Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Kinky Sprinkles by LA Witt

Joel has finally walked away from his abusive ex and is ready to meet new people. But that isn’t easy for a guy who’s shy, self-conscious, and struggling with his body image.

Andre has wanted Joel since the first time he laid eyes on him, and finally Joel is single. But Andre is a Dom and a sadist, and Joel is unapologetically vanilla. There’s no happy medium—either Andre reins in the kinky side that took him years to accept, or Joel grits his teeth and subjects himself to kinks that aren’t his thing. No matter who bends, someone’s going to be unhappy.

They agree to walk away, but they keep circling back to each other. Though their kinks might not line up, the chemistry between them sizzles and the emotional connection keeps getting deeper. But none of that will get them anywhere if they can’t find some kind of middle ground in the bedroom.

Chapter One
Joel had gotten used to the absence of his collar, but today, his throat felt conspicuously naked. As he walked across the restaurant with his friend April, he resisted the urge to rub his neck in search of that thick leather strap. It was gone, and good riddance, but he was suddenly reminded of the precariously weightless feeling that accompanied driving without a seat belt. Not that the collar had ever made him feel safe and secure so much as owned and restrained, but joining this group without it was weird. So maybe the feeling was more like driving past a cop car and realizing he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Well, hopefully no one would notice.

Oh, but they did.

As he approached the long table where the group always gathered, a few people looked at him, some doing double takes. They probably hadn’t expected to see him any more than he’d expected to show up.

Still a safe distance away, he stopped and turned to April. “This is stupid. I don’t know why I’m here.”

April touched his back. “Relax.”

“I am relaxed.”

“No, you’re not.” She gave him a gentle push. “You’re here because these are your friends.”

Joel scowled. “This isn’t my crowd anymore. I don’t have anything in common with—”

“Honey. We’ve been through this.” She exhaled sharply. “For God’s sake, no one here cares if you’re done with kink.” She waved a hand toward the group. “They’re just having lunch and a few beers. It isn’t like anyone’s going to try to collar you or cuff you to something.”

Shuddering violently, he avoided her eyes and all of theirs.

“Come on.” She squeezed his arm. “They’re just going to be happy to see you. Especially without Rob.”

Joel pursed his lips. She had a point. His ex-boyfriend/Dom hadn’t been terribly popular among the members of their local dungeon. Joel was still fuzzy on what exactly had led to Rob being banned for life—that had happened sometime in the three months since they’d split—but at least he could be absolutely sure the asshole wouldn’t show up here.

Just like I shouldn’t show up here. What am I doing?

But April had persuaded him, insisting he needed to get his butt out of the house for a change and that everyone had been asking after him for weeks. And he had been lonely as hell lately. Part of that could be blamed on a job that didn’t lend itself to watercooler friendships, but his isolation was mostly thanks to his ex’s careful orchestration—he had no close friends in this town outside the kink community.

Since Joel didn’t want to go to the dungeon, April had convinced him a munch wouldn’t kill him. He hadn’t been to one of these since his early, early days with Rob, and they’d always been kind of fun, so hey, why not? He’d promised her he’d come to one munch—one—and see how it went. The second someone started interrogating him about why he’d gone back to the vanilla side, though, he was done. Gone. Out. Good-bye.

As he and April crossed the last bit of distance to the table, people started getting out of their chairs. They hugged April, and as Joel braced, heads turned toward him.

“Hey, hey!” Nathan, an enormous bear with a Santa Claus beard, held out his arms. “Get over here. It’s good to see you!”

Joel relaxed a little and hugged Nathan. The big guy had barely let him go before Lynn, who resembled a low-key librarian instead of the sharp-tongued Domme he was used to, came up and offered a hug as well.

“We’ve all been worried about you,” she said, squeezing him tight. She pulled back, but held on to his shoulders and looked him right in the eye. “Have you been doing okay?”

It was funny to hear her gently asking about him. She sounded even less like that hard-edged Domme and more like his mom making sure he’d been eating properly and getting enough sleep.

Joel nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. It’s, uh, been an adjustment, but I’m doing fine.”

Her rigid features softened, and she hugged him again. “Good. Glad to hear it. I’m sure it’s been rough, but you’re better off.”

He smiled tightly. Everyone had been telling him that ever since the night he’d finally walked out, and while they meant well, it annoyed him. He felt stupid enough for staying as long as he had with Rob. Every “you’re better off” hit him like, “What the hell took you so long, you fucking moron?”

After several people had said hello to him, Joel took a seat beside April and picked up a menu. Well, things were off to a pretty good start so far. April was right—people did seem genuinely happy to see him, and no one had given him shit. Yet.

He ordered a beer to relax his nerves a bit, and as he sipped it, he quietly watched the rest of the group. He had to admit, when it came to this bunch, he was a lot more comfortable in this environment than in the dungeon where everyone went at night. He couldn’t really blame them for that, though. At the dungeon, Rob had always required him to dress a certain way, which meant snug leather pants and no shirt. The bastard had insisted it was hot because it made Joel’s collar and attached leather leash more conspicuous. No one could have looked at him and not known he was Rob’s.

Joel’s stomach knotted, and he fidgeted uncomfortably and tugged at his loose T-shirt. Being Rob’s submissive—more like his possession—had lost its novelty a long time ago, but more than anything, Joel had grown seriously tired of parading himself in front of this group. While they had no compunctions about strolling around in tight leather, fishnets, bondage harnesses, or whatever they were or weren’t wearing on a particular night, that was not and had never been his style. Not when he knew he’d be feeling like shit later for that extra ten, eventually fifteen, and ultimately twenty-five pounds he was flaunting for all to see.

“When you let yourself go like that,” he could still hear Rob saying in the car on the way home a few months back, “it makes us both look bad.”

Since their split, Joel had lost almost eight of those stupid pounds, but the rest would take time. It would be at least fifteen pounds in total before his shirt came off with the lights on.

He scanned the group, and that uncomfortable knot slowly unwound. Everyone here was dressed down. His slightly oversized and deliberately untucked T-shirt didn’t make him stand out amongst the shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops. To anyone else in the restaurant, this bunch was a dozen or so people sharing some beer and some laughs while they soaked up the air-conditioning and escaped the thick June heat outside.

“So.” April elbowed him. “Anything look good?”

“What?” He eyed her. “I just got here. I’m not checking anyone out.”

She rolled her eyes and tapped his menu. “I meant food.”

“Oh. Right.” He looked down at the menu, which was still open and propped up against the table.

“Hey.” She nudged him again, and her expression turned serious. “You okay?”

He nodded. “Just getting used to being around this group again.” More like being around people in the first place.

“I know. If you want to take off after we eat, just holler.” She paused, glanced around, and added a soft, “Or if you want to leave sooner.”

“Thanks.” He focused on the menu again. Slowly, he started to relax. Knowing he had an easy escape was a plus. She wasn’t bullshitting either—if he said the word, they’d be out the door so fast his head would spin. It was one of the only reasons he’d been willing to come with her in the first place.

Someone who honors a safeword. What a concept.

He flipped through the menu’s pages until he found the salads. All the pastas—especially the baked ones dripping with cheese—sounded divine, but he’d been eating clean for the past month. The beer he was drinking was his one indulgence today. He’d be good. One moment of self-control closer to fitting into the clothes he hadn’t worn since the first year with Rob. Amazing how much easier it was to discipline himself into eating right and visiting the gym on a regular basis when it was his own thing rather than a way of trying to please Rob.

Hmm. Greek salad. The feta probably isn’t—

You know what? Fuck it. A handful of feta isn’t the end of the world.

I ran three goddamned miles this morning and I haven’t touched those breadsticks. Gimme the feta.

He closed his menu and sipped his beer.

Some chairs were still empty. He didn’t know if that meant there were more people coming, or if they’d just overestimated how many chairs they would need. Despite himself, he was actually hoping more people were coming. Now that he’d shown up and realized people weren’t going to harangue him, he was eager to see some friendly faces. And maybe even talk to them. As it was, there were several conversations going on at the table. The bits and pieces he caught were about people’s jobs, tricks and hacks for keeping lawns green despite the county’s water-use restrictions, and what the hell was wrong with Jim’s Jaguar this time. April would probably jump into one of the conversations at some point, and she’d pull him in with her. Fine by him. For now, he was content to—

“Oh my sweet Lord,” April said under her breath.

“Hmm?” He turned. “What’s—”

His heart skipped.

Oh my sweet Lord, indeed.

Across the restaurant, three familiar people had just walked in and were headed this way. Ginny, who was significantly shorter than he remembered—likely because she had on sneakers instead of her trademark gigantic suicide heels—and Brian, her ever-present submissive, who towered over her.

But they just barely registered to Joel.

Because behind them was Andre.

Tall, tanned, black-haired Andre.

It didn’t matter right then that Andre was a hard-core sadist and a Dom. Or that he lived and breathed kink. It wasn’t for nothing that this man had modeled his way through college and could still—even in shorts and a faded Metallica T-shirt—pull it off today.

For the few moments it took for Andre to cross the restaurant, Joel let himself fantasize about being in his league. He let his heart flutter and his stomach somersault and his mouth water. If Andre could be persuaded to dabble in vanilla sex, Joel would be first in line to volunteer as tribute.

Then their eyes met.

And clearly Andre saw someone else, because his face lit up with the most gorgeous smile.

“Joel?” He walked faster. “My God, is that you?”

Joel’s heart stopped. “Me?”

“Yeah, you.” Andre chuckled. “Come here. It’s been too long!”

You know I exist?

“Uh. Hi.” On shaky legs, Joel rose, and suddenly those tanned arms were around him. What cologne was that? And why did it make his head spin so fast?

Andre pulled back and kept a hand on his shoulder as he looked him up and down, which made Joel want to shrivel up and die right then and there. He should’ve waited another ten or fifteen pounds to show his face. Maybe twenty to be safe.

Meeting Joel’s gaze again, Andre said, “It’s really good to see you back here. We’ve all been worried.”

Joel forced a smile, but his heart was sinking. Oh right. It wasn’t interest. Andre was just one more person who was happy to see that Joel had gotten out from under Rob’s thumb and made it back to the land of the living. Of course.

Out of your league by a mile, remember?

Still, it was nice that people here were concerned about him.

“Well,” Andre said, squeezing Joel’s shoulder just before he withdrew his hand. “I’m really glad to see you. Are you coming back to the group, or . . .?”

“Um.” Joel lowered his gaze. “I don’t think so. I’m just sort of, uh . . . trying to socialize, and . . .” And I don’t know anyone in this town because I wasn’t allowed to meet people after we moved here and— Joel cleared his throat. His face was already burning, so he reclaimed eye contact and made himself say, “I’m just hanging out. Not really doing the kink thing anymore.”

“Oh.” Andre’s eyebrows jumped. “I . . . well . . .” He recovered quickly and smiled. “Either way, you’re always welcome here. Good to see you.”


They shook hands, and Andre continued saying hello to the rest of the group. As Joel took his seat again, April grabbed his arm. “You lucky bastard.”

He laughed. “Oh come on. One more ‘Oh hey, you dumped the dipshit’ to add to the collection.” He rolled his eyes.

She clicked her tongue. “Whatever. He never hugs me.”

“Bring a dysfunctional relationship to the dungeon for a while, kick the asshole to the curb, disappear for a few months, and show up again.” He patted her arm. “You’ll get a hug for sure.”

She laughed, but her expression quickly turned sympathetic again. “Honey, to be serious, the people here really do care about you. You get that, right?”

“Yeah. I get it.” He paused. “And I can’t complain after getting a whiff of his cologne.”

“Oh my God!” She threw up her hands. “You’re such a dick.”

Joel chuckled. Okay, so maybe coming to this munch hadn’t been a bad idea. He already felt better than he had recently. And that spicy cologne sure as hell hadn’t hurt.

People started shuffling around to make room for the new arrivals, and Andre sat down.

Right across from Joel.

Oh fuck.

Joel stumbled his way through ordering his lunch even though he wasn’t sure he had an appetite anymore. He couldn’t decide which was more conspicuous—making eye contact with Andre, or deliberately avoiding it. Hell, he was probably overthinking it. Andre had just taken an available seat. It didn’t mean he was focused on or even gave two shits about Joel.

Or . . .

“So, Joel.” Andre wrapped his hands around his glass. “You’re really done with the scene? Completely?”

Joel nodded, thumbing the label on his beer bottle. “It was fun for a while”—liar, liar, leather pants on fire—“but it turned out the whole kink thing wasn’t really for me after all.”

“Well,” Paul interjected from a few seats over, “who wouldn’t be put off after the way Rob treated you?”

Joel pursed his lips. “That’s . . . not really what happened, but it—”

“Oh come on.” Paul shook his head. “We all saw it, kid.”

“I know. He was a dick. But I—”

“So he was the problem, not kink.” Paul shrugged. “Maybe you just need to come down this weekend. Get your feet wet again.”

Joel avoided his eyes. “No, I think I—”

“You might surprise yourself.” Paul wagged a condescending finger at him. “All you need is—”

“What part of ‘no’ didn’t you catch?” Andre said, inching toward his Dom voice.

Joel looked at him, but Andre’s gaze was locked on Paul.

“We all saw how Rob treated him,” Andre went on, “but that doesn’t mean Rob is the reason Joel isn’t into it anymore.” He glanced at Joel. “This lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Pressuring him doesn’t make you any better than the people who tell us we’re sick.” His lips peeled back as he growled, “Back. Off.”

Paul muttered an apology and turned to join a different conversation.

Andre glared at the back of his head for a moment before facing Joel again. “Anyway.”

“Thanks,” Joel said.

“Don’t mention it.” Andre smiled, and it seemed genuine. “If this isn’t your thing, then it isn’t your thing. No shame in that.”

“Well.” Joel shrugged. “It was kind of fun for a while. Sometimes. But it’s just not for me.”

“Fair enough.”

The silence threatened to get very awkward, very quickly, but God bless her, April stepped in. “So I thought I saw on the Facebook group that you were at a workshop for knot work last weekend?”

Andre sat up, grinning like a kid. “Yeah. Just got back from Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.”

“Fort—” April straightened. “You mean Master King’s workshop?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I try to go every year.”

“I would kill to go to one of those.” She leaned her elbows on the table and put her chin on her hands. “How was his shibari demo? Is it as cool in person as it is in the videos?”

“Oh.” Andre put a hand to his chest. “Amazing. Just amazing. The videos don’t show the half of it. I can’t wait to try out some of those new techniques.”

Joel smothered a laugh—he was surprised April hadn’t started drooling.

“When you do,” she said, “can I please come watch?”

“Watch?” Andre’s grin turned wicked, and now it was Joel who almost started drooling. Oblivious to the idiot across from him, Andre leaned closer to April. “I still need someone to tie up. Which begs the question—you coming to the dungeon tomorrow night?”

Her lips parted. “Uh-huh.” It came out as a two-syllable squeak.

Joel barely kept himself from snorting. It was a miracle April hadn’t had an orgasm right then and there. She was as subby as the day was long, and a bondage junkie, and she had as much of a crush on Andre as Joel did. Being his volunteer for a bondage scene was most of her fantasies come to life.

She cleared her throat. “Are you serious?”

Andre nodded. “Sure. Half the reason I came here today was to see if anybody wanted to volunteer to be tied up tomorrow night.”

April shivered. Under the table, she pressed her thighs together. “Uh, yes, please?”

God. Joel was done with kink, but he had to admit, he was jealous as hell right then. Forget the ropes—he wanted Andre’s hands on him.

Then she scowled. “Except . . .” Her shoulders dropped. “Shit. Bill is traveling this week, and he won’t be back until Monday. I don’t like playing with someone new when he’s not here unless I have someone there to keep an eye on things, you know?” She put up a hand. “No offense.”

“No, no. None taken.” He waved his hand, though his tone was tinged with disappointment. “I wouldn’t ask you to scene without someone there you know you can trust.”

April’s eyes darted toward Joel.

Then Andre’s did.

Joel glanced back and forth between them. He sat up straighter. “What?”

April tilted her head and batted her eyes. “Joel . . . sweetie . . .”

He blinked.

Andre cleared his throat. “Well, he doesn’t have to come down to the dungeon. I mean, if it’s not your thing . . .”

“But you don’t mind watching, right?” she asked Joel. Her expression hardened subtly. Just enough for him to notice. They’d been friends long enough that her message came through loud and clear: If I don’t get to scene with Andre tomorrow night because of you, there will be hell to pay.

And the penny dropped—she’d planned this. She’d been trying to drag him out of the house for weeks, but she’d really been after him for the last week or so to come to this particular munch. Because she knew Andre would be here. And everybody knew Andre would be raring to go for some bondage after he came back from a Master King workshop.

Admittedly, Joel was impressed. It was a simple, elegant plan—bring him out of the house, get him in with the group at a munch, soften him up a little, then ask him to come watch her get tied up by the man of both their dreams.

He glared at her. She batted her eyes again. He didn’t know which favor she was calling in this time, but God knew he owed her a few. And though the dungeon was the last place in the world he wanted to be, the thought of going strictly as a spectator and to make sure April was okay . . . He could handle that.

Hell, what did he have to lose? Besides, Andre was pretty hot when he was doing a scene.

“If I go,” he said, “it’s one hundred percent clear I’m just there to watch, right? To make sure she’s okay?”

“Of course,” Andre said quickly. “And if anyone gives you shit, you let me know.”

April nodded. “Exactly.”

Joel shrugged. “Well, I do like to watch. So . . . sure. Why not?”

“Yay!” April threw her arms around him and hugged him, nearly knocking him and his beer out of his chair. “Thank you, sweetie.”

He chuckled. “Anytime.”

He looked across the table.

Andre was looking right back at him.

And grinning.

And suddenly, for the first time in a long time, Joel was excited to spend an evening at the dungeon.

Chapter Two
“Now I see why you dragged me along today.”

“What ever do you mean?” April glanced at Joel from the driver’s seat and flashed him a grin.

Laughing, he rolled his eyes. “You know, you could’ve just said ‘I want you to come to the dungeon and supervise while Andre ties me up.’”

“But you would’ve said no.”

“Not if you told me Andre would be involved.”

April sighed, and the humor faded slightly. “Listen, I know you. And I know you would have agreed to go, but you wouldn’t have liked it.” She shrugged. “So I thought if you came and hung out with everybody and realized they care about you and are happy to see you, you wouldn’t be so uncomfortable.”

He studied her. “You do know me.”


“Manipulative bitch,” he muttered.

She smacked his leg playfully. “Come on now. You owe me anyway.”

“Oh yeah? So which favor are you cashing in to drag my ass to the dungeon to watch Andre play Dom on your ass?”

April pursed her lips. “Hmm.” She tapped her long nails on the steering wheel as she slowed to a stop at a red light. “Okay, how about that time I babysat Cinnamon for a week and a half, and you didn’t tell me that by ‘French bulldog’ you meant ‘starving woodchuck’?”

“Oh come on. It wasn’t that bad.”

“I had to replace my coffee table!”

Joel smothered a laugh. “Yes, but to be fair, the new one is much nicer than the one she ate.”

She shot him a glare, and he put up his hands.

“All right! All right!” He chuckled. “We’ll call it even.”

“That’s what I thought.” She paused. “And also to be fair, I’m giving you an excuse to be in a room with a hot, sweaty, and undoubtedly hard Andre for an evening.”

“Oh. Gee. Thanks. Because I’m sure he’ll even notice I’m there while he’s busy tying you up.”

“Honey.” She giggled. “I don’t know how much attention you’ve paid to Mr. Andre, but scening with someone turns that boy on something fierce.”

“Yeah? And?”

April groaned. “And he’s gay, Joel. He’ll tie me up, whip me till I can’t move, and then we both know he’ll be in the mood to fuck, but I’m not qualified for that position.” She glanced at him and winked. “Which is where you come in, sweet cheeks.”

Joel gulped. The light turned green, and April pulled through the intersection as Joel’s head spun. She was right, wasn’t she? Andre didn’t always include sex in his scenes. Whenever he finished a sexless scene, though, he had an unmistakable gleam in his eye, and Joel had envied the occasional lucky bastard who happened to be loitering nearby and took Andre up on his advances.

The occasional lucky bastard who was also hot and kinky.

Joel’s heart sank. “You’re assuming he’d be interested in me.”

“Um, yeah.” She glanced at him, eyebrows quirked like he’d lost his mind. “Why wouldn’t he be?”

He sighed. “Can we talk about why he would be? I think that list might be shorter.”

“Honey. Honey.” She pushed out a breath and patted his thigh. “Regardless of what your weasel ex-boyfriend and your dented self-esteem have told you, you are very attractive.”

He shot her a side-eye.

She met his gaze, then looked out the windshield again. “Whatever. Just show up tomorrow and we’ll let nature take its course. ’Kay?”

“Mm-hmm. And let’s say Andre the Horndog is into me for some reason—how long do you think that’ll last? Until his post-scene hard-on is taken care of.”

“So what? Hook up with him. Have a good time. Remind yourself that there is life and sex after Rob. Doesn’t mean you’re gonna start dating the guy.”

He shifted in his seat. “So just let him use me for a night?”

“And you wouldn’t be using him too?”

“Hmm. Hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“A booty call, baby,” she said. “You scratch my male G-spot, I’ll scratch—”

He burst out laughing. “No, let’s not scratch that, thank you very much.”

“You know what I mean. And come on—you’ve had one-night stands before.”

“Yeah, but . . .” Well, she had a point. He’d had more than a few one-night stands before Rob, and had recently been trying to talk himself into having more just to prove that sex was as fun as he remembered it to be. Why would it be any different with Andre? And for that matter, if he did get a night with Andre, that might pull a dent out of his self-esteem and give him a tiny glimmer of hope that he could be desirable to a portion, however small, of the male population. Andre got a post-scene orgasm. Joel got to feel like someone wanted to be naked with him. Everybody won.

“Okay. You’ve convinced me. Let’s do this.”

April laughed—more like cackled. “I knew you’d see things my way.”

He just chuckled.

Is it tomorrow night yet?

Author Bio:
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn't lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies.

She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don't tell Lauren. And definitely don't tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut...



Down by Contact by Sloan Johnson

Title: Down by Contact
Author: Sloan Johnson
Series: Wilmington Breakers #1
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: January 28, 2017

There’ve been two great loves in Zach Kendricks’ life. He lost one because of his commitment to the other.

After Griffin walked away because he refused to live his life in the closet, Zach put everything he had into achieving his football dreams. When he was drafted, he began to understand that Griffin had done the best thing for both of them by leaving. But that doesn’t mean he’s ever forgiven his first love.

Now in his second season with the Wilmington Breakers, Zach’s committed to keeping his head down so he can prove his rookie stats weren’t a fluke. He knows his resolve will be tested when he’s selected to participate in Outside the Pocket, a reality show which follows players through training camp. He’s almost convinced himself it won’t be a distraction when Griffin walks into the room. Distraction becomes an understatement when he’s informed he will be spending nearly every waking minute for the next six weeks with the only man he’s allowed to hurt him.

Will Zach’s love of the game be enough to keep him from being downed by contact again?

 Author Bio:
Sloan Johnson is a big city girl trapped in a country girl’s life. While she longs for the hustle and bustle of New York City or Las Vegas, she hasn’t yet figured out how to sit on the deck with her morning coffee, watching the deer and wild turkeys in the fields while surrounded by concrete and glass.

When she was three, her parents received their first call from the principal asking them to pick her up from school. Apparently, if you aren’t enrolled, you can’t attend classes, even in Kindergarten. The next week, she was in preschool and started plotting her first story soon after.

Later in life, her parents needed to do something to help their socially awkward, uncoordinated child come out of her shell and figured there was no better place than a bar on Wednesday nights. It’s a good thing they did because this is where she found her love of reading and writing. Who needs socialization when you can sit alone in your bedroom with a good book?

Now, Sloan is a tattooed mom with a mohawk and two kids. She’s been kicked out of the PTA in two school districts and is no longer asked to help with fundraisers because she’s been known to lose herself with a good book and forget she has somewhere to be.