Thursday, May 25, 2017

Wake by K Evan Coles & Brigham Vaughn

Summary:
A love worth the wait.

Carter Hamilton and Riley Porter-Wright room together as Harvard undergraduates. An immediate friendship forms, but as the years pass it deepens into something neither man understands. As attraction simmers under the surface, lines begin to blur. When they move back to Manhattan, they gradually slip into the lives their families have envisioned for them.

Both men marry, but in time, Riley realizes he’s ended up in a passionless relationship like his parents’ while his career takes center stage. Although he loves his wife, Carter misses the emotional and physical connection he shared with Riley.

The weight of Riley’s feelings and his growing discontentment with his life eventually push him to tell Carter the truth about how he feels. Shocked and unable to face his own feelings, Carter rejects Riley.

As each man comes to terms with the lies they’ve told themselves, each other and the people around them, they find their lives changing in ways they never imagined. They soon discover that the truths they’ve been longing to tell shake the foundations of their friendship.

Available exclusively to Pride Publishing: 2nd May 2017
General Release Date: 30th May 2017


I have been a fan of Brigham Vaughn for a few years now and she has never let me down.  K Evan Cole is a new author to me that is definitely on her way up.  Put the two together and we are blessed with an amazing journey of friendship, lust, hesitation, fear, and heart.  After only a couple of chapters, I knew that if I was smart I would put Wake aside until the second book was released so I wouldn't be tortured with waiting but I was also already sucked in and couldn't even begin to contemplate the idea of putting it aside, so I continued on and simply put - I LOVED IT!!  I can't imagine not having read it even with the possibility of a lengthy wait to finish Carter & Riley's journey of friendship & freedom to be themselves.

Now, as for the boys, I love them both and I feel for them at the turmoil they both are facing trying to come to terms with who they are.  Having said that, Carter definitely tries my patience more than once, talk about a character that needs a good shaking or a sharp whack to the back of the head but I love him anyway.  That's about the extent of any spoiler hints you are going to get out of me but I will add that Wake will keep you hooked from beginning to end, it was pure torture when I had to put my kindle aside when pesky daily tasks such as work, eating, and sleep reared their ugly head.

As a straight woman, it's easy for me to pass judgement and say to Carter and Riley, "just admit it, be yourself" but I cannot even begin to fathom what either are facing in the society they live in so I can't stress enough to go in reading Carter and Riley's journey with an open mind and full heart.  You just might walk away, not only having experienced a very entertaining heart-warming tale of friendship but you might also learn something about yourself along the way.

As I started with, Brigham Vaughn has never let me down and after Wake I can safely say I'll be saying the same about K Evan Coles in a couple years down the road.

RATING: 


August, 1996
Cambridge, Massachusetts
“These rooms always look so much bigger online.”

Carter Hamilton flinched in surprise at the smooth voice behind him. Blinking slowly, he drew a breath to quiet his heart, then turned to meet a pair of lively blue eyes.

“Sorry.” A guy Carter’s age stepped inside the door, his expression sheepish. A smile lit his handsome face and an intriguing flush colored his cheeks. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Carter shrugged before standing up from the couch where he’d been reading. “I’ll live.”

“I knocked, but no one answered. The door wasn’t bolted, so I assumed no one was here.”

“Ah, that’s my bad.” Heat crept up Carter’s neck. “I got caught up in my book and didn’t hear you. I’m Carter and I’m guessing you’re one of my suitemates—are you Riley or Daniel?”

“Riley Porter-Wright.”

Riley walked forward with a grin. Riley was lean and tall, though still an inch or two shorter than Carter, who stood six foot three. His stylish black shirt and trousers were immaculate compared to Carter’s T-shirt and jeans and his dark hair fell forward onto his forehead as he shook Carter’s hand.

A small smile crossed Carter’s face. He’d been exchanging messages with his suitemates for weeks. Daniel, who had yet to show himself, hailed from Philadelphia, while Riley, like Carter, lived in Manhattan, though the two had never met. They’d coordinated basic furnishings for their Harvard University rooms and agreed to fill in gaps later.

“I’m Carter Hamilton,” Carter told him with a laugh, “which you know. And since I was the first here, I guess it’s okay for me to say it—welcome to Wigg.”

Riley rolled his eyes, making Carter smile wider. He’d been amused by the freshman dorm’s nickname, too, but Wigglesworth was highly desired, with large suites and convenient placement for the university libraries. Carter watched Riley approach the window and frowned upon noticing he carried only an overnight bag and nothing more.

“You planning on staying?” Carter eyed Riley’s bag when he turned and cocked his head in question. “I know from your email messages that you’re not big on decorating, but one bag seems like taking traveling light to new extremes. You said you’d bring a fridge, too, in case you forgot.”

Riley glanced down at himself and laughed, the clear boyish sound echoing through the sparsely furnished common room.

“I didn’t forget. I did bring a fridge and more boxes and bags, too—they’re in a moving van stuck in traffic on Storrow Drive. One of the movers called me twenty minutes ago,” he added, drawing closer to set his bag against the side of the couch. “I’m not sure I buy their story, though. They probably got here hours ago and found someplace to have lunch and a couple of beers before they drop my shit off.

“Nice couch, by the way.” Riley nodded at the charcoal-colored couch Carter and his father had carried in earlier. “You picked out a bedroom already?” he asked, taking a seat.

“Not really. I got here late this morning, so we moved everything in and pushed it out of the way.” Carter sat down too, waving at the boxes and suitcases lining the wall to their left. “The way I see it, once Dan shows, we can figure out who’s going to share and who’s got the single.”

“Someone had a productive day,” Riley teased, raising his brows and making Carter laugh.

“Yeah, well, my parents wanted to stay and meet you guys, but I didn’t want them hitting rush hour on their way home. You’ll meet them soon, anyway—they’re already talking about their next trip up.

“I bought them lunch before they left,” Carter added, unsure why he was sharing so much information with a guy he’d just met. “I figured that was the least I could do after they helped me drag my stuff up three flights.”

Riley blinked several times, appearing vaguely surprised. “Your parents helped you move in?”

“Sure,” Carter replied with a shrug. “My dad’s an alumnus and my mom graduated from Wellesley—they enjoy visiting Cambridge.” He chuckled. “They were definitely excited to help me settle in, even if it meant manual labor.”

Riley’s expression became thoughtful. Looking down, he traced a frayed spot on the right knee of his jeans with his finger. In a flash, Carter understood Riley was on his own.

Riley glanced up at Carter again. “My parents couldn’t make the trip,” he said, his voice light. “They’re having dinner with friends tonight and didn’t want to be late. I took the car up from the city.”

Carter nodded. The idea of his parents choosing to socialize over seeing him off to school seemed utterly alien. Did it bother Riley that his parents were uninterested in what had to be an exciting day for him?

An impulse struck Carter to make Riley comfortable. “You know, you never told me where you live in the city.”

Riley smiled, though a trace of melancholy flickered in his eyes. “West 86th Street. That’s where my parents live, and I suppose I’ll be there for a while longer. What about you?”

“East 63rd Street.” Carter grinned. “That’s funny.”

“Funny?”

“We live in the same city separated by twenty-three blocks and the Park. Doesn’t seem like much when you consider we had to come to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to meet.”

Riley’s eyes brightened. They chatted easily about their trips from New York until the door banged open, then watched a figure shoulder its way in with a stack of boxes. The boxes landed on the floor with a thump, revealing a cheerful-looking guy with a wiry build, golden-brown skin and inquisitive gray eyes.

“Dan Conley,” he said, flashing a smile. “My dad’s parking the car. You guys want to arm wrestle now or later to settle the whole double vs. single room thing?”

After a quick discussion, it became clear Dan and Riley preferred the single room, while Carter was willing to share the double. He sat on the couch with Dan’s parents, watching his new friends flip a coin. Dan won the toss and celebrated with an exaggerated touchdown dance, complete with slo-mo action that made Riley roll his eyes.

Riley’s movers arrived then and made short work of bringing his load of boxes and bags upstairs. The trio started arranging furniture and unpacking, with Dan’s parents providing useful—if unsolicited—feedback.

After the rooms were in some order, the Conleys insisted on taking all three suitemates to Grendel’s Den for dinner. They got to know each other better over sandwiches, while Dan’s parents asked Carter and Riley about their families. They had a pleasant evening, though Riley shared little about himself and even less about his parents. He talked easily about New York and the traveling he’d done during school vacations but shut down personal questions. He wasn’t rude—if anything he seemed the opposite, with his open expression and bright gaze, but spent more time listening to the others than talking about himself.

It was late when Carter finally dropped onto his bed with a grunt. Dan had already been asleep for an hour and Riley had headed for the shower while Carter closed his eyes and took mental inventory of his sore muscles.

The sound of the bathroom door opening roused Carter from his dozy thoughts. He peeled an eyelid open to peer up at his roommate, who was moving around the bedroom and taking pains to be quiet. Like Carter, Riley wore a pair of dark sleep pants, though he had forgone a T-shirt. Droplets of water fell from his still wet hair, shining in the low light as they rolled over his bare shoulders and back. Carter was still trying to understand why he’d even think such a thing when Riley turned, looking pensive. Carter rolled onto his side and propped his head on one hand.

Riley jumped, startled by the sudden movement. “Jesus, Carter!”

“Um, just Carter will do—no need to get formal.” Carter bit his lip against a smile.

“You scared the shit out of me. I thought you were asleep, you sneaky bastard.”

Riley’s words were sharp, but the glint in his eyes told Carter his irritation was mostly for show.

“Sorry. Consider it payback for scaring me earlier today.”

Carter pushed himself up to pull back the bedding and slip underneath the duvet and sheet. He watched Riley puttering about, getting ready for bed and his amusement faded. Despite his roommate’s smile, Carter sensed Riley had something on his mind. He lay quietly, worrying his lower lip with his teeth until Riley sat on the edge of his own bed.

“Is this bothering you?” Carter asked, waving one hand in a vague circle. Riley eyed him blankly. “The room-sharing thing, I mean. I know you’ve never had a roommate before, so I can sort of see where you’d be feeling weirded out.”

“No, I’m—” Riley began before pausing, his lips pressed into a thin line. He blew out a slow breath before he spoke again, his voice low and calm. “I’m okay. It is a little weird sharing a room. I mean, my room at home is bigger than the whole suite.” He grimaced a bit at Carter’s laugh, and shrugged. “But you probably guessed that already. You come from the same world.”

Carter reached up to fold his hands behind his head. “It does seem like culture shock in a lot of ways. I have almost a full floor at my parents’ and now I’m sharing three rooms with strangers. In the middle of freaking Red Sox country, no less.” Both guys laughed. “I like it, though. Yeah, it’s small and all bricks and ivy but it feels…I don’t know, right. At least to me.”

“I get it.” Riley ran his hands over his damp hair with a sigh. He was quiet for so long Carter wondered if he would speak again. “My parents aren’t the warmest people in the world. You probably gathered that when I told you they couldn’t be bothered to even meet me here.”

Carter nodded, Riley’s words settling over him.

“I’m used to it,” Riley added, rubbing his forehead. “I’ve never known any different. Oh, my parents have always taken care of me and they’ll give me almost anything I ask for. Except for their attention. They leave that to the nannies and minders and secretaries, who give me attention because they’re paid to.”

The air grew heavy, charged with emotion Carter understood Riley didn’t want to acknowledge.

“My parents aren’t interested in me.” Riley held up a hand when Carter opened his mouth to protest, though he didn’t meet Carter’s eyes. “They’re not, trust me. I’ve known it for a long time and I can’t remember when I last sorry for myself about it. My parents aren’t interested in each other, to be honest—they can’t even drum up enough feeling to fucking fight with each other.”

Riley’s words came more slowly as he continued, dropping his fingers to trace a spot on the right knee of his sleep pants. Carter had watched him do the same thing a few times already, always when he seemed to be masking some emotion.

“Watching the Conleys today,” Riley said, “listening to you talk about your parents and to them after they called… I started thinking, Carter. I’m so used to the way my parents behave I’m almost at a loss to understand how normal families function.”

“I’m not sure my family is what you’d call normal, Riley.” Carter’s voice was quiet. “They’re certainly not average compared to Dan’s parents. The Conleys are pretty well off, but we both know Dan’s here on a partial music scholarship.”

Riley made a dismissive noise. “Over half of the students here are on some kind of scholarship. It’s not like that’s particularly unusual. Sure, your family has a lot more money than the Conleys. I’m talking about the connections, though, between people. Between you and your parents, between Dan and his. Hell, between your mom and your dad, and Dan’s mom and—”

“I get it.”

Something in Carter’s gentle interruption caught Riley’s attention. Suddenly, he met Carter’s gaze and held it.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. No, that’s a lie—I do know. I don’t want to be like that. Like my parents, I mean. Frozen with this hard shell wrapped around me.” Riley’s eyes flashed with something raw. “I don’t want to be one of the Porter-Wrights and make my life about the job and the parties and how many cars and houses and boats I can buy.”

Carter pursed his lips, struck by Riley’s choice of words. “Your focus doesn’t have to be about the material things, man. But unless you plan to cut ties with your family, parties and cars and houses and boats are going to be part of your life.”

“You’re right. Possessions shouldn’t be anyone’s focus, or at least not all the time.” Riley closed his eyes for a moment, fatigue written across his face. “I’m glad I’m here. Away from them and that life.”

“At least until Thanksgiving, anyway,” Carter teased. He didn’t know why Riley was suddenly opening up, but he wanted to offer his roommate some cheer. “You can come to my house for dinner. We’ll show you how the Hamiltons party like the Founding Fathers.”

Riley grunted, then stretched out, pulling the bedding over himself before he spoke again. “I’m down. My parents usually go away for Thanksgiving. They’re partial to Grenada. My mother works on her tan and my father works on his golf swing. I used to go with them, but last year I decided to hang out in New York.”

“Was it weird?” Carter couldn’t imagine Riley’s parents leaving him to rattle around a huge apartment alone while they went on vacation.

“No—it was fantastic.”

Riley turned his head and the genuine warmth in his expression made Carter feel lighter.

“Some of my friends from school came over. We bought a ton of Thai food for dinner and smoked some weed and just sat around on the balcony for a while. The party went on for a couple of days.”

Carter raised an eyebrow. “Sounds pretty debauched.”

“Oh, you know it. I still hear stories about what happened in my own house. Fucking animals.” Riley rolled onto his side. “The best day, though, was Sunday. I took the car uptown to this church in Harlem that one of my father’s secretaries attends. They put on a Thanksgiving Gospel Concert every year, so I hung out and listened to music. Amazing.”

Carter smiled at the awe on his roommate’s face. “It sounds it.”

“Come with me this year,” Riley urged suddenly, propping himself up on one elbow.

“Sure. If you come to dinner at my house,” Carter bargained, “assuming your parents will be out of town.”

“Fuck it.” Riley grinned. “I don’t care where my parents are, Car—I’ll be at your door for dinner whenever you want me.”

“I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving concert before,” Carter mused. “No one’s ever called me Car before, either.”

Riley’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Not even your parents or friends?”

“Nope.”

“I can stop, if you want.”

“Doesn’t bother me.” Carter smiled lazily. “Anyone call you Ri for short?”

“Sure. The nannies and the minders and the secretaries call me Ri. Kids at school. My teachers. Anyone who’s known me for more than a couple of hours.” Riley’s laugh was rueful. “Basically, anyone but my parents.”

“Sounds like I’m in good company then.” Carter rolled over with a yawn and closed his eyes. “Night, Ri.”

* * * * *

Carter, Riley and Dan fell into their lives at Harvard with ease. Dan was a music major minoring in French, while Carter and Riley were both business majors. The time the friends spent together each day increased after all three gained membership to the same club, Phoenix-SK.

The final clubs were Harvard’s version of Greek fraternities. They promised networking opportunities after graduation but also provided social outlets away from the dorms. Carter’s and Riley’s fathers had also belonged to Phoenix-SK but had missed knowing one another by a few years.

Carter was pleasantly surprised to find himself comfortable with Riley’s almost constant presence. They shared many of the same interests, including cyberpunk novels and Quentin Tarantino movies, and even had similar tastes in food and music. The more they talked and spent time together, the more firmly their friendship cemented.

The one activity Riley refused to consider was heavyweight crew. Carter had rowed with a junior club during high school and was eager to use his height and powerful build as part of the Harvard Crimson. Riley thought Carter was out of his mind.

“I don’t understand you.” He cocked an eyebrow after Carter explained rowing was a Hamilton family tradition. “What kind of person voluntarily sits in a boat with a bunch of other meaty guys while someone screams at them through a bullhorn?”

Carter rolled his eyes as Dan joined in chuckling with Riley.

“A me kind of person, I guess. You should at least try it before making a decision, guys.”

“You know, it sounds fun,” Dan said. He held up a placating hand while Riley made an outraged noise. “But I’m an inch under six feet and we both know that’s too short for heavyweight crew.”

“True. You could try out for lightweight, instead,” Carter offered, narrowing his eyes at Riley’s snort. “Shut it, you.”

Dan gave Riley the finger. “I could, but I need to spend time in the music rooms downstairs, anyway. If you and I were on the same team, that’d be one thing, but…”

“I get it, man,” Carter replied and he did. Dan’s academic schedule was busy enough before club activities—add time at the piano composing and he needed every spare minute he could find.

Carter aimed a beady eye at Riley. “What about you, funny guy—you up for a free workout with a view? The river’s awfully pretty, especially first thing in the morning.”

Riley laughed. “Yeah, you lost me at ‘first thing in the morning.’ Look, you say rowing crew is Hamilton family tradition. Fine, that’s your business. The Porter-Wrights have traditions, too. They include not getting up at the crack of ass every morning to risk drowning in a muddy river. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Despite the teasing, Riley and Dan seemed genuinely pleased when Carter came home with soggy shoes and a place on the team. Carter suspected they were just being polite, but he appreciated their efforts nonetheless.

Carter enjoyed rowing for the Crimson and losing himself in the simple physicality of the task and feeling part of a team. He looked forward to the quiet hush of the river, the lap of the waves against the side of the boat and the collective breaths and grunts of the team as they worked together.

There were negatives, of course, starting with practice at dawn and the feeling he just didn’t have enough hours in the day. Carter focused on being grateful when Riley helped him bandage his blisters and smiled at the protein bars Dan stuffed into his coat pockets. Riley and Dan attended races when they could, sharing thermoses of Irish coffee and cheering while the Crimson’s boats slipped by on the river.

As the weeks passed, Riley lost the shell he’d confessed to hating. Carter doubted anyone outside himself and Dan saw the subtle difference in their friend. Riley’s dress grew more casual, as did his speech. He talked more about himself, which gave people a chance to get to know him better. He still didn’t say much about his parents and when he did, he often dropped his right hand to his knee to draw circles on his pant leg with his fingers. Riley didn’t glance away anymore, though, and he met the gaze of whoever he was speaking to unwaveringly.

It was during a Halloween party in one of the dorms that Carter became aware of how others perceived his friendship with Riley. He’d been chatting with Susannah, a pretty girl from his calculus class, and had been about to ask her out for coffee when she put a hand on his forearm and sighed.

“What’s that about?” Carter peered under the brim of Susannah’s midnight-blue witch’s hat and gave her a smile.

Susannah grimaced slightly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Carter—you know I like you. If you were straight, I’d be really, really interested in you.”

Carter frowned, the word straight still sinking into his brain while Susannah continued.

“I don’t understand why the only guys who ever talk to me at parties are gay. You know?” Susannah twisted strands of her long, dark hair around one finger. “Honestly, I’ve basically despaired of finding a man of my own. I’ll have to hang out with you and your boyfriend and pray people think we have some kind of polyamorous arrangement going on.”

Carter shook his head slowly, Susannah’s words beginning to make a kind of strange sense. She wrinkled her brow as Carter stood silent and she stepped closer, to squeeze his arm gently.

“Dude, I’m sorry. Did I… Was the poly thing too much? I was just joking, I swear.”

“Susannah, are you under the impression I’m gay? That Riley and I are together?”

Susannah cocked her head. “Well, yes. Aren’t you? Gay, I mean. And Riley’s boyfriend?”

“No, I am not. Gay or Riley’s boyfriend.” Carter fought conflicting urges to be angry and amused. “Riley’s not gay, either. Where the hell did you get that idea?”

“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.” Susannah’s face flushed deep red and she put her fingers over her mouth. She looked so stricken that Carter gave in to the impulse to laugh. “Jesus, I’m so embarrassed!”

“You should be,” Carter scolded, though he laughed harder at the expression of horror on her face. “Why would you think that, woman?”

“You’re always together!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never seen either of you with a girl and you told me Riley is your roommate. I assumed it all added up to the two of you being, you know, together.”

Carter laughed hard enough he had to put down his drink. “What about Dan? He lives with us and we hang out all the time. Is he one of the boyfriends, too?”

“Dan goes on dates, Carter. He dates women. Okay, one woman,” Susanna clarified, turning to search the crowd, and pointing when she found the right faces. Carter craned his neck to follow her gesture. He nodded at Dan with his arms around Melanie Howard, another music major who often came by their suite. They’d coordinated their costumes, with Dan dressed as a devil and Mel an angel, and come to the party with a group of friends.

“Everyone knows Dan and Mel are dating,” Susannah said. “They’ve been together practically since the first day of classes.”

Dan and Mel really were inseparable. She was double majoring in music and psychology and planned to go into music therapy. Mel was a petite beauty, with dark hair, creamy golden skin and greenish-gray eyes. Carter appreciated her bright and sarcastic brand of humor and knew Dan really liked her.

“Okay, I see your point.” Carter glanced back to Susannah with a steely expression. “Making assumptions about Riley and me, though, is not cool.”

Susannah gulped, and dropped her gaze to the drink in her hands. “You’re right. You should know I’m not the only one who thinks you’re together, by the way.”

Carter frowned, trying to understand how to feel about what Susannah had told him. He’d grown up with a diverse group of friends and he didn’t much care whom a person spent their time with. As far as Carter was concerned, whatever and whomever made a person happy was fine by him, provided everyone involved consented. The idea people thought he was someone’s boyfriend, however… That didn’t fit into Carter’s world. It certainly did not fit into his family’s, either.

“People really think Riley and I are together?”

“Well, girls, mostly,” Susannah replied, “and that’s because they’re trying to figure out what’s going on with you and Riley.”

“Nothing is going on, Susannah.”

“I know.” Her voice dropped low as she tried to smooth Carter’s ruffled feathers. “I’m sorry we gossiped. Two good-looking guys, in each other’s company more than anyone else’s…a girl’s gonna try to put the pieces together.”

“Uh-huh. Put the pieces together incorrectly, you mean,” he replied. Carter imagined his parents’ reaction to the rumor and his stomach knotted.

The dejection on Susannah’s face softened his annoyance, however. He’d really wanted to take her out for coffee before she’d let her ‘secret’ slip. And his heart beat a little faster as he understood taking Susannah out would nip the ‘boyfriends’ rumor in the bud, too.

“Are you very angry?” she asked quietly, concern visible in her green eyes.

Carter smiled. “No. You surprised me, that’s all. I might have been a little offended, too, but only because you could have asked me instead of gossiping. That shit’s not okay, Susannah. Especially because I planned on asking you out.”

Susannah’s mouth dropped open. “You did?” she squeaked, then cleared her throat, obviously working to recover her composure. “You could still ask me, you know. Or, maybe you should let me take you out. So I can apologize for being a gossipy shrew.”

Her words warmed Carter and his grin slowly widened. “Sure. I think I can handle that.”

* * * * *

A chill fell over New England as the Thanksgiving holiday approached, one that seemed to match Riley’s overall mood. He continued to attend classes with Carter but began studying away from the suite. He was rarely available for activities at Wigg or Phoenix-SK and getting him to agree even to share a meal became impossible. Tension crept into the suite when Dan or Carter brought their girlfriends back and both friends became accustomed to Riley leaving the rooms instead of subjecting them to his stiff silences.

Carter tried to talk to Riley about his behavior on several occasions but found himself shut out. He was surprised by how much that stung. Riley and Dan were more than just Carter’s suitemates and he’d grown particularly close to Riley. After his family, Riley was the first person Carter thought of to share good news with and the first person he went to with a problem. Riley had become Carter’s sounding board and confidant and Carter hoped Riley felt the same about him.

A few days before school let out for the holiday, a thump woke Carter out of a sound sleep. He squinted at the clock through the darkened bedroom and smothered a groan on realizing it was after two o’clock in the morning. A second, louder thump followed a pained grunt and Carter leaned to turn on the bedside lamp, shocked to see Riley lying sprawled on the floor.

Carter sat up and tossed off the covers. “Ri? What the fuck are you doing?”

“Carpet inspection,” Riley replied in a strained voice.

“Are you okay?” Carter swung his legs over the edge of the bed to crouch beside his roommate, who still hadn’t stirred from his prone position.

Riley grunted again. “Not really. I face planted pretty hard. That’s gonna leave a mark.” He paused for a moment before rolling onto his side, his voice lower and more somber. “Help me?”

Carter leaned forward immediately, sliding an arm under his friend’s shoulder to guide Riley up to sit. The smell of beer and stale cigarette smoke filled Carter’s nose, but he said nothing, waiting until his friend nodded before helping him to his feet.

“Too many beers?” Carter kept his voice light and helped Riley to his bed.

“No, not exactly. I had a couple at Grendel’s with some guys from the club,” he said with a chuckle, “but honestly, I’m just tired. And your goddamned sneakers are inside the door again.” He sighed while Carter sat down beside him.

“Shit, I’m sorry.” With a grimace, Carter leaned forward to catch Riley’s eye. “I meant to move them, but—”

“You forgot, I know. It’s fine. I should know by now than to come in here without checking the floor first.” Riley lifted one hand, prodding gingerly at his cheek and grumbled in discomfort. “Ow.”

Carter stood. “I’ll get some ice. Stop,” he commanded when Riley moved to join him. “Sit still, and try not to trip over anything else. I’ll be right back.”

Riley had removed his coat by the time Carter returned with ice cubes and a washcloth. A red welt was already visible on Riley’s cheekbone when he glanced up, but to Carter’s surprise, he didn’t appear to be angry. If anything, he seemed amused.

“Is it bad?” Riley asked.

“It’s not good.”

Riley sighed and held out a hand out for the ice pack, looking puzzled as Carter knelt in front of him. “What are you doing?”

Carter dropped his hands to unlace Riley’s shoes. “How bad does it hurt?” He ducked his head after Riley pressed the ice to his face and swore.

“Enough to make me want to kick your ass,” Riley replied, an undertone of humor in his voice. He lifted one foot, then the other for Carter to remove his shoes. “Too bad my parents will be out of town over Thanksgiving. A black eye would have given them something interesting to talk about over turkey.”

A hollow feeling settled over Carter at the mention of the holiday. He and Riley had spoken several times about spending Thanksgiving dinner together, but now, Carter had no idea where they stood. Slowly, he eased himself up to sit beside Riley on the bed. Leaning forward, he propped his elbows on his knees, turning to hold Riley’s gaze for a few moments. Riley’s eyebrows pulled together, uncertainty filtering over his face at Carter’s silence.

Finally, Carter dropped his gaze to the floor. He felt almost pitifully grateful Riley was there beside him and talking, rather than pushing him away, so he drew a breath and ignored his nerves.

“You know, the invitation for dinner is still open.”

A melancholy smile touched Riley’s lips and made his blue eyes darken. “Thanks. But you don’t need to do that, Car.”

“Do what?” Carter stared blankly at him. “Invite you to dinner when we’ll be in the same city and your parents are going out of town?”

Riley began to trace circles on his knee with the fingers of his right hand. “I wasn’t sure you’d still want to hang out after…”

“After you froze me out?” Carter nodded at Riley’s wince. “Yeah, well. I don’t know why you did it but that was pretty lame, Ri. For Dan, too. What the fuck?”

Riley grumbled under his breath. “I wanted to give you guys some space. You know, with the girlfriends and all.”

Carter cocked his head. “What for?”

Gesturing with the hand holding the ice pack, Riley waved at the two single beds and the desks crammed into the other corner. “This isn’t exactly romance central, Car. The least I could do was try to clear out so you had a little privacy with Susannah and Dan with Mel.”

Carter pressed his lips together and tried not to punch his friend. “You’re an asshole, you know.”

“What? Why?”

“Because you didn’t even try talking to us. You just cut us off. Dan and I haven’t known what the hell is up with you for weeks. I worried something was going on with your family. Dan asked me if you were planning to transfer.”

Riley’s cheeks flooded with color. “Shit, I’m sorry. None of that is happening. I’m fine! I just didn’t want to be a fifth wheel, you know?”

Carter’s irritation faded as he understood his friend was actually fine. “Talk to us. Talk to me. We could have worked something out about the rooms and Susannah. We’ll have to when you bring girls back here, anyway.”

A cocky grin flashed over Riley’s face. “Who says I haven’t?”

Carter’s brows shot up before he grimaced playfully. “Really, dude? What, in between classes?”

“Maybe. I don’t kiss and tell, Hamilton. I’m a gentleman.”

“No, you are a jackass.”

Riley burst out laughing and that clear, boyish sound made Carter’s whole being feel lighter. He nudged Riley’s knee with his own.

“Come to the East Side for dinner. You can tell my parents you tried to fight my sneakers and lost.”

Riley laughed again, softly, and something tight in Carter’s chest unfurled. Standing, he motioned with his hand for his friend to lie down. He talked about his mother’s amazing apple crisp recipe while Riley stripped off his sweater and crawled under the duvet. His eyes were already closed, the ice pack balanced on his cheek as Carter switched off the lamp.

“I’m sorry about your face,” Carter told him before turning back to his own bed.

“I know, Car. S’okay.”

“You coming to dinner?” he asked, holding his breath for the few moments that passed before Riley replied.

“Yeah.” Riley’s words were slightly slurred with sleep. “Someone’s gotta look after you.”

Author Bios:
K Evan Coles
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.

K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.

Brigham Vaughn
Brigham Vaughn is starting the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga.  She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.

K Evan Coles
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Back Home by RJ Scott

Title: Back Home
Author: RJ Scott
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: May 24, 2017
Cover Design: Meredith Russell
Summary:
Falling for his brother's boyfriend broke his heart. Now he's back home and falls in love all over again.

One birthday kiss and Kieran realizes he is in danger of falling for his brother’s boyfriend, Jordan. Leaving for college, then moving to another country is the only way to ease the ache in his heart.

But, when his father becomes ill and his sister begs him to come home, Kieran returns for good. He finds the family business nearly bankrupt and Jordan, the man he ran from, beaten down by despair and guilt.

Friendship is what they promise each other as they work to repair the business, but it could never be enough for Kieran. When secrets spill, and there are vital decisions to be made, Kieran realizes two things; he’s back home, and he wants to stay with Jordan for good.

Now he just needs to convince Jordan.


“Where’s Hayley?” he asked.

“She slept out last night,” Anna said as she spooned eggs onto a plate for him.

“Where did she say she was going?” Jordan asked again. He slipped into the familiar big brother role as easily as pulling on his jeans in the morning. After all, he damn was like a big brother to her, especially with Brad gone and Kieran on another continent. He had a right and a reason to be worried. As soon as Anna told him that Hayley hadn’t been home, he started fretting even though he knew he had to accept that the girl he thought of as five with pigtails had actually reached adulthood and had even had sex. He didn’t want to think about that in too much detail.

“She’s twenty-two, sweetie. If she wants to stay out, that’s her choice. Maybe she was with that nice young man Alex.”

Anna sounded so accommodating; as if it didn’t worry her that her youngest child was out God knows where with God knows whom. Alex might seem like a good guy, and Jordan had even grudgingly admitted he appeared to be a solid stable influence on the normally flighty Hayley, but still, he knew exactly what was in a twenty-five-year-old man’s head. After all, he was only twenty-nine himself, and he had a good memory. Resentment built inside him, sudden and bitter; after Brad, they should have been more careful knowing where their kids were and what they were doing.

Shit. Where had that thought come from? Brad had been a grown man. What had happened to him had nothing to do with Anna and Phil. They were good parents, and they had made a good family. It also wasn’t their fault Kieran was gone. He ruthlessly pushed down the irrational imaginings to where they belonged, way down where he stored his own guilt.

“Should’ve told us,” Jordan snapped in return, anger fighting with fear in his gut. She was so little, even at twenty-two, slim and petite and so blindly trusting of everything and everyone around her.

“Jordan…” Anna turned from the skillet, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel and looking at him with that patented mother expression that she did so well. It never failed to calm him down. “She texted to say she was okay. That is as much as we’re going to get. We know she’s okay—she said so.”

Jordan grimaced. Recently all he seemed able to do was focusing on the shit that was happening, or on the worst that could happen. It was so easy to let a million thoughts race through his mind, every one colored with death and blood and fear. He could imagine a kidnapper taking the phone and texting as her, or her being coerced… Jesus, it didn’t bear thinking about.

“I’m going to be having words with her,” he grumped, concentrating on the plate of food that Anna placed in front of him. He wasn’t even hungry, anxiety nibbling away at him until his stomach was one big knotted mess. Patiently, and acutely aware that Anna was watching him as she had done ever since his accident, he forked eggs and bacon into his mouth, the taste of them like ashes.

Eating didn’t stop him from brooding, and being watched didn’t stop his mood from spiraling lower. If anything, the combination of the two made everything worse. The appointment at the bank was still looming, and he was worried about what they would say.

Jordan had to go on his own; Phil wasn’t well enough to be there with him, but he was determined to be involved in dealing with the company's finances. He wanted to be hands-on, it was his company and on and on. Whenever Phil started talking that way, Jordan listened as patiently as he could, trying not to feel too hurt Phil was determined to hold on so tightly. After all, hadn’t he been running the company just fine for the last two years?

When the kitchen door opened, and Hayley took a step into the battleground, Jordan was on her like a ton of bricks, launching to his feet with temper running through him like fire.

“Where the hell have you been? We’ve been damn scared you were in a ditch or something. For God’s sake, your momma was worried.” Jordan’s voice was loud and quick and his temper on a rare high. He saw Hayley look at her mom with raised eyebrows, receiving a small smile and a shrug of delicate shoulders in return. She wasn’t taking him seriously. God damn it, she needed to take him seriously.

“Jordan—” Hayley started quickly, but he interrupted before she could get any words out. He took a step towards her, his free hand gripping her arm.

“You should have let us know where you were.”

“I—”

“Just so I don’t go ripping up the area looking for you.” He realized he was shaking her, unaware of anything else, his temper making his actions sharp, until a hand rested on his arm.

“She was with me.” A low voice was in his ear, lost in the sound of a gasp from Anna, then complete and utter silence for a second as a tableau of shocked, frozen people engraved itself on Jordan’s mind.

It was Anna who broke the awkward silence, launching herself at the son she hadn’t seen in too long. Jordan’s softly spoken “Kieran” was drowned out by Anna’s squeal, the rush of hugs and welcomes and the refrains of why didn’t you tell me? Everyone talked over each other with laughter and jokes.

Typical. After all this time, Kieran freaking Addison walks through the door, and suddenly everyone conveniently forgets how he ran out and left them all.

Jordan stared at the man who had shaken his world to the roots. He struggled to see the boy who had left only days after that rainy Tuesday when they had buried Brad. This was a different Kieran —not a boy, but a man. Gone were the uncoordinated lankiness of youth and the floppy blond bangs that were forever determined to cover his gray eyes. Instead here was a man in control—tall, strong, with styled, shorter hair, and a gaze that wouldn’t meet Jordan’s. When it came down to it, Jordan felt the shock driving into him that Kieran Addison had deigned to return to the Addison fold at all. He waited, watching Anna welcome home the prodigal son, allowing the moments of reconnection. Then he said the first thing that came to his mind as he looked at Kieran and cursed his arrival for so many reasons he couldn’t begin to list.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Author Bio:
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn't with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn't like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.


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Fall with Me Audiobook by Jayne Frost

Title: Fall with Me
Author: Jayne Frost
Narrator: Scott R Smith
Series: Sixth Street Bands #2
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Release Date: December 15, 2016
Audiobook Release Date: April 20, 2017
Summary:
As the bassist for the band Caged, the last three years have been one, long non-stop party. Sure, I’ve had some regrets. Everyone does. But getting trapped in a relationship isn’t one of them. I know good and well what happens when the attraction fades. I’ve seen it first hand. Love is a zero sum game, so why play? As long as I’m upfront about my feelings, no one gets hurt. Besides, I’m never in one place long enough to worry about tomorrow.

That is, until the band decided to take an extended hiatus in our hometown. That’s when I met Melody Sullivan. She’s the full-package. Whip smart and beautiful, with enough determination to take on anything life has in store. And the best part? Melody shares my philosophy on the fleeting nature of attraction. She doesn’t buy into the whole “happily ever after” crap anymore than I do. We’re perfect for each other. For now. And now is all I want.

With the expectations off the table, I can let my guard down and enjoy her company until the spark dies. And we both know it will. In a week, or a month. But until then, we’ll just keep having fun. The good kind, with lots of sex and no strings attached. And when it’s time to move on, we will. No drawn out goodbyes and no remorse.






Gone for You #1
Summary:
As the guitarist for the rock band Caged, I know the rules: no relationships. No complications. Leave ‘em smiling when you go, but always go. Besides, it’s not like I’m ever in one place for more than a few days at a time. As the next hottest thing out of Austin, the band and I are riding the wave, and the music is all that matters.

Until her…

Lily Tennison has “complication” written across her beautiful face. But I can’t get involved. The timing’s all wrong. But she’s under my skin, and I can’t resist her troubled eyes and sweet smile. And I do have a little time to kill. Not much, just a few days in Dallas.

So I’ll scratch the itch and move on, like I always do.

Simple, right?

Note: You won't need to turn up the heat—Sixth Street Bands Romances have plenty of steamy fun. This story can be read as a stand-alone but is part of the Sixth Street Bands music scene.

Author Bio:
So…Who is Jayne?

As a writer you would think that would be a simple question…but it’s not. I spend so much time living in my characters heads, listening to their voices, that sometimes I forget about my own.

I guess I should start with the basics: the backstory. I was born and raised in California. At this point, I’m usually asked what it was like to grow up near the beach, but sadly, I don’t know. I grew up in the “other” part of California. Perfect for an aspiring writer, if you ask me. You learn a lot about keeping yourself busy when the nearest house is a mile away…and it belongs to your grandparents.

I spent all my time with my nose in a book, living vicariously through the characters, until I wrote a book of my own. I was ten at the time. It was a scintillating piece that cast the family pet as the protagonist.

By the time I went to high school, I moved on to romance. Why? Because I met my very own prince charming. I wrote love poems in my journal about the green-eyed boy who stole my heart. He promised, the way all storybook heroes do, to sweep me away and take me on a grand adventure. And he did.

We picked up and moved to the Lone Star State and began the story of us. The best stories begin without a road map or a compass. Veering off course makes the journey so much more interesting.

True to form, just when I thought my life was set, we started the next adventure. I traded in my cowboy boots and followed my green-eyed boy to Las Vegas. My home will always be in Texas, but my heart is anywhere that he is. Our beautiful daughter made the journey with us. Our son stayed in Texas, to write his own story.

Somehow, in the midst of the chaos that is our life, I find time to write. Writing is what I love. I might stray from romance every now and then if that is what moves me…but I always come back. Some of the stories don’t seem romantic at all. They are gritty stories about flawed characters that find each other and hold on tight. Those are the stories that speak to me. Because that’s life. I believe that every story should have a happy ending—even the difficult ones.


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Darkest Days by NW Harris

Title: Darkest Days
Author: NW Harris
Series: The Last Orphans #4
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Release Date: May 22, 2017
Summary:
The ancient slave mongers who killed the adults and enslaved the children have angered a more advanced species of aliens. Composed of pure energy, this superior race has attacked the Anunnaki home world and is now setting a course for Earth.

The energy-based aliens believe in a system of trial by battle. They seek to push Shane and his friends into the arena with the ones who killed their parents. The results will determine if humans deserve to live, or if they should be made extinct as well. It’s up to Shane to keep his friends—and an army of kids who look up to him—alive. They’ll be fighting not just for their own lives, but for the fate of the entire human race. Can the enemy of Shane’s enemy be his friend, or is this just another species determined to exploit and destroy them?

 #1
Their control panels dark, the sailors looked at the general, and then around the bridge at the glowing bulkheads. They held their breaths, and it seemed the silence would asphyxiate them. He’d been on the ship when it was docked and had a minimum crew, and even unoccupied, the bridge had never been so quiet. No reconditioned air hissed through the vents, and the floor didn’t vibrate with the eternal low frequency sound emitted from the reactor. The view screen flickered, the last wisp of the Pegasus’ life about to be snuffed.

#2
Shane woke with a start, falling off the bunk onto the floor. He grunted and opened his eyes. Kelly sat and turned, putting her feet on the floor between him and the rack. She looked toward him, but her face was expressionless and her eyes unfocused. Her distant gaze made her seem possessed, like her soul was gone and her empty body was being controlled remotely. Her hand snatched his wrist in a lightning-fast motion, and she held on with an iron grip. Startled, he started to jerk away, but then her eyes locked onto his. He froze, his blood turning to ice. It wasn’t her looking at him—something else was inside Kelly.

#3
The barracks’ door slammed shut, drawing his attention to Kelly. Her hair disheveled, she wore the sweats she’d slept in. She blinked her eyes against the first rays of the sun. They bathed her from above the treetops like god shining a heavenly spotlight upon his favorite angel. He forgot about everyone and everything else in the world for an instant. Seeing her aglow in the warm yellow light erased all his concerns and his fears, infusing him with hope.

#4
“It must be really hard on you—and my sister—that I don’t remember,” Kelly said, poking at her food with a mournful look on her face.

“It’s a blessing you don’t remember all we’ve been through,” Shane replied with a forced chuckle. “But just so you know, you’re tougher than you can imagine.”

#5
Returning to his campfire, he stopped in front of a patch of tall, dry Fescue. Trampled by the kids when they set up camp, most of the grass in the field lay on its side. Just the few blades survived, their dry stalks holding seed-heavy heads three feet above the ground. Sort of like the humans, he thought, so few remained.

Even above the snoring of hundreds of kids, he could hear the songs of the field crickets, not yet killed off by the first frost. Tilting his head back, he looked up at the night sky. Only stars up there, no alien spaceship orbiting with Kelly imprisoned in it. Now she was here, but he still didn’t have her back, and he bore some of the fault. He’d condemned her to this fate when he agreed to let Lily activate her slave persona.

#6
Her tone was sad, like her spirit was nearly broken. But he knew the lioness in her would never give up. She’d spend her last breath trying to save her sister. And he’d spend his last trying to save her. He prayed that it would be enough to keep them alive.

If all the adults suddenly were wiped from the face of the planet, would law and order be a thing of the past, or would the children create their own? 
My opinion, the children would eventually create their own new version of law and order. The systems that are in place today are there because of a functioning infrastructure. If all the adults are gone, that infrastructure will fail. In my opinion, there will be initial chaos, then groups of children will start to conglomerate. Some groups will be bad and some good. Some of the kids will try to find ways to shelter and feed themselves by farming, hunting, fishing, etc. Others will make their living by stealing from those good children. At first, justice will be swift, frequently violent and without trial. As those that are determined to rebuild by making honest livings settled into their new lifestyles, I believe they’d make militias to protect their families and food. Next they’d create tribunals and hold some sort of court for criminals. Like in the in the Wild West, some of these new justice forces would inevitably become corrupt. Over time, I believe the children would thrive and society would be reborn. But I’m a bit of an optimist (my stories may not always seem to reflect that.)



Author Bio:
Born at the end of the Vietnam war and raised on a horse farm near small town north Georgia, his imagination evolved under the swaying pines surrounding his family’s log home. On summer days that were too hot, winter days that were too cold, and every night into the wee morning hours, he read books. He lives in sunny southern California with his beautiful wife and two perfect children.


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