Carter’s fiancé is in love with someone else. Link has just been left at the altar. After bonding over mutual heartbreak at the would-be reception’s open bar, Link and Carter pass out in the honeymoon suite—and are mistaken for the happy newlywed couple the next morning. Reluctant to deal with the fallout from their breakups, they embark on an exciting week of fake honeymooning, during which Carter starts to have real feelings for Link. A genderqueer artist who lives life by their own rules, Link inspires Carter to build a new future. Against the eclectic and electric backdrop of New Orleans, Carter and Link have to decide if a second chance at love is in the cards, or if they’re only meant to be sidelined in someone else’s story.
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"Go. Be happy."
Love is sacrifice, or so claimed the vows that Carter had planned to say at his own wedding next year. Instead, his fiancé is now off with his true love, the one that got away, the one that is not Carter. And Carter, standing in the interior courtyard of this beautiful historic hotel all alone instead of being whisked off on an impulsive romantic getaway weekend the way he'd thought, is noble or selfless — or a complete and total jackass.
Carter reviews the events that led him here, mentally cataloging the moments and hoping to lock them away and never think of them again. Matthew received a wedding invitation from an ex approximately three weeks ago. Short notice according to the guidelines from wedding planning experts, Carter thought at the time, but he was otherwise unbothered by the invitation. Yet Matthew seemed unusually agitated about what Carter incorrectly assumed to be the frustrating lack of time to plan a trip. He and Matthew then got into another disagreement about where and when to hold their own wedding. There were other steps to fill in on the wedding planning agenda, and so Carter let it go, figuring they'd sort it out eventually. Neither of them was in much of a hurry.
He forgot about the invitation altogether and, when Matthew suggested a trip to New Orleans, Carter assumed it was a romantic trip for the two of them — also incorrect. Though not usually a nervous flyer, Matthew was extremely agitated on the plane, and Carter's recitation of flying safety statistics only seemed to aggravate him further. Of course, Carter's compulsive need to recite information seems to aggravate most people, so again he didn't think much of it.
At the hotel, Matthew led them both on a frenzied search for something as Carter's luggage banged into his shin and his travel pillow remained looped around his neck. The old French Quarter hotel was bursting with fascinating architectural details that Carter barely had time to take in. Matthew finally stopped at this interior courtyard, where a small group of people in fancy clothes and updos waited just outside carved cypress doors and whispered furtively amongst themselves. The wedding party, he realizes now, or part of it, heading inside to where the ceremony was taking place. If she was with that group Carter didn't notice, too distracted by lavender-flowered wisteria vines spilling over high brick walls and potted dahlias in pops of yellow and red and orange on the pale stone floor beneath skinny trees. Hedges in the center were carved into a small labyrinth, and, in the center of that, a fountain trickled sun-speckled water. Birds chattered. Matthew said he needed to tell Carter something. Thinking Matthew was irritated that Carter had stopped to ask a member of the housekeeping staff whether the acanthus molding on the fireplace was carved or cast in plaster, Carter struggled to make sense of Matthew's expression: he looked pained, yet flush with excitement.
Then Matthew confessed he'd come to stop the wedding and win back a long-lost love. Carter was so surprised that, at first, he was only relieved Matthew wasn't annoyed with him. Such a strange reaction, Carter thinks now, relief at finding out his fiancé is in love with someone else. Practically speaking, though, what choice did Carter have but to let him go? He'd come all that way, after all. Noble, it seemed at the time.
Love is sacrifice? What a load of garbage.
The beautiful stone fountain in the courtyard burbles gently. Carter stands motionless before it, tracks the flow of clear water from spout to basin, over and over, and does not feel angry and does not feel sad and does not feel betrayed. Carter watches the water flow until he doesn't feel anything at all.
Without even a room to crash in, so poorly thought out was his now-ex-fiancé's eleventh-hour secret-true-love's quest, Carter has been hauling his luggage around with nowhere to go and no plan to get home. He leaves his things at the front desk and feels significantly less burdened. There are no rooms available at this hotel, but he can have a drink at the small bar off the lobby and figure out what to do next without worrying about where to put his travel pillow.
The architecture is entrancing; the hotel has a classic French Creole style unique to New Orleans. He's never been to The Big Easy — and isn't here in the best of circumstances — but, between the fascinating architecture, the jubilant jazz band playing in the bar, the invigorating mint julep in his hand, and his well-honed skill at crushing his feelings into nothing more than a small, cold pit in his stomach, Carter is downright excited when he sits at the hotel bar.
"Laissez les bon temps roulez," he says to the bartender and lifts the glass in salute. The bartender moves away. Carter takes a long swig of his drink and sets it down with a refreshed "ahh." He knocks on the weathered, sepia wood of the bar. "Isn't this salvaged Louisiana cypress? Nice."
The bartender is ignoring him. Carter shrugs, sways on his barstool to scan the bar for more interesting details, and finds the person next to him slumped facedown on the bar. Long wavy black hair obscures their face, and they're wearing a white satin skirt and a purple tuxedo jacket. A flower pinned to the jacket has been crushed against the lip of the bar. A single petal falls from the flower and lands on its wearer's shining, sharply studded, heeled black boot. Carter sips his drink and tips his head.
Another petal falls.
"This might be a silly question," Carter says, leaning to be heard over the trumpet solo. "But are you all right?" They sit up in a sudden sweep of black hair and blink hazel eyes rimmed in smeared black eyeliner. On the bar sit two wedding bands, side by side.
"Oh, are you —" Carter pauses; is there a non-awkward way to phrase this? "Did you ... uh ... get left at the altar just now?" Probably not like that.
Green-gold eyes narrow. "How did you —"
"Me too. I mean. Well. Preemptively, I suppose." Carter finishes his drink and shakes it above his head to get the attention of the bartender. Of course, someone else was dumped today; Matthew's long-lost love certainly wasn't marrying herself. Yet, in his noble sacrifice for true love, he'd not considered that someone else's heart would be broken today. There isn't much he can do about it now, though he feels obligated to reach out all the same. "Mint julep?" Three drinks later, Carter is bobbing his head to the music. His new neighbor in Dumpedville, propped up on the bar by one arm, is twisted around to scrutinize him. "Aren't you miserable?"
Carter taps his feet. "Probably." His shakes his head and knocks back another swig. "See, the key is, you have to take your feelings, gather them up, and then crush them." He demonstrates said crushing with his free hand.
"That's a tad cynical," his new friend says. "Don't you think?"
Carter takes a gulp of yet another fresh drink, wincing a little at the burn in his throat. "I find that a healthy dose of cynicism prepares me for the inevitable disappointments in life." Carter hums, raising his glass as if in a toast. "Life is but a series of closed doors and people slamming them in your face." He says this cheerily, slurring a little, to his new companion's arched eyebrow.
"You know, you may be onto something. What was your name again?"
Had he said? He's started to lose track of things. "Carter. Carter Jacob."
"Your name is backward," his new pal in misery says.
Carter laughs. It is, isn't it? That is hilarious. Carter orders another drink for himself. "And — they? Will have another one also." Carter turns, eyebrows raised. He tries to not assume.
"Actually, if you could stick with they ..."
"Sure," Carter says. "Easy-peasy." Oh, he's more than buzzed; he never says "easy-peasy." After taking another drink to shore up his confidence, Carter says, "I'm bi. And my family cannot seem to take that at face value. They can't understand it." Carter's drink sloshes with his angry gesticulations. "But I'm not asking them to understand it. I'm asking them to accept that I know who I am, more than they do. Simple as that. So. You know."
"I'm Link, by the way."
Link's face is bemused, Carter thinks, or just confused. It's a nice face either way, quite lovely, with a wide, full-lipped mouth, slanted cheekbones, and a sharp jaw. Standing upright, they're long-limbed and graceful. Their green-gold eyes dart over Carter. Carter tries out the name of his new best friend in his sluggish, slow mouth. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Link," he says, which Link finds quite funny, probably because Carter spends some time stumbling over the word "acquaintance." Carter's mouth stretches into a grin. He should have little to smile about — and yet.
Link shrugs off their tuxedo coat to reveal a ruffled dress shirt like those shirts in '70s prom photos; it's hideous, but on Link it works. The oversized, lime-green collar falls open across curved collarbones and a swath of smooth skin. The band takes five, and Carter forces his lingering gaze away from Link's neck and clavicles. Without the music, Carter becomes newly aware of the emptiness of the little bar space; just he and Link and the bartender are here now.
"I sent everyone away," Link says to Carter's scan of the empty tables. "Couldn't take them all looking me. It was humiliating enough." Link gestures with their glass to the vacant, reception-less courtyard. "Needed to wallow in peace, you know."
Carter remembers that he has no room to stay in, no plans for how or when he's getting back to Illinois, and here he's barnacled himself to Link instead of getting on and dealing with it. "I can ..." He jerks his head toward the exit.
"No, stay. It's nice have someone in the same boat." Link scrunches up their face. "Not that I'm glad you're suffering the same fate. Not exactly."
Carter nods his head a few too many times; his brain is wobbly. "No, yeah. No, I get it." They both look around the quiet, solemn room where Link should have been celebrating a new marriage. Instead, here are the two of them: the collateral damage, the miscellaneous leftovers. The thought is sobering, and it's time for something stronger, anywhere else.
"Do you want to get out of here?" Link says. Carter is already sliding off his stool. Outside, tuxedo jacket balled beneath one arm and skirt ruffling gently in the mildly cold breeze, Link summons an Uber. Carter can't make the ground stay steady, goes stumbling backward, and slumps against a wall to get his bearings. He admires the recessed arched windows and doors of the hotel's exterior; the shutters appear to be the original batten made of heavy mahogany to keep out the harsh sun and extreme weather of the swampy, hurricane-prone, deep South. It's classic New Orleans: simple, sturdy, and elegant all in the same package. A car pulls up to the curb, and Link calls out.
Carter trails his fingers along the intricate pattern of the wrought iron gate. "Ooh, filigree," he says, joining Link. "Nice."
The flower pinned to Link's jacket has completely lost its petals. "Carter Jacob," Link says, steadying Carter as he stumbles into the car, "are you this cute all the time?" Carter frowns. Did Matthew ever think he was cute? "I don't know," Carter answers. Right now, he's no longer sure of anything.CHAPTER 2
Carter opens his eyes to a strange hotel room. The sound of knocking on the door reverberates painfully through his skull. His entire body throbs. The sun blasts cruelly from behind a lace curtain. Carter closes his eyes. He sits up slowly when the knocking starts again. He is wearing someone else's clothes: a black T-shirt and teeny-tiny shorts. Someone else is sleeping next to him. He has no idea how he got here.
Link's hair is done up in a French braid. Carter has no recollection of that happening. He twists out of the covers, groans, stands slowly, and presses a hand against the wall. The room spins, and sickly heat crawls up Carter's spine. He recalls a different bar; there were shots. And then, somehow, they were here. He opens the door.
"Sorry to wake you, Mr. Kline."
Carter tries to say who? or what? but it comes out as a mumbled, "Whnuf?"
The concierge's eyes slip to Carter's too-tight borrowed T-shirt; it's no doubt perfectly snug on Link's long body, but on Carter it bunches unattractively. He struggles to tug it straight, getting a glimpse of the bold white lettering on its front: QUEER AS IN FUCK U. The concierge's eyes widen, and their cheeks redden.
Carter clears his throat.
"Ah. Yes. An en suite breakfast is part of your honeymoon package, if you remember." The concierge gestures to a cart loaded with covered trays of food. Carter's stomach growls, then lurches. He quickly presses a hand over his mouth; he's too confused and hungover to stop the concierge from pushing the cart inside, then handing Carter a receipt. "If you could just sign at the bottom."
The food has been pre-charged to the room; the card belongs to Jamie Kline. Jamie ... Matthew's Jamie ... Link's former Jamie ...
The events of yesterday slot back into place. Carter's stomach sours even further. He wants to crawl under the covers and slip back into blissfully ignorant unconsciousness, but the concierge stands there with an expectant look on their face for a long, uncomfortable moment until Carter realizes that he's supposed to offer a tip.
"Right." Carter searches for his pants, where he hopes his wallet is still tucked into the front right pocket. Clothes and bedding are strewn everywhere; an empty champagne bottle sits in the center of the room. It looks exactly as though he and Link had a very celebratory, very naked honeymoon night. Carter is not entirely sure they didn't.
He locates his pants, draped over a floor lamp, and his wallet. Also tucked into his pockets are hints of what happened the night before: a cocktail napkin from a bar, a pot of glittery something, a tarot card, and a matchbook from a place called "Ye Olde Absinthe House."
No wonder he can't remember anything.
Carter tips the concierge, then stumbles into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. In the mirror, his skin is glittery and strange. Gold eyeshadow is painted over his eyes and across his cheeks; blotches of pink linger at the corners of his lips. His fingernails are painted pink. Carter has a sudden flash of sitting at a bar and having a very earnest conversation about the depressing restrictions of the gender binary. Then he and Link decided to get makeovers, he remembers, but isn't sure if that was before or after the absinthe bar. Carter rubs at his throbbing head and turns on the shower. Under the stream of hot water, the nausea and thumping headache ease. As he washes off the night before with the plain bar of hotel soap, glitter twirls festively down the drain. He wanted the quintessential New Orleans experience and he got it. Unfortunately, he does not remember much of it.
Carter is wrapping a fluffy white towel around his waist when the door bangs open and Link stumbles into the steamy bathroom with both hands pressed over their mouth, then stops with wide, shocked eyes to take in Carter's bare torso and only partly covered groin. Carter squeaks and flaps the towel closed. Link hunches over the toilet.
He's had some less-than-enthusiastic intimate partners over the years, but this is a first.
"Sorry," Link says later, sweet-smelling and still damp from a shower.
"No, it's ..." He trails off, because nothing is okay in the unflinching bright light of day. "Um. Thanks for letting me crash here." Carter is fully dressed now, in his clothes from yesterday that smell like a frat house plus absinthe and nail polish. He'll need to change before getting on a plane to go home.
"Yeah. No problem." Link attempts a pleasant smile, but winces instead. They're so much softer this morning in wide, loose pants and a snug cotton T-shirt, hair tied back and barefoot, curled up against the headboard of the king-sized bed. "Are you hungry? I don't think I can eat." Link gestures at the food cart.
Carter is a little hungry, despite the clench of nausea still holding fast. He hasn't had anything solid in his stomach since lunch at the airport in Chicago. Matthew was being so strange then, so irritable and distant. No wonder. Carter picks up the trays of food that Link and his fiancée probably picked out together for their first morning as a married couple. Sadness creeps into the room like heavy fog. Carter nibbles on dry toast and searches for flights while his phone charges with Link's charging cord.
"Do you mind if I have them bring up my suitcase so I can change before I go?"
Link stares blankly at a wall and makes a brief noise of agreement.
There's quick rap on the door almost immediately after Carter hangs up. "Wow, that was fast. Impressive." It's too bad Matthew didn't actually book them a room; he'd love to stay longer. It's a very nice, beautifully historic hotel, but he also really, really doesn't want to go home and face everyone yet.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Jilted"
Copyright © 2018 Lilah Suzanne.
Excerpted by permission of Interlude Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.