Welcome to our Grand Finale celebrations for the amazing
Today's post is all about the Coming About series, with excerpts from all four books. We also have our author interview and one more chance to win one of the author's books!
First up, I Survived Seattle
As if being a deeply closeted gay man living in the South isn't enough, Justice Crawford also suffers from a crippling anxiety disorder. Flying cross country to be the best man in his best friend's wedding probably isn't the best idea, right?
Forced back into the closet after being rejected by his family, Justice has given up on the idea of finding acceptance and love. He has allowed his disorder and his troubled past to keep him from taking a chance, but love might just find him where he least expects it... in Seattle.
Sailor and charter boat captain Nic Valentine is still reeling from the unexpected death of his father, when the man of his dreams-literally-falls into his lap. He thinks he'll never see the man again, but fate has other plans. Nic tries to resist the charms of adorably quirky, nervous Justice, because he has no desire to get tangled up with another closet case.
But when life keeps throwing them together, will Nic decide that Justice might be a keeper after all?
God, he hated to fly. Justice Crawford was, among other things, a bad flyer. How he’d let his best friend Rory convince him to fly cross-country to be the guy’s best man was beyond him. Had he mentioned he hated flying?
See, Justice suffered from certain…neuroses —plural. Damn near crippling anxiety was sprinkled with a nice topping of mild to moderate OCD, with the extreme claustrophobia cherry on top. It was like an ice cream sundae made of crazy. As if being a gay man living in the Bible Belt didn’t make life difficult enough.
So there he was, wedged between Snorey McGeezerpants and the flight attendant’s trolley —with a bonus crying lady in the window seat. Justice always specifically requested an aisle seat, so that he had an easy means of escape, as much as one could have in this tin can.
However, the chirpy, far-too-chipper ‘sky waitress’ had decided that the tiny puddle-jumper was just too damn big to walk her ass up and down the aisle with a trolley, so she parked the thing right by Justice’s seat and went about the business of service with a smile.
Justice’s knee bounced frantically up and down, earning him a dirty look from the crying lady, and he was really starting to sweat. He could already feel that sick roll of his stomach that presented itself just before a full-blown panic attack. Justice knew for a fact that it was only a matter of time before he flipped out on a plane one of these days and got his ass Tasered by an air marshal. It was inevitable, really. As for right now, it was time for another Xanax.
Then would begin the Great War for control of his mind —caffeine versus Alprazolam, upper against downer. That was always fun. But Justice couldn’t live without coffee, and no one needed to see him on a plane without his pills.
Hell, he didn’t even like Rory. Okay, that was a lie. Rory was one of his oldest —and only —friends. Justice had spent a whole semester of college liking Rory entirely too much.
They’d gone to a tiny, extremely liberal private college in the Midwest, and drawn each other in the freshman roommate lottery. Justice had nursed a pretty powerful crush on Rory for the first few weeks of school.
He learned quickly enough that Rory was as straight as they came. At the time, Justice was so deeply planted inside the closet that his true self hid in corners where the light never touched.
He had a very good reason for that, however. Coming out to his parents at seventeen had been nothing short of traumatic not to mention the monumental panic attack leading up to it. His Southern Baptist parents had been horrified, and refused to have anything to do with him if he chose not to ‘change his ways,’ which, of course, he could not do.
They couldn’t accept him for who he was, so he ended up in a shelter for gay teens. It wasn’t much, but he was lucky he’d had it, and he managed to scrape his way through his senior year.
Justice’s grandfather had been the only family member who supported him, and though he couldn’t provide living arrangements since he lived in a retirement home, he gave Justice the money he needed to go to college. For that, Justice was eternally grateful.
He had a graphic arts degree on his wall, and an unflappable best friend. The minute Justice saw how Rory took all of his idiosyncrasies —how he couldn’t handle strangers in their tiny shared dorm room, how he always had to have everything on the desks just so, and how he absolutely couldn’t share clothes —he latched onto the big lug and refused to let go.
Most people thought Rory was just a dumb jock, with nothing going for him but his looks and his baseball swing, but Justice knew better. Rory was sensitive, insightful, and way more intelligent than anyone gave him credit for. And best of all, he had Justice’s back no matter what.
Even knowing that, Justice had never been able to tell Rory he was gay. Not after the disaster with his parents. He just couldn’t bear seeing a look of disgust on that handsome face, even if his heart told him he could trust Rory.
Besides, after they graduated, Rory went home to Seattle, and Justice went back to South Carolina, although he settled in the more progressive Charleston, rather than the small town of Leedsville where he grew up. They hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years and didn’t talk nearly as much as they used to.
That thought saddened Justice, but the truth was he’d lost contact with almost all of his friends, so he was lucky to still have Rory at all. After college, his crazy-sauce had kind of started overflowing, and he just couldn’t deal with relationships, in any form.
But Rory being Rory, he never gave up on Justice. Which was why he was currently marooned somewhere over the Rockies in this flying deathtrap. And the stewardess —because he didn’t give a flying fuck right now if that was the PC term —still held him prisoner with her trolley of doom.
Fuck, the Xanax wasn’t working fast enough. Justice’s pulse thundered; this was the part during a panic attack that usually convinced people they were going into cardiac arrest. He had a white-knuckle grip on the armrest which, of course, no longer folded up on the newer planes.
Justice could feel the bile churn in his stomach; he could taste the acidity of it in the back of his throat. Sweat dripped down the back of his neck, and his vision grayed out and spun. Trying to keep from flipping out, he closed his eyes. Bad idea. The spinning continued, only inside his head.
“Oh my God,” he whispered to himself. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
The stewardess had returned to her cart, so Justice reached out and tapped her arm ever so lightly, because God forbid he get pegged as a belligerent passenger.
She gave him an absent look over her shoulder. “Yes?”
Justice willed himself not to sound as crazed as he felt. “Um, I really need to get up. Would you mind scooting up for a second?”
She frowned at him, obviously annoyed, but didn’t stop counting out change for someone’s cocktail. “Sir, I’ll be finished in just a few moments. Please be patient.”
“I understand ma’am, and I hate to slow you down but —“
“Sir! I’ll be with you in a moment.”
He fought the urge to bark at her as she completely dismissed him and went about her business. The fact that she refused to let him out just ramped up his anxiety level to a fever pitch. He had to get up. He had to, or he might just start screaming and never stop. He’d get restrained. They’d have to land the plane. He’d get arrested. He’d be put on the no-fly list —as if that would be a problem. But then, he’d miss the wedding.
Before he knew it, Justice was hyperventilating so violently that the old man next to him woke with a start. He took one look at Justice and turned his attention to the flight attendant, catching her eye.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry to be a bother, but I have to use the restroom,” the old man said. “I’m afraid I don’t have the stamina I used to, and I don’t want to embarrass myself.” He managed to sound pathetically frail and authoritative at the same time.
The flight attendant was immediately sympathetic. “Of course, sir. My apologies.” She moved her cart up a few rows and continued serving.
Justice climbed out of his seat to let his seat mate pass, but not before he caught a wink from the old guy. So he’d recognized Justice’s plight. Although Justice was incredibly grateful, he couldn’t help feeling the flush of embarrassment heat his cheeks. “Thanks,” he mumbled, looking at his shoes.
The old man patted Justice on the shoulder. “No problem, Sonny Boy. Used to be a bit scared to fly m’self.” He toddled off to the lavatory, and Justice didn’t bother to correct him.
Justice wasn’t afraid of flying. He was afraid of not having enough air. He was afraid of being closed in with all those sweaty, shifty people, and their various germs. It freaked him out that the only escape from those things was plummeting to his death. Was that so strange?
Justice sat on the lid of the plastic airplane toilet with his head between his legs. He was trying to wait out the panic attack. He couldn’t leave the lavatory until he felt stable enough to handle being stuck out there.
One of the worst things about his panic attacks was constantly feeling like he was going to vomit, but rarely actually having the release of doing so. He’d probably feel better if he could. Instead, he just sat there curled up in a plane bathroom, trying to control his breathing and not pass out. God, why the fuck did Rory have to live in fucking Seattle?
A faint tremor racked the plane, and this time Justice had to swallow to keep from puking. He needed to get back to his seat before he passed out in the bathroom. He splashed some water on his face from the tiny fiberglass sink and steeled himself to go back into the stale, stagnant air of the tight cabin.
Checking himself in the mirror, Justice grimaced at what he saw. On a good day, he was decent looking, but nothing to write home about. His dark brown hair was a bit drab, and curled just a little too much for him to keep it in check. His skin stayed pretty pale unless he made it a point to tan, but being in the sun had given him a smattering of freckles across his nose.
Right now, his skin was a sallow, clammy gray, with yellowish smudges under his eyes. Normally a vivid green, his eyes looked dull and glassy. His forehead and the back of his neck were slick with perspiration, making his wet hair stick to his skin.
Basically, he was a hot mess.
Justice jiggled the sliding door until it opened for him. He took a deep breath and began to squirm down the aisle. It was so small; a grown man couldn’t even walk without turning sideways.
He’d only passed about four rows when the plane gave a violent lurch and listed slightly to the left. It was just enough for Justice to lose his footing and stumble against the row of seats beside him. When the stationary armrest came in contact with the backs of his knees, he fell backwards onto the lap of the passenger in seat 26C.
Warm, strong hands clutched his waist to steady him, and Justice looked up into the most startling blue eyes he’d ever seen. The man who stared down at him had that salty, beach look that made Justice think he might be a surfer.
His sun-bleached blond hair was shaggy, and fell just a couple of inches below his chin, and he had it tucked behind his ears. He had a deep tan, the kind you didn’t get in a booth, and those blue eyes might as well have been reflecting the water somewhere in the Caribbean.
Those eyes crinkled rather sexily with mischief as he looked down at Justice sputtering in his lap. Justice was lucky the guy didn’t punch him. Thankfully, it didn’t even look as if he wanted to punch him.
Because of his anxiety disorder, Justice could be quite socially inept at times, and this lent itself to a certain amount of verbal diarrhea at the worst moments. This, of course, was one of those times.
Justice was transfixed by the little crinkles at the corners of the guy’s eyes, because it looked as if he smiled often, and well. “Well, hello there, sailor.”
This time he was sure a fiery blush covered his cheeks as he realized what he’d said. He wasn’t out to anyone, really, outside his hometown, so such blatant flirting was way out of character.
Justice’s words made Surfer Boy laugh, and he flashed his perfect white teeth. All of his old Matthew McConaughey fantasies flared to life, and Justice had to struggle not to drool.
The silence stretched on, with nothing between them but Justice’s blurted words and the guy’s cheeky grin.
“Erm…I guess I should get off you then. Sorry about that.”
Those big hands tightened briefly at his sides before they helped him to stand. “No harm done,” Surfer Boy said with a wink.
Still standing in the aisle, Justice couldn’t tear himself away from the hot stranger. He could still feel the warmth where he touched him. All of his blood was rapidly pooling below his belt, which wasn’t such a good idea after Xanax, coffee, and a near panic attack. He began to feel lightheaded again.
The man reached a work-roughened hand toward him and smiled again. “I’m Nic.”
Justice took his hand, and he swore he felt a zing of electricity. He always made fun of ideas like that from books or movies, but he couldn’t deny it was what happened.
“Justice. Come here often?”
“As little as possible,” Nic answered.
“Omigod, I can’t believe I just said that. That…I do that a lot. I say things.”
Nic’s smile grew increasingly wider as Justice babbled, but he couldn’t stop.
“I don’t normally…you know…sit on people’s laps. I just…I’m gonna go die now.”
Justice didn’t give himself time to create any further embarrassment. He turned on his heel and made to head back to his seat. The plane chose that moment to take another violent dip. Since Justice was already dizzy again, his stomach roiled. He clamped hand over his mouth in case he didn’t make it to the lavatory, and ran for it.
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Book 2, Love And The Real Boy
How much heartache can one man take before he breaks? Rich Langston asks himself that question every day.
A Seattle advertising exec who uses his designer suit and showy car like a suit of armor, Rich refuses to let the world get to him. His traumatic childhood has ruined any faith he had in people, friendship, and love. After a meltdown that led to him alienating everyone in his life, Rich agrees to help with the restoration of an antique sailboat as a form of penance.
Roped into heading up with the boat repair by his mother, marine restorer Patrick O’Dowd finds himself having to babysit a moody, spoiled rich boy with absolutely no carpentry experience. His easy-going nature is sorely tested, but he quickly realizes that things are not always what they seem; sometimes a fancy suit is nothing but an elaborate deflection from what’s real.
Through unavoidable personality clashes and fierce attraction, both Rich and Patrick explore their hidden pain and inner demons, and they end up finding with what really matters—love.
Patrick was taking measurements for the new mast that day. He hoped to be able to find something compatible with the model and vintage of the Galeocerdo at the O’Dowd woodworking shop. A brand-spanking-new metal mast just wouldn’t look right on a fifty year old mostly wooden vessel.
He was doing some calculations in his head when his attention strayed down to the pier where Rich was measuring and cutting lumber to repair some holes in the boat deck. The man had taken his shirt off, and his upper body was slick with sweat—mouthwatering.
Patrick frowned when he noticed a strange man striding purposefully down the pier toward Rich. He was probably a little older than Patrick himself, his dark hair peppered with gray, and judging by his tailored suit and briefcase, he wasn’t at the marina for boating.
Because he was looking down at his work and he wore earplugs to drown out the sound of the saw, Rich didn’t notice the visitor until he was right beside him. Rich finished the board he was cutting, turned off the saw, and pulled out his earplugs. When he turned and saw the man standing right next to him, he jumped visibly, his hands balling into fists.
Patrick couldn’t hear their hushed conversation from his vantage point on the boat, but he could tell Rich was pissed, his body clearly rife with tension. He had a very emotive face, and he talked with his hands, especially when he was upset…which was often. And those hands were flailing as he argued with the man.
Finally the stranger left Rich alone, and he started furiously stacking the cut pieces of lumber. He looked angry for sure, but Patrick also knew wide-eyed fear when he saw it—it was the same expression he wore when he was forced to spend a day on the water. In that moment, Patrick figured out exactly who the stranger had been.
Setting aside his notebook, Patrick climbed down the ladder to the dock, where he found Rich, red-faced and panting, staring out across the water.
“You okay?” he asked, approaching with caution.
Rich’s shoulders tensed even more—if that was possible—and his reply was cold and clipped. “I’m fine, thanks.”
“That was the PI, wasn’t it? Was he pressuring you about your brother?” Patrick asked, unused to the feeling of protectiveness that seized him.
Rich turned to face him slowly, pinning him in place with an icy glare. “I told you about that in a moment of…weakness, but it really is none of your fucking business.”
Oh, hell no. He was not going to pull that rich-boy, too-cool-for-school shit with Patrick. He’d talked to Rory and Justice over drinks. He knew all about Rich blackmailing Justice, then outing him—something that was particularly unthinkable to do to another gay man. Patrick knew for damn sure that Rich had a streak of mean in him, but he was also sure there was a deeper, more upsetting reason behind his behavior. The problem with Rory had been that he just let it roll off his back. It was the mark of a good friend—but a friend, Patrick was not. And he certainly wasn’t going to be pushed around by Rich.
Patrick grabbed him by the back of his neck, roughly hauling him around the corner of one of the storage outbuildings and shoving him back against the side wall.
“The fuck are you doing?” Rich spat.
To shut him up, Patrick laid his forearm against Rich’s neck—not cutting off his airway, just pressing close enough to feel his Adam’s apple bob. Then he got right up in Rich’s face, pressing his entire body against the other man’s.
“Shut. The fuck. Up,” he growled. “Do I look like Rory to you? Right, I’m not, so I’m not going to take shite from you when you decide to be a dick because something hits too close to home.”
Rich’s eyes widened, then he flushed and looked away.
“I know what you did to Justice.”
Rich winced, but said nothing. He’d probably long since realized there was no defense for what he’d done.
“But I don’t think you’re that kind of guy…not really,” he said, talking over Rich when he started to protest. “You know what, though?” he asked, gesturing back toward the restoration crew. “All of these people came out to do something nice for a guy they barely know. Why? Because Rory and Justice—hell, probably even Nic—are the kind of guys people show up for.”
Rich swallowed hard, and his halting breath shuddered out of him. Patrick almost felt bad; he knew it was a low blow, but the guy really needed a wakeup call.
“But you, mate…you’re all alone right now, and it seems like it’s because you don’t let people in. I know I’m not your boyfriend, or even your friend probably. But I am the guy who happened to be around when all this shit with your brother started going down—and I’ve a sturdy shoulder if you need leanin'.”
Rich was breathing hard, and though he’d been easy to read so far, for once Patrick didn’t have a clue what he was thinking. He thought maybe he’d gotten through to the guy.
“You…,” Rich started, reaching out to fist a hand in Patrick’s shirt. “You unbelievable pompous asshole! Who the hell do you think you are? What right do you have to say this shit to me? You don’t even know me.”
Patrick blinked at the unexpected ferocity, then sighed and removed his arm from Rich’s throat, but still kept his other hand on the back of his neck. “You’d be wrong about that. I might be the only one who really does know you, as you are right now.”
Rich actually snarled at that, and the expression went straight to Patrick’s dick. With pressure on the back of Rich’s neck, Patrick dragged the man in for a fierce, devouring kiss. Rich was having none of it; he bit down hard on Patrick’s bottom lip and pulled away. Blood trickled down Patrick’s chin. He swiped it with the back of his free hand and grinned. Rich’s pupils dilated, and his mouth dropped open, before he yanked Patrick forward by his collar and crushed their mouths together.
Intense—that was really the only way Patrick could describe it. Rich’s fingers were digging into his collarbone, then his shoulders, then his back. He tasted blood, along with the heady taste of Rich himself. Rich wrapped his body around Patrick, grinding his stiffening cock against his hip as if he were trying to crawl inside. It was such a sudden change in demeanor, it left Patrick feeling dizzy and off kilter.
So fighting turned the guy on? Patrick filed that away for the future, because he could totally get down with some angry sex. He broke the kiss to feast on Rich’s neck, all open-mouthed kisses and scraping teeth. It was a spot—and a taste—he was quickly becoming addicted to.
“It was the PI,” Rich confirmed between gasps, while Patrick went about his work. “He came to pressure me to make a decision…says John-Michael is getting anxious to meet with me.”
Patrick stopped kissing and nuzzled behind Rich’s ear, savoring the spicy scent. “You’ve the right to take as much time as you need.”
“Mmm,” was all Rich said.
Patrick straightened up to his full height and looked Rich in the eyes. “Want to come back to mine after work?”
Rich shrugged, but he also smiled just a little. Score one for Ireland, Patrick thought.
“I’m already down the rabbit hole, so I might as well,” Rich answered.
Patrick let out a full-on belly laugh and slapped Rich on the back. “That’s my boy!”
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Book 3, Unbreak Broken
It’s never too late to start over.
Rory Donovan’s life is a hot mess. His marriage is failing and he’s in intensive psychotherapy, working through the unfortunate side effects of memories from a childhood trauma. The only thing good in his life right now is his job—teaching photography to gifted high school students.
Harbor Patrol officer Bennett Foster is co-parenting his teenage daughter with his high school best friend Jessie. When he meets Addison’s teacher and realizes they’ve met before, he can’t get the sexy stranger out of his head.
Striking up a sexual-tension-filled friendship, together they must help an angsty teenager deal with a dying friend. Bennett must keep his little family from falling apart while Rory struggles to come to terms with his new reality. Somewhere along the way, most unexpectedly…love happens.
Thursday at four came all too soon. I was elbow deep in planning for the photography club presentation I planned to do for my classes the following week to try and drum up interest. I’d completely forgotten about the meeting with Addison’s parents, at least that day I had. So naturally, when the most striking man I’d ever seen walked into my classroom, I was just a bit confused.
I looked from him down to the paperwork on my desk, then back to him, and blinked. I was comfortable enough in my masculinity that I could appreciate the human form in either sex. Also, while I was what many would describe as a ‘gentle giant,’ it was rare that I found another human being who dwarfed my six-four, one-ninety-pound frame. However, this guy had me beat. He was a goddamned linebacker, all heavy, packed muscle and towering height. It actually made me feel kind of happy to not be the Sasquatch—as my friends had fondly dubbed me—in the room for once.
I got a vague impression of spiky blond hair, sea-green eyes, and two days’ worth of stubble over a chiseled jaw, before I started mentally admonishing myself for checking out a guy. The thing was, though, he also looked vaguely familiar, but I just couldn’t put my finger on from where.
“Hi. Can I help you?” I asked. I clambered out from behind my desk, because I’d never been mistaken for graceful, and then I unfolded to my full awkward height. I got another happy chill when I noticed I had to look up slightly to meet his eyes.
A line formed between his bushy, dirty-blond brows. He cocked his head and studied me with an intensity that had me shifting from foot to foot.
“Oh, uh…I’m supposed to be meeting with my daughter’s teacher, Mr. Donovan. I’m Bennett Foster,” he said, extending a hand for me to shake.
I just stared at it dumbly for a few seconds before pulling myself together and shaking it. What in the actual fuck is my problem? “Oh, of course! I’m sorry, I got caught up in work and I forgot all about it for a minute.”
“Not a problem,” he said before flashing me a hundred-watt smile. “Jessie is running a little late, but she should be here any minute now.”
“Great. Addison is in the library. I thought we’d talk just us adults first, and then call her in. You want to have a seat?” I gestured to some chairs I’d set up in a loose circle. Since much of our class was studio-style, we had a lot of loose chairs and easels, in addition to the standard student desks. I found it came in handy for parent conferences because what adult wanted to try and wedge themselves into those desks?
“Sure thing.” Mr. Foster took one of the blue chairs, and I sank down into the one beside him. He furrowed his brow and again seemed to be studying me. “This is going to sound like some cheesy pickup line, but have we met before?”
I sighed with some relief, because at least I wasn’t the only one having that feeling. “I’m not sure, but you definitely look familiar.”
His eyes drifted away from my face and he seemed lost in thought for a moment. I startled when he suddenly snapped his fingers and said “aha!”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you. I just remembered where I know you from.”
“I’m a friend of Patrick O’Dowd. We met briefly on the Galeocerdo restoration.”
As soon as he said that, it all clicked into place. My best friend Justice’s now-husband had gotten himself shipwrecked during a squall the year before. Justice’s wedding present to Nic was to have his antique sailboat put back together. Some of the harbor patrol officers who’d helped rescue Nic had even come out to lend a hand. And if I wasn’t mistaken, I was looking at one of them.
I gave Mr. Foster a genuine smile because if it hadn’t been for him and the others, Justice would’ve lost Nic, and I would’ve lost my best friend to his grief. “Of course, I remember now. Harbor Patrol. You came with your partner, right? I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten his name.”
“Neal Hesse,” he supplied.
“Well…Mr. Foster, I’m sure you’ve heard all of this before but…from the bottom of my heart, thank you for what you did for Nic Valentine. Losing him would’ve destroyed Justice.”
The man’s smile was slow to build, but when it came, I couldn’t look away from it. “Please, call me Bennett. And you’re very welcome. I love my job—it gives me the opportunity to help people while being out on the water… No place I’d rather be.”
“Bennett,” I repeated, committing it to memory.
He gave me a wink and then checked his phone because it had chirped a moment ago. “Jess is about five minutes away.” Stowing the phone in his pocket, Bennett looked back at me. “If I remember correctly from what Patrick told me, you’d just gotten married not too long before Nic’s wreck. That was you, right?”
It was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. The school was usually my safe place, where I didn’t have to talk or even think about my problems with Maia. Unfortunately, sometimes I had to deal with adults, and adults liked to small talk. Though my body had tensed up to the point of pain, I managed a nod and a tight smile.
“Yep, that was me.”
Concern flooded the other man’s expression. Clearly, I hadn’t played it off quite as smoothly as I’d hoped. His hand shot out and clasped my shoulder. He leaned toward me and looked right in my eyes.
I just stared at him like an idiot, blinking rapidly and trying to gather the tattered edges of my mental composure. My marriage was off limits. Yet, for some reason, my body longed to lean into the touch of someone with such a commanding yet protective presence, and my heart longed to let go of the pain I’d been internalizing. It was ridiculous.
I dipped my chin and eyed his hand on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t shrugged it off yet. He followed my gaze, and when he saw what I was looking at, he jerked his hand back and his face turned slightly red. He cleared his throat nervously.
“Sorry about that. I’m kind of a handsy person. I’m like that with everyone. Jess always says it’s going to be the death of me one day. Or at least get me a couple of black eyes.”
Giving an awkward chuckle, I tried to smile. “It’s okay, really. No harm. I just—”
“Sorry I’m late! My deposition ran absurdly long.”
I wasn’t really sure what I’d been getting ready to say when the tall, slender woman with waves of honey-blonde hair came bounding into the room. Her natural exuberance seemed to draw all of the attention in the room to her like a magnet.
Ms. Jones wore a steel gray suit jacket and pencil skirt with ridiculously high heels that still managed to look classy. She stepped into the middle of the circle of chairs with her arm outstretched, then treated me to a firm, almost painful handshake.
“So sorry I’m late, Mr. Donovan. I’m Addy’s mother. You can call me Jessie.”
“Nice to meet you, Jessie.”
“Rory and I were just figuring out that we’ve already met,” Bennett offered.
Jessie lowered herself gently into the chair on the other side of Bennett, then turned to him with arms crossed and brows raised. “Oh, Rory, is it?”
Seemingly oblivious to what I thought she was implying, Bennett just smiled and nodded. “He was working on the little ketch Paddy was restoring. He’s friends with the owner.”
“Oh, yeah?” Jessie said, turning back to me. “Small world.”
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Book 4, Force Of Nature
Everyone knows that bonds formed under extreme circumstances never last.
Harbor Patrol officer Neal Hesse has had his life turned upside down by a sudden break-up with his partner of ten years. After sleeping his way through Seattle failed to take his mind off his broken heart, he decides to take a leave of absence from work to find himself again. He hires a professional wilderness guide to take him up into the mountains, so he can get away from everything and live off the grid for a few days.
Travis “Rock” McCreary, ex-Army Ranger turned survivalist, hates doing guided excursions, but it’s his primary source of income while he’s working towards getting his own survival show. Working in such a testosterone-fueled profession has forced him so deep into the closet, he feels like he might never see the light of day again, which makes it even harder to put on a friendly face for his happy, normal clients.
When Rock is hired by clumsy city-boy Neal to take him up into the North Cascades for a survival adventure, his patience and his resolve are tested at every turn. He has to teach Neal to survive in the wilderness while fighting an attraction he can’t allow himself to act on. When their trip doesn’t go as planned, Neal’s getaway turns into a true survival situation, and he and Rock are forced to rely on each other to stay alive. If they make it out of the wilderness, can their newfound connection survive in the real world?
*Possible trigger warning: situations where consent may appear dubious.
Neal looked up from the couch he’d commandeered at the Clean Bean to see Patrick heading toward him, with Bennett and Rory close behind, followed by Justice and Nic. Bennett had said Rich had to work, and Neal was infinitely grateful that they’d left all teenagers out of this. It was the first time he’d left his apartment since returning from the mountains three days earlier—after having basically slept for two days straight.
“Back from the great beyond, he is,” Paddy joked in his mild Irish brogue. He sat down next to Neal and leaned into him. “Everyone missed you. Come on, give us a kiss.” He puckered his lips comically.
Neal pushed Paddy’s face away with his palm. “I hate you,” he grumbled.
Bennett and Rory sat down across from them, chuckling, and Nic and Justice had pulled up another small table. Patrick pretend-pouted—he looked ridiculous. “Aww, don’ be like that, mate. All right, then, let’s hear it. How was your adventure with MacGyver? You’re not dead, I see, so that’s a plus,” he said, then frowned. “Although I did hear things got a bit dodgy at the end there.”
Neal was still a little stunned by all that had changed in such a short time. “It was…”
After waiting a tick, Patrick filled the silence. “Well, that’s a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one. Did you at least find what you were looking for, then?”
Did he? “I…yes, I think so. But it came with a lot of new problems.”
“How so?” Bennett asked in a much quieter tone than their brazen Irish friend.
“MacGyver is gay.”
“Wait. What?” Patrick asked. Then he shrugged. “Eh, it was the eighties. Everyone was gay back then.”
Neal had to laugh at the pure absurdity of his friend. “Not the real MacGyver, idiot. Rock McCreary. Gay. And buried in the closet.”
“Oooh,” his friends said in unison.
“Oi, well it’s not like you slept with him in the woods, yeah?” Patrick replied cheerfully.
Bennett was not subtle at all about kicking him under the table. When Paddy looked at him with a wounded dog expression, he cut his gaze over to Neal’s direction. Neal’s face was blazing hot with what he could only imagine was a fiery blush; damn his German paleness.
“Christ, you didn’t.”
Neal resented Patrick’s judgment because he slutted around Seattle plenty before he settled down with Rich. “Look, it was cold. Two consenting adults sharing body heat. One thing led to another… Anyway, that’s not the point.”
“Screwing the survivalist isn’t the point? Well then, what is the bloody point?”
“Jesus, Paddy, you can be so thick.” Bennett turned a sympathetic look Neal’s way, and as much as Neal loved Bennett, it made him want to punch him. “The point is he obviously got attached to the guy. The closeted guy.”
Neal scrubbed a hand over his face. “I think it’s one of those traumatic event attachment deals. Right? It’s gotta be. I’ve only known the guy a week.”
“Sometimes that’s all it takes,” Justice said quietly, looking at his husband with huge, limpid eyes. They’d met and fallen in love during Justice’s short vacation to Seattle for Rory’s doomed first wedding. Of course, they’d had a lot to overcome before they were able to actually be together.
“Just because things are typically done a certain way doesn’t mean they’re always done that way,” Justice continued, as Bennett, Rory, and Patrick went up to get drinks.
“No, I get what you’re saying, and if everything else was peachy, I’d ask the guy out, see where it went… But I don’t think I could do the whole closet thing.” Neal looked up at Justice, wondering what nuggets of wisdom he had for that situation.
He just shrugged. “Did you expect me to be all ‘Fuck the closet, go get your man’? Sorry, I don’t blame you for not wanting to step on that hornets’ nest. I was closeted—for some very real reasons—and I can tell you it does a number on a person’s emotional state. It makes it hard to open up and almost impossible to love.” He gave Neal a sympathetic smile. “I feel for the guy because I can totally identify with that headspace, but you’re my friend and I don’t want to see you hurt. Again.”
With a sad smile, he stood up to go get his and Nic’s drinks, squeezing his husband’s shoulder as he passed.
To be honest, Neal had kind of hoped for a pep talk—somebody to tell him that the connection he’d felt snapping between him and Travis was worth trying to work something out. But honestly, if Justice and Rory, two of the most sickeningly optimistic and lovey-dovey people he’d ever met, didn’t tell him to go for it, that seemed like the death of all hope.
“Justice isn’t giving you the whole story, you know,” Nic said.
Neal jumped because he’d completely zoned out and forgotten the man was still sitting there. “What story?”
“The whole in-the-closet story. I was in that situation before Justice. I was with a man who was closeted—he was a lawyer, like Tony, but he thought being out would affect his career—so I was basically his dirty little secret. It didn’t end well and only partly because he was cheating on me. I was living a half-life, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Neal sighed heavily and pillowed his head on his arms. So everyone was pretty much on board with thinking he should let it go.
Neal raised his head. “But?”
“But then I met Justice. Who was also closeted.”
“Well, damn. So you—”
“I went out with him anyway. Becoming another secret lover was not a situation I ever wanted to be in again, and I told Justice that from the beginning, but that didn’t stop us from exploring what we were feeling. I thought to myself, ‘What if he’s the one?’ Circumstances change, people change, and I know I would always be thinking of that missed opportunity.”
“But Justice is out now. I don’t see Rock—Travis—ever doing that.”
Nic nodded. “He might not. That’s something he has to do for himself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show him what he could have on the other side of that door, you know? That’s what I did with Justice. It wasn’t easy. He had to take some time, work on some things, straighten stuff out in his own head, but he did it. And I was there for him. Now, I can’t imagine having passed on that opportunity.” He gave a little shudder, as if he were really imagining what life without his husband would be like.
Wisdom had come from, of all people, the long-haired, wannabe-surfer boat captain. Neal had to at least talk to Travis. To let him know what he could have. He couldn’t force the man to come out, but he could at least tell him how he felt. “I have to go,” he said, almost absently, as he stood up.
“Go on, get your man. I’ll tell the boys something came up.”
Neal stopped and looked at Nic. “Thanks.”
“Anytime. Now go!”
Get the book:
- What inspires you? What gets you writing?
I get inspired by art of any kind. A snippet of a poem, something I see on tv, a song. One time I even got inspired by a rock I found! One thing that never fails to get me writing is taking a nice long drive. Unless my kids are in the car!
- What's your writing process? Seat of your pants, lots of sticky notes, complex spreadsheets?
I’m first and foremost a pantser. I’ve tried all of the above and more to try to plot a head, and every now and them something works, but I usually can’t stick with it LOL. I typically just get an idea in my head and sit down and bang out a barebones story.
- Which character from your books is your favorite, and why?
That’s like asking me to choose between my children! But probably Rory from Unbreak Broken resonates with me the most. He was so damaged, yet always tried to seem happy and make sure everyone around him was okay. I was glad to finally give him his happy ending.
- Which character is your least favorite, and why?
It’s a tie between Drs. Sheldon and Calloway from Strong Medicine, because they are an amalgam of all of the bad doctors/therapists I’ve had and what I didn’t like about them.
- If you could go back into one of your books and change one thing, what would that be? And why?
I’m honestly happy with all of my published works as they are, and I wouldn’t change a thing other than any typos/mistakes that a million rounds of editing didn’t catch. But if I could go back to the first novel I ever wrote (which I never even submitted to publishers), I would’ve made it m/m instead of m/f. I have written in both of those pairings, but this particular (probably boring, cliché) story would’ve been so much more fun as an m/m novel.
- What's next for you? What amazing book are you working on?
I’ve got no less than four WIPs going on right now, more if you count loosely jotted down plotbunnies, so I’m hoping to have a lot of releases this year. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter to keep up to date on those. I have an NA m/m romance coming out with NineStar Press this summer called The Perfect Shine, and I have a *free* online series releasing chapter by chapter which you can check out here: http://jkhogan.com/about-stray. Stray also includes illustrations by web artist Somber Illusory Soda.
- Anything else you'd like to share with your readers?
I love you all, and I love interacting with you online! Feel free to contact me on any of my social media accounts, I’d love to chat with you! I also have a facebook group that I run with a handful of other amazing m/m authors, that’s mainly just for chatting, fun stuff, and book recs, but there are also announcements about when any of us have new books out, etc. We’d love to have you join!
More about J.K. Hogan:
J.K. Hogan has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, beginning with writing cast lists and storylines for her toys growing up. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, magic happened. She is greatly inspired by all kinds of music and often creates a “soundtrack” for her stories as she writes them. J.K. is hoping to one day have a little something for everyone, so she’s branched out from m/f paranormal romance and added m/m contemporary romance. Who knows what’s next?
- Facebook Page
- Facebook Group
- YouTube Channel
She also offers book cover design & graphics.
Thanks for celebrating this fabulous author with us all month long. We hope you found out some interesting tidbits and some new-to-you books to add to your TBR list.
Until next time, happy reading!