Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday's Safe World Shelf: Tales from the Edge by LM Somerton Part 1

The Edge is a training company with a difference. Its weekend clients come for classes in bondage and domination, not team building and problem solving.

The management, staff and customers of The Edge do not lead boring lives. In fact they have a habit of getting themselves into all kinds of trouble. Put Dominant, possessive alpha males together with bratty, loveable submissives and sparks are bound to fly. These Tales from The Edge are their stories.

Reaching the Edge #1
When you reach the edge, you can’t avoid taking a leap of faith.

Joe Dexter leads a complicated life. In one world he is a consultant criminal psychologist—in another he runs The Edge, a successful corporate training company. He’s also an active Dom in the London BDSM scene.

A social call to The Underground, a club owned by an old friend, turns into much more when Joe is introduced to a prospective sub. Falling hard for the boy’s tumbling blonde curls, huge blue eyes and desperate need for protection, Joe carefully coaxes him out of his shell. By the end of an intense weekend, unbreakable bonds have been forged and Joe is well on the way to becoming Olly’s Master.

Joe knows that there is trauma in Olly’s past, but it is not until his professional and private lives collide that Joe discovers the truth. He knows he shouldn’t have let Olly out of his sight but it’s too late—Olly’s old Master is back on the scene and he’s not in the mood to forgive and forget.

With Olly’s life on the line, Joe risks everything to save him. Has Joe found his perfect submissive only to lose him in a horrible twist of fate, or will love win the day? They’ve reached the edge and there’s no avoiding a leap of faith.

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of D/s, including chastity play, and references to past rape and current PTSD. There are also non-consensual plot elements with an aggressive former Master which include kidnapping, bondage and the forcible insertion of a butt plug.

Living on the Edge #2
Sometimes it takes willpower to resist temptation but courage to give in.

Aiden Keller is a brilliant and intriguing young man. When he’s convicted of hacking, his sentence takes him to The Edge, a high-end corporate training company with a mysterious sideline. There he is given into the custody of its owner, the enigmatic and demanding Heath Anders, and his business partner Joe Dexter.

From the moment Heath takes charge of Aiden he recognizes the boy’s submissive nature, even though it is well hidden beneath a veneer of snarky attitude. But for twelve months, Aiden will be his responsibility and Heath cannot allow himself to get involved whilst the boy is obliged to obey him.

Aiden settles into his new life with the help of Olly, Joe’s pretty, submissive boyfriend, who is very perceptive when it comes to noticing the sparks of attraction flying between Aiden and Heath. Slowly and gently, he teaches Aiden that submission is not a weakness and to accept his desire to be dominated.

Unable to resist, Heath starts to test Aiden’s willingness to be obedient, and against all the odds, love (and lust) start to bloom. Aiden, however, is not quite what he seems and his past is about to endanger all their lives.

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of BDSM, including D/s, bondage, chastity play, masturbation and voyeurism. It is best read as part of a series. 

Dancing on the Edge #3
Life is a dance. Whether you lead or follow, the passion of it should sweep you away.

Carey and Alistair have the kind of relationship that is the envy of their friends. Carey is an old-fashioned Dom who appreciates quiet obedience. Alistair is a sub who is comfortable in his skin and finds peace in his submission. Needless to say, their happiness is too good to last.

When Alistair’s powerful father chooses his reputation over his son, all hell is let loose. Forcibly committed to a clinic for reversion therapy, Alistair can only hope that his lover will save him.

Carey calls on his friends from The Edge and they band together not just to rescue Alistair but also to protect his future. They’ve all flirted with danger in the past - but friendship is worth any risk. As the tension mounts and the stakes get higher, new bonds are forged but will Carey and Alistair’s love survive?

Reader Advisory: This book contains the use of restraints, the pushing of boundaries and edging, kidnap, forceful imprisonment and forms of visual torture along with scenes of prolonged physical torture. It also contains characters with extreme prejudiced views. This book is best read in sequence as part of the series.

A Double-Edged Sword #4
How do you stay standing when the ground is torn from beneath your feet?

Becket and Christian are taking the first, tentative steps towards the committed D/s relationship they both crave when the world literally explodes around them. In a frightening reversal of roles, Becket has to deal with his own vulnerability and Christian must find the strength to take care of his Dom. With the help of their friends at The Edge, the two men come to realise that dominance and submission cannot be switched on and off.

Events that could have ended in tragedy provide the catalyst that affirms their trust in each other, but there are still questions to answer. Is the safe path always the right one to take? Is control simply a state of mind?

One thing’s for certain, life’s too short for compromise.

Reader Advisory: This book is best read in sequence as part of a series.

Rough Around the Edges #5
Can a new beginning be found in leather and chains?

Kai Smithson’s life changes dramatically with his first glimpse into the world of BDSM. Completely innocent, Kai can hardly believe his eyes, but he knows what he likes and apparently that’s hot, dominant men in leather. He isn’t sure if he’s a submissive because he doesn’t really know what that means, but the feelings he is experiencing are exciting and new.

Harry Croft, bar manager at The Underground BDSM Club, believes in insta-lust rather than love at first sight. And when he agrees to train Kai, the contract between them has one condition—no sex. But Kai has some very definite plans about losing his virginity and a piece of paper is not going to stand in his way. In his new friends at the club and at The Edge, Kai has a ready-made support group of subs that show him that the only rules in a D/s relationship are those he wants to make for himself.

The old saying that you can choose your friends but not your family is proved horribly true for Kai, as the mysteries of his past are revealed. As he and Harry start out on their journey together, they must contend with bullets as well as bondage, danger alongside domination, and it’s not easy to establish trust when the whole world is going to hell.

Reader Advisory: This book contains characters who have extremely prejudiced views and scenes referencing physical abuse.

Scorched Edges #6 (Coming September 8, 2015)
Love forged in fire is unassailable.

Fireman Salter Beauman, Beau to his friends, has had his eye on cute Marty Standish ever since he helped rescue Marty and his boss from the bombed out rubble of Temple Church. An analyst for the security services, Marty is cute, geeky and submissive through and through—even if he doesn’t know it yet.

With a serial fire starter making inroads into Beau’s life expectancy, he decides that there is no time to waste and introduces Marty to the D/s lifestyle. Marty responds with wide eyes, an insatiable desire to learn and the ability to turn Beau on with nothing more than a wiggle of his slim hips.

But Beau has a second, far more malevolent admirer. ‘See me dance’ is the message left at a series of increasingly dangerous fires. Beau and Marty must work together to catch a psychotic arsonist before their love goes up in flames. Literally.

Reader Advisory: This book contains a scene that includes sexual abuse.

Reaching the Edge #1
"Alyson, I realise that I’m a clinical psychologist, but my specialism, as you well know, is criminal psychology. What on earth makes you think I can help this boy?"

"He’s not a boy, Joe, he’s a young man. He’s been through the kind of trauma that would turn most of us into gibbering wrecks, and survived, against all the odds. But I can’t get him to trust anyone enough that they can help him. He’s so closed down that he’s barely functioning."

"What exactly does that mean?"

"He looks after himself on a basic level. He eats. He keeps clean. He does housework. But he hasn’t been able to return to work and he has horrific nightmares. I don’t think he’s slept properly in months."

"What aren’t you telling me? There has to be something…"

"Just read his file. I’ll buy you dinner." The slightly wheedling tone grated on Joe’s nerves and he found himself agreeing just to get the annoying woman off the phone.

"Fine. Send it over and I’ll take a look, but that’s it, Alyson. I’m not promising anything."

He could feel her triumph reverberating through the handset as he replaced the phone in its cradle. He’d known Alyson Bell for several years. She was well respected and, despite the fact that he didn’t like her all that much, he knew she was good at her job. She had referred patients to him in the past when the skills of her colleagues at the private clinic where she worked had been exhausted. He had no illusions about being the call of last resort. It was that very thing that intrigued him—the challenge of trying to help people whom everyone else had given up on.

It was Friday evening and he was looking forward to the first free weekend he’d had in nearly two months. He picked up the phone again and dialled his business partner and best friend.

"Heath. How’s it going?"

He smiled as he listened to Heath relay information about the week’s courses at The Edge, the corporate training company they ran together. He divided his time between his growing private practice and what was turning into a very successful business venture.

"I’ll be up next week as planned. Enjoy the weekend off." Joe tried not to sound too jealous.

Heath chuckled knowingly. "You don’t sound very sincere, my friend. What will you be getting up to?"

Joe was still trying to decide what to do with his own free time. "Not sure. Think I might put in an appearance at The Underground tonight."

He fiddled with a pen on the desk, then dropped it as Heath made a couple of very detailed suggestions as to what a night at The Underground might offer.

"It’s been so long since I played, I think I may have forgotten how to use one of those!"

A snort of disbelief sounded down the line, followed by a few caustic comments.

"I’m just going for a quiet drink and maybe a little innocent voyeurism. It won’t do the business any harm if I put in an appearance, anyway."

He held the phone away from his ear slightly and waited for the laughter to subside.

"Fine. Have your fun. I know that 'just watching' has never been my thing, but I’m fed up of all those doe-eyed submissives who just want to play for a night, then go back to their safe little worlds. I’m pushing thirty, Heath. I want something more and he has to be out there somewhere."

He tilted his chair back and smiled at the kinder words that followed.

"All right, all right! Twenty-eight isn’t thirty! Yes, I will have a good time. Yes, I will be careful and no, I will not be fucking telling you about it in the morning. Goodnight, Heath."

He began to tidy his office and prepare to leave, letting his mind wander back to the first time he and Heath had met. The Underground was an exclusive—and expensive—private club catering to London’s gay BDSM scene. Joe had been lounging against the main bar, craving a nice, soft merlot, whilst nursing a glass of something involving mango and apple that the barman had convinced him to try. He entirely understood the club’s ‘no alcohol’ policy but sometimes it was a pain in the taste buds.

Heath had drawn every eye in the place as he had strolled across the room, black leather clinging to long legs and a gorgeous arse, his body draped in a filmy silver-grey shirt. There’d been a few disappointed sighs as it had become obvious that this was not a new, tender submissive but a confident, young Dominant who would provide dangerous competition for all of them.

He’d ordered water with a twist of lime, glanced at Joe’s fruity concoction with a smirk and introduced himself. "Heath Anders. I need someone to teach me and I’m told you’re the best."

It had gone from there, and Joe had enjoyed every moment of showing his willing student what it meant to be submissive, and how to be the best possible Dominant. Friendship had led to partnership and the development of The Edge into something more than just a corporate training company. The Underground had provided them with a number of excellent clients and he was proud of the fact that they were making an active contribution to making their world safer and more respectful of others’ needs.

Living on the Edge #2
The car sped along the motorway, its interior lit by flashes of neon orange and red from signs warning drivers to take a break, not to drink and drive and to slow down in the rain. Esther looked at her husband, Adam, who was driving. His forehead was creased into a frown, his eyes narrowed in concentration. It was dark, the rain was kicking up more spray than Niagara Falls and every truck they passed seemed to be generating a tidal wave of watered-down mud. In the passenger seat, Esther rearranged the rolled-up pullover she was leaning against, but it was impossible to get comfortable and she couldn’t relax anyway. She glanced into the rear-view mirror and pursed her lips. The cause of her anxiety was slumped in the back seat, the side of his face pressed against the cool window glass. His unusually pale eyes were open but unfocused, as though he were deep in thought. In the dim light it was impossible to see true colours, but his hair was dark and somewhat unruly, falling across his face in tousled waves.

"How long are you going to keep up the silent treatment, Aiden?" Esther spoke sharply and her husband cast a resigned glance in her direction.

"Leave him be, Esther. He doesn’t have to talk if he doesn’t want to."

"He brought this on himself, Adam. If it wasn’t for me, he’d be rotting in jail right now."

"I know. And he’s going to have a whole year to regret his actions."

"He’s twenty years old. He should know better."

"Yes, dear."

A pained sigh came from the back of the car.

"For fuck’s sake, Sis. Lay off. You’ve committed me to a year of purgatory. Stop trying to justify your own actions."

"Even you must accept that this is a better option than prison."

"I’d have been out in six months. This is double the sentence. Thanks a lot."

"You ungrateful brat. The things I do for you…"

Aiden rolled his eyes. "I didn’t ask you to help, Essie. Stop acting the martyr."

"We’re here."

That stopped the bickering as they pulled off the motorway into a gloomy, unwelcoming service station.

"Esther, relax. Aiden, think about it. What do you think would happen to someone who looks like you do in prison?"

Aiden scowled but then muttered an apology under his breath. Esther shook her head and looked at her little brother. Adam was right, but it wasn’t Aiden’s fault that he looked the way he did. He was prettier than she was with his beautiful, unusual eyes, fine bone structure and soft, dark hair. Sometimes it was hard to believe that they were related. Aiden was the only member of the family who wasn’t stocky, sandy-haired and freckled. He was slim, pale-skinned and, at five foot eleven, relatively tall. She loved him deeply, but the last year had challenged even her tolerance for his behaviour.

It had all started three years ago, on Aiden’s seventeenth birthday. He had decided, against her better judgement, to come out to their somewhat old-fashioned parents. There had been no histrionics, no judgement, just a quiet disappointment that had gradually eaten into Aiden’s soul.

He’d been a brilliant student, a year ahead of his peers, and as soon as he could arrange it he’d left home for university. To start with he had emailed his sister regularly, choosing to keep in touch with her rather than face awkward phone calls with his technologically challenged mother and father. He’d seemed to thrive in the rarefied academic atmosphere, embracing the demands of studying maths and IT at the same time.

Then, in his third year, the emails had started to tail off. They’d become shorter and less informative. Esther had gone to visit and had found Aiden holed up in a darkened room with a computer and an intimidating man whose name she had never learnt. Though clearly shocked to see her, Aiden had taken her out to dinner, made all the right noises about studying and enjoying himself, then had sent her on her way. It was only when she’d got back home that she’d realised he had actually told her little of substance, and that she still had no clue as to what he was up to.

The first she’d learnt of exactly how much trouble he was in was when their mother had called her, mildly hysterical, to tell her that that Aiden had been arrested for hacking. Six months of hell had followed. Aiden had refused to talk about what he had done or why. He’d been released into Esther’s care on bail, pending trial, and was banned from being anywhere near a computer. The university had allowed him to finish his degree remotely and that was what he had spent six months doing—painstakingly writing his dissertation by hand and avoiding all mention of the impending trial.

Esther had attended court in the expectation that the trial would take weeks, but to her shock Aiden’s lawyer had entered a guilty plea on his behalf. Aiden hadn’t met her eyes once as the lawyer had made a statement pleading for leniency. Then the judge had asked for both the defending and prosecuting councils to meet in his chamber. What had emerged was a choice—six months in prison, or twelve months’ attachment to an organisation of the judge’s choosing for community service. The latter depended on payment of a bond and that was where Esther had come in. She had agreed to post the bond, which meant that if Aiden reneged on the conditions of the sentence, she stood to lose her house and business.

Dancing on the Edge #3
Alistair let the pounding beat of the music soak into his body. The deep thrum of the bass reverberated through his feet, up his spine and into his brain. He moved instinctively, twisting his hips and swaying, lost to the euphoria of the dance. The Underground’s dance floor wasn’t big, as if it had been deliberately designed to bring overheated bodies closer together. Alistair liked to be in the centre of the press of writhing flesh because there he could be anonymous. Nobody would notice that he was dancing alone. Occasionally someone would slide a sweaty arm around his waist or press a hard cock against his arse—he could just slip free and disappear into the crowd. No offence given and none taken.

It wasn’t often that he had the freedom to really let go, but it was his night off and he was determined to enjoy himself. It was so stifling that for a moment he wished he were still wearing the short leather kilt that formed The Underground’s skimpy staff uniform. The black PVC trousers he had on were ludicrously hot. Perspiration ran down his bare back and chest and his hair was soaked. It was time for a long, cool drink and he really needed to towel off.

Alistair made his way gradually to the edge of the dance floor. It took a while—the music was intoxicating and hard to withdraw from. He hovered on the periphery for a while, still dancing but aware now of what was going on in the wider room. The stage was empty apart from two men who were manhandling a large wooden cross into its centre, cursing and swearing at the weight of the thing. Alistair knew that some eager sub would be chained to it later, enjoying the kiss of the whip.

Many of the tables that circled the dance floor were occupied. Alistair knew all of the regulars by name and recognised quite a few of the less frequent visitors. A team of waiters, unashamedly employed for their looks and desire to please, attended the tables. On six nights out of seven he was one of them and enjoyed being part of the team. They were well paid and, though subservience was required, they had no other obligation to the clientele. The members were well aware of the rules and kept their hands to themselves, but it was perfectly proper to ask a server if he would be available to play when he got off his shift. Most of the boys Alistair knew were more than willing. For an unattached sub, The Underground was safe. It also attracted dominant men who were committed enough to the lifestyle to pay the exorbitant fees. For those that wanted them, there were plenty of opportunities to test compatibility or just to find someone happy to deliver a sound spanking with no strings.

Alistair had taken advantage of his position many times. He was slim, blond and pretty—all attributes that appealed to a large proportion of the members. He never had a problem finding a Dom for an evening of fun and games that they would both enjoy. It helped that he adored having his arse paddled until it glowed and if he was tied up while it happened, so much the better. He scanned the room catching several interested glances, but Alistair was only looking for one man. The man who was always present, whomever Alistair played with. The only man he had ever allowed to fuck him. It was dark and crowded—spotlights blinded him as he peered up at the gallery, his stomach knotted with anxiety. Where was he?

Bodies between Alistair and the bar moved apart and there he was—Carey Hoffman—and he was looking directly at Alistair, a slight smile curving his lips. Alistair relaxed as soon as he locked gazes with the darkly handsome man. Carey was his anchor in a bewildering world and there was no way Alistair would have walked across the club alone unless he knew Carey was watching. He began to move, careful not to brush against anyone or make eye contact. He didn’t like rejecting people, but he wasn’t wearing a collar and that made him fair game. He made it three paces before a huge, leather-clad guy loomed over him with a leer.

"Well, pretty boy, what are you doing here all alone?"

Alistair looked up and took in the extensive tattoos that covered his new friend’s heavily muscled arms, then the thick neck and shaved head.

"I… I’m not…"

Alistair flinched as the stranger took his arm, gripping his biceps tightly. "Don’t be scared, little one, we can have a good time together." He tugged Alistair towards the tables.

"I’m sorry, Sir, I’m not available tonight," Alistair finally managed to get out.

"Or any night," Carey said as he appeared next to him and stroked his hair. "This one’s taken, Frank." The big guy looked disappointed, but he smiled, revealing a dimple that was completely incongruous.

"S’all right, Carey. Haven’t been in for a while—didn’t realise." Frank released Alistair’s arm and stepped back.

"Not a problem. In fact I think Toby over there might suit you." Carey gestured towards a server with dark hair and a cheeky grin.

Frank grinned right back. "Pretty. Is he interested, Carey?"

Carey crooked a finger at Toby and the slight waiter came scuttling over with undignified speed.

"Oh, I think you might say that."

Toby bounced on the spot, his dark brown eyes glinting. He looked like a puppy that had just been given the best treat ever. He disappeared with a squeak as Frank wrapped a beefy, decorated arm around his shoulders.

A Double-Edged Sword #4
The Underground’s stage was cleverly lit to highlight the chair set at its centre. Almost throne-like, the bespoke piece of furniture was made from polished oak and upholstered with padded green leather. The back had a cushioned middle panel and intricately carved side pieces, so it looked impressively regal without sacrificing comfort. The arms were wide and flat, lightly padded as well. At first glance it could have been an antique piece from a stately home, but closer inspection showed how it earned its place on the stage of a BDSM club. At the top of the backrest, a curved leather neck support and headrest stood proud from the wood. The seat was significantly wider at the front than the rear and subtly concealed within the leather was a circular section that could be removed. Brass eyelets were set at regular intervals down each of the chair legs, the sides of the seat and in the vertical wooden panels of the back. It was a chair made for display, for restraint and for some very kinky play.

Dave Becket leant back in his seat and watched disinterestedly as a blindfolded, naked man was led out onto the stage and positioned in the chair so that his arse, cock and balls were accessible. The Dom with him proceeded to fasten narrow leather straps around his sub’s limbs until he was secured in position, legs spread wide.

“The show doesn’t inspire you, Dave?”

Becket turned to his companion and shook his head. “Public displays don’t do much for me, I’m afraid. Any sub of mine will be kept for my pleasure, not the titillation of others.”

Carey Hoffman nodded his agreement. “I would never put Alistair up there, certainly. We seem to be in the minority, however.” He gestured at the crowded tables that surrounded the stage. “The shows are very good for business.”

Becket grunted and cast a glance around the room. The Underground was a popular venue. Membership was expensive and the serving staff attentive and pretty. For anyone seriously into the scene, it was the place to be. Becket attended when he could, though the demands of his job meant that his visits were sporadic at best. He enjoyed the atmosphere and Carey had become a good friend. There were advantages to being close to the club’s owner, including the prime position of the table the two of them currently occupied.

“Will Alistair be joining you tonight, Carey?” Becket grinned as a soppy smile fixed itself onto Carey’s handsome face.

“Yes, he will.” Carey glanced at his watch. “In fact, he should be here any minute. He had to go over to a gallery in the West End and check on the hanging of some of his work but he should be back by now. He’s probably upstairs changing.”

“He’s doing incredibly well with his photography, isn’t he?”

Carey nodded, his expression full of pride. “Since he won the Forbes prize, he’s been in great demand.”

“I read about that,” Becket said. “The youngest ever winner, I understand?”

“That’s right. It was an amazing achievement even though he tries to play it down. Alistair is very shy about his success.”

“That’s because you keep him so well grounded, my friend.” Becket took a sip from his glass of iced water and prodded at the slice of lime floating in the top. “What’s your secret? The two of you always seems so…content.”

Carey’s forehead wrinkled in thought. “It’s no secret and no mystery really. We’re compatible. We give each other what we need.”

Becket frowned. “But how did you know? I mean, was it love at first sight or did you grow together?”

Carey gave a short chuckle. “Fuck, Dave, your reputation would be shot if it ever got out that you were asking questions about feelings.”

“And what about you?” Becket retorted. “You’re supposed to be a big bad Dom but one mention of Alistair and you go all smooshy.”

Carey choked on his drink. “Smooshy? There’s a word I never thought I’d hear coming out of your mouth, Agent Becket. What’s this really about, as if I couldn’t guess?”

Becket’s face heated. He shouldn’t have started this conversation. Better to focus on the sub getting his arse whipped up on the stage. He was saved by Alistair’s arrival, the pretty blond immediately commanding all of Carey’s attention.

“Good evening, Sir. Good evening, Mr Becket.” Alistair leaned over to kiss his master then sank gracefully to his knees in front of Carey, head demurely bowed.

“I’m glad you’re here, Alistair, I missed you.” Carey ruffled Alistair’s hair gently. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Becket smiled as a delicate blush crept across Alistair’s cheeks. Carey wasn’t exaggerating—Alistair did look gorgeous. He wore skin-tight leather trousers in a shade of deep burgundy and nothing else, apart from the slim collar encircling his throat. He was slender and toned but not overly defined. Becket approved—he wasn’t into men who spent more time in the gym than they did in the real world. Cut abs were great to look at but Alistair’s sleek muscles were just as pretty.

Alistair looked up at his Master. “Is it all right if I get myself a drink, Sir?”

Carey immediately nodded. “Of course. Dave, would you like anything while Alistair is at the bar?”

“Another glass of mineral water would be welcome, thanks.”

“And I’ll have the same please, sweetheart.”

Alistair practically glowed at the simple endearment. Becket sneaked a sideways glance at Carey whose gaze was firmly fixed on Alistair’s neat, leather-clad arse as he picked his way through the tables to the bar.

“You’re a lucky bastard, Carey.” Becket wasn’t jealous. He could admire Alistair as a beautiful young man and a well-trained submissive, but Alistair wasn’t his type. Becket liked an edgier look than the boy-next-door wholesomeness that Alistair effortlessly exuded.

“I know it.” Carey’s focus didn’t leave Alistair until he returned with their drinks. “Thank you, love. Sit here please.” Carey gestured to a spot on the floor between his legs.

Alistair wriggled into position and leant back against Carey’s chair with a contented sigh. “It’s good to be off my feet, Sir.”

“Relax and have your drink, love. Dave and I need to pick up the conversation we were having before you arrived. Don’t think I’ve forgotten, Becket.”

Becket groaned. “I should learn to keep my mouth shut.”

Rough Around the Edges #5
The moment Kai walked into The Underground clutching Olly’s hand, he knew he’d found his place in the world. The club smelled of leather and polish and men. The low light soothed his eyes and made him feel less visible, which suited him just fine. He liked to disappear into the background—it was safer that way. Joe steered them toward a table ringed by comfortable low chairs but they couldn’t sit down straight away as there were so many people milling around them that it took a while to get through the throng. Kai lost his grip on Olly and grabbed hold of Joe’s sleeve instead while Olly held onto Joe’s other arm—it was the only way to avoid being swept away.

“Cut the crowding, people!”

Kai turned around. Someone was standing on the bar, yelling.

“Give them some space. You’ll hear all about it soon enough.”

The crowd thinned as people went back to their tables and settled down, though the level of chatter and sense of excitement remained high. The man from the bar hopped down and came across to speak to Joe. Kai earwigged shamelessly and caught a little of their conversation.

“Why don’t we let Carey and Alistair get reacquainted and I’ll get the three of you some drinks?” Though he was talking to Joe, the man—who Kai figured had to be one of the bar staff—kept his gaze firmly fixed on Kai.

Kai examined the floor, afraid that if he looked back, those stormy gray eyes would mesmerize him.

“Sounds good,” Joe answered. “It was a long drive. Fresh orange juice for all of us please, Harry.”

Now Kai knew the man’s name. Harry. He liked it. It sounded strong and confident, just like the way the man appeared. Joe took a seat at the table and Olly immediately clambered onto his lap. Kai didn’t sit down straight away—he stood and took in the view. Everywhere he looked there were gorgeous men—all shapes and sizes, all colors and ages. Men who seemed comfortable in their skins.

His eyes widened as he realized just how little some of the club’s members were wearing. He spotted latex and leather in a variety of colors, though black was in the majority. Most of the chairs were occupied, but there were also men sitting on cushions on the floor or kneeling, with their heads bowed. It was a feast for Kai’s eyes. Belatedly, he realized that he was staring and that his mouth was open. He snapped his lips together and cast around anxiously to see if he’d offended anyone. If the winks he got when he made eye contact were anything to go by, apparently he hadn’t.

Kai checked the whereabouts of his new friends, needing the security of knowing where they were and that he wasn’t alone. Alistair stood a few feet away, wrapped in the arms of a handsome older man who acted like he’d just won the lottery. Kai assumed that must be Carey, Alistair’s Dom. Just behind where Kai loitered, Olly sat in Joe’s lap, chattering away while Joe listened, looking cool and serene. Kai felt a little pang of envy at how happy they all seemed. Still, he should be grateful. He’d just been rescued from a terrifying ordeal. Alistair had said he could stay with him and Carey for as long as he needed. He was safe. He had somewhere to go, people who cared about what happened to him. He had much to be grateful for.

“I’ve never seen so much leather in one place before,” Kai whispered. He hadn’t addressed the comment to anyone in particular. It was just an observation but Olly grabbed his hand and tugged him to a chair.

“You should be here in the evenings. There’s considerably more bare flesh to ogle then. Though it’s hard to beat hot men in tight leather at any time of the day. I don’t think there should be time limits on visual stimulation, do you?”

Kai shook his head hard. Olly made a good deal of sense.

“You shouldn’t be eyeing up other men,” Joe snapped at Olly. “And they shouldn’t even be glancing in your direction. You’re mine.”

Kai stared. It was the first time he’d seen Joe’s icy-cool demeanor slip into something more emotional.

Olly chewed his lower lip and gazed back at him adoringly. “You’ll just have to punish me, Sir.”

Kai giggled. Olly was so naughty. He liked him enormously. They could have loads of fun together. He perched on the edge of his chair and people-watched for a couple of minutes. There was so much eye candy to enjoy. Not that I’d have the first clue what to do if one of these men approached me. Olly and Alistair seem to think that I’m a sub, but what does that mean? I’m not sure I want to be spanked!

Scorched Edges #6
“We have ourselves a firebug, Beau, and he or she seems intent on destroying every derelict building south of the fucking river.” Commander Norm Archer kicked the leg of his battered desk as he passed. A new dent joined several already present, creating a pattern on the abused wood. Steel toe capped boots came in handy at times of stress. Archer threw himself into his chair and slumped forward to stick his elbows on the desk and rest his head in his hands.

Salter Beauman took an ‘at ease’ stance automatically. Eight years in the marines had fixed the position into his body’s memory and he couldn’t help himself. He stood, legs shoulder-width apart, hands clasped loosely behind his back, and maintained eye contact with his boss. His cranky, soot-streaked, exhausted boss.

“He picks his targets well,” Beau said. “This one isn’t stupid or careless, he only torches places where he can prepare thoroughly without much risk of anyone seeing him.” Beau had little doubt that the arsonist was a man—the vast majority were. He’d eat his boots if the bug turned out to be a woman. “So what’s his motivation?”

“Who the fuck knows?” Archer scrubbed his hands through what remained of his filthy hair. Normally silver, it was currently ash gray. “Could be your average fruit loop with too much time on his hands or he could be trying to get someone’s attention. It might be the fires are the only things that get a rise out of his dick. Fuck. Should have taken early fucking retirement when it was offered.”

Beau chuckled. “They’ll take you out of here in a box, boss, we all know that. Sooner or later this guy is going to make a mistake, they all do eventually, you know that. He’ll get complacent, then he’ll get careless.”

“No doubt,” Archer agreed. “The only question is how much this idiot is going to escalate before the boys in blue are able to arrest his ass and toss it into a nice, fireproof cell.”

Beau grunted. That had them all worried. Every fire put the entire crew in danger, but those started by a criminal who delighted in making things burn were far more risky. “He’s already getting more ambitious. Allotment sheds first then that derelict fish-packing place, this time a house. The property might have been boarded up and empty but it was in a terrace and there were plenty of people around. A residential area. Jesus, if we hadn’t arrived as quickly as we did, it could have been much worse. As it is, two families are going to be living in temporary accommodation for a while, until their homes are cleaned up. You know how long smoke damage takes to deal with.”

“I do. Fucking carbon sticks like glue to every available surface. You’re second in command. You’re closer to the men than I am. How are they dealing with this?” Archer asked.

“Well, we’ve assumed that we had a serial bug on our hands for a while now. The old hands are angry but professional. The newbies are scared and trying not to show it. Every shout that comes in they half expect to be another nasty one and that puts them on edge. Being off for the next forty-eight hours will help. Fatigue makes everything seem worse than it is.” Beau rolled his neck and listened to the cracking joints.

“You’re a little haggard yourself, Beau. Are you worrying about the same thing I am?”

Beau frowned at the cryptic comment but nodded. “All the shouts that can be attributed to the firebug have been during our watch.”

“Could be a coincidence,” Archer said, tapping his pen on the desk.

“And I might meet a nice girl, settle down, produce a couple of kids and adopt a mutt from Battersea.”

Archer snorted. “Pigs might levitate. Maybe the next forty-eight hours will prove us wrong. If the next watch find spray-painted messages on the walls, we’re off the hook. If not, we have a serious problem. In the meantime go get cleaned up, find yourself a nice young man and get laid. It’ll do you good.”

“I might just do that, though I can’t guarantee he’ll be ‘nice’.” Beau checked his watch. “Nine o’clock. Shit. I don’t suppose I’m getting paid overtime for this, am I?”

Archer had a bout of mild hysteria, and Beau took that as his cue to leave the room. As he walked down the corridor toward the showers he could hear laughter and chatter coming from the recreation room. The night shift were settling in and a tempting aroma of cooking food permeated the air.

“Beef stew and dumplings.” Beau identified the meal under preparation. His stomach rumbled. “Dinner at the club, I think.” The smell made up his mind and he changed his plan for a quiet night in. In the locker room he stripped off his grimy kit and dumped it in the laundry crate. The big plastic bin was almost full, testifying to the fact that his watch had already passed through and the rest of the team were on their way home. Naked, Beau padded to his locker and grabbed his washbag. He stank of smoke and sweat and couldn’t wait to get the acrid stench out of his nostrils.

One of the things the fire service managed to get right was the shower facilities. Endless hot water and powerful water pressure were essential at the end of a long, dirty shift. Beau scrubbed away some of the stress of the day along with the grime. He shampooed his hair twice and let his head hang as mucky water sluiced down the drain. Jet-black strands hung in front of his face, a little longer than regulations strictly allowed. Tiredness washed over him and he pushed it away. His two days off couldn’t come soon enough.

Beau dressed quickly. He hadn’t planned to go to the club that night so didn’t have his leathers or even a dressy pair of trousers, but his jeans were clean and the pale blue button-down shirt he wore was smart enough. Carey Hoffman, the owner of The Underground, didn’t enforce a dress code, but very few members showed up in casual clothes. Beau only intended to go there to eat, so he wasn’t too concerned about fitting in. He pulled on his jacket, slammed his locker door decisively and left.

From the fire station it was a thirty-minute walk across Westminster Bridge, around the Houses of Parliament to The Underground. Beau took his time, enjoying the cool night air. He loved the relative calm of London by night as opposed to the noisy bustle of the day. There were still plenty of tourists around snapping pictures of the Thames and Westminster Abbey. Big Ben told him it was nine-thirty as he made his way into quieter streets and eventually to The Underground’s discreet entrance. The only indication that the building housed a club was the presence of a couple of impressively muscled men loitering on the pavement. Beau nodded to the bouncers, flashed his membership card and went inside.

Author Bio:
Lucinda lives in a small village in the English countryside, surrounded by rolling hills, cows and sheep. She started writing to fill time between jobs and is now firmly and unashamedly addicted.

She loves the English weather, especially the rain, and adores a thunderstorm. She loves good food, warm company and a crackling fire. She's fascinated by the psychology of relationships, especially between men, and her stories contain some subtle (and some not so subtle) leanings towards BDSM.


Reaching the Edge #1
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Living on the Edge #2

Dancing on the Edge #3

A Double-Edged Sword #4

Rough Around the Edges #5

Scorched Edges #6(Coming September 8, 2015)

Discovering Me by AM Arthur

Unearthing Cole #1
Cole Alston swore he’d never return to his childhood home in rural North Carolina, but when his mother dies, he inherits her hoarded property. He hopes to sell everything and use the money to start over in Canada, far away from his abusive ex-boyfriend. It’s a daunting task, and Cole has no idea where to start. Luckily for him, the local antique store owner, Jeremy Collins, volunteers his services in sorting the hoard. Their professional relationship soon evolves into a personal one, but Cole must overcome his past and his anxiety before he can accept a new man in his life or the possibility of a happy future.

Understanding Jeremy #2
No one in Jeremy Collins's life ever stays. His parents, sister, and wife are all dead. Now he has taken Cole Alston into his home to help him recover from years of abuse at the hands of his ex. Jeremy hopes Cole, who he loves, will stick around, but after eight years of Cole not being allowed to make his own choices, Jeremy doesn't think he has the right to ask. As Jeremy keeps his concerns and desires to himself, his best friend Bethann calls on him for a huge favor--claim he's the father of her baby so she isn't ostracized in their small town for sleeping with a married man. However doing so would be tantamount to denying his relationship with Cole. Rumors fly before Jeremy can explain to Cole that he said no, and suddenly the whole town is in his business. Rather than reassure Cole, Jeremy's explanations have the opposite effect. Something is going on in Cole's mind that Jeremy doesn't know about, and in order to get Cole to talk, Jeremy will need to confront his own deepest fear.

Talk about an emotional read.  Cole's past breaks your heart and Jeremy's past isn't exactly a sunny walk in the park either. They may have survived separately but together they begin to heal and thrive, but that doesn't mean everything is free and clear the minute they find each other.  Unearthing Cole may be Cole's story and Understanding Jeremy may be told from Jeremy's side but you really need to read both books to have a complete story.  There is only a few secondary characters but each one serves a purpose, none of them are there to just "pad the pages".  So if you're looking for a sexy read that will tug at your heart, AM Arthur's Discovering Me duology is definitely for you, they burn up the pages and make your heart pound for multiple reasons, having a few tissues handy won't hurt either.


Unearthing Cole #1
Chapter One
NO ONE ever expects to spend their thirtieth birthday in a crematorium, writing a check for their last eight hundred dollars, so that the people who took your mother’s dead body will hand it back to you in a little cardboard box.

Happy birthday to me.

It wasn’t quite the last of my money that purchased my mother back. My account still had a paltry eighty-six dollars and twelve cents, plus the four hundred in cash tucked into the zippered pouch in my suitcase. The money should let me rent a room in town long enough to clean up my mother’s property. So to speak. I just wanted the house and surrounding sheds clean enough for a local realtor to be able to put the whole sorry parcel of land on the market.

There was no way, I’d been told over the phone yesterday, it could be sold in its present condition. I hadn’t asked the woman from Connor Realty to elaborate. I had my own memories of my mother’s house to go on, plus the immense deterioration of the last two years since I’d been here. Two years since Dad died of a heart attack. Epic didn’t have enough letters to carry the weight of the fight I had with my mother after his death.

I left, hadn’t spoken to her since, and then she was dead. Her final “fuck you, Cole” came in the form of her will—she gave me ownership of her house and the undeveloped farmland it sat on. It might have been the solution to my own financial woes, if I hadn’t already known the disaster I’d find. Dad had been a mechanic and a collector; my mother was a housewife and a hoarder. Their house, barn, garage, two sheds, and surrounding woodsy property was the result of thirty-four years of accumulation.

I hadn’t driven out to see it yet, and my stomach was already in knots.

The box of ashes went on the backseat of my car, between my two suitcases and a box of cleaning products. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put my mother. She wasn’t going up front with me, and the trunk was out of the question. Besides the weirdness of it, the trunk was already full of heavy-duty trash bags, packing tape, cardboard packing boxes, a shovel, and a box of books.

Franklin hadn’t changed much as a town, I noted as I drove through it. Same homes and offices and small shops. Same churches and Christmas decorations as I remembered growing up. Same restaurants dotted with cars in that odd, less busy time between breakfast and lunch. An antique store had popped up in the bottom floor of someone’s house, and the hardware store was shut down. A handmade sign hung in the window with Damned Chain Stores scrawled in black paint.

It made me smile.

I turned west out of town, toward the hillier, woodsy area and winding road that eventually led to my old homestead. As a child, I’d loved being out in the woods, miles from town, able to have adventures far from the chaos of my house. As a teen, I’d hated having to ride my bike into town just to hang with the few friends I’d cobbled together. They hadn’t minded my secondhand clothes or my odd mother who wore big straw hats all year long, or that I never invited them back to my house. Friends I’d lost touch with when I went six states away to college, where I discovered acceptance for the first time as a gay man. Then, during my sophomore year, I met Martin and began an eight-year-long nightmare I’d only just surfaced from.

The road curled like an S, and I slowed to negotiate the two turns. A familiar, barn-shaped mailbox came into view a hundred feet farther down. I turned on my blinker, even though the road was clear, and made a left onto a crushed-shell driveway I’d treaded a thousand times, both on rubber and on foot.

A wild lawn sprung up on both sides of the driveway, more closely resembling a wheat field than a yard. Grass, weeds, and wild bushes dotted the landscape between skeletal, leafless trees. It was all at least hip-height and probably hadn’t been cut in years. The lawn jungle hid the worst of the house from the casual passerby. I got a good look at my childhood home when the grass finally parted. Angry, helpless tears sprang up and stung my eyes.

The house was a Craftsman bungalow, two stories, with lots of front windows and a brick fireplace. I used to think it was one of the nicest houses in Franklin, even nicer than some of the homes built in town—until the hoard spilled from the inside of the house to the outside and maintenance stopped occurring with any regularity.

The next thing I saw was a VW bus parked beside the house, without wheels and mounted on cinderblocks, its interior packed with junk. The front porch was listing and the roof collapsing. A blue tarp had been erected over the front door to protect it from leaks, and more boxes and plastic containers stood beneath that, sentries to the front door. All the windows were blocked, either with curtains or boxes. Beyond the house, scattered in piles, were parts and appliances and bicycles and things I just didn’t recognize for the rust and weeds.

It was both better and worse than I’d expected.

The structure seemed sound, but I hadn’t seen the interior of the house yet and I dreaded it. I pinched my nose and dispelled the tears, unwilling to cry over this mess anymore than I already had, and got out of the car. It was warm for December, but I zipped up my coat anyway—for mental protection as much as physical. I already had on a pair of boots, jeans tucked in, and three pairs of rubber gloves stuffed into my coat pockets. I snapped a pair on as I trudged up to the front door.

I had a key, but it wasn’t necessary. The police had broken the front door down to get at my mother’s body. The door leaned in its frame, barely held up by strips of police caution tape.

My mother hadn’t died of any particular illness or malady, beyond her own mental disease. She’d tripped one day, hit some boxes, and they fell over on her. Trapped both her legs, and being both sixty-two and overweight, she hadn’t been able to get up or get them off. She died of dehydration twenty-four hours before the mailman noticed she hadn’t collected in a few days and called the sheriff.

Her cause of death had been my worst nightmare come true. Even worse than discovering, at this critical time in my own personal life, that she’d willed her entire mess to me. And why everything I owned was in two suitcases in my car next to my mother’s ashes.

The smell hit me when I reached the tarp. Pungent, sweet, cloying—the odors of death and decay and of rotting things. My rational brain knew the stink had existed long before my mother died on the floor, but it didn’t stop a flicker show of images from assaulting my mind. Images of Debbie Alston, my mother, dead and bloated, lying in her own waste in the same sea of rot she’d lived in for more than three decades.

That wasn’t quite right. The rot didn’t really happen until I went away to college, escaping their hoarding problem by disappearing into something else—something that became much, much worse. Then the dishes stopped getting washed, the refrigerator stopped being cleaned out, and no one could be bothered to haul trash bags to the town dump. The first time I returned to visit during Christmas break at college, freshman year, I cleaned and hauled trash. Then again during spring break. Between freshman and sophomore year, I stayed in Michigan for the summer, working and taking classes, so I didn’t see them again until the following Christmas. It was the last visit before I met Martin.

After that I didn’t go back until Dad’s funeral two years ago. I just couldn’t stand the memories, even if I’d thought it was safe to come to a place Martin could track me to. Home was gone. A disaster had taken its place.

I couldn’t walk under the tarp. And I really didn’t want to go inside that house.

Tires crunched up the seashell driveway, and I spun around, heart pounding. I wasn’t expecting anyone. The only people who knew I was in town were Penny Connor, the realtor, and the very grumpy woman at the crematorium.

“Oh God,” I said to no one. Martin had found me—he’d been trying for six months. He knew where I grew up. If he’d seen the obituary somewhere, he’d put two and two together, and he’d know where I was. My guts clenched.

Over the sea of grass, I spotted a blue work van heading toward me, growing larger by the second. I dashed back to my car on shaky legs and grabbed the keys out of the ignition. The keychain had a small can of mace attached, and I tucked that end carefully into the palm of my hand. Instinct told me to hide. I had plenty of places to burrow into and disappear, but I couldn’t seem to move.

The van parked perpendicular to my car. A door opened and shut, and a man came around the front. It wasn’t Martin Palone. My entire body felt lighter, like someone had lifted a wet blanket off me and let me breathe again. But this man was still a stranger on my land, and I didn’t let my guard down. He was in the neighborhood of my age, a little taller than me, with a shock of dark-brown hair and wide, thickly lashed eyes. He wasn’t handsome, exactly, but had a boyish charm to him, especially when he smiled. It released a pair of dimples that were incredibly appealing.

“You must be Cole Alston,” he said. His voice was lightly accented but not local to this part of North Carolina. It was more northern and hard to pinpoint on only five words.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“Jeremy Collins. I own Lost Treasures Antiques in town.”

I shook his outstretched hand, tempted to relax a bit under that beguiling smile. Tempted, but I didn’t. He seemed like someone perfectly at ease in his own skin, which made me all the more self-conscious of the mess in and around me. “Nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry about your mother. She came into the store sometimes. She was… a nice lady.”

His hesitation made my lips twitch. “She was definitely interesting, and thank you for your condolences, but I’m sure you didn’t drive out here just to offer them.”

“No, you’re right. I wasn’t sure how long you’d be in town, and I wanted to talk to you.”


“This.” He waved his hand at the hoard, and his eyes lit up. He didn’t see the tragedy in it, or the horror.

“What about it?” I waited for the insults, for the inevitable slew of “how could you let this happen?” tirades I knew were waiting for me. I’ve heard variations on them my entire life.

“Like I said, I own an antique store, and I’ve come out here a few times trying to buy things from your mother.”

I burst into laughter, unable to help myself. Trying to buy something from my mother, whether it was a diamond tiara or a bag of rotten apples from the Big Bag grocery, was like trying to pan for gold in the Atlantic—pointless.

At least Jeremy seemed to see the humor in it, because he never stopped smiling. “Yeah, exactly. But folks in town still talk about your father and what a keen eye he had. There are treasures on this property, some things that could make you a decent pot of money, and I want to help you sell them. For a commission, of course.”

“I was just going to have a yard sale or something.”

“You could do that, but I’ve got connections to dealers in three states. Depending on what we find, you could get a lot more money for the antiques by going through me.” He cocked his head to the side like we were buds sharing a joke. “You can still yard sale the other stuff.”

I studied him; he seemed sincere in his loose jeans and cowboy boots and brown cotton coat. The solution to one of my biggest problems had just driven up in a big blue van. All I had to do was ask the Wizard for my courage and trust Jeremy not to screw with me.

Not an easy task, considering I’d spent eight years being screwed with on a daily basis by someone who was supposed to love me.

“What kind of money are we talking about?” I asked.

“I’ll show you.”

We walked through the weeds to a pile of machinery near the barn, twisted and rusted, and I didn’t see much to be saved. Jeremy tugged on a pair of work gloves, reached in, and spent a few minutes wrestling something out of the mess. He produced a bicycle frame, missing its seat and chain and tires, but otherwise intact.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked.

“Enlighten me.”

“It’s a Columbia from the 1950s. Intact, it would be worth a lot more, but some collectors will shine up parts and restore them. This frame alone could get you a hundred dollars.”

I stared at him. “For that?”

“For that. And this is only the first thing I saw. Who knows what else we could uncover in that barn, or those sheds?”

I saw the hunger in his eyes, the desire to go hunting for other treasures. It made him seem almost boyish, a kid on the verge of a trip to his very favorite amusement park. I just saw the dollar signs and an extra pair of hands getting me out from under this hoard.


He blinked. “Really?”

“Yes, okay. We’ll need to arrange some sort of contract, though. I don’t want any confusion over your commissions or labor or whatever.”

“That’s fair. Why don’t we hammer it out over dinner at the Sow’s Ear.”


This was my first dinner offer in years, and I had no clue how to take it. No one in this town knew I was gay. I hadn’t come out before I left for college, and I hadn’t told anyone on my occasional visits since. Not even my parents. Martin had been a “friend from school” and then “my roommate.” And Jeremy didn’t strike me as being particularly queer.

Then again, I’d spent the last decade perfecting the art of not looking, so my own personal gaydar was pretty damn inaccurate.

“You do eat dinner, don’t you?” Jeremy asked.

“When I can afford it” very nearly slipped out. Instead, I said, “Yes.”

“Good. It’ll give you time to decide what you need me for, and I can make some phone calls. I know a few guys in Ohio who’d love to come down and pick through—”

Panic set my heart fluttering. “Wait, no.”

His eyebrows arched. “What?”

“Look, I don’t… this is all, um—”



I couldn’t believe I’d just said that. Out loud. To a stranger.

Jeremy nodded, more thoughtful than anything else. At least he wasn’t blatantly judging me for my family’s awful secret. “You don’t want a lot of strangers poking into your personal life.”

I didn’t know if he was really that observant, or if he’d seen hoarding shows on television. All that mattered was he got it—even if he didn’t know the comment extended far beyond the hoard in front of us. “Right, I don’t.”

“This is a lot of stuff for one person to haul out on their own.”

“Welcome to my world.” I jacked my thumb at the house and the countless hours of work waiting for me inside.

He slipped his hands into his rear jeans pockets and rocked back on his heels, head tilted to the sky. “How are you going to haul all of this to the dump on your own?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it.” Truth—and something I didn’t know how to solve without more money in my pocket. Some of those bags would be filled with rotten food, and they weren’t going anywhere near my car.

“Then meet me for dinner at the Sow’s Ear, at six o’clock, and I’ll have a proposal for you.”


“If you don’t like my ideas, you won’t hurt my feelings. Promise. Just give me a chance to make this work for both of us.”

Something in his manner made me want to trust him. He seemed completely genuine, open, and reassuring. I didn’t trust him, but I wanted to. And it was just a proposal over a working dinner at the best barbecue place in town.

A little voice in the back of my mind said it was only fair to tell him his dinner companion wouldn’t be joining him in ogling the waitresses. I told that voice to shut the hell up, because it wasn’t really any of Jeremy’s business. “Okay, dinner at six.”

“Excellent.” He stood straighter, hands coming out of his pockets. “See you then.”

“Hey, wait,” I said as he turned to go. “Don’t forget your bike frame. If dinner doesn’t work out, it’s yours to keep.”

With a dimpled grin worthy of any movie star, he hefted the rusty frame and stowed it in his van. I stood by my car until he’d driven away. Even if Jeremy only found half a dozen valuables in that sea of junk, his help would be worth it. Worth it to help buy me out of the financial noose slowly tightening around my neck and get me far, far away from Martin Palone.

Understanding Jeremy #2
Chapter One
COLE HAD the nightmare again. Third one this week. I did the same thing as every other time: I grabbed his arms when he woke up thrashing and screaming. Held him tight to the bed until the shaking stopped and he fell back asleep. This time it was nearly 5:00 a.m., and those few, heart-pounding minutes it took to calm him left me wide awake, sleep running away fast like a thief in the night.

I watched his face in the murky light afforded to me by the half-closed drapes on the bedroom window, still surprised such a precious gift was curled up in my bed, mumbling incoherently as he chased after sleep once more. His golden-blond hair had grown out a bit in the two months since we’d met, and it curled around his ears and chin. He hadn’t shaved in a few days—the beard burn warming my ass served as a lovely reminder—and more honey-colored hair covered his neck and chin.

Beneath the cover of blankets, the same pretty color nested around the cock I worshiped as often as he’d let me, spackled the scrotum I so adored sucking on, and left a thin trail from his navel to his dick. He told me once his ex-asshole liked him clean-shaven all over.

I told him I adored his body hair and that he could grow a beard worthy of Duck Dynasty for all I cared if it made him happy. Cole rewarded that comment with a blow job that had my eyeballs rolling back in my head and a lot of nonsense spewing out of my mouth.

In the six-ish weeks since his mother’s hoarded property was sorted and sold at auction, Cole had nightmares maybe once a week. Nightmares, I was certain, of the eight years he’d spent living in fear of his ex, Martin Palone. Nightmares, I was also certain, that were exacerbated by Martin’s sudden appearance at the preauction viewing.

I could never properly explain the rage I’d felt that day at seeing the man who’d caused Cole so much pain for so many years. The man who’d put fear in his eyes and scars on his body. The man Cole had agreed to speak with in private, even though I’d rather cut my own balls off than allow Martin within twenty feet of Cole again. I’d waited outside the shell of Cole’s mother’s house while they talked, silently boiling in my own anger, resenting Martin’s very existence.

Cole never told me exactly what Martin said, only that he believed Martin was out of our lives for good. Only he wasn’t out, not really. He existed in Cole’s tainted memories, in the nightmares, and in the moments when Cole still flinched over a too-fast movement or a dropped dinner plate. Cole was far from healed. Maybe he never would fully heal, but we’d take it all one day at a time like we had so far.

He muttered something, nose scrunching. A hand skated out, seeking something. I slid my hand into range, and soon warm fingers clasped mine. Cole settled, and I smiled against my pillow. His breathing deepened. The lines around his eyes relaxed. Once he’d been asleep for a few minutes, I slipped smoothly out of bed.

The third-floor bedroom was toasty warm, as it usually stayed all year long—a blessing in the February cold, but less so at the height of summer. I put on a pair of flannel pajama pants and a sweatshirt before padding down to the second floor, careful to avoid the creakiest stairs. I had a pot of coffee brewing before I snuck down to the first-floor laundry room and out onto the back porch to snatch up the morning paper.

On my way past the door that led into the antiques shop on the first floor of my house, I reached out to test the knob. I remembered locking it soundly behind me the previous evening after close, but the test was a funny habit I’d picked up after forgetting to lock it one night about six months ago. Nothing had happened, no one had broken into either my house or the store, but it had rattled me because it was the first time I’d forgotten in the four years since I’d moved to Franklin. I’ve double-checked every night since.

I settled on the sofa with the paper and a mug of coffee. I read each section, stopping for more coffee whenever the brown mug bottomed out, keeping the comic page and crossword for last. I was halfway through the crossword when the alarm clock blared overhead. Seven on the dot.

I hadn’t turned it off when I left the bedroom because Cole had volunteered to get up early and join me on today’s pick. He’d never been on a farm pick before, he said last night over dinner, and he wanted to know more about my business. He still hadn’t settled on a career path for himself—starting over completely at twenty-eight was hard for anyone, but especially for someone like Cole, who’d been stifled for so long. He spent hours some evenings poring over different online universities, reading about degrees and job opportunities. Nothing ever captured his attention for longer than an hour.

He had time to figure it all out. I liked having him in my life, and he seemed content to stay—even if he had insisted on giving me rent money on January first, and again yesterday, when the calendar shifted us into February. The need for that kind of independence was in direct odds with the fact that we shared a room and a bed every night like lovers, not like roommates. And Cole only had a set amount of money from the auction, which was slowly supplemented by additional sales of his mother’s collection of items from both online and the shop.

Unfortunately, the original bid for the land fell through, and it had to go up through a realtor, which left Cole without the large windfall he’d been expecting. He had to wait until the land sold to get that money, which could be a day or a year from now, and I didn’t want to take more from him until he had a job.

So I accepted the envelopes of cash and tucked them into a drawer in my downstairs office. I’d get it back to him somehow.

The hundred-year-old floorboards creaked overhead, followed by the rush of water in the pipes. I smiled and went upstairs to join him, telling myself that all the coffee I’d imbibed needed releasing, and it did. The bathroom door was closed to keep in steam, but not locked. I didn’t have to rattle the knob to know that. Cole had spent two years taking five-minute showers behind locked doors. Freeing himself of Martin’s shadow had freed him of that fear.

I knocked loudly so he wouldn’t be startled—I was taking no chances after this morning’s nightmare—then let myself in. I took a minute to relieve myself of the coffee, and then stripped out of my clothes and climbed into the shower.

Cole paused in the middle of rinsing shampoo from his golden hair. He grinned, and the simple beauty of it hit me in the chest. He didn’t smile at very many people, and I treasured each one I received. Looked forward to the next one, too. But the smile didn’t erase the dark shadows beneath his eyes or the weary way he stood beneath the hot spray.

“Morning,” I said, scooting close enough to get a little water on my skin.

“Hey.” Cole finished rinsing his hair before leaning in for a kiss. “Mmm, coffee.”

“You taste like peppermint.”

“Brushed my teeth first. When I woke up, my mouth tasted like ass.”

The flirty way he said that reminded me exactly why his mouth tasted like that, and my dick pulsed with the memory. Last night was only the second time Cole had ever rimmed me, and it had been fantastic. Rimmed me open and then fucked me senseless.

God. I tried to get my rising cock to calm down.

Unlike me—who’d been up for hours and had ingested half a pot of coffee—Cole simply looked tired. He wasn’t very sexual first thing in the morning, and especially not after a night of bad dreams. We washed together, all elbows and arms and wet skin, a comfortable thing I truly enjoyed. My persistent erection hung around until the end, when Cole stepped out and grabbed a towel.

I palmed some shower gel and took hold of the problem, sliding my fingers around my hot skin, feeling pleasure buzz through my body. Sometimes Cole hung around while I beat off, but this morning the nightmares were really bothering him. I dragged back memories of last night, of the way he’d licked and fingered my opening until I was begging him to fill me with his cock. My hand jerked fast, faster, up and down my length. I slid my left hand around to my crease, down past the faint heat of beard burn to my entrance. Pressed a finger inside, and that was it. I groaned and shot against the tiles, steam rising around me while my orgasm rippled down my spine. Fast and fun, but nowhere near as mind-blowing as Cole coaxing an orgasm out of me.

Cole wasn’t in the bedroom when I finally got out. I dressed for the day in old jeans and a flannel shirt over a white undershirt. We’d be outside in the cold most of the day, so layers were a must.

I found him in the kitchen, mixing a bowl of pancake batter while a mug of coffee cooled on the counter nearby. He looked good there in front of the marble countertop, dressed in the same green sweater he’d worn the first day we met.

When I bought this house and set up the store, I ripped the guts out of the second floor. I decided if I was remodeling anyway, I’d give myself the living space I’d always wanted. That included an open floor plan and an enormous gourmet kitchen.

The wide-eyed surprise on Cole’s face the first time he saw the kitchen was among my favorite nonsexual memories of him.

“I thought we’d need a robust breakfast before a long day of picking,” he said.

“Good call.”

I took the two-sided griddle out of the drawer beneath the broiler and put it flat side up over two burners on the gas range. We went through the motions of making breakfast with the ease of a couple who’d done it for years, when it had barely been months. We ate at the counter, side by side on matching stools.

Our first few weeks together, Cole had torn through his food at every meal as though he expected someone to snatch it away at any moment. And after spending two years on the run, terrified his ex-asshole would find him, never sure when he’d be able to stop, the habit made perfect sense. He always finished before I’d get halfway. Lately, though, he’d slowed his pace, taking the time to really taste and enjoy the meals we prepared together or separately. My habit of chewing each bite a careful fifteen times set my own eating pace far behind the average person—a habit burned into me when I was eight years old.

Watching your childhood best friend choke to death on improperly chewed food would put the fear of asphyxiation into anyone.

Cole drank his coffee while I polished off my final pancake. “How early were you up?” he asked.

“Around five.”

“Because of me again?”

I took extra time chewing a mouthful of pancake and syrup, hating that he’d asked and I wouldn’t lie. He always told me he didn’t remember the nightmares themselves, only the fear and dread left over from them. He knew he’d had bad dreams. “Yes, but it’s fine, babe. You know that.”

He put his mug down and scrubbed both hands over his face hard enough to redden the skin. I almost grabbed his wrists, but he stopped and heaved a weary sigh. “I’m sorry I’m still such a mess.”

“Hey, stop it.” We’d had versions of this conversation biweekly since the auction, and I didn’t know how many more times we could have it before my calm disappeared. I dropped my fork and spun my stool to face him, but he’d already slipped off the other side.

He put the island between us, gaze stuck on the marble surface. I froze, unsure if I should chase him or give him the space he’d taken for himself. Despite the huge strides he’d made toward healing in these last two months or so, he still had a long way to go. I knew that. I’d accepted that. But my patience only stretched so far.

“Cole, it was a nightmare.” Obvious, yes, but at least he was looking at me with his wide blue eyes. “You’ve had them before, and you’ll have more. I don’t care. Losing a few hours of sleep once in a while isn’t a big deal for me.”

“It’s a big deal for me.” He didn’t sound upset. Resigned maybe, and tired. “You shouldn’t have to deal with my shit, let it interrupt your life.”

“Nothing about you being here interrupts my life. Hell, I barely had a life before I met you. You being here makes me happy, Cole. You make me happy. Nightmares are simply your mind’s way of getting out all the bad stuff up there. It’ll take time to work through it all.” Words I’d said before. Words he still needed to hear.

Unless something else was bothering him beyond the nightmare and my two-hour loss of sleep. A chill snaked down my spine. “Are you not happy here?” I asked, dreading the answer once my brain had acknowledged the question. We hadn’t known each other very long, and neither of us had ever used the L-word, but things were good.

Weren’t they?

Cole blinked hard several times. “Of course I’m happy here. I love being here. You make me happy too, Jeremy. I promise.”

“Good.” I didn’t know what I’d have done if he’d said anything else. I didn’t want to know that, ever. “Please, no more apologizing for your nightmares. I’d rather have you screaming yourself awake every night than holding all that shit in, letting it eat you alive. You’re too precious for that to happen, hear me?”

He nodded, his angular face softening with the brightness of his smile. He circled back to me, and I stood so I could sweep him into a hug. My arms cinched tight around his waist and he pressed his face into the crook of my neck, leaning in. I took his weight gladly. I’d always been strong enough to stand for us both.

Cole turned his head. “I hear you, I swear, every time you say I’m precious and you’re happy. I do.”

“Sometimes it just bears repeating.”

“Yeah. Hope you don’t get too sick of repeating yourself.”

I pressed a kiss to the side of his head. “Not sick of it yet.”

“Good. Thank you.”

“Anything, babe.”

WE HIT the road a little after eight. Tisdale’s farm was a good ninety-minute drive north from Franklin, almost on North Carolina’s border with Virginia. Arthur Tisdale had called me up a few days ago, looking for folks interested in buying off his land. I’d wanted to get into his various barns and outbuildings for over two years now, and I’d been denied access every time I’d asked. The excitement of Arthur’s call had been tempered by the reason for it—he’d been handed a “six months, maybe less” diagnosis from his oncologist after his third battle with lung cancer. He needed to start selling so his children didn’t get stuck with sixty years of collecting.

Cole knew all of this, and he still insisted on going with me to the farm.

Watching Cole clean his parents’ hoarded property back in December had been an exercise in patience with a dash of heartache on the side. The job had been too big for one man, and I’d been selfishly glad when he’d agreed to my business proposal: I’d dig out the treasures and sell them for a fee. We’d both made money, he’d gotten the property clear, and here we were, living together in Franklin over my shop. Cole hadn’t come back intending to stay, though, and sometimes I saw the wanderlust in his eyes—times when he didn’t think I was watching.

I didn’t know what I’d do if he decided he wanted to move on.

The closer we got to Tisdale’s, the tenser Cole got. I saw it in the way he sat up straighter, how he balled his hands in his lap. He still got nervous meeting new people, and I had no idea how he’d react to a farm as full of junk as his parents’ had been. I turned off the highway, and soon we were winding along a dirt road into a deeply wooded area. The only sign I was going the right way was a faded blue mailbox with “Tisdale” printed on it in peeling paint.

“Must be the place,” I said, even though it obviously was. From the moment we cleared the line of trees past the mailbox turnoff, the landscape was dotted with machinery—rusted-out cars, trucks missing doors, parts of farm equipment, bike and motorcycle frames. More metal than I could identify, twisted through with weeds and saplings.

“Holy cow,” Cole said. He leaned forward in his seat, peering out the van’s windshield. He seemed more amazed than horrified, and I took that as a good sign.

The dirt track that served as a driveway wound through the weedy, woody terrain, past two rusting sheds and into a circular parking area in front of a farmhouse that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film. The two-story structure looked one nor’easter away from collapsing, as did the barn a few hundred yards away.

I parked the van behind an ancient Ford pickup, leaving the keys in the ignition, because who was going to steal it way out here? Cole unbuckled his seatbelt, and I did the same, taking my cues from him. I tried to see this collected property from his point of view—as a scary, hoarded mess—but all I saw out there was potential profit.

“You okay?” I asked.

He nodded and flashed me a smile I knew he didn’t feel, because it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yeah, I’m good. Let’s go meet Mr. Tisdale.”

Positive he wasn’t ready for this and that bringing him had been a bad idea, I climbed out of the van. The air seemed warmer this deep in the woods, but still had a chill that made me hike up the zipper on my coat. Our van doors slamming shut echoed off the porch. I aimed for the front door.

“Here, you!”

The deep voice boomed behind us and Cole jumped a mile. I squeezed his wrist lightly and then let go. Arthur Tisdale limped toward us from the direction of the barn, leaning heavily on a thick, twisted cane that looked like he’d taken it out of the woods and polished it himself. He was average height and thin as a rail, with bushy white hair and eyebrows.

“You Collins?” he asked when he hobbled nearer.

“Yes, sir, Jeremy Collins,” I replied. “This is Cole Alston.”

We all traded handshakes, and I was impressed with Tisdale’s grip.

“Thank you for allowing us to come up and take a look around your property,” Cole said before I could.

“It’s time, son, it’s time,” Tisdale said. “I ain’t lookin’ to gouge you, but I ain’t givin’ it away either.”

“I’m sure we can work things out to both of our advantages,” I said. “Is there any particular area that’s off-limits for picking?”

“Nope. Y’can even look through the house if ya want. Got lotsa stuff in the attic and cellar too.”

“Can we start there?”

“Sure can.”

The best items were often kept close to the owner, so I wanted to get a look at the attic and his home while I had the most money in my pocket. Cole hesitated at the front door for only a moment, and then he followed us inside the old farmhouse.

BY MIDDAY, I’d rooted through the attic, root cellar, two unused bedrooms, and a messy place downstairs that might have been a den at one time. I’d collected a decent pile of items and spent less money that I expected. Tisdale was incredibly reasonable with pricing his antiques. Cole mostly watched and listened, sometimes asking questions about why I wanted a particular piece. He did, however, find my favorite pick of the day so far, which was an 1862 US Bridesburg musket. The nipple and ramrod were missing, but the musket itself was in fantastic shape for its age. I’d had a collector friend on the hook for one of those for years, and he’d be extremely excited to get a photo of this find e-mailed to him.

Tisdale disappeared into his kitchen while Cole and I loaded the van from the house pick. My stomach was grumbling, those pancakes long gone. We’d packed sandwiches in a cooler, and I was about to suggest we eat before hitting the exterior buildings. Tisdale surprised me by poking his head out the front door and yelling, “Got lunch on. You boys get in here and eat.”

A stockpot of something spicy was bubbling on the old gas range in the kitchen. We helped ourselves to bowls of chili and oyster crackers. Tisdale poured us sweet tea in Mason jars.

“Is there meat in here?” Cole asked.

“You one of those veggie-terrians?” Tisdale replied, and I wasn’t sure if he was exaggerating the word on purpose or not.

“No, sir, I just don’t recognize the flavor.”

“Venison, son. Neighbor brings me meat every autumn. I freeze some, make chili with some. Keeps real well all winter.”

“I’ve never had venison. It’s very good.”

It was extremely good. I’d had venison steaks before, but never in chili. The slightly gamey flavor went well with the beans and spices in the sauce, and I was disappointed when I got too full to eat more.

“You boys go on out to the barn,” Tisdale said. “Gonna wash up and rest awhile. I’ll join ya in a bit.”

We thanked him for our very tasty, very filling lunch and then headed outside. In the bright afternoon sunshine, I finally noticed the strained way Cole walked, like he was forcing himself to take each step. His eyes were pinched, his face a little pale even after eating all that hot chili.

“Are you ready to go?” I asked.

He stopped walking and shook his head. “It’s too soon. You haven’t picked outside yet.”

That hadn’t answered my question. He’d gotten very close to his fill of being around junk-piled rooms and layers of dirt. The barn wasn’t going to be pleasant, and we both had heavy-duty work gloves, but not even hard rubber and work boots could protect his eyes or mind. He’d grown up around this kind of collecting (or hoarding, in his mother’s case), and he’d gotten out, left it behind. Today was his attempt at facing those memories, but he could only stand it for so long.

“You tell me if you need a break, hear me?” I said.


The kitchen was on the other side of the house, so I leaned in and kissed him. A gentle, supportive kiss I didn’t dare deepen if I’d wanted to. The last thing I wanted to risk was Tisdale running us off his land with a shotgun if he rabidly disliked the fact that we were a couple.

Except for my best friend Bethann, no one in Franklin knew I was bisexual or that Cole was anything other than a rent-paying roommate. Folks knew I was a widower, that I’d moved to town not long after my wife died of anaphylactic shock, and that I didn’t date. So far, no one seemed to have figured out Cole was gay, and he didn’t advertise the fact. Until Cole, I hadn’t been attracted to a man in a long, long time. He brought out a side of me I’d forgotten, a side I embraced when I was with him. But this thing between us was still so fragile, so uncertain. Not yet permanent.

I wouldn’t out either of us without a long conversation. Living in a small town was safer in the metaphorical closet—at least for now.

The kiss put a little color into Cole’s cheeks, and he smiled.

Our initial investigation into the barn didn’t yield much. Holes in the roof had leaked years’ worth of rain and snow into the rotting structure, destroying anything made of paper, leather, or wood. The metal was rusted. Most of it would be better off at a scrap yard. By the time I dug some bicycle frames out of a somewhat protected stall, Tisdale had joined us again. I bought the frames for a steal.

Cole surprised me by asking for a price on a wooden chair with only three legs. Tisdale looked at me like he was crazy, and I had to admit, I was curious what Cole wanted with a three-legged chair. Tisdale said he could take it for free. Cole pressed some money into his hand, and I saw a flash of Lincoln’s face.

After Cole and I lugged the chair and frames to the van, he grabbed my elbow, his eyes pinched. I knew before he said anything. “You mind if I sit here for a while?”

“You want to leave?” I asked.

“No, I don’t want to interrupt this. It’s your business. I just….” He shook his head, frowning like he’d failed an easy test and couldn’t quite believe it. “I can’t handle more today. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m proud of you for all this.”

“The barn’s just too”—his eyes flashed with some dark memory—“smells too much like my parents’ house, you know? The rot.”

“I get it.” Behind the shield the van provided from the barn, I pulled him into a hug. His heart was pounding rapidly, and I held him a minute until it calmed. I didn’t want to let go because he fit in my arms perfectly, but we were burning daylight and it was a long drive home.

“Find something that’ll make you rich,” he said as I headed back to the barn.

I gave a thumbs-up.

No such luck on the first floor of the barn. Tisdale had a handful of outbuildings to inspect, plus all of the things strewn around the land, but I wanted a peek into his hayloft first. He said he’d put a few old railroad lanterns up there a decade or two ago, and those were always collectible, especially with the glass intact.

The ladder up to the loft was broken in several places, the wood soft in others. I scrambled up fast and the boards groaned beneath my weight. My heart jumped. I shone my flashlight into the gloom, sure this was a bad idea. A lump of moldy cardboard boxes sat a few yards away, across a floor littered with straw and old feed sacks. I picked my way to it, sliding my feet, testing for strength like I was crossing a frozen lake in March.

“You okay up there?” Tisdale yelled somewhere down below.

“Sure thing.”

I inched closer. Wood snapped. I froze, listening.

Snap. Pop.


I started backing up, and then the whole hayloft floor gave out, and I fell.

Author Bio:
No stranger to the writing world, A.M. Arthur has been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long. She credits an early fascination with male friendships and "bromance" (and "The Young Riders") with her later discovery of and subsequent affair with m/m romance stories. When not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.


Unearthing Cole #1

Understanding Jeremy #2