Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: One Night Ever After

Just a Drive by Tere Michaels
After weeks of flirting, “One Night” Wyatt Walsh spends a fabulous night with his shy coworker, Benji Trammell. As Wyatt tries to sneak out the next morning, he receives a call from his frantic, very pregnant best friend Raven—she needs him immediately. With no other way to get from New York City to the Pennsylvania town where Raven and her husband live, Wyatt accepts Benji’s offer to drive him there. Wary and unsure of each other, they start the trip at odds, but as time goes on, the barriers that usually keep people at a distance fail. And what started out as “just a drive” becomes a step toward romance.

Just a Stranger by Elle Brownlee
The excitement of meeting a stranger in a club can’t be beat. Loud bass sets the rhythm to Michael Wiercinski’s primal urges as he flirts with Andrew, a cute guy offering the promise of a hot night with no strings, no complications. Still, when their night is done, Michael admits there was something about Andrew that left him wanting more. Months go by with no sign of Andrew until Michael moves back home to help after his father’s heart attack. Once there, Michael is completely amazed to find Andrew Lucas living in his hometown. Despite surprising “complications” in Andrew’s life, Michael vows to take advantage of this second chance to make Andrew more than just a stranger.

Just a Weekend by Elizah J. Davis
James is a homebody in a predictable, if not altogether comfortable, rut. He’d rather stay in with a book than brave the Seattle bar scene. One night, after allowing his friend Kara to coax him out for drinks, he meets Devin—charming, gorgeous, and way out of his league. With a little bit of help from Kara, James leaves with Devin to indulge in a night together, which is as much time as he’s bound to get with a guy as hot as Devin. He doesn't expect the easy rapport that quickly develops between them, and when the weather conspires to keep them together, James wonders if this could be more than just a weekend fling.

Just a Drive by Tere Michaels
WYATT WALSH uncapped the bottle of water, imagining he was actually decapitating the diva-in-training currently stomping around the set. Better for his career and reputation to tighten his fingers around plastic and not her neck.

“Chantel, dearest? I understand how uncomfortable this is for you—I do. But….” Wyatt made a helpless gesture as she stomp-stomp-stomped past him on another circuit. “What can I do? This is what the label asked me for.”

That was a lie, of course. He’d pitched the Alice in Wonderland theme for Chantel Baller (Seriously? Did they not notice that was a porn name?) for her debut album and if nothing else, Soundsource Records listened to their creative director.


“I hate it! It’s ridiculous! I look like a freaking freak!” she whined, stopping to stand in front of him with her arms crossed over her chest. “I want to look cool!”

See, they never listened to him when he told them not to pluck seventeen-year-olds out of Kentucky.

Was it too much to ask for the “next best thing” to not be a spoiled brat?

A knock saved Wyatt from explaining to Chantel that neither her waifish looks nor her thready, auto-tuned voice were going to go anywhere, so why not dress it up as quirky—and he turned to thank his savior.

The day went from crap to fabulous in four seconds flat.

His current favorite adorable young man appeared as if lifted from a dirty dream in Wyatt’s regular repertoire. Benji Trammell stood in the doorway and fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable as the entire loft of folks involved with the shoot turned to stare.

“Uh… sorry. I needed to talk to Kala?” His gorgeous baby browns darted around the room, desperately seeking the producer in the crowd of overdressed, overworked, underwhelmed peons.

“She’s somewhere,” Wyatt chirped, his mood and demeanor changing as he left Chantel in the dust. “Are you sure you didn’t come all the way down here for me?”

He’d been staring at the kid—an engineer of some sort, the particulars didn’t matter—for six weeks now, as they were thrown together while Soundsource blew their party budget for various nonsense reasons. Most of said reasons stemmed from upcoming divorce proceedings between the president of the label and her “singer” husband.

It was going to be the bitchfest of the year.

As Creative Director, Wyatt had enjoyed free-flowing top-shelf booze, amazing buffets, and hot and cold running catering waiters. But the treat of the night had been the brief but delectable appearance of Mr. Trammel and his ass-worshipping jeans.

Praise high fashion.

It hadn’t progressed past flirty small talk and making bedroom eyes at each other, but Wyatt was determined tonight would be it.

He was getting a piece of that.

Wyatt found a PA out of the corner of his eye and hissed a “find Kala” before coming to invade average height, dark, and handsome’s personal space. “Can I get you anything while you wait?”

Me. A cocktail and me. Me.

“No. But thanks. I’m just…. It’s a thing with the album and I was upstairs at a meeting so….” He gestured toward Chantel, who had begun ranting at the guy who brought their lunches, whom Wyatt suspected didn’t speak enough English to care.

Benji was the thing that fantasies were made of, at least for One-Night Wyatt. Young enough to be doe-eyed and confused, old enough to be legal. Slender build under an ironic hipster T-shirt and five-hundred-dollar distressed jeans. A thick head of espresso hair, chocolate eyes and, yeah—Wyatt yearned to lick coffee ice cream off his delicious-looking jaw. The shy thing he was working just made it even more appealing—the closer Wyatt got, the more Benji blushed, and it was adorable.

Erotically adorable, if that was a thing.

Benji smiled and Wyatt’s pants got tight.

“How’s, you know, the shoot going?”

“Oh, fabulous. Chantel loves my ideas,” Wyatt said brightly, shaking his head at the same time.

An even bigger grin made Wyatt’s mouth water a little.

“She’s a dream to work with,” Benji whispered, mimicking Wyatt’s head shake, a fake pout on his lips.

“No wonder Kala’s in the bathroom drinking vodka and texting her therapist.” It was just a guess.

They shared a moment of smiles and Wyatt couldn’t help himself—he leaned against the doorjamb and batted his eyelashes at Benji. “So are you going to the party at Bryant Park Grill tonight? Maybe we could get a drink together—I feel like we could both share our Chantel misadventures and purge our souls. You know. To save our sanity.”

Benji stared down at his basketball sneakers; the height difference meant Wyatt got a nice view of the back of his neck and that caused the lean to deepen. Like a moth to a porch light. Or a seasoned perv to a gorgeous young man.

“That sounds… nice.” Benji looked back up. “You know—to keep us sane.”

And naked.

“Fantastic.” Wyatt whipped his phone out, scrolling to contacts with practiced ease. “Give me your number and I’ll let you know when this delightful and very special afternoon with Alice in Bitchland is finished.”

Benji recited the digits slowly and Wyatt repeated them back. Then he took a step away from the door to point the phone at Benji.

Who blinked in surprise.

“Come on, sunshine—I need a picture to go with those numbers.” He snapped it before Benji could school his face out of “adorably confused.” “Perfect. I’ll call you later?”

His face a vision of “wait, what?”, Benji nodded. A second later, the muted sounds of the set were broken by a shout of “Kala!” and a slew of swear words.

“Kala’s off the toilet,” Wyatt said cheerfully. “You talk to her, I will divert Chantel’s attention with a ball of yarn, and this day might end at some point.”

Benji nodded as Wyatt turned to join the fracas. There was a definite sashay to his step as he approached Kala, who was trying to shove Chantel off her arm but was largely unsuccessful due to all the tulle.

One more look over his shoulder left Wyatt delighted to see that Benji’s expression was one of dumbstruck joy at the retreating view.

Feed the ego. Feed it well.

This was going to be a fabulous night.

HE MANAGED to convince Chantel that the shoot actually captured the essence of her music—pretending not to notice that this occurred after Kala gave her an “aspirin”—and finished the shoot before he did, indeed, die of job-related stress. After doling out cab fare (and beer money) to the stylists, Wyatt found himself on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, phone in hand.

The cool flush of the air-conditioned loft gave way to the muggy August air of Manhattan. At nine thirty, the rush of tourists and home seekers had reduced to a trickle. He toyed with the scroll for a second then dialed Benji’s number—first taking a moment to enjoy the upward tilt of his eyes and the pale olive of his skin. Someone’s parents had played the exotic-combination-of-genes card and it had worked out beautifully.

“Um, hey,” Benji said, clearing his throat a second later. “Hey. How’d it go?”

“Chantel’s still alive, Kala didn’t need an emergency admit to Bellevue, and we got enough stuff for the cover. So all in all, the perfect day.” Wyatt laughed. He started walking toward Sixth Avenue. “How about you?”

“Oh—well, it was good. Not as crazy as yours.” Benji cleared his throat again. “You still, uh—up for that drink?”

“God yes. The prospect has actually made this day bearable.” Wyatt dodged some chatting girls who didn’t seem to understand the concept of sharing the sidewalk. “I’m downtown still. Are you at the studio?”

“Yeah—you want to just meet at the party?

Wyatt let visions of a studio quickie fade, as it was probably prudent to show up at the work event—mingle, have a free drink, and then disappear into the night with his end-of-the-workday treat.

“That’s a great idea,” he said. “I’ll be there in twenty, God willing.”

“Awesome.” Benji’s voice perked up. He hung up almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

“Lack of conversation skills duly noted—thank God you have that ass,” Wyatt muttered as a cab swerved to the corner to accept his business.

HIS phone rang about three blocks into his cab ride; if it was anything but crickets chirping, he would have sent it to voice mail. Crickets, though, meant Raven, and Raven was the only human being on earth Wyatt would interrupt a booty call for.

“Baby girl,” he said, feeling his body unhitch and relax.

“I hate being in bed so much,” his best friend whined dramatically.

“Said no one ever.”

“Bed rest is hard.”

“Bed rest is actually the opposite of hard. I told you pregnancy would make you dumb.”

“Well, then we can finally have a conversation you can follow.”

“That nurturing thing hasn’t kicked in yet—you’re still mean.”

Raven sighed with theatrical flair. “Growing humans is hard, okay? And I’m growing double the normal amount.”

“Condoms, Rae. Condoms. We had this talk.” Wyatt riffled around in his pocket for money as the cab dodged vehicles into midtown.

“You could be a little more sympathetic to me, your dearest and only friend. Your godfather privileges will be revoked.”

He would never say this to Raven—his reason for being alive today, his reason for not being a total abusive dickbag—but if she unnamed him godfather of her impending twins, he would not be sad.

Children terrified him. Responsibility for other human beings in general? Cold sweat and horror. But he couldn’t say that to Raven, who’d turned her back on everyone from “back home” except Wyatt. Who’d let herself thaw and grow and evolve to the point where she had a husband and a home and two humans entering the world in fifteen weeks.

See? He paid attention during their weekly chitchats.

“No, please, no,” he said weakly and Raven laughed.


“You know you need to quit cursing like a syphilitic sailor before your kids are born.”

“I figure I have until they’re eight months old or so before I have to give it up.”

“Harder than cigarettes, right?”

“Shit, yeah.”

Now it was Wyatt’s turn to laugh. The driver was pulling over, Bryant Park illuminated up ahead.

“Okay, I gotta go. I have a date.”

“You mean dinner and a fuck.”

“Actually free appetizers and a fuck, but that’s too many words.” He stuck a twenty through the plastic opening for the cabbie. “Receipt, please.”

“Fine, fine. Call me in the morning and entertain me,” she commanded. “Rob has an early meet-and-greet breakfast in Spencer with some potential recruits.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Midwestern.” Wyatt pocketed his change and the receipt. He managed to stay on the phone, gather his bag, and slide out the door without face-planting—no mean feat.

“Asshole. I’ll talk to you in the morning.” Raven blew kisses into the phone. “Myrtle and Myron send their love as well!”


“Okay, I’ll keep looking.”

They exchanged “I love yous,” then Wyatt hung up with a sigh. He was in the middle of the sidewalk as New York City rushed around him in all its energetic beauty, about to have free cocktails and a fuck with a beautiful boy and….

He squared his shoulders and got his feet moving.

Just a Stranger by Elle Brownlee
THE club Andrew had wandered into was not his usual scene, but he wasn’t looking for that. He was looking to get laid. He figured in a place with pulse-pounding music that drowned out conversation and lighting that made everyone seem mysterious and attractive, he would easily find someone else wanting the same.

Generally, he wasn’t a clubber. He liked sports bars and mellow restaurants. But since his “generally” of the past few years had included almost zero adult social contact of any kind, he’d decided to skip to the main event and make the most of this one night he’d been able to wrangle as his own. He didn’t need game updates or five courses or even conversation. He needed available and no strings and—oh, that guy right over there.

Andrew darted from the bar and pushed through the gyrating crowd toward a dark corner where the dance floor melted into a semicircle of plushly cushioned loungers. As he approached, his intended glanced at him and looked almost guilty at getting caught. It gave Andrew the sense that this guy had been checking him out in return, and that emboldened him, while his throat went dry and his stomach lurched with the strength of instant attraction. The guy smiled hesitantly. Andrew realized he had stalked over there as if on a mission, and while that was true, it was also enough to make him laugh at the absurdity and relax a little.

“Uh, hi!” Andrew yelled, and he almost rolled his eyes. Not exactly a suave lead-in. He felt himself blush and almost turned tail, but the guy squirmed around enough to make room on the lounger and patted it. He leaned into Andrew once he’d sat down.

“Hiya yourself! I’m Michael.”

“Michael. Hey, hi. Hey.”

They stared at each other, and Andrew forgot to even blink. Even in the strobing, ever-changing colored lights and dimness, Michael was gorgeous and perfectly typed to get Andrew’s motor revving. He had a strong jaw that led to a cleft chin. He was olive complected with liquid dark eyes and equally dark, clean-cut hair.

Someone jostled into them and Andrew managed an apologetic smile. To distract himself from simply staring more, he downed his beer. He and Michael sat in the cacophony of techno beats and writhing bodies, an island of silent stillness. Andrew began to peel the label from his beer bottle.

It was almost pitifully comical that he’d homed in on the one person seemingly feeling as awkward and out of place here as he did. He was so bad at this, and so very out of practice. Maybe he should have gone to a sports bar or not bothered at all and just gone home.

“Wanna get out of here?”

“What?” Andrew whipped around to squint at Michael and their noses brushed. Tingles erupted from his nape and spread down along his skin in a delicious cascade that made him shiver.

Michael’s eyes danced promisingly in response, and his squared, blunt thumb swept into Andrew’s upturned palm. That only made Andrew shiver more. Michael grinned and leaned under Andrew’s ear again.

“I asked if you wanna get out of here!”

“Yes! I do, yes—with you!”

Andrew almost groaned because, good lord, at one point in time he had known how to be a real person around other real people, but he figured his answer hadn’t been completely inept when Michael’s grin softened to a happy smile.

Michael pried the empty bottle from Andrew’s hand and set it on a waiting side tray, then hefted him to stand. Andrew was a few inches taller and slim, while Michael was broad, with firm, wide shoulders that tapered to a trim waist. His movements were economical and smooth, which suggested physical labor or a good bit of effort put in at the gym. Either way, Andrew appreciated the results. He flattened his hand on the flex of Michael’s abs, just visible under a thinly stretched tee. That action made it Michael’s turn to shiver.

It was enough to ease a laugh from Andrew, and he led the way toward the main entrance. He liked when Michael snagged the center belt loop of his jeans at the back to keep them connected while they threaded through patrons and laden waiters and randomly strewn tabletops. He waggled his butt for show.

Once outside Andrew let out a long, relieved sigh.

“If you hate that kind of place so much, why bother going in?”

Andrew went for cheesy and bold. “I was looking for you.” He flashed the crooked, charming grin that used to get him out of all kinds of scrapes when he was a teenager, then into better opportunities once in college. It still had its uses today.

Michael groaned. “Well, you found me, and here I am, so I think that earns me at least knowing your name.”

“Oh.” Andrew’s smile turned wry. “Sorry? I didn’t realize I hadn’t—I’m Andrew.” He carefully didn’t give his last name and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

They shook and Michael lingered at the touch. He studied Andrew intently as if he’d noticed Andrew’s reactions had gone from embarrassed and open to shuttered away again. But Michael didn’t call him out on it, and Andrew was relieved.

“So, back at you.” Andrew nodded at the club. “If you hate that kind of place so much, why were you camped out on their uncomfortable loungers?”

“Buddy of mine’s birthday. I think he’s still in there somewhere. Don’t worry, he won’t miss me.” Michael shrugged almost apologetically and finally let go of Andrew’s hand. “Where to?”

Andrew had to ball his hand into a fist, then release it a few times to get normal feeling back after their handshake. Even then it was as though his hand burned and the warmth was spreading up his arm.

“Actually, I have no idea. I’m not from Indy.”

Michael eyed him speculatively, and Andrew found his disarming grin again.

“I’m on a business trip, some conference thing, and was on the verge of doing not-very-businesslike things to my boring colleagues. I thought rather than get into criminal activities, I’d let off some steam.”

“Horticulture or pharmaceuticals?” Michael asked sharply.

“Excuse me?” Andrew blanched. He didn’t actually want to say. He liked Michael a lot—too much already, truth be told—but he’d promised himself he’d do this, enjoy it, and give away as little as possible.

Michael pulled an annoyed face and waved his hand in the air, then he nudged into Andrew to start them moving again. “Now I’m sorry. Jeez. There are only two big conventions in town this weekend, so deductive reasoning and all.”

“Do you make it a habit to keep up with any going conventions, whether they interest you or not?”

Andrew watched as Michael chewed on his lip in such a way that made him want to lean in and follow suit.

“No, I kinda have to know—I’m a cop. Detective, even. It takes up like, three-quarters of my life? Sometimes it’s hard not to be that way in the other quarter. It’s a bad habit.”

“Yeah. I can see how that’d happen.” Andrew had cooled more than a fraction, and he knew Michael felt it too. He hadn’t meant to, didn’t want to, but there it was. His walls were ever present and returned full force far too easily. Michael wasn’t the only one there with some deeply ingrained habits.

They wove into the parking lot, and Michael stopped them next to a generic four-door. The warm September night was humid, and the streetlights coated everything in a mellow, dusky haze. Andrew stared at the vague dome of the sky mostly reflecting Indianapolis’s muzzy glow and discovered he missed being able to take in a night sky densely packed with stars. He’d become a small-town guy by circumstance, but he was discovering he fit there far better than he ever had in the city.

“Okay, look, I was going to tell you that I happened to know the perfect place for after-midnight coffee and pancakes and invite you there. I was also going to be awesome and charming and really funny about asking, then the whole time we were at my favorite diner, I was going to flirt with you mercilessly and play footsie under the booth. After that, I was going to mention the diner was walking distance from my apartment.”

Michael scratched at the back of his neck in a disarmingly adorable tell of uncertainty, then straightened.

“But the truth is, I just want to skip to the ‘my apartment’ point in the proceedings. And I really like you? A lot. But I don’t usually do this, like ever, so I can’t even say I’m out of practice. And I’ve put you off by asking too much about you already—and I haven’t even asked that much—so I can only imagine how breakfast tomorrow would go, and now I’m rambling which is another terrible habit of mine that, I’m told, becomes endearing after about a decade of knowing me and learning how to tune me out.” His eyes widened. “I didn’t mean to imply we had to, you know—”

Andrew took pity on Michael, and he also had to tamp down the stirrings of more-than-physical interest Michael’s endearing ramble had disturbed in him. He cupped Michael’s face in both hands and gave him a sound kiss, one that set off those sparks and fireworks he’d had hints of in the club. He trembled when he finally pulled away. Andrew told himself it was only horniness and having been dry and frustrated for so long, nothing more. Michael sucked in a breath, then pursued Andrew’s withdrawal, grabbing him close into another kiss.

A loud, playful whistle finally separated them. Andrew came back to the world to find he had Michael pinned to the generic four-door. Michael’s hands were in Andrew’s shirt and pants while Andrew had Michael’s wonderfully slinky hair tangled in his fingers.

“Wow, okay.” Michael let the words out on elongated syllables and shallow breaths. “Guess I didn’t ruin things after all?”

“Does your car have a siren?”

Michael looked at him blankly, and Andrew arched his eyebrows.

“I like pancake breakfasts. But I find I’m in a real hurry to get to what comes before that, so I’m hoping with you being a cop and knowing your way all around this city that you can, you know.” Andrew twirled one finger in the air and made woo-woo noises.

“Oh, right. Yeah, I do! C’mon.” Michael boosted out from between Andrew and the car, then held the door open.

Andrew wasn’t even buckled in when Michael had the siren blaring and the car squealing out of the parking lot. It was an entirely irresponsible abuse of power—something Andrew could easily tell wasn’t Michael’s ordinary habit—but it did wonders for his ego and mounting desire to get straight to business when they got to Michael’s apartment.

“For the record, Detective, I don’t usually do this either. Try, never.” Andrew cleared his throat and shifted in the seat. He knocked his elbow into Michael’s arm and smiled in the hope he didn’t sound desperate and dorky, but Michael only nodded with understanding and smiled back.

He watched Michael drive, competent and obviously thrumming with the same anticipation that had Andrew strung tight, and decided he’d only have regrets tonight if he walked away. Andrew wasn’t lying. He never did this. He didn’t date, not seriously or casually. He hadn’t even seen another guy naked outside of movies or the local YMCA locker room in years.

Michael cut the siren off a short distance before they turned into a nondescript parking area with an expanse of condos that looked like badly designed ski lodges. Michael curled his top lip ruefully. “Not my taste, but it’s in my budget and takes care of itself. I don’t exactly have a lifestyle that allows for gardening.”

Andrew didn’t complain, certainly not when Michael rushed him from the car up a narrow sidewalk and into the ground-floor unit. Michael didn’t bother with lights, just fumbled the door closed and locked again before pushing Andrew up against it. Andrew moaned and opened his legs, then met Michael’s seeking mouth in a dangerously appealing kiss.

They spun each other around and groped their way out of clothes and down the hall until Andrew backed into the bed and fell abruptly over onto it. He blinked rapidly when Michael snapped on a small side lamp. For a moment, he had those stirrings again, somewhere between his heart being glad that Michael seemed to be an actual nice guy, and his brain whispering they should get to know one another after this and how great that would be.

He bottled that thought up tight and banished it to some hidden recess that would hopefully never open again. Michael’s life was here in Indianapolis, and it didn’t even have room to mow some grass. Andrew’s life was hours away and had no room to add anyone else, not even a nice-seeming guy who could turn out to be really great.

He levered onto his elbows and grabbed Michael down onto him, bit, then sucked Michael’s full lower lip into his mouth. Michael melted against him with an encouraging groan. Andrew hummed intently and set to kissing Michael with thorough pleasure.

Andrew loved kissing. He loved making out and the sensations that could overwhelm his whole body when the kissing was good. Michael was very good. He fit against Andrew in the just-so way that allowed their hands space to explore and intermittent breaths without ever having to break contact. They teased each other in complementary moves and parries, with bites and swirls of tongue, then went back to open-mouthed kisses.

Just a Weekend by Elizah J. Davis
COME on, Brent had said. It’ll be fun! Boys’ night out! Isn’t that why you came to visit?

In truth, Devin had come to Seattle because he’d had to move back in with his parents three months ago after he lost his job, and while he loved his family more than anything in the world, they were driving him absolutely insane. Devin had needed to get away, and Brent was always good company for blowing off some steam.

The flip side to that, however, was that Brent tended to get a little carried away with his blowing. About an hour into the night, he’d taken off with some wannabe cowboy who was wearing skinny jeans instead of Wranglers, leaving Devin to find his own lodgings for the evening. Technically, he could take a cab back to Brent’s house, but his roommate Creepy Dave was there, and Devin didn’t like being alone with that guy.

It probably shouldn’t have been so annoying. It’d been awhile—he certainly hadn’t been bringing guys back to his parents’ house—and it wasn’t like he didn’t have some viable options. He’d been getting interested looks all evening, and several guys had attempted to chat him up, though none had been more original than I haven’t seen you here before. It was eleven o’clock; he should’ve been naked and sweaty already. Instead he was talking to one of the many straight girls there, and, if he were being honest with himself, having a really good time.

Kara was adorable, short and curvy, with thick curly brown hair and freckles. She was also wearing a T-shirt that said Jupiter’s, and while the coat she was holding covered the bottom half of the print, Devin was pretty sure there was a rooster under there, which was why he had started talking to her in the first place. What was his problem?

“So, what’s your problem, then?” Kara asked, nodding around the bar. “There are plenty of guys to choose from, and we both know you have your choice.”

“I don’t know.” Devin sighed. “I think I’m having hookup ennui.” He nudged her with his shoulder. “What’s your story? Friday night at a gay bar?”

“I occasionally have to browbeat my friend into getting out of the house. For his own good.”

“Of course.”

“Plus, my boyfriend is having a guys’ night, so it was kind of a win-win.”

“Boyfriend?” Devin waited as she pulled up a picture of him on her phone and whistled once she showed it to him. Boyfriend was six-plus feet of hunky gorgeousness. “Damn, girl. High five.” He took the phone from her for a closer look and held out his other hand for her to slap. “If I had that waiting for me at home, I’d never leave the house.”

“You would on guys’ night. Too much sausage for me to deal with.”

Devin arched a brow at her and looked around the bar.

“Yeah, no, I heard it,” she said. “It’s a whole different vibe, though.”

“Fair enough. So he’s totally straight, then?” he teased.

“One hundred percent.”

“Good for you.” He finally handed the phone back to her, giving a halfhearted nod to the guy eyeing him a few feet away. “You know that feeling where you’re in the mood for a really good book, but you can’t even decide on the genre you want to read?”

Kara laughed and gave him a sympathetic one-armed hug. “Okay, okay. Check him out. In the blue.” She gestured with her beer bottle to a guy tucked away at a corner table, smiling blandly at the adorable twinky blond trying his damnedest to chat him up.

“He’s all right,” Devin admitted. The guy was handsome enough in a bland boy-next-door sort of way. He was tall, with light-brown hair and a square, manly jaw. In any given romantic comedy, he’d be cast as the staid, dependable boyfriend. The bed warmer until the charming roguish hero of the story happened along. “Let me guess; your browbeaten friend?”

“Yeah, that’s my social butterfly James. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not hitting on you for him. I’m just curious about, y’know. The vibe he puts off.”

“Besides the flashing neon ‘Not Interested’?” Devin shook his head and tsked at the kid still giving it his all. “Give it up, sugar. Mr. Darcy’s not going to ask you to dance.”

“I am so tempted to smack him,” Kara said. “I mean, he’s cute enough, right? But he just sits there people watching. He doesn’t even try to talk to anyone, unless….” She threw her hands up in exasperation, splashing beer on both of them as another guy walked over to the table. “Yep. There we go. Right on cue. Unless his vapid, trampy ex shows up. Him he’ll go home with, and then he calls me the next day to absolve him of his shame hangover.”

“Really?” Devin looked at James with a bit more interest, though he felt a little disappointed with himself that the shame fucking made the guy so much more appealing. The twink had been chased away by the vapid trampy ex, who James looked only mildly more excited about talking to. The ex was tall and lanky, with an interesting face, though Devin didn’t consider him particularly attractive. “What’s the story?”

“No story really.” Kara shrugged and took another sip of her beer. “Roger is just that guy, and James is too nice to tell him to fuck off.” She wrinkled her nose like she’d just smelled something foul, then looked at Devin in a way that could only be described as diabolical. “How would you feel about playing white knight?”

Devin looked at his watch and back at James. Aside from being “cute enough”—he was at least that—James didn’t seem to be falling-down drunk, which would be a bonus if they made it to the sex part. The later it got, the fewer guys there were who could stand of their own volition, and in Devin’s experience, those guys were generally a terrible lay. At the very least, James’s boredom seemed genuine rather than affected, which was new and refreshing. “What’d you have in mind?”

JAMES could hear a voice in his head saying You will not go home with him as Roger spoke. The voice sounded a lot like Kara’s. He nodded to himself, resolved, only to have it waver a second later when Roger covered his hand with his own. It was predictably pathetic of him, but the sex was decent, and, if he was being honest, Roger was a lot less work than a stranger would be.

Someone sidled up next to him as James was wavering, and for a moment he thought it was Kara finally returning from the bar to rescue him. Instead he turned to find a surprisingly pretty guy with messy brown hair and green eyes smirking up at him.

“Hey, handsome,” the guy said, holding up his coat and scarf. “Kara said to tell you she’s hit the wall, and she’s taking a cab home, so we can go whenever you’re ready.”

“Uhhh.” Brilliant, James. He accepted his coat and scarf, trying to remember when he had given them to Kara. The pretty guy was still smiling at him, which made the whole thought process more difficult.

“Excuse me,” Roger said before James could come up with a more coherent response. “Who are you?”

“Devin. And you are?”

Roger frowned and ignored the question, shooting James a suspicious look. “James never mentioned you.”

Devin leaned against the table and shrugged. “Probably because most of the stories worth mentioning aren’t really any of your business.” He turned back to James and said, “I’m ready when you are.”

“Yeah.” James nodded and, for lack of a better idea of what to do, pulled his coat on. “I think we can call it a night. I’ll talk to you later,” he said to Roger and didn’t protest when Devin took his hand and led him toward the door.

“So Kara sent you to rescue me?” James asked as soon as they were outside, his thoughts finally clicking into place.

“White Knight Devin at your service.” Devin gave a little bow without letting go of James’s hand.

“And now that I’m rescued?”

“A reward is customary.”

It couldn’t be that easy. It was never that easy. Pretty boys with impish smiles didn’t throw themselves at him as a rule. “Do you… want to come home with me?”

“Oh thank God. For a minute there I thought you really might not ask.”

James shook his head, not entirely convinced this wasn’t a dream. Only his certainty that Kara didn’t have a cruel bone in her body kept him from suspecting it was some sort of joke. “Just like that?”

Devin’s smile faltered. “I’m sorry. You honestly don’t owe me anything. I can just go back—”

“No!” James wanted to smack himself. Good grief, was he really standing there talking Devin out of coming home with him? “I’m not very good at this. I don’t want to pressure you.”

“How about this?” Devin’s smile hadn’t fully returned, but he did look mildly amused, or maybe a little bit indulgent. “I, Devin, being of sound mind and body, would very much like to go home with you if you’d like to have me.”

“I’d like to have you. I mean—” he added when Devin laughed.

“No, let’s go with that. I’m good with that. Shall we?”

“Sure.” James frowned when Devin gave him an expectant look. “Oh! You mean go? Yeah, of course. I walked, if that’s okay? It’s not too far, but I can call a cab.”

“Walking is good. Just lead the way,” Devin said, gesturing for James to precede him.

“Do you not have a jacket or anything?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“So, I don’t generally have Kara pick up guys for me,” James said as they started off. “For the record.”

Devin laughed. “I’m sure you can get your own dates.”

“Well, no, not really, but I do have some dignity.” James smiled when Devin laughed again. “A little bit. I swear it’s here somewhere. In my other pants, maybe.”

“From where I was sitting, you had plenty of attention. You just didn’t seem all that interested.” Devin tilted his head and gave James a sly look. “What’s the story with the ex? If you don’t mind my asking. Sorry, I’m nosy.” He said it in such a way that made it clear he was still expecting an answer.

James sighed and wished he had a good one to give. “I don’t know. We were never a great couple, but at least with him I know what I’m getting. Hookups can be awkward.” He winced when he realized what he was saying, but Devin seemed delighted.

“No offense taken, I promise. I totally get it. The devil you know and all.”


“Yeah.” Devin scrunched his nose and leaned toward James conspiratorially. “I know a devil or two myself. Terrible habits to try and break.”

“Why does it sound so fun when you say it?” James asked.

Devin shoved his hands in his pockets, giving an exaggerated shrug. “I’m a fun guy.”

“Who’s obviously freezing,” James said instead of making the mushroom joke that so desperately wanted to come out. He stopped and turned to Devin. “Here, take my coat.” He started to take it off, but Devin shook his head.

“Then you’ll be freezing. I come from lands east of the Cascades and am of a heartier stock.”

James gave him a skeptical look and unwrapped his scarf, hooking it around Devin’s neck. “Take this, at least.”

The nearby streetlight was bright enough to give James a good look at Devin, and he was surprised all over again by how unreasonably attractive the guy was. What he’d mistaken for eyeliner in the bar was, in fact, a set of thick, dark eyelashes. His lips were pink and curved into what appeared to be a perpetual smirk. It was giving James ideas.

“It’s only a few more blocks,” James said as Devin wrapped the scarf around his neck.

Devin hooked his arm around James’s elbow and pressed up against his side, making James’s stomach do a little flip.

“Lead on.”

Author Bios:
Tere Michaels
Tere Michaels unofficially began her writing career at the age of four when she learned that people got paid to write stories. It seemed the most perfect and logical job in the world and after that, her path was never in question. (The romance writer part was written in the stars—she was born on Valentine’s Day.)

It took thirty-six years of “research” and “life experience” and well… life… before her first book was published but there are no regrets (she doesn’t believe in them). Along the way, she had some interesting jobs in television, animation, arts education, PR and a national magazine—but she never stopped believing she would eventually earn her living writing stories about love.

She is a member of RWA, Rainbow Romance Writers, and Liberty States Fiction Writers. Her home base is a small town in New Jersey, very near NYC, a city she dearly loves. She shares her life with her husband, her teenaged son—who will just not stop growing—and two exceedingly spoiled cats. Her spare time is spent watching way too much sports programming, going to the movies and for long walks/runs in the park, reading her book club’s current selection, and volunteering.

Nothing makes her happier than knowing she made a reader laugh or smile or cry. It’s the purpose of sharing her work with people. She loves hearing from fans and fellow writers, and is always available for speaking engagements, visits and workshops. Send here a message through her contact page or connect with her on Twitter (@TereMichaels) and Facebook .

Elle Brownlee
Elle Brownlee has always followed her creative, adventuring spirit.

Growing up she loved westerns and taking long hikes. On these explorations she'd craft miniature worlds with moss and rocks while making up stories about everything that happened there. This often included dashing cowboy heroes. As an adult, not a lot has changed. She still loves westerns, long hikes, and allowing her imagination to roam. She also loves spending time with family and friends, rooting for her baseball team, rainy days in autumn, and the perfect cup of tea (black, steeped extra strong, with milk—please!).

Her romances feature flawed but relatable characters in immersive settings, told with wit, tenderness, and a sly note of sarcasm. Though a cynic in many ways, Elle believes love can conquer all. Every story is a little bit naughty, a whole lot of nice, and will always end with happily ever after.

Elle currently lives in New York City, where she maintains her miniature worlds in terrariums and writing. She’s so thankful to be able to share her work with a growing audience, and especially grateful to have you reading along.

Elizah J Davis
Elizah Davis has lived in various parts of the United States, but currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, enjoying the abundance of coffee readily available there. She earned her degree in creative writing after she realized journalism involved too many facts and not enough unicorns. She loves stories of all kinds, but has a particular fondness for romance and fantastical adventures. When she isn’t busy making things up, Elizah enjoys reading, laughing at cats on the internet, buying girly shoes, and trying to come up with world domination plans that don’t require the donning of pants (her endeavors towards which have thus far been unsuccessful).

Tere Michaels
EMAIL: teremichaelsblog @

Elle Brownlee

Eliza J Davis


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