Saturday, April 28, 2018

Newsletters, Reader Groups or Leave Me Alone? By S.C. Wynne



    Image result for too many parties


Good morning, all!

I hope your day is going well. It's the weekend and that is usually awesome, right? Of course, I write full time so there are no weekends for me. In fact, I rarely even take a day off. Which I really hope to change in the coming year. But that's not my topic for today. (By the way I am not whining, at least I don't mean to. I count my lucky stars every day that I can write for a living!)

I wanted to wax poetic about my thoughts on author groups, newsletters etc. The idea of course is that you have a close group of people who really like your work, and you can interact with them and sell to them and generally have fans for life. I'm not sure that actually works. I think my problem with all of these things is if everyone has a group or a newsletter, it's a lot to expect your fans will only belong to your group and not fifty others. In which case, those poor fans would be receiving fifty newsletters!

I only send a newsletter usually when i have  new release or a special, but I know authors who send newsletters EVERY DAY. Sometimes TWICE a day! I'm sorry, that seems like way too much to me. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe readers love getting newsletters that often. *Shakes head*

But I find that a lot of readers belong to so many groups they don't really interact that much in any of the groups. Who can blame them, they'd be online all day talking to authors. lol

Because of how many groups there are to belong to, I'm not sure if readers groups are really that useful as far as using them as a sales tool. Of course, they're fun to hang out in, and I love talking to my readers. It really does make things feel more personal, which is actually kind of nice. I'm not a natural salesman, so I find pushing my books painful. But talking with readers is one of the best parts of being an author. (Hint, hint, feel free to reach out anytime!)

What do you think? Do you belong to a bunch of authors groups? Do you watch what is going on but maybe not interact much? It's possible lots of people are watching the fun, and enjoying it, but not actually interacting. I do that a LOT with writing groups. I watch and learn, but don't ever post.

Tell me what you think!

S.C.

www.sc-wynne.com




Thursday, April 26, 2018

April Releases



We have so many great new releases this month, this week I just had to share. These  are the newest projects from the narrators you've been reading every Thursday.  Check out this assorted romantic spread of audio delights.



 "Omega Stolen," by Susi Hawke.  A renegade Alpha is kidnapping and keeping Omegas in captivity.  Can a young Alpha and his new pack of misfits steal back their freedom? John Solo narrates.



"Volley Balls," by Tara Lain is book one of her "Balls to the Wall" series, and we start out with intense competition on Laguna Beach with sun, surf, the Australian sand volleyball team, and narration from Nick J. Russo.









"Teaching Ben," by Shae Connor, narrated by Kenneth Obi is student teacher / non-traditional student temptation by the semester with an A+ in campus romance.





 "Day and Knight," by Dirk Greyson, is a spy thriller action adventure of a romance. These two agents are as different as night and day, but they just might be proof that opposites attract.
Narrated by Andrew McFerrin.


"Staggered Cove Station," by Elle Brownlee takes us to the Alaskan wilderness for romance and rescue as a new Coast Guard recruit joins the station at Staggered Cove. Narration from Colin Darcy.







I hope something on this list has whetted your appetite.  We do encourage binge-listening if you're tempted to indulge.  Talk to you next week with more narration news. Happy listening!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Best Wishes to BA! from Julia, Kiernan and Sean


BA goes into surgery early on the 25th. We all wish her the best possible outcome and an easy recovery.

We love you, BA!





Sunday, April 22, 2018

Dammit Jim... I'm a Snowclone.


I'm a fan of the New York Times' "Morning Briefing" email. This is not a sales pitch, that's just a Jodi factoid. I read it every morning. The beginning of the email starts with the headlines, summarized with links if you want to read further. Then there's a "Smarter Living" section and a "Noteworthy" section that also have links about life and pop-culture kind of stuff. But what I really enjoy is the "Backstory" section at the end. 

Backstory is just interesting "did you know" kind of stuff. Stories about who was the first to reach the North Pole or about that day in 1930 when the BBC evening bulletin on the radio reported "Good Evening, Today is Good Friday. There is no news." and followed that with fifteen minutes of piano music since there was, apparently, nothing to report.

Friday, there was a black and white picture of General Douglas MacArthur, who coined the phrase, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." But the Back Story wasn't about MacArthur, it was about something called "Snowclones".

I had never heard the term "snowclones", but I've certainly used them. You have too. They gave a couple of examples but I also tried to come up with one or two of my own.

Everyone knows the phrase, "What happens in Fight Club, stays in Fight Club." So to snowclone that, replace "Fight Club" with "X" and then fill in the blank. What happens in book club, stays in book club, or the already popular "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".

Another one: "These are not the droids you are looking for." Could be what I often say to my kids, with a Jedi gesture, "I am not the mother you are looking for."

They are everywhere:

X is the new Y (as in Orange is the New Black)
Keep X and Y on (as in Keep Cool and Rock On)
X? We don't need no stinking X! (seems clear)
I'm not an X, but I play one on TV (also clear)

Feel like playing along, or have a favorite? Drop it in the comments below!

Happy Sunday all!

Jodi



Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chapter One of My Work In Progress by S.C. Wynne



Image result for detective







Good morning all!

I apologize for missing my post last week. My only excuse is I was deep in the writing cave and I literally forgot! I'm so sorry and I will do my best to not be such a ninny in the future.

I thought I'd share the first chapter of a new mystery series I'm working on. I like to move around a lot. I have my psychic series, and the new Dr. Maxwell Thornton mysteries and also this series which I tentatively call The Hollywood Detective Mysteries. It keeps it fresh for me and my readers when I allow myself to write different things. You want me happy, right? :D I'm more productive when I'm happy!

Okay, here is the first chapter and blurb of Reality Kills:

Blurb:

Detective Cabot Decker is a man who deals in reality. He’s tough, tenacious and some might even say obsessed with his work. When he’s called to a TV film set because a man has been mauled to death by a tiger, he’s confused about why he’s there. He hunts murderers for a living. He doesn’t babysit uptight Hollywood producers because their pet cat misbehaved.

Lex Barrington deals in reality TV. He’s a rising star in Hollywood, but something horrible is happening on the set of his hit show Don’t Die. Tigers are eating contestants and pythons are mysteriously escaping their cages and trying to strangle people.


Even though the two men butt heads, they also share a strong attraction. And the more Decker hangs around Lex’s world the clearer it becomes that someone wants the Hollywood superstar dead.

Chapter One

My phone always rang when I was juggling a cup of coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. It was like the universe waited for me to leave the damn coffeehouse before pressing send. I clamped my teeth on the paper bag that held my food and clumsily pulled my cell from my pocket.
“Decker here,” I growled.
“We’ve got a weird one for you, detective.” Lieutenant Bartlett sounded distracted.
As I opened the car door, the plastic lid on my coffee popped off and java spilled down the front of my white shirt. “Shit.” I hissed as the hot liquid burned my chest.
“Did I get you at a bad time?”
“Not at all. I was just taking a bath in my coffee.” I set the half full cup in the holder and tossed the bag onto the passenger seat. I slid behind the wheel and wiped at the big brown stain on my shirt to no avail.
“Anyway… you know that new reality show Don’t Die?”
“No.” I didn’t watch a lot of TV, reality or otherwise.
“Seriously? It’s a huge hit.”
“Did you call to rag on me for not watching enough reality TV?” I started the car. “Where do I need to be?”
“Zecker Studios down in North Hollywood. One of the contestants on Don’t Die got eaten by a Tiger.”
I winced. “What the hell?”
“I know.”
“Shouldn’t you call Animal Control instead of me?” I pulled onto the street and headed in the direction of the studio. “What am I supposed to do, arrest the tiger?”
“Very funny.”
“I’m serious. Why am I going there?”
“Because Lex Barrington is in charge of the show and he’s a big deal right now.” There were muffled voices in the background. “Look, I have to go. Treat the guy nice.”
“Wait. Do not hang up until you tell me why a man being killed by a tiger is a murder investigation,” I grumbled.
“Barrington seems to think there’s been foul play.”
I tried not to laugh. “Did you seriously just use the term ‘foul play’?”
“Decker, get your ass over there and talk to the guy. That’s an order.”
“You’ve got it, boss.” I rolled my eyes and hung up. Thankfully it was a Saturday, so the traffic wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I managed to stuff down most of my cinnamon raisin bagel, minus the cream cheese, by the time I reached the front gate at Zecker Studios. I flashed my credentials, and the guard waved me in. There were already several black and whites and a forensic team at the scene. I gulped the last of my coffee and headed into the big building.
The first thing that struck me as I entered the hangar was the strong smell of urine and the five hundred pound tiger pacing back and forth in a long steel enclosure. Outside the cage was a body covered with a black tarp. The animal seemed agitated as it chuffed and growled with its giant head hung low.
“He’s a magnificent beast isn’t he?” A woman with a large felt hat approached. “Look at him; it’s like he knows he’s in trouble.”
I showed her my badge. “I’m Homicide Detective Cabot Decker.” I studied her as I tucked my ID away. Her hat was crooked, and she had strands of auburn hair hanging messily around her shoulders. “Mind if I ask you who you are?”
She grimaced. “Sorry. Lucinda Pinwheel.” She held out her hand. “I’m Benji’s handler.” Up close the deep lines around her eyes and forehead were obvious. She’d looked much younger from a distance with her long hair and slender build. “Benji wouldn’t hurt a fly usually.”
I glanced at the covered corpse. “Maybe he was having a bad day.” I moved to the body and lifted the tarp slowly. I held my gag reflex in check as I studied the bloody torn mess in front of me. There were obvious teeth marks around the throat and the head was almost severed from the neck. The smell of blood made my stomach roll, but I kept examining the corpse looking for anything that might be inconsistent with an animal attack.
“Hey, Decker.” Officer Eugene approached. “This is some grisly shit.” He looked a little queasy as he spoke.
“Yeah.” I dropped the tarp back over the body and pulled out my note pad and pen. “What can you tell me?”
He put his hands on his hips. “That some people will do anything for money?” He shook his head. “How desperate would a man have to be to spend the night in a cage with a wild animal? Jesus.”
“I didn’t mean I needed you to get philosophical. What do you know about what happened here?”
“It’s pretty cut and dried. The guy was in the cage and the tiger went after him.”
“Was he alone?”
“You mean other than the tiger?”
I sighed. “I mean were there any witnesses?”
Officer Eugene pursed his lips. “He was alone when it happened. There’s supposed to always be a camera man with the contestants. But apparently the guy assigned to our victim had severe intestinal issues and was on the toilet when the attack occurred.”
“I’ll need to talk to the camera man ASAP.”
“He’s at the hospital.”
I frowned. “Why?”
“Dehydration and hysteria. He found the body.”
“Got it.”
Lucinda shifted uneasily. “I still can’t believe this has happened. It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve worked with Benji’s for ten years and we’ve never once had an incident. He’s never even looked weird at a human before.”
“Something triggered him.” I noticed a guy in an expensive suit standing a few feet away. He had his phone glued to his ear, and he emanated an air of confidence that told me he might be in charge. He was tall with broad shoulders and jet black hair, and as he hung up, he lifted his chin and strode toward me, holding out his hand.
“I’m Lex Barrington.” His grip was firm and his palms felt smooth against my calloused hands. His cologne was spicy, masculine and probably way out of my budget.
“Detective Decker.” The intensity of his gray stare was unsettling. I didn’t get unsettled easily, but he radiated power and confidence like a convection oven. When his gaze dropped to the dark stain on my shirt heat filled my cheeks. “I had a run in with a cup of coffee.”
“Looks like the beverage won.” His voice was deep and his gaze enigmatic.
Something about him made me feel like Oliver Twist in front of the head master begging for more pudding. “I’m not really familiar with the concept of your show. Could you maybe fill me in? Why was a man inside the cage with a tiger to begin with?”
He exhaled roughly. “Dale was one of ten contestants. Each week one of them is randomly assigned an animal and then they either spend the night in the cage or they decline and leave the show.” He flicked his gaze to the corpse. “Dale didn’t decline.”
“Why would he do something so crazy?” I scratched my head.
“Money. If they spend the whole night, they get lots of money.”
“Wow. I think I’d rather be poor and alive.”
Lex smirked. “Looks like things are working out for you then, detective.”
Smart ass
I narrowed my gaze. “So why’d the animal attack him?”
“Somebody must have provoked Benji.” Lucinda spoke up brusquely.
Lex turned to her with a grim look. “I hope you’re not suggesting me or any of my employees did that sort of thing?”
She sniffed. “All I know is ratings are everything to you people.”
He pulled his dark brows together. “Having one of my contestants eaten by a wild animal isn’t good for ratings.” He slid his gaze to mine. “Besides, ratings are already through the roof.”
“I’m happy for you and all, but I need to figure out why I need to be here.” I tried not to sound heartless, but I still wasn’t sure why an animal attack was my problem.
Lex glanced at Lucinda. “Would you mind if I spoke to Detective Decker alone?”
She shrugged. “No problem.” She pressed her big hat firmly on her head and wandered over to the cage where her tiger still paced.
He turned to me and the pulse at the base of his throat beat swiftly. “The premise of Don’t Die is people take a huge risk and if they pull it off, they get a lot of money. The risk is exaggerated.”
“Obviously not.”
He winced. “What I mean is we take great care in picking animals that are gentle and have never been involved in anything violent.” He swallowed. “We take precautions like making sure the creatures are well fed and exercised.”
“I’m no expert in animal attacks, but it was pretty clear from the body the animal didn’t just maul the victim. He… he ate parts of him too.”
Lex blanched. “But why would he? We feed the cats constantly to keep them satiated.”
“Obviously this cat wanted seconds.”
He gripped my arm which surprised me. “Listen, I don’t want to be dramatic, but as I told your Lieutenant; something seems off lately.”
The feel of his fingers on my arm was oddly distracting. I ignored the fluttering in my gut and said, “Off how?”
“I don’t know. Things keep happening.”
“Elaborate, please,” I said gruffly.
“One of the Burmese Pythons got out of its cage last week and almost strangled a camera tech. The snake’s cage is a double lock type of thing. How would he get out?”
“Okay. But my pet iguana got out when I was ten. Shit happens.”
He twisted his lips. “I want to believe this is an accident. I really do. But I have a bad feeling.”
I chuffed. “Well, just because you have indigestion I can’t open an investigation for murder. This could easily just be a tragic animal attack.”
His mouth tensed. “I understand you don’t want to waste your time. I don’t want to waste your time either. That’s why I hesitate to even mention the letter I got a week ago.”
“What kind of letter?” I perked up.
“You have to understand I get mail from kooks all the time.”
I leaned in. “What did the letter say?”
He crossed his arms. “That we needed to stop using animals for greedy profit or there would be consequences.”
“Where’s the letter?” I sounded breathless. A mysterious threatening letter was something I could sink my teeth into.
He closed his eyes and clamped his jaw.
“Tell me you still have the letter.” Even I could hear my frustration.
“I’m afraid not.” When he opened his eyes, he looked embarrassed. “People say shit that they don’t mean to a man in my position all the time. If I paid attention to every threatening phone call and letter, I’d never get anything done.”
“Damn.” I exhaled roughly. “Do me a favor; if you get another note, hang on to it.”
“I will.”
I looked around. “So you had a camera man with him but he was in the bathroom. Are there other cameras too?”
He nodded. “Yes. We have eight cameras always rolling.”
“That’s great.” I straightened. “I need to see that footage.”
“Of course.” His brow wrinkled as he held my gaze. He was close enough I could see the dark ring around his slate colored eyes and how thick and long his lashes were. “One thing keeps bothering me…”
“What?”
“Why didn’t Dale go to his shelter?”
I cocked my head. “His what?”
He sighed. “The rules of the show are you spend twenty-four hours in the enclosure with the wild animal assigned to you. You must be in the area with the animal for at least twelve of those hours. But if you ever feel unsafe, each person has a protected cubicle that they can retreat to.” He tugged me toward the enclosure where the tiger was. “See behind that screen? There’s a safe room if they actually think their life is in danger.”
I squinted through the steel mesh. “I’d have been in there in a flash.”
There was a deep line in his smooth forehead. “That’s what I’m saying. The second he felt threatened he should have retreated back to his safe spot.”
“But he didn’t?”
He glanced toward the corpse. “Apparently not.” He seemed to shake himself mentally. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m being paranoid and this really is just a horrible accident.”
I looked at the tiger panting across from us. “You say you feed the animals well, but I have to be honest Benji looks a little gaunt.”
“He does?” He peered closely at the animal. “Huh. Maybe you’re right.”
“Shouldn’t his handler have noticed that?”
“You would think so. She’s paid well enough,” he grumbled.
“I’m guessing starving a wild animal would definitely change its disposition.”
“If the tiger was hungry someone needs to explain how the hell that happened. The show pays through the nose for high quality meat for Benji.”
“Who’s actually in charge of feeding the tiger?”
“Lucinda.”
“Interesting.” I rubbed my chin. “Listen, I’ll take a look at the footage and depending on what I find we may or may not proceed with an investigation. I need something more concrete that Dale might have been murdered, and this wasn’t just a random animal attack.” I glanced over at Lucinda who was cooing to Benji through the cage. “She certainly doesn’t look like a killer.”
“No. She doesn’t.” He chuffed. “But in your line of work, how often does the bad guy waltz up to you holding the murder weapon screaming how much he enjoys killing people?”
My lips twitched. “Not often.”
“There you go.” He stared at Lucinda with a blank expression. “Perhaps beneath Lucinda’s cool exterior lies the heart of a cold blooded maniac.”
I lifted one shoulder. “If it was murder, it could be anyone who had access to this space.” I glanced at him. “It could just as easily be you.”
He widened his eyes and his lips parted. “I beg your pardon?”
It was hard not to laugh at how nonplussed he looked. “It’s not unusual for the real bad guy to try and help.” I used air quotes on the last word.
“You think I’m fake helping?” His mouth was a straight, angry line.
I pulled a stick of gum from my pocket and pushed it in my mouth. I hadn’t really meant any offense, but he was so touchy it was kind of amusing. “Maybe you’re just tossing out a bunch of red herrings. You know… to throw me off the scent.”
He opened his mouth as if he was about to defend his honor and then he snapped his lips shut. He narrowed his eyes. “You’re an absolute riot, Decker.”
I laughed outright at his snippy tone. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t like me. Uptight suit types and I didn’t usually get along; even when I didn’t accuse them of being psychopaths. “Ah, come on. Lighten up, Hollywood.”
“Right. Because there’s nothing more hilarious than a man being eaten by a tiger.”
I grimaced. “I meant no disrespect to the dead. I take every case seriously.” I popped my gum. “I’m a professional.”
“I can tell.” His gaze dropped to my stained shirt and then ran over my rumpled coat.
His snooty expression annoyed me, but I ignored it. “I’ll need a copy of the surveillance footage including before and after Dale and the cat entered the area, right away. Also give me a list of everyone who has access to this set. That includes the biggest bigshot or the gofer that picks up donuts for the crew. I want everybody on that list.”
“Whatever you say.”
I glanced over at the tiger who watched us silently. “What’s gonna happen to Benji?”
“I’m not sure,” he murmured.
“It’d be a shame to put him down. He’s a beautiful animal.” I studied the tiger’s sleek orange and black fur, marveling at how huge he was. I couldn’t imagine anything that would motivate me to spend the night in a cage with a wild animal.
“I wish I’d never dreamed up this damn show.” His voice was raspy.
“Well, at least you’ve gotten famous off the idea.”
He wrinkled his brow and slid his cool gaze to mine. “Do you resent men like me, Decker?”
His candor surprised me. “Why would I?”
“It’s just a feeling I get off of you.” He started to walk away, and he stopped. “I’m not shallow if that’s what you think.”
My face warmed, and I didn’t speak. I wasn’t sure how to respond. If I was honest, I had assumed he was just interested in making a name for himself.
“I’m just doing my job same as you.” His smile was tight.
I lifted a shoulder. “Who cares what I think?”
His jaw hardened and his vulnerability evaporated. “Good point.” He strode away with his head held high.

Hope you enjoyed that little taste! It should be coming in 2018 in the near future. In the mean time, if you want to be kept abreast of my new releases, feel free to join my newsletter here: Sign Me Up

Talk to you soon!
S.C.





Friday, April 20, 2018

New Release and excerpt by Felice Stevens


Happy Friday!! I am thrilled to provide you all with an excerpt from my new release, Rhoades—Undeniable. Actually, it's more than an excerpt. It's the first chapter! I hope you enjoy.😀  And if you haven't read the prequel short story, be sure to grab it, as it's only 99 cents or free to read if you have Kindle Unlimited!
Here is the universal Amazon link for Rhoades—Undeniable:
mybook.to/RhoadesUndeniable

Start the series here, with Austin: getbook.at/Austin


Chapter One

  He mesmerized. Captivated and enthralled me. I’d watched Austin dance for months, his grace and poise outstanding in the crowd of dissolute men waiting by the stage to paw at him. A true master of his emotions, he’d matured from a skittish deer hiding in the shadows to a man taking his rightful place as the king of the club.
Everyone wanted him.
I couldn’t be angry with Austin for leaving me in this dingy back room when I’d broken every rule I’d set for myself by kissing him. The blame for Austin’s flight rested solely on my shoulders. All it took was one touch.… One simple, devastating kiss and the tight check on my emotions unraveled, sending everything I held together for years spilling out in wild abandon. I lost control. It both shattered and bewildered me, and I hated that. I was always in control.
At the sound of frantic knocking, I buttoned up my shirt and redid my tie with cool precision. A swift glance in the mirror to check and make sure all looked well on the outside and then I opened the door.
“Where is he?” James burst into the room. “Where’s Austin?”
“Hello to you too.” I smoothed my hair and gave him a lazy smile.
“Don’t give me your bullshit now. This is serious.”
I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen James anything but coolly elegant. Now, his tie was askew and unknotted, and the blond hair he normally wore perfectly styled lay stuck to his forehead in sweat-darkened strands. Tension coiled through me, and I gripped his arm. Hard. “What’s wrong?” I squeezed, and James grunted in pain. “Tell me.”
Ignoring me as he’d always done since we were teenagers, James twisted out of my grasp. “I need to find Austin because wherever he is, hopefully Frankie’s with him.”
“Oh?” My rapidly banging heart settled back to normal, and I smirked. “Don’t tell me you’ve got a crush on little Frankie?”
With a wrinkle of his elegant nose, James looked every bit like a refined Englishman disdainfully peering down on one of his serfs. But my brother couldn’t pull his bullshit off on me.
“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. If you’re ready to get your mind out of the gutter for once, I’ll explain. Frankie has an ex he’s afraid of. One night they had an argument, and Frankie got hurt and ended up in the hospital. He says he fell down the stairs. Aaron freaked out and ran, then got into a bar fight, beating some other guy so bad, he needed surgery. Frankie was called to testify and stated they had a volatile relationship, and that sort of sealed Aaron’s fate. The bastard spent almost a year in jail. He’s out now and showed up here. Tonight—”
“And we need to make sure he doesn’t hurt Frankie. I understand.” I finished the sentence for him and sprinted toward the open door. “Austin left here only a few minutes before you came in.”
“Then most likely, he went to the dressing room,” James said, right on my heels. “This way to the back. It’s quicker.”
He pulled me in the opposite direction, down a maze of darkened hallways. The blare of the music grew a bit fainter, but my heart pounded a thumping beat in my head. I knew what someone like Frankie’s ex could do if he was out for revenge. And what other reason could he have for coming to the club?
James stopped before the door and pounded. “Austin. Austin, are you in there?”
“Why not just go in? It’s your club.”
Back in his position as my moral compass, James brushed the hair off his brow. “Because I made the men a promise to treat them with respect and dignity and told them I’d never barge into their private space.”
“Well, in case of emergency, that shouldn’t hold up. But if you insist.”
I pounded my fist on the door. “Open up, or we’re coming in.”
Footsteps pattered from inside the room and the door opened, revealing Frankie’s troubled face. “What the hell’s going on? Is there a fire?” He raked me over with a withering look. “Why are you here?”
“We need to come in, Frankie, and it has nothing to do with Austin.”
Sensing our urgency, Frankie stepped aside, granting us access to the room. Immediately I spotted Austin huddled in a chair. His lush mouth tightened to a thin line in a smile so brittle, it would have cut me if I put my lips on his. Which wasn’t happening. I’d let myself get carried away once, but now I was back in control.
“What’s wrong?” Austin asked, ignoring me and directing his question to James. “I needed a moment, and Frankie was staying with me. We were going back out, I promise. I wasn’t slacking off.”
Waving his hand in the air, James brushed off Austin’s explanation. “I’m not concerned, and that’s not why I’m here. I wanted to talk to Frankie, but when I couldn’t find either one of you, I figured you two were together.”
“Talk to me?” Frankie’s brows pinched together. “About what? Care to share, or do you want to talk alone?” A hint of his natural flirtatiousness showed in his smile, unlike Austin, who seemed to look upon most people with suspicion, as if believing he’d be used and hurt.
“Your ex is here.”
I watched Frankie pale beneath the makeup and flush of alcohol. Austin jumped out of his chair and hugged him close, and I could see Frankie drawing on his strength.
“Aaron? But I-I have an order of protection against him. He’s not supposed to come near me.” No longer sparkling, Frankie clutched Austin’s arm.
“Next time when you come dance, bring a copy and give it to me. I’ll make sure Hector keeps it up front. Along with his picture.”
“Why are you still here?” Austin challenged me, his arm still protectively hugging Frankie. “This is between us.”
Like they were a family and I was the interloper. In a way I was. I had no reason to be there—Austin was correct, but for my own admittedly selfish purposes, I wanted to be where he was. I didn’t want the night to end between us on a bitter, unfinished note.
“May I speak with you? It will only take a moment.”
He opened his mouth, resistance lighting flares in his eyes, but Frankie gave him an elbow, then whispered something so low, I couldn’t hear. Later I’d have to remember to thank Frankie because Austin let go of him and dragged his feet as he walked over to me.
“What?” Austin asked in that same rough voice, but he didn’t fool me. Up close, he smelled of fear, and I saw his lips tremble.
“I’m sorry about before. I was out of line.”
Suspicion clouded his blue eyes. “Why’re you being nice to me? I don’t get it. We don’t know each other. If you think buying me expensive shit and paying me to dance for you means—”
“It means whatever you want it to.”
“Nothing. I don’t want it to mean anything. Go be a sugar daddy to someone else. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone.” With that, he turned on his heel and hurried back to Frankie, who’d returned to his chair.
I walked out and down the hallways back onto the club floor. The dancers entertained the crowd, and I watched as the muscular blond cowboy play-roped a patron onstage with him to bump and grind their hips, while the tall, mysterious dancer wearing a mask and cape swung around the pole, the silky material sailing after him to wind around his lean, half-naked torso. A large crowd gathered by the stage and threw bills at him in encouragement. The iridescent lights picked up the gleam of his raven hair, while the majority of his features remained hidden beneath his black mask.
I didn’t want them. I wanted Austin. Fuck. No, I didn’t. I couldn’t.
Without him dancing, I had little reason to stay, and yet knowing how scared both he and Frankie were with Frankie’s ex lurking about, I couldn’t leave. As I made my way to the bar, I listened to bits of conversation from the men I passed.
“The futures were shit today.”
“What the hell are they thinking in DC?”
“I’d give a paycheck to fuck that guy’s ass. Did you see him dance up there?”
Those last words stopped me in my tracks, and I found myself glaring at an older man with a lascivious glint in his eye and a glass of scotch in his hand. Imagining that pig with Austin—touching all that soft skin, running his pudgy fingers through the silk of Austin’s dark waves, licking his ripe mouth—made me sick. My hands itched to wrap around his jowly neck and squeeze tight.
Disgusted, I stomped over to the bar, and José, immediately sensing my foul mood, poured me a double shot of Macallan 18. The amber liquid called to me, and I tossed it down and pushed the glass back. “Another, please.”
With a raised brow, he did as I requested and kept the bottle at his elbow. “What’s wrong?”
“What makes you think anything’s wrong?” I downed only half this time and licked my lips, welcoming the burn as it ran through me. The resulting warmth did little to dull the ache in my chest. I should never have started coming here. I was better off at home. Alone.
“Because a while ago I saw you leave the dance floor with Austin. Now you’re out here slamming down shots, and he’s nowhere to be found. So I’ll ask again, what’s wrong?”
“I, uh…” Embarrassed, I rubbed my chin. “I may have gone too far with him.”
The smile on José’s face faltered. “Meaning?” He leaned his arms on the bar, and I saw the tension in his corded muscles. José had worked in the mailroom of my father’s company before James scooped him up and enticed him to work here. I’d noticed the dancers congregating around the bar, talking to him like a confidant, and had no doubt he’d take their side over mine.
“Meaning I let him get to me.” I hesitated, then confessed, “I kissed him.”
Realization mixed with surprise dawned in his eyes. “Did he kiss you back?”
“I didn’t force him—if that’s what you’re asking.” My attention was drawn to the opposite side of the room where James had entered flanked by Austin and Frankie. After a few murmured words to both, they climbed onstage, and with huge smiles on their faces, began to dance with each other as if the past three quarters of an hour hadn’t happened. Frankie had even placed a crown on his head and a royal purple cape around his shoulders.
“Looks like everything’s back to normal. But Rhoades?” A man waved an empty bottle of Patron at José from the opposite end of the bar. José picked up the bottle of scotch, placed it back on the shelf, and before taking care of the customer, said to me, “Don’t fuck with Austin. He’s been hurt enough.”
Haven’t we all?
I scowled into my drink, not bothering to respond, and studied Austin dancing up onstage. He’d also changed and no longer wore the little gold shorts with my jock peeking out. Now, red, sequined shorts hugged his peach of an ass and molded to every sinewy dip and curve. His freshly oiled body shone under the lights, and when he twisted himself around the pole, the men went wild, tossing bills at him like confetti. But I knew better. I hadn’t spent all this time watching him not to recognize his heart wasn’t in the dance. His eyes searched the crowd, flicking over me as if I was another stranger and not the man he’d kissed with such passion and intensity, we’d both almost taken a risk neither was prepared for. They were haunted eyes, brimming with loneliness and fear. He kept himself between Frankie and the outside of the stage as if protecting him.
James appeared at my shoulder. “I had the bastard removed and told him I was calling the cops.”
“Good.” I nodded with approval. “Maybe you should hire some backup security. It couldn’t hurt.”
“You know what?” James leaned against the bar and gave me that infuriating, snide look he’d perfected when we first learned we were brothers. I hated it then, and now, years later, nothing had changed. “I don’t need you to tell me how to run my business.”
“Then step up your game. Keep your employees safe.”
“From what I can tell, the one person Austin might need to be safe from is you, big brother.”
My face flamed, and I was never more glad to be shielded by the colorful, flickering lights. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I gave James my back and drank more of my scotch, hoping like hell he’d go away and leave me alone. In an alarming show of affection, something we’d never allowed ourselves, he took the empty space beside me, nudged my shoulder, and joined me, José having already poured him a glass of the same scotch I was drinking.
“That’s not true. Whenever you see Austin, you come alive.” He nudged me again, forcing me to face him.
“You think because I come here, I’ve forgotten? News flash, baby brother. Looks can be deceiving.”
The unexpected sympathy in James’s eyes proved too much, and I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions if he said something comforting, so without another word I pushed my way out of the bar area, leaving James behind. I couldn’t resist one last glance up at the stage at Austin, who frowned when our eyes met. My rigid body tingled with awareness, the taste of his silky tongue and sweet breath still hot in my mouth. After picking up my coat from the checkroom, I hurried out into the night and slid into the back seat of my black car, staring blindly out the window at the streetlight-washed people.
My driver wisely left me alone, and in less than twenty minutes, pulled up in front of my West 82nd Street brownstone. Before I had a chance to place my foot on the first cement step, the front door swung open, and Edgar’s relieved face peered out.
“I wondered if you were coming home tonight.”
“Where else would I go?” Irritated, I passed by him and entered the brownstone, welcoming the warmth. I dropped my coat on the hall chair and headed straight to the library. This room—all dark wood, brass, and leather—was a “real man’s retreat,” as my father used to say, but its rich interior and the fire crackling in the grate offered no panacea for my thoughts. I poured myself a glass of scotch and took a seat by the window, staring out into the darkness, torturing myself with questions I could never answer.
Until tonight, I’d thought myself capable of holding back, merely entertaining myself with thoughts of Austin and what he might feel like in my arms. But now that I’d tasted the forbidden fruit, instead of retreating back into the shadows, I craved to kiss his soft mouth, to feel him twist in my arms, and to experience again the rush of passion I’d buried years ago.
And that scared me more than anything.