Monday, July 26, 2010

On a Heat Wave Break

The A/C conked out this weekend - taking a heat wave break in NYC. Excerpts will return next Monday, August 2! Love and Peace - Eric

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lust in London excerpts by S.L. Danielson

Lust in London...young Alex has barely been out of Kansas, much less go across the pond to London. He goes there to attend class and meet two other roommates. He also meets a charming businessman named Mason who sweeps him off his feet. Trouble is, there's a lot of baggage with Alex's first boyfriend; and some of his own too! Will their relationship last or be remembered as just lust in London?

Lust In London
S.L. Danielson February 10, 2010)
ASIN: B003980HIA

Excerpt 1

The duo fought their way through the crowd to the exit. Outside had become a bit more populated. Alex looked up at his companion and tried to decipher his body language. He decided to just take a wild guess. “Would you like to take a walk?”
Mason grinned. “That’d be great. Get us away from the smoke and the crowd.”

The two strode forth on their journey in tandem. They walked away from the club scene and into the London night. The weather was agreeable, not chilly and not hot. They walked for 20 minutes before the crowd and loud music was a mere whisper in the distance. Alex looked around at where they’d wandered and stopped in his tracks. He’d been so intently engaged in conversation. Mason stopped and looked back. “What is it, Alex?”
“I-I don’t recognize these buildings.” Alex said with a note of fear in his voice. “How far have we walked?” His mind began to conjure every paranoid predicament possible. What was he doing out here with a man he hardly knew, in a part of town he’d never been to. It sent his pulse soaring yet again.
Mason walked over to him and put a warm hand upon his shoulder. “Alex? Hey, relax my friend. We’re not too far from my hotel. I know this district.”
“You do?”
“Yeah, I stay here when I come to London. Downtown is too damn expensive.”
Alex took a sigh of relief and ran his hand through his hair. He felt a wave of relief. They began walking again in tandem until he pieced the sentence together in his mind. Hotel? How was this evening going to end? He slowed his pace and stopped again. “Whoa. Wait a minute, Mason. Why are we going to your hotel? What do you expect from me? I just met you two hours ago!”
Mason rolled his eyes, and walked back again. “Alex, relax. You’re so high strung!”
“Maybe I am! Maybe this whole thing is just some ploy to get me in bed with you. I barely know you!”
Mason ran his hand over his face and sighed. He looked into his companion’s eyes for a moment and walked over to him. He rested his strong hands onto Alex’s slight shoulders.
“Relax, ok? As awesome as that’d be, I know you’re not exactly ready. Okay?”
Alex smiled in relief. “Thank you. That’s all I ask. So, what were we going to do?”
Mason grinned and looked down at his shorter companion. “I thought we’d get a drink or maybe even dessert? This hotel has the best key lime pie. I mean the best! It even beats my mother’s recipe.”
Alex exhaled at last and nearly laughed with relief. Pie? That was it? How much more homespun could one get? He felt as if a weight were released from his chest.
Mason grinned. “See, nothing sinister. There’s even an all-night cabbie who can take you back at whatever time you want.”
Alex tried to smile but also felt badly for having assumed the worst. He was so new to all of this his greenness may be skewing his judgment. This was a simple meeting and a simple dessert date, nothing more.
“I love pie.” He finally answered. His tone was more upbeat.
“Let’s hurry, they run out pretty quick.” The two strode side-by-side. At times, their hands almost touched.

As a mirage’s sudden appearance in the desert, the hotel came seemingly from nowhere. It was a Hilton, a famous name. Its lights were dim on this cloudy night. London’s notorious fog moved in already. All 12 floors were cast in the shadows that enveloped it in a cloak of darkness. Alex caught a glimpse of his watch while passing under a streetlamp. It was 10:30 pm. He’d decided to throw caution to the wind and stay out as long as he could. Britain itself was mesmerizing, now tripled with the introduction of Mason.

The duo entered the hotel and seated themselves at the counter of the café. Alex glanced around. The style was oddly retro American. There were the jukeboxes on every table, a soda fountain, even the help was in candy-colored uniforms. It was bright against the darkness of the outside. The counter seats were all empty. There were perhaps four other patrons present, all tucked into the red metallic booths. He was thankful it was quiet and mostly private.
They had been seated for only a moment when a slim, red-haired waitress named Calliope came their way. She seemed to match the linoleum counter in her bright green uniform dress.
“Hiya! What can I getcha, sugar?” She snapped her gum and smiled.
Mason glanced over at his new friend and the two shared a look. “We’d like two slices of key lime pie and I’d like coffee. Alex?”
“Uh, yeah, coffee for me too, thanks.” He smiled back at the pretty waitress as she winked at them and put her order pad away.
“You two are lucky. That’s my last two slices. Coming right up, darlins.” The accent was distinctively southern. Mason and Alex shared a laugh over the lovely young lady. She seemed so out-of-place, yet fit right in. She was a college student they guessed, working her way through school. Perhaps her family wanted a change and came across the pond. Whatever her story was, they were glad she was there. She represented a piece of America in the heart of London.

Within moments, their coffee mugs were filled and their conversation began again. Not a minute later, the pie arrived. Alex wanted to dive right in, but thought it rude while trying to talk. They simply took a moment to savor the dessert.
“Damn, this is good pie! How’d you find this place?”
Mason grinned. “See, told ya! Now you’ll have to trust my judgment.”
Alex laughed to himself. He wondered just what Mason meant, but let it go for the time being. “Yeah, I guess so. Well, once I’ve known you longer.” Alex blurted out.
Mason nodded and took another bite of pie. Within five minutes, the dessert was gone. “Compliments to the chef!” Mason announced aloud.
Alex cringed a bit, he was drawing attention. He took his companion’s arm and pulled him back. “Dude, I think they heard you.” Alex tried not to hide his face.
Mason scowled. “Hey, if I like something, I let ‘em know it. Sorry if it embarrasses you.”
Alex recoiled a bit from the tone. He opened his mouth to speak, but again the words escaped him. He watched Mason sip his coffee and look over his shoulder out the windows. Alex shut his eyes for a moment and let out a breath. “Mason?”
“Let’s not do this whole misunderstanding thing again, alright?”
Mason’s expression went from angry to amused. He fumbled for his coffee cup and took a nervous sip. “Let’s talk about something else.”
Alex nodded in agreement. “So, what’s your last name?”
“Adams. It’s pretty common where I come from. I was born in Richmond, and my favorite food is Italian.” He paused and took a sip of coffee. “I went to the University of Virginia and graduated with honors just four years ago.”
Alex raised an impressed brow. “That’s a really hard thing to do! How’d you do it?”
Mason grinned. “It’s called not having much of a life.” The two laughed together. It was a genuine laugh, not nervous or forced at all. “I stayed and pursued a Masters degree too, so I have an MBA.”
Alex raised a brow again and toasted with his drink. “That’s great! I’m a big advocate for education. So, uh, what do you do with all that learning? I mean, what brings you to England?”
Mason laughed. “My job. I’m in sales. They ship us all over the damn globe. I got lucky enough to land the UK. I really like it here. Sometimes, there’s a nice bonus to it.” Mason raised his cup and winked at his companion.
Alex felt his pulse rise and his face blush. He turned away, a bit embarrassed by the attention.
Mason smiled.
Such perfect teeth he had. Alex couldn’t help but wonder if they were real or those fancy implants. Either way, it didn’t matter. Here was this hot guy whose attention he’d garnered. He didn’t intend on letting it go.
Mason gently tapped Alex’s knee. “Your turn. What’s your story?”
“Well, my last name is Winthrop. There’s only a few in our area. I was born in Salina, Kansas, and my favorite food is Mexican.” Alex paused and asked for a refill on his coffee. “I just graduated college, now I’m going into law school.” Mason sat up, impressed. “That’s awesome! Not to mention law school to boot? Good job! You must be your parent’s pride and joy.”
Alex tried to hide his delighted smile and shrugged. “Eh, I guess so. I knew what I wanted to be when I was a little kid. I used to hold court in my room.”
Mason chuckled. “What’s your win record?”
Alex felt a wave of cockiness. “Oh, I’m undefeated. Perry Mason of Salina.”
The two laughed together again. “Hey, like your outfit. Tried to go with the clean cut look, eh?”
Alex looked himself over. His shirt was wrinkled due to the humidity. “Well, I did look nice, earlier. Running into all those men ya know…” they chuckled lightly. “I couldn’t tell you were a salesman at all. You look like an artist, or a poet.” Mason smiled widely. “A poet, huh? Maybe do some stand up and recite my “Ode to Alex?” both men laughed.

They scooted as close as they could without falling off the stools. Alex happened to glance at the clock, it was midnight. He needed to get back to his rooming house.
“Shit! I gotta get home. I have class tomorrow!”
Mason cocked his head. “Damn.” he said in a very disappointed tone.
“Listen, why don’t we do this again tomorrow night?” Mason brightened. His posture visibly straightened and his mood cleared. “Yeah! I’d like that. You obviously know where I’m staying. Here’s the number…” Mason fumbled for a pen. “Damn, no pockets!”
Calliope saw and came over to assist. “Whatcha need, sugar?”
Mason laughed. “Can I borrow your pen?” Calliope smiled wide and looked the pair over with her huge green eyes.
“Why sure, honey. I hope it works out for you two.”
Mason quickly grabbed a napkin and scrawled the phone number and his room number. He handed the napkin to Alex and the pen back to Calliope. “Thank you. So do I.” With a wink and a loud snap of her gum, Calliope took the pen back and walked away. Mason turned back toward Alex. “Call me tomorrow; we’ll decide where to go.”
“I will.” Alex stood up to leave, pleased that Mason was following him to the lobby. Alex grinned to himself. “Thank you, Mason. I had a great time.” He looked behind him and saw that the man hadn’t left his side. Alex smiled to himself. “Walking me out?”
“Well, we mustn’t let anything happen to you.” Mason quipped. Their eyes met for a moment.
Suddenly, the loud sound of the cab’s horn startled both men. Alex had fought every bit of lust that swelled inside of him and tempered it with his logic. As much as he wanted to jump Mason right then and there, he didn’t want to appear desperate. He did the most conservative thing he could thing of. He took Mason’s hand and shook it firmly.
“Thank you again, Mason. I had a great time.”
Mason looked quite disappointed but at least seemed to understand. He held onto the hand for a moment. “Good night, Alex. I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon.” They parted ways and Alex climbed into the cab. It was a clean cab, the first he’d seen in a while.
“Driver, #8 Ivy Way.”
“#8 Ivy way, got it.” The driver echoed. He put the car into gear. Alex sat back and waved goodbye to Mason as they drove away.

Excerpt 2

The food had been wonderful and the chatting nearly incessant. The irony of the evening was their waitress was the same, sweet southern girl Calliope. Alex had barely taken his eyes off Mason all evening. He’d never felt this way before, about anyone. He wasn’t even certain what to feel, he’d have to analyze it, but not overanalyze it, as he often did. Mason found the young man highly alluring and considered his bashfulness very sexy. Alex noted the man’s attentive gaze and loved feeling those blue eyes being on him. He loved just being in this man’s company, hearing his voice, sniffing his faded cologne, trying to mentally undress him. Mason noted his boyfriend’s quizzical mode and questioned him about it. Alex smiled and bowed his head in embarrassment Alex had to shake himself back to reality when Mason repeated the question.
“Alex? Earth to Alex.”
“Hmm? Sorry, just enjoying the view.” They moved in closer and kissed softly a few times, in full view of the diner staff and patrons. A few snickered, one gasped. Mostly though, people smiled. They could tell this was a happy couple. Mason’s hand had cautiously lay to rest on Alex’s knee and slowly worked its way to mid-thigh. Alex thought for sure he would’ve jumped, but he didn’t. He welcomed the touch of the man’s large, warm hand.
Mason leaned forward and whispered to him. “How do you want this evening to end?” Alex felt his mouth go dry and his eyes bulge, as well as his pants. He’d not been prepared for that.
He stammered out a half-answer. “W-What?” he had to clear his throat.
Mason grinned and gathered the bill. He stood up to leave and motioned for Alex to join him. “Come on, it’s late.” Indeed it was, nearly midnight, the same time their first date had ended. Alex followed his date to the lobby and they stood alone in the tiled foyer. Mason cupped Alex’s chin and angled his face up to meet his. They kissed again, and Alex felt his arms wanting to explore a bit more of Mason’s anatomy. He brushed his hands quickly over his boyfriend’s fit backside, and loved what he felt. Mason was very firm and taut. Alex could only dream of what hid beneath those clothes. Mason grinned and deepened his kisses. He was not as inhibited as Alex. He quickly yet firmly cupped Alex’s small derriere in his hands and gave it a firm squeeze. Alex wanted to yelp, but found he couldn’t! He was enjoying it far too much. He decided to be a bit bolder with Mason as well, and repeated the motion. They were groping each other in this dark hotel lobby at midnight. Kiss me more and more Mason. Don’t stop! I’m not some kid anymore. I want this guy! I want to go with him! Everything in him told him he wanted to be involved with Mason.
They finally came up for air and Mason ran his fingers through Alex’s sweaty, spiked locks. “I didn’t startle you, did I?”
“No. Not at all.”
Mason’s fingers danced up and down Alex’s arms. “Come upstairs with me.”
The young man felt breathless and his throat ran dry again. He’d wondered about this moment all his young life, when the first offer would come. “Mas…”
“Alex, I want you. I’ve been thinking about you all day.”
Alex smiled to himself. Was it love? Lust? Curiosity? Whatever it was, he felt the urgent need to go with Mason. Still, his logical side battled back. “I…”
“I’ve seen the way you look at me. You want me too.”
Alex couldn’t deny that one. He felt safe and secure that all would be well. No sirens were going off in either his mind or his gut. It was the telltale sign of contentment. “Can we talk upstairs? Just talk?”
Mason grinned and pushed the button for the elevator, which opened right away. “Of course, come.”
Alex backed away suddenly. “Oh, man. I hate elevators! I think they’re like moving coffins.”
Mason took Alex’s hands. “It’s cool. I’ll keep you safe.”
Alex licked his dry lips as he stepped into the cab and took in a breath. Mason’s hand was firmly in his, and he formed a white-knuckle grip around it as they rode to their destination.

Alex finally let out his breath once they’d reached the 6th floor. He’d always been terrified of getting caught in the elevator, but admitted he wouldn’t mind at all being caught with Mason in one. They walked quickly to Mason’s room, #675. It was all the way at the end of the hallway, which was good and bad. Good so he could spend more time with Mason and bad because it was a long run to escape to the elevator. Alex barely felt the time pass as he still felt like he was sleepwalking. This was not a dream, however. It was all very real. He was finally going to end his reign as the only virgin in the house!
Mason pulled his keycard out from his wallet and unlocked the door. The door opened slowly and Mason stepped inside and flipped on the lights.

“Nice room! Where’s the bathroom?”
Mason pointed straight ahead. “Right over there.”
Alex rushed over and shut the door. He answered nature’s call and washed his hands. He looked in the mirror and saw how flushed his face was. He filled the sink with cool water and splashed it on his hot face. A knock at the door startled him.
“Alex? You fall in or something?”
“I’m fine. I’m done.”
Alex finally surfaced; he saw Mason was right there. The room had changed. The lights were dimmer and Mason was missing his tie. His crisp, white shirt was unbuttoned down to the third button; showing the tantalizing chest that lay beneath. “Join me for a drink?” Alex let out a breath. “I suppose. Thanks.”
They toasted each other silently and drank their beers. Alex glanced at the clock, it was already past midnight. He backed away from his host. “I…gotta go. I have school tomorrow.” Mason frowned. “Going so soon? You haven’t finished your beer.”
“Uh…you can have it. Good 'ol Budweiser.”
Mason pursed his lips. “Alex, do I scare you?”
Alex’s eyes grew wide. His nerves had gotten the best of him. “What? No. Not at all.” He lied. “It’s just time for me to go home.”
“The school is closer to here. Why not spend the night?” Mason moved in closer again. Alex felt his weak argument nearly wither away with every glance at the man. Mason kissed him softly.
Alex held on tightly, but forced himself away. “I…don’t have my notes.”
Mason put his hands around Alex’s small neck and massaged the supple skin. “I’d wake you up early. Just stay a while longer, Alex?”
“Mason…I don’t wanna go…” He pulled away from his companion again.
“Then don’t. Come on, just another hour.”
“I’m kinda tired actually, that nap didn’t help.”
Mason looked away and dropped his arms to his sides. “Fine, I wish you’d reconsider, but I respect your decision. Good night, Alex.”
He saw the disappointment in Mason’s eyes and fought for a better way to end this night. “You’re not pissed off, are you? I had a great time, Mason! I did!”
Mason shook his head and looked into his eyes. “Just tell me one thing, is what we did in the lobby, was that real?” he asked sternly.
“Yes! Of course it was! I’m just not ready yet. I want to, but I can’t get it all to come together.”
Mason took Alex in his arms. “I know what you need. You need a good teacher.”
“I’m sure that’s it. Look, I know you’ll be an excellent one; just, not tonight.”
Mason sighed and let the young man leave his arms again. He pouted a bit and watched Alex walk towards the door. “I’ll call you tomorrow then. We’ll meet for a drink.”
“Sounds good. You’re not mad are you?”
“No. Disappointed a bit to be honest, but I understand.” He walked up and kissed Alex deeply. “Just don’t make me wait too long. Your body is more ready than you think it is.” Alex fought the urge to begin another tactile exploratory of his boyfriend’s body. “Trust me; you’ll be the second one to know. Good night, Mason.”

Alex bolted down the hallway and down the stairwell. He sat on the bottom stair and tried to collect his thoughts. Alex had inexplicably tamed his passions so far. He didn’t want to rush anything. Still, the nagging sensation of lust pulled at him every time he looked into Mason’s blue eyes. They’d follow the eyes down to the slender nose and full lips and out to the crowning glory of thick, curly blond hair that came past his broad shoulders.
Mason was physically ideal, so what was the problem? Is it too soon? 2nd date? Was he too young? Hardly. Too scared? Possibly. Alex hadn’t allowed himself to fantasize much about sex. “Dammit! Me and my stupid timeline! What the hell’s the matter with me? I won’t lose that awesome guy!” He entertained the notion of going back upstairs and surprising Mason. He could ditch class and they’d spend the day together. No, no, no. It was all too soon. The moment had been ruined; it was too late to recapture it. Alex picked himself up and walked home.

Excerpt 3

Another month passed. It was coming near the end of Alex’s time in London with a scant four weeks left to go. His class would be wrapping up soon and any touristy places he wanted to visit, he put at the top of his priority list. This held his attention for the daytime hours. The nighttime was another matter entirely. All that consumed his thoughts during the long, dark hours was Mason being in his arms, either kissing him or sleeping. He’d often find himself awakening with a doused pair of underwear on; his thoughts had become so realistic. Almost every night a dream taunted his subconscious of having the blond man in his midst. This was becoming a bit much. He would get up countless times a night to check his email and cell phone to see if there was any communication from his beloved at all. Alex wondered if he had stepped into the curious world of obsession. He certainly showed all the symptoms. Even his wallpaper on his laptop pc was a large photo of Mason that he kept on his screen constantly. Alex would stare at it endlessly and then at his cell phone; waiting for any communication at all. Had he stepped into this dark realm? What were his true feelings? Was it all just lust or puppy love? Was it true or only perceived feelings that he was experiencing? Did he really think they could keep up this long-distance relationship? Don’t those always fail? According to his thorough research; yes, they usually do. He was determined for it to not end; but to continue well into his lifetime. He knew it was his first relationship and that he should be careful; but everything about Mason intoxicated him. His appearance, his smell, his body, his kisses, even his voice, left him begging for more. Alex watched the calendar and counted the days religiously. The day that Mason was to arrive he awoke very early. He showered, dressed, and ate. He sat on the edge of his seat in the living area downstairs; his cell phone never out of reach.

The phone rang; catching Alex off guard. He yelped as he pushed the proper button to receive the call; ignoring what number it even was.
“Hello, Alex! How are you?”
Alex smiled widely. “I’m wonderful! Ready to come to the house?” There was a long pause.
Mason finally spoke again. “Uh, Alex, I hate to tell you this. The company pulled my trip off of their itinerary; the party I was meeting was called off.”
Alex almost dropped the phone. He tried to speak, but his voice temporarily abandoned him. Mason spoke again. “I’m so sorry, hon, if it were up to me I’d be right there at this moment kissing you like mad!”
Alex found his voice again and gathered his emotions. He fought tears and clenched his free hand into a fist and leapt from the sofa in an outrage. “This sucks! This really does. I’ve been expecting you! I’ve been on pins and needles all week, awaiting your arrival. They’re not just screwing with you, it’s me too! I hate your damn company!”
“Alex, calm down! I’m sorry! What would you have me do? Come over anyway? Listen, I can’t simply jet off to London on a moments notice! It’s damn expensive and the company wouldn’t pay for it! Besides, I have responsibilities here. I don’t have mom and dad to help me with my finances; I’m a grown man!”
Alex nearly flung the phone across the room. He put the phone down for a moment and held his fist to his mouth, fighting an angry scream. After a long moment, he finally got a hold of himself again and picked up the phone. “Fine, whatever, you’re right. Why would I expect you to just drop everything to come and see me? I’m only some stupid kid you met in a bar and fucked his brains out…” Alex ended with a growl.
Mason sighed. “You know that isn’t why. If I could get there I would, but it’s out of my hands! I’m sorry, Alex!”
Alex felt his face grow hotter both from the phone’s heat and his own temper. Light tears finally battled their way through his brown eyes. “Maybe you need to get used to your hands! We need to just take this as a break. This long-distance thing is not going to work out.”
Mason fell silent for a moment.
Alex held his breath in the tense moment. He reseated himself on the very edge of the sofa.
“I don’t want to stop seeing you. If you do, then it’s your decision, not mine. I care for you and want to be with you.”
“Then get your fuckin ass over here!”
“I can’t! I just told you I can’t! Will you listen to me? Even if I could borrow the money somehow; I couldn’t just take off from work without any notice. That is a very long plane ride from here. Let’s be reasonable, Alex. Please.”
Alex cleared his face and took a few deep breaths. His logical side was trying to take over again. He had to analyze everything. It was beginning to sink in with every moment that passed. Finally, after a very long minute-and-a-half pause; Alex spoke again. “Mas?”
“I leave here in four weeks.”
“I know. I think we’ll have better luck once you’re home.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. Dammit, I hate this whole situation, but I have to agree with you. We’ll wait until we’re home. Shit, you sure you still want to date someone so young and naïve?”
“Relax. You’ll survive. You’re a tough lil Kansas man. Bye for now, Alex.”
“Bye, Mason.” Alex hung up. “Dammit, Mason, I love you so much. Why can’t either one of us say it? Unless…stop. Stop thinking that way!” Alex shook his head and leaned back on the chair.
The door opened, it was Paolo. Alex dried off his face quickly and turned on the television.
“Paolo.” The two said coldly to each other.
“Thought your boyfriend was coming into town.”
Alex shot his roommate a look, and replied. “His trip got cancelled at the last minute. I won’t see him again until we get home.”
“Oh, introducing him to mommy and daddy, are we? They don’t even know that you’re gay! How are they gonna handle that?”
Alex scowled and leered at his friend. “Look, pal. My parents are none of your business. Come to think of it, none of this is your business, so back off!” He pushed Paolo’s shoulder. The Spaniard didn’t push back.
“You naïve kid, I bet you’re gonna hole up in your room now for the rest of the trip, just you and your hand!”
“You shut the fuck up! I won’t be alone like you!” Alex screamed. He pushed Paolo again and bolted past him to his room upstairs.

The final four weeks were spent studying and being a homebody. Alex’s roommate Jake left a week early. He’d found a nice Swedish girl that he wanted to pursue further. Paolo, whom hadn’t spoken to him in weeks, finally broke down and suggested a truce. They chatted over dinner.
“Dude, we gotta end this. I’m sorry I yelled at you, Alex. I had no right.”
“Hey, you had every right! I was raving on and on about him and here you are, alone. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”
Paolo shrugged. “That’s cool. At least you got some time alone. Has he called you?”
“Oh yeah, every other day, I can’t wait to see him again. That way I can keep an eye on him at home. I’m gonna ask him to move in with me!”
Paolo nearly dropped his fork and slapped his hand on his forehead. “You made that up, right? Are you insane?”
Alex scowled. “Yeah, why not? Seize the day! I’m in love with that dude! I know he is with me.”
“Oh really, has he ever told you that?”
Alex averted his eyes and cleared his throat. “Uh, well no, not exactly.”
“You don’t even know? How can you plan a future if you have no idea how he feels about you?”
“Hey, guys aren’t the best at letting their feelings be known! Don’t you know that?” Paolo shook his head. “Don’t be an ass again! I know how men are, you bet I do! I know my cousin is dying from AIDS from one of those men! I have a good friend that got mixed up with the wrong guy and did all kinds of drugs. He overdosed on one of their ‘dates’. Yeah, I know how guys are. Guys are horrible!”
“Is that why you never have a date? You stay away from all men?” Alex asked wryly.
Alex laughed. “Well, I’m sure there’s a nice place in the monastery for you. The rest of us will be out there wondering whatever happened to the soccer player.”
Paolo clenched his fists and stood up, towering over the table. “Is that all I am to you, the soccer player? Maybe the chef too? Wow, you have a low opinion of people, don’t you? You love the ones who don’t love you and…”
Alex suddenly looked up and swore he saw Paolo’s eyes water. He leaned forward. “And what?”
Paolo held up his hands in a “time-out” symbol and leaned over the table. He reached for his napkin and wiped off his mouth. He shoved his chair under the table violently, shaking the table. “You know what? Never mind. I’ve said too much. I hope you end up happy while you can. You think you know everything. Later, Alex.” He bolted up to his room.
Alex got up quickly and ran to the stairs. “Paolo get back down here! Paolo!” He heard the door slam shut. He threw his napkin on the floor and kicked the staircase. “Dammit. Fine! Be that way!”

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Counterpoint: Dylan's Story excerpt by Ruth Sims

In Counterpoint: Dylan's Story by Ruth Sims, the setting is the romantic city of Paris. Dylan, in Paris to study music without his father’s knowledge, gets reacquainted with the teacher he had fallen head over heels in love with his last year at The Venerable Bede School for Young Gentlemen. His feelings had come as a shock to Laurence Northcliff, the teacher, who had left the school to pursue writing in Paris. No longer teacher and student, they both decide there’s no hindrance to being friends. Of course Dylan has more in mind that being friends. All he has to do is work a scheme to get his way.

Counterpoint: Dylan's Story
Dreamspinner Press (July 12, 2010)


Dylan’s life settled into a pleasant, productive routine. Mondays and Fridays, he went to Naszados. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, he worked alone, concentrating on his music until his head pounded. Rob, though still as mystified as ever by Dylan’s devotion to his dream, persuaded the hotel manager to grant Dylan the use of the ballroom piano. Dylan told himself that Rob was a good friend and he didn’t appreciate him nearly enough.

Friday nights and Saturdays, Dylan and Laurence attended a play, opera, symphony, ballet, or sometimes just joined an informal gathering of Laurence’s friends. He knew an astonishing number of people of all kinds: rich and poor, painters, musicians, shop girls, poets and barbers, and people without identifiable occupations or discernable morals. Without exception they had great affection and respect for Laurence. Dylan gradually became at ease among them, and though he liked Madame Daumier well enough, he wished she were not present nearly everywhere they went. He knew his first impression had been right: Ivy Daumier was in love with Laurence.

So was a woman who lived at 58 Rue de Savies. She was a plain woman, with a loud, coarse voice, a demimondaine, as Laurence delicately put it. Laurence treated her with the same kindness he treated everyone. The woman, Josephine Marie, brought well-meant but inedible cakes to Laurence every Saturday and looked accusingly at Dylan whenever she found him there.

On sunny Sundays, he and Laurence went to the Bois de Boulogne, where they rented horses and enjoyed the miles of bridle paths. Rather, Laurence enjoyed them and Dylan faked enthusiasm; Dylan and horses had never been on good terms and it was damnably difficult to maintain one’s dignity when one’s arse felt as if it had been beaten raw and one’s thighs had turned to quivering gelatin.

Dylan thought often of Laurence’s statement that their new status was “not very” like the old days. There seemed to be only one thing they never talked about; with every hour they spent together, Dylan became more determined that they would talk about it. And he intended to do more than talk. They went one night to see Lucia di Lammermoor, and the tragic beauty of the acting and the music left a residue of emotion.

In the gig, in the darkness, Dylan put one hand on Laurence’s knee, crossed the fingers of his other hand, and said, “I have to tell you something. Will you promise to listen?” Laurence said he would. Dylan’s heart pounded as he blurted, “You said yourself I’m not your student anymore. I’m a grown man and I know what I want from life. I know what I want from you. I’m not putting it very well, but… damn it all, do you know what I’m trying to say?”

“Yes.” Laurence’s voice was low, calm, serious.

Dylan moved closer on the seat, until he felt the heat of Laurence’s thigh against his own. “What is it about you that makes me persist in making a fool of myself?”

There was the hint of amusement in Laurence’s voice. “Dear boy, you don’t need my help to make a fool of yourself. You’re more than capable of doing it all alone.”

“I think you just insulted me,” Dylan said. “But I forgive you.” The horse turned its ears toward their soft laughter. “I want to go to bed with you. Tonight. Now.”

Laurence looked at him. There was enough moonlight edging through the clouds that Dylan could see the shadowed hollows of his eye sockets and the silvered planes of his face. “Yes,” Laurence said.

“Just like that?” Dylan was dumfounded. He had been prepared to argue, seduce, or coax, whatever he had to do. “Just… like that?” he repeated and heard the surprise in his voice. Laurence uttered a shout of laughter and slapped the reins against the horse’s rump. The nag picked up the pace. It took only a few minutes to reach the narrow street, only a few more minutes to return the horse and gig to the livery stable and walk the short distance to the house, but it seemed like a very long time to Dylan.

Inside the parlor, with the only light being that of the flickering street lamp just outside the window, Laurence turned to him. “I’ve wanted it, too. Ever since you kissed me at Bede.”

“Mr. Northcliff, Sir, you are just full of surprises! You could have let me know a bit sooner.” This time the kiss was deep and hard and demanding. Not until that instant did it occur to Dylan that he had never kissed anyone but Laurence. He never wanted to stop.

Laurence stumbled backward against the door, pulling Dylan with him, their mouths still together until they broke apart, gasping for air. “Dylan, I don’t—I don’t have much—experience. The truth is, my love… I know about as much as a turnip.”

Dylan looked deep into the blue eyes he had dreamed about; in the semi-darkness, with wide pupils, they looked black. My love. Emotion shook him as Laurence touched his face with trembling fingertips. My love. Love. So this was what love felt like—being willing to die for just one more touch, being willing to wait for the rest if needs be. This was not Rob, ready at all times for mindless shagging that would be over and forgotten in minutes. Dylan held Laurence’s palm against his lips and said against the soft flesh, “Then I must play at being teacher.”
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Monday, July 5, 2010

Forest of Corpses excerpt P A Brown

The title Forest of Corpses, by P A Brown, comes from the German phrase for The Body Farm, translated back into English.

In this sequel to Georgraphy of Murder, welcome to the Los Padres Wilderness Forest. The vacation place from hell. A trip meant to bring two lovers closer together instead leaves Alex and Jason on the run for their lives from a deadly drug cartel.

A Forest of Corpses
ManLoveRomance Press (June, 2010)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-163-1 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-164-8 (ebook)



Nobody died today.

That's a good day in my books, but I knew it wouldn't last.

Westside had a major hard on for Eastside. War was brewing. Fideo and his WS crew shot up the East Beach, then a week later, on Memorial Day, did the same at a market on Anacapa Street. That time their aim had improved. They dropped two Eastside bangers and a ten-year-old boy out buying milk for his grandmother. Both OGs made it. The kid didn't. Chalk it up to collateral damage from the drug war.

We canvassed the market and caught a couple of witnesses who saw the whole thing. So we nailed Fideo along with two members of his posse, and tossed their cholo butts in jail. Fideo lawyered up with a good uptown legal beagle, but still sat in lockup, no bail. Then another drive-by took out witness one. Suddenly our only remaining witness "made a mistake." The paperwork wasn't dry before the scrotes were back in the hood and the witness was in hiding. Fideo rode with his ese through his hood, crowing how he beat 5-0. His street creds firmly embellished by his latest exploits, he was back, and he was stronger.

And took up his business of dealing drugs, death and taxes without losing a night's sleep.

Miguel, my new partner, snapped his frustration. "How can we stop these people if no one will testify against them?"

I shrugged. "It bites, I agree. But look at it from their side. Hard to testify from a pine box."

"God will take care of them."

"Right." I rolled my eyes, making sure he couldn't see the gesture. "I'm sure Mr. Gillespie's family feel the same way." Gillespie had been witness number one, a businessman leaving a wife and two young kids behind. He told me when I interviewed him the first time he had to talk. That it wasn't right that these men could terrorize a neighborhood and get away with it. What kind of example did that set for his kids? Well, I guess his kids learned a valuable lesson there. But probably not the one their old man wanted to give. We had gone to Gillespie's funeral yesterday, per department regulations. Not surprising, no one from Westside showed or sent their condolences. Not that there was much we could have done if they had. As usual, we had no proof that put any Westside banger anywhere near the vicinity of Gillespie's untimely death. What we had were two bullets from a 9 mil that couldn't be tied to any other crimes. A clean gun for a clean hit.

There was a time when my frustration level would have surpassed Miguel's. Those days are long gone. First thing you learn on the job, leave it at the station. Taking it home with you is the surest way to give yourself high blood pressure and a date with your own duty weapon, or your cardiologist.

There was a time I used to share my world with dead people. The homicides I couldn't solve would follow me home and make me hold them in my memory. The more brutal they were, the more they clung to me, needing closure I couldn't give them.

Then Jason burst into my life, unasked and unlooked for. I hooked him up and tossed his ass in jail for the murder of a man it turned out he'd never met. A lot of people would have flipped me the bird for what I did, but Jason wasn't like that. There wasn't a vengeful bone in his perfect body. Instead, once he was released from jail, we'd gone out to dinner, ended up back at my place with my dick up his ass, and my heart in his hands. I realized then I never wanted to let this guy go. It took me months to be able to admit my feelings to myself, let alone to Jason. Then, I damn near fucked what we had up permanently when my petty jealousy turned me into a dangerous fool. It probably would have served me right if Jay had told me to fuck off when I got up the nerve to follow him to Los Angeles. He didn't, and here we are, two months later, sharing a bed and a bath, and hopefully, a future.

Sometimes my dead people still come around to stalk my dreams, but now there's an anchor to hold onto when I wake up in a cold sweat, with my heart pounding and my mouth dry with unspoken fear; there to whisper soothing words, not press me for explanations I was loathe to give anyone. Even for Jason I didn't show weakness.

He gave me back my life. So why can't I give him the one thing he wants? Because I'm a fucking coward who's afraid of losing control again? Afraid? Fuck that. Alexander Spider isn't afraid of anything. Or anyone.

The morning after Gillespie's funeral I got up before Jason. Dressing after my shower, I stood over our bed, studying him while I buttoned my shirt. Sometime during the night he had kicked his covers off exposing his delicious butt, and all I had to do was reach out and stroke the peach soft skin. I knew my touch would instantly wake him up, and I had no trouble imagining those sleepy eyes falling on me and that slow, sexy smile he only gave to me. We'd both been too tired last night to do anything but fall into bed. There was nothing sleepy about my body now. My dick pressed painfully against my briefs and I shifted, trying to ease the sudden constriction.

I knew he didn't have any classes until ten, so unlike me, he didn't have to get up at this God-forsaken hour. For one hot minute I almost gave in, ready to tumble him over onto his stomach and spread his legs, no questions, no words. It would take me two seconds to pull my cock out, another two to be inside him. It would be rough, but rough didn't bother Jason. Neither did the bareback sex we now indulged in since our last tests had given us both clean slates. Just the thought of my naked dick inside him made my balls ache and tighten. I knew he'd submit to me willingly, hell, eagerly, but a part of me always held back. When I was tempted to let go, like I knew he wanted, all I could do was see him hanging from my straps, barely conscious as I punished him for a sin he never committed. I had done us both harm that night. I was still paying for it.

I let my hand fall to my side, then with a muttered curse, spun around and left the room, carefully shutting the door behind me. Tonight, I'd make sure I wasn't too tired when we went to bed. Then I'd do it right. Something we'd both remember in a good way.

As usual, I beat Miguel in on Monday morning. I guess Bible study kept him up at night. I barely glanced at my newly assigned, wet-behind-the-ears partner when he arrived, and still managed to think black thoughts. Though I kept telling myself my former partner, now boss, Nancy Pickard hadn't deliberately assigned Miguel Dominguez, savior of sinners and sodomites alike, to me for some do-him-good-reason or, God forbid, do-me-good reason. She would never be so cruel. So far I'd kept him at arm's length, and he seemed content to read his Bible to himself during coffee breaks. But ever since we had been assigned as a team, there had been a growing furrow between his eyes that deepened every day. His brown eyes had a decidedly hornet-mad look, as though he wondered just what that brown stuff was he had landed in, and how much longer he'd have to put up with it. I'll give him one thing, he was too professional to voice his feelings aloud. Which is about the only thing that made me think this partnership might work. I didn't want to get into a pissing contest with the guy, but I was the boss here, and he'd better not challenge that.

I pulled a nine-day-old blue crime book out from under a stack of files folders and unfiled reports, and opened it to the first page. I tapped my booted foot on the scuffed linoleum floor while I studied the chrono report, which included the transcript of the original 9-1-1 call. The call that had brought out the first uniformed cops early one morning nine days ago, and marked the beginning of our, so far fruitless investigation, that had come in at oh-four-fifteen. An hysterical woman, later ID'd as Rebecca Long, had called from Milpas Market, reporting shots fired.

I flipped through the CR, the one I put together from the reports I had collected from everyone involved in the case, from the first responder who had answered the original 9-1-1 call, to the second one that had come in last night.

First officers on the scene after that first call, a rookie and his training officer, had discovered a cooling corpse in the back stall of an East Beach rest stop, where the homeless often hung out during the day. It was the first call Miguel and I had gone on together. Our third homicide to date. It was our first unsolved. The other two were down as closed, but with no convictions in sight, not very satisfactory. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

I flipped the page. A booking photo of the old, dead black man, from a previous arrest for vagrancy, stared up at me, showing serious signs of the chronic alcohol abuse and malnutrition that marked him even then as one of the multitude of Santa Barbara's homeless. So what had possessed someone to put a pair of slugs into a man who had nothing and whose biggest offense was probably his hygiene – or lack of it? I'd probably never know what was behind this senseless killing. But I'd be happy tossing the mutt who was responsible into Pelican Bay for the duration of his miserable life.

Of course I had to find the guy first. And the problem with crimes that had no obvious motive, was there were also no obvious suspects.

I dragged a yellow legal pad over and dug a Bic out of the chipped coffee mug I used as a pen caddy. Chewing on the already battered end, and tapping my restless foot on the floor, I read through report after report, studying the crime scene photos and scene sketches, notes I had jotted, notes from Miguel and everyone we had interviewed. Finally I scanned the twenty-page autopsy report, trying to niggle out the one overlooked detail that would give me the lead I needed to clear this case. It wasn't there. Or maybe my mind couldn't focus.

Against my wishes, it kept going back to this morning's missed opportunity. I had met Jason seven months ago. After a rocky beginning, we had become lovers and, I thought, friends. Then a couple of months ago we'd taken the next step and moved in together, something I hadn't done with anyone in over five years. Something I gather Jason had never done. We were still feeling our way around that. Still in the honeymoon phase, I guess you could say. I only had to remember this morning to bring that home. I couldn't remember a time or a person who had made me feel the way Jason did. Sometimes that made me nervous. I had one failed marriage behind me. I wasn't sure I was ready for another one, even with someone as perfect as Jason Zachary. I also knew there was no way I was ready to send him away. By this time I sported a low grade, painful erection as I thought about the sounds he made with my prick down his throat, or pumping up his ass. I shifted in my chair, trying to give space to my swelling dick. I tried to concentrate on the words and images in front of me, using the tip of the pen to guide my wandering eyes over the pages of the murder book, and the excruciatingly detailed coroner's report. Hard to believe more detail could go into a man's death than he'd ever earned in his life.

My efforts to forget Jason weren't working. They rarely did.

I squinted and stared harder, as though I could force some meaning to come from the combination of words in front of me. A shadow fell between me and the nearest light source. Even before I looked up, I knew who it was.

I glared over my glasses at Lieutenant Nancy Pickard, my boss and ex-partner.

"You ever consider getting reading glasses there, Detective? Or maybe bifocals?"

"I don't need no fucking bifocals," I snapped, since the same thought had been going through my head. But that would mean admitting I was getting old, and I wasn't ready to go there. I was barely thirty-three—hardly old, right? "Did you want something, Lieutenant?"

"What are you looking at?" She leaned over to study the pages of the murder book. I leaned away from her, my arms crossed over my chest. "Which one is this?" she asked.

"The Isaac Simpson case."

"The homeless guy in the john?"

"That's the one."

"Any new thoughts on it?"

I braced my booted feet on the floor and unfolded my arms to lean toward her. "No." I tapped my chewed up pen on the page we were both staring at, the one that detailed the autopsy report for the hapless Simpson. "This might give us something." I pointed to the recording of the 9-1-1 call. "Not sure what this is yet." I filled her in on the circumstances of the call.

"Let's hear it."

I signaled Miguel to come around and join us. Once he was standing behind Nancy, I punched the on button. A scratchy smoker's voice barely identifiable as female came out of the speakers. The voice was low and indistinct. I'd have to send it down to the lab to see what they could do with the quality. But for now all three of us strained to make out the mumbled words.

"They're the devil, Momo. He didn't have to die. It wasn't right. He promises he stop them." The voice went off muttering and mumbling into incoherence. Then, "Stop them." A wail like a thousand cats being tortured made me wince and pull back. Nancy did the same. Only Miguel didn't react. His eyes narrowed when they met mine.

"Who is Momo?" he asked.

"The victim?" I said. "Isaac Simpson? Her invisible playmate?"

"Any idea who the caller was?" Nancy asked.

I shook my head. "Call came from a payphone near Milpas Market. Maybe another witness? I was going to head out there this morning." I threw another look at Miguel, who watched me without blinking. He nodded once, then spun around and returned to his desk. "You and me," I said across our desk.

Nancy looked pleased. "See that I get a report ASAP."

Since I doubted anyone higher up was breathing down her neck on this DB, this had to be personal. Face it, Mr. Isaac Simpson would barely register on any one radar in city hall. I knew for a fact none of the local news media had gone beyond a mention of the homicide on their back pages. Simpson, one of the homeless nobodies, came and went in the city's awareness.

"Will do," I said, more determined, like Nancy, to find the man's killer. I don't like it when people die in my city. I like it less when no one seems to notice, or care, about their passing.

"Well, I hate to be the one to say it, but don't get locked too tight into this one. How many others are you working on?"

I glanced over at Miguel, who I knew was still watching us and listening in on our little tête-à-tête, like any good partner would. So I directed my next question at him. "How many we on now, Miguel? Total."

"Eleven, including that one. Most ag-assaults, four rapes, one attempted rape. A failed drive-by. Only three homicides – our two drive-bys and this one."

"You wish it was more?"

"No!" He looked furious as though my question disgusted him. It was the strongest emotion I'd seen from him since we'd been partnered. He threw his hands up as if pushing me away. "How can you say that?"

"Just wondering." I threw Nancy a look and found her frowning at me. Okay, baiting my new partner wasn't cool. "I'm going to keep looking at this one for now. It is our only active homicide."

"Just don't neglect your other cases, okay?"

"We wouldn't dream of it, would we?" I directed that to Miguel.

"No, we won't, sir. We'll take care of all our cases, Lieutenant."

Nancy looked amused. "Carry on, then."

She returned to her office and shut the door. Nancy practiced an open door policy most of the time, but when it was time do the political dance with her bosses, she kept the rest of us out of the loop. For which I was very thankful. That was her game. Not mine. I threw a shrewd glance at Miguel, who watched me with that hawk-like gaze of his that looked a lot like the one I used. I wasn't too sure about the loyalties of my newest partner.

In fact, I was beginning to suspect he was a very political animal, with about as much loyalty as one, which was going to make an interesting partnership in the weeks and months ahead. How much could I trust the guy?

Nancy came out of her office. She bent down and spoke briefly to Miguel, who nodded and picked up his phone. She came around to my desk, looking pensive. She leaned toward me, her feet planted wide. Her look was grim. Had she figured out what I was thinking? Sometimes I swore my newest boss was a mind reader. Not a pleasant thought.

She jerked her head at her office. "Can we talk?"

I followed her in and watched pensively as she shut the door.

"Something up, Lieutenant?"

"You could say that," she said, then fell silent. She stared at the stack of papers on her desk beside the phone that could connect her to every division and half of the city's emergency services, if the need arose.

I waited, standing at parade rest. Watched her scribble a signature on a form and shove the paper into her out basket. I waited some more. Finally I glanced at my watch. It was nearly four-thirty.

Even though I swore she wasn't looking at me, she saw where my eyes went. She instantly straightened. "Got a hot date, Spiderman?"

"Jesus, didn't I ask you not to call me that?"

She fiddled with the papers on her desk, shuffling them in some order that didn't mean anything to me, but must have been important to her. She put them back down decisively. "And don't I usually ignore you?"

I knew Jason would be getting home from UCSB soon, and would be getting supper on in anticipation of my arrival. He might be getting something else on too, like the skin-tight leather pants I had recently purchased for his last birthday, along with some other gear, so maybe I was going home to a hot date. Not that I'd ever tell her that. There are definitely some things your boss should not know.

"What I've got is an empty stomach," I said to fill the silence and keep her talking. "And I have a yen to fill it."

"Gotcha. I just got off the phone with the University. They're looking for a guest lecturer to give a series on crime scene processing for their first year criminal justice students. They asked me to see if any of my men might be interested."

"And you thought of me? Why?"

"Since Robertson retired, you're my most experienced detective. There's Paige, but he's more of a gang expert. These people want an all around investigative pro. I agreed to find someone. Plus, I thought it would be good PR for us."

It never hurt to have someone in the public sector look positively on our little corner of the world. I could see where her devious mind was going. But did I want to follow it?

"Me, teach?" I thought about it and frowned. "Me?"

"You're personable, behind that stone wall you put up to keep us all out. And you're professional. Both good qualities. Besides," she grinned, relaxing into the Nancy I had partnered with for so many years before her promotion, "Don't you want to influence the next crop of LEOs?"


"Good. I'll let them know you'll meet with their department head tomorrow to plan out your curriculum. I'm sure she has some ideas she wants to run by you."

"Oh does she? Lucky me." I knew it was a done deal and sighed. I guess I was going to be a teacher. "God help us all."

I was thoughtful on my way home. It wasn't something I would have sought out, but now that it was in my lap, so to speak, I was intrigued by the idea of teaching.

By the time I pulled into the drive behind Jason's Honda, there was a bounce in my step. Jason was in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on chicken mole, grilled potatoes and asparagus. My boy had gotten a lot more adventuresome in the kitchen of late. I patted the soft mound of my belly and knew I was going to have to do something about that. Maybe start spending more time at the station gym, or join Jason on his numerous walks through the back hills above our place.

I came up behind him, took a moment to admire his trim ass encased in hot black leather, remembering what it had looked like this morning, and slipped my hand between his legs. I grabbed his balls at the same time as I pressed my lips on his neck. He smelled of herbs and apple and tasted just as good. A pulse jumped like a skittering mouse under my lips, and I licked him.

He jumped and spun around, holding a potholder in one hand, his face suffused with a flush.

"Alex! I didn't hear you."

"Good." I hauled him against my chest and went in for another taste. My own pulse thundered as our tongues tangled in a deeply satisfying kiss. We were both breathing hard when I broke away. "So, when are you going to feed me, boy?"

"Twenty minutes."

I swatted his butt. "Good. Time enough for a shower."

Dinner was excellent, as I'd come to expect. Jason had selected a fine Syrah for our dinner wine. We both had one glass. I no longer overindulged; a promise I had made to myself and Jason in the aftermath of that violent explosion fueled by jealousy and alcohol. It was hard enough controlling the jealousy, I didn't dare add booze to the mix anymore. Jason always followed my lead in everything we did.

I spent most of the meal with a swollen dick pressed against my thigh. The remainder of the evening we lounged on the leather sofa in front of the TV, watching Lauren Bacall films. Jason nestled, half asleep under my arm, his hand firmly planted between my legs as Bacall and Bogart found their way in a hostile world.

Over a Mexicali beer I ordered him to get, I told him about my offer.

"You're going to be a teacher?"

"Tweed jacket, corn cob pipe and all."

He grinned up at me from the shelter of my arms. "Sexy professor."

"You think?"

"I know." He outlined the shape of my swelling dick though my jeans. "When do you start?"

"I go talk to someone tomorrow. I guess I'll find out then."

"I think you'd be a good teacher." He withdrew his hand and sat up. Then he dropped his first bombshell of the evening. "I'd like us to take a vacation. I'd say we both have lots to celebrate."

I had visions of Vegas or Hawaii. Sun, sand, a little gambling, hot sex. We'd never gone anywhere together. Then he dropped his second bombshell.

"I'd like to go camping. Hiking in the Rafael Wilderness area."

Hiking? Wilderness? That sounded ominous. The wildest thing I'd ever done was at the police softball game years ago between the Santa Barbara PD and the fire guys, where a few of us smuggled in flasks of whiskey, sneaking them behind the outfield bleachers, where we traded war stories between innings.

He seemed to sense my unease. I could see the eagerness on his face, the need to convince me. He really wanted this. Was I going to give it to him? "You're always telling me you want to get more active. It's great exercise."

"Yes, I suppose it is."

"Trust me. It'll be fun."

Anyone else said that and I'd scoff. I knew better than to trust anyone. But this was Jason. He looked so damned earnest. I considered what it would mean to agree. I still had doubt, so I said, "Well, I might consider it."

"At least try it for a week." His eyes were fixed on me. He only dropped his gaze when I frowned. He chewed on his lower lip.

"A week, huh? How about a weekend?"

"Weekend's not long enough to do any real hiking. We need a week at least. What can it hurt?"

At least he hadn't suggested an ocean cruise, knowing how I felt about water. I frowned. Idly, my free hand traced the outline of his ear under his shaggy hair. "Let me think about it."

He knew better than to argue with me.

"Sure," he said. His soft, sexy eyes lasered into mine. "Bed?"

We didn't make it that far. We rarely did.

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