelings?

Adapted as a Young Adult edition of the novel Spark by Posy Roberts, published by Dreamspinner Press, 2013

Length: Novel (210p.) | Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Gay | Release Date: December 12, 2013

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-536-9) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-62798-535-2)

Harmony Ink New Release: November 7, 2013

November 7, 2013

Here’s to You, Zeb Pike by Johanna Parkhurst

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

Dusty’s new life is a struggle, after appedicitis ruins everything. At what point in life do you keep climbing your mountain or turn back? Here’s to You, Zeb Pike by Johanna Parkhurst, a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

Fact: When Zebulon Pike attempted to climb what is now known as Pikes Peak, he got stuck in waist-deep snow and had to turn back.

That’s the last thing Dusty Porter learns in his Colorado history class before appendicitis ruins his life. It isn’t long before social services figures out that Dusty’s parents are more myth than reality, and he and his siblings are shipped off to live in Vermont with an uncle and aunt they’ve never met.

Dusty’s new life is a struggle. His brother and sister don’t seem to need him anymore, and he can’t stand his aunt and uncle. At school, one hockey player develops a personal vendetta against him, while Emmitt, another hockey player, is making it hard for Dusty to keep pretending he’s straight. Problem is, he’s pretty sure Emmitt’s not gay. Then, just when Dusty thinks things can’t get any worse, his mother reappears, looking for a second chance to be a part of his life.

Somehow Zebulon Pike still got the mountain named after him, so Dusty’s determined to persevere—but at what point in life do you keep climbing, and when do you give up and turn back?

Length: Novel (180p.) | Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Gay | Release Date: November 7, 2013

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-525-3) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN:978-1-62798-524-6)

Harmony Ink New Release: October 10, 2013

October 10, 2013

Intervention by Mia Kerick

A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

Kai is free-spirited and sexually aware; Jamie is dark and bad-tempered. With music, Kai helps Jamie overcome an abusive past and find love. Intervention by Mia Kerick, a Harmony Ink Press Young Adult title available from Dreamspinner Press.

As a musician at the popular college café Coed Joe’s, high school senior Kai Manter is never lacking for male attention. Out, proud, free-spirited, and sexually aware, Kai sets his sights on his darkly Gothic and undeniably bad-tempered coworker, Jamie Arlotta, a freshman at the local arts university. Sporting long hair and alluring hippie style, Kai expects his interest will be reciprocated, with satisfying sex as the end goal. That’s what usually happens. But Jamie’s lessons in life have been harsher. Having been sexually abused by his older stepbrother for several years, Jamie has grown an impenetrable outer shell meant to keep the world at a safe distance.

Kai is angry at first when he takes the brunt of Jamie’s bad temper, but after Kai accidentally discovers the abuse Jamie has suffered, he wants to fix things. Kai’s plan is based on what he knows best—music—and he stages a “musical intervention” to let Jamie know he’s not alone and things can get better. When Jamie’s perspective  changes and he emerges from his shell, Kai changes, too, gaining a whole new understanding of what sex can be when love is there too.

Length: Novel (230p.) | Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Gay | Release Date: October 10, 2013

Buy as an eBook (ISBN: 978-1-62798-335-8) | Buy as a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-62798-334-1)

Excerpt: “The Melody Thief,” Chapter Two

August 24, 2012

Here’s Chapter Two of “The Melody Thief.”  It’s meant to be read back to back with the first chapter, and, oh what a contrast Cary Redding’s adult life is to his childhood!  This one is 18+ for sexual situations and language.

Don’t forget to stop over at my blog and comment to enter to win a t-shirt of your choice of the Blue Notes Series books covers and an ebook copy of the original novel in the series, “Blue Notes.”

Enjoy! -Shira

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

Chapter Two: Best Laid Plans

Milan, Italy—Thirteen years later

“Oh fuck, yeah!” Cary shouted in English as he pushed back against the other man’s hips. The skinny Italian kid he’d picked up grunted and thrust harder, ratcheting up the pace, so Cary gripped the toilet to keep his balance. Sweat dripped down his neck. He never enjoyed kissing. He didn’t need it. He liked it like this: rough, fast, and anonymous.

Someone in the next stall laughed, but Cary didn’t give a shit. This was how it was supposed to be in a place like this, and someone else listening in only made it so much hotter. Here, he was just another nameless fuck, and that suited him just fine.

“That’s it. Oh God, yes!” he cried as the kid nailed his gland again. He stroked himself in rhythm with the young man’s thrusts, groaning as he came with a strangled gasp into his sweaty palm. The smell of come mingled with the faint scent of urine and toilet deodorizer. Years ago, the combination made him sick. Now, the seediness of it just made it more of a turn-on.

His partner grunted as he came hard, his body shuddering and his breaths coming in stutters. A minute later, the kid pulled out. Cary saw the used condom hit the water of the commode, and heard the sounds of a zipper and the latch being released on the stall door. He had already forgotten the kid’s face. It was better this way. He didn’t want anything but sex anyhow, and he didn’t want to be forced to make small talk. In Italian, no less.

He leaned against the grimy wall and wiped himself with the cheap toilet paper, then added it to the condom in the water and flushed it down. His stomach rumbled—a few more drinks and he wouldn’t remember he was hungry. He’d reheat something when he got back, or maybe he’d just sleep it off and grab something in the morning instead. It was usually better to nurse a hangover with an empty stomach. He knew from experience.

He walked back into the bar and sat at a table in the corner, making eye contact with the bartender. A minute or two later, he nursed a scotch and soda, his fourth that night, and leaned over to the man at the next table.

Sigaretta?” Cary asked.

The man grunted and handed him a cigarette, then lit it for Cary as they leaned toward each other to span the short gap between tables.

Cary hated cigarettes. He only smoked in bars, and only after sex. At least that was what he told himself. He preferred the unfiltered variety—it gave him a more immediate buzz. They were easier to find here than in the States.

His hand shook slightly as he brought the cigarette to his lips and inhaled the acrid smoke. It was better than the drugs, right? He’d tried those too, but he’d given them up because they interfered with his playing. He could always sleep off the booze and the nicotine.

One of the regulars walked through the entrance, and their eyes met. Silvio. Nice ass. Terrific bottom.

It was turning out to be a great night.

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

At nearly three in the morning, Cary stumbled out onto the empty Milan side street. His ass was sore and his thigh muscles were tight. He liked it that way. He needed to feel it in his bones the next morning or he hadn’t gotten enough.

A light fog hung over the city, the fall air cool and damp. Cary shivered, his thin T-shirt little help against the chilly breeze. His housekeeper was right—curse Roberta, she was always right—he should have worn his leather jacket. He looked around for a cab, but there were none in sight. He’d walk over to the main avenue, via Padova, to catch one.

Fuck, he thought, tripping over the uneven pavement as he turned the corner onto another small street. He didn’t notice the two men huddled in the doorway of a darkened building until one of them grabbed him by the neck. He caught the glint of a knife in his peripheral vision. Fucking hell.

Soldi,” hissed one of the thugs, the one standing in front of him smoking the remainder of a joint.

“I don’t understand,” Cary said in English. It was a lie. He was fluent in Italian. “I’m American.”

“Money,” the man repeated, in English this time. “Give.”

“Don’t have any.” He didn’t pull his wallet out and hand it over. Maybe it was the aftereffects of the alcohol. Or maybe it was the rough sex and the feeling of empowerment that still lingered at his frayed edges. Either way, he wasn’t going to let these assholes push him around.

The man’s response came in the form of a knee to his gut. Cary doubled over, coughing and spluttering. Shit. Was that blood he tasted on his tongue?

“Money. Now.”

“You’re fucking insistent, aren’t you?” he blustered. The man behind him wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him upright once more, pressing hard on his Adam’s apple and making his vision swim with tiny specks of silver.

The man standing in front of him nodded. A hand reached into Cary’s jeans pocket, pulled out the soft calfskin wallet, and held it up to the light. “Expensive,” he told his partner in Italian.

“You come with us.” The other thug’s expression was one of triumphant glee. He pulled Cary’s ATM card out of the wallet and waved it in his face. “Bank.”

“No fucking way,” Cary shouted. He wrenched himself free of the headlock and backed toward the curb.

The lights of via Padova were visible a scant block away. If he could just make it there, he might be able to get help or maybe scare them off. He turned to run, but something hard hit him in the kidneys, and he fell to his knees. He struggled back to his feet.

Before he could defend himself, one of the thugs’ fists connected with his chin, and he staggered backward. He tried to maintain his balance but failed miserably. He hit the concrete hands first, and something in his left wrist snapped. He vomited up what little food was left in his stomach as a wave of intense pain washed over him.

“Asshole,” he spat.

“Get away from him,” someone warned in Italian. The voice came from nearby, but the pain in Cary’s gut was still so bad he couldn’t look up at the newcomer’s face. He heard what sounded like a scuffle, a groan, and then footsteps running down the pavement.

“Are you all right?”

He pushed the hand on his shoulder away without thinking. The world spun and the pain in his wrist shot up his arm. “Oh shit,” he groaned, clutching the wrist.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said, this time in lightly accented English. “You need help.” The voice was calm, reassuring. “You need a hospital.”

“No hospital,” Cary gasped and tried to stay alert. “Leave me alone.”

He got back to his feet, and the lights from the boulevard blurred at the edges. The last thing he remembered before he passed out was two strong arms as they caught him.

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

Cary awoke in an unfamiliar bed to the sound of muffled voices speaking in Italian. “… found him off via Padova. No identification. The man who brought him says he’s an American.”

He forced his eyes open and saw the metal sides of the hospital bed, the IV hanging from the pole, the needle taped to his hand, and the light-yellow curtains at the sides of the bed. The place smelled of disinfectant.

The last time he’d been in a hospital was when he’d watched his mother wither and die, her body wracked with pain from the chemo and radiation. He remembered his own guilt as he had sat by her bed, helpless to do anything. It had been the final insult, a coda, as it were, to their tumultuous relationship. He had never done anything right by her.

He reached for his right earlobe, jostling the IV, but not caring. The small diamond stud in his ear was still there, thank God. It had been a gift from his brother on his twenty-first birthday and was the only piece of jewelry he wore.

As he was getting his bearings, the shadows in the room shifted. No, not shadows—a man, seated in the corner. “How are you feeling?” he asked in English as he stood up and walked over to the bed.

Cary studied the newcomer through a haze of painkillers. Italian, judging by his accent, although his appearance was not classically Italian: blond hair, blue eyes, about the same height as Cary, early thirties, and hot as hell. Not that a man like that would ever look twice at Cary. Guys like him never did, and who could blame them?

“Do I know you?” Cary’s voice was hoarse, and his mouth felt full of cotton.

The man looked back at him with a mixture of concern and humor. “You could say we’ve met.”

“You… you’re the man from the street.” Cary recognized the voice. “How long have I been here?”

“A day,” the Italian answered. “Perhaps I must introduce myself,” he added. “I am Antonio Bianchi.”

Cary hesitated. “Connor Taylor.”

It was the name he used in the clubs. Or at least it had been since his agent had bailed him out of jail when a not-so-rainbow-friendly gendarme had caught him quite literally with his pants down outside a shithole of a Paris bar.

What you do with your life off the concert stage isn’t my business, Georges Duhamel had told him after he’d bailed Cary out, but you must at least use another name. I won’t have you toss your career in the toilet.

When all was said and done (and after he’d had a fake New York State driver’s license made under the name “Connor L. Taylor”), Cary enjoyed being Connor. Nobody gave a shit if Connor liked to fuck men in the restrooms or alleyways behind rundown bars. Why would anyone care? After a few years, Connor had become Cary’s excuse for the late nights and anonymous fucks—when he wasn’t practicing or performing, Cary Redding was Connor Taylor.

“A pleasure to meet you,” Antonio said.

“Thanks. For last night, I mean.”

His wrist ached, throbbing to a dull beat like an insistent drum. His head felt like it was filled with jagged rocks. He looked down and saw the cast on his left arm. He vaguely remembered falling. Right, he had tried to catch himself before he hit the pavement.

Oh God.

“My wrist.” He spoke the words aloud and his voice cracked. He tried to move his fingers, but the pain was so bad he gasped. A broken wrist meant he couldn’t play. Without his cello, he was nothing. His stomach clenched and his eyes burned. In an effort to master his emotions, he turned away and bit his cheek.

“The doctor says your wrist will be fine,” Antonio said, perhaps sensing Cary’s distress.

This can’t be real. I’m going to wake up and….

“I need to get out of here.” The hospital room was suddenly too small. Panicked, Cary tried to sit up, but Antonio put a firm hand on his shoulder.

“The doctor… he says you may leave when you are ready, but you have this—” He struggled to find the word. “—commozione cerebrale,” he finally said. He pointed to his head. “You know, from falling?”

“A concussion?” It explained the killer headache. Cary lay back in the bed. He felt overwhelmed, defeated. He lifted his hand to his face, and the IV line caught on the edge of the bed.

“Sí. A concussion,” Antonio said as he freed the line for Cary. “He says you must not be alone tonight. Is there somewhere I can take you? A person who can look by you, then?”

There was no one. No family or close friends. He had no one, really, except his housekeeper, Roberta.

“If you wish, you may stay with me.”

Cary realized Antonio had guessed, correctly, that Cary had no one to stay with him.

You shouldn’t be surprised. You look like street trash.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He knew he looked like one of the hustlers he sometimes paid for sex, and he wondered what kind of man would willingly take someone like that in, knowing nothing about them.

But then again, it’s not like someone with a broken wrist and a concussion would be a danger to a big guy like him.

He considered the offer for a moment. It wasn’t as if he had anything to fear from Antonio, either. The guy had taken him to the hospital, after all. The offer was far more tempting—no, make that Antonio was far more tempting—than asking his housekeeper to play nurse and mother.

He looked away from Antonio. He hoped it would come across as though he were thinking things through, but the truth was that the realization that he was entirely alone hit him harder than he’d expected. He’d never been weak. He’d been on his own for years. He hadn’t needed anybody’s help. And yet now, he felt vulnerable. He hated feeling vulnerable.

He took a slow breath, doing his best to hide his emotional turmoil. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” he said, trying to sound casual, confident.

“Not at all, Signor Taylor. It would be my pleasure.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” Antonio said. Then, as if realizing why Cary might hesitate to accept the invitation of a complete stranger, he added, “But if you are not confortevole—ah, what is it?—comfortable with this, I think you can stay here longer. I will not be insulted.”

Was it any different to go home with a stranger for a night of fucking? Guys who come charging in on white horses don’t usually rape you the next day.

He closed his eyes and saw his mother’s face. She had predicted this. You won’t be happy living that way, Cary, she said when he came out to her. It’s not natural. It’s a sexual… perversion. It’s sinful. An addiction.

He had defended himself. I’m not a pervert, Mom. This is me. This is what I am.

How can you say that, Cary Taylor Redding? How can you risk everything we’ve worked so hard for?

Funny, how he’d starting cruising the bars to show her he didn’t give a shit about what she thought. But he’d come to crave the sex, booze, and smokes. They satisfied a hunger his music could not. She hadn’t wanted to listen, and in the end he’d just proved her right. He had lost the only thing that really mattered to him: his music.

It’s not forever. It’ll heal. The thought did little to allay his fear, and he moaned softly.

“Are you all right?” That voice again. Right. Antonio.

“Sorry,” Cary said, embarrassed. “I guess I’m still a little sleepy.”

“It’s okay. I will ask about getting you to leave this place and perhaps something for the pain. You must rest now.”

“Thank you.” Cary watched as Antonio pulled the covers back over him and walked out of the room. His white knight.

And you’re about as far from a princess as they come.

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

A few hours later, having spoken with the doctor, Cary was released from the hospital with a bottle of painkillers and instructions to come back in six weeks to have the cast removed and begin physical therapy. While Antonio went to retrieve his car, Cary quickly provided the hospital staff with his home address. He was grateful the police had taken him to a public hospital—there was no bill to speak of for emergency patients. He wasn’t sure how he’d have felt if Antonio had insisted on paying for his stay.

Cary said little as they rode the elevator down to the ground floor. The painkillers had begun to wear off, and he was feeling anxious, tense.

“This broken wrist,” Antonio said, perhaps sensing Cary’s dark mood, “it will make it difficult for your work, no?”

“You could say that.” Impossible, really. He pushed the thought from his mind. He would get through this. He reminded himself again that the doctor had said his wrist would be fine in a few months.

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m between jobs now.” The truth, although not the entire truth. It was late October, and his next gig was in Rome in four weeks. He had also been scheduled to teach a series of master classes in early December.

It could have been worse, he reminded himself as he climbed into Antonio’s car a few minutes later. A hell of a lot worse.

So why was his gut tense? He tried to focus on something else. It wasn’t that difficult. Antonio’s broad shoulders were an easy distraction.

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

Antonio’s apartment was nearly as big as Cary’s own. The high-ceilinged rooms were tastefully decorated in an eclectic mixture of modern Italian furniture and antiques. Photographs of smiling children and adults adorned the tabletops and bookshelves. From the abundance of blue eyes and blond hair, Cary guessed these were Antonio’s family.

“You look tired,” Antonio said as he shut the door behind them. “Perhaps I make dinner while you sleep?”

“Thanks.” Cary caught a glimpse of a large bed through a doorway to their right. He rubbed his arm above his broken wrist without thinking and winced. The dull ache had now become an angry throb.

“May I get you some pills? For your arm?” Antonio held up the doggie bag of chemicals the hospital had sent home with Cary.

“That would be great.”

“Perhaps you like to use the telephone while I get it for you?”

Cary stared blankly at Antonio.

“You know,” Antonio continued, “if there is a person who might… ah—” He struggled to find the word. “—worry for you?”

“No,” Cary answered as understanding came. “I’m fine. There’s nobody.”

Worry about me? Other than a geezer of an agent and a brother halfway around the world?

Justin would care. In fact, he would worry a lot. They were brothers, after all. But Cary didn’t want to bother him and his family. And Georges, Cary’s agent, would have a cow when he learned Cary had broken his wrist, but only because he’d need to cancel a few months of gigs while it healed. Yeah, he’d have to tell the idiot at some point, but why rush it?

He thought briefly of Roberta. She’s your housekeeper. What does she care if you stay away for a few nights? It’s not like you haven’t before. But he knew he was lying to himself. Roberta was far more than an employee. He’d call her after he’d had a chance to rest. He’d tell her he was spending the night out so she wouldn’t worry.

Something akin to compassion or maybe pity flashed through Antonio’s eyes, but he said only, “Please. Use the bed. I will bring you the medicine.”

Cary was almost asleep when Antonio came back into the room with a glass of water and a few pills. “This will help with pain,” he told Cary. “I will arouse you when dinner is ready.”

“Mmm,” Cary murmured, repressing a grin in response to Antonio’s faulty turn of phrase. It wasn’t all that difficult to control himself, since he was damn near asleep already and his wrist hurt like hell. Still, the thought made for some very sweet dreams.