Welcome to our Grand Finale celebrations for the amazing
In our final post, we'll take a look at Reading The Signs, including a brand-new cover, and Flash Rip. We also have our author interview, and one more chance to win!
First up, Flash Rip
On Australia's hottest beach, the most dangerous current is between them.
Training to be a lifeguard is tough work, but Cody Grant loves a challenge. He spends long days in the sun and surf rescuing swimmers from treacherous rip currents while trying not to lust after senior lifeguard Liam Fox—who is deeply, painfully closeted.
Liam was supposed to be a football legend. Now in his mid-thirties, it’s been over a decade since his dream shattered along with his knee. Fans still recognize him regularly, and he's terrified his sexuality will be discovered and his conservative parents will reject him. He has strict rules to protect his secret and keeps everyone at arm’s length. Liam never acts on his need to surrender after being shamed for it years ago by the first and only man he trusted.
Out and proud Cody fascinates Liam—and tempts him to break all the rules.
Cody is practically half Liam's size and age, but has the confidence and compassion to take charge and give Liam the release, affection, and acceptance he desperately craves. But how long can a secret affair satisfy their hearts? As if saving lives isn’t hard enough, Cody faces his greatest challenge yet convincing Liam to trust him and find the courage to live out loud.
“Home sweet home,” Cody said, flipping on the ceiling fan. He’d left the big screened windows over the patio open to get air in. The studio had AC, but he preferred the fresh breeze unless it was scorching hot and humid.
Liam gazed around warily. From where he stood in the doorway, the queen bed was directly on his right. He stared at it, and Cody was glad he’d at least pulled up the sheet and thin duvet, even if nothing was really tucked in.
Adam’s apple bobbing, Liam croaked, “It’s nice.”
A dark thrill of lust spiraled through Cody. Yes, Liam Fox was thirsty. But Cody had to play it cool and not spook him. He felt like a spider luring its prey into a web, and he couldn’t deny it excited him. He’d never, ever do anything Liam didn’t want, or pressure him, but if Liam did want this—if he actually wanted Cody… His heart thumped.
Calm down. Fix the leak and see what happens.
“You want another coffee? I’ve got a machine. I don’t use it very much, but there are some pods.” On the kitchen side of the studio, he opened a drawer.
“Sure. Thanks.” Liam slid off his thongs by the door and tentatively walked over.
While Liam looked at the collection of coffee types, Cody took off his running shoes and socks and made sure the bathroom was clean enough. He should probably put on a shirt, but…didn’t. Instead he pulled out the toolbox, putting it on the dining table in the middle of the studio.
“Hey, can you do me a Milano after? Thanks.” He didn’t really need another coffee since he’d had a flat white earlier, but he wanted to give Liam something to distract him. He could sense a ball of anxiety in Liam and wanted to tell him it was okay, and they didn’t have to do anything. That Cody wouldn’t bite. Much.
He considered whether he was completely misreading the situation, but honestly couldn’t figure out why else Liam would be so nervous and tense. Cody kept talking. “You know, the first time I went to Barking, I got caught in the Croc.”
“Really?” This teased a little smile out of Liam. “Do you remember who pulled you out?”
“Not his name, but he was older. Blond hair, buff, really tanned. Very white teeth. He had a tattoo on his chest—a dolphin. He was like the poster boy for an Aussie lifeguard.” Not unlike you.
“Ah, Muggsy. He’s a contractor in Coogee. Used to be casual at the beach, but then business was too good. Nice bloke.”
“He was like a knight on a stallion. I’d been stupidly trying to swim back to shore instead of sideways out of the rip, panicking. And then the lifeguard was there, the rescue board appearing over the crest of a swell like out of thin air. I’d felt so alone and terrified, and he pulled me up over his board like I weighed nothing.”
He didn’t add that as a scrawny, gawky, horny-as-hell thirteen-year-old, he’d turned Muggsy into his go-to spank bank favorite. “You’d think it would have put me off Barking Beach forever, but I was hooked. It was fun and scary, and Muggsy was so reassuring. It really made me want to be a lifeguard. That combination of excitement and helping people.”
A smile tugged at Liam’s lips as he toyed with the pod of coffee he’d pulled out for Cody, the machine pouring his first. “Thought you weren’t a daredevil.”
Cody laughed. “No more than you are. I mean, I like the thrill of the ocean. But I’m not crazy like Baz. Holy shit, some of the waves he’s surfed? I saw an old competition on YouTube. It was insane. Or the break down near Walpole, ‘The Right’?”
Liam whistled. “Oh yeah. One of the biggest in the world. I wouldn’t dream of it, mate.”
“Me either. I did surf school down in Dunsborough last year. The swells are sick. Got absolutely smoked a few times. Then once I was in a vortex, and it was dumping me over and over.” He shuddered. “I thought my number might have been up.”
Cody remembered it as if it were yesterday, the sensation of being pounded down by a breaking wave, then sucked back to the rim of the shallow sandbank, then thumped down, sucked back—like a rag doll in a washing machine. Holding his breath, praying he’d be able to gasp in another before the next swell crashed him down.
“I was lucky the waves let up and the Jet Ski could get in and grab me. Never been so happy to see another human being in my life. That’s when I really knew I wanted to do this job. I’ve dreamed about it since I was a kid, and worked hard toward it, but in that moment, after the relief… It was like I knew it in my soul.” He scoffed. “That sounds stupid.”
“Nah. I get it. I totally get it.”
“Was it like that for you and footy?”
Liam looked back at the coffee machine, his shoulders tensing. He was silent a few moments, and Cody was about to apologize for bringing it up when Liam said, “Kind of. I always loved it, and I was so good at it. I worked my arse off, but I was born with the gift too. It made my dad so happy. Mum too, but…especially dad.”
He sounded so wistful, and Cody almost held his breath waiting for him to go on. Liam said, “Making him proud motivated me even more to be the best. Footy was my life. It was…me.”
Silence stretched out as Cody tried to think of the right thing to say, fighting the urge to reach out for Liam and reassure him that whoever he was now, it was okay. As much as he wanted Liam sexually—and holy shit, did he ever—it was the mystery of him as well, the depths of sadness and longing that Cody wanted to soothe.
The coffee machine popped up the empty pod, and they both jumped, then laughed awkwardly. Cody moved to the sink. “Better get started. So I unscrew this first, right?”
Liam sipped his coffee and gave Cody instructions where necessary, nodding and not saying much else. Soon enough, the tap wasn’t dripping, and Cody drank his coffee and tried to think of another reason for Liam to stick around. He scanned the studio, then a light bulb went off—or didn’t, more to the point.
“I need to change a bulb in the track lighting too. I’ve been meaning to get to this stuff for weeks.” He went to the wall by the patio door and flipped the right switch to remind himself which light had burned out. Then he got the spare and climbed up on the solid dining table. “It’s a pain in the ass. These bulbs are fiddly.”
Liam chuckled. “Pain in the aaaass. You sound so American sometimes. Canadian, I should say.”
“Pain in the arse, excuse me. See? If I say it like that I sound pretentious. Like to-mah-to. It doesn’t work with my accent.” He screwed in the bulb on the track.
“Fair enough. It does sound strange now that you say it.”
“Can you flip the switch?” he asked. Liam did, and the bulb came on with the others. “Cool, thanks,” Cody said, still standing on the table.
Well, that didn’t take long.
Mind working for yet another excuse for Liam to stay, he moved to step down onto the chair, watching Liam under his lashes. Then he did something he wasn’t exactly proud of, but what the hell.
He was going for it.
“Whoa!” Cody faked losing his balance, arms out, and Liam was right there with strong hands spread over Cody’s bare waist, steadying him on the wooden chair. Cody grabbed Liam’s shoulders, looking down at him—although not that far since Liam was a giant.
“Thanks,” Cody said, the word coming out breathier than he intended. He felt light and tingly all over, and fuck, he really wanted Liam Fox.
And he swore Liam wanted him too.
Get the book:
Second in our line-up, Reading The Signs
This hot-headed rookie needs discipline—on and off the field.
As a teenager crushing on Jake Fitzgerald, his big brother’s teammate, pitcher Nico Agresta decided he can never act on his desire for men. Nico is desperate to live up to his Italian-American family’s baseball legacy, and if he can win Rookie of the Year in the big leagues like his dad and brother did, maybe he can prove he’s worthy.
At 34, veteran catcher Jake just wants to finish out his contract and retire. His team doesn't have a prayer of making the playoffs, but who needs the stress anyway? Jake lost his passion for the game—and life—after driving away the man he loved. He swore he’ll never risk his heart again.Please note: This 2nd edition only changes the cover art. No new content has been added.
Then he’s traded to a team that wants a vet behind the plate to tame their new star pitcher. Jake is shocked to find the gangly kid he once knew has grown into a gorgeous young man. Tightly wound Nico’s having trouble controlling his temper in his quest for perfection and needs a firm hand. Jake fights to teach him patience and restraint on the mound—but when the push and pull explodes into the bedroom, can they control their hearts?
Nico just needed to throw one more strike. Jake’s left knee throbbed, and he balanced on his toes in his crouch, his shoulders hunched forward. He flashed the signs and waited for the pitch, the crowd buzzing like cicadas in the surprisingly humid night. It was late June now, and this was apparently a taste of what was to come. Sweat dripped down Jake’s forehead, and he wanted to push up his cage mask and swipe it out of his eyes.
Nico wound up and let the pitch rip, just missing the corner of the plate. Jake held the ball, twisting his wrist minutely toward the strike zone. But the ump behind him, his hand resting lightly on Jake’s back, didn’t say anything as he stood up straight, which meant it was a ball.
Fuck. Full count. If Nico walked the bases loaded, his night was over, and he’d be on the hook if these runners scored in the inning. Nico’s shoulders were up, his fingers tapping his thigh restlessly. Jake wished he could communicate with him telepathically and tell him to breathe. Hell, he wished he could pitch for him, but all he could do was flash the signs and hope.
It was crazy to think Jake had only known Nico again for what, a month or so? Maybe it was the time they’d spent together years ago, because hell if Jake wasn’t rooting harder for Nico than he had for any of his pitchers in far too long.
The crowd roared as the fastball streaked over the plate and hit Jake’s glove, the batter caught looking and the ump pivoting with a guttural called third strike.
One more. Just one more out and they would escape the jam. Pop-up, fly ball, strikeout, groundout. Jake mentally reviewed the stats of the next batter and flashed Nico the sign for a two-seam fastball to try and generate weak contact in the bottom of the strike zone.
Nico nodded, wound up, and unleashed the ball toward the plate. Just like Jake had hoped, the batter jumped on the first pitch, hitting a grounder to third that ended the inning. Jumping to his feet, Jake shouted along with the crowd as Nico pumped his fist and walked toward the dugout. Jake pushed up his mask and joined him, slapping Nico’s butt with his gloved hand.
“Great patience to get the out. Keep it up.”
A grin brightening his face and dimpling his cheeks, Nico nodded. Jake firmly told himself to ignore the flutter in his belly.
But a minute later through the din of the crowd and an old CCR song, Nico’s voice rose at the other end of the dugout. “No way. I want to stay in. I can do it!”
Jake looked over to find Nico on his feet, gesturing emphatically to Skip and Loyola. Murakami, the closer, was up in the bullpen, and Nico’s face was turning alarmingly red. Jake wanted to go talk him down, but it wasn’t his place to get involved when Skip was already over there. The other guys seemingly ignored the fracas, but Jake knew they were listening to every word.
“I can do it! I want the complete game!”
The coaches spoke reasonably, too low for Jake to hear. Nico shook his head emphatically, insistent that he could finish the game, but the decision had been made, and he grabbed a batting helmet and whipped it onto the floor, where it clattered and spun. “Fuck this!”
Jake’s blood pressure spiked with equal parts irritation and disappointment. This juvenile bullshit should have been beneath any major leaguer, and Jake had thought Nico was better than that.
Chomping his gum so hard he was about to dislocate his jaw, Skip glared and hissed a warning to Nico, who slumped down on the bench, his lips pressed into a thin line and arms crossed, steam practically shooting out of his ears. The guys down there gave him a wide berth, and attention turned to the field as the team went up to bat. Jake was tempted to go over and tell Nico to cut the shit, but hopefully they’d score an insurance run or two and he’d get his head out of his ass.
Naturally that didn’t happen. After a pop-up, a ground out, a walk, and a fly ball, it was time for Murakami to close it out in the top of the ninth. Jake pushed Nico from his mind. The crowd cheered Murakami’s arrival from the bullpen, clapping along to musical interludes and doing the wave, excitement brimming. When he was ready, Jake flashed the signs. Three outs, and this one was in the bag.
Too bad the bag had a big fucking rip in the bottom.
Murakami was usually steady as a rock, his breaking balls fooling hitters from both sides of the plate. But after a walk and a hit, Atlanta’s second baseman ripped a three-run homer. Head low, Murakami trudged to the dugout in the middle of the inning after retiring the other hitters, the dissatisfied crowd unnervingly quiet.
Jake patted Murakami’s back, his jersey damp. “It’s okay. A bad day at the office. Happens to all of us.”
Murakami shook his head. “Tell that to Agresta.”
“He’ll survive. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.” Jake gave him another pat, then realized Nico was staring daggers at Murakami, who slumped on the bench. Jake briefly glared down the dugout at Nico and added, “We still have a shot to tie it up or pull ahead.”
Unfortunately, it was three up, three down in the bottom of the ninth, and that was the ballgame. The crowd shuffled out of the stadium as the team retreated to the clubhouse. Nico’s hands were balled into fists, and he kicked the side of the bench before disappearing down the steps.
Clenching his jaw, Jake stalked down the tunnel to the dugout with the guys, no one saying much of anything, the silence thick but for the dull echo of their cleats. Nico was just ahead, and he muttered, “Should have kept me in. Could have had it. I fucking had it.”
As Nico shook his head and scuffed his foot, his cleats scraping the concrete, a bolt of anger fueled Jake’s steps. Grabbing Nico’s arm, Jake tugged him away from the entry to the locker room and down to the gym, deserted since they were going on the road in the morning.
Bypassing the main area of weights and cardio machines, he hauled Nico into the stretching room, slamming the door behind them and flipping on the overhead lights. Like everywhere else in the clubhouse, the room was accented in the team colors, and Jake blinked at the assault of red and white.
“What the fuck?” Nico yanked back his arm. His cap was pulled low over his face, his blazing eyes just visible under the brim.
“Stop acting like an asshole. Mura feels bad enough about the blown save without you sulking about it.”
“He only had to get three fucking outs.” Nico’s hands cut through the air. “How hard is that?”
“Sometimes it’s damn hard, as you well know.”
“I needed this win!”
“You needed it? No, the team needed it. Team always comes first, and we all fuck up sometimes. So no glaring and guilt-tripping. Come on, you’re better than this.”
“It’s wrong to care? Sorry if I give a shit about winning.”
“And I don’t?”