March 2018 – In Mourning
Dr. Christopher Allen knows how to deal with death. He’s a psychiatrist who works with hospice patients and helps them cope with grief and letting go. But Chris’s job doesn’t prepare him for his devil-may-care brother Cal’s sudden death.
At Cal’s funeral, Chris is completely thrown when he meets Elliot Rawlings, an artist Cal has been dating. Chris is hurt to discover that the brother he thought he knew as straight has been leading a secret life. Elliot is angry and resentful of being hidden from Cal’s family.
After the funeral, a night of drinking at the bar with Cal’s friends leads to Chris and Elliot falling into bed together. The next morning, they’re overwhelmed by guilt and grief and agree to never speak of it again.
But Cal’s apartment needs to be packed up and Elliot reluctantly agrees to help Chris, as well as answer some questions about Cal’s life. Despite their guilt and initial dislike for one another, they sort through the pieces of Cal’s life and begin to fall for each other.
Without Cal, Chris’s family seems to be crumbling around him despite his best efforts to fix things. He begins to question who he is and his role in the family. As his feelings for Elliot grow, Chris must decide they’re worth further damaging his fragile relationships with his friends and family.
Elliot’s rough upbringing has left him distrustful of getting close to anyone, much less another man who isn’t willing to acknowledge him in public. The odds seem stacked against Chris and Elliot, but if they can overcome them, they may be able to lay Cal’s ghost to rest, along with their own demons.
“How did you meet Cal?” I asked quietly, the words slipping from my lips before I could stop them.
Elliot’s glance was wary and he chewed at his lip for a moment before he answered. “He modeled for me.”
I frowned. “You’re a photographer?”
“Artist. Ink and charcoal mostly. Some pastels.” I stared at him expectantly, wanting to know more and he sighed, finally sitting back in the booth, although he didn’t look at me when he spoke. His fingers played with the tips of his hair, wrapping it around the index finger. “Put up an ad for male, nude models. Cal showed up. Turns out he was a natural at it.”
“Hmm.” I drained the rest of my water, and shook my head when Dave mimed re-filling my beer. My head was already swimming and I needed to lay off for a while or I was going to get sick. He subsided, but I noticed that his other hand was still touching me. It was draped along the top of the booth, his fingers accidentally brushing my back every so often as either of us shifted. I wanted him so bad I ached for it.
Having Elliot on my other side wasn’t helping either. My muddled head kept mixing up the signals, turning my attraction to Dave into an interest in Elliot. There was nothing about him that was my type. Too young, too slender, too … surly. Too much my brother’s lover. But his cheekbones were stunning and the eyes underneath the dark lashes were a stormy shade of gray. I didn’t want to notice those things but I did. I couldn’t stop.
The press of his slim thigh against mine, the way his fingers toyed with the strands of his hair, they both drove me crazy. They made me want. I wanted to feel someone else’s skin against mine. To lose myself in the heated press of another man’s body and for one fucking night not feel alone.
“You know, Cal would have given you the shirt off his back,” Jimmy slurred.
“He literally did give me the shirt off his back once,” Shaun said with a laugh. “I totally burned the shit out of myself boarding one day, and he gave me so much crap for doing it. He slapped sunscreen on me and gave me his shirt. He always took care of me, but he never let me forget I was a dumbass when I screwed up.” Shaun wiped at his eyes and the guys all nodded into their beers.
That was my brother in a nutshell. He had been wild, living right on the edge of life, but with an innate goodness that more than made up for the stress he put people through.
We continued for a while, quietly swapping stories about Cal. Not about his wild exploits, but the quieter moments. The times he’d helped his friends and even strangers. It was hard not to let my thoughts drift to the way he’d died. Even thinking about it made me choke up but there was some comfort in it too. Knowing it hadn’t entirely been in vain. His death had saved lives.
After a while, the people at the table dwindled down to the core few and we abandoned the extra tables and all huddled in the booth. It wedged me between Dave and Elliot, and as the alcohol worked its way through my system made my thoughts bounce back and forth between the men on either side of me.
“He was my brother and my best friend,” I said morosely, feeling my eyes well up. “It’s like … it’s like there’s something missing in me now.”
There was this horrible, hollow pain in my chest and I felt the aching cold bloom through me. Maybe I should just go to a gay bar after this to pick someone up. It wasn’t something I liked to do, but with the world crashing down around me and the arousal that had been simmering in me for hours, I needed something. Hell, the idea of calling my ex had even crossed my mind, but thankfully, that impulse was quashed by the memory of Dave’s voice calling out, “Down with Dickface.”
I wasn’t quite that desperate. I hoped.
Arms on either side of me pressed close, but it wasn’t enough, I needed more. I needed to feel something. Anything. My tongue suddenly felt thick in my mouth and I noticed my elbow sliding on the scarred wooden table. “Guys,” I slurred. “I think I’m officially drunk.”
I felt a hand on my thigh, softly stroking, and it was so welcomed that I didn’t even stop to consider which side it was coming from.
Release Dates TBD –
Speakeasy Series Collaboration with K. Evan Coles
Before and after Wake and Calm were submitted for publication, we talked casually about what we’d work on next. We liked the world of the Tidal series, and knew there was more there to explore. Some of our secondary characters—Will, Jesse, and Kyle, specifically—were clamoring for attention, so we listened to them.
We gave the characters a place to hang out, an uptown speakeasy in Morningside Heights called Under, and involved them in each other lives. With Under serving as a kind of social hub, it was easy to move all of the characters in and out of each other’s stories and create the Speakeasy series.
Even before the Speakeasy books came to life, we knew we’d begin with Will Martin’s story. Toward the conclusion of Calm, Will had returned home to Long Island to mend fences with his dying father. There, he meets New York State Senator David Mori, who has become close to Will’s parents. David is both gay and a man of color and a bit of a maverick in the Republican party. Will, an outspoken liberal, can’t decide between loathing David’s politics or getting into bed with him, and their ideologies clash in With a Twist.
Jesse Murtagh, the irrepressible flirt who took Carter under his wing in Calm, charmed his way into On the Rocks. Jesse, a pansexual media mogul, hooks up with Cam Lewis, an elementary school music teacher and part time DJ from Brooklyn. Cam is a sweet and lighthearted young man, but his chemistry with Jesse is more intense than either man anticipates. Jesse, always one to avoid romantic entanglements, will be forced to decide if he’s missing out on something worthwhile with Cam.
Kyle McKee, bartender extraordinaire and co-owner of Under, stops by a burger joint across the street from the bar one night. When the restaurant catches fire, he’s rescued by Luka Clarke, a biracial fireman from the Bronx. Sparks fly between them, but Luka’s family doesn’t approve of him dating a white boy. When they’re attacked in a gay bashing while out one night on a date, they have to decide if the relationship is worth fighting for in Behind the Stick.
And then there’s Malcolm Elliot, who works closely with Carter at Corporate Equality Campaign. Malcolm grew up never really understanding the fuss over sex, and is perfectly at ease with his graysexuality. Living with his mother on Staten Island is stressing Malcolm out, though, because his mother is drowning in debt. Initially, Malcolm comes across as uptight to laid-back chef Stuart Morgan, whom Malcolm hires to cater an event for the CEC. As they get to know each other, Stuart can’t help being intrigued by Malcolm, but Malcolm is too embarrassed to tell Stuart why he’s skipping meals and living off PB&J, and the building tension threatens to combust in Straight Up.