Read an Excerpt
'Seeing Him' by Carol Lynne
With the office lights turned off, Trevor Sharp peered out of the window. From his position, he was able to see the broad-shouldered silhouette of the man heâ€™d watched for over a week. He had no idea who the man was or why he slept in a nook of the MeliÃ¡ parking garage, but there was something about him that continued to draw Trevorâ€™s attention.
Security would have run the man out had they spotted him on their monitors, so evidently the small crevice was one of the few places their cameras didnâ€™t reach. Interesting. Did his mysterious dark friend know heâ€™d be safe in that particular spot or was it pure luck?
It had been a week ago that Trevorâ€™s exâ€”Dickhead Danny, as Trevor liked to refer to himâ€”had actually shown up at the hotel and waited in the parking garage for Trevor to leave work. Danny had immediately started the same tired argument about why they needed to get back together. When Trevor told Danny he had no desire to see or speak to him, his ex had snapped. Danny wasnâ€™t articulate enough to fight with wordsâ€”heâ€™d always preferred to use his size and strength to win an argument. Danny had pushed Trevor hard against his car and had showered him with spittle as heâ€™d screamed at him.
Then, from out of nowhere, a man wearing a faded, desert-style fatigue jacket had broadsided Danny, knocking him to the ground. Several punches had been thrown by both men, but it had been Danny whoâ€™d eventually run away with his tail between his legs. It had happened so fast, Trevor hadnâ€™t even got a good look at his mysterious protector, but Danny had called the man a freak before heâ€™d run off. When Trevor had tried to approach the man to thank him, the stranger had quickly turned his face away and nodded before disappearing into the shadows.
Instead of driving home that night, Trevor had turned around and gone back into the MeliÃ¡. Heâ€™d spent each night since sleeping in one of the unused hotel rooms or on the sofa in his office. Although the security at the hotel was a nice bonus, heâ€™d discovered his invisible man only moved around once dark descended on the city of Atlanta.
Trevor sighed. Earlier that evening, heâ€™d taken a to-go box, containing one of the hotelâ€™s big hamburgers, Tater Tots and a bottle of water out to the garage and had left it near where he knew the man slept. Heâ€™d set the food in a spot just outside the shadows, hoping to get his first real look at the man he couldnâ€™t stop thinking about.
Unfortunately, his plan hadnâ€™t worked. The invisible man had stayed in the darkness of the nook that heâ€™d made his home and had used his legs to retrieve the to-go that contained the food.
Whyâ€™re you hiding? Trevor should probably be afraid of the obviously homeless man instead of feeling a sense of warmth that the manâ€™s proximity provided. He heard someone whistling and glanced over his shoulder. Keith, one of the security guards, was riding down the escalator that led to the MeliÃ¡ offices.
"Hi, Keith," Trevor greeted.
"Whyâ€™re you sitting in the dark?" Keith started to reach for the light switch, but Trevor stopped him.
"Leave â€™em off. Iâ€™ve got a migraine and it helps to sit in the dark." It wasnâ€™t the truth, but the guard didnâ€™t need to know that. Trevor glanced at the keycard in Keithâ€™s hand. "Whereâ€™re you going?"
"I saw someone messing around your car in the garage, so I thought Iâ€™d take a look," Keith explained. "Donâ€™t worry, from the monitor it didnâ€™t look like he did any damage or anything, but I thought Iâ€™d better make sure. I didnâ€™t know you were down here. Are you spending the night again?"
'Blown Away' by Amber Kell
Christopher spun the blowpipe, slowly gathering up globs of molten glass from the bottom of the furnace. With practiced ease, he collected the proper amount of glowing material for the vase he visualised in his mind. The beginning of a piece always filled him with the tingle of anticipation, like meeting a sexy guy at a club and trying to calculate how quickly he could strip him down. When working with glass, his finished art never quite matched his initial idea. Sometimes the glass spoke to him and he had to follow where inspiration guided him. Humming happily, Chris watched the growing sphere at the end of his pipe. Now he was ready for the next step.
Despite the protective shield, the heat from the furnace set at around one thousand, one hundred and fifty degrees Celsius blasted across Chrisâ€™ face. Sweat poured off his body, soaking into his shirt as he smoothly slid his pipe from the searing heat. Mindful of the sudden weight, he carefully lifted the rod off of the stand and moved it to the next station.
He hoped his friend appreciated all the effort. With college tuition and fees for glass making Chrisâ€™ pockets lighter by the second, he didnâ€™t have tons of money for gifts. However he knew Amanda loved his work and he wanted to make something just for her. He couldâ€™ve just grabbed one of his already finished pieces, but Amanda had helped him through a bad breakup a few months ago and he thought she deserved a special present.
Carrying his prize over to the metal table where heâ€™d laid out the frit, Chris gently rolled his soft glob over the tiny pieces of coloured glass, embedding them into the material in one smooth motion. After covering all sides he smashed the bottom into the table to collect frit on the bottom. It looked a bit like a caramel apple rolled in sprinkles when he finished. Chris smiled at the analogy. He loved sweets.
Walking over to the glory hole, he settled the blowpipe in the metal support then opened the glory hole with one hand. Scooting back he pushed the quickly cooling glass into the hot oven and spun it around in a slow, steady rhythm, making sure to not leave it in one position for too long. If it overheated, the entire piece could melt off the pipe and end up a blob on the bottom of the unit. The shop owner hated it when that happened and Chris would prefer to avoid a lecture.
He kept a close eye on the glass until it glowed orange and became viscous again. Glancing behind him to make sure no one stood in his path, he slid the still spinning globe out of the glory hole. Walking fast, Chris propped the lower half of the rod on the edge of the steel table, making sure the glass cleared the surface and didnâ€™t touch. Keeping the pipe in motion, Chris gave a hard puff into his end of the pipe. The injection of air caused a bubble to form inside the glass and enlarged the globe. After a series of additional puffs, the solid mass of glass had inflated like a balloon. Chris stopped when it had reached the size he wanted.
'His Last Client' by T.A. Chase
No matter how many times Gib stared at the balance in his checking account, the numbers didnâ€™t change. He was going to be short for rent this month. Sighing, he rested his chin on his hand and frowned. He couldnâ€™t ask for more hours at the MeliÃ¡, the hotel in downtown Atlanta that he tended bar at. They were already giving him as many as they could. No, he was going to have to make up the difference in his usual way. After picking his phone up off the table, he dialled a familiar number.
"Gib, you havenâ€™t called in a while."
"I know. Do you have any work for me?"
His agent chuckled. "Funny you should call. One of your regulars called me. He has a friend coming into town, and wondered if youâ€™d do him a solid. His friend is looking for a little fun for a night or two."
He chewed on his lips as he thought. After a bad encounter with a new client, Gib only went with men he knew. Silly that it took him almost five years of selling himself to figure out some people were assholes, and thought that just because they could pay him for sex, that gave them free rein to do whatever they wanted to him.
Jake hemmed and hawed for a few moments, then said, "Mr Y."
For privacy reasons, Jake only used the clientâ€™s last initial to identify them. Gib didnâ€™t care since he had no real interest in finding out who the men were.
After getting out of hospital, Gib had told Jake he would only work for certain men. Heâ€™d given his agent a list, and Jake had been good about sticking with it, even though Gib had been one of his most popular guys. So hearing it was one of his regulars made him consider doing the favour. Since Mr Y knew what had happened to Gib, he wouldnâ€™t try to hook him up with someone whoâ€™d hurt him.
"Heâ€™ll pay double your usual rate." Jake dangled the carrot.
"Double?" Gib blinked. That was a helluva lot of money. He wouldnâ€™t have to worry about rent for a couple of months after that. As much as he didnâ€™t want to do it, he said, "Yes. Iâ€™ll meet him."
"Good. Mr Y said you could give him a call, and he can give you some information on the guy. If you wanted reassurance, I guess." Jake hummed, and he was obviously waiting for Gib to say he didnâ€™t need to be reassured.
He couldnâ€™t say it, but he could pretend to ignore what Jake said. "No problem. You know the drill. Have him meet me at Ashleyâ€™s."
'Where Tomorrow Shines' by Jambrea Jo Jones
Quinn Nelson finished making the bed, making sure the corners were tight. Being a maid wasnâ€™t all bad. At least it wasnâ€™t shooting insurgents and dodging bullets. Sure, there were some real skanky people out there who left the room in a way he wouldnâ€™t even see in his worst nightmare, but he was happy with his job. It was something mindless that paid the bills. When he went home, he didnâ€™t have to worry about explosions or how close to the enemy line he was. He had a beer or two and relaxed before bed only to start it all over again.
It was nice to be back in Atlanta. It had been years, but it was still home. The MeliÃ¡ Hotel was a nice place and they treated their employees right. All he had to do was be on time and do his job. He could handle that in his sleep.
So what if he was a bit lonely? That was life. Heâ€™d spent the last thirty years with no significant otherâ€”he could last the rest of his life. Maybe heâ€™d go out to eat at his favourite restaurant, Escorpion, after work. The tequila was great and so was the food. Mexican was his favourite.
Just the name made Quinn hard. Fuck. Nope, no matter how much he wanted a goat taco it wasnâ€™t going to happen. Kasey worked as a waiter at Escorpion. Theyâ€™d met there one night and had really hit it off, but Kase was just too happy and shiny. Quinn was trying to avoid Kasey, not invite him back to his place for a fuck. Because if he saw Kasey, that invitation would be out of his mouth before he could think twice. Kasey was a sexy bastard and if Quinn laid eyes on him he wouldnâ€™t hesitate to ask him over.
Kasey still thought he could fix the world. Heâ€™d once told Quinn that â€˜everything is a path that leads us to where we need to goâ€™. If that wasnâ€™t glass half full, Quinn didnâ€™t know what was. He was too old, too tired and the shine had worn off him at nineteen when heâ€™d shot his first person in Afghanistan. He still had nightmares. They would be with him forever. He didnâ€™t need to bring that baggage to a relationship, so he was walking off the path and wasnâ€™t where Kase needed to be. Quinn would stick to one night stands. He was good at those.
After a month or so of dating, Quinn had to stop all communication. Kase deserved a younger guy who would be able to keep up. Someone who wanted to change the world with him, not a man with a busted leg who woke up screaming on a good night.
Quinn wasnâ€™t that guy, no matter how Kaseâ€™s long, lean body looked in his bed. How his brown hair would stick up all over the place when he woke up. Or how his green eyes sparkled when he looked at Quinn. Heâ€™d done the right thing. He wasnâ€™t meant for relationships and that was that.
'Slippery When Wet' by Stephani Hecht
He finally had the chance that heâ€™d waited over six months for. Reno was going to have an excuse to talk to the man of his dreams, Bruce McCall. The man who had all the swagger of Jagger, the cool of Bond and the good looks of David Beckham.
It was really a shame that said man worked as a lifeguard at a hotel. But then again, for all Davidâ€™s wonderfulness, Reno had to remind himself that David was just a normal, everyday guy. Besides, who was Reno to talk? He worked as the head coordinator for childrenâ€™s activities at the same hotel. At least Bruce got to actually save lives. What did Reno do? He helped kids make macaroni necklaces and finger paint pictures to show off to their uncaring parents. So, as far as he was concerned, that put Bruce steps ahead of him.
Reno held his hand up to his mouth and huffed to make sure his breath didnâ€™t stink, ran a nervous hand over his hair to smooth his cowlicks, brushed his fingers over his lips to guarantee he didnâ€™t have any pieces of leftover dinner stuck to his face then checked his fly was all the way up. He wanted to be certain that he made a good impression. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he pointed himself towards the pool area.
He found Bruce in his usual location on the fourth floor where the pool was located. He was sitting in the lifeguard chair, looking as gorgeous as ever. Reno paused a moment just to stare at him. With sleek, tan skin that covered a set of muscles to die for, dark, short hair and brown eyes that one could get lost in, he was every gay manâ€™s wet dream come true and then some. That was before one threw in the cute set of dimples and the high cheekbonesâ€”they were just the bonus on the spank-bank cake of yumminess. And, damn it, Reno didnâ€™t just want a big old slice of it. Hell, who was he kidding? He wanted the whole cake, icing and all.
It wasnâ€™t until heâ€™d been standing there for a good five minutes that Reno realised he was stalling. Not only that, but he was pretty sure he was doing a good impression of a stalker.
Taking in another deep breath, he said to himself, "Come on, stop being a wimp. You can do this. Itâ€™s not like heâ€™s going to bite or anything. At the worst, he can just treat you like youâ€™re nothing. Just like every other good looking guy in the world does. It wonâ€™t hurtâ€”much."
Making himself put one foot in front of the other, Reno closed the gap between himself and Bruce. His heart pounded harder the closer he got. His throat grew dry and his breathing became so fast it was a wonder that he didnâ€™t hyperventilate. Before he knew it, he was there. Bruce barely glanced his way before returning his gaze to the water.
Yeah, just the way Reno wanted things to start off. He could already feel himself wanting to crawl into a hole and die.
'Out of Service' by Devon Rhodes
Jayden couldnâ€™t believe he was actually there at the MeliÃ¡ Hotel. He shifted his shoulder bag, which seemed to be growing heavier by the minute, yet again as he waited in line in the lobby for check-in. He finally shrugged it off and rested it on the top of his rolling bag.
Excitement warred with nervousness in his gut, leaving him wishing heâ€™d taken the time to grab a bite from one of the dozens of fast-food restaurants heâ€™d passed before heâ€™d eventually made his way through Atlantaâ€™s airport to the transportation area to catch the shuttle.
He hadnâ€™t done much travelling beforeâ€¦ Well, to be honest, he hadnâ€™t ever flown before. It had been a huge step for him to leave his podunk little town to come all the way to the East Coast to attend a conference where he didnâ€™t know a soul. Registering had been an impulse, and once that had been done heâ€™d faced the realisation that he was going to then have to buy a plane ticket, reserve a hotel room and actually get there. The planning hadnâ€™t been as bad as heâ€™d thoughtâ€”it had been kind of fun to imagine being at the eventâ€”but that had been last winter and it had seemed so far off at the time.
Soon the day had come when heâ€™d had to pack then drive himself to Denver for his flight. It had taken him way longer than heâ€™d thought to get through security, so he hadnâ€™t had time to eat in the terminal before his flightâ€”it had already been boarding when heâ€™d reached the gate.
Heâ€™d vaguely expected that there would be a meal served on the flight like they always showed in the movies. Instead, theyâ€™d been offered some undersized and insanely high-priced snack options for purchase. Hell, he couldâ€™ve picked up ten at the grocery store for what one would have cost him. In the end, heâ€™d ignored his growling stomach and passed, savouring the free pretzels and going for juice instead of pop.
Now things were really getting dire, and he was feeling a bit lightheaded from lack of blood sugar. He wished the line would hurry up and move before his damn stomach decided to go on a rampage and eat all its neighbouring organs. He eyed the long counter with several computer stations...and one person working.
Jayden tried to be patient and looked at the people around him, seeing if he could pick out any other GayRomLit attendees. He didnâ€™t know anyone who would be there other than a few people he had â€˜online friendshipsâ€™ with. A few small clusters of people stood here and there, but he had no way of knowing if they would be with the retreat or were just random travellers.
There was a sudden, piercing squeal as a petite blonde woman appeared out of nowhere to his left and grabbed the long-haired woman in front of him in a crushing hug.
"Youâ€™re finally here!" She grinned at her friend then met Jaydenâ€™s eyes briefly before scanning the rest of the line. "Have you been waiting long? Thereâ€™s usually, like, four people working the desk."
"Yeah, weâ€™ve been here forever. My luck, they have a staff meeting or something right when I get here." She laughed, sounding happy in spite of her words. "At least Iâ€™m standing up. My flight was lo-ong."
He could relate.