Thursday, December 29, 2016

5th Day of Christmas Author Spotlight: BG Thomas

Author Bio:
B.G. loves romance, comedies, fantasy, science fiction and even horror—as far as he is concerned, as long as the stories are character driven and entertaining, it doesn't matter the genre. He has gone to conventions since he was fourteen years old and has been lucky enough to meet many of his favorite writers. He has made up stories since he was child; it is where he finds his joy.

In the nineties, he wrote for gay magazines but stopped because the editors wanted all sex without plot. "The sex is never as important as the characters," he says. "Who cares what they are doing if we don't care about them?" Excited about the growing male/male romance market, he began writing again. Gay men are what he knows best, after all. He submitted his first story in years and was thrilled when it was accepted in four days.

"Leap, and the net will appear" is his personal philosophy and his message to all. "It is never too late," he states. "Pursue your dreams. They will come true!"


All Alone in a Sea of Romance
I’m Jude Parks, writer of gay romances. Even though I’m good at what I do, the irony is that I haven’t exactly been lucky in love. My friend Jeannie says it's because I settle for Mr. Right Now instead of holding out for Mr. Forever. I say I’d rather regret what I have done than what I haven’t.

I only came to Romantic Voyages, the biggest romance convention in the country, for business. Yet in no time I got mixed up with a gorgeous cover model, weeping artists, drag queens, and crazy housewives—and became the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Well, they say any press is good press.

Maybe I should've stayed home. But then I never would’ve met Tommy Smith, the craziest, most outrageous, silly, sexy man I've ever known—a man who makes me wonder if it may be worth holding out for Mr. Forever. A man who might turn my rotten luck around. But only if we survive the weekend and I clear my name….

Leslie "Red" Parks was pretty surprised to find he was considered attractive enough to be a male escort. And once he started and the money came rolling in, he found he didn’t want to stop. For the first time in his life, people truly want him, and he likes that. A lot.

Kirk Toliver has never thought of himself as desirable either—which is why he is single. That, and he has spent years of his life caring for his ill mother. Before she passed away, she made him promise he would splurge on something crazy with the money she left him. So what’s crazier than hiring a male escort?

But neither expected that one night together could lead to what was missing in both their lives.

It Had to be You
Robert Daniels is always dating the wrong guys. He doesn't understand it. Then, one day, on a particularly bad date, he dies... ...only to wake up in the body of a man named Jimmy, who was shot and killed-but in 1927. Along comes Hugh Naylor, the guy Robert has been waiting for all his life. Hugh is perfect-sweet, intelligent, and sexy. The problem? Hugh is in love with Jimmy. Now Robert's falling in love with Hugh, but how can he explain he isn't who he appears? How can he get Hugh to love him, and not the man whose body he inhabits? And who shot Jimmy?

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2012 Daily Dose package "Time Is Eternity."

Spring Affair
Seasons of Love #1
Sloan McKenna is going through a tough time. His beloved mother has recently passed away, leaving him her house and beautiful garden. But should he keep the house? Sell it? To make matters worse, he’s in love with one of his best friends, Asher, a man who can’t (or won’t) love him back.

Sloan’s neighbor, Max Turner, is married to an ambitious woman with far-reaching dreams, including moving the family to France. But Max is happy teaching at the local college and living in their nice, quiet town. Then he discovers his fourteen-year-old son is not only gay, but out and proud as well. That throws him into complete disarray, for more than one reason....

When Max’s wife leaves on a two-month business trip to Paris, circumstances throw the two men together. As they become friends, Sloan finds himself falling in love with Max, who is completely unavailable… just like Asher. As for Max, he is discovering that both his son’s coming out and his new friendship with Sloan are stirring up feelings he thought buried long ago. Spring is a time for rebirth—Is there any way the two men can find happiness and a new beginning?

The Boy Who Came in from the Cold
Todd Burton has had enough of small-town Buckman. His abusive stepfather calls him a fag; his friend Austin makes him realize he may be gay, but Todd doesn’t want to admit his stepfather is right; and he dreams of being a chef. Three good reasons to flee his hometown and pursue greener pastures. But when Todd reaches the big city, his luck runs dry. Soon he can’t pay his rent and gets evicted. In the middle of a snowstorm.

Gabe Richards is a wealthy businessman with enough wounds of his own to make him afraid of ever being intimate again. But when he sees Todd outside his building, freezing to death, he takes pity on him and takes him in from the cold.

To their mutual surprise, Todd and Gabe find themselves drawn to each other. “One night” turns into a week. Maybe letting a man in from the cold can melt the ice around Gabe’s heart—and maybe getting evicted will turn Todd’s luck around.

Until I found You
Christopher Morin is unlucky in love. The only male worth anything in his life is his sweet dog Frost. Christopher is devastated when, shortly after his breakup with the worst boyfriend ever, his dog vanishes without a trace.

Doyle Schilbrack was lucky at love, until his wonderful partner of many years passed away, leaving Doyle lost and lonely. The solution? He adopts a sad little abandoned dog, a dog he names Jack. Together, man and dog come back to life.

Then one day, a year later, Christopher encounters Doyle in a park—walking his dog! Now the two men are faced with a dilemma. They want to do what is best for their dog, but it will break their hearts to let him go.

But then a rambunctious white Pomeranian takes matters in his own paws. There might be a way for both men to keep the dog, and find something else that’s been missing from their lives.

All Alone in a Sea of Romance
IF ANYONE had told me I would spend the first night of the Romantic Voyages convention in bed with an Olympian god, I would have said they were crazy. See, this guy was gorgeous. Way out of my league. It’s not that I’m ugly or anything. But this guy…. He was a good-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like the love child of Arnold and Ben Cohen. Luckily (in this case) men are a rare commodity at a romance book convention, and through some magical and fortuitous circumstance, I got the honor.

We didn’t do what I was hoping we’d do, what I’d fantasized about for the preceding hour (or day even), but I was no fool. I learned a long time ago that I would rather regret what I have done over what I haven’t.

Once, when I was barely out of the closet—I must have been all of nineteen—I went out of town to hook up with this guy I’d met several months before at a science fiction convention (I was a big old geek!). I’d gone to meet one of my favorite authors and wound up meeting this hottie as well.

We’d talked on the phone several times since we’d met, which had been kinky fun, and made plans to get together for an even kinkier weekend. I got there only to discover he had a brand-new boyfriend—i.e., they’d met two nights before—and it turns out they’d found “true love.”

In two days.


I was completely thrown for a loop, and I could tell it made Alan (my supposed partner) feel guilty (it should have!), and after a short conference between the two, they offered a weekend of three-way delight instead.

I turned them down.

I had my principles after all.


They looked like really young versions of Starsky and Hutch—the originals, not the mediocre pair from the stupid movie—and I said no?

Oh. My. God! Or “O. M. G!” as my friend and comrade at New Visions Press, Jeannie Feinberg, likes to say.

For over twenty years now, I’ve wondered what fun I missed out on with those boys. I can only begin to imagine. Three nineteen- to twenty-year-olds having sex for an entire weekend? All that youthful energy? All that testosterone? All those ceaseless erections and multiple orgasms?

OMG! is right.

Who the hell did I think I was? Sandra Dee? I was going to spend the weekend with Alan to fuck (and maybe tie each other up), not discuss when it was appropriate to use tongue when we kissed. I hadn’t gone looking for romance.

The point—or moral, I guess—is never pass up a weekend of three-way sex with horny nineteen-year-old versions of Starsky and Hutch.



Not for any reason whatsoever.

So when Dino Milosavljevic (cover model for many a barbarian, pirate, and yes, romance novel) pinched my nipples at the cocktail author meet and greet and asked me if I wanted to fuck, I answered with a quick and decisive “Yes!”

Had I known that I would become a suspect in a serious crime before the convention was over I might have made a different decision. But it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know.

Regret what I have done rather than what I haven’t, after all.

And really, even with all that happened—stabbings, attempted murder, police investigations, destruction, drag queens, and insane housewives—it all ended well.

Now, my high school creative writing teacher would have dragged my ass over the coals for starting my story this way. However, the famous science fiction editor Gardner Dozois once said to me: “Jude, I have a shitload of submissions to read. Mountains of them. I rarely get to the slush pile and when I do? Well, you got to grab me with the first sentence. Something like… ‘When the Pope woke up that morning, she realized she had forgotten to use her contraceptive the night before.’ Start a story like that and I guarantee you I’m going to read it!”

Thus all this stuff about murder, and sex with gods.

I’m not saying it is as good as his beginning, but it’s not too shabby.

What’s more, this is a true story.

It happened.

It happened to me.

“MIND if I borrow your bedroom while you’re out of town?”

The question could not have been more unexpected—or more ill-timed.

“You want to ‘borrow’ my bedroom?” I asked. “What for?”

Lionel stood before me, hands in pockets, looking sheepish. Who knew if he was blushing or not? My beautiful roommate was so dark his skin was almost blue. I could see a lot of it too. Skin that is. All he was wearing was tight jeans that were riding so low I could just make out the top of his well-groomed pubes.

“I’m, ah….” He grinned, teeth dazzling and, like the rest of him, nigh on perfect. “I’m going to have a little party while you’re gone.”

I searched his face, his huge dark eyes, that full-lipped smile. What was he up to this time? A little party?

Then it hit me.

“Oh for God’s sake,” I said. “I take it you won’t be using my room for coats?”

Lionel shrugged, his mop of thin and yet somehow always controlled dreads bouncing around his lovely head. His grin grew even bigger.

“So when you say ‘bedroom’, what you really mean is my bed.”

“I promise to wash everything before you get home. Everything will be April fresh.”

“You’re having an orgy? This weekend?” I fixed him with what I hoped was a steely look. “Any reason why it’s this weekend?” Lionel had gotten me pretty heated up on more than one occasion telling me about his sex parties. I’d never been to an orgy before and wanted to. I’d had a few three-ways of course. What gay man who’s been out for over two decades hasn’t? I’d even been in a four-way. Once upon a time even a pseudo six-way. But never an orgy—although I suppose a six-way (even if it was only a pseudo one) could constitute an orgy….

Images of hunky naked men fucking over every piece of furniture in our apartment filled my mind. And I was going to miss out. “Dammit, Li. Why are your parties always while I’m out of town?”

“I have parties while you’re in town,” Lionel lied. He pulled his hands out of his pockets, held them out before him, all innocence.

“Not your sex parties,” I said.

Lionel shrugged again, this time in that curious, one-shouldered way of his. “I just didn’t think you’d be comfortable with this group of guys,” he explained. I couldn’t help but catch what sounded like a small note of sympathy in his tone.

“I see,” I said, getting what he wasn’t saying. “I’m not hot enough is what you’re telling me.”

His grin vanished, to be replaced by a look that reminded me of the expression on the face of my best friend Jeannie’s toy poodle when it was caught making “poopie” under the dining room table. All huge-eyed and sad. “Jude,” he moaned. “I didn’t say that. It’s just these guys are a younger crowd, you know?”

Ah. So it was my age. “Like forty-one makes me Methuselah or something?”

Lionel sighed. “In the gay world, it might as well be a hundred and forty-one.”

“Great,” I said. “Old before my time.”

“Not old-old,” Lionel said.

“Just gay-old,” I returned.

Lionel gave me a look that was half smile, half frown. “You know, you don’t even seem like the type who’d want to go to an orgy,” Lionel said.

“What type is that?” I asked. “I’m a red-blooded man. I want sex. What man, gay or straight, hasn’t fantasized about going to an orgy? Why wouldn’t I want to go to one of your parties?”

“Well, damn, Jude. Look at what you do for a living. You write sweet gay romances, not porn. You should have a husband and a pretty little house with a white picket fence and an itty bitty little dog.”

“I also work at Big John’s with you,” I remarked. Big John’s was a men’s specialty underwear boutique. It’s got quite a selection too. From your basic boxers to leather to thongs to underwear you might as well not bother wearing. There are even some that are assless. For easy access, I guess.

“True. You like the cock. But honey, you are romantic through and through. You should be looking for love, not just cock. Especially at your age.”

There was that age thing again.

“To tell you my honest-to-my-goodness truth, I can’t figure out why you’re single,” he said.

“You think I know?” I asked. Being single was not the goal of my life.

“You’re really all about the love. You’d make a great husband. Or wife. Or whatever.”

Or whatever?

Lionel sat on the coffee table, expertly crossing his legs and feet in that way of his that made my ankles hurt just watching him. “Why are you single, baby-doll?”

I shrugged. I had no clue.

I’m a nice guy. I am. I’m honest, kind, easy to get along with. I have a job—two jobs—pay my portion of the bills, and I have a car—although in Chicago, finding a parking space is almost as hard as finding a husband.

I’m not bad-looking, like I said before. I’m not Jake Gyllenhaal. But I’m not Willem Dafoe, either.

God knows I’ve dated. I’ve dated for twenty years. I’ve even had boyfriends, although my longest relationship was only about nine months.

The problem is… well….


I just always seem to date the wrong guys.

Like Fred, the guy who dreamed of once—just once—performing on stage as a drag queen. Okay, why not? Doesn’t exactly turn me on, but what could it hurt?

Fred didn’t make a very convincing woman. He was tall and wide, with large hands and a big jaw. Angelina Jolie he wasn’t. But damn, when he stepped out onto that stage, Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” blaring from the speakers, I could tell he thought he was. In his mind he was every bit of Angelina with some Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry thrown in.

I should have suspected trouble when he lip-synched so expertly that some people wondered if he was really singing. He also had no problem flinging himself around that stage in high-heels. First time? It might have been his first time on stage, but the man had been practicing a long, long time.

Within two months, Fred’s apartment was crammed with dresses, shoes, and wigs. You couldn’t go over and watch a DVD without sitting on a hat or stuffed bra. It wasn’t just his place either. My bedroom and closet were soon piled and stuffed with his female clothing and accessories. The bathroom too. Makeup and hair removal cream and he was shaving his legs and chest and OMG!

Fred expected me to help him lug all his shit around to the clubs every weekend! I had somehow instantly become what is known in the vernacular as a “drag husband.” I had not signed on for that. It was supposed to be “one time.” If I had wanted to be with a woman, I would have dated a woman. I liked men. Big, hairy, sweaty men. Hugh Jackman. Ben Cohen. Bradley Cooper. No shaved chests! No plucked eyebrows! No panty hose drying from the shower curtain rod!

I ended that relationship. I haven’t been able to deal with drag queens since. You couldn’t pay me to go to a drag club.

Then there was the vegetarian turning vegan who would lecture me every time I petted his cat or pointed out a cute dog on the street. He even called me a murderer once or twice.

“You say you love animals,” he would say in a terribly annoying drone. “But you’ll eat one!”

There was the “pet lover,” who turned out to have nine cats, two dogs, turtles, fish, three birds and a baby possum. In other words, no room for me.

There was the guy who said he “liked” video games and instead was obsessed with them and played them morning, noon, and night—even losing a job because he couldn’t break away from his Xbox to go to work.

The guy who was so out there that I felt like I was trapped in an episode of The Outer Limits every time I was with him.

There were the boring men.

The men who had problems with intimacy.

The men who were codependent.

There was the hypochondriac.

The germophobe.

The guy with no concept of personal hygiene.

The alcoholics.

The drug addicts.

The glory hole addicts.

The sex addicts.

The men who couldn’t have orgasms.

The ones who could have orgasms but it took all night, and I’d get a case of lockjaw in the meantime.

One guy who was into tantric sex—which he defined as sex without orgasms. He believed by stopping just before cumming, our sexual power was reabsorbed into our bodies, taking us to a higher plane of existence. “I think that spiritual orgasms are so much better than physical ones, don’t you? And a hell of a lot less messy!”

Fuck that shit! Pun intended.

Then there was the man obsessed with his mother.

And the man who hated his mother so much he wanted to kill her, and shared the fantasies of her death and how he might bring them about in great detail.

The racist, the bigot, the religious nut, and the general assholes.

The list goes on and on. I’ve dated all of these men and none were husband material. All I was looking for was a nice guy. Around my age. Decent looking. Hopefully hairy (God, I love a beard and chest hair). Funny. Intelligent. Not boring, and not too “out there.” Was that too much to ask for?

Apparently it was.

So I figured if I couldn’t find Mr. Right, I’d settle for Mr. Right Now. The problem was, that’s what my life turned out to be.

Twenty years of “Mr. Right Nows.”

“WHAT you need,” Lionel said, “is for some man to ride up on a white horse and rescue you.”

“Look, Lionel,” I said, sitting on the couch in front of him. “Stop trying to change the subject. Just be honest with me. Why aren’t I ever invited to your sex parties? I’ve got a dick. It’s a nice dick. I’m not ugly, and I’m not that old.”

“Juuude, it’s… it’s just….”

“It’s just what?”

“Most of the guys who are coming to the party are models and stuff,” Lionel continued. “Two are actually with Abercrombie and Fitch! Really thin, you know?”

This second part of his explanation felt like a punch to the gut. Or should I say paunch? “I’m too fat?” I asked, my hand falling to touch my tummy. It wasn’t a six-pack, but fat? Really? We couldn’t all be as thin as Lionel. “What, twenty pounds?”

Lionel looked down at the floor.

“Let me guess,” I said, not knowing whether to get depressed or furious. “In the gay world it might as well be twenty tons?”

Lionel said nothing and I turned away with a huff, then spied my suitcases by the front door. My eyes flew to the clock. Damn. I had to leave in twenty minutes and I was discussing orgies, or my lack of going to one. I could not be distracted. I was always a mess when it came to traveling, especially by plane. Did I have everything? My tickets? Picture ID? Had I packed something I shouldn’t have? Did my bottle of lube contain too many fluid ounces? Had I packed my Man Douche? And would airport security pull it out of my bag in front of everybody (again) and ask me what it was for?

“I’ll make it up to you,” Lionel said, a whiny tone threatening to take over his voice.

Yeah, right. “How?” I asked.

“I’ll throw you a bear party!” he said, the whine gone and glee taking over. “I’ll grill hamburgers and bratwurst out on the balcony. Put on some bear porn and voilà!”

“So you think I’m a bear, huh?” The vision of hunky men fucking was replaced by enormously heavy men instead. How could I be a bear? Sure I had a hairy chest, and yes, I often let my facial hair go for a few days or grew a goatee; I worked mostly at home, after all. I didn’t need to shave every morning. And it was a good look for Big John’s, especially for the reason I was hired. But that made me a bear? That and twenty pounds?

“Well, yeah,” Lionel said. “Sorta.”

Great. Just fucking great.

“Jeez, Jude. It’s not like you don’t ever get laid. You’re hot in your own way. All hairy and scruffy with that cute little muffin top. You’re sexy.”

“Just not Abercrombie and Fitch sexy,” I replied.

“Jude,” Lionel said. “It’s just that you wouldn’t get any action with these guys. They can be a little, oh, choosy. They might ignore you, and I don’t want you to get hurt. They’re all young and haa….”

He stopped and I knew he’d been about to say “hot” even though he suddenly changed the word to “boyish.” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “They’re clones,” he said. “I can’t believe that they include me.”

Sure. Right. Lionel had a body that looked like some ancient Roman statue. Carved from black marble to be sure, but definitely young and stunningly built, and unlike those statues, well-hung.

“You gotta understand,” Lionel said. “These boys all have the same haircuts and clothes and smooth chests and they’re all six-pack-y.”

Story of my life. Too old. Too hairy. Not hot enough. Not “six-pack-y.”

So was that the reason I was still single? Jeez. I worked for a male/male romance book company. Shouldn’t men, not to mention romance, be pursuing me like a pack of starved dogs?

“Fine,” I shouted and tried not to think of young gods fucking on my bed and the lack of benefit I was getting out of it.

He squealed and hugged me. “Have I told you I love you more than my luggage?”

“Not lately,” I said, pushing him away and looking at my own luggage again. Should I have brought my leather? Who knew? I’d never been to such a big convention before. Would Kansas City, land of Dorothy and Toto, even have a leather bar? And if it did, would I be too “fat?” Piss up a rope!

“I’ll tell you what,” Lionel said. “I’ll drive you to the airport. How’s that?”

I turned. “Really?” I asked.

Lionel nodded and I felt better immediately. I always hated driving into O’Hare, having to get there so damned early, what with security and everything. Leaving the car in satellite parking and catching the shuttle could add another hour easy. Chicago’s airport was like a small city unto itself. “Thanks, Li. That’ll help.” Then I remembered my lube bottle, and I was suddenly convinced it was too big. “Hey, you don’t have any of those tiny tubes of lube, do you?”

He grinned. “Do I? I have an ice bucket full of them.”

Of course he did. He was hosting an orgy this weekend.

“I’ll get you some. How many? Five? One a day?”

I laughed. Did he really think I’d get laid once a day?

“I’ll get you ten,” he said. “Just in case.”

JEANNIE picked me up at KCI airport per our plan. She lived in Wichita, Kansas, which was about two and a half hours outside of Kansas City, so of course she drove. My plane arrived only four minutes after it was supposed to, which was okay because she was a half hour late. I didn’t mind. It gave me time to get my shit together, grab coffee, and a little late or not, I didn’t have to take a shuttle. While I might have gotten to the hotel earlier, I just hate their shuttles, even the best of them. I’m always sandwiched in between someone with foul breath and a noisy, obnoxious child.

Jeannie is around fifty, about ten years older than me, has reddish-brown hair and big black glasses. She reminds me exactly of the actress Megan Mullally, especially when she started appearing awhile back on that weird show Breaking In. The first time I saw her character, I called Jeannie immediately.

“You’re back on TV,” I’d said with no preamble. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Wha-what?” she’d asked in that almost nasal voice of hers.

“But for shame, for shame. You are going to drive that cutie Christian Slater insane, you know.”

“What the jumped-up Christ are you talking about?” she’d squawked.

“On Breaking In,” I’d explained, as if to a child. “You’re on right now.”

“Breaking what? Goddammit! I told you Tuesday is date night with Joe.”

She called me about an hour later. Apparently date night had been ditched. “That was not me!” she’d cried. No “hello.” No “fuck you.” Just right into the deep end of the pool. “How many times do I have to tell you I don’t look a thing like her! Not on Will & Grace and certainly not now.”

“Spitting image,” I exclaimed. “Same hair, same glasses, same voice.”

“Eat me,” she commanded, and then hung up the phone.

I snickered on and off for hours. I loved Jeannie. If she were a man, I’d marry her. A lot of people don’t understand my relationship with her. She’s like the sister I never had. She can say anything she wants to me, but let someone else give me grief and she’ll come to my defense like a tiger. Plus, she makes me laugh.

And that time she got the last laugh.

The next time I saw her it was at our yearly New Visions retreat. She had tiny gold wire-rimmed glasses and a tight bonnet of blonde curls. I couldn’t even talk. Blonde? She’d dyed her hair blonde? I was all agog. I supposed the giant black widow spider tattoo on her neck should have given her disguise away, but I was too stunned to question her new look.

“You should have seen your face!” she’d crowed in delight.

The tattoo was temporary. The glasses were from the dollar store and the hair a cheap wig she’d found at a garage sale for two bucks. A deal at twice the price.

I FIRST met Jeannie about ten years ago online when I stumbled across a bunch of websites about one of my favorite TV shows, The Sentinel. Richard Burgi, the star of the show, was a huge fantasy for me in almost every way (oh, if only he had a hairy chest!). I was so hot for him, it was downright silly. It was a pure accident when I discovered fan-written stories online. A lot of them were pretty damned good, as well written if not better than many of the actual episodes.

But then one day I came across something that would change my whole life. Stories where the two main characters of the show, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg—his sidekick—were lovers. I was shocked. I remember thinking, Holy shit, Jim and Blair having sex! And then, Son of a bitch, this is freaking hot!

I don’t know exactly why I was so surprised these stories existed. I’d heard of “slash,” specifically the stories about Kirk and Spock from Star Trek, but that pairing had always sorta squicked me and I’d never given the phenomenon of fan-written fiction, or “fan fic,” much more thought.

But if there were stories out there about Kirk and Spock, why not stories about Jim and Blair, one who I thought was sizzling hot and the other a cutie in his own right? Now these were men I could imagine doing the dirty. It was practically canon. I mean, they were essentially lovers already. I never read gen fic again—“gen fic” meaning “general fiction,” stories that don’t include sex, and most especially not gay sex.

Give me the good stuff. Sorry.

One of my instant favorite authors was someone who went by the nom de plume “Wichitama.”

I had no idea what that meant. Was the author a witch? It didn’t occur to me to think of Wichita. I’m not sure I knew there was such a place.

It turns out that Wichitama was none other than Jeannie Fienberg, a housewife and mother of a son who’d just made the jump into teenagerhood. Jeannie and I were exchanging e-mails by the truckload in no time, and then I discovered she was soon going to be attending a big Midwest fan-fiction convention. A con that was only about four hours from where I lived.

I couldn’t resist meeting my new friend face to face, and a few months later I headed to my first convention in years.

I found Jeannie to be loud, brassy, and even more crass than her e-mails implied. We were instant buddies. Through Jeannie, I met one of her best friends, Gail Southgate, a slim little thing with lovely long dark hair. Like Jeannie, Gail and I bonded quickly.

I met other slash writers that weekend (there were all kinds of pairings out there apparently). All of them were women to my surprise, but I was quickly adopted into their little family. I was also their mascot. They loved having a gay friend who didn’t mind answering all sorts of intimate questions about gay men. Especially what they did sexually. Detailed questions about what they did sexually!

At first it was a little embarrassing, but soon I was answering questions like Dr. Ruth. They loved it. Today there are a lot of men out there doing that, but just a decade or so ago, I was pretty unique in fandom. I was even on some panels at slash cons where even more women asked me all kinds of stuff to help them with their own stories. It was fun. It gave me a certain fame or status I enjoyed, small time as it may have been. My ego loved it.

And over the next five years, me and the “girls”—there were about five us that had formed into a little clan—would meet whenever we could, usually at conventions.

It didn’t take long, in those early days, before I was writing as well and began to get a following of my own, online and off. I’d long fantasized about being a writer, and telling the tales of my television heroes seemed to be just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing.

I wrote mostly Sentinel fic, but I ventured out into a few other fandoms. Stargate SG-1 (I was so hot for Daniel Jackson), some Due South (for Paul Gross as Constable Benton Fraser—yummy—but sadly not either of his partners), and I even wrote a Starsky and Hutch story. It was a three-way story, and not very popular since I’d strayed from the holy duo, but hey! Guess what? I didn’t write it for the fans. That one was for me and that real-life adventure never realized.

Jim and Blair were my favorites, though. My true loves. For me, part of it was that I’m attracted to both of them. Not only the actors, but the characters. The people they played. I wrote a three-way about them too, but no one has ever seen it. In it I myself fucked Blair’s sweet little ass while Jim fucked mine.

Heaven. On. Earth.

Jeannie and I even wrote a couple of novellas together, although that ended because she felt my love scenes got “a little too graphic.”

“I just can’t imagine Jim eating Blair’s ass,” she said with a sneer. “It’s disgusting.”

“It most certainly is not disgusting,” I snapped, offended. “No more gross than eating pussy.”

“You just want to imagine a man like Jim rimming your rosebud,” she said, and pretended to shudder. At least I think she was pretending.

“Actually it’s Richard Burgi I fantasize about,” I replied.

“You want him to pound your rear end,” she said with a giggle.

“Maybe,” I admitted. “And maybe I want a shot at that miracle butt of his.”

“Stop!” she barked, holding up a defensive hand. “Squick! Squick!”

I stiffened, further insulted. “Hey! You calling me gross or something?”

“It’s like imagining my brother having sex. I know he does it. I just don’t want to hear about it.”

WHEN Jeannie picked me up at the airport, she was the same as always: roundish face despite a perfect figure, same shoulder-length hair, and big glasses. No wild costume to freak me out, but who knew what she had up her sleeve? The whole back of her old Taurus station wagon was stuffed with boxes. New Visions Press “lived” in Lawrence, pretty much a straight shot between Wichita and Kansas City, so she’d been charged with bringing the books. Gail, our publisher, was in Stockholm of all places. It was hard to imagine that New Visions was just about to hit five years of age, had been in the black for most of that time, and had, astoundingly, made nearly a million dollars the year before. I guess Gail deserved a trip to Stockholm. Of course it was for business. Rough.

We somehow crammed my main suitcase in back after much shifting—thank goodness I had no breakables—and I kept my carry-on in my lap.

“Jeez, did you pack for a fucking month?” Jeannie asked with her typical grace and style.

“I’m a gay man, in case you didn’t know. I have to pack for every eventuality.”

“No damned kidding. This isn’t the flood, you know. You didn’t have to pack your whole apartment.”

“Well, I know there are at least two of every book we’ve printed in those boxes,” I said, pointing with a cocked thumb over my shoulder. “At least I didn’t bring my harness.”

“Thank you for sparing my eyes that sight,” she said, and once again I felt fat. “Besides, we have five of everything, ten of our better sellers. And twenty of each of your books.”

“Oh really?” I said, suddenly mollified.

“We’ll sell them all too. You’re cute enough.” Jeannie laid a friendly hand on my knee, and then patting it said, “And you’re a real live gay man. The women will go batshit!”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise.

LES “RED” Parks spotted his client almost immediately, even in the crowded bar. Partly because the gentleman—Kirk Toliver—had e-mailed him a picture that actually (miracle of miracles) looked like him. Thirty-five (a real thirty-five and not an online thirty-five, which were often two entirely different things), blue-gray eyes behind thick-rimmed, rectangular glasses, and a thickish but well-trimmed beard. The type of man who blended in with a crowd, rarely noticed.

But Red would have known the man was his new client even without a picture. It was in his posture, in the look on Mr. Toliver’s face. The man was nervous. It radiated, pulsed outward from him in waves. As Red approached, he saw an empty cocktail glass on the small round table in front of Toliver, and he was all but gulping down the contents of another. As he did so, their eyes locked over the rim of the glass, and Toliver’s dark brows shot up almost comically.

It was hard not to laugh—but Red managed. First meetings were always tricky, and as nervous as his new client obviously was, how might he take laughter?

Red did smile, though. Gave the man a friendly nod.

Mr. Toliver lowered his glass and smiled back.

Cute, Red thought. In a geeky sort of way. The smile transformed him, actually. You need to send out pictures where you’re smiling.

“Mr. Toliver?” Red asked.

“Kirk,” the man said, standing quickly and almost overturning the little table. He blushed, grabbed at it to keep it upright, the empty glass rolling and nearly falling off its edge. He rescued it and said, “Call me Kirk. That’s my first name.”

Red knew that, of course. He would never have agreed to meet the man without that information and a hell of a lot more. Plus, Jeremy Carlington had vouched for him, and that was good enough for Red.

Kirk held out his hand, and Red took it. “I can’t believe you’re here,” Kirk said.

Red nodded. “Of course I am,” he replied, gracious—the way he’d been taught. Yet even now, after a year, it was hard to believe someone was looking at him the way this man was looking at him. Like he was famous or something. And he wasn’t. He was a kid from small-town, USA—that’s all. Very small town.

Could he have ever imagined this life back in high school?

The answer, of course, was no.

Red moved to sit down and was charmed when Kirk zipped around to his side of the table and pulled the chair out for him. He was used to men twice Kirk’s age making such a gesture, but not a man in his midthirties.

This close, he could see Kirk really was a nice-looking man. Not People magazine’s sexiest man of the year, but not plain after all.

So why me? Red wondered. It couldn’t be that the man was hard up. Kirk didn’t exactly stand out in a crowd, but he was hardly an eyesore. Yes, he was wearing some pretty dorky looking glasses, his suit had to be at least ten years old, and the slight strain of the buttons over his belly said there would be no washboard abs or gym body revealed when Red got him undressed. But he was cute in his own way. Bears would fight each other for the chance to take him home.

Of course being a bear, or bearish, didn’t mean one was attracted to bears.

“Can I get you something? To drink?” Kirk smiled again, a slight tremor in his voice.

Red almost said Lagavulin. Asking for the expensive Scotch seemed to please most of his clients—let them know he wasn’t some down-on-his-luck street hustler looking for enough money for his next fix. But he wasn’t so sure it would have the same effect on Kirk. As a matter of fact, the man’s clothes didn’t speak of wealth. Not even an upper-middle-class lifestyle.

Jeremy…. Did you steer me wrong?

Could Kirk afford what he’d told Red on the phone he wanted?

“Rum and Coke,” Red said instead.

Kirk nodded quickly and practically ran to the bartender.

Red wiped hands already starting to sweat along the legs of his slacks. Meeting new clients always made him nervous—So don’t worry about being nervous, Mr. Toliver. You’re not the only one!—even though he’d established a pretty safe routine (learned from his mistakes as well as advice from others) and figured out his method of operation. He didn’t pretend it was the way professionals in New York or Singapore or Paris did things. But using Matthew as a role model and taking guidance from Jeremy, he’d found a way that worked well.

“Some of us like to use agencies,” Matthew had told him. “And agencies have their pluses. But then again, you work for them—and a lot of the time that can mean getting mixed up with the wrong kind of people, if you know what I mean.”

Red had been too naïve to get what he meant.

“Crime people, silly. Bad guys. And bad guys you can owe. I say, work for yourself. And whatever you do, pay your taxes!”

Red hoped Kirk Toliver wasn’t a mistake. But no, Jeremy had brought him to Red’s attention. Told him he knew someone who was anxious to meet him.

Now, should he be anxious instead?

Kirk was back with their drinks. “I hope Bacardi’s okay,” he said, sitting down.

Bacardi. A premium. Not the standard, low-end well liquor. Maybe he’d misjudged the gentleman.

“Bacardi is wonderful,” Red replied.

Kirk held up a lime. “I didn’t know if you liked yours with, and I didn’t want him to ruin your drink if you didn’t like—”

Red smiled broadly, and Kirk went silent as if someone had clicked a mute button on the man. Red shook his head. “No lime. Thank you.”

Kirk’s mouth did the fish-out-of-water thing, and then he cleared his throat. “God,” he said in a voice so low that had they been at The Male Box—a bar that turned its speakers up to the blasting point—instead of The Corner Bistro—a piano bar—there would have been no way Red could have heard him. “I can’t believe it….”

“That I don’t want a lime in my drink?”

“That you’re here. That I’m here. Sitting with you. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He reached for the knot of his simple navy blue tie, adjusted it so that it was actually slightly askew, ran a finger under his collar as if it might be just a bit too tight.

“Well, you’re here,” Red assured him. “I’m here.”

Kirk smiled again, but the corners of his mouth seemed to war slightly, and he got a strange look on his face. It reminded Red of his mother’s dog—one she had rescued, one that had been abused, always worried that it was about to be smacked instead of petted.

What’s your story, Mr. Toliver?

“An escort,” Matthew had carefully explained, “is more shrink than anything else. Yeah. They want sex. Sometimes weird sex. I had a client who wanted me to babysit him. I was a little wary at first, but it turned out not to be quite as kinky as I thought. No changing diapers or feeding him bottles. He just wanted to cuddle on the couch in his pajamas and have me make popcorn and insist he go to bed by nine.”

“No sex?”

Matthew laughed. “Of course there was sex. He’d blow me or have me fuck him—hard. But only an hour or so after I’d sent him to bed.”

An hour later. Which meant said client was paying a lot more than the one-hour rate. A client paying for an entire evening meant money. Considerable money.

“He’d come walking out of his bedroom in his underwear, rubbing his eyes, and tell me he’d had a nightmare and would I come and lay down with him ‘until he fell asleep.’ Turned out he’d had a huge crush on his babysitter when he was in high school. His mother had insisted he have one until he was sixteen. And it was his babysitter who made him figure out he liked ‘dudes.’ He never got to have sex with the babysitter.”

“So you became his babysitter.”


“How’s that like being a shrink?” Red had asked.

“How long do you think it took me to get him to open up and tell me what he was really wanting? He’s a much happier man now.” Matthew cocked a thumb at himself. “That’s due to me.”

Kirk Toliver cleared this throat. “You don’t recognize me, do you?”

And Red had to think quickly (and not look like was thinking about it). He decided to take a guess.

“Sure. We met one night when I was with Mr. Carlington.”

Kirk’s wounded look vanished as his face took on a happy shine. “Yes! At the Kaufman Center!”

The Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts. Of course. The ballet. Quite suddenly, he remembered. It had been at the bar. “The ballet,” he said.

Kirk nodded in obvious relief. A child seeking approval. Acceptance. Recognition more than anything else. What so many men failed to realize was that it wasn’t easy to remember all the people he met. Red met a lot of people. Especially through clients like Jeremy Carlington, who took him everywhere. Expensive restaurants, openings, art galleries. And the ballet. He knew that most of them had to know what Red was, but Jeremy was never ashamed—showed him off in fact. With pride. Look what I can afford.

Why not? Red did his best to exemplify sophistication. Matthew had taught him. Jeremy had. Apart from taking advice from them and a few others, Red had also used some of his income to educate himself. He’d brushed up on his high-school Spanish, was even now learning French, and would tackle Italian next (Jeremy had promised a trip to Rome next year). He was a licensed massage therapist and had taken CPR classes.

“You might need them with the age of some of your clients,” Matthew had advised and laughed about it.

Red liked to think of himself as some modern-day, gay, Western version of a Geisha. An ear to listen. A comfort. A companion. He’d even been known to tinker a little on the piano and sing a song or two. Why, the only real difference he saw between him and those who practiced that ancient Japanese art was that his clients knew—if they wanted it (and they actually didn’t always want it)—that they’d be getting sex.

But what did Kirk Toliver want? Red was waiting for some lead. Some clue. It wasn’t dinner. They’d agreed to meet afterward. And….

“You’ve eaten, right?” Kirk asked.

“Yes. But if you haven’t, then—”

“No! I mean…. N-no. I have. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t hungry.” Kirk looked away, then back. “I’m sorry. I’m just so nervous.”

Red took a sip of his cocktail. Strong. Good. It would help with his own nerves.

“There’s no need for that.” Red smiled.

“That’s easy for you to say.” Kirk gave Red a funny smile in return and lapsed into silence. Then, suddenly: “Did you have a nice Christmas?”

“It was nice,” Red lied. Well. Not lied. But it had certainly been different. He’d spent most of the day alone, had an early dinner with a few friends—acquaintances, really, except for Matthew—and then they’d all run off for whatever reasons. Matthew had a client…

“He wants me to dress up as an elf,” Matthew had said with a wine-induced giggle.

…and Red went back to his loft apartment, all by his lonesome. Which had given him time for a stilted conversation on the phone with his mother and sister and her brood of kids. He’d hardly known what to say. None of them had for several years, ever since he’d come out to them.

Jeremy didn’t show up until eleven, bringing a smile, an apology, and the heavy gold bracelet (class!) Red was wearing right now.

“And yours?” Red asked.

“Oh? Fine. Fine? Yes. Fine. Had some friends over. A guy from work….”

Jeremy? Red wondered.

“I made a goose. Never done that before. Not sure I liked the way it turned out. Greasy, you know? A liver-y taste for some reason. Don’t know if I’ll do that again. Not much meat either….” His voice trailed off. Then: “It’s so different now that Mom is gone. I set up the tree and everything. For her, you know? But it wasn’t the same.” He went silent again.

Red was trying to decide whether to ask about Kirk’s mother when it was taken out of his hands.

“When she died—in October—well, it left a pretty big void. She’s always been there. I was taking care of her the last year. Moved her in with me.”

October. Jeez. Jeremy had said something about her passing, but Red hadn’t realized it was so recent. “It must be difficult,” he said.

Kirk shrugged. “I suppose.” He looked up. “Yes. It is. Not as bad as I imagined. But I guess I’m still numb. Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet.”

Red reached across the small table and laid his hand on Kirk’s, who in turn looked around them, quickly, almost furtively. Red glanced to see what Kirk was looking at. Nothing out of the ordinary.

“Kirk?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”

“I… I…. Was seeing if anyone was looking. Wondering….”


“Why someone like you is here with me.”

Red raised his brows. “Why would they wonder something like that?”

“Oh, come on.” Kirk stared down at the hand on his own. Then back up. His expression…. So… sad? “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.

Beautiful? You wouldn’t have said that to me when I was in high school.

“And look at me.” Kirk shook his head.

“What about you, Kirk? You’re an attractive man.” And it was true. Yes. The big glasses and the out-of-fashion suit, the cheap haircut, all might make the average person look right past him. Especially in the gay world, which could be so damned superficial. But it was the smile that made Kirk stand out. The dimples, visible even with the thick, almost shaggy beard. The way his eyes lit up (when he wasn’t looking sad).

Red suspected if Kirk would trim his beard, wear some nicer clothes, and lose even a few pounds, he wouldn’t need Red’s services.

But of course, he still wasn’t sure just what services Kirk wanted. Babysitter? Doctor? Burglar? Slut? To be tied down? To tie Red down? Something kinkier?

Red took a swallow of his cocktail. Finished it, raised the glass again to capture an ice cube and crunch it. A habit he’d gotten into while losing weight so many years ago.

“Do you want another?” Kirk asked.

“Do you?”

“I don’t think I’d better. I want, ah—” He blushed. “—to be able to, ah….” He went from pink to crimson.

Red kept himself from smiling. What Kirk was too embarrassed to say was “Get it up,” and the shyness was touching for some reason. Red didn’t know why.

Then, surprising himself, Red said, “You want to get out of here?” Throwing caution to the wind was not something Matthew had taught him. No. Matthew had taught him to hone his instincts to know when to go home with a client—

“And don’t ever take them to your place. Never. Never ever!”

—and when to run.

“I got that feeling once,” Matthew told him. “Don’t know what it was, but I got the hell out of there. I was pissed at myself too. Drove an hour in the rain to Terra’s Gate—the college town? Lost two grand out of the deal. But then six months later, I saw the son-of-a-bitch on TV! He got caught trying to poison the kids of the town mayor.”

“Say what?”

“Yeah. She went to work and realized she forgot something and got home just in time. Her kids were about to eat these danishes, and she asked them where they got them, and they told her from the neighbor—the one I went to see that night. Well, she thought something was funny. She and the neighbor—my client—did not get along. I guess there had been a lot of trouble between them. So she checked the danishes out, and they were full of antifreeze. He was trying to kill her kids!”

Red’s mouth had fallen open at the story.

“So who knows what that guy might have done to me? He kept trying to get me to eat this nasty looking cobbler. He might have been trying to kill me!”

But Red wasn’t getting “that feeling” from Kirk. Not at all. As a matter of fact, to his surprise, he was getting the stirrings of an erection.

“I—I….” Kirk looked down again.


Kirk darted his eyes back up again. “I’d like to go for a walk.”

A walk?

“I thought maybe on the Plaza.” Kirk gave him a tentative smile. “Have you seen the lights this year? I love the Plaza lights. And I live there, you know.”

Red knew.

“We’re going to my place anyway.” He paused. “I mean. We are, right?”

Red nodded. “That’s where I was suggesting we go.”

“Can we go for a walk first? Park in my building’s garage and go for a little walk? What do you say?”

Was this a stall for time? A way to gear up his courage? Maybe. But there was a hopeful expression on his client’s face. He wanted to go for a walk. And why not? It was a bit nippy out, but it wasn’t that cold. There was a call for flurries, but that hadn’t happened yet. At least not the last time Red had checked.

Plus it was obvious by now that this wasn’t going to be an hour session. Kirk wanted the evening, and Jeremy had explained all that to the man so Red hadn’t had to. Red didn’t have any other appointments tonight.

A walk might be nice.

“Why not?” Red said aloud.

The grin he got in return made him smile as well. He couldn’t help it.

It’s your dime, Red thought.

But of course, it was a hell of a lot more than a dime.

It Had to be You
AT FIRST it was like someone had hit him in the chest with an invisible sledgehammer. Pain, oh yes, but mostly it was a powerful force that seemed to almost lift him up before driving him back, back, and over the edge of the fountain and into the water. There were screams, but they sounded like they were coming from far away.

He was lying in the cold water, a woman was shrieking, and he was looking up past the statue of the man on a horse—

(... the sculptures of the horses are thought to signify the world’s great rivers, and this one represents the Mississippi... )

—and into the nighttime sky.

He was so cold. Numb. Water was shooting everywhere, and still there was that shrieking woman. It was getting louder. Someone make her stop! Where is Perry?

So cold. Except for a growing fire in his chest. Had he thought it was a sledgehammer? No, it was a ball-peen hammer, one heated to a thousand degrees and then driven into his lungs and—

Abruptly, Perry came into view. There he is.... Perry was looking down at him with huge wide eyes and a face that was so incredibly white and (oh!) it was Perry who was screaming. Not a woman at all. Who would have thought that Perry—pompous ass that he was—could make a noise like that? Not even the pounding jets crashing over the fountain—

(... it’s called the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, but in fact it was originally named The Mackay Fountain....)

—could drown out that horrible screaming. He didn’t know how it was that Perry’s vocal cords didn’t just tear right out of their moorings.

He began to cough. Water was getting in his mouth.

I’m lying in the fountain, he thought. God. I should get up. They won’t like it that I’m in the fountain.

It was only then that he realized he must be sitting up already. His head was above the water, but he didn’t remember actually moving at all. Perry came into focus again, and now he was crying (God, stop, please stop) and his fingers were clenched in his expensive but ridiculous toupee. At least he wasn’t screaming anymore.

Better yet, he wasn’t talking.

(... the fountain was created in Paris by the French sculptor Henri-Léon Gréber in 1910...)

The pain was getting worse now, and when he looked down he saw that he was clutching at his chest and (oh, look!) there was red (blood! that’s blood) pouring through his fingers....

(my blood)

The world swam in and out of focus.

I’ve been shot, he thought dumbly. How? How did I get shot? And then he laughed at the irony of it all. Tried to laugh. God! He’d been standing there watching the water pound over the statues in the fountain, when finally he’d turned to Perry, trying to listen to the man go on and on and on and on—

(... but the fountain wasn’t truly finished, not the way we know it today, not dedicated to Kansas City until 1960....)

—and he’d been thinking, Oh God, just shoot me. Please. Somebody just shoot me.

Someone had.

Then the pain came blazing up and out and the world became an inferno of agony, and then Robert Daniels died.

ROBERT, Rob to his friends, opened his eyes a moment later, and he was lying in the grass. How did he get there? He was looking up into an evening sky, and there was a circle of faces looking down at him. He was surrounded by people, and for some reason they were all wearing costumes. What the hell?

“Help him somebody!” came a man’s voice, and Rob turned his head (the world swam for a second) and saw there was a young man kneeling on the ground next to him. He was wearing a pinstriped suit and a brown hat with a black band. It looked like something his grandpa used to wear. What’s with all the costumes? Rob thought. At least he’s cute. What pretty blue eyes. My God, I am such a fag. I’m lying here bleeding, and I’m still checking out guys.

Rob almost laughed but that hurt, and the world went away again. All black. Then he was coughing and, God, that hurt. He opened his eyes again.

“My goodness!” cried a woman who was wearing a most adorable hat. He knew there was a name for a hat like that, but he couldn’t think of it. It was all close to her head like a tiny helmet, with flowers on the side. She was saying something. What was she saying? “He’s... he’s alive!”

Oh, yes, he was alive, if he could wonder about lady’s hats. Although... God, the pain was coming back!

“Let me through,” came another voice, and a big burly man shoved people aside and then leaned over Rob. A cop. No. A man in a cop costume. No policeman would wear anything like that.

“We’ve got to get him to a hospital,” said the young man next to him.

“He’s been shot,” said the not-cop.

“Yes, he’s been shot, for God’s sake,” exclaimed his unnamed companion. “Do something!”

“Well, don’t cast a kitten,” the not-cop said with a grunt. He pointed at a man in the crowd. “You! Go call an ambulance. Go on! Get a wiggle on!”

“Jimmy, you hold on, you hear me?”

Rob looked up into the cutie’s face. He looked like he was about to cry. God, not another crier. He sure had pretty blue eyes, though.

“Please, Jimmy, don’t you die on me. Hold on!”

“Not Jimmy,” Rob said, or he tried to. He coughed, felt a wetness on his mouth. Touched it. Looked. Red. Blood. My blood.

The world went away again.

THE world came back and left several more times. At least he thought it did. He wasn’t sure, really. Dreams, maybe?

A strange truck-like vehicle with a red cross on its side....

Lying on a table? Moving down a corridor and looking up at the ceiling?

A man in a white coat and thick glasses.... A doctor?

A woman that looked like... like what? Some bizarre dream world’s version of a nurse?

and pain.

a lot of pain.

More blackness....

Spring Affair
Chapter One
SO IT was the first Saturday of the month, and that meant it was Porch Night, the must-not-miss evening for the FF, aka the Fabulous Four. Sloan McKenna had wanted them to use another name for their crazy little foursome, but Wyatt had insisted that “fabulous” was much better. Far more indicative of their “fearsome fabulosity,” and as Wyatt had pointed out, “Fantastic” was already taken, and copyrighted besides. Sloan hadn’t seen what possible difference that could make—who would know?—but Wyatt was absolutely for certain that they would all be famous someday.

Famous for what? Sloan would wonder at Wyatt’s constant assurances. He didn’t know you could get famous from being a customer service rep in a call center.

Porch Night also meant the cocktails flowed freely—in this instance they were pomegranate ginger martinis—and Sloan thought they’d turned out pretty good, especially considering the circumstances.

“Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before…,” that selfsame Wyatt—the bear of their quartet—said and then took a sip of his cocktail.

Orating really, thought Sloan—tonight’s (somewhat) reluctant host. And like there really was any stopping Wyatt when he was on a roll.

“… but what do Winnie the Pooh and John the Baptist have in common?” He was practically bouncing in the high-backed wicker chair, which he had dubbed the “Morticia Addams Chair” and confiscated the instant he’d laid eyes on it. This evening he was wearing all black. Black jeans (so new Sloan was sure he had taken the tags off before driving over), a black sleeveless shirt (that was perhaps just a tad too tight), black cowboy boots (which looked suspiciously like cowgirl boots) and a black fedora with thin gray pinstriping. He had a huge white-and-gold daffodil tucked in the hatband. It looked ridiculous, but this was Wyatt and Wyatt was… well… Wyatt.

Oh, my dear friend, thought Sloan with a bemused smile. You really are a legend in your own mind. At least he’d asked if he could pick the flower. Sloan was protective of the large garden that made up most of the front yard of the house in lieu of a lawn. His mother’s garden. And what the hell was he going to do with it?

“Winnie the Pooh and John the Baptist?” asked Scott, the FF’s curmudgeon (although a beloved curmudgeon). He scowled, shook his head, and gave his martini a taste. From his expression, Sloan couldn’t tell whether Scott liked it or not.

Wyatt nodded enthusiastically. He seemed ready to explode with this one. Sadly, with Wyatt, that didn’t mean it would be a good joke.

“What do they have in common?” asked Asher when the punch line did not come forthwith. Asher was their gorgeous godling, and he was sitting next to Sloan on the porch swing, arm slung over the backrest, absently playing with the nape of Sloan’s neck. It was very distracting.

“Ready for it?” Wyatt all but squealed. “Ready for it?”

“We’re ready,” Scott grumbled. “We’re ready….”

“Same middle name!” Wyatt fell back in his chair, giggling.

There was a pause as they digested the joke, and then Sloan and Asher burst into laughter as the meaning hit. Not Scott, of course. Sloan wasn’t surprised. Scott had no sense of humor.

“I don’t get it,” Scott said.

Wyatt stopped laughing and looked at him agog. “What don’t you get?”

“I didn’t know John the Baptist had a middle name.” Scott adjusted his expensive designer glasses. They weren’t the only “designer” thing in his life. It was a compensation—some of them thought an overcompensation—for the fact that he hated what God had given him. He made no secret about the fact—had shared this opinion on many a Porch Night—that he hated his body, his life, his job. But he could buy things that he thought made him look cool. They all worried about this sometimes because they were sure he couldn’t really afford such indulgences.

Asher stopped playing with Sloan’s neck and leaned forward, his expression full of curiosity. “And you think Winnie the Pooh does have a middle name?”

“Well….” Scott paused, considered Asher’s question. Sloan could see the wheels turning in his head. When he got it—and Scott’s expression made it clear when he had finally gotten it—he let out a long groan. “Oh, dumb. That was really dumb.”

“I thought it was hil-arious,” Wyatt said.

“It was pretty funny,” Sloan said. Not much had been funny lately, and it had been nice to laugh.

“It’s stupid,” Scott replied and sprawled back on the wicker love seat. It matched the Morticia Addams Chair beautifully and exaggerated the lanky look of his body. Sloan was sure Scott wouldn’t be sitting like that if he knew, but opted not to say anything. Now if only Wyatt would do the same. It was that lanky body that had caused Wyatt to call Scott by a nickname that Scott hated. Spider Woman. If Wyatt used that name tonight, the shit would hit the fan!

“It’s not stupid,” Wyatt said defensively. “My jokes are not stupid.”

Asher chortled. “Please, Wyatt. Most of your jokes are stupid. Not that one but—”


“It’s stupid,” Scott continued. “Because A, ‘the’ is not a middle name…”

“It’s a joke, dumbass,” Wyatt snapped.

“… and B, comparing a character made up for kids with a mythological religious figure is dumb. The joke doesn’t work.”

“Which one is the character made up for kids,” Asher asked, “and which one is the mythological religious figure?”

Sloan gritted his teeth and hoped this wouldn’t launch into a conversation about religion. Asher had been acting a little… odd lately when it came to such matters. Sloan didn’t know what was going on with his friend. Religion was one of those things Asher had never talked about one way or the other.

“Why, Winnie the Pooh is the one made up for kids,” said Wyatt, not taking the bait.

Sloan breathed a sigh of relief and finished his martini.

“There is no historical proof that John the Baptist ever existed,” Scott said with a superior air. “It is far more likely that he was made up by the early church.” He finished his martini as well. “These are pretty good, Sloan.”

Sloan jumped to his feet. “Refill? I’m getting one.”

Scott nodded and held out his empty martini glass. “No more sugar on the rim, though, please. I’m watching my figure.”

No pink sugar? thought Sloan. But wasn’t presentation everything?

“Sugar on mine!” Wyatt offered his glass to Sloan.

Sloan took both glasses and looked at Asher, who downed his drink and handed his glass over as well. Empty, it was easy to take all four. He gave a nod and headed into the house.

“In fact,” he heard Scott’s voice through the screen door. “Did you know he didn’t even invent baptism? It was no big thing. Everyone was doing….”

Mercifully, he couldn’t hear Scott anymore by the time he got to the kitchen. He loved his friend—all of them, in fact—but when Scott got in one of his weird moods, it was easier to love him out of earshot.

Still. Sloan was lucky to have all of the dear friends who had gathered here with him tonight, especially after the last month. Month? Hell! Six months. His shoulders sagged, and he felt the tears almost prick at the corners of his eyes. Almost. But it wasn’t happening. And that was a good thing. He didn’t want his friends to see him crying. Not tonight. Even though he could. Even though it would be fine. He wanted to be brave tonight. Impress the hell out of them.

Were they talking about him now, or were they delving into a discussion of whether John the Baptist was real or not? At least Scott wasn’t going on and on about one of his online romances—men he fell madly in love with and rarely met in real life. And when he did? Disaster every time. The last time Scott had actually flown to Chicago and checked into The Four Seasons, a very expensive hotel, so he could meet the man he just knew was Mr. Right. The two of them were supposed to share the costs of not only the room, but the plane tickets as well. That didn’t happen. Scott and his romance du jour met, fucked, wound up having a huge ugly fight, and it was over. Scott had been devastated. For a couple of weeks. Maybe a month. Then Scott was right back online.

Scott, Wyatt, and Asher. They were the best friends a man could have, despite their eccentricities.

Scott was always there for him at an instant’s notice, no matter what. He had actually been the first one Sloan had called on the worst day of his life, not more than a month ago. Scott had had a plan already set and instantly took over so Sloan could just throw himself on the couch and, well, not cry. That hadn’t happened yet. He’d been too afraid to let the tears go until the funeral was over—he had wanted, needed, to maintain a sense of decorum until then. He could cry later.

Except he hadn’t yet. Not really.

Wyatt was Sloan’s clown. Wyatt was always ready to make him laugh and made it his mission to look on the positive side of life (succeeding almost always, unless the shit hit the fan over something with his lover). Wyatt had brought Sloan a ton of food over the days following the funeral, casserole dishes and Crock-pots full of it—all with the simplest directions.

(“Put this in the oven at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes, remove and let set for five.”)

Of course it helped that Wyatt had a job he was in a position to leave now and again and a lover of over ten years, as well as a lovely home—

You have a lovely home now.

Sloan pushed the thought away. It was his mother’s home.

Wyatt had arrived right after lunch that awful day, had only been able to take half the day off. He was the manager of Treasures of Terra, the local New Age store, and couldn’t just leave. But he was still the first to arrive, and then somehow he had arranged to take the next day after that. Sloan loved the guy. He couldn’t help it.

And Asher?

Oh dear God. Asher.

Asher was only one of the most gorgeous men Sloan had ever seen in his life. He had a crush on Asher, and he supposed he always would—to a degree anyway. He’d gotten over the worst of it—the love-sickness, the feeling he would die because Asher didn’t love him back. At least not “in that way.” But Asher still had a hold on his heart.

Sloan had fallen for Asher hook, line, and sinker (as his mom was wont—had been wont—to say). He had fallen for Asher before they’d even gotten back to his apartment the night they’d met at The Male Box. But for Asher, their evening (and the next day!) had been nothing but a hookup. At least as far as the sex was concerned. Sloan knew he was lucky he hadn’t been tossed aside like most of Asher’s other tricks.

At least Asher hadn’t taken Sloan home because of the color of his hair. Sloan got a lot of that. Men who wanted him simply because he had red hair—and comments like “Wow! Are you as red down there as you are on top of your head?” Worse were those who said, “You know, I’m not usually into gingers, but with you….” As if they were doing him some great big frikkin’ favor.

But of course that was better than being shot down simply because he had red hair. He got a lot of that too.

But Asher had not said any of those things. Never even mentioned its bright-copper new-penny color or his kazillion freckles or his blindingly pale white skin (that never tanned, only burned and then turned into another ten thousand freckles).

Asher had liked his eyes.

(“So pretty. I can’t tell just what color they are…. Wow. Brown? Not really? Something else. What? I could look into your eyes all night.”)

That and the fact that Sloan was actually going home with the tall, blond, blue-eyed, muscular stud had done Sloan in. Sloan had been in love. Quicker than a duck on a June bug.

As his mom used to say.

The sex had been amazing—possibly the best Sloan had ever known in his life. He’d been thrilled when Asher had told him to go ahead and spend the night. Sloan’s imagination had gone crazy. When a man you picked up in a bar—or who picked you up—asked you to spend the night, didn’t that mean something possibly special had happened?

The next day they’d gone out for breakfast at Chubby’s¸ then hung out most of the rest of the day. They’d even gone to a movie at the Tivoli, an art house theater specializing in low budget independent films. Afterward they’d gone to Sloan’s little apartment—that had been before he’d had to move back in with his mother, of course—and had more sex. Sloan was sure he had found Mr. Forever.

An hour or so later, he discovered he might have gotten ahead of himself. Asher left soon after round three and had dodged Sloan’s good-bye kiss so that it hit his cheek instead of his mouth. Then he didn’t call for over a week, or return Sloan’s calls.

Sloan had been a ridiculous mess, moaning and sighing and constantly looking at his cell to see if he had any messages. Wyatt had tried to cheer him up, and of course, Scott had taken a more tough-love approach.

“When are you going to start separating love and sex? Mr. Gorgeous was a trick. Don’t you know he goes home with more men than Paris Hilton?”

“Huh?” Sloan hadn’t known what Scott was talking about.

“Asher is the guy everybody dreams of going home with. And if they’re good-looking, sooner or later, they will. You’re lucky. He must have been—”

“Been what?” Sloan had snapped. Slumming it? Jeez, Scott could be such an asshole.

Finally, after almost two weeks, when Sloan had finally given up, Asher had called. He wanted to know if Sloan wanted to see a movie at the Tivoli. “I mean, I can’t believe I found somebody that likes my kind of movies,” Asher had said.

So forewarned by Scott (of course) that the only reason Asher had called was that nobody else liked art films and Asher had been desperate, Sloan went, hoping for the best. The movie had been awesome—who knew a story about lesbians starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore could be so good?—even though Asher had been acting a little aloof. He hadn’t responded in any way when Sloan had kept pressing his knee against Asher’s during the movie, nor even put his arm on the mutual rest between their seats so Sloan could try to take his hand.

Afterward, over a drink on the back patio of The Male Box, Asher had let him down.

“I’m just not looking for a lover,” Asher had said. “I even avoid repeats for sex.”

Sloan had been crushed. “But I thought we were really connecting.”

“We did. We are. But I don’t do the boyfriend thing. Not into that. Sex is sex. I get horny, I go looking.”

I was nothing but a backscratcher for an itch that’s hard to reach?

“If it makes you feel any better, I hardly have ever let somebody spend the night, let alone spent the next day with them. I liked you, Sloan. I like you. A lot. You’re smart, and you like to talk about shit that most people give me the crazy-eye over. I mean, who else am I going to talk with about a movie where a lesbian has an affair with a man? Nobody, that’s who. So if you want to be friends, I’m game. I’m just not wanting to date. Don’t even hope for it, okay? I don’t want to hurt you.”

Trouble was Asher had already hurt Sloan. But Sloan took the offer of friendship anyway. Maybe hoping for a change of heart on Asher’s part. But now, three years later, that change had never happened. Now Sloan was mostly over that (mostly), with only echoes of crushness now and again. Enough time had passed that he could sit with Asher on a porch swing and have the back of his neck played with and his heart would only skip a few beats. Even a year ago, it would have driven him mad with desire.

“He’s a thoughtless son of a bitch,” Scott had said more than once when Asher wasn’t around. “He knows how you feel about him—”

“How I felt about him. I’m over that now.”

“Sure you are.” Scott had rolled his eyes. “Whatever makes you sleep at night. Or jerk off….”

Sloan had certainly done enough of that!

“Hey, need any help?”

Sloan jumped at the voice. He was so involved with his thoughts he hadn’t heard the object of those thoughts come into the kitchen. Asher came up behind Sloan and slipped his arms around him, pulled up close. Sloan could feel the heat of his friend’s body, feel that hard chest against his back, feel just where the tall man’s groin was hitting him high up on his ass. He trembled.

“You okay, baby?”

Sloan didn’t answer. Baby. God. It still could make his heart speed up when Asher said things like that.

“You shouldn’t have done this tonight,” Asher said. “You should have let me host. Or Scott or Wyatt. We all offered. It’s too soon.”

Sloan opened his mouth to respond, and his voice caught. He took a deep breath. Willed away the pain. “It’ll never be the right time,” he managed. “So why not tonight? At least I’m not in this house alone.”

Asher pulled even closer to Sloan. Kissed the top of his head. Sloan let go and let himself relax against the big man. He couldn’t help himself. It just felt so good to be in Asher’s arms.

“Except that he doesn’t want you that way, dear,” his mother would have reminded him. “His loss. There are plenty of fish in the sea. One day he’ll wake up and it’ll be too late. You’ll have found someone else.”

Which had been part of the reason Sloan hadn’t looked all that hard. Why, just a couple of months ago she had set him up on a blind date with the son of a friend of hers. A guy who had gone to his high school. He’d told the guy that he wasn’t his type, which had been a lie. He’d been just the kind of guy Sloan went for.

Except for the fact that he wasn’t Asher.

“No. You’re not alone,” Asher said and gave him a squeeze. “You know I know how you feel, right?”

But you don’t, thought Sloan. You don’t! The comment annoyed him as it always did. Enough that he suddenly couldn’t enjoy the deliciousness of having Asher’s arms around him. Sloan hated those words more than anything else these past weeks. All those people telling him they knew just how he felt. There was one time when it had been all he could do not to slap the woman who’d said it.

Sloan steeled himself for what was coming next. Asher’s old stand-by: “I’ve lost someone close to me too. My grandfather. He died when I was in fifth grade, and I still miss him so much….”

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Asher was backing away. “Now about those martinis. Need some help? I’m ready for round two. How about you?”

More than ready.

Sloan nodded. “Sure,” he said. “Round two coming up.”

“Good,” Asher replied. “A few more of these and maybe Scott will loosen up.”

“Couldn’t hurt,” Sloan said.

“What couldn’t hurt?” asked Scott, entering the kitchen as if on cue.

Wyatt was at his heels. “Who is that hot-tie who lives next door? Woof!”

“Who? Huh?” Sloan asked, not ready for such a question.

“Your neighbor! You been holding out on us, girl.” The tipsier Wyatt got, the more queenie he got. It didn’t take much. Thankfully, his lover—who didn’t drink when he was driving and who had gone out to The Watering Hole to ogle go-go boys and slip dollars in their underwear—would be driving Wyatt home.

“I’m not holding out on you,” Sloan said. “What are you talking about?” He was confused.

“Why Mister Man, of course. Bearded and hunky and all studly!”

“Wyatt’s talking about the guy living in the house to your north,” Scott explained. “He took one look at him and went all ga-ga. Started flirting right then and there. Yoo-hooing and everything.”

Suddenly Sloan knew who Wyatt was talking about and looked at his friend in horror. “My God, you didn’t!” The last thing he needed was to piss off the big man next door. Sloan had no doubt his neighbor could split him in half (although he seemed nice—hadn’t he been at the funeral?).

“There he is!” Wyatt pointed out the window, and Sloan looked across the way and saw the bearded man framed in the window opposite, presumably doing something kitchen-y. Dishes? Getting a glass of water?

“Maybe he’s peeing in the sink,” Wyatt said in a lascivious tone. “God. Can’t you just picture it? Him hauling out his big old—”

“I would rather not!” said Scott with disgust.

“Oh, like you never went pee-pee in the sink!” Wyatt waved his hands flamboyantly. “Why else even have a dick if you can’t make the world your urinal?”

“Well, not in the kitchen sink for sure,” Scott shot back, obviously disgusted. “You wash dishes in there! And it’s so high! He doesn’t look tall enough.”

“Maybe he’s standing on one of those little stepladder thingies….”

Sloan laughed. He couldn’t help it. Leave it to Wyatt!

Kitchen filled with his loving friends, Sloan made the next round of martinis. Used the huge shaker Asher had given him as a gift earlier that evening. It made two rounds worth for the four of them instead of just the one.

It was a good thing too.

Because as it turned out, it was not an early night.

The Boy Who Came in from the Cold
Chapter One
IT WAS cold outside. It was really cold. Freezing cold.

Todd Burton, freezing himself, watched as a man with a big industrial broom swept what was an obviously already shoveled sidewalk. The snow was falling harder than ever and was piled everywhere.

Jeez, it’s snowing like a son of a bitch out there. Todd glanced nervously over his shoulder into the lobby of the apartment building. No one seemed to be watching him.

What the hell am I going to do?

If this had happened to him a week ago, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Not good. But not nearly as bad.

Luckily, one of the building’s residents had let him in out of the cold in the first place. A big guy–good-looking, tall and wide—wearing a long woolen (and obviously warm) coat.

Todd would have done almost anything for that coat. His pale-tan lightweight fall jacket barely kept out the chill of late autumn. It didn’t stand a chance against the snowstorm outside the warm lobby.

“You’ll wear it and like it,” his mother had screamed. “We ain’t made of money!”

If he hadn’t chosen to wear a sweater to the New Year’s Eve party last night, he didn’t know what he would have done. It was the only thing keeping him from being chilled to the bone. His gloves were a joke—the simple one-size-fits-all type bought at Family Dollar, with a hat purchased at the same place—and all but useless. He might as well have been naked.

So it had been a stroke of luck when the big man had asked Todd why he was standing under the awning of the Oscar Wilde apartment building.

“Waiting for a ride,” Todd replied, even though it was a lie. He was no more waiting for a ride than he was waiting for the results of a pregnancy test. But it got him out of the frigging cold. Todd flexed his wet toes in the confines of sneakers worn to death. His feet were still frozen and aching after nearly an hour. Lord yes, his toes hurt.

This sucks, he thought. This sucks zombie dick.

“What am I going to do?” he muttered as the snow, abundant as the feathers from a high-school-girls’ pillow fight, fell thickly to the ground. Icicles, looking like the teeth of some primeval creature, hung just outside the large plate-glass windows. I’d hate to be the poor guy that one of those fell on.

“Still waiting?” came a voice from behind Todd, and, startled, he jumped and let out a cry. He spun around and found himself gazing up into the face of the man who’d let him into the building. No longer in his winter wear (where was that coat?), the man had changed into jogging shorts and a T-shirt that stretched over a massive chest and proclaimed that he was 2CUTE2BSTR8.

It took Todd a moment to figure it out, but when he did, his mouth dropped open. Too cute to be straight. The guy was queer. It was a little more than Todd’s small-town naïveté could take in. This guy? A fag? It just didn’t seem possible. The guy was a powerhouse. A total class-A stud. This was no swishy, limp-wristed, pink-wearing gay boy.

The man eyed him suspiciously, and Todd realized he needed to say something. “Uh-uh, yeah, I don’t know what’s taking… uh, George… so long.” Piss. Did I actually say “uh George”?

The man nodded, went to retrieve his mail, and on his way back, stopped again and looked Todd up and down. But this time his gaze lingered just a bit. Todd felt his stomach give a weird sort of flip-flop.

“Look,” said the man. “Watch yourself, okay? The building manager has been known to have a shit fit when hustlers come in the building for, well, whatever they come in here for. Just don’t get caught.”

Todd stiffened. Hustlers? Did this guy think he was looking to sell himself? Before he could think of how to respond, the man crossed the lobby and disappeared into the elevator.

He thinks I’m for sale! Todd shook his head. Cursed under his breath. Do I look like a hustler? he wondered and thought about the boys who sold themselves in the park. Maybe I do, he realized, horrified. He touched the scruff on his face—he hadn’t shaved today and his facial hair grew like wildfire—and looked down at his dirty jeans and worn-out sneakers. Would someone want to buy something so… dirty? He tried in vain to catch his reflection in the big lobby windows. Not enough light in here, he thought.

He glanced around the lobby, seeing what at one time must have been elegance, but was now just a few levels above run-down. Brass elevator doors, once shiny and beautiful, now tarnished with age; hardwood and marble floors now scuffed; banks of fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling; what looked like the faded remains of a huge mural—all probably gorgeous when the building was made. All just sad echoes of a different age.

Todd thought of the man who had let him into the building. From the look of his business attire Todd was surprised he didn’t live in a much fancier place. That coat hadn’t come from Walmart. Couldn’t the guy afford an apartment in a better building?

There was the pinging from the elevator as the doors opened, and speak of the devil, it was the same man. He was carrying what looked like a plate and a mug and was heading in Todd’s direction. When he got closer, the wondrous aroma of coffee hit Todd and he saw the man had a sandwich as well. To Todd’s surprise, the man handed them both over. His mouth fell open. The day had been one of the shittiest ever in a year of total shit. And here, out of the blue, a complete stranger was showing some small-town kindness?

Todd only hesitated for a second, all but snatched the food and coffee from the man, sat down on the windowsill, and practically gulped everything down. Both were a relief beyond words. Todd almost swooned. He hadn’t had so much as a bite all day, and with barely twenty bucks in his pocket and no idea when he’d get more, he’d been afraid to buy so much as a dollar grease burger from Mickey D’s. He ate the food so fast he barely tasted it. Oh! And the coffee filled him with a warmth that finally let him shake off the cold that had plagued him all day. He actually gave a shiver as it lifted.

“I’m Gabe,” said the man.

With only a few bites left, Todd nodded but didn’t offer his own name.

“What are you doing out in this weather, anyway?” Gabe asked.

Todd stopped chewing. Boy, was that a question and a half. He swallowed hard. How did he explain it? It was awful. He was ashamed. How did he tell a complete stranger that he felt like a total failure?

Todd gave the guy a quick look, then a longer one. The guy was huge. A good head taller, at least, than Todd’s five foot nine and downright massive: really built. He obviously worked out. A lot. Like the guys in the muscle mags that Todd collected.

(“Jesus, Todd, how many of these things do you fucking have?”)

Not like the men who were all gnarly and knotted like mutants or something, but the nicely built, Hollywood TV-star kind.

(“It don’t make no sense a boy your age having so many of these. You a faggot or something?”

“I just use them for exercise tips.”)

Gabe’s pecs looked as big as dinner plates, and Todd could see the man’s abs even through his shirt. His waist seemed almost as small, his hips as narrow, as Todd’s, impossible as that should be.

And good-looking. Really good-looking. The man had short light-brown hair (dark-blond? It was hard to tell) and light blue eyes (the color of a country summer sky) and a face like a movie star. This guy could have any woman he wanted. Why had he chosen to go gay?

“Okay, so if you don’t want me to know—”

Know? Know what? Did I miss something?

“—can I at least get that name?”

“Uh, Todd.”

“Todd what?”

What the hell? “Why do you need to know?”

Gabe shook his head. “Okay, Mr. Uh Todd Whydoyouneedtoknow, I’ll leave you alone.”

The man started to turn away, and suddenly, Todd didn’t want Gabe to leave. “I was kicked out of my apartment,” he cried out in a rush.

Gabe stopped, turned back.

“Surprised the shit out of me too. Got home this morning from a New Year’s party, and the lock had been changed.”

Gabe’s eyes widened just a bit. “Damn.”

“What kind of asshole kicks someone out on the streets in this kind of weather?” Todd asked. He began to wring his hands. “I thought there were laws that protected you from that.”

“I believe there are, but that’s not going to do you any good right now,” Gabe said.

“No shit.” Todd sighed. He looked at the man again. God what he’d do to look like that. He’d worked out all through high school and bought weights for home, but no, he just couldn’t do it. There was a level of baby fat that didn’t want to go away for anything.

(“Ha! Look at you, working out! You trying to get a body like the guys in your magazines? Give it up. Ain’t gonna happen. You Burtons have the bodies you have. Skinny as shit.”)

At least he didn’t look like his stepfather, with his big beer gut and his flat ass. Todd was in decent enough shape, but he’d come to realize he’d never have a body like Gabe’s. “You really queer?” he asked without thinking. His lack of a filter from thought to spoken word had bounced him against the walls of authority all his life.

“You don’t think before you speak,” his freshman teacher—Mr. Grombeck—would say over and over.

“The word is ‘gay’,” Gabe said, “and yes I am.”

(“I remember when gay was a good word. Homos have ruined that word!”)

“It still is,” Gabe returned.

Shit, I said that out loud? He heard me. He must have six million dollar ears.

“Gay is a joyful and happy word.”

Gay and proud of it, Todd thought with wonder. “Sorry,” he said and meant it. After all, the guy had helped him when no one else would. So what if he chose to fuck a dude instead of a girl? It was his choice.

“Any idea what you’re going to do in the meantime?” Gabe crossed his arms over that expanse of chest. “You got a place to stay? A friend?”

Todd felt the last of his strength leave him and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “No.” The people he’d met since moving to Kansas City had been total jerks. Or drug addicts. Thieves. Users. Girls as well as dudes just trying to get him into bed. All he’d wanted to do was get out of his small town and into a big city. Fat lot of good that had done him.

“What about the friends you partied with last night?”

Todd jerked. A few people he’d met at Gilham Park a month or so before—a far different park than the one that catered to male prostitution—had asked him if he wanted to party, and, desperate to get away from his tiny studio apartment, he’d agreed. He’d no sooner gotten to the party than a couple of boys younger than him tried to give him some crack. No way was he going there. He might be small town, but he knew that stuff was no joke. A couple of beers later and he was buzzed and sitting alone in a corner watching the freakiest things. Two, then three, guys making out on a couch. Another guy with his head under the skirt of a girl who couldn’t have been legal. Lots of drugs, but mostly marijuana. He’d even taken a few hits of something that made the pot he’d occasionally smoked with his friend Austin seem like grass clippings.

Then, right after midnight, two girls who had been watching him, giggling (when they weren’t kissing each other), had pulled him into a dark bedroom, yanked off their tops, and tried to get him to have sex. One girl with no bra and huge breasts had grabbed his hand, pressed it against one tit, and squeezed his fingers over it. He couldn’t yank away fast enough, and he didn’t know why. “No,” he said, then got the hell out.

“No,” he said again to Gabe. “No way.” The people at that party hadn’t been his friends.

There was a pause, and Gabe looked him up and down once more. Not rudely, but it made Todd feel weird anyway. He couldn’t quite describe the feeling. The guy wasn’t drooling or any fucking thing like that, but still….

(“Perverts. They like little boys. They kidnap them and they cut them….”)

Gabe was a guy. And despite parades and gay marriage, the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and gay and lesbian support groups in high schools, men with men wasn’t—

(“… normal! They ain’t normal!”)

—anything he was used to. The guy seemed nice. Had given him food. Gabe had shown him more kindness than anyone else in this fucking city, so—

“Look,” said the big man, “I’ve never paid for it, but you’re awfully cute, and it would give you a place to stay for the night, and….”

Todd started. “What?”

“I mean it’s not going to be like Pretty Woman, where I have to pay extra to get you to stay the night, right? I mean, I’m getting you out of the snow and—”

“I’m not a whore,” Todd snarled. “And I’m not a fucking queer.”

Gabe’s face froze, his warmth vanishing as if it had never been there. He reached out and took Todd’s now empty mug. “Good luck,” he said, voice icy. “And like I said, don’t let the building manager catch you, or you’ll be back out on the street, blizzard or not.” Gabe turned and strode back to the elevator without looking back.

Great. Shit. Why did I do that? “I gotta stop losing it,” he said aloud. I could have just told him I’m not gay, not a hustler. The guy—Gabe—was nice. He would have taken no for an answer. Todd turned back to look out the lobby windows. Gasped. The snow, which had been coming down hard, was now a writhing wall of white.

“Look at that,” said someone to his right. Todd turned and saw a couple of people had wandered into the lobby from who knew where? Upstairs? An office?

“My mom just called and told me the governor declared a state of emergency,” said another onlooker. “I sure would hate to be out in that.”

No shit, Todd thought. He looked back to the elevator. But Gabe was gone, of course. Why did I act like an asshole? Maybe all he wanted to do was suck my dick. Not like I haven’t ever had my dick sucked. Just because Joan didn’t like giving them…. And of course there was the one that….

“Just look at that!”

Todd jumped at the voice and looked outside again. What had been bad had become downright scary. It was like some kind of special effect from a horror movie.

Wouldn’t it have been worth a blowjob to get out of that?

“It’s easy money,” a hustler from the park across from his apartment building—his ex-apartment building—had told him a couple of weeks ago. A day that had been pleasant, a few orange and red leaves still hanging bravely from the trees; a day when his lousy coat had kept him warm enough. “Easy money. I make fifty a blowjob. Getting a blowjob! I can shoot two, three times a day for sure. The third time not as much, but if he’s an ugly old troll, he’s lucky to get what he gets.”

The guy—a redhead named Doug—and a friend had been smoking a joint and regaling Todd with the gainful job opportunities in the world of male prostitution. “I just lay back,” he continued, “close my eyes, and pretend it’s Katy Perry givin’ me head. Who doesn’t like to get his dick sucked? And get paid for it.”

Somehow, Todd doubted Doug’s sincerity. If it was all that great, why wasn’t everybody champing at the bit to be a prostitute?

“Don’t let him fool you, girlfriend,” said Chaz, the second young man, a kid of mixed ethnicity, maybe twenty years old. “Doug here ain’t thinkin’ ’bout Katy. Channing Tatum is his thing. And I tells you this…. We all suck cock at least now and again.” He shifted his hip, rested a hand upon it, and then snapped his fingers with the other. “Especially in these hard economic times.”

Todd had shaken his head doubtfully. “I don’t think….”

“You could suck dick? After that first time or two it isn’t a big deal,” Doug said, thereby admitting he did indeed give at least the occasional blowjob. “And if you can swallow, you make more money.”

“Why you guys telling me this?” Todd had asked, as if he didn’t already know.

Chaz took a hit of his joint, apparently not worried in the least about who might see, and passed it to Doug. “Cuz you ain’t got no job, and you’re trying like a motherfucker to get one. Am I right?”

Todd was startled but didn’t answer.

“No need to deny it,” Doug replied casually and hit the joint. “You leave your place all different times, and you’re always wearing a tie.” He reached out and flicked the thrift-store paisley one Todd had loosened but not removed. He held out his joint.

Todd shook his head.

“And because you don’t want the grass. You’re studying for a test.”

“A test?”

“A piss test,” Chaz explained.

How does the guy know so much?

“We know all kinds of stuff about you,” Doug said and raised an orange brow.

“Like you is from a small town, ain’t ya?” Chaz asked.

Jesus. Todd gaped at the young man in disbelief. “How do you know all this?”

The boy-men laughed.

“Because we’re all small-town,” Doug cried.

“We knows our own,” Chaz continued and snapped his fingers again. “We all comes to the city to get away from a big bad daddy who can’t keeps his hands to his self—”

“Or to make big money or get famous,” Doug added.

“Or what-the-fuck-ever, and instead we winds up sellin’ ourselves. Story as old as fuckin’ time, baby.”

Todd hadn’t taken them up on their offer. Hadn’t even considered it. I’ll never get that low, he’d told himself.

But now? He watched the swirling maelstrom.

Gabe would have been better than some old toothless “troll” picking him up off the street. At least Gabe was hot. Maybe he could have laid back and let the man give him some head. It couldn’t be any worse than those his so-called girlfriend had given him back home.

He shuddered at the thought.

Or any more disastrous than….

And Gabe would have given him a place to stay for the night.

What if Gabe wanted the blowjob? Could you do it?

He shrugged.

Memories of a basement…

Hell. Maybe. Didn’t every dude wonder what it would be like once or twice? He remembered a time in the locker room at school. He was sitting down untying his shoes when he realized the penis of one of his classmates was less than a foot from his face. He could actually smell it, it was so close, the heat from the showers bringing out the boy’s natural male musk. Todd had toed off one shoe and as he slowly worked on the other, he was able to look up through his bangs without his buddy knowing he was checking out his cock. Todd found he wasn’t repulsed by it at all, as Joan seemed to be by his own. Why, it was rather handsome. Longer than his, it draped over two largish testicles, one hanging slightly lower than the other in a fleshy, silky-looking sack. The scrotum was hairless, and he wondered if his buddy shaved his balls (and where that thought had come from?).

“Hey Burton! Whatcha lookin’ at?”

Luckily his big mouth served him well that day. “I don’t know what the hell it is,” he’d replied rather loudly. “But whatever it is, it’s about the ugliest damn thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The roar of laughter was probably the only thing that had kept him from being called a faggot for the rest of the school year.

But a few days later, while Joan was making another sloppy and unexciting attempt at giving him a blowjob, gagging like he was twelve inches long or something, he’d wondered what it was like to suck a cock. What if he had been alone with that boy in the locker room and he had just leaned forward and taken it into his mouth? Or his friend Austin. The cute boy’s face filled his mind. The image of him from when they’d gone skinny-dipping over the summer. Evenings at his friend’s house. What would Austin’s cock feel like in his mouth? Taste like? Strange, those were the thoughts that allowed him to finally cum, to his girlfriend’s noisy complaints—“Toddy! You said you’d warn me.”—in a voice like rubbing two balloons together.

So if Gabe had taken him to his apartment, gotten him out of the snow, maybe he could try it? As clean-cut as the man was, Todd was sure he would be clean down there.

Strange also that Todd felt his own cock shift about then. Just in time for a bellow like an elephant that startled him so badly he gave a shout.

“Hey you! Who the hell are you?”

Todd turned to see a huge man descending on him like doom. “Goddamn drifters and hustlers always coming in my building. Get the hell out of here!”

What was he supposed to do now?

Until I found You
Chapter One
CHRISTOPHER KNEW something was wrong before he reached the door to his apartment. It wasn’t just the fact that it had been a shitty day in a string of shitty days—seven, to be exact. A week today since he and Graham had broken up. Graham, the one he’d had such high hopes for.

“This could be the one, Ma,” he’d said on the phone—what?—a month ago?

No. There was something wrong.

The chill that ran up his spine wasn’t because he was in an understandably negative mood. He knew something was wrong because Frost wasn’t barking.

It’s okay, he thought. Frost’s routine had been messed with since Graham moved out, just as it had been when he moved in. But hey. That’s the way it was with a pet. They had to get used to change.

He’s asleep, Christopher reasoned. He’ll start barking the minute I put the key in the lock.

But Frost didn’t start barking and, what’s more, the door swung open when he started to insert his key into the knob.

Another chill washed over Christopher.

He knew he’d locked the door.

He was religious about locking the door. Had been ever since a few weeks after he’d moved to the city and someone had broken into his first apartment and stolen his collection of DVDs, his VCR, and the brand new TV his mother had gotten him for Christmas. Now he locked the door if he was going down to get a newspaper from the vending machine outside the apartment building.

Graham liked to make fun of him about it. Well, used to make fun of him. Past tense.

Burgled? Had he been broken into again? Were they still there? Was Frost okay?

“Hello,” he called out, his voice cracking, and slowly pushed the door open all the way.

He didn’t see anything out of place. No open drawers. The TV was still there. So was his laptop, right there on the coffee table. And he didn’t hear anything.

Most especially not Frost. He shivered.

It’s okay, he told himself, the way any pet owner would. Any parent. Any lover. But it was foolish to jump to conclusions.

“Frost?” he called. “Frosty, baby? Where are you?”

Now he’d come bounding into the room—all bouncing white fur—startled as hell that he hadn’t heard Christopher come in—looking all embarrassed. The thought made Christopher smile.

But that didn’t happen.

Another chill. Please be okay. Please. Please let him be okay.

Christopher stepped into the small living room, looked to the couch—Frost’s second favorite napping place—and for one moment he thought he saw his dog, clear as crystal, curled up in one of his impossibly tight balls.

But it was only his hooded sweatshirt—the one from Wagner University, his old college. He’d folded it over to make an extra pillow the night before so he and Frost could cuddle and watch Getting Go, his new favorite gay movie. It was another thing Graham made fun of him for. He did a lot of that. Making fun.

Just my hoodie.

The realization was crushing.

“Frosty!” he shouted suddenly, startling even himself, and then all but sprinted to his bedroom (there was only one, it was a small apartment). This time there was no trick of the eye, no illusion. Not even a white pillow to snag his eye because he’d made the bed that morning, with its navy blue blanket, just as he always did.

“Why do you make the bed? No one’s going to see it except for the damned dog. We’re just going to mess it up again tonight.” Graham. Picking on him even about that.

Well, Frost wasn’t seeing the bed today, and he wasn’t sleeping on it. The expanse of the bed—all dark blue, the blue-jean quilt (the one his mother made for him) folded neatly at the foot—clearly showed no fluffy little white dog on its surface.

The panic set in.

Christopher looked under the bed, in the bedroom closet, in the bathroom, and even in the tub. All the places a dog might hide, or worse yet, choose to die. Hadn’t he heard that animals would go to a quiet, dark place to be alone when they were ready to die?

He didn’t find Frost in any of those places, and besides, Frost didn’t hide. Or as least he hadn’t until Graham, with his cursing and shouting.

Graham could be “the one”? Is that what he’d told his mother? How had he ever thought such a thing?

But then the Graham Douglas who had moved in with Christopher turned out to be an entirely different Graham from the one he’d been dating for eight weeks. The guy who held doors open, who always offered to drive (and dropped him off at the door that night it was raining), who insisted on buying the drinks and big tubs of popcorn at the movies, and who claimed he loved Downton Abbey just as much as Christopher did, had vanished within a week of moving his stuff in.

After Christopher looked in all the places he could think of where a dog might go, he turned his apartment upside down (literally; he flipped the couch over on its back as well as pulling open the back of his old recliner) looking in all the places he couldn’t think of.

Finally, he knew Frost wasn’t there.

Frost, the fluffy bundle of joy who knew no stranger and loved the entire world, was gone.

Well. He hadn’t loved Graham.

“That dog hates me” came the memory of his ex’s voice.

“He doesn’t hate you,” Christopher would say, but in that very instant—remembering—he admitted to himself that he might have been lying. That he had been. Or at least fooling himself. Wanting it not to be true.

But Frost hadn’t liked Graham. Not at all. Not from the beginning, and it had never changed. When they met and Graham had held out his hand for Frost to sniff, he’d gotten a growl for his trouble. And when he’d tried to push Frost off the bed—

(“It’s gross! All those fucking dog germs! Dogs don’t belong on the bed.”)

—Frost had actually snapped at him.

A thought popped into Christopher’s head.



Couldn’t be.

Christopher pushed the idea away.

Frost hadn’t cared for Graham, but Christopher had chalked it up to jealousy. Graham was the first boyfriend Christopher had actually moved in since he’d found Frost in a dumpster—malnourished, nearly dead, the only one of three littermates to survive—two years before. The other boyfriends had come and gone, most rarely staying the night for sleepovers.

“He puked in my fucking shoe!” Graham cried after he’d tried to hit Frost one morning (not for the first time) and Christopher had intervened.

“I don’t care,” Christopher had said, getting between them, even though he was easily a head shorter than Graham. Christopher was not a big man, topping off at five-seven and slight—no more than 145 pounds ever, no matter how much he ate or worked out.

“You don’t care?” Graham had shouted, looking down at Christopher. Graham was a big man. “You don’t care!” The second time an accusation and not a question.

No. Actually, Christopher had thought it was sort of funny. Apropos. The shoe in question was Italian, and ugly, and expensive. It looked like a bowling shoe without a sole. Christopher wouldn’t be caught dead wearing bowling shoes and certainly not the receptacles of Frost’s unflattering gift (perhaps an opinion?).

And how the hell could Graham have afforded such shoes anyway, when they—a two-income household—couldn’t come up with the money for a bigger place? How had Graham afforded his last place?

The truth was that Frost did hate Graham, and now Christopher was wondering. Didn’t they say dogs knew things about people? That they were good judges of character? That they had instinct?

In the end it had come to this. One night after Frost (showing teeth) had refused to budge from the couch when they’d decided to watch TV, Graham had shouted, “I’ve had it! You love that dog more than me!”

“Oh, Graham. Frost is a dog.”

“Well then choose! It’s me or the puke projector!”

So Christopher had chosen Frost.

After all, at least he had an excuse for not being late with his share of the rent (in fact, Graham paid his part only once in their two months of shared domesticity), or the utilities (“I didn’t live here yet when you used them!”), or even of the groceries (one trip to Aldi discount grocery didn’t count).

Two days after his ultimatum—one week ago today—Graham had moved out with much slamming of drawers and doors and “fuck yous!”

To Christopher’s surprise, he’d felt some relief. Yes, it sucked to lose yet another boyfriend—especially the first live-in boyfriend in practically forever. But Graham had turned out to be a shit who was capable of almost anything.

Christopher froze. That scary little thought had come back.

Almost anything.


God no!

He pulled his cell from his pocket, punched in Graham’s number without thinking, and was startled at how fast the man he’d thought he loved answered.

“What?” One word.

“P-p-p…” was all that Christopher managed on his first try, alarmed at the realization he was about to cry. He took a deep breath, knowing instinctively tears were not an option. If Graham had done what Christopher suspected (Could even Graham do such a thing?), crying would be bad. It might be just what Graham wanted.

He took another breath, willing his nerves to steady.

“Gram,” he said, using the shorter version his ex had always liked. “Please tell me you didn’t do anything to Frost.”

“Fuck!” came the answer. “I knew you wouldn’t be calling to ask about me! I even made a bet.” Then, muffled, “Didn’t I? Didn’t I bet? He’ll call and it won’t be anything about me.”

“Gram,” he said, desperate. “Please.”

A chuckle echoed through the phone. It was a sound that felt like a spike to the heart. A certain dread fell over Christopher with that little laugh.

“Please?” came the reply. “Did you say please?”

Oh God. Graham had done something!

Please have Frosty be okay, he prayed.

“Yes, Gram. Please. Tell me Frosty is okay.”

“I don’t have any goddamned idea how that little mutt is. What makes you think I would know?”

This time it was a knife to Christopher’s heart. “Graham,” he whispered.

“And whatever happened to him? You deserve it!” Another single laugh. “Picking a fucking dog over a human being!” The line went dead.

“Gram?” he said. “Graham!”

No. He’d hung up.

Christopher fell back onto the couch and cried. Cried in panic and fear and worry and desperation. He cried for a good while until he got it out and his inner strength was ready to take command.

He didn’t know that Graham had done anything. He didn’t know, no matter what he suspected. He had to believe Graham couldn’t do anything that cruel. Something to get back at Christopher maybe. The man had his pride.

But to hurt a little dog?

No! Christopher had to move forward as if his suspicions weren’t true. Do all the normal things first.

So he called the building manager to see if anyone might have been in the apartment—spraying, inspecting for roaches, whatever. He hoped that was it. Prayed for it.

But no. Mr. Carter was disturbed, though. He said he’d make inquiries.

Then Christopher checked with his neighbors. Had they seen anything? Heard anything? All said no, and all were concerned. They liked Frost, especially after Christopher had trained him to start barking only when he was about to open his door. The dog could hear him pull into the parking lot downstairs….

So Christopher found some pictures on his computer and made up flyers and started posting them around the neighborhood, calling out for his baby boy all the while. Julie even helped.

They’d put them everywhere, by God. They’d find him. Julie said so. They would find Frost (Christopher had a brief, horrible flash of finding Frost’s broken body by the side of some street) and all would be well in the world. Frost would go berserk in that way of his, practically doing backflips and cartwheels of joy, and then lick at least a layer of skin off Christopher’s face.

All would be well.

But the day turned into days, and then a week, and then two, and Christopher found himself praying for only one thing.


Please have him be okay. Someone has found him and is taking care of him.

Please, please, please….

Because how could anyone help but love Frost?

All Alone in a Sea of Romance


It Had to be You

Spring Affair

The Boy Who Came in from the Cold

Until I found You