Friday, August 5, 2022

DINNER AT JACK'S Warms Your Heart, Soul, and Belly

 

 



My redemptive story of food, love, and yes, PTSD--DINNER AT JACK'S is another romance with recipes. Prepare for a powerful story that combines food and love with an amazing couple, Jack and Beau! BLURB Personal chef Beau St. Clair, recently divorced from his cheating husband, returns to the small Ohio River town where he grew up to lick his wounds. Jack Rogers lives with his mother, Maisie, in that same small town, angry at and frightened by the world. Jack has a gap in his memory that hides something he dares not face, and he’s probably suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maisie, seeking relief from her housebound and often surly son, hires Beau to cook for Jack, hoping the change might help bring Jack, once a handsome and vibrant attorney, back to his former self. But can a new face and comfort food compensate for the terror lurking in Jack’s past? Slowly the two men begin a dance of revelation and healing. Food and compassion build a bridge between Beau and Jack, a bridge that might lead to love. But will Jack’s demons allow it? His history could just as easily tear them apart as bring them together.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The First Chapter of my Lambda Literary Award Finalist BLUE UMBRELLA SKY

 





Blue Umbrella Sky is my novel about starting over and how love can heal wounds. It was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

I thought you might enjoy reading the first chapter to see if this tale of two lost souls finding redemption and love in each other might whet your appetite for more.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Milt Grabaur has left his life, home, and teaching career in Ohio to start anew. The Summer Winds trailer park in Palm Springs, butted up against the San Jacinto mountain range, seems the perfect place to forget the pain of nursing his beloved husband through Alzheimer's and seeing him off on his final passage.


Billy Blue is a sexy California surfer type who once dreamed of being a singer but now works at Trader Joe’s and lives in his own trailer at Summer Winds. He’s focused on recovery from the alcoholism that put his dreams on hold. When his new neighbor moves in, Billy falls for the gray-eyed man. His sadness and loneliness awaken something Billy’s never felt before—real love.

When a summer storm and flash flood jeopardize Milt's home, Billy comes to the rescue, hoping the two men might get better acquainted… and maybe begin a new romance. But Milt's devotion to his late husband is strong, and he worries that acting on his attraction will be a betrayal.

Can they lay down their baggage and find out how redemptive love can be?


BUY
Amazon
NineStar Press

BLUE UMBRELLA SKY
CHAPTER ONE

Milt Grabaur stared out the window of his trailer, wondering how much worse it could get.
The deluge poured down, gray, almost obscuring his neighbors’ homes and the barren desert landscape beyond. The rain hammered on his metal roof, sounding like automatic gunfire. Milt shivered a little, thinking of that old song, “It Never Rains in Southern California.”
He leaned closer to the picture window, pressing his hand against the glass and whispering to himself, “But it pours.”
That window had given him his daily view for the last six months, ever since he’d packed up a life’s worth of belongings and made his way south and west to Palm Springs and the Summer Winds Mobile Home Community. This same picture window, almost every single day, had shown him only endless blue skies and sunshine. An errant cloud or a jet contrail would occasionally break up the field of electric blue, but other than that, it was azure perfection. Milt reveled in it. He’d begun to think these expanses of blue, lit up by golden illumination, would never cease.
Until today.
At about three o’clock, that blue sky, for the first time, was overcome with gray, a foreboding mass of bruised clouds. Milt wondered, because of his experience in the desert so far, if the clouds would be only that—foreboding. The magical gods of the Coachella Valley would, of course, sweep away those frowning and depressing masses of imminent precipitation with a wave of their enchanted hands.
Surely.
But the sky continued to darken, seemingly unaware of Milt’s fanciful imagining and yearnings. At last the once-blue dome above him became almost like night in midafternoon and the first heavy drops—fat beads of water—began to fall, first a slow sprinkle, where Milt could count the seconds between drops, then faster and faster, until the raindrops combined into one single and, Milt had to admit, terrifying roar.
And then an unfamiliar sound—the drumroll and cymbal crash of thunder. The sky, moments after, lit up with brilliant white light.
The rain fell in earnest. Torrents of the stuff.
The other trailers, his neighbors, nearly vanished in the relentless gray downpour. The wind howled, sending the rain capriciously sideways every few seconds. The palm trees in his front yard swayed and bent with the ruthless gusts, testimony to their strength, despite their appearance of being stalklike and weak. The wind tore dry husks of bark from them.
At first Milt was unconcerned, thinking the rain could only do good. It would bless the parched succulents, cacti, and palms that dotted the rocky, sandy landscape of the park, maybe even bring them to colorful life, forcing a brilliant desert flower, here and there, to bloom. His decade-old Honda Civic, parked next to the trailer, would get a wash, the thick layer of sand and dust chased away, almost pressure-cleaned.
For the half a year he’d been here, Milt had been amazed at how clean everything could look when, in actuality, anything outdoors was quickly covered in a veneer of fine sand, almost like gritty dust. Milt was forever wiping off his patio furniture, cleaning the glass surfaces of his car. But this minor inconvenience was more than outweighed by the stunning and almost surreal appearance of the Coachella Valley and the desert, a wild beauty which far surpassed anything even an optimistic Milt had dreamed of when he had made up his mind, somewhat suddenly, to shed his old life in Ohio and move out to Southern California.
He stared out at the gusts of wind, the flashes of lightning, and the almost-blinding downpour and realized he had no idea it could be like this. The trailer park was smack up against the San Jacinto mountain range, and Milt realized with horror that not only would the little park suffer from the copious water falling from the sky, but it would also be the beneficiary, like it or not, of runoff as it came hurtling down the mountain face.
As if to confirm his notion, Milt gasped as he noticed the street in front of his trailer.
It was no longer a street.
Not really.
No, now it was a creek. A creek notable for its rushing rapids. Water was speeding by at an unprecedented pace. Milt sucked in some air as he saw a lawn chair go by, buoyed up by the current. Then a plastic end table. An inflatable pool toy—a swan—that Milt supposed was in the right place at the right time. But the damp throw pillows whizzing by, like soggy oyster crackers in soup, were not.
Milt turned to look behind him at the sound of a whimper.
“Oh, what’s the matter, sweetheart?” He held out a beseeching hand to the gray-and-white pit bull mix he’d picked up from the Palm Springs Animal Shelter over on Mesquite the first week he’d gotten here. “It’s okay.”
She looked ferocious but was a big softie, easily frightened, shy, and with a disposition that made Mother Teresa look like a terrorist. Ruby, he’d called her on a whim, in honor of the kind lady that lived two doors down from him when he was a little boy back in Summitville, Ohio. That Ruby, like this one, had always been kind but retiring, shying from the slightest spotlight.
This Ruby, right now, was terrified, her tail between her legs, backing toward the shadowy corners of the room, eyes wide with fear. Milt reached out, trying to grab the frightened dog, but she scurried away and dashed out of sight down the narrow hallway leading to his bedroom, nails clattering, slipping and sliding on the tile floor. Milt sighed, knowing exactly what she was doing even though he couldn’t see her—scurrying under his bed to cower among the dust bunnies and cast-off shoes.
It would take hours—and treats—to coax her out. Milt knew from experience….
He returned his attention to the storm raging outside, which showed no signs of abating.
Plus—and this made Milt groan—there was a new wrinkle to the carnage. Not only were the streets around his trailer now rapidly flowing rivers; Milt also realized with horror he was about to get flooded.
He gazed down on standing water several inches deep spread out across his patio. It covered the outdoor rugs he’d bought, with their whimsical cactus design, soaking them like washcloths. It rose up the sides of his patio furniture. Milt swore he could see it getting higher and higher.
Worst of all, Milt watched the water hover just outside the sliding glass doors, waiting, perhaps, for an invitation to come inside.
Ah, the hell with it, the water seemed to say, why wait for an invitation? This party needs crashing!
And it began to seep in…. A little at first, and then faster and faster, until his entire floor was covered.
Milt involuntarily cried out, voice high-pitched and terrified, nothing like the butch forty-two-year-old he thought himself. “Help! Flood! Somebody, please!” The cry was pure panic. Logically, he knew no one would hear.
What that helper would do, Milt had no idea, but he simply wanted someone to be with him in his predicament. The thought flitted across his consciousness that he’d been here six months, and it wasn’t until today and the advent of a rainstorm of biblical proportions that he realized he didn’t want to be alone. He swore as warm water covered his bare feet at the exact moment his power went out, plunging his little sanctuary into murky dark.
And at this very unnerving moment, Milt realized—gratefully—someone just might have heard his pleas for help. There was a pounding at the back door, rattling the glass jalousie panes. He turned, confused for a moment—he’d cast himself as a sole survivor, a man against nature, alone.
The pounding continued. A voice. “Hey! You okay in there?”
Milt crossed the living room and the small galley kitchen to get to the back door. But when he opened it, there was no one there. The wind pushed at him, mocking, and the rain sent a drenching spray against him. Despite getting soaked, Milt leaned out, gripping the door’s frame with both hands for balance, and looked around.
Even though the covering of storm clouds had made it seem as though a dusky twilight had fallen, he could see that there was no one there.
He wondered if he’d imagined the knocking and the voice. He really didn’t know his neighbors, having kept to himself since he’d moved out here because he just wasn’t ready to connect with others again. He’d given so much to his Corky during those final tortured months…. Sometimes Milt felt he had nothing left to give anyone again ever.
And a dog, cowering and bashful as she might be, had been company enough.
His little reverie was shattered by a second round of knocking, this time at the sliding glass doors in his living room. “Okay, so I’m not hearing things.” Milt turned away from the back door and headed to the sliders.
Outside, a young man stood, drenched from head to toe, in a pair of neon-pink board shorts and, well, nothing else. Maybe there’s flip-flops. Milt couldn’t see the guy’s feet. His jaw dropped as he hurried to open the door. In spite of all that was going on—the storm, the flood, the risk of his home being destroyed—he couldn’t help his thoughts, notions he’d decided long ago died within him.
I am looking at an angel; that’s all there is to it. He’s going to sweep me away in those muscular arms, lifting me right up to heaven and setting me down gently next to my Corky.
Milt shook his head. A short burst of laughter escaped him, almost as if someone else were chuckling in his living room with him.
The guy was handsome, a tanned and buff dreamboat. Corky would have loved him, saying, once upon a time, that looks like this boy’s should be illegal, or at least sinful. Milt smiled.
Even though his hair was plastered to his head, Milt could tell it was thick and luxurious—right now the color of dark wheat, but Milt was certain that in dryer moments, it was as gold as the pure, unfiltered sunshine Milt had grown accustomed to being greeted by every morning. He had a body that made Milt, if only for a moment, forget the storm and the fact that he was a widower, still grieving nearly a year after losing his man. Muscles, smooth bronze skin, and a six-pack had the power of oblivion, of taking precedence over everything else.
Stop, he mentally chastised himself. He flung open the slider, noticing the rain had—at last—slowed to a patter and the winds had died down almost completely. Milt, though, couldn’t seem to put lips and tongue together to form a greeting or ask a question or to even say anything at all. His eyebrows came together like two caterpillars possessed of their own will.
“Hey there, man. I heard you calling out for help.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I live in the unit behind you.” He smiled, revealing electric-white teeth that made Milt’s thoughts go even more blank or even more lascivious, he wasn’t sure which. He shivered.
The guy gave Milt a more tentative smile, the type you’d give to the kindly neighbor down the street who’d just emerged from home wearing nothing but a pair of saddle shoes and a big smile. Milt wondered if the guy thought he was encountering a person who couldn’t speak, or maybe someone whose mind had completely deserted him. Lord knew Milt was familiar enough with people like that, having  only very recently seen to every need of a person just like that.
“Are you okay, buddy?”
Milt managed a smile, despite the fact that his feet squished on the soaked carpeting. Oh Lord, is everything ruined? How much is this going to cost? Is it going to wipe me out? “Yeah,” Milt sputtered. He glanced behind him. “It looks as though I’m getting flooded.” There appeared to be at least a couple of inches of water covering the floor of his trailer. He groaned.
The young man leaned in to survey the damage and gave a low whistle. “Yikes!” He leaned back out so he could face Milt. “Bet you didn’t think you needed to worry about flooding in the desert?”
Milt shook his head. “Well, it wasn’t foremost.” He glanced behind him again, feeling like his sanctuary had been violated—as it indeed had. And what fresh hell would spring forth from the damage? “What am I gonna do?”
“Well, my opinion is you need to get yourself the hell out of there. As I said, I’m right behind you, up the mountain a tad, so I’m still dry. You wanna grab some of your stuff just in case and come on over?”
“Stuff?”
“Yeah, man, like, I don’t know, a laptop, maybe? Family pictures? Important papers? You know, just in case. The stuff you’d run out of here with if the place caught on fire.”
“Oh, right.” Milt sighed. “This is awfully kind of you.”
“Hey, we’re neighbors. At Summer Winds, we look out for each other. I’ve been wanting to meet you, anyway. Sucks that it has to be under these circumstances. But come on, I’ve got a dry house, air-conditioning, and enough candy to send you into a diabetic coma.” He laughed.
Milt stood, his mind beating a hasty retreat. He shouldn’t feel indecisive, but he did.
“Or if you have other plans…,” the man finally said. “Indoor pool party?”
“No. No! I’d love to come over.” Milt looked around his place once more. Most of his stuff was up high enough that it wouldn’t get wet, unless the trailer toppled over or something, but there was one thing he couldn’t just leave behind. “I need to get Ruby.”
“Ruby?”
“My girl, my dog!” Milt snapped, as if his visitor should know. He immediately regretted his tone, but his neighbor simply seemed to be taking his dire straits way too lightly.
“Ruby. Cute name. I’ve seen you walking her. She’s sweet. Go grab her. She’s welcome too. Animals of all varieties are welcome in my crib.” He winked. “I used to have a dog myself, a Yorkie, Bergamot, that thought he was a Doberman.” He frowned. “But he passed away last winter. Coyote got him.”
Milt jerked a little in horror. “I’m sorry.”
Milt couldn’t imagine losing his dog—he’d already fallen hopelessly in love with Ruby. He felt a deep-seated twinge of empathy. “The storm shook her up. Let me just see if I can coax her out from under the bed.” Milt didn’t think the task would be too tough, since it was now wet under the bed and Ruby hated water. He turned and started away, sloshing through the hateful water. Midstream, so to speak, he changed his mind and turned back.
He held out a hand. “I’m sorry. Milt. Milt Grabaur. I’d invite you in, but my place, as you can see, isn’t exactly presentable.” He laughed and then felt like bursting into tears.
“If you knew I was coming, you’d have baked a cake? A sponge cake?” He snorted and shook Milt’s hand with a big calloused paw. “Billy Blue.”
Milt smiled. “Seriously?”
Billy shrugged. “Yeah, my mom and dad had a great sense of humor. Or thought I was destined for the stage, instead of cashier at Trader Joe’s. The advantage of a name like mine, silly as it is, is that people tend not to forget it.”
“I think it’s a lovely name.” Milt met Billy Blue’s gaze—and thought how fortuitous it was that his irises matched the color of his last name. And you’re a lovely man. Handsome, built like a brick shithouse—and sweet as pie.
“I’ll be right back with Ruby.” He turned and this time did manage to slosh to the very rear of the trailer, where his wood-paneled master bedroom awaited. Before he even stooped down in the grimy water to coax, he began talking to Ruby. “Good girl. Nothin’ to be ascared of, honey,” Milt said in his most soothing voice, cadence and words dredged up from his boyhood memories of living near the river in the foothills of the Appalachians, in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. He squatted down, wincing a little as his knees came into contact with the spongy shag carpeting he’d hoped to replace one day, and lifted the bottom of the comforter, which was stained dark from the water.
Underneath the bed there was only a couple of inches of water, a pair of Keen sandals, and a metal storage box that contained Milt’s “toys”—and we’re not talking Fisher-Price here.
There was no Ruby. Nor any other living creature.
Milt got to his feet, groaning, and took stock of the entire bedroom, thinking perhaps Ruby had retreated to a corner or hidden behind the chest of drawers. But she was nowhere to be found, not even in the adjacent bathroom, which looked now as though Milt had taken a long, long shower and had simply not bothered to turn the water off.
Knowing she wouldn’t be there, but checking anyway, Milt opened the frosted glass shower door to find it empty.
He made a tour of the trailer, getting more and more anxious with each step, with each empty nook and cranny. “Ruby?” he called out several times, each time his voice growing louder, as though sheer volume would make her appear.
But she didn’t.
And the thoughtlessly left-open back door gave testimony to what had most likely happened. The poor terrified girl had probably tried to escape that way, running headlong into a fate worse than she was trying to escape. Milt hurried to the open door, peering out onto his little patio, hoping against hope she’d be out there, stub of a tail sending up splashes as she looked mournfully at him.
But Ruby was gone.
Milt felt as though his heart would break.
He closed the door behind him, sighing and wondering if he should leave it open, just in case she tried to return. Return to what? A trailer flooded with filthy—and probably bacteria-ridden—water?
He moved back to the sliders, looking over Billy’s broad shoulders, hoping Ruby would appear on the doused desert landscape.
Billy smiled at Milt’s return. “Dog?” he wondered.
Milt’s breath caught. The day, or not really the day but only, really, the past few minutes, had been a disaster. Disasters happen fast and savage in Palm Springs. He wasn’t sure he could speak without bursting into tears, without chastising himself for his own carelessness.
If only I hadn’t left that damn door open.
“She’s nowhere to be found.” Milt shrugged.
Billy frowned, and his gaze seemed to reach out to Milt in sympathy, which made Milt want to cry even more. “She’ll turn up.” Billy changed his expression to a reassuring smile. “She’s got it good—a man all to herself, and I assume a limitless supply of treats.” He winked. “I wish I could say the same.”
Ah, so he’s one of us. I thought so, but one doesn’t want to assume. “I’m sure you’re right,” Milt said, although he wasn’t sure at all.
“You still want to come over? I got carnitas cooking in the Crock-Pot. Homemade tortillas. I may be blond, but I cook like the locals.”
Milt managed a smile. The thought of food made his stomach turn, thinking of Ruby running around out there somewhere—with threats like coyotes, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes all around, just to name a few. She might look fierce, but Milt feared she wouldn’t last long up against the desert’s more formidable predators.
At least it’s not raining anymore.
“You wanna gather some stuff up?”
Milt shook his head. “It’ll be okay.” Barefoot, morose, he stepped through the sliders and outside.
“Atta boy. We’ll get settled over at my place, and then we can do a little search-and-rescue mission. I’m sure she’s not far away.”
“I hope not.” Milt followed Billy Blue into the unseasonably damp day. Steam was already beginning to rise off surfaces not under water.
The sun was beginning to come out again, revealing blue skies.
Milt couldn’t see it, though.


Monday, July 18, 2022

SEASPRAY Gets a Rave Review from OnTopDownUnder Book Reviews


Today, I'm #grateful for #book reviewers who "get it" and understand completely what I was trying to do and say in my work. I've had the good fortune to get many positive reviews over the years, but I don't think one has ever brought me to tears.


Until yesterday... OnTopDownUnder Reviews (and reviewer Cindi InBama) wrote the lovely and heartfelt review below of SEASPRAY, my latest book. I'm pasting it in its entirety because it's the stuff #writer #dreams are made of.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
"I’m not sure how to tag this book. It’s a contemporary story but not. The only way to explain it correctly is to give serious spoilers. I won’t be doing that. You have to read the book to understand it. If you do read it, pay close attention to everything. What may seem insignificant probably isn’t. I ended this knowing I’ll be reading it again soon to better understand certain details that were thrown out that didn’t make a lot of sense early but they did later.

I’ll start with the characters, each of which is very important to the story as a whole.

First, there’s Winslow, the main character, and Chad, his abusive longtime boyfriend. The book starts with a quick prologue that basically sets the tone of the story. The reader doesn’t know how until long into it. After a particularly violent episode with Chad, something happens and Winslow’s life as he knows it changes drastically. One minute he’s dealing with Chad’s abuse, and the next minute he’s in a town he’s never been to before. Winslow has never been to the ocean, doesn’t live anywhere near one, yet here he is suddenly waking up in a place called Seaspray that has ocean views unlike anything he’d ever imagined.

The place I found myself in was all about questions. And yet, the only word I could think of for being in this place was – serene.

He’s a little nervous at first but I wouldn’t say he’s scared. Confused, sure, but not scared. As he tries to figure out the why and how, he meets an elderly woman named Frankie who takes him into her home as if he belongs there.

I adored Frankie. She was kind, giving, trusting. She reminded me of one of my late sisters in a lot of ways.

As Winslow tries to figure out how he ended up in Seaspray, other characters are introduced, each having a chapter (or more) in their own POV.

I admit that I got confused with the random intros of new characters that seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with Winslow. Only they did. I just didn’t know that until later.

There’s Julia, an addict who was once a doting mother and wife before a back injury started her journey of addiction.

There’s Myrtle, a stray dog that Winslow takes in; with Frankie’s blessing, of course. Myrtle is special in a way I can’t say in my review.

There’s Grace, Winslow’s mother, and Jaime Ryan, a patrol officer in Seaspray.

Then we get to Darryn and his very religious mother Cora. Darryn is twenty-one (it’s actually his 21st birthday) when he meets Winslow outside of Q, a gay bar. Darryn’s in the closet so it takes a lot for him to build up the courage to even get out of his car. The meeting between Winslow and Darryn is a little confusing. Not them meeting but how they’re able to meet. That’s one of those things that’s later explained.

I despise flashbacks in books. Always have. In Seaspray not only were they necessary, but they were written brilliantly. There’s quite a bit of jumping around, but again, it makes sense later. It’s like all of a sudden everything just clicks – all the different characters, the small details that turn out to be not so small, the meeting between Darryn and Winslow, everything that happened with Chad… it all comes together. The author even allows the reader inside Chad’s head. While it didn’t change my opinion of him (by any means), it did give me a glimpse of why he may have turned out the way he did. I’m glad that wasn’t elaborated on too much. He’s not one of those characters I’d ever want to sympathize with. Learning more about his past may have had me feeling a little bad for the guy. Not for the Chad in the here and now – he was a total bastard – but the young boy who turned into that.

Seaspray reminded me in a way of some of the late great Eric Arvin’s books, most notably Woke Up In A Strange Place. In Eric’s books there were so many details thrown out that appeared to make no sense and have no connection to certain things in the story. Only they did. You just have to really think, really pay attention to what you’re reading. If you do, every single thing you’ve read will make perfect sense. That was Seaspray 100%.

It’s been a long while since I’ve read one of Rick’s books, and the above paragraph kind of explains why. He’s my favorite author and has been for years. When I sit down with a Rick R. Reed book I want to take time and truly fall into the story, get lost in it. Because of things happening in my real world, I didn’t think I could mentally do that and do the books justice in a review. For that reason, I held off, only allowing myself to read books that didn’t require much thought. I definitely don’t mean that against the other authors I’ve read. My point is that Rick’s books do, as Seaspray proves, require extra attention to every single detail or you risk missing something that’s later explained. Honestly, I’m glad Seaspray is my first one of his to pick up in a while. It’s brilliantly written and tells a very unique story.

There’s a romance of sorts between Winslow and Darryn, though that’s not the main focus of the story. And honestly, it shouldn’t be. There’s also insta-love for both of them. While it may not seem like it as Winslow makes a life of sorts in Seaspray, things really do move fast. As for Chad, the abusing bastard of a boyfriend, you can’t not hate him. Cora, Darryn’s mother, is another character I thought I’d hate. I kind of did at first but that didn’t last. All she cared about was her son and making sure he was happy.

Seaspray is a magical place that will leave you wondering if it’s real, a dream, or merely a figment of one very overactive imagination. Regardless of what it is, it’s a place I’d love to visit, maybe even sit and have a cup of tea and conversation with Frankie.

I have missed the hell out of Rick’s writing. I can’t wait to play catch up on his others I’ve missed.

If you’re looking for a typical gay romance, this isn’t it. It’s more of a story of personal growth for Winslow and his realizing that the life he had before was just a stepping stone to the one he’s meant to have. A painful stepping stone, but one that gave him strength and courage to move on to where he’s supposed to be.

I love the ending and epilogue.

A fantastic book that I’ll be rereading soon.

Get your copy
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Seaspray-Rick-R-Reed-ebook/dp/B0B4KTWBNB
Other retailers: https://books2read.com/seaspray

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

My Latest Release: Seaspray

 

So excited to announce my newest book is now available in ebook with paperback to follow soon! Immerse yourself in the dreamy world of SEASPRAY, where nothing is quite what it seems...

About the Book 


Winslow Birkel is a sweet young man in his first relationship. But his boyfriend, the charming and fiery Chad Loveless, has become increasingly abusive to the point where Winslow fears for his life.

Everything changes in a single night when Winslow, fleeing yet another epic fight, goes out to a local bar and finds a sympathetic ear in a new friend, Darryn Maxwell. But when he comes home, Chad’s waiting. He’s got it in for Winslow, whom he wrongly accuses of being unfaithful.

The stormy night sends Winslow off on a journey to escape. The last thing he recalls is skidding off the road and into the river. When he awakens, he’s mysteriously in the charming seaside town of Seaspray, where people are warm and welcoming, yet their appearances and disappearances are all too inexplicable.

Back home, Darryn wonders what’s happened to the new guy he met during his first outing to the local gay bar, the Q. Darryn knows Winslow’s been abused, but he also feels he’s quickly fallen in love with Winslow.

Can Winslow and Darryn decipher their respective mysteries? Is it possible for them to reunite? Is Chad still lurking and plotting to make sure Winslow never loves anyone else? The answers to these questions await you in Seaspray, where you may, or may not, ever leave.

Excerpt

Seaspray
Rick R. Reed © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Winslow

I opened my eyes to a world of blue and green. An eel, long with zebra stripes, swam by, undulating. A school of goldfish with Margaret Keane eyes and puckered lips circled, putting me in the eye of a surreal hurricane. A flick of their tails and they swam off as one.

The bubbles floated up, pouring from my mouth and nostrils.

My lungs weren’t tight. There was no desperate need to breathe, no panic. Mentally, I went back and forth—remain underwater, watching the play of light and shadow and the undulating flora in its rainbow of neon colors, or kick and rise to the surface.

But what was above, beyond the water, was a mystery.

The threat of certain death caused me to ascend toward the light shimmering on the water’s surface.

I broke through, sucking sweet, cold air into my lungs. I smiled, treading water.

I was not afraid.

For the first time in so long—I. Was. Not. Afraid.

I swirled in the gentle waves, which were as warm as a comforting bath, despite the chill in the air. White birds, gulls perhaps, pinwheeled above me in a leaden sky, the color of pewter. All across the water’s surface, strands of mist lay. The mist extended toward a rocky shoreline, dotted here and there with driftwood.

Cliffs rose up, chalky white at the edge of the beach. At the top, stands of pine towered over the sea, sentinels. Tree-covered hills, in shades of deep emerald, reached to touch the leaden sky. The top ones were shrouded in mist.

Where was I?

I stretched out in the water, part of me unwilling to leave, but following an instinct for self-preservation, I swam slowly to the shore. It felt like I was far from it, maybe even by as much as a mile, yet I covered the distance in mere minutes.

I pulled myself onto the beach, breathing harder but not gasping, and lay among the pebbles. Oddly, it was as comfortable as my grandma’s feather bed once was.

I remained there for a while, staring up at the sky, where the charcoal clouds were beginning to be burned away by the sun. As the gray vanished, it was replaced with patches of blue.

I could lie here all day, resting.

And then I tensed. A memory floated into consciousness, making me recall a horrible night. When was it? Paradoxically, the memory could have been years or only minutes ago.

My name is Winslow Birkel, and this is one of the things memory is forcing me to confront:

»

I sank into the driver’s seat of my beat-up Nissan Versa. At the little riverfront park, I marked the slow progress of a river barge cutting through the dark water. Its lights, reflected on the water’s shifting black surface, were the picture of loneliness.

I could identify with loneliness. Separation. Isolation. These days, they were my only companions.

I also could identify with fanciful notions and, in my mind’s eye, realized how the reflections of the barge’s lights on the dark water, golden, appeared to be traveling upward. If I looked at them just the right way, I could visualize them as shimmering fountains contrasted against a black background. How I longed to enter a world of golden fountains casting off the darkness.

Even though now, on this beach, I felt totally free of pain as though someone had dosed me with morphine, the memory of pain in my ribs was there. I imagined the intensity of the hurt when I dared to draw in a deep breath.

Like a doctor in a film, I visualized the bruise on my lower back above where my kidneys were. I could still feel the dull, unrelenting throb. The red marks in the shape of fists darkened to purple, a malevolent blooming.

Yet even with the bursts of nauseating pain, what hurt the most wasn’t physical.

I knew I’d fled the house I’d once occupied—I’d never call it a home because home meant warmth, security, stability, and most of all, safety.

I’d dashed out, looking over my shoulder at a menacing figure standing in the open front doorway of our house, fists clenched. Chad Loveless, my partner—I’d never call him my beloved, or lover, or even friend, not ever again—glared.

What had it been this time? Oh yeah, I’d broken his favorite coffee mug, the one with a German shepherd cartoon figure on a black background, as I was washing dishes. The mug had been slippery in my sudsy hands, and it had dropped. I’d gasped as it shattered on the linoleum kitchen floor, the dread and terror way out of proportion, rising immediately.

And so did Chad. He hurried into the kitchen from his recliner in the front room and forced me to the floor by the back of my neck.

The most menacing thing about this man I’d thrown my lot in with (love no longer entered the equation) was—and this would be surprising to an outsider—his smile. The smile never wavered, not when Chad was berating me for some real or imagined fault, nor when a fist connected with a soft spot on my body—rarely my face—it was our little secret, hidden by the baggy jeans and sweatshirts I favored.

He’d smile and smile and smile, as though what he was delivering was not pain and casual cruelty, but joy.

Joy had not had a place in our house for such a long time. Back then I didn’t think I’d know if I’d recognize the emotion if it turned up at the front door wearing a ribbon.

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Meet the Author


Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

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Thursday, June 30, 2022

My Thriller, TOXIC, Just Released in Audiobook!

 

So thrilled to announce the release of my newest book newest version, an audiobook performed by the amazing Paul Will! Toxic is a chilling thriller that #1 New York Times bestselling crime and thriller author Gregg Olsen calls,

 "a smart, nuanced novel of dark and compelling relationships with sparks of wicked humor - an unmitigated triumph by a master of twisted suspense..." 

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ABOUT THE BOOK


Connor Ryman thought he had it all—a successful career as a mystery novelist, a condo with stunning views of Seattle’s Lake Union, a supportive and long-term partner, Steve, and a loving daughter, Miranda, who was following in her father’s creative footsteps.

It all went bad when Steve left the family suddenly. Jilted and heartbroken, Connor begins to search for love online. So long off the market, he enlists his daughter’s help in crafting a dating profile.

His prayers are answered when Trey Goodall, smart and handsome, answers his ad. He’s witty, urbane, a wealthy attorney, and his sex appeal is off the charts. But he’s a liar, a monster under a pretty mask. Miranda sees through the red flags and senses something very wrong beneath the fa├žade.

Can she convince her father to save himself before it’s too late? Or will Trey, a master manipulator with a very tainted history, play upon Connor’s innocence to ensnare him in a web of deceit, intrigue, and, ultimately, murder?

Excerpt

Toxic
Rick R. Reed © 2022
All Rights Reserved

“I know who you are and I saw what you did.”

The voice on the phone was tinged with acid, yet came out a little shaky and short of breath.

Despite the fear and acrimony in the voice, Trey Goodall hoped that the caller, a man named Jimmy Dale, was making a feeble joke, a lame reference to an old black-and-white thriller from the ’60s. Trey wasn’t ready for his game to be over.

“That’s funny, Jim. Did you watch that movie when you were a kid too? Back in the days of black-and-white TVs and Chiller Theater?”

“I’m not trying to be funny, Trey.” Jimmy halted, obviously frustrated. A slow grin creased Trey’s features. Jimmy sucked in air, obviously holding a sob in check.

There’s something delicious about when they cry.

Despite the delight in Jimmy’s pain, Trey feared it might come to this. This one, he knew, was too smart to stay in the dark for long. Sooner or later, Trey always got found out. He had a trail of broken hearts—and shattered bank accounts—behind him to prove it. Still, later was better because he could usually walk away with a little something in his pocket.

“Then what are you trying to be, dollface?”

“Oh, please save the terms of endearment—”

Trey interrupted. “Another movie reference! Bravo. When do I get a chance to play?”

His question, predictably, was answered with silence on the other end. Trey pressed the phone closer to his ear, listening for further telltale signs of tears, of trauma, of despair. Not that his aim was to instigate any of those emotions, but Trey was like a dog—any attention was good.

Finally, Jimmy spoke. “I don’t want to see or hear from you ever again.”

“Aw, you’re breaking my heart here.” Trey threw open the door to his motel room on Aurora Avenue. Outside, in the waning purple-gray light of dusk, a couple fought, seemingly to the death, in the litter-strewn parking lot. The woman had bleached blonde hair, a handful of which her companion had clutched in one hand. She wore an old flannel shirt, the sleeves cut off. It had come open and her dirty bra showed. The guy was a brute, big and hairy, and obviously had never learned how to treat a lady.

A kid of about eighteen, at most, sat on the curb in front of a parked rusted-out SUV. He was wearing a hoodie, ripped jeans, and a pair of work boots. His head was shaved and this, combined with his whitish pallor and skin-and-bones physique, made him look like a concentration camp survivor. A rheumy, bloodshot gaze moved dully over to Trey. The kid made a lame attempt to hide the meth pipe in his hand.

Trey slammed the door. He deserved better than this sordid dump. He should have been living in a luxury condo downtown overlooking Puget Sound, or maybe a house on Bainbridge Island with expansive mountain and water views.

Instead, here he was on Seattle’s Aurora Avenue, in one of a cluster of rundown motels where the clientele consisted of addicts, prostitutes, and those seeking to party with a capital T in one of the rooms.

He didn’t deserve enduring the chance of bedbugs or crabs. He didn’t like living amid cigarette-burned carpets and mold and hair decorating the bathroom fixtures.

“Stop.” Jimmy sucked in some more air. The guy’s gonna need an asthma inhaler soon. But Trey supposed he was trying to gain a measure of control. Jimmy was wounded, and of course he wanted to hide it, but he couldn’t. “Your heart can’t be breaking because you haven’t got one to break.”

“Ouch.” Trey chuckled, as though to demonstrate the insult was simply water off a duck’s back.

But it wasn’t.

Trey would never let on, but the reference cut like a knife to his very real heart, which was a broken thing.

In his mind, a vision arose. Trey chased it away as quickly as it appeared—but there it was: a vision of his mom, back in Trey’s old hometown of Wellsville, Ohio, burning him with her cigarette and laughing as Trey tried to be brave, tried desperately not to scream or wince because he knew if he showed his pain, his fear, it would only make things worse. Now it was his turn to try to buck up, be brave. “Things not working out the way you expected?”

There was no mirth in Jimmy’s laugh. Trey wanted to ask which was better—bitter laughter or abject tears. But he kept quiet and waited. He’d been through this before. Caught. Discarded.

There was always another sucker in the wings.

“What I expected…” Jimmy trailed off and started again. “What I expected was maybe a relationship. I’m forty-seven years old, Trey. I’ve spent my whole life pushing love away so I could build my career. Now I have a thriving law practice and make more money than I really know what to do with. But you know all that. You knew all that, I figure, before we even met, when you were researching me. I know you don’t have it in you to feel compassion or empathy, but all the money and success in the world doesn’t change the fact that I come home every night to a professionally decorated condominium in the clouds. Alone. Wishing I’d spent more time seeking love instead of that almighty dollar.” He drew in a breath that sounded like a shudder. “Ah, what do you care? You wanted my money. You’re not alone, but you were greedier and sneakier than most.”

Jimmy stopped and Trey listened again for some sign. Would it be worth it to try to save things? Maybe woo Jimmy with the old lines—this was all a misunderstanding. I really love you, man. I started off with bad intentions, but then you caught me. Can we start over? Sometimes crap like that worked. Trey was smart enough, and experienced enough, to know it wouldn’t here.

It’s too late, baby.

“Was any of it true?” Jimmy wondered.

Trey was getting bored. He had no use for this man with whom he’d shared so many recent days and nights. He was worthless now that he’d exposed Trey for who he really was. What Jimmy didn’t know, and didn’t need to know, was that what he’d discovered about Trey was only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s time to move on.

Trey glanced in the mirror over the bathroom sink and nodded approvingly. He still had it. Pushing fifty, but looking at least a decade younger, he was gorgeous. Black wavy hair, ice-blue eyes, full lips, a body taut and packed with muscle. He could always dazzle, and all the magic hadn’t escaped.

There’d be someone else.

And with that someone else, he might hit that elusive jackpot.

The laptop was already open on the desk. And there were eleven new messages.

For once, Trey might as well tell the truth. “No, kid. None of it was true. You’re pathetic. Weak. I feel sorry for you, more than anything else.” He said the words casually, as though they were discussing the weather or how the Seahawks were faring this season. “You’re a fool. A fool for love.” Trey chuckled.

And that broke Jimmy. He began to sob harder now, the grief confirmed and kicking its way to the surface.

Trey listened as the sobbing grew in volume and agony. This is a drag, a bore. He stared longingly at the door, wishing this would be over. How long did he have to listen anyway? Just to be polite? He cut to the quick. “You’ve been played,” Trey said softly. “Get over it.”

He hung up. The computer’s glow reminded him that it was time to find someone else. The right one. A chime alerted him he had yet another message.

But there would be time to attend to that in the morning. Time also for reading. He glanced down at his nightstand. A mystery novel, Cookie Cutter by Alfred Knox, lay there in its mass market paperback edition. It had a stark white cover with only an illustration of a heart-shaped cookie cutter which dripped blood into the crimson title. Below it, a stack of old magazines with articles about Knox, who lived only a few miles south.

Right now, though, Trey needed a little oblivion. He crossed the room and opened the door. The kid with the meth pipe still sat out there on the curb. He didn’t even bother to hide his glass pipe now.

Trey cast his most winning smile. “Wanna come inside?” He opened the door wider, stepping back and confidently waiting as the kid stood.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

New and Notable: PARASITE by Ridley Harker

 

Genre: Horror, LGBTQIA+, Action/adventure, coming-of-age, dark, humorous

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About the Book

Seventeen-year-old Jack Ives is used to being unlucky. His only friend has just moved away to college, his parents are alcoholics, and he’s relentlessly bullied by the town psychopath. All that begins to change with the arrival of a handsome but quirky new student, Lucien, who wants to be more than friends.

Their newfound happiness doesn’t last, however, as a strange new illness strikes the island. Fishermen go missing, and the villagers left behind aren’t themselves anymore. When Lucien is suspected to be the cause of the outbreak, can Jack overcome his teenage hormones and save Eldrick Isle? Will he even want to?

Excerpt

Parasite
Ridley Harker © 2022
All Rights Reserved

0054 hours

September 2, 2015

Gulf of Maine

When some kooky mainlanders offered to pay extra for a midnight ferry, Bill Jamison had jumped at the chance to pay off his bar tab. Now he regretted it. The middle-aged fisherman leaned morosely against the starboard rail while beside him his business partner, Jim Kendrick, fought the uphill battle of smoking a pipe during a storm. The rain pounded against the deck in a dull roar and, judging from Kendrick’s cursing, the pipe had gone out once again.

Not for the first time, Jamison reluctantly noted that his partner was getting on in years. Kendrick’s coat hung from his wizened frame like a cloak. His mysterious weight loss had made them both nervous, not that either one said anything. For an Eldrick Islander, the prospect of cancer was like foul weather; something to be endured without complaint.

“Goddamned son-of-a—” Kendrick upended the pipe and a sodden wad of tobacco fell onto the deck. He kicked it away, smearing it across the boards.

“We shouldn’t have gone out tonight,” Jamison said.

“Horse shit,” Kendrick huffed. “We’ve sailed through worse than this.”

“That ain’t what I meant.” Jamison jerked his head toward the mainlander lurking near the bow of the ferry.

Tall and blond, his passenger’s washed-out appearance resembled a photograph, the kind found in a neglected attic of subjects long deceased. Judging by the young man’s pinched frown, Jamison assumed that Silas Spencer was either a lawyer or an undertaker. He shuddered; Jamison hated lawyers, having seen enough of their kind during his divorce. Blood-sucking monsters the lot of them, in his opinion, but he had never been afraid of them, not even when the wretches helped his ex-wife take half of everything he’d owned.

But he was afraid of this one.

It was the eyes. He had seen eyes like that once before, years ago. Back when he had spent much of his days drunk. Once, while Kendrick cleaned their catch, Jamison had gone too far and drunk too much. His legs had betrayed him, and he had tumbled over the side. He remembered tasting blood. A tangy mix of iron and salt that burned his lungs when he tried to inhale. His eyes had stung. He had floundered in the icy water. He, a man who had learned to swim before he could walk, was drowning.

Then the moment of panic was gone, and instinct had set in. Jamison’s powerful legs had propelled him upwards, his arms outstretched toward the boat. He had nearly reached it before the shadow was beneath him. It came at him like a torpedo, almost too fast for his gin-addled brain to comprehend. A massive, prehistoric monster armed with muscled jaws and sandpaper skin. The soulless black pits of its eyes rolled back in its head, and its gaping maw expanded to reveal rows upon row of serrated teeth.

In the split second before the attack, Jamison had stared into the darkness of oblivion—then he had been shaken like a terrier on a rat. The shark had separated the flesh from his leg and sentenced him to a month in a mainland hospital whose bill he was still struggling to pay off. The very existence of such a creature disproved the notion that humans sat at the top of the food chain.

Safely back in the present, Jamison shuddered and remembered to breathe. He rubbed at his forearms, warm beneath his thick woolen sweater. He had been lucky. If he had drunk a little more gin, perhaps he wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to sink his knife deep into the shark’s eye socket. Now only scars and nightmares remained, and he hadn’t touched the bottle since. He liked to say that his rock bottom was on the ocean floor.

Jamison recognized something of that great white shark in Spencer. The man’s flat, grey eyes made his skin crawl. He glowered at Spencer’s broad-shouldered back, but Spencer didn’t seem to notice or care. His attention lay on the swirling mists beyond the ferry’s bow. Typical yuppie mainlander. Pretentious bastard, Jamison thought.

“They’re up to something,” he said aloud, glancing toward the cabin where the other one had sequestered himself.

Kendrick only snorted. “They’re mainlanders. They’ll spend a few weeks on the Isle, get bored, and then go back to whatever hell hole they came from. You know the type. We get a few every other year or so.”

Jamison did know the type. Unlike Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard, Eldrick Isle never attracted the summer crowd. There was nothing to offer. The once booming fishing industry had been usurped by commercial trawlers decades ago, forcing the neighboring isles to turn to seaweed farming instead. Eldrick, however, chose to bow its head and soldier on, clinging to the memory of its glory days. Billboards advertised a hotel that had long since shuttered its doors. The lone diner had a Visitor’s Special that no one ever ordered. The pier greeting the newcomers reeked of dead fish, the ever-present stench emanating from the dozen or so rusted fishing boats docked in the harbor.

Then there was the island itself: Eldrick’s shores were steep, rocky cliffs, with edges sharp and jagged like broken teeth. The surf stirred up debris and rotting vegetation, littering the island’s few beaches with trash from the abandoned canning factory on the island’s east side. Even the hottest days of summer were damp and chilly. Mist obscured the frigid waters. It crept onto the island, soaking through the sturdiest of coats. The few vacationers that showed up in August inevitably took one look at the dying town and turned around to book their return ticket.

Rain splattered against Jamison’s hood, echoing in his ears. Kendrick tried his pipe again to no avail. The storm lulled enough that the sound of retching was audible from within the depths of the cabin. Rasping coughs followed by the wet splatter of vomit. The downpour returned with a roar. It slipped past Jamison’s hood, soaking his neck. His shiver had nothing to do with the cold.

Kendrick abandoned his pipe and frowned, his rheumy eyes searching Jamison’s face. Jamison cleared his throat, striving to be heard over the rain and yet not loud enough for Spencer to hear. “Something’s wrong,” he shouted into Kendrick’s ear. “We were barely on the water before the kid got sick—”

“Billy, you been drinking again?” Kendrick asked, clasping Jamison’s shoulder with gnarled fingers. “When’d you get so goddamned superstitious?”

“No, I haven’t been fucking drinking! I’m only saying that this whole thing feels wrong; if one of my brothers were puking like that, I’d at least go check on him. I think the kid’s got something bad—what if it’s contagious?”

“What, like ee-bolah?” Kendrick asked, with a sharp look toward the ferry’s cabin. “Naw, it couldn’t be…”

“You checked on him?”

“No.”

“Well, someone ought to,” Jamison said.

“You do it,” Kendrick said dubiously. “Last time, I slipped in it and damn near broke my back.”

“Go check it out. If he’s only seasick then I’ll clean it up myself, but I’m telling you, something’s very wrong with that kid.”

“Christ, Billy! Nag anymore and you’re gonna sound like my wife.” Kendrick gave him a shove and then marched across the deck toward the cabin. Jamison caught movement in the corner of his eye and found Spencer watching them, his back against the railing. Their eyes met, and all of a sudden Jamison couldn’t hear the storm. There was nothing but the blood pounding in his ears. One corner of Spencer’s thin mouth twitched upward into a razor’s edge of a smirk. Jamison’s skin crawled. He wrenched his eyes away.

“Jim, wait!” Jamison shouted over the rain, but Kendrick had already knocked on the cabin door. The old sailor reached for the handle, his calloused fingers closing in on the doorknob. Jamison sucked in his breath.

Kendrick half turned around, his shoulders squared and his lips pursed, eyes narrowed beneath his bushy white brows. His hand was still on the cabin door. “Jesus Christ, Billy, what now?” he demanded. “What in the hell’s wrong with you, you crazy son of a bitch? You’re shaking like a virgin on—” He paused and glanced down. Jamison didn’t know why until Kendrick tried to take a step back. His boot remained glued to the floor.

Kendrick shoved at the door and yanked at his shoe. He stumbled as it came loose, trailing a viscous black gel behind it. More of the substance pooled out from underneath the cabin door. Lightning flashed, and a rainbow sheen coated the surface of the muck. The door creaked open.

Before Jamison shouted in warning, something darted out from the gloom. Thick and ropy, like a bundle of rotten vines, it hit Kendrick’s wrist with a wet slap, latching onto his bare skin. Kendrick sputtered, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open in a perfect caricature of surprise—then another tentacled limb emerged and shoved itself down his gullet. Like a fish on a hook, he was yanked into the cabin.

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Meet the Author

Ridley Harker is an up-and-coming horror author who delights in all things gay and spooky. While past careers have included reptile keeping at a zoo and EMT work at a casino, writing is his true passion. His favorite books are those with enemies to lovers, small town settings, and great villains. He currently lives in the Middle of Nowhere with his two dogs, a grumpy old snake, and a host of pet tarantulas.

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Friday, June 24, 2022

BLINK Is Now Out in Audiobook


I'm proud to announce that, in addition to paperback and ebook, one of my most autobiographical works in now available in audiobook.

When I was listening to this new version of Blink, it took me down memory lane—right back to my twenties and the 1980s. 

Youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! I was 23 years old in 1981, when the first part of the book takes place. I was big in denial of my gay self. So big, in fact, that I was engaged to be married to my (female) college sweetheart. A large part of the first section of the book deals with two young men being attracted to one another on one of Chicago’s L trains.

Both of them had issues. The character modeled after me, Andy, had more issues that Carlos, the character Andy lusts after, to his great shame. But even Carlos, out at the time, but still not so proud, struggles a bit with his sexuality, which is evident from this little taste from Blink, taken from Chapter 2 and written from Carlos’ point of view.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Life can change in the blink of an eye.  

That's a truth Andy Slater learns as a young man in 1982, taking the Chicago "L" to work every morning. Andy's life is laid out before him: a good job, marriage to his female college sweetheart, and the white picket fence existence he believes in. But when he sees Carlos Castillo for the first time, Carlos’ dark eyes and Latin appeal mesmerize him. Fate continues to throw them together until the two finally agree to meet up. At Andy’s apartment, the pent-up passion of both young men is ignited, but is snuffed out by an inopportune and poorly-timed phone call.  

Flash forward to present day. Andy is alone, having married, divorced, and become the father of a gay son. He’s comfortable but alone, and has never forgotten the powerful pull of Carlos’ gaze on the "L" train. He vows to find him once more, hoping for a second chance.  

If life can change in the blink of an eye, what will the passage of 30 years do? To find out, Andy begins a search that might lead to heartache and disappointment or a love that will last forever....

EXCERPT
The guy obviously has a thing for me. I’ve caught him staring now a couple of times and, hey, I’m flattered. He’s cute. No, maybe that’s not a strong enough word. He’s handsome, with green eyes and dark wavy hair that clues me into some sort of Mediterranean heritage. Italian maybe? Greek?

Whatever. Maybe the word I’m looking for is hot.

I can imagine kissing him and the feel of his dark, bushy mustache against mine.

I don’t ride the train to meet men. I don’t do much to meet men, period, to be perfectly honest. I ride the train in the mornings simply to get to St. Philomena elementary school on the west side, where I teach fourth grade.

I’m okay with being gay. I wasn’t always, hence my stint in the seminary where I studied to be a priest. I learned pretty quickly, by the grace of god, and the hands and mouth of a fellow seminarian, that the priesthood was not work I was cut out for. Not if I wanted to live my life honestly, anyway.

So I left. I had already gotten my teaching degree, concurrent with my seminarian studies, so the job at St. Phil’s, low-paying as it was, was a natural fit.

But I digress. I’m trying to sort out my feelings for this sweetheart on the train. I know he’s gay too. I know he’s attracted. But I also know that nothing will ever come of it.

Why? Because I can see that, when our eyes meet, he’s filled with shame and guilt. I recognize his remorse because I cloaked myself in that dark, heavy fabric myself for many years.

And maybe still do, a little, to this day. The Church teaches us that same-sex feelings are to be avoided. They are not of our natural order. We should turn our sights away from our own sex and devote them instead to loving and pleasing the Lord.

Yeah, good luck with that.

The Lord created that cute guy that gives me the eye on the train, the one I feel this probably misplaced connection with. What is it about him that makes me think of him all the time? Why do I hope he’ll be in my train car every time I step on to it in the morning, even though most times he’s not? Why do I try and quickly scan the windows of the train as it rumbles into the station for a glimpse of him?

Is it just because he’s cute?

There are cute men, hunks, whatever, all around. I occasionally venture out to the intersection of Grand Avenue and Clark to the New Flight bar for happy hour and bring one of them home. Or I head up farther north to the Loading Zone on Oak, where I can watch free porn in the back or dance up front. Somebody usually brings me home.

I never make any lasting connections. I don’t even know if want to. Shame lingers on me like the scent of cigarette smoke after leaving those places.

But there’s something about the guy on the train. He tugs at my heart as well as my loins. Even from the brief glances we exchange, he makes me think there’s the possibility of more than just sex. He makes me think, for the first time in my young life, that maybe I could love another man.

And that terrifies me.

Read more of Blink to see where this flirtation on the train takes these two—does it take them to love? And how long does it take for them to get there?

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