Welcome to our third week of celebrations for the immensely talented
In today's post, we'll talk about Venetian Masks, The Pillar, and Speechless, plus a personal story Kim has chosen to share, and another chance to win all the way down at the end.
First up, Venetian Masks
Jeff Dawkins’s last partner left him with a mortgage he can’t afford and nonrefundable tickets for a month’s vacation in Europe. Despite a reluctance to travel, Jeff decides to go on the trip anyway. After all, he’s already paid for it. He packs a Kindle loaded with gay romance novels and arrives in Venice full of trepidation. There he meets the handsome and charming expat Cleve Prieto, who offers to serve as his tour guide. Jeff has serious misgivings—he wasn’t born yesterday, and something about Cleve doesn’t sit right—but anything is better than wandering the canals alone. With Cleve’s help, Jeff falls in love with Venice and begins to reconcile with his past. For the first time, Jeff finds himself developing strong feelings for someone else. But he can’t be sure who that person is because Cleve’s background remains a mystery embroidered with lies.
Then a dark figure from Cleve’s past appears, and Jeff must choose whether to let Cleve flee alone or to join him on a desperate run through central Europe. Maybe Jeff will finally be able to see behind Cleve’s masks—if he survives the journey.
His pizza took up an entire large plate. It had a thin, crispy crust and less gooey cheese than he was used to. But the tomato sauce tasted fresh and not too sweet, and the spices were just right. He decided he approved of Italian pizza, and he ended up eating the entire pie. Then, because the waitress didn’t seem in any hurry to kick him out, he ordered an espresso and leaned back in his chair and just observed.
He hadn’t really noticed while he was walking, but now he saw that the majority of people around him were also tourists. They spoke in a cacophony of languages—English, German, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, French, as well as others he didn’t recognize—and for a while he amused himself by trying to guess what country people were from. He watched them snap pictures and pore over maps and guidebooks, and for the first time, he felt slightly caught up in the adventure of his journey. He was sitting at a sidewalk café in fucking Venice, for Christ’s sake! How many people around the world dreamed of doing just that, would give their eyeteeth to be where he was right now?
And, he reminded himself slightly smugly, he wasn’t in Sacramento. He wasn’t tossing and turning in his lonely bed, waiting for the alarm to buzz all too early so he could put on his khakis and button-down shirt and spend the day amongst cubicles, with the smell of toner cartridges and bad coffee permeating the air.
He was, in fact, comfortable. And he had quite a view, not only of the tourists and the canal and the picturesque bridge, all of which were very pleasant, but also of the really hot guy who was seated a few tables over. He looked to be a couple years younger than Jeff. His hair was a little shaggy, but sleek and with a bit of a wave to it, and some color that was a little too red to be dark brown. Auburn, maybe. His jacket was draped over the back of his chair so that he sat there in a tight, silky-looking shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His forearms were fascinating: sinewy and strong-looking and covered in intricate sleeve tattoos. Jeff realized abruptly that he might have sort of an arm kink.
But the rest of the man was interesting as well. His face was squarish, with a strong chin and generous lips, and his eyes appeared to be a deep brown beneath expressive brows. He was seated a little too far away for Jeff to make out what the guy was saying, or even in which language, but the man was obviously deep in a serious conversation with his dining partner. Jeff could see only the back of that man, and all he could make out was graying hair and stiffly set shoulders.
Then the younger man looked slightly to the side and caught Jeff staring. Jeff blushed and looked away, but not quickly enough to miss the way those lips quirked into a half smile.
Jeff abruptly stood and—having already paid—left the café. But he couldn’t resist a glance over his shoulder, and when he looked back, he discovered that the tattooed guy was watching him leave.
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Secondly, we have The Pillar
During his youth, orphaned thief Faris was flogged at the pillar in the town square and left to die. But a kind old man saved him, gave him a home, and taught him a profession. Now Faris is the herbalist for the town of Zidar, taking care of the injured and ill. He remains lonely, haunted by his past, and insecure about how his community views him. One night, despite his reluctance, he saves a dying slave from the pillar.
A former soldier, Boro has spent the last decade as a brutalized slave. Herbs and ointment can heal his physical wounds, but both men carry scars that run deep. Bound by the constraints of law and social class in 15th century Bosnia, Faris and Boro must overcome powerful enemies to protect the fragile happiness they’ve found.
The rain had stopped while he was in the kafana, but clouds still shrouded the sky. The square was lit only by the tendrils of light that escaped through the kafana’s shutters and, off to one side, a lamp that hung over the entrance to the small mosque.
But even in the dark, Faris knew what surrounded him. Over near the mosque was a small grassy plot where a few wealthy families had paid to have themselves buried, their white gravestones glinting slightly in the lamplight. Beyond that, the covered well where people could wash before prayers. On the opposite side of the square, a shop that sold cured meats and another that offered rugs of mediocre quality. The fourth side of the square held an odd-shaped building where men might buy a midday meal—trout and boiled greens, perhaps, or a meat-filled pastry. Like the other shops and the mosque, it was closed for the night.
All the buildings were constructed of gray stone. The town was so famous for its skilled stonework that it had been named Zidar, mason, to commemorate the profession. In the center of the square was a tall pillar made of the same stone as the buildings and the Old Bridge. It was old too, and very solid.
A dying man was tied to the pillar.
Faris couldn’t see him due to the dark and the distance from the kafana doorway. But he knew the man was there. Faris imagined he could almost smell the coppery hint of blood, the ammonia tang of urine voided in pain and terror.
He stood for a long time in front of the closed kafana door, staring into the darkness, the satchel heavy on his shoulder. He might have stood there forever, but a gust of wind blew through the alleys, bringing with it a fresh splatter of raindrops. Only a drizzle now, but another downpour might follow. Or the night could grow colder still. Walking slowly, he crossed to the center of the square.
The man was slumped head down with his forehead against the pillar, his entire weight borne by his wrists, which were bound by knotted rope to heavy iron rings set into the stone post. If any shreds of clothing remained, they weren’t visible. He was so still that at first Faris thought he had arrived too late—and the thought filled him with both relief and regret. But then he heard the man’s breathing, shallow and harsh.
Faris removed a knife from his satchel and sawed at the thick ropes attaching the man to the post. The man started to fall, but Faris was prepared for that and bore the man’s weight. He laid the knife on the cobbles and tried to ease the man down to the pavement as gently as possible, taking care to settle him on his side, where the wounds would be less terrible. Faris put away the knife and squinted into the night. As he’d expected, someone had left a handcart nearby. No doubt it had been Ibro. If anyone asked Mirsada about it, she would shrug. “He’s a boy and careless that way. I’m always yelling at him to put things back where they belong.”
Faris wheeled the cart as close to the pillar as possible. With considerable difficulty, he lifted the man, but his grip slipped a bit and the man thudded into the cart harder than intended. At impact, the man moaned harshly. That was good—he wasn’t past feeling and reacting to pain. Faris resettled him on his side, his body curled to fit the small confines of the cart.
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And now, Speechless:
Travis Miller has a machining job, a cat named Elwood, and a pathetic love life. The one bright spot in his existence is the handsome guitar player he sometimes passes on his way home from work. But when he finally gathers the courage to speak to the man, Travis learns that former novelist Drew Clifton suffers from aphasia: Drew can understand everything Travis says, but he is unable to speak or write.
The two lonely men form a friendship that soon blossoms into romance. But communication is only one of their challenges-there's also Travis's inexperience with love and his precarious financial situation. If words are the bridge between two people, what will keep them together?
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Also available under the Speechless series title:
The Gig (Speechless #2)
Travis' Birthday (Speechless #2.5, free!)
Kim's personal story:
In July 2002, I went to Europe for a couple of weeks with a group of professors. It was only my second trip outside of the US, and when I arrived in Budapest, the temperatures were well above 100F. We were staying in a beautiful historic hotel—with no air-conditioning. I tried asking the maid for a fan, but she didn’t speak English and my little Hungarian-English phrasebook was not helpful. I tried hand gestures… and she brought me a blowdryer. Then she sent for a cute young guy who did speak English. He apologetically explained that they had no more fans available, and instead he brought me a couple bottles of Coke and a big bucket of ice. He was really sweet and wouldn’t even let me tip him.
Eating heavy Hungarian food was out of the question, so I walked to the big market instead. Due to my tragic inability to convert metric measures to Imperial ones (an inability I’ve since remedied), I ended up with a kilo of raspberries. I figured that plus a bread roll would make a good enough dinner.
I woke up the next morning not feeling well. I blamed the heat, travel, and the overindulgence on berries. And although I continued to feel under the weather for the next several days, I loved Budapest. I have to say, though, that my favorite spot in all Hungary may have been the crypt in the Esztergom Basilica, where the temps were blessedly cool.
We took a train (again, no air-conditioning) across Slovakia to Prague. Germans smoked heavily nearby, and one of my travel companions complained so nonstop that if the windows could have opened, we would have all happily tossed him out.
Prague was much cooler and at least as beautiful and interesting as Budapest. We toured the castle and Parliament and had a boat ride. I loved it. But I still wasn’t feeling great. Then we took a day trip to Karlovy Vary, a gorgeous old spa town. I managed not to barf on the drive over—a major accomplishment. As I stood in a square in Karlovy Vary, one of the other professors asked me how I was feeling.
“Oh,” I said, “okay right now. It comes and goes, kind of like morn—”
We didn’t name the kid Zsa Zsa, although I was tempted. She’s in junior high now. And I guess it’s no surprise that, like her mother, that kid has a pretty bad case of wanderlust. Someday I’ll take her to that square in the Czech Republic so she can see exactly where I was standing when I realized she existed.
More about Kim:
Kim Fielding lives in California and travels as often as she can manage. A professor by day, at night she rushes into a phonebooth to change into her author costume (which involves comfy clothes instead of Spandex and is, sadly, lacking a cape). Her superpowers include the ability to write nearly anywhere, often while simultaneously doling out homework assistance to her children. Her favorite word to describe herself is "eclectic" and she finally got that third tattoo.
All royalties from her novels Stasis, Flux and Equipoise are donated to Doctors Without Borders.
Thanks for joining our celebrations today. Please come back next week for more of Kim's books, our author Q&A, plus one more chance to win!
Until then, happy reading!