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Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising

4.0 25
by Kimberly Gardner

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Two dozen roses, one dozen balloons and a night with a sexy, young stripper. What a thirty-sixth birthday for Jimmy Trent. But the ultimate gift is yet to come as he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful dancer. Adam Hyland's life is in the dumps. Living in his car and stripping for his supper, he doesn't expect much when the birthday-boy invites him to


Two dozen roses, one dozen balloons and a night with a sexy, young stripper. What a thirty-sixth birthday for Jimmy Trent. But the ultimate gift is yet to come as he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful dancer. Adam Hyland's life is in the dumps. Living in his car and stripping for his supper, he doesn't expect much when the birthday-boy invites him to stay for cake and champagne. Yet seeing the look in Jimmy's eyes, Adam dares to hope for more. Will their differences tear them apart? Or can their love take flight like a Phoenix Rising from the ashes?

Product Details

MLR Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.63(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

No way was he making a career out of delivering strip-o-grams. This gig was only temporary.

"Show me the money," he said as he grabbed the directions off the passenger seat. The screwed up directions. The directions that had already gotten him lost. Twice. Now he was a half hour late.

Adam glanced down at the paper in his hand and checked the address once more as he approached the foot of yet another driveway. He tapped the brake and leaned as far as he could toward the passenger-side window. He had just about perfected his technique for checking the house numbers without coming to a full stop.

Squinting through the darkness, he could barely make out the numbers on the mailbox. Hot damn, it looked like he'd finally found the place.

And what were the odds that the address was actually right?

Shoving that thought away, he turned the car into the driveway. The twists and turns continued for a good quarter mile, finally spilling him into a circular turnaround. Lights came on automatically, illuminating the manicured shrubs, a fountain and a massive stone structure that looked more like a museum than a house.

Adam let out a low whistle as he eased the car around the circle and slowed to a stop at the foot of the wide stone steps.

A sweeping expanse of porch ran the width of the house, disappearing into darkness at either end. Ornately carved columns flanked the massive front door and the place was positively lousy with arches and stained glass windows. It was impressive even at night and must be damn spectacular in the daylight. Not that he would ever see it again.

Adam checked his reflection in the rearview. The costume, astripper's version of a florist delivery-boy outfit, looked cheap and the color, a hideous green, didn't suit him at all. Picking up the stupid little hat from the seat beside him, he put it on and consulted the mirror again.

"Oh, I don't think so." He pulled the hat off and tossed it into the backseat. The costume would work just fine without the hat. Besides, it wasn't like he'd have it on for very long. And who ever heard of a florist who delivered at ten-thirty at night anyway? But florist was what they had asked for and the customer always got what they wanted. Maybe they weren't going to get it quite on time, but they'd get over it.

Adam ran his fingers through his hair, giving it that tousled bedhead look. Grabbing the boom box from the floor, he checked to be sure the music was cued to the right song before he gathered the flowers into his other arm. He'd just managed to snag the strings of the half-dozen mylar balloons when his cell rang.


Releasing the balloons, he grabbed the phone and flipped it open.


"Hey, babe, what are you doing?"

"What do you care?" Adam shut his eyes and leaned his head back against the headrest. Why the hell hadn't he checked the number before he answered?

"C'mon, angel. Don't be like that. I just want to talk."

"I'm working, Daren."

There was a beat of silence. "Why don't I hear any music?"

"I quit the club."


"A while ago."

"You didn't tell me."

"I forgot." Just like you forgot to tell me you were fucking somebody else.

"You haven't returned any of my calls."

"Hmm, what do you think that means?"

"Why do you have to act like that?"

Adam sighed. "I have to go, Dee."

"What time are you done? Maybe I could meet you somewhere."



"I said no. And quit calling me."

Without waiting for an answer, he flipped the phone closed. No sooner had he put it down but it rang again. Opening the glove compartment, he shoved it inside and slammed the door. There. Now he could barely hear the ringing. They were so not doing another round of why-won't-you-take-me-back.

A balloon floated in front of his face. Adam swatted it away. Goddamn balloons. He gathered up the strings before opening the car door. The damn things had been all over the place the whole way there. Why did they need balloons anyway? You'd think the flowers would be enough--two dozen roses of all colors, even purple. Balancing the whole deal in his arms, he climbed out of the car, nudged the door closed with one hip and mounted the front steps.

His finger had barely left the bell before the door opened. An attractive woman with dark hair gave him the once-over. It was a quick and thorough assessment.

"Oh, thank goodness. I thought you weren't coming."

"I got lost." Adam dug down deep and produced a smile. "Lousy directions, you know?"

"Of course," she said, clearly having no idea what he was talking about.

They both fell silent, looking at each other. She was going to rip him a new one for being late, Adam could just feel it. Then the tightness around her eyes and mouth eased and she smiled.

"Well, you're here now." She reached out a hand. "I'm Rene. Can I take something?" Without waiting for an answer she took the balloons.

"Thanks." Adam edged past her and entered the foyer.

The hallway alone was bigger than his last apartment. Gray and white marble tiled the floor. A stairway of dark, polished wood rose in a majestic sweep, curving off to the left until it disappeared into shadow. Soft lighting showcased several paintings that hung on the dove-colored walls.

The silence was absolute.

Adam turned back to the woman. "Where's the party?"

"It's a fairly intimate party. Probably not what you're used to." Her smile tilted a little as her gaze slid away from his and settled somewhere over his left shoulder.

Adam glanced behind him but saw nothing. He shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Strip for two hundred, strip for ten, it's all the same to me."

"Well, how about strip for one?"

"One? You mean like a private dance?"

She nodded. "Jimmy is a dear friend. It's his birthday and I wanted to give him something fun and special, you know what I mean?"

He didn't, not exactly. But it didn't matter since before he could respond a male voice drifted out from somewhere deeper in the house.

"Ren, who's at the door?"

She jumped like someone had goosed her and shoved the balloons at him. "I have to go." She pointed. "Go right through that archway and..."

Adam grabbed the balloons before they could drift up to the high ceiling and out of reach. "I don't think--"

She shook her head and put a finger to her lips. "Go on," she said and made a little shooing motion. "Oh, wait one second." She picked up her handbag from a small side-table, rummaged inside and produced a wad of bills which she held out.

Adam looked at the cash but made no move to take it. Uneasiness coiled tight in his belly. This was too weird. "What's that for?"

"It's a tip. They said I could tip you if I wanted."

"I haven't done anything yet." And whoever heard of a fifty-dollar tip anyway, because there was at least fifty bucks there.

"That's all right."

"Rene?" That deep, masculine voice called again.

"I know you'll be perfect," she said and tucked the bills in among the roses. Throwing one final glance toward the archway she hurried out, leaving him alone in the foyer.

Adam stared at the closed front door. He should leave now, just get the hell out. Something weird was going on here. Except...?

His gaze settled on the cash sticking out from among the roses. Two twenties peaked out from behind a large blush-colored bloom and more bills were crumpled in with the greenery. Fifty bucks, at least fifty, and that wasn't counting the money Party Boys would pay him for what amounted to fifteen or twenty minutes work.

Whatever was going on here it didn't matter. He wouldn't let it matter, because money was money and right now money was what he needed. He could do this.

Setting down the boom box, Adam took a breath, plucked the money out of the bouquet and plastered on the smile that served him better than any costume ever had. Tucking the bills in his boot, he grabbed the boom box and turned toward the archway.

If he'd thought the foyer was big, the living room was gigantic. Adam's gaze swept the room, taking in the large fireplace, dark wood and muted colors of walls and furniture. A glittering chandelier far overhead poured golden light over everything. The room's only occupant crouched before an entertainment center with his back to Adam. From where he stood, Adam saw pale blue material stretched across broad shoulders, sandy hair clipped short and not much more.

"Who was at the--" The man turned and looked up, his gaze finding Adam. Eyes of pale blue, the same color as his shirt, widened. His lips, full and sensuous, formed a small "o," but no sound came out.

Adam walked to him, held out the flowers and the balloons. "Happy birthday," he said, giving his most winning smile. "I'm here to dance for you."

For a minute, the guy did nothing, didn't speak, didn't lift a hand to take either the flowers or the balloons, nothing, just stared.

Adam suppressed a sigh. What the hell? He could put the flowers on that chair, but what the fuck was he supposed to do with the balloons?

Adam was about to just let go of the goddamn things when the paralysis broke, birthday boy stood up and took the flowers and balloons from him.

With some relief, he set down the boom box and jabbed the play button. The music, a vintage Chili Peppers track, fired up and he began to dance. The hardest part, the talking, was done. Now all he had to do was get naked and dance. Simple.

He knew his routine like breathing. A few basic moves with some improvisations, things he changed depending on the size of the room and the responsiveness of the crowd. His eyes drifted half-closed as his body went through the motions in perfect time with the music and, piece by piece, he shed the costume.

Peering through his lashes, he checked out his audience. It was rare that he stripped for one person, weird really, yet now that he was dancing, doing the thing he most loved, his earlier uneasiness evaporated and in its place there was just the music and the dance.

The man was a rapt audience, focusing all his attention on Adam. He stood perfectly still, tenderly cradling the flowers in his muscular arms, and making. Adam wondered what it would feel like to be held like that. The balloons he clasped loosely in one big, long-fingered hand. His face was good, too. Not traditionally handsome but interesting with a strong jaw, a sculpted mouth, a nose that listed a little to the left, and those pretty blue eyes. It was the eyes, Adam decided, that took the face to a whole new level of attractiveness.

Birthday boy was hot, maybe a little older than his usual type, but hot. And Adam could see that he was most definitely birthday boy's type . Though he held the flowers in front of him, his stance and the excellent cut of his dress pants didn't entirely conceal his reaction from Adam's practiced eye.

Could he tell Adam was checking him out? Maybe. Did he mind? Apparently not.

Adam smiled to himself. This gig might not be so bad after all.

By the time the third song started he was down to boots and a leather g-string. His body swayed to the sultry Latin rhythm and Adam made the most of the tempo change, sexing up the dancing, moving his hips, air fucking. Feeling the guy's eyes on him was getting him hot. His cock had begun to fill, more than obvious when he wore so little. But what the hell. Either birthday boy was into it, or he wasn't.

The music ended and the room went quiet. Adam paused, waiting for birthday boy to do or say something. But again he didn't.

Hell, Adam thought, the smile never leaving his face. He was just high enough on the dancing and adrenalin to kick caution to the curb. He walked to where the other man stood and leaned in close. The sweet scent of roses filled his head, his heart thumped against his ribs, but whether from the dancing or what he was about to do, who could say?

Adam touched his lips to the other man's, just the lightest brush. "Happy birthday," he said. "I'm Adam."

Those pretty blue eyes widened then filled with awareness, but birthday boy didn't pull away. That was good.

"Was that all right?" Adam asked.

"It was..." The birthday boy swallowed then licked his lips. "It was more than all right." He smiled as his gaze dropped to Adam's mouth and lingered there.

Adam licked his lips, deliberately mirroring the gesture. "Shall I do it again?"

Birthday boy shook his head. "Let me."

Adam couldn't suppress a laugh when birthday boy simply let go of the balloons, which immediately floated up to the ceiling.

"I don't know why people send balloons," the man said as he turned and laid the flowers on a nearby chair.

"Me neither," Adam said.

Mmm, very nice ass. Adam stepped forward. God, how he wanted to press against that fine ass, let the birthday boy know exactly what was on his mind.

The man took longer than necessary settling the flowers, giving Adam ample time to appreciate the view. When he straightened and turned they were nearly chest to chest. He reached out, but just before he touched Adam he paused, "Where's Rene?"

"Who?" Adam, eyes already half-closed, lips already parted in anticipation, blinked.

"The woman who answered the door. Where'd she go?"

"I ... She left when I got here. What does it matter?"

"I guess it doesn't matter." But birthday boy stared over Adam's shoulder like he wasn't totally convinced. Then he shook his head. "It doesn't matter."

One hand slid around Adam's waist while the other slid into his hair then cupped the back of his neck. The touch was tentative at first; as if he wasn't entirely sure it would be welcome.

Adam angled his head back, presenting his lips. The thrill of knowing he was about to be kissed zinged through him.

"I'm a little sweaty," he said, the words sounding kind of breathless even to his ears.

"So?" Birthday boy pulled him closer, pressing their bodies together. "Sweaty looks good on you."

Adam's eyes drifted closed as the other man's mouth claimed his. Soft, warm lips moved slowly over Adam's and lingered, tasting him and apparently liking his flavor. Birthday boy was just tall enough--maybe two inches taller than him--to make the angle perfect for kissing.

Adam's arms tightened around the other man. He rested his head on that broad shoulder and leaned in. The caress of silk against his nipple piercings sent a jolt of electricity straight to his cock. Adam moaned against the stranger's mouth.

Something changed in the kiss then, the pressure increased as Adam's lips were forced apart and their tongues met. Adam tasted some kind of wine and maybe chocolate with an underlying flavor of man. He moved even closer, molding himself against birthday boy's muscular form. Their cocks bumped and the kiss broke.

"God," the sexy stranger said, "God, Adam, you are so fucking beautiful."

Adam laughed with real pleasure. He knew what he looked like, sure. But hearing it from this man, seeing it reflected in those gorgeous eyes, was like an extra shot to his libido. Adam rubbed against him, drunk on pure sensation, begging for his touch like a cat hungry for affection. His cock strained at the g-string. Their pricks slid together, so hot even through multiple layers of material.

The man groaned. "Christ!" He looked past Adam's shoulder. "Are you sure Rene left?"

Adam nodded. "Yeah, she's gone. It's just you and me, big guy."

"My name's Jimmy," birthday boy said. "Do you have anywhere else you have to be?"

Adam hesitated. Stay or go--it was time to decide. They could kiss a little more, maybe jerk each other off then he could be out of there and back in his car--his car where he'd be sleeping tonight, where he'd been sleeping most nights over the last three weeks, ever since he broke up with Daren.

Jimmy held him close. Adam felt the steady thud of the other man's heart, smelled the faded scent of some expensive cologne on his skin. Jimmy's fingers remained tangled in Adam's hair. He wanted just to lean into this man, to go on kissing him and being held by him. They were virtual strangers, but something about this just felt right. And if going with that feeling meant he didn't have to sleep in the car ... well, where was the harm in that?


"I can stay a while," Adam said.

"Good. That's good." A pause. "Do you want some champagne?" Jimmy's fingers sifted through Adam's hair.

"Champagne would be good." Adam brushed Jimmy's lips again. He kept his eyes open this time. Oh yeah, he liked the heat that flared in those pretty blue eyes, heat that was all for him.

Despite the offer of wine, Jimmy didn't let him go right away. His hand was warm on Adam's back, skin on skin, big hands. Jimmy was a big guy, not heavy, just big with lots of muscle. And these felt like real muscles, the kind you got from real, physical work. He liked the look and feel of this man. And if more than kissing was being offered, and apparently it was, he already knew what his answer would be.

"I need to get the wine," Jimmy said. Slowly he released Adam as if reluctant to let him go. "You can sit down, if you want."

"Shall I get dressed?"

Jimmy's gaze swept over him. His smile was shy but his eyes burned with desire. "Don't feel like you have to on my account."

As Jimmy left the room, Adam dropped onto the sofa. The buttery soft cushions embraced him and he leaned his head back, a sigh of contentment slipping out. What a place. He closed his eyes and inhaled. Even the air smelled like money.

Idly, Adam stroked himself, fingers tracing his cock as he imagined what it would be like when they were naked together for the first time. What kind of top would Jimmy be? Would he take him fast and hard? He thought not. Just from the way Jimmy kissed Adam thought he would be slow and sweet, maybe a bit tentative. Adam shivered and wrapped his fingers around his shaft. He could hardly wait. He thrust into his hand, reveling in his own touch as he wove a little fantasy featuring pale blue eyes and broad shoulders.

A soft sound, little more than a shifting of the air, had his eyes snapping open. Jimmy stood only feet away watching him. Two crystal flutes dangled as if forgotten from his fingers.

"Don't stop," he said, voice low and rough. "I like watching you."

Adam smiled, his cheeks going hot. He stood, took one of the flutes from Jimmy and raised it. "To the birthday boy."

Jimmy laughed as their glasses touched. His eyes stayed on Adam's as he sipped his wine.

Adam took a tentative sip. Slightly tart, the frothy wine felt like a party on his tongue. He swallowed then set his glass aside. Leaning in, he kissed Jimmy, sliding his tongue into the other man's mouth. The taste of the wine and the man flooded through him and he suddenly wanted nothing more than to be closer, much closer to Jimmy, to feel skin on skin, to have more of those intoxicating kisses and feel those big hands on him, touching him everywhere, making him moan.

Their lips clung, tongues exploring, taking turns advancing and retreating like a dance.

"I never kissed anyone with a tongue ring before," Jimmy said, drawing back slightly. "Does it hurt?"

"No, it feels good."

"I meant--"

"I know what you meant." Adam stuck his tongue out and wiggled it suggestively. "Want me to show you how good it feels?"

Adam took the glass from Jimmy's fingers and set it on the table next to his. Reaching for Jimmy's belt, he started to slide to his knees. His bad knee protested but he ignored it. He wanted to touch Jimmy, to take him in his hand then in his mouth and taste him.

"Wait," Jimmy said. "I want..." He hesitated. "That is I'd rather..."

Adam paused, not yet on his knees, hand on Jimmy's belt buckle and waited. But the man seemed unable to say what he wanted. Eyes, dark with need, pleaded with Adam to just know. Strong fingers closed around Adam's wrist, gripping hard enough to leave bruises, and pulled him closer.

With his free hand, Adam flicked open the top button of Jimmy's shirt. Then the next. And the next. And the next. Sliding his hand between fabric and flesh, he ran his fingers through chest hair at once soft and crisp. He circled Jimmy's nipple with a fingertip, bringing it to a hard little peak.

Jimmy swayed, a long sigh sliding between his parted lips.

"Tell me what you want, big guy," Adam murmured. He leaned in close, stopping with their lips no more than a breath apart. "Whatever you want ... I'll do it."

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Phoenix Rising 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
asgoodrich More than 1 year ago
What an absolutely lovely story. Knowing that Phoenix Rising was about the relationship between closeted gay man and an out gay man, I admittedly expected a ton of angsty drama. And while there is drama, particularly from Jim's family, it was more focused on the actual relationship between Jim and Adam. By doing so, Ms. Gardner gave the book a more realistic feel than I anticipated.  That said, I found the opening scene of this book to be extremely entertaining. I mean really? ... a strip-o-gram ... what's not to love? It has to be one of the funniest meets I've ever read. I was actually quite sad for Jimmy when he woke the next morning to find Adam already gone, but thankfully fate intervened and their paths crossed again and again until they finally agreed to give it a go. Despite their age difference, it became clear rather quickly that Adam was actually the more mature member when it came to being public about their relationship. Sadly, his maturity came from the backlash he had to deal with living as an openly gay man and as much as he wanted a public relationship with Jimmy, he didn't want it at Jimmy's professional and personal expense, which was quite indicative of how much he loved Jimmy. Jimmy's naivety came not only from being closeted, but also from his natural personality trait of thinking the best of people.  Adam and Jimmy’s personalities complemented one another beautifully and their physical chemistry was palpable. All of the sex scenes were hot, but the club scene at the end was effing HOT!!! I didn't know Jimmy had it in him. I think that what made Phoenix Rising such a lovely read for me was that Jimmy and Adam not only found each other, but they found themselves as well. As this is the first book in the Playing for Keeps series, I can only hope that the next book lets us catch up with Jimmy and Adam while giving us Jason and Benny's story. Either way, I am so looking forward to reading Bound to Please.  I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.  Reviewed by Angela at Crystal's Many Reviewers!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very entertaining story. Hot characters, an intriguing story line that had some nice twists and great sex scenes. I look forward to reading more from this author.
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jenmike More than 1 year ago
great story,she creates a nice world in the story.you really only get lost once or twice.too much info in a short period.i would read it again.
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angel-dust More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book from start to finish. I read this book in 2 days. I liked the dynamics between the two main characters' relationship. I'll be on the look-out for Ms. Gardner's next book.