Archives for December 2012

Review: The Reluctant Santa

Reviewed by Shelly

Yeah, Christmas is here and how do we know this? Other than the absolute craziness of our busy lives, the Christmas themed stories are out in full force. Well folks, I’ve got a good one here for you.

Colin McDermott is a self described Grinch who’s allergic to Christmas and everything surrounding it. By day, he’s a workaholic salesman for a software company, and by night, he’s an unsuspecting Santa. In order to win a coveted contest and the associated promotion Colin unknowingly goes to pitch his spiel to the small hospital where his ex-girlfriend from college works. Brooke Warren, Colin’s ex, is the assistant administrator at Crystal Mountain General Hospital. She has a five-year-old daughter and absolutely no friends outside of work. These two ex-lovers are accidentally (or is it?) reunited after six years. I was completely and totally hooked by the end of chapter one.

Suckered into playing Santa ‘for the children’ by Amelia Carter, event planner extraordinaire and all around donation guru, Colin grudgingly puts on the suit and goes to work. Poor emotionally stunted my-mother-didn’t-love-me Colin is so focused on making his first million he’s willing to do just about anything to get ‘er done, including putting on the dreadful Santa gear. While he’s playing it up to the kids, Colin meets a very special little girl. I really liked Colin, although he’s conflicted after meeting Brooke and her daughter again, all he wants to do is the right thing. How can you not like a guy like that?!?

Brooke was a great character, even though she had some issues – mainly stemming from her single-minded focus of raising her kids– that I really kinda sorta felt sorry for her. This made her come off as one dimensional without interest or aspirations outside of raising her daughter. Don’t think I’m being mean hearted here.. her retired father was there to help her as much or as little as she wanted, so it wasn’t like she couldn’t take a night off and hang out with people her own age. Even with all that, I still enjoyed her. She and Colin really sparked on the pages. You could feel love/ hate/ anger/ love/ hate/ anger/ love as these two fell in love. Very well done.

The only complaint I have about this story is that the long-term situation that brings these two back into each others lives is repeated way too much.

The sex is pretty tame, the word ‘center’ is as naughty as it gets. If you’re for a nice quick treat for the holiday, I would definitely recommend that you pick this one up and give it a try.

Happy Reading folks!

Rating: B

*Book provided by author for review 

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Reluctant Santa
by Sylvia McDaniel
Release Date: October 19, 2012
Publisher: Virtual Bookseller

Review: Crimson Frost

Reviewed by Jen

I think this is the strongest installment so far in Jennifer Estep’s Mythos Academy series. It’s also the second book of hers this year that has left me feeling emotionally fragile.

The story starts off in a good place for Gwen, despite the fact that Loki is now free and ready start a Chaos War. That’s because she and Logan are finally together. After much angst and a great deal of waiting, they have both admitted their feelings to one another and are going on their first date. From there, though, everything starts to go downhill… fast.

Before the date even ends, members of the Mythos governing body –the Protectorate—place Gwen under arrest. She is accused of freeing Loki intentionally and a trial date is set. The student body turns against her; a guilty verdict seems a foregone conclusion. Making the situation worse, Gwen knows that the Reapers have something even worse on the horizon. But how can she beat them when her own future hangs in the balance?

I liked the whole Protectorate storyline. The leader, Linus, is such a dick. His righteous rhetoric is played to perfection. I love how he’s all tied in with Logan and how that plays into Gwen’s life even more. I enjoyed the new character Alexi and his surprising link to Gwen’s band of friends. The action was great. Gwen’s emotional turmoil was great. The bigger picture is advanced. And the end… well, let’s not linger too much on the end. Suffice it to say that Jennifer Estep likes making us work for our happy moments. I guess we’re not done working yet.

I had a pretty good inkling who things were going to go south for about halfway through the book, but didn’t find the other elements of the climax to be very predictable. I just wish we could get a little more of a mature dynamic in the relationship department. It doesn’t have to be dirty or anything, but it feels very innocent for 17. (Maybe this would be less bothersome for folks who are bigger YA fans. I read these because I love Estep… not necessarily the genre.)

Gwen is getting stronger and stronger. While in some of the past books that has played out with her magical gifts, here it’s a different kind of strength, the internal kind. I hope she wipes the floor with those Reapers in Midnight Frost.

Rating: B

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon 
  Crimson Frost
by Jennifer Estep
Release Date: December 24, 2012
Publisher: Kensington

Review: Undercover Professor

Reviewed by Allison

Dr. Drew Sullivan is a famous sexy gaming sociology professor (so many oxymorons in one place) who is looking to do a social experiment about female gamers, but since everyone knows him in Portland, Oregon he decides to move clear across country to Wisconsin. There he can simultaneously help his mom out after hip surgery and gain the anonymity that he needs in order to get the most accurate results possible from his interviews as “Andy” Sullivan – the scruffy yet amiable drifter. Which is when he meets Lucy Benoit, and his life gets both more fun and complicated all at once.

Lucy can’t help but be drawn to the sexy guy she met in the laundry room downstairs, but she’s got strict rules to follow:

Rule Number One: Must not lie.
Rule Number Two: Must not live with parents.
Rule Number Three: Must have a job.
Rule Number Four: Must not be a friend’s ex.

They are set in place for a very good reason… which seems to fly out of her mind every time she finds herself in the same place as him.

As they become closer as friends, the pull between them is not something they can deny…but how can it last when he can’t tell her who he really is and she hates lying more than anything?

I really enjoyed the characters in this story. They both did a lot of growing up (which every reader appreciates) as they learned a lot from each other as well as the relationship itself.

Andy was incredibly endearing in the way that he took such good care of his mom and, even when he doesn’t mean to, of Lucy. He may have been an alpha male but he was a sweet and nerdy one. Although Lucy’s family was clearly nutso, I enjoyed her crazy cousin (well, when she wasn’t trying to land Andy) and am glad she ended up with who she did.

With a very emotional conclusion, the story wraps up with a smile on your face and a new author in your pocket! Definitely recommend this debut tale and as Shelly always says – Happy Reading!

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Carina Press via NetGalley 

Click to purchase: Amazon
  Undercover Professor
by December Gephart
Release Date: November 19, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

Review: All I Want for Christmas Is a Duke

Reviewed by Jen

This duology features two fantastic novellas, featuring historical Christmas romances.  I would absolutely recommend, since I adored them both.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs Robinson” – I really, really enjoyed this one!! Years ago, Jane fell in love with a secret admirer.  A man who called himself only Mr. X sent her beautiful letters… letters she responded to in kind.  She had no idea they were coming from Martin, a younger friend who never believed she would return his affection if she knew who she was.  When an older, dashing man came forward, claiming to be Mr. X, Jane believed him and married him.  It only took a couple of weeks for his lies to surface and for Jane to demand a divorce.  Only, her husband dropped dead before he could grant her wish.

It’s been eight years since that happened.  Martin, who left town when Jane got married, is back.  And circumstances bring him back into Jane’s life.  This time, however, he refuses to hide who he is and how he feels.  Can they find love after all that has happened?

This story was so good!  The characters were so engaging. It’s impossible not to root for Martin as reaches for his dream of a life with Jane.  The sexual tension is palpable. The sex is hot.  And in just 100 pages or so, Delilah Marville had me completely emotionally invested in their future.  Loved.

“The 12 Days of Seduction” – The day Adrianna has long dreaded has finally come to pass.  Her employer has finally learned about her past and real identity. She had adopted a softer, more proper, persona as governess to Alexander’s daughter.  The position, and the child, have come to mean the world to her.  But all is not lost. Alexander wants her as his mistress. She challenges him to seduce her and as he works to do that, he ends up peeling back the layers of Adrianna’s true self she has hidden for so long.

Adrianna has worked hard to shed her horrible past, and she is a good person. I loved watching Alexander discover what a treasure she is. Just the right combination of romance and sensuality, this novella really hit the spot.

It’s rare for a novella to truly satisfy for me, but both of these really did.  I was already a fan of Marvelle, but now I won’t hesitate to try more from Clairmont.

Rating: B+

*ARC Provided by Entangled via NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
All I Want for Christmas Is a Duke
by Delilah Marvelle & Marie Claremont
Release Date: December 5, 2012
Publisher: Entangled Publishing

Review: Plenty of Love

Reviewed by Shelly

This is not my first read by this author, but it is the first read that I’ve liked.

Hair salon owner Becca Parks has fallen for orthopedic surgeon Mark Miller and attorney Travis Andrews. Mark and Travis are already a couple and have been for fifteen years. For the last five years, they’ve been on the lookout for a third, specifically a woman, and believe that they’ve found her in Becca.

I’m going to have to assume that there’s some back story in Plenty, FL 1-2 with these three but alas, I didn’t read those so I’m treating this as a stand-alone in the series. You know what, I wouldn’t mind living in Plenty, FL, where the tolerance for how you want to live your life is high and the judgment factor is very low.

Becca has been in hot-like with Mark and Travis for quite some time but she doesn’t think that there’s any chance of a relationship or a future with them because let’s face it – they’re gay. Smart girl! BUT there’s a crinkle, both Mark and Travis not only find Becca very attractive and likeable, they also think that she’s their future.

What I really, really, really liked about this story was that although Mark and Travis are both alpha males and very much dedicated to each other, they had lives outside of the bedroom and we got to see it. We got to see them becoming involved in the local community and really growing friendships outside of their threesome.

I completely enjoyed that Becca’s angst and reasons for hesitancy in the relationship were not only addressed by her, but also by Mark and Travis. They were definitely not skimmed over, but were smartly and reassuringly provided by the duo. Mark and Travis wanted to show and prove to Becca that she would be the center of their world and she could count on them for any and everything. Oh man, how refreshing that was to read in an m/m/f. I will not accuse this author of this – but some of the stories I’ve read where there’s an established relationship (especially between the two guys) tend to overwhelm the story where the female is very much a secondary/afterthought to much of the relationship. So, kudos to Valentine for convincing me that it’s possible to have a good storyline involving this scenario.

There are a lot of secondary characters who had their own stories in the previous two books, including Becca’s father and his two spouses and Becca’s two brothers and their wife. Cassie, Zach and Chase from Plenty to Come (Plenty, FL #1) and Jillian, Ryan and Jackson from Plenty to Learn (Plenty, FL #2). Addie, one of Becca’s volunteer services recipients, is as cute as a button and I wouldn’t be surprised if that little old woman had a speckled past, if ya know what I mean.

Last but not least, the sex scenes were well written and super-duper steamy, not too raunchy but not too good girl either. I would definitely recommend this read for those looking for a believable story line for m/m/f. Yep, I wanna go back to Plenty, FL and soon.

Happy Reading folks!

Rating: B

Plenty of Love
by Lara Valentine
Release Date: November 23, 2012
Publisher: Siren

Review: A Feast of Souls

Reviewed by Jen

I continue to be impressed with this great fantasy romance series.  I really enjoyed book one and this second installment is just as strong.  The world building is fresh and woven skillfully throughout the story.  The characters are well-drawn and easy to root for. And the romance really hits the spot, with just the right blend of emotional pull and sexual tension.

We first met our hero and heroine in A Hint of Frost. Mana is still in Araneidae territory, where she was brought after saving her cousin Rhys’s life.  Vaughn, Rhys’s half-brother, is supposed to escort her home.  Their journey takes on another layer when he is charged with bringing along Pascale for Mana’s people to watch over. The young woman has been sentenced to indentured servitude for her actions in the last book.  But a neighboring clan wants Pascale dead for killing their heir.  The threat from that clan makes the long trip, through icy terrain, even more dangerous.

Along the way, Mana –who can communicate with the dead– comes in contact with Vauhn’s father.  He has his own agenda.  The story follows Mana and Vaughn’s journey, first to her home… then to his.  The two have been attracted to one another for years, but the more time they spend together, the stronger their feelings become.  Mana fears giving in to her desires, since her people believe in soul mates and she never dreams Vaughn could be hers. So their feelings are forbidden, which of course makes them even more delicious.

Vaughn is very tough –and the heir to his people’s throne. But there is great vulnerability in him. He’s never felt first in anyone’s heart.  And Mana, well, she is innocent in the ways of love, but she is powerful and driven to do the right thing –even if means facing the deadly plague threatening Vaughn’s people.

There’s a lot happening in the story –too much to try to map out here– but it flowed together very well.  I felt so immersed in the world, the story, and the romance, that I did not want to put it down.   Simply put, I am a big fan of these books.  If you enjoy fantasy at all, I definitely recommend you give them a try.

Rating: A-

*ARC provided by author for review  

Click to purchase: Amazon
A Feast of Souls
by Hailey Edwards
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Publisher: Samhain

Review: Ripe for Seduction

Reviewed by Jen

I have always enjoyed Isobel Carr’s League of Second Sons series, but I really had trouble connecting with this one.  It got better for me as the story progressed. The first half, though, just didn’t reel me in.

The story follows Lady Olivia as she struggles to overcome the social stigma of finding out her marriage was invalid.  She had no idea she had married a bigamist –she followed all of society’s rules– but she is considered damaged goods, nonetheless.  She still has her beauty and a hefty dowry, and her father is pushing her back into society.

In a drunken stupor, Roland Devere sends her a scandalous proposition, and Olivia is smart enough to turn his insult to her advantage.  She tells his family and hers that he has proposed marriage. He knows that if he exposes the lie, she’ll produce the letter. They make the deal to front a phony engagement long enough to insulate her from the ton, then she’ll call it off and retire to the country.  Of course, in their time together, the ruse becomes a reality.

The two are attracted to each other right off the bat. And Devere is set on getting Olivia into bed.  But one of the first problems I had with the book is how many liberties she allows him early on.  As much as she is determined not to be with him, she acquiesces to some mighty big physical advances, over and over again. Then she goes back to acting like there is nothing between them. It just didn’t ring true.

I found that really preferred the secondary romance between Olivia’s father, Phillip, and Devere’s sister, Margo. That one kept me guessing and I thought their exchanges were both genuine and very, very sexy.

Like I said, the book did improve for me in the second half, especially once there was some actual conflict between Olivia and Devere –and the author began really pulling the threads of the book together.  But the main romance never really bowled me over. I just didn’t get the same pull or dynamic from them that I got from Phillip and Margo.  Those two saved the story for me.

Rating: C+

*ARC Provided by Forever via NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Ripe for Seduction
by Isobel Car
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Publisher: Forever

Review: Last Regress

Reviewed by Shelly

Alyssa Matthews works at ‘weird central’ for the Institute of Paranormal Research Cambridge (sounds fancy, doesn’t it?) as a researcher for the past two years. She’s a workaholic who has one friend (sounds sad, doesn’t it?) She’s decides to take on a new assignment and write a story about an old case, Cain Andrew. Years ago, he died from burns resulting from Spontaneous Human Combustion (sounds real, doesn’t it?) I’m can’t say that I’m a fan of this type of paranormal story but I appreciate the story telling for what it is, and as this is my first read from this author, so I was really looking forward to it.

Folks, this is a dark tale. there are really scary (to me) monsters at night and death all around. There are some light moments that added a nice blend and those really kept me going. Alyssa is very much a loner, she was an orphan at a young age, grew up in foster care, and didn’t create any social connections at all during her childhood. After aging out of the system, she finds a home to invest in and meets her neighbor and only friend, Greg.

During her investigation of Cain, Alyssa finds herself questioning her sanity. She begins to lose it – what’s real and what’s part of her nightmare. But through it all she finds herself falling in love with Cain because he offers comfort and protections from the boogey man. I thought Alyssa was a great character and the pacing of her development was well done. I don’t think that she ever became what I would consider well-rounded, but she’s able to socially function. (*spoiler*) I had a big problem with was Alyssa’s decision that suicide was her only choice to be with the one she loved. I really didn’t see that coming at all and I definitely didn’t agree.

Cain’s existed in an alternate plane where he was able to have knowledge of the present and the past, but not the future. I thought this was an interesting way to handle his non-human existence and still have him be an active member in the story. Along with that, there were some characters, especially Nathaniel, that I thought had very interesting stories to tell.

I must admit that I didn’t quite understand Cain and his reasons for choosing goth as his chosen expression. He’s 33 for goodness sake, maybe I just think of goth as a teenage/young adult genre. But I digress. For me that didn’t take away from the story, I would have just liked to know a little more his background and why he made the choices he did. His selfish actions to finesse his musical career were a little too much for me, considering he starting dealing in witchcraft and dark forces while not knowing the repercussion of his actions (sounds scary, doesn’t it?) Like I said, this is a dark tale.

There was a single sex scene in the story and it didn’t tickle my fancy at all (not one bit – no way, no how) even though it was appropriate for the time and place. It actually gave me the willies a little bit.

If you like ‘em dark and HEA this is the one for you!

Rating: B-

*Book provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Last Regress
by Rachael Thorne
Release Date: July 15, 2012

Review: The Bridegroom Wore Plaid

Reviewed by Jen

I have mixed feelings on this book.  There were things I really liked about it. The primary romance was well done. I liked the hero and the heroine.  And though the progression of their love story was predictable, I really enjoyed watching them fall in love.  However, there are too many subplots that are not fleshed out –side stories with great potential– that left me feeling like I missed things and confused at times.

At the center of the story is Ian, the presumptive heir to a Scottish title.  He is a wonderful laird who faces financial straights.  As so many others did before him, he decides he must marry a woman with a large dowry to secure the future of his people.  It appears that woman will be Genie Daniels, a well-dowered English woman who comes to his land with her family to make a titled match.  No one has any illusions about what the marriage would be: Ian gets the money he needs and Genie gets the title her family wants.  Only, it’s not quite so simple.

Genie has no desire to marry Ian. Her horrible father is forcing her.  But her cousin Augusta sees in Ian all the wonderful things Genie can’t.  He is handsome, smart, and loyal.  Augusta and Ian strike up a friendship that quickly makes way to something more, despite the fact that they both realize they can have no future together.  It’s bittersweet as they fall deeply in love, seeing no chance at long lasting happiness.

In the meantime, Genie is setting her sights on Ian’s brother Gil. Her brother is falling for Ian’s sister.  And even the chaperone, Julia, is getting action with brother number three, Connor. Generally, I love some good secondary romances, and all of these could have held up their own stories, but it wasn’t done that way.  We would jump in and out of these pairings without witnessing key events in their development.  We hear about things that had happened off page, and I often found myself flipping back in the book to make sure I hadn’t missed entire scenes that were being referenced. This happened several times and left me feeling off balance and annoyed.  (Especially since some the events sound like they would have been very entertaining to read.)

While all of this matchmaking is going on, there is also danger afoot.  Augusta’s horrible uncle is trying to kill her. It’s not explicitly stated why from the beginning, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out.  He was really more of a caricature of a villain than one you could really sink your teeth into.

But despite my complaints,  I really did enjoy Augusta and Ian’s romance.  I felt like I knew and understood them both.  They were easy to root for and they stirred my emotions.  The sexual tension was hot. The sex was good.  And the ending satisfied.

Rating: C+

*ARC Provided by Sourcebooks via NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Bridegroom Wore Plaid
by Grace Burrowes
Release Date: December 1, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Spotlight & Giveaway: Second Chances

Second Chances: Spotlight on the Characters

We all know what it’s like to lose out in love … but what if you get a second chance at happiness?
Will you grab it, or run?
The Second Chances anthology is a collection of male/male short stories on finding love again.
Non-Negotiable by T. D. Green
Heart of Glass by L. J. Harris
Better Together by DaNay Smith
Dirty Martini by Bette Browne
Notice to Appear by C. C. Lorenz

Non-Negotiable by T. D. Green
Jacob Kerns is due a promotion, but his ambitions are at risk when he learns his next contract will be handled by Alexander Corey, his ex. Jake tries to put personal feelings aside to do his job, but Alex won’t let him. Will they find love again or is the whole thing non-negotiable?
I ran a hand through my hair. “Christ. I’m tired,” I admitted.
“You work too hard. Play too hard, too, I gather.”
I smirked. “Probably, but if you can’t play hard, there’s no point in working hard.” I grew serious after a moment. “You coming around again—”
The waitress interrupted to set our drinks down. “Miss, next time bring two rounds,” Alex said with a wink.
“Sure thing.” She smiled and was gone again.
I reached for my beer and took a long pull, set the bottle down deliberately. “As I was saying, you coming around again is messing with my plans. I’ve worked very hard for this company with an eye constantly upward.”
“What’s that have to do with anything? Whether you’re dealing with me or someone else. Do your job.”
“You’re such a prick,” I said.
He laughed. “So I’ve been told.” He stared directly into my eyes for so long I had to look away. “Unless …” he paused. “Unless it’s because you still love me.”
“Unlikely,” I muttered, still not meeting his gaze.
“I don’t believe you.”
“I had my fill of you six years ago. It’s over. In the past. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Then why are you so pissed off all the time whenever I’m around?” The smirk was still plastered across his too handsome face.
“Because you piss me off,” I said.
He rocked his bottle back and forth on the table for a moment while contemplating me, took a drink and leaned forward. “And so?”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” I said, my voice lowered to a harsh whisper. “You were cocky in college and you’re cocky now. I’m too busy for this shit. I don’t have time to fuck around …” And have my heart broken again, but I couldn’t finish the sentence. Not out loud. Not to him. I turned to see if I could spot our waitress and the food.
“How long does it take to fix a couple fucking sandwiches?” I muttered.
“Jake,” he said again.
I sighed, smoothed my features, and turned to face him. My heart already tight in my chest from having to sit across from him, talk to him, and hear him speak to me. The memories, long suppressed, blinked in the stilted, jittery way of an old silent film. Alex the beautiful, vivacious, cock-sure youth superimposed over the handsome, refined, arrogant adult.
“What do you really want with me?” I asked. “Cut the bullshit for once.”
His face grew serious, and I wondered if that brief shadow of deep sorrow was a figment of my imagination. “Six years is a long time,” he began, sitting upright once more. “I’ve had a long time to think about our three years together and what caused our break up.” He lowered his gaze, then looked back up at me. “I couldn’t pass up this chance to see you again. I wanted to—”
The waitress I’d wanted to arrive only moment ago cut him off. I mentally cursed her timing.
“Here you go, gentlemen,” she said. “Enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you,” we both said at the same time.
I peered at the huge sandwich on my plate; my appetite had fled after the second beer. I pushed the glop of coleslaw around until it formed a lopsided pyramid while I watched Alex decimate his cheeseburger.
“I’m not paying if you don’t eat that,” he said before taking another bite.
“I’ll get it in a carry-out box. Besides, who asked you to pay?”
“I remember you never would eat before finals because the stress made you sick.”
“This isn’t college, and this isn’t finals week.” I shoved a bite of slaw in my mouth and made a big show of chewing and swallowing, though it tasted like wet straw and hit my stomach like a wad of chewed cud.
Alex lifted a brow, but thankfully said nothing for the rest of his sandwich. I half-heartedly picked at the edges of mine while fending off the waitress, who kept asking if something was wrong with my meal.
By the time the plates were taken away and the remains of my picked over sandwich rested in a foam clamshell, I was ready to strangle someone—that someone mostly being myself for allowing Alex to outmaneuver me.
“You never did answer my question,” I commented. Three empty bottles sat on my side of the table, a fourth a little under half full. I frowned at the lime sloshing around in the golden liquid.
“Which one?”
“What are we doing here?”
“Having a few beers.”
I wanted to bash the smile off his face. “I said to cut the bullshit. Christ, Alex, is everything a joke to you?”
The smile disappeared. “No.”
I waited for him to continue, the silence captured in our booth like the quiet before a raging storm, caught in the too tiny space between us that may as well have been as wide as the ocean. Time and gently cultivated pain had done that.
I clenched my sweating bottle. The condensation wept, as I’d not done since that day he’d left, though my heart writhed in agony. The strength I’d meticulously built over the years threatened to buckle under the weight of his presence.
“Jacob?” He touched my wrist. I jerked my hand away, nearly knocking over the empties.
“Don’t touch me!” The heat of his touch seemed like a brand on my skin.
A flicker of hurt danced in his eyes. “I said your name three times.”
“Oh.” I rubbed my wrist. “Sorry.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s late,” he said. “I should be going. I have an important meeting tomorrow.”
I glanced at my watch. Where had all the time gone? The forest of empty glass to my right hinted at it. “Shit.” I glared at him. “I never drink on a work night.”
“There you go scowling at me again.” He flashed his perfect smile. “I apologize and will take it into account at our meeting.”
I finished my beer while Alex took care of the bill, which he insisted upon doing. I lacked the energy and will to fight with him over it. I tossed a tip on the table and made my way through the last of the evening crowd.
The crisp night air invigorated me on the short walk to where I’d parked. I almost relaxed but for Alex shadowing me. At my car, I set the carryout on the roof and turned to face him. The soft glow of city lights put streaks of luminescence in his dark brown hair that matched the embers which seemed to light his eyes. I stood caught in his brilliance, hypnotized. The happy buzz that sang in my veins held me pressed into the side of my car. And then it was Alex that held me there and I was drowning in the intoxication of his kiss.
I lost myself for a moment. It’d been too long since I’d allowed myself the pleasure of this simple intimacy. Alex had his fingers buried in my wavy hair. My hands were under his suit jacket, digging into the firm expanse of his back, broader than I remembered. I groaned into his mouth while our tongues danced the familiar pattern of twinned passions.
Alex broke the kiss and pulled me into a tight embrace. “Jacob.” His breath tickled my neck, sending a shiver down my spine. “I’ve missed you. So goddamned much.”
Self-awareness cut through the alcohol, and repressed emotions threatened to bubble up from where I kept them locked away. “Stop it,” I said and dropped my arms to my sides.
“I should never have let you go,” he continued.
I stiffened. “You didn’t let me go. You left.” My hands balled into fists. “You fucking left me when I needed you the most.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” He sighed. “It was the biggest mistake of my life. Can you ever forgive me?”
Tension drained away, and he released me. I looked up at him. “I forgave you a long time ago.” I saw hope dawn in his eyes and cruelly stomped it out. “But I can’t ever forget.”
“I understand,” he said. “Perhaps you’re right. Seeing you again was a mistake.” He touched my face. “I really am sorry. I’d hoped that … maybe we could start over.”
Regret stabbed me in the guts with all the delight of a mass murderer carving into his latest victim. But the words were already spoken and I couldn’t retrieve them. When I peered back at my life, I couldn’t see a way across the chasm between us.
I took his hand from my face and held it for a moment, reluctant to release it; I still let go. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I opened the car door.
“Don’t forget your supper,” he said, handing me the foam container.
“Ah.” I set it in the passenger seat. “Thanks.”
“Any time.” He shut the car door, leaned on it for a breath, then walked away.


Heart of Glass by L. J. Harris
When Zack Doherty comes to Australia on a working holiday, he is uncharacteristically forward in pushing Heath Connors, a man he barely knows, for a date. Heath, who has only recently begun to live life his way, wonders if Zack will be the one to mend his heart of glass.
“So, how have you been holding up?” Dad asked as he placed his knife and fork on the plate and picked up his beer. Looking into his concerned, hazel eyes, I knew what was coming, but was tired of going over old ground.
“I’m fine,” I replied with a casual shrug, swallowing the last of my meal before sitting back in my seat.
“I know what it’s like to lose the one you love, but believe me … things will get better with time.”
“So I’ve heard,” I answered a little sarcastically, letting out a grunt of frustration, trying to let him know in my own way I wanted the matter dropped.
“He was crazy to let you go,” he added, deciding to ignore my not-so-subtle hint.
“Dad …” I warned.
“And besides, you never know what’s around the corner. I bet it won’t be long before you meet someone else,” he continued, determined to speak his mind.
“I think you may be right,” I agreed, my lips immediately spreading into a smile as images of him ran rampantly through my head.
Of course, dear old Dad read between the lines right away.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Have you met someone already?” he asked with wide, unblinking eyes.
“I’m not sure, actually.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? You either have, or you haven’t,” he said in an argumentative tone, looking more than a little confused.
“Let’s just say I have my eye on someone, and leave it at that,” I responded cagily. It wasn’t as though I wanted to keep things from my father, but I didn’t want to get his hopes up until I had the chance to make sure what transpired with him wasn’t just a bad case of wishful thinking.
“Oh, okay. Well, that’s good, I guess,” he said, a look of disappointment plainly written across his face. Feeling more than a little guilty about shutting him out, I picked up my beer and downed it quickly before standing to my feet, the need to pee a welcome distraction.
“I’ll be right back. How about you get us another beer and we go shoot some pool?” I asked as I pointed toward the pool tables that we’d passed earlier.
“Great idea,” he answered with a smile, my attempted diversionary tactics seemingly successful.
I turned and headed toward the bathroom just near the reception area, smiling absently at the thought of the man who had captured my interest, and as I pushed the door open, the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard reverberated through the room. My head snapped toward the sweet, melodic sound at the same time I drew in a gasp, for there standing at the sink, humming to himself as he washed his hands, was the man who’d been on my mind non-stop for the last twenty-four hours. He was dressed this time in worn, pale blue jeans, and a white polo shirt; his hair was thick and long, just as I’d pictured, but this time it was smoothed back into a ponytail. As I drew closer, I noticed he smelled of soap—so fresh and clean—and I couldn’t help but laugh nervously as he glanced up and caught my reflection in the mirror, his baby blues widening with shock in response.
“Well, hello again,” I said with a broad grin, positively jumping out of my skin, heart about ready to burst as he slowly turned to face me before he reached for a paper towel.
“Oh … hi,” he whispered, his voice barely audible as he dried his hands and quickly tossed the paper into the trash. His obvious shyness was incredibly endearing, but as he cleared his throat then turned and reached for the door, right away I began to panic. I didn’t want him to go, but it was clear he felt quite uncomfortable, which is why I was shocked by what I did next.  
Before he had the chance to walk out of my life, before my head could catch up with my body’s actions, I rushed toward him and grasped his wrist before using my free hand to push the door shut.
“Wh-what are you doing?” he asked with a break in his voice.
“Don’t go,” I begged.
With eyes wide as saucers, he stared at where our skin connected, and just stood there, open-mouthed and beautiful—muscles bunching underneath my touch, his entire body seemingly tight with tension.
I immediately knew I’d pushed him too far.
“I’m sorry if I’m making you feel uncomfortable. Why don’t we start again?”
“Start again?” he repeated in a suspicious voice.
Giving him my best smile, I let him go and took a step back, before offering my hand to him in greeting this time. I gasped as he gripped my hand with his warm, calloused one and shook firmly.
“My name’s Zack Doherty. What’s yours, handsome?” I blurted, wondering where my sudden rush of bravado had come from, my quasi-American accent thickening with every word I spoke.
“It’s … My name’s Heath. Heath Connors,” he answered; his full, kissable lips showing a hint of a smile, his voice deep and rich and entirely sexy.
“So nice to meet you, Heath Connors,” I said sweetly as I reluctantly let go of his hand. His eyes flickered between mine, his brow crinkled, and he had a strange, but thoroughly endearing look of confusion on his face. He studied me carefully, as if he was trying to figure me out, and I hoped … and waited.  I didn’t want him to harbour a single doubt about my sexual orientation, or about my intentions towards him, so deciding to continue to push my luck with the whole bravado thing, I took a tentative step toward him and rested my hand on the cream coloured tile above his head, our bodies, chests, and mouths mere inches apart.
“And in case you were wondering … yes, I’m gay … and yes, I find you extremely attractive,” I told him, laying my cards on the table, letting him know in no uncertain terms where I was coming from.
“You … you find me attractive?” he questioned.
Nodding as I committed every little detail of his gorgeous face to memory, I smiled at his awkward innocence, while thoughts of kissing him caused my dick to harden. It was then I noticed his eyes darkened to a deep, cerulean blue, his physical response confirming something special had not only passed between us at that intersection, but that it was being repeated, right here in this very room. I just hoped he felt it as strongly as I did.
“Yes. How about you?” I asked, deliberately leaving the question open.
“I … um … yes … to both,” he confessed with a slow nod as a tiny whimper fell from his lips, his response causing me to smile. Outwardly, I was projecting a façade of confidence, while inside, hundreds of butterflies battered inside my gut.
Though he seemed nervous, there was no mistaking the fire in his deep blue eyes, so I decided to go for broke and whispered in a low, seductive voice, “I know we’ve only just met, but I really want to see you again. Can I get your number?”
“You don’t have to … I … mean, um … I don’t exactly have a number, and I’m sure you have more important things to do than waste your time with someone who can’t even afford to buy their own phone,” he stammered nervously, his prominent Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed several times.
I wanted to lick it.
Instead, unable to resist touching him, I ran my hand up the smooth skin of his arm until the tips of my fingers touched the soft skin of his throat, then gently grazed them along the skin of his freshly shaven jaw.
“See, that’s where you’re wrong. I’ve got nothing else to do, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in your company, Heath Connors. So how about I call by your office in the morning and we take it from there?”
“You … want to go out? Wi-with me?” he asked, stumbling over his words, the apples of his cheeks turning a delicious shade of pink.
“I’d love nothing more,” I answered with a smile, my fingers gently caressing his beautiful, flushed face.
“I don’t … I don’t know what to say,” he blurted, his glorious smile almost taking my breath away as his body called to me, and his sweet breath wafted across my face. Without further thought, I leaned in closer until my lips were a hairsbreadth from the shell of his ear.
“Just say yes,” I murmured. Even though he was trembling, he still moved closer and I couldn’t help but moan, our bodies so close to touching it was maddening.  Unable to resist, I brushed my lips against his ear, wanting to do so much more, but somehow finding the will to stop.

Better Together by DaNay Smith
Greyson Welles followed Dominic Nash to Baltimore for his dream job, putting his own on hold. Dominic can see that Greyson’s unhappy, but never expects him to turn down his proposal and return to New York. Will Greyson be gone forever or will he decide they’re better together?
“WAKE UP, SLEEPYHEAD,” Dominic smiled, rousing Greyson from his nap and feeling more than a little giddy. Greyson’s eyes remained closed but he did stretch out his long body and yawn loudly.
“What time is it?” Greyson asked, nuzzling his pillow.
Dominic glanced at the clock. “It’s a little after seven,” he replied, smoothing his hand over his lover’s impossibly dark hair. Greyson’s eyes snapped open and locked with Dom’s. There was a happiness shining there that Dominic hadn’t seen in a long time. Greyson sat up and framed Dominic, who was kneeling beside the bed, with his legs.
“You’ve only been gone a couple of hours. You finished studying already?” Greyson asked.
“I decided that studying wasn’t all that important. I wanted to come home and be with you.”
Greyson’s smile grew wider before he leaned in to kiss Dom slowly but deeply. Dominic’s heart was beating wildly in his chest, partly because of the kiss and partly because things were going exactly how he wanted them too. He was filled with excitement and had to concentrate really hard on not squealing like a schoolgirl or something equally ridiculous. When Greyson finally pulled back from the kiss, he pressed his forehead to his partner’s.
“Let’s go out and do something fun! Dancing maybe? We haven’t been out in ages,” Greyson said.
Dominic shook his head and reached for Greyson’s hands. “I have a better idea,” he began. “Why don’t we get married?”
All the excitement Dominic felt suddenly turned into anxiousness as he watched his partner’s face. It wasn’t that Greyson had stopped smiling; the smile just seemed to freeze on Greyson’s face, making it look unnatural and forced.
“I want us to get married, Greyson. I’ve always known that we’d end up married. I love you more than anything. That’s never going to change, so I don’t think we should wait anymore. Will you marry me, Greyson?”
Greyson slowly pulled his hands from Dominic’s and scratched the hair at the nape of his neck in agitation. “Dominic, I just told you I’m moving to New York in two weeks. Why would you think this was the right time to propose something like that?”
“Because you’re unhappy, and I know that’s partly my fault. Moving away isn’t the answer though. I know you think you belong in New York, but we belong together. We just need to take the time to work things out,” Dominic replied.
Greyson hung his head and laughed mirthlessly before moving away from the bed and Dominic. He faced the wall and crossed his arms over his chest before speaking. “If you would just take the time to listen to me, you’d know that my moving to New York is not about you. It’s about me and what I want for my life. I’m stagnating here, Dom. I feel like I’m wasting away, but what’s worse is that you either can’t see it or you just don’t fucking care.”
Dominic stood up but didn’t move closer to Greyson. The tension in his shoulders and the deadly calm of his voice told Dominic that the last thing Greyson wanted was to be touched or crowded. He was left feeling helpless, confused and hurt. Greyson was taking all of this the wrong way, but for the life of him, Dominic didn’t know how to fix it. His one and only solution to everything had been the proposal, and since that had fallen with a resounding thud, he was lost.
“I … I don’t know what you want me to do, Greyson,” Dominic whispered for no other reason than it was the truth.
“I want you to stop being a selfish prick! I never thought I’d end up in Baltimore, but here I am. I came here solely for you, so that we could be together while you lived your dream! But it’s been four fucking years, and I can’t do it anymore. I have to take some time for myself, but all you can think about is how it fucking affects you! You can’t just support me like I’ve always done for you.  All you want to do is have your cake and eat it too!”
Dominic shook his head over and over, denying everything Greyson was saying. None of it was true. He wasn’t only thinking of himself, and it was awful that Greyson would even think Dominic possible of discounting the way his lover felt.
“I am thinking of you! I thought this would make you happy. You dumped all of this on me, and everything is just moving so fast. You’ll never understand how grateful I am that you put your life on hold for me, Greyson, but now it just feels like you put a four-year limit on your selflessness. It’s like now that you’ve hit that limit, everything is all about you! You aren’t even willing to discuss this with me and try to come up with a compromise. You want to walk away and destroy everything we’ve built!” Dominic exclaimed.
“Fuck you, Dom! I never once insinuated that my going to New York was the end of our relationship! It never once crossed my mind, and I can’t believe that it crossed yours! I tried to talk to you today! I was ready to discuss everything, but you came up with that bullshit excuse about studying so that you could leave! If you want to blame someone for why things are so fucked up right now, you can blame yourself!” Greyson yelled, pointing his finger in Dom’s face.
Dominic remained silent. Greyson was right, he’d walked away, but he’d never dreamed things would go from bad to worse like this.
“I’m sorry, Greyson. I shouldn’t have walked away, but I’m ready to talk now. I want to talk,” Dominic said, taking a seat on the bed.
“Well, that’s great Dom, but now I don’t,” Greyson spat. He stormed over to the closet and jammed his feet into his shoes.
“Greyson, where are you going?” Dominic asked, beginning to feel exhausted.
“New York. I’m sure I can exchange those tickets for an earlier flight, and if I can’t, I’ll just a buy another.”
Fear like Dominic had never felt crashed over him like a tsunami wave; his palms felt sweaty and it seemed as if his heart was falling in his chest. He shot up from the bed and clamped his hands around Greyson’s biceps.
“What are you talking about? You can’t just leave like this! I said I was sorry! I was scared and didn’t know what to do!”
“I don’t want to hear anymore. I don’t believe for one second you didn’t know what you were doing. You knew I was leaving Baltimore, and you were willing to do whatever it took to keep me here, even though you see how unhappy I am every single day. You say you love me more than anything, but that quite obviously isn’t true. You’ll never love me as much as you love yourself!” Greyson snarled before wrenching his arm out of Dominic’s grip.
Dominic felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. Greyson just wasn’t making any sense. One minute he was saying that he was completely happy with Dominic and the next he was making Dominic out to be the scum of the earth. Dominic felt like his head was spinning and the floor was crumbling beneath his feet. Greyson’s rage was like a force of nature and he was powerless to stop it.
“You’re upset, and you’re not thinking clearly. Please, don’t leave tonight! We just need to calm down—”
Greyson whirled around and Dominic was taken back by the look in his eyes. He looked like he’d given up the fight. Dominic just stood there, unmoving, as Greyson cupped his face in his hands and stared into his eyes, but when the light in his eyes dimmed, Dominic knew that Greyson didn’t find what he’d been searching for.
 “I love you, I truly do, but maybe we need this time apart. We both have too many things to focus on for ourselves. You don’t have time for me, and quite frankly, when I get to New York, I won’t have time for you. I’ll call you when I get settled, but that’s the only promise I can keep right now.”
Greyson kissed Dominic one last time before he walked out the door. No matter how many times Dominic called after him, he didn’t look back.

Dirty Martini by Bette Browne
When Daniel Fletcher runs into his ex with the man he caught him in bed with, vodka seems like the answer. Nathan Smith is used to men drowning their sorrows at the bar he tends, so the connection he feels to one is unusual.  Will a means to forget turn into something more?
IT HAD BEEN another busy night. Not overly busy considering it was Friday, but enough to have Nate exhausted and desperate for the end of his shift to arrive. Unfortunately, that wasn’t until two am—a couple of hours away.
“Nate, I’m going down to the store room. We need to restock a few of the shelves,” Paul, his partner in crime, called out.
“Sure, buddy. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” He cringed at his words as he turned and pulled two imported beers from the glass-paneled refrigerator under the rear counter. He’d meant the words in jest and knew Paul wouldn’t even think twice, but an image of his mother’s disapproving face immediately came to mind, correcting him: “‘I’m not going anywhere.’ Please don’t speak like that, Nathan.”
Yes, Momma, he almost said the words out loud. He was so whipped, and the woman lived in another state.
He opened the expensive bottles of beer and placed them, along with two serviettes, on a round server’s tray, ready for the waitress to take them to her customers when she returned to the counter, and then added the drinks to the table’s tab.
“Thanks, Nate,” she said, breezing past and taking the tray in a gust of motion. God, the girl was fast.
“Sure, Jen,” he replied, doubtful that she’d even heard him. Such was this place when they were busy.
He stilled for a moment, combing his fingers through his hair, as he took in a deep breath—he was counting down the minutes tonight.
“I’m glad you ‘ain’t goin’ nowhere’ … Nate.”
Nate’s head snapped around at the voice he vaguely recognized, his eyes opening wide when he realized who it was—the vodka guy from last night. He’d taken a seat close to where he’d been sitting the night before—and he looked a whole lot better than Nate remembered. A whole lot better, and that was saying something. Nate had spent a fair bit of time thinking about him actually.
“Oh … hi,” Nate replied, his mind trying to make sense of what the guy meant. “What can I get for you?” he asked, moving a few steps toward him. He hoped the guy wouldn’t answer that he wanted another Dirty Martini, or even a simple shot of vodka for that matter. He looked much better without a haze of “drunk” hanging all over him.
“A Coors, please.”
“No vodka tonight?”
The guy smiled. It was a good look. His face lit up and his blue eyes shined. “Probably not a good idea.”
Nate grinned. “Probably not.” He paused for a moment and just looked at the guy, wondering why he was back at the bar. “Bottle or tap?”
Nate placed a chilled glass under the tap with the Coors handle and pulled, the amber liquid flowing quickly into the glass. When it was full he shut off the flow and placed it in front of the handsome guy, receiving a nod and another smile in thanks. “What brings you back here tonight? Hoping whoever you were waiting for last night will finally show?”
The man laughed—it was a deep full sound. “No. Wasn’t waiting for anyone last night.” He took a long drink of his beer, leaving a frothy white line along his top lip. Nate had a sudden compulsion to lean over and lick it off. Dan did that for him, swiping his tongue across his rosy top lip—Nate swallowed … hard. When Dan was done wiping his lip, he placed his glass on the counter and held Nate’s eyes. “I did come back to see you though.”
“Oh.” Nate could feel his heart rate speed up. “Why did you want to see me?” Was that what he’d meant by being glad that Nate wasn’t going anywhere? He wondered how the guy could even remember him considering the state he was in the night before.
Deep blue eyes fringed by a dark fan of lashes observed him. “I wanted to apologize. Well, actually, I wanted to find out how much of a dick I made of myself and apologize if I needed to.”
Nate chuckled. “You’re safe. You weren’t too obnoxious.”
The man gritted his teeth together in a pained look.
Nate smiled then mouthed, “Hang on,” and moved down the bar a way to serve another customer. When he was done, he moved back, continuing, “Truly. You were fine. I’ve seen worse.”
“Ouch”—the man held a hand over his heart—“I’m not that hard to look at, am I?”
Nate was sure the guy was flirting with him, but instead of responding immediately, he gave a contemplative look and then walked away again to serve other customers. It was a good ten minutes before he had a break between customers long enough to move back down the bar. During that time, he’d glanced at the man often, at every opportunity, and each time it was to find those blue eyes watching him … assessing him. He wasn’t sure how to react, but he knew what to say.
Nate approached, gesturing silently to the empty beer glass sitting in front of the man and getting a nod in reply. He pulled another beer, removing the dirty glass before placing a new napkin and the fresh beer in front of the man. “You are in no way hard to look at.” He placed his elbows on the bar and leaned forward. “Now why did you really come here?”
The man leaned in—their faces only inches apart. “I came here to see you.”
“I’m not sure, Nate. I actually didn’t intend to.”
Nate was thrown by the use of his name—for the second time tonight—and didn’t give enough thought to the second part of the man’s answer. “You didn’t intend to— Hang on, how do you know my name?”
His reply was a loud laugh. “It doesn’t seem to be a secret.” He looked directly at Nate’s tie, and the pin with his name on it that was clipped over the silky fabric.
Nate was tempted to slap himself in the head. This guy had him on edge.
“Well, now that we’ve established who I am,” Nate’s head tipped slightly to the side as he watched the man, “I think maybe you should tell me who you are?” He knew the question seemed obvious but he didn’t care. He felt the need to get back some control over whatever was happening.
A crooked grin lifted the man’s luscious lips. “I’m Dan, Nate. Daniel Fletcher to be exact.”
Daniel Fletcher—Nate quickly decided he preferred Daniel to Dan—reached out his hand, holding it midair while he waited for Nate to return the gesture. There was no way Nate wasn’t shaking the man’s hand; it was almost like there was a magnetic pull—an irresistible tug—but he held off for a moment, taking the time to look from the hand back to the blue eyes that had him so enraptured. He could remember the feel of Daniel’s hand on his cheek last night, and he knew, with astounding clarity, that once he touched the man again there would be no turning back.
Nate watched as Daniel’s face betrayed a look of uncertainty. Nate knew he’d waited long enough. He smiled, just a small smile, but one he was sure went to his eyes, and was happy when Daniel instantly relaxed, then he reached out, placing his hand in Daniel’s warm palm. Long fingers wrapped around his and the reaction was immediate, an instant connection, a warmth that flooded his whole body, making him want to clear the bar and have Daniel take him, right there, right now, the crowd be damned.
Neither man moved; their hands still locked together, along with their eyes.
“What time do you finish?”
“I’ll wait.”
“Yeah. You will.”
The words were determined. There was no alternative. Daniel would wait, and Nate would leave with him.
“Nate!” Paul’s voice broke the spell. “Need you to serve, man.”
Nate stepped back, his hand falling away from Daniel’s. He had to force himself to breathe, to steady his equilibrium. He didn’t say anything to Daniel, just moved away, effortlessly falling back into the routine he knew so well.
The minutes couldn’t pass quickly enough for Nate. He could feel Daniel’s eyes on him nearly the whole time as he worked the busy bar. As was often the case, things got busier just after midnight, and his opportunities to peruse the man waiting for him were limited at best. Nate wasn’t in the habit of leaving the bar with customers; in fact, his conquests over the past twelve months wouldn’t even use up the fingers on one hand, and four of those he’d met through friends. Tonight he was prepared to break his own rule. He was anxious yet eager for the shift to finish. He wanted to continue with whatever it was that had happened in that moment. Their words had been flirtatious and full of innuendo until then, but when Nate touched Daniel’s skin, he’d experienced something he’d never felt before, not even with his previous partner, and they’d been together for years. He didn’t have any delusions about what that meant. He didn’t know the man, and he certainly didn’t want to make some claim on him. But what he did know, was that if the connection he’d felt flowed over into the explosive sex he was sure they were going to have later, then he’d be a very happy man come morning.

Notice to Appear by C. C. Lorenz
Josh Campbell is handed a notice to appear in court for a traffic offence, but his humiliation is complete when he comes face to face with his schoolboy crush, Carter Sullivan, in the court room. Could this be the start of something with Carter now that age is not an issue
JOSH REFLECTED ON how it’d turned out to be the most expensive date he’d ever been on as he climbed the steps into the courthouse.  As a student in his last year of college, he didn’t have a lot of disposable cash and already found himself a couple hundred bucks in the hole on this thing, having had to fork out for an annoyingly pricey plane ticket to be here.
He hadn’t even gotten a measly blowjob out of it.
Walking inside, he found the correct room and settled in for a nice, long wait until his name was called. According to the clerk, it could be five minutes, but was more likely to be five hours. Looking around the room, Josh saw people from all walks of life seated around him. If nothing else, he would be in for some very interesting people watching.
It was several hours later when his name was called, along with a few others, to discuss a plea deal with the prosecutor. He listened as the prosecutor laid out the terms for everyone: a five hundred dollar fine, court costs, and probation until the fine was paid.
The same offer had been made to everyone, even though Josh only had an expired license, and everyone else in the group was charged with driving with a suspended license. When he tried to reason with the prosecutor, she just brushed him off, telling him that he could take it or leave it. Luckily, he didn’t have to make a decision until he was called up in court so he had a few minutes to give his dad a quick call.
This was one of the few times it was nice to have a lawyer for a dad. Generally, it was awful because Josh had learned early on that it was nearly impossible to win an argument against someone who argued for a living, but hopefully it would pay off with some brilliant advice in this tough situation.
Josh’s dad quickly picked up the phone. “Hey, kiddo! How’s it all going?”
“Not well, Dad. The prosecutor just offered me a deal to plead guilty.”
“Okay, lay it on me.”
“Fine of five hundred and court costs.”
“Ouch. That’s more than I thought it would be.”
“I know! It’s the same deal that they offered everyone, but they’d all been caught driving on suspended licenses. It’s not fair!”
“Yup. But you should probably take the deal.”
“What?” Josh asked, incredulously.
There was a pause on the other end of the line before his dad spoke again. “Sometimes, kid, you just get screwed.”
“Wow, thanks, Dad.”
“Good luck, Josh. I’ll see you at home later.”
Josh hung up the phone, rolling his eyes before walking back into the courtroom. It didn’t seem possible for the situation to get any worse as he settled back onto the hardwood bench, but in that moment, Josh learned never to question a higher power like that, because yes, things could always get worse.
The door behind him opened and Josh saw someone walk in, followed by a line of pre-teen looking kids.
Oh God. Josh clearly remembered doing this in middle school. They were here to watch court proceedings with their social studies class.
He was going to have to stand up in front of all these kids and announce his guilty plea to the judge. How fucking embarrassing. He hid his face in his hands and slumped in his seat, trying to make himself invisible to the school kids. When the door clattered shut behind the kids, Josh shifted his eyes up to find out where they were sitting and made direct eye contact with one Carter Sullivan. The situation had not only become worse but infinitely more humiliating. What the fuck was he doing here?
Carter Sullivan had played a starring role in Josh’s fantasies starting in the summer following ninth grade. Josh had just started realizing that he liked looking at boys a little more than he cared to look at girls, and Carter was one of the finest male specimens Josh had seen. Josh, who didn’t even particularly like the beach, spent almost every day there with his friends to see the older boy who was working as a lifeguard before leaving for college. Josh remembered ogling the lean muscles he was a long way from developing; his body had been that of a growing boy, while Carter’s had been anything but. Back then, Carter wore his dark blond hair in a closely cropped buzz cut, and his skin was covered in a golden tan from hours spent in the sun working, followed by more hours in the sun surfing.
Josh had even tried to learn how to surf that summer in hopes of somehow ending up out in the water alone with Carter, but that proved to be disastrous, even if it was the only time Josh ever interacted with him directly. His friend Luke had made it sound so simple, just paddle out and stand up, but how was he supposed to know that it was definitely not that easy? Not even close. He found out pretty quickly when he went flying off the board, hitting the water hard and getting caught up in the rolling waves, unsure of which way was up.
Following a few moments of what Josh had thought was imminent death, a strong arm wrapped around his waist and pulled him to the surface.
It was the single most humiliating moment of his life, being hauled out onto the beach by his summer crush as he coughed and sputtered for breath.
Carter laid him down on the sand carefully and brushed the wet strands of hair from his eyes, asking if he was okay. Josh opened his eyes slowly, and remembered very clearly seeing Carter’s concerned blue eyes staring down at him. For just a second, it was everything he had dreamed of, but it only took a moment for him to realize how horrifically embarrassing the situation was.
Josh was sure that this experience was sure to rank a close second and decided that if there was ever a time to turn to a higher power, this was it. He started by praying that the kids wouldn’t stay long, and that he would get called up last. Unfortunately, it seemed that skipping all those Sunday school classes caught up to him in that moment, because his name rang out in the quiet of the courthouse.
“Josh Campbell.”
He felt the weight of twenty pairs of pre-teen eyes boring down on him when he stood up. Trying to avoid any and all eye contact, he shuffled up to the front with his eyes down. From there, everything happened very quickly.
“You have been charged with driving with an expired driver’s license. Have you corrected the problem and renewed your license?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he told the judge.
“Good. And how do you plead to the charges?”
He felt his cheeks flame up when he answered, “Guilty.”
“You will pay a five hundred dollar fine and court costs. Until the payments are cleared you will technically be on probation. You can pay downstairs.” As soon as she was done speaking, the judge banged the gavel, signifying that she was done with him.
Turning around, Josh headed toward the exit, equal parts relieved that it was over with and frustrated at the outcome. Briefly forgetting the crowd, Josh looked up and glanced around the courtroom one last time.
Of course, his eyes fell directly on Carter. Carter, who was staring at him, his brow furrowed as if he was trying to place Josh.
He felt his cheeks start to burn again and dropped his head back down, trying to hide his face as he sped to the exit. Unfortunately, he didn’t notice that someone’s handbag was peeking out into the aisle and it caught his right foot, causing him to trip.
A chorus of giggles followed him out of the room, followed by a familiar voice saying, “Knock it off, guys.”
It was mortifying. Absolutely mortifying.
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