Read an Excerpt
'A New Normal' by Carol Lynne
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">Charlie Foster loosened his tie as the plane took off. He hated flying almost as much as he hated being shoved into a seat made for a small child. Why didnâ€™t airlines understand that grown men were also forced to fly on occasion?</span>
With a sigh of resignation, he closed his eyes in an effort to escape pleasant banter with the older woman seated next to him. It had been a mistake to take the piano gig. What the hell had he been thinking? Travelling across the country less than a year after Jenâ€™s death just to play at some convention was stupid, even if he was doing it as a favour to his manager.
He often wondered how different his life wouldâ€™ve turned out if he hadnâ€™t met Jen in college. It had been a confusing time, and falling in love with Jen had brought a sense of peace to his lifeâ€”so much so he hadnâ€™t regretted a moment of their time together.
"Can I get you something to drink?"
Charlie opened his eyes and stared up at the attendant. "Iâ€™m fine, thanks." The conversation over, Charlie went back to feigning sleep, only to be nudged by the bony elbow of the woman next to him.
"Iâ€™ve been admiring your wedding ring. Is that a thistle?"
Charlie stared at the ring he couldnâ€™t bring himself to take off. "Yeah. My wife was obsessed with that Outlander series. It was her idea."
The womanâ€™s face lit up. "Oh, Jamie and Claire," the woman practically swooned, clutching her hands over her heart. "How sweet of you to indulge your wife like that."
"I wouldâ€™ve done anything for her," he mumbled. Shame threatened to consume him as it did every time he thought of the woman heâ€™d lost. Heâ€™d spent eight years with Jen, six of them married, but one drunken night with his best friend had destroyed the husband heâ€™d thought himself to be.
"Excuse me." Charlie unbuckled his seatbelt and walked to the front restroom. He closed and locked the door before turning to lean against the sink. Jenâ€™s mom had been in town to help during the second round of chemotherapy, and, for some reason, Charlie had let them convince him to get out of the house for a few hours. Jen had been the one to call Jake and had set up the outing, just one more thing for Charlie to feel guilty about.
It had started innocently enough, a Mets game followed by a trip to the bar where theyâ€™d done most of their drinking in college. It was easy to fall back into the camaraderie heâ€™d once shared with his childhood friend. As the evening and the number of drinks progressed, Charlie had asked Jake the one question that had been on his mind since the day heâ€™d announced his engagement to Jen. "Why didnâ€™t you fight for me?"
'Convention Confusion' by Amber Kell
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">"Are you sure I need this much makeup?" Billy Ferris asked.</span>
Cathy Adams rolled her eyes as she slicked on another layer of eyeshadow across Billyâ€™s lids. "Like I told you before, if you want to look like Kixie you need thick makeup."
Billy squinted at her through the thick mascara. "I think you just like to put makeup on me."
"If you donâ€™t want to look convincing for the conference or when you meet Jenn..." She let the words hang in the air.
Rolling his eyes, Billy settled back into the desk chair theyâ€™d pulled from the hotel roomâ€™s living area into the bathroom. He had worked hard to make his costume perfect. He adored the new Space Girl series and the leader in the comic, Kixie Spacefarer, looked almost exactly like Billy in drag. Of course, Cathy wouldâ€™ve been the first one to notice and insist on dressing him just like Kixie once theyâ€™d announced the creator of Space Girl would be at the Sci Fi convention. Billy had a major crush on Jennvian Fellows, the comicâ€™s creator and now executive producer of the television show.
"Youâ€™re going to look so great heâ€™ll think youâ€™re his dream come true." Cathy smiled as she continued to add more makeup. "To get you perfect I need to make your eyes look bigger and I can only do that with more eyeliner than any self-respecting prostitute would wear."
Billyâ€™s stomach had aggressive, dive-bombing butterflies and he kept swallowing to hold back his urge to hurl the powdered donut heâ€™d eaten earlier. Damn those sugary carbs.
"Thanks for helping, Cath." As much as he bitched about the thigh-high latex boots and the tight corset top, he wouldnâ€™t have been able to do it without his friend helping out.
"No problem, honey, you helped me get Gilâ€™s attention last year, the least I can do is return the favour."
Billy didnâ€™t know how much of a good thing setting her up with Gil had turned out to be. The guy could be a major butt wipe if he didnâ€™t get his way. The only reason Cathy could help Billy get ready was because Gil had an out-of-town business trip.
He wisely kept his opinion to himself, not wanting to endanger their friendship by sharing his views of Gil with his love-struck friend.
"Anyway, I do appreciate it."
Cathy swiped a line of lip gloss across his lips. "Youâ€™re welcome, hon. There! All done. Go look."
Stepping away to let Billy stand up, Cathy all but bounced as she waited for his reaction. Billy gave her an indulgent smile as he stood up to get a better look in the bathroom mirror.
"Oh, wow!" With the black bustier, flirty multi-coloured skirt and black boots he looked exactly like his favourite space pirate. The long black wig completely covered his blond locks. "I make a hot girl."
'Ninja Cupcakes' by T.A. Chase
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">The aroma of freshly baked cupcakes scented the air, and Ethan breathed deep, filling his lungs with the delicious smell.</span>
"Iâ€™m still not sure agreeing to bake twenty dozen cupcakes for your brotherâ€™s convention is a good idea. A lot of those sci-fi gamer geeks should lay off the sugar if they want to get a date outside of World of Warcraft."
Ethan turned to see Jocelyn, his best friend and fellow pastry artiste, lounging against the door frame. Sheâ€™d been out in the main bakery, making sure all of the cookies, cakes, and cupcakes were ready for the customers. Heâ€™d stayed in the kitchen, baking the order heâ€™d promised his brother.
"Stop it, Jocelyn. Youâ€™re as big a geek as most of the people who are going to be there." Ethan smiled at her. "You should be happy. Since we are one of the food vendors, we get in for free."
"No way!" Jocelyn screamed.
Ethan nodded. "Yes way."
She raced across the room and jumped into his arms. He caught her easily, and whirled her around before setting her feet back on the floor.
"Do you know who the guest of honour is?" She didnâ€™t wait for him to reply. "Rafael Charmine, the lead actor from that new sci-fi series."
"Really? I never wouldâ€™ve known, considering itâ€™s all a certain someone has been talking about for weeks."
Jocelyn jumped up and down like a kid at Christmas. "Iâ€™d been trying to figure out a way to wrangle a day pass or something from your brother, that didnâ€™t involve me going on a date with him as payment."
She wrinkled her nose in disgust, and Ethan laughed.
"Earl has good taste in women, even if heâ€™s a bastard around them," he teased.
Jocelyn Street had been Ethanâ€™s best friend since they met on their first day of culinary school. By the time they graduated first and second in their class, theyâ€™d decided to open a bakery. Ethan had the money, and Jocelyn had the business sense. A year after graduation, they opened Ninja Cupcakes and never looked back.
Aside from both being five-eleven, they were the complete opposites in appearance. Jocelynâ€™s exotic dark looks attested to her Latin roots, while Ethanâ€™s rather plain blondness never allowed him to stand out. He placed all his energy and drive into the shop.
"Whatever," Jocelyn shot back. "Abby and Ollie will be here soon. Do you want them helping you with the cupcakes or do you want them out front?"
Ethan closed his eyes and thought about his two part-time employees. After a few minutes, he looked at Jocelyn.
"You and Abby work out front. Ollie can help me back here."
"Not a good day?" Jocelyn looked worried.
'Operation: Get Spencer' by Jambrea Jo Jones
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">"Dude, Iâ€™m not gay," I insisted, again. Hell, I almost shouted the words.</span>
"Keep tellinâ€™ yourself that, Ben, my man, maybe itâ€™ll stick." Frank Rutherford, my roommate, smirked.
"Just because my best friend is gay doesnâ€™t mean I am." I was exasperated and beyond tired with this recurring conversation.
"Whatever." Frank waved a hand as if dismissing me.
"Whatâ€™s that supposed to mean?" I was so sick of defending myself against something I shouldnâ€™t have to. I wiped a hand over my face and rubbed my eyes.
"Nothing. Iâ€™m late for a date. Later, man." Frank slammed the door behind him.
I was beyond relieved when my roommate left. We always got into this conversation and more and more lately it was getting hard to say the words â€˜Iâ€™m not gayâ€™. I shouldnâ€™t have to defend my straightness. Hell, didnâ€™t I bag tons of co-eds? Last week alone Iâ€™d slept with Rita. Or was it Rhonda? I couldnâ€™t remember. Maybe that was a bad thing, but I was happy with my life, wasnâ€™t I? So what if sometimes I felt lonely. That was what Spencer was for, to have fun with. I enjoyed spending time with my best friend. I could hang out and not worry about...things.
That didnâ€™t make me gay. Nope. Not at all.
What made me gay was being in love with Spencer Wilde. I banged my head on my desk as this realisation washed over me. I didnâ€™t know what to do about it. Spencer was oblivious to my growing feelings and Frank didnâ€™t help at all. And of course Spence was due here any minute. We were supposed to go to Comic-Con together. Spencer was a comic book nut and would drag me all over the place, but it was worth it to see the smile that would light up his eyes. Weâ€™d talked about going for a couple of years, but this was the first time weâ€™d both been able to make it. It was only a day pass, but weâ€™d make the most of it. We always managed to have fun.
Yeah, I had it bad.
And Frank was going to laugh his ass off once I finally told him I was in love with Spence. It still didnâ€™t make me gay. At least I didnâ€™t think so. No other man attracted me like Spence did. And Iâ€™d tried watching gay porn and had even gone to a gay bar and...nothing. There was just something about my best friend that drew me in and made me want more. It was becoming embarrassing when my cock jumped to attention any time Spence was around.
I shouldâ€™ve been getting ready instead of worrying over things that I couldnâ€™t change. I might never have had feelings for a man before, but that didnâ€™t matter. I was a take-charge kind of guy and I was going to use the day to get Spence to finally notice that I wanted more than friendship.
'Fan-Tastic' by Stephani Hecht
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">Blake didnâ€™t know if he was going to faint, pee himself, or scream like a girl.</span>
Maybe heâ€™d go for the gold and do all three. Yeah, that was one way to make a memorable impression. But, who could blame him? He was in the same building as Deke Masters! The Deke Masters who starred in Zombie Drive, which was not only ashow on TV, but a damn good comic, too.
Blake scanned the busy, crowded convention hall, desperate to get a glimpse of Deke. He knew that it would be easy to miss the guy. According to his stats on the internet, he was only five-foot-eight inches. Plus, he had short dark hair, which tended to make it hard to distinguish him in a group of people.
Blake ran a self-conscious hand through his own blond hair. Just that morning it had seemed like a great idea to spike it up and put red and black streaks through it. Now Blake found himself regretting the decision. Not only did it make him look like he was desperate for attention, but he found that countless other guys were sporting the same style and they were all younger than Blakeâ€™s twenty-five years.
But he wasnâ€™t just another fanboyâ€”at least not this year. Blake reached over to the table by his side and ran his fingers lovingly over the cover of his comic. Sure, it might be a small indie-press and he might only have a handful of followers, but he was finally starting to get noticed. Shoot, if even one person asked for an autograph over the week, Blake would do a happy dance to celebrate the moment. Especially since the last thing heâ€™d signed was the court order that evicted him from his home.
He took in another breath, his gaze flicking over to the large display that Zombie Drive had up front. While various other cast members were mulling about, Deke had yet to make an appearance and Blake was getting nervous.
The program had explicitly said that Deke was going to be there, but what if something had changed at the last minute? Panic began to bubble inside Blake. Shit, heâ€™d wasted the last of his money to come here and it might have been a waste of time.
Of course it was a waste of time! Even if he did get to talk to Deke, there was no way in hell the guy would give a loser like Blake a second glance. The man was a TV star for frickâ€™s sakeâ€”whereas Blake shared his motherâ€™s basement with her five, grumpy, ugly, smelly cats.
"Wow, Star Cats! I love this comic," a voice called.
Blake was so caught up in his musings that he almost missed the comment. Great! This was probably his one and only fan in the place and heâ€™d almost blown it. He threw a smile on his face and turned around, only to be stunned right down to the tips of his bright red Nike high-tops, to find himself staring at none other than Deke himself.
'Rough Awakening' by Devon Rhodes
<span style="line-height: 1.6em;">No way in hell.</span>
Mario struggled to keep his face neutral while hiding the emotions churning underneath. After years of being together with a man, after all, it was difficult to let go of the notion that he was yours. But he didnâ€™t want his reaction to be misinterpreted. He did not still want Luke.
He just didnâ€™t want to see himâ€”literallyâ€”sleeping with another man.
He was able to let his face relax as the pair turned away from him. They stood with hips touching companionably at the kitchen counter as they huddled over Derekâ€™s laptop, looking at the conference schedule. As he watched, Luke raised a hand to lightly rub Derekâ€™s lower back, prompting Derek to absently lean and kiss Lukeâ€™s temple without taking his eyes from the screen. Youâ€™d think they were the ones whoâ€™d been together for nearly a decade instead of only a few months.
Mario knew Luke and Derek belonged together and he would always count them as his closest friends. Hell, Luke had been his best friend since college. But there was absolutely no way he was going to share a hotel room with the new couple for the better part of a week. Seeing them together in their bed while he slept alone...
"Iâ€™ll get my own room."
Derek didnâ€™t even look up. "Theyâ€™re completely booked."
That caught Mario off-guard. "What? The whole fucking resort?"
Luke had the grace to look guilty. "Uh, yeah. Iâ€™m sorry, Mario. Weâ€™re not the only conference in there that week and they never hold a big enough block anyway. And Iâ€™m... Well, Iâ€™m used to just booking one room for this every year. Habit." He shruggedâ€”the uneasy, conciliatory gesture enough to make him the perfect target of Marioâ€™s growing discomfort.
"So, because you conveniently â€˜forgotâ€™ about your new boyfriend, I have to share a room with you two lovebirds? Great. That just confirms everything I always knew about you."
"Knock it off." Derek snapped his laptop closed and turned to square up against Mario, just as Mario had known he would.
Predictable. Attack Luke, however slightly, and Derek comes to the rescue.
Not that Mario would ever do anything to hurt his former lover. Luke was one of the gentlest souls he knew. But sometimes he just needed...an outlet. A physical one...
God knows, Iâ€™m not getting it in bed.