Love, served behind the stick.
Kyle McKee lives a charmed life. He co-owns Under, an uptown speakeasy, where he is chief mixologist. Friends poke fun at Kyle’s tiny one-bed apartment in Chelsea, but they’re the best support system a man could ask for. Unfortunately, Kyle’s lackluster love life has led him to take a break from dating.
Harlem resident Luka Clarke is a lieutenant with Engine 47, the Pride of Morningside, where he carries on his father’s legacy with the FDNY. Luka, who is mixed race and bisexual, has his eye on Kyle, whom he met at a local burger joint and he just needs to make time to visit Kyle’s bar.
Before work one evening, Kyle is trapped inside the luncheonette when a fire breaks out. Luka’s firehouse answers the call and he connects with Kyle again under the most unexpected of circumstances. When Kyle gratefully invites Luka and the firehouse squad to Under, the flirting between the two men leads to a date.
Kyle and Luka quickly grow close, but Luka’s mother and sister distrust Kyle for being both white and gay. Luka believes his family will come around and accept Kyle in the end, but Kyle is not optimistic and hides his disquiet as attraction blossoms into love.
Kyle and Luka’s near-idyllic bubble is shattered one evening after a hate crime leaves them scarred, inside and out. Shaken, they put on a strong front but struggle inwardly against fear and personal demons. As the emotions seething beneath the surface finally come to a head, both men must decide if they have the strength to find love enough to conquer hate.
About the Author
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.
K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.
Brigham Vaughn is on the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time author. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga. She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.
Her books range from short stories to novellas to novels. They explore gay, bisexual, lesbian, and polyamorous romance in contemporary settings.
Read an Excerpt
Copyright © K. Evan Coles and Brigham Vaughn 2019. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Pride Publishing.
Kyle McKee set down his gym bag and yoga mat and pulled up a seat at his gym’s juice bar. The class he’d taken had warmed his skin and stretched his muscles and joints to their limits. He felt like the world’s most relaxed slab of single New York man, which was good for Kyle’s state of mind. He’d been stressed lately, about his love life in particular. Because damn if every guy he’d been out with in the last two months hadn’t turned out to be a shitheel of epic proportions. So much so, Kyle had decided to stop dating entirely.
Eyes closed, Kyle forced away thoughts of dating catastrophes. He rolled his neck from side to side but peeled his lids open again when the chair on his left slid back and his friend Malcolm Elliot dropped into the seat. Malcolm gave Kyle a lazy grin. At six-three, he stood a few inches taller than Kyle, and he looked rosy-cheeked and loose limbed, his blue-gray eyes shining.
“I am a man-sized untwisted pretzel,” Malcolm said. “I’m not sure what that means, so don’t ask.”
“You’re yoga-stoned, dude.” Kyle smiled at Malcolm’s laugh.
“Is that a thing?”
“Totally a thing.”
Malcolm narrowed his eyes at Kyle. “You’re the one with the bloodshot eyes—what did you do after class?”
“Ugh, nothing but itch from allergies. Ragweed is my kryptonite.” Kyle pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers, then nodded at the menu on the wall behind the counter. “What are you drinking?”
“I’ll do a Kale Storm with protein,” Malcolm said.
Kyle held up a hand when Malcolm reached for his wallet. “I’ll grab these—you paid last week.” He smiled at the barista who’d stepped up to take their order. “A Kale Storm with a protein powder shot and a Peanut Butter Baby with chia, please. You headed home after this?” he asked Malcolm.
Malcolm shook his head. “I’ve got errands to run. My kitchen has mysteriously emptied itself of food since my brother and his girlfriend came back to town. What about you?”
“I’m opening tonight, so I’ll just head to the bar. I have extra clothes at the office I can change into.” Kyle co-owned a speakeasy called Under with his friend Jesse Murtagh and, while he loved his job, the commute uptown from Chelsea to Morningside Heights could be a pain in the ass. He welcomed the option to skip extra stops when he could.
Malcolm ran his gaze over Kyle’s gray Henley and dark jeans. “You could always serve in what you’re wearing, you know. You’d blow Jesse’s mind.”
Kyle covered a theatrical gasp with one hand. “I would never!” His preference for black or dark gray clothing while working was a source of gentle teasing among his friends. “Seriously, I don’t feel like I’m working unless I’ve got my blacks on. I’ve done it for so long it’s just part of how I do my job.”
A thoughtful expression fell over Malcolm’s face. “I think I get it,” he said. “The black clothes are your uniform. I’ve got one too, though it’s a lot less hipster bartender.” He grinned at Kyle’s snicker. “When I worked in advertising, I wore a suit or a good jacket with dress trousers. It took me a while after I started at Corp Equality to feel okay about not dressing formally.” Malcolm waved at his hoodie and joggers. “I wouldn’t go into the office dressed like this unless I was working on a weekend even now.”
Kyle nodded. Malcolm worked as a social organizer at the headquarters of Corporate Equality Campaign, an organization dedicated to defending the rights of LGBTQ people in the workplace. While a non-profit, the CEC maintained a business-casual culture, and Malcolm always dressed with understated chic.
“Did you start wearing black at work on purpose?” Malcolm asked him. “Definitely seems like a smart idea given you mix drinks all night and could get splashed with booze.”
“I only get splashed when Jesse is mixing drinks,” Kyle replied, his tone dry. “But it was more an accidental habit. I got a job at a nightclub right after I moved to New York, and everyone on staff wore black,” he explained. “Not like that’s out of the ordinary—unless a club has a gimmick, staff usually wear black so they don’t stand out. Can’t have the clientele feeling like they’re not as pretty as the guy schlepping booze behind the bar.”
The barista appeared with their smoothies, and Malcolm quirked an eyebrow at Kyle.
“I get what you’re saying, but that doesn’t work, does it? I mean…it’s not like anyone forgets you’re a good-looking guy whether you’re wearing black or not.”
Kyle shrugged. “It’s more about fading into the background than anything else. Staff in any bar or club are supposed to keep the customers happy without their noticing the hard work going on.”
He sipped his smoothie and let out a satisfied sigh. He’d need something more substantial to eat before he started his shift at Under, but for now, his taste buds and stomach were happy with the combination of banana, peanut butter and chocolate almond milk.
Kyle ran a thumb over the moisture on his cup. He’d given Malcolm a pat answer, and though he could leave it at that, he didn’t want to. Compared with other friends in their shared circle, Malcolm was reserved to the point of appearing introverted. He’d become very close with another of their mutual friends, Carter Hamilton, who also worked at the CEC, and he’d also formed a connection with Kyle in the last several months.