My sugary snack of a Christmas story from a few years ago is only 99 cents from now until December 15th! 🎄🎅🏼
-Adorable North Pole elf
-Shy, lonely human
-Creative use of holiday words for swearing 😉
Find it at the links below:
Avon Gale and I have requested and received the reversion of rights for both our Hat Trick and Art & Soul series from Riptide Publishing.
PERMANENT INK has been republished and is available at all the usual e-tailers. Currently, we intend to self-publish the remaining books in the Art & Soul series. OFF THE ICE and the remainder of the Hat Trick series have been contracted by Carina Press, and OFF THE ICE will be rereleased in March 2019 with the remaining two titles to be published later in the year.
Asking to dissolve our contracts wasn’t a decision we made lightly, but as a Latinx person who writes characters of color, Riptide no longer feels like the right publishing fit for me or my work. We hope that in the future, Riptide will become the inclusive publisher they intended to be from the beginning. We also hope that readers will please consider continuing to support Riptide authors. I fully understand the current situation is complicated and emotionally charged, but it truly hurts my heart to think these authors who worked so hard might suffer through no fault of their own.
A few days ago I posted a preliminary statement regarding Santino Hassell. At the time, given what I was still learning about the sheer extent of the accounts and accusations being made against him, I kept my statement fairly straightforward while I examined the information more thoroughly.
First, I’m deeply sorry so many people were hurt through the actions of Santino Hassell. I’m even more sorry for the people I hurt by publicly vouching for him and by making his accusers less credible. I recognize my platform and position as an author gave me the power to influence and/or harm people, and I’m sincerely sorry for the damage I caused.
Now that I’ve read accounts and had numerous conversations, I’m completely dismayed by what I’ve learned and the gaslighting and manipulation I’ve seen described. It’s led me to reexamine every conversation or interaction SH and I ever had, and while doing so, I recognized a disturbing pattern of behavior, of lying and pitting friends against each other, that’s made me realize I never truly knew the person behind the name.
As I said before, I do not condone or excuse gaslighting, coercion, manipulation, or harassment. I’m horrified by the idea that someone I trusted and considered a friend could behave in such a manner—and that I could have been ignorant for so long.
I believe the people who’ve come forward, and I’m sorry it took me so long to say so, and that my support of SH helped to harm them.
I took Santino Hassell at face value. Like many people, I believed what he told me. When he claimed people were trying to harm him and his family, I blocked accounts without engaging or looking into them too deeply out of respect for his privacy. A couple of months back, when he posted pictures of his face, I spoke up on behalf of the person I thought I knew—because at the time, I believed him. I sincerely regret that my support of him caused people to cast their own doubts aside and made others more vulnerable to his manipulations.
When SH mailed me a paperback a year or two ago containing an invoice that listed a male name, I kept that name private, as I would’ve done for any other person, because I’d never give out anyone’s legal name under any circumstances without their express permission. The name didn’t raise any red flags or hold any particular significance to me, beyond the fact that I assumed it was his because it was tucked into the book. Earlier this year, when we drew up a legal contract for the series we’d intended to self-publish—which has now been cancelled—SH signed that contract using the same male name I’d previously learned.
In all the time I’d known SH online, we only ever hung out in person during one trip—the weekend we and some friends spent as a group in New Orleans this past November. Back then, I had no reason to suspect SH was anyone but who he claimed to be, or that I was writing the book with anyone other than the person I believed him to be—a bisexual man, who’d published books I loved and who’d told me he lived with a roommate.
We plotted Bishop’s Move through a series of chats. We wrote our sections from our respective locations, in separate states. We never wrote together on FaceTime or on Skype or in the same place at the same time. Even when we had writing marathon days, it was me looking at my screen, working on my own chapters, in my own home, and checking in via chat. So, as much as it humbles me to think I could have been so thoroughly fooled by someone, I have to acknowledge that I can in no way be certain who was behind the keyboard on SH’s end throughout the writing process. The entire time we were writing and editing, I assumed I was working with the man I’d met, the man who signed our coauthor contract.
I’ve been publishing M/M romance since 2011, and I have so much love and appreciation for my readers and the friends I’ve made in the community. Please know, I would never knowingly engage in any type of deception. Nor would I ever risk damaging my career or my reputation by trying to cover up for anyone, nor by helping someone perpetuate a false identity. I value my readers and friendships too much for that, and if I’d had any suspicions that SH wasn’t who he claimed to be before we started, or at any point during the process itself, I never would have started writing with him or continued doing so. I would never intentionally try to harm anyone. But I realize my intentions are meaningless in these circumstances. Only the impact of my actions matter—and I know my actions caused people to believe SH and made them disbelieve his accusers. For that, again, I’m profoundly sorry.
Hi, all! It’s been a while since I updated, but I have a surprise rerelease to announce today!
My short story, Black John, was originally included in DSP’s “Cross Bones” pirate anthology. I got the rights back a few months ago and decided I would rerelease it as an individual title for those who didn’t pick up the anthology, or those who read the other book in this universe, Love Rising (currently available from Dreamspinner Press). The two stories are set in the same world, but can definitely be read as stand-alones. Please note: Love Rising does have a fantasy element. If you’re a fan of mermen, check it out! 😀
This fab new cover was designed by Natasha Snow. I ♥ it.
Former pirate Juan “Black John” de Avila has found a home on Isla Sagrario, a safe haven for men who desire other men. When Jacob, the lover he thought had died, washes ashore after a shipwreck, Juan believes he’s been given a second chance at love. But Jacob Bellamy thinks the safety of Sagrario is an illusion, one that will come to a brutal end should their enemies ever catch wind of their whereabouts.
Juan doesn’t want to lose Jacob again, but neither does he want to leave his home behind for a lifetime of hiding and secrecy. When the island comes under attack, Jacob is forced to decide what means more to him—spending the rest of his life safe and alone, or risking it all to be with the man he loves.
Genre: M/M Historical Romance
Length: Short story (approx 6K)
Add it on Goodreads
For the last 7+ months I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with writing and depression, and more recently, the mystery illness that landed me in the emergency room and countless doctors’ offices over the last month (and has yet to be identified). Those of you who follow this blog or are friends with me on social media have doubtless seen some of my posts. I decided to be open about the depression in particular for two reasons:
1) The stigma that surrounds depression/mental illness is seriously upsetting, and I feel the only way to change that is through open discussion and for the people who suffer from depression not to feel forced to hide it like it’s some shameful secret.
2) Out of respect for my readers. See, I do 100% believe I’m entitled to my privacy and I don’t blame any author who might be in a similar situation for keeping it quiet. This is a decision every individual has to make for themselves. But, for me personally, because my depression affects everything in my life, including my writing, I wanted to be upfront about it. I didn’t want my readers to think I’m just taking some extended vacation and hanging my unfinished series out to dry without a care that people are waiting for more books. Authors are human—we need breaks sometimes, it’s true—but the reality is I want to be writing, and the fact that my words have seemingly abandoned me is a pain I deal with every day. I’ve written since I was around eleven, since the time when the only people who saw my stories were my friends in junior high, and I didn’t even entertain the hope that I might be able to make what I loved a career someday. Writing has always been cathartic for me, and being unable to write for over half a year now makes me feel like I’m missing some critical part of myself, my soul. Believe me, I didn’t make the conscious choice to stop writing, and I’m fighting to get through this block every day.
The TL;DR version of what happened is that back in October I got hit by the worst bout of depression I’ve ever dealt with. I experienced suicidal ideation, nearly ended up in the hospital, scared my family and close friends, and had to seek the help of a therapist for the first time since childhood.
I am only now, nearly 8 months later, getting to the point where I’m started to feel excited about writing again and hopeful that I’ll be able to break through this block and start putting words on the page. Still, I’m taking things cautiously. When the words do start flowing, I want to allow myself to write without any pressure. I’ve realized lately that I can’t write on a strict schedule. I have to focus on the story that is calling to me most strongly, and yes, that does mean that sometimes it’s a long wait between books in my series. I apologize for that, but I just can’t force myself to work on a project simply because I know I should try to keep series releases consistent, not if in my heart of hearts, I’d rather be working on something else instead. Forcing myself to try to write what I should be writing only stresses me out and makes it feel like a job. And while, yes, this is what I do for a living, I started writing for love and for fun, and I don’t want to lose that feeling—the happiness I experience when I’m working on a project I’m truly excited and passionate about.
So, with all that being said, I’ve had to make a tough decision, and trust me, it’s not one I made lightly. Tears were shed. But being that I’ve received dozens of messages, tweets, and questions about the Portland Pack Chronicles, I know it’s a series that readers are eagerly awaiting more of. My coauthor, Kenzie Cade, is also eager to get back to our boys and continue writing. Unfortunately, due to my current circumstances, I’m the one holding things back—and I don’t think that’s fair, not to her, and not to the readers who’ve enjoyed the series so far, not when she could keep writing and get the stories to you faster than if I stayed involved. Because right now, with the lingering depression and the health issues that have plagued me over the last month or so, the only answer I can give about when I’ll be able to return to the Portland Pack Chronicles is “I don’t know.” So, sad as it makes me, I feel like this is the best decision for the future of the series. I’m sure Kenzie will more than do justice to the Portland Pack boys on her own. She’ll rock it—I’ve told her so—and I wish her much success!
As for my other in-progress series, fear not! The series I’ve started on my own will be completed eventually, even if it takes me much longer than I ever anticipated. I will break through this! I have so many stories I want to write and projects I’m excited about. I’m not giving up. Definitely not. Watch this space, because I’m sure, in time, I’ll have a much happier update to post.
In the meantime, thanks for your patience and understanding!
For Chris Sweeso…
All I Want – A Hook, Line, & Sinker Holiday Ficlet (NSFW)
“Hey, Cas, you want me to bring up this last box? It says ‘Xmas’ on it.”
Cas peered around the living room. He counted three cardboard boxes, which was all he thought he had, but he hadn’t decorated for Christmas in a few years. He must’ve missed one. “Yes, please,” he called down to the basement.
Moments later, Blake appeared at the top of the steps with a box in his arms. There was a cobweb in his short, light brown curls, and as Cas stepped closer to brush it away, he thought he really should do a good cleanup down there one of these days. It looked a little like a scene out of Arachnophobia, which was probably why he’d subconsciously avoided doing it. Maybe that was a job for his big, grouchy boyfriend. One scowl would send those spiders running. He grinned as he imagined the mass exodus.
“What are you smiling about?” Blake asked with lifted brows.
Cas took the box from him. “Nothing,” he said, grin broadening. He turned to saunter away but didn’t get more than a step before Blake swatted his ass hard.
“Brat.” Blake kneaded the abused cheek through the worn denim of Cas’s jeans and pressed a kiss to the side of his neck, the scrape of his stubble causing a shiver.
Cas tipped his head sideways and leaned back into him. “Mmm.”
Another soft kiss and Blake stepped away. “Want some more coffee before we start?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.”
As Blake went into the kitchen, Cas set the box down with the rest of his decorations and tuned the radio on his iPod dock to one of the local stations playing Christmas carols. He’d just started untangling a string of lights for the fresh pine tree they’d bought the night before when Blake joined him with a steaming mug of coffee.
Blake set his cup on the table in front of the couch. “Need help with that?”
Cas shook his head. “Why don’t you check the ornaments? We might have to go shopping if any of them got broken during the move. I don’t have much.”
Blake nodded and opened one of the other boxes. Cas watched him surreptitiously as he worked on his own task. He couldn’t get over the surrealism of sitting there with his old childhood frenemy as they prepared to trim their first Christmas tree together. He would’ve laughed himself stupid if someone had suggested he’d be here with Blake even six months ago.
Yet here they were. And the tree was theirs. This might only be his house officially—for now—and Blake still had his apartment in the city, but they hadn’t spent a single night apart since Cas returned from Colorado three weeks ago. If Cas had his way, there’d be very few nights in the future that they didn’t spend together.
“Let It Snow” came on the radio, and Blake glanced up, catching Cas’s gaze.
He smiled slightly. Not his typical, arrogant smirk. Not that knowing grin he wore when they were in bed and he was driving Cas crazy. Just a small, genuine smile that made him look boyish and happy, as if he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else but right here, right now, in Cas’s small living room, looking through Christmas ornaments and listening to Dean Martin croon on the radio.
“What is it?” he asked when Cas just stared.
“I love you.”
Blake’s smile widened. “I love you, too.”
Cas shook his head, which made Blake’s brow furrow. He dropped the lights and knee-walked to where Blake sat watching him in puzzlement. He set his hands on Blake’s shoulders. “I love you. It’s never been like this before. It’ll never be like this with anyone else but you.”
Blake gripped his waist and pulled him in until Cas was straddling his lap. His head tipped back as he looked up at Cas, his confused expression fading into something tender. “I feel the same way, Cas. You know I do.”
Cas kissed him, trailing his tongue along the inside of Blake’s lower lip. He tasted strongly of sugar and coffee, and Cas moaned, wanting to get to the familiar flavor beneath. He got his wish as their tongues entwined, the kisses deepening until urgency overshadowed his soppiness from a few minutes before. The Christmas decorations were forgotten as Blake pushed him back onto the floor, then covered Cas’s body with his own.
Blake’s hand found the hem of his oversized sweatshirt and pushed the material up, his fingers skimming the skin of Cas’s belly. He kept going until Cas’s arms were over his head with the sweatshirt bunched around his wrists.
“Stay just like that,” Blake ordered.
Cas nodded, already feeling lust-drunk. Blake unzipped his jeans, and Cas lifted his hips to help as Blake tugged the denim down and off. Cas was naked underneath. The jeans had been worn to a comfortable softness by time and countless washings and he enjoyed the feel of them against his bare ass and cock.
Speaking of his cock, it hardened even further, the skin stretching tight, when Blake lowered his head and simply breathed near the tip, the flow of air making Cas tremble as it cooled his precum.
Cas’s ass left the floor as he strained toward Blake’s mouth, but Blake kept just out of reach until Cas got the hint and stopped moving. Only then did Blake take one of Cas’s balls into his mouth. He sucked hard and released it with a crude pop. Cas shuddered when Blake repeated the action on the other side, then trailed his tongue up to Cas’s tip, where he teased the precum from his slit with slow licks.
Cas wanted to tug his hands free of the sweatshirt, grab Blake’s head, and force him to take the entire length of his cock. Nothing physical prevented him from doing so, but of course he didn’t move. He wouldn’t disobey Blake, because he wanted to follow Blake’s orders. Because allowing Blake to control him was part of the thrill. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t ask for what he wanted.
Blake instantly withdrew his tongue. “Naughty boy. You didn’t say please.” He toyed with Cas’s balls before dragging his thumb down Cas’s taint to the edge of his hole.
Cas bore down, wanting the tip of Blake’s thumb inside. He didn’t care if it was dry. Sometimes he enjoyed the burn. “Please.”
Blake teased his rim and pressed just hard enough that the muscle started to give. But still he didn’t push in.
“Please,” Cas repeated.
Blake pressed harder and dipped down to give Cas’s cockhead a quick, light suck. He followed it up by rubbing his scruffy chin against the underside, making Cas hiss. “Please what?” he asked.
Cas groaned. “Suck my cock and finger-fuck me.”
Blake gave his cock a playful lick and blew a stream of air across the damp skin. “Well, it is the holiday season. I might be convinced.” He licked again. “Are you going to be a good boy until Christmas?”
Cas’s hips jerked helplessly. “Yeah. So good. I’m gonna be so good for you.”
“That’s right,” Blake said. “You will be.” And, finally, he sucked Cas into his mouth, taking in most of the length on a downward glide that made Cas’s eyes cross and his stomach muscles jump.
Cas slammed his eyelids shut and arched his back as the tip of Blake’s thumb breached him, dry like he craved it. It burned, but only slightly. The muscles were still a little loose from their rough fuck the night before.
Once Blake started, he didn’t torment Cas more than necessary. He sucked him—deep, wet, sloppy. Cas felt spit dripping down onto his balls, and seconds later, Blake withdrew his thumb and dragged his fingers through the moisture before sliding them both into Cas in one firm thrust.
Cas’s sharp cry echoed through the room, and when Blake found his prostate, his legs shook. Blake toyed with it, rubbing, tapping, circling the edges. At the same time, he sucked hard on an upward stroke, his lips catching on Cas’s ridge as he pulled all the way off.
That was all it took. Eyes squeezed shut, Cas bowed his back and came.
When he returned to himself, it was to find Blake with cum dripping off his chin. Cas’s cock gave up one last spurt at the sight, this one just shy of painful. Holy fuck.
He sat up and dragged Blake close. Between kisses, he cleaned the cum from Blake’s skin, moaning, reveling in the rasp of Blake’s stubble beneath his tongue. “Now you,” he breathed against Blake’s mouth.
Cas pulled back to look at him. “What?”
Blake grinned sheepishly. “I already came.”
Blake grabbed his hand and slid it beneath the waistbands of his sweatpants and boxers. Cas’s fingers encountered cooling stickiness. “That little noise you make when you come,” Blake whispered. “It sounds almost like you’re in pain, like you can’t breathe. Drives me insane every time.”
Cas withdrew his hand and sucked the evidence of Blake’s orgasm from his fingertips. The taste made him shiver in the best possible way. “Fuck, that’s hot. I love the thought of you coming while you blow me.”
Blake nipped at his lower lip. “Well, good, ’cause I’m sure it’ll happen again.”
Cas laughed breathlessly. “I need another shower.”
Blake stood and reached down to give him a hand up. “Let’s go take one, then. The tree awaits.”
Cas let Blake pull him to his feet. As they walked to the bathroom, he became aware of the radio again. Mariah Carey’s voice belted out something about there being only one thing she needed for Christmas. Cas understood the feeling. There was only one thing he needed or wanted for Christmas—and luckily, he already had it right here.
Want more of Cas and Blake? Don’t miss their story in Hook, Line, & Sinker.
When they were teens, Castor McCormick was the bane of Blake Kowalski’s existence. Their mutual animosity led to summers filled with rivalry. Now, nearly two decades later, Cas is moving back into the neighborhood to live in his grandmother’s old house. Blake tells himself he isn’t interested in seeing how snarky little Cas grew up, but when his mother dupes him into visiting his former nemesis, he finds out “pretty” can evolve into “sexy as hell” on the right man.
Cas didn’t think he wanted to see Blake again. No one has ever pushed his buttons like the arrogant boy he remembers from their youth. Turns out, the adult version of Blake still gets him hot under the collar—and everywhere else. With Blake on leave from work to nurse an injured leg and Cas taking time to move and unpack, they form a tentative friendship that turns into a sexual affair neither man can deny. But when Cas’s job sends him out of state to deal with a difficult client, their new relationship will be tested, and if they fail, Blake’s broken leg might not be the only thing to end up scarred.
Hey, all! Originally this Valentine’s Day short was supposed to be exclusive to my newsletter until April; however, since we seemed to have hit a snag and my newsletter only made it out to maybe a 3rd of my subscribers, I decided it’d be fitting to post it here today. So, to those who voted for Ash and Fee in my Valentine’s Day story poll in January, this is for you. Read it here or on Xara’s blog. ♥
BODY ART: A CLUMSY CUPID VALENTINE’S DAY SHORT
by Piper Vaughn & Xara X. Xanakas
“Ash! Come on. The taxi’s here,” Fee called from the front door. He knew Ash had been packed for days, so he couldn’t imagine what was taking so long.
“I’m just doing one last check.”
Fee groaned and walked back to Ash’s bedroom. Ash was standing near the bed, patting down his pockets as he looked around. Fee stood behind him and rubbed his hands down his arms.
“You’ve got everything. Let’s just go. We’re going to be late.”
“What if I forgot something?” Ash chewed on his thumbnail as he glanced around the room.
“You didn’t forget anything when you first packed, or when you re-packed two days ago, or when you packed it again last night. And if you did forget something, no big deal.”
Ash whipped his head around. “What?”
“Ash, it’s New York. I guarantee, if you forgot something, we’ll be able to get it there,” Fee said as he bent down to pick up Ash’s overnight bag. “Besides, it’s only three days. You’ll be fine.”
“All right.” Ash sighed. “Let’s go then.”
Ash’s knee was bouncing all the way to the airport, shaking Fee’s leg next to him. Fee dropped a hand onto Ash’s thigh to help calm him down. “Are you okay?”
Ash kept staring out the window, watching the city waking up as they rode to the airport. Their flight was scheduled to leave at six-thirty in the morning.
“It’s too early,” Ash whined. “Why do we have to go so early?”
“We want to make the most of the day, don’t we?”
“Yeah, but there would still be a lot of day left if we left a couple of hours later.”
“Trust me,” Fee said, leaning in to kiss Ash’s cheek. “I’ll get you a coffee after we get through security, okay?”
Ash dropped a hand to cover his stomach. “Ugh. Maybe when we get there. I can’t even think about caffeine right now.”
“Ash, have you ever flown before?” That would explain a lot of Ash’s nervousness. His emotions had been all over the map, one minute snapping at Fee, the next curling in on himself.
“Of course I have,” Ash snapped again as the cab came to a stop at the curbside check-in counter. Fee paid the cabbie and led Ash inside. They had already checked in and printed their boarding passes, and all their bags were carry-ons, so they went straight for the security gates. “Holy crap, these lines are long,” Ash said.
“Don’t worry. They’ll go quick.” Fee nudged him forward to get in line. Ash kept tapping his foot as they waited. When they finally got near the bins, Fee kicked off his shoes and unpacked his laptop while Ash moved to the side to unlace his boots, remove his belt, and empty all his pockets. He stepped through the scanner, but he set it off and had to go back through. A couple of people behind them groaned, but Ash turned his pockets inside out and tried to go through again. It went off again, and he was pulled aside to be wanded. Fee went through without any trouble and collected all of their things. He waited at one of the benches inside Security for Ash to be cleared. The extra pat-down didn’t find anything, and Ash was finally let in. The extra security checks cost them a little bit of time, but they made it to their gate just as boarding was beginning.
When their group was called, Ash turned to Fee with wide eyes, and Fee squeezed the back of Ash’s neck.
“Hey, don’t worry. I’m here, okay?”
Ash nodded and took a deep breath and handed his boarding pass over.
“Have a nice trip, Mr. Byrne,” the ticket agent said.
“Uh, thanks,” Ash said. He took a few steps and waited for Fee to join him before they went into the jetway. The line of passengers moved a few groups at a time as people reached their rows and stopped to stow their bags in the overhead compartments. Finally, they were at their row.
“I’ll take the middle,” Fee said, nodding to signal Ash to take the window seat as he put up their bags.
“No, I’ll take the middle.”
Ash swallowed and glanced out the window before he sat down in the middle seat. “I’m sure.”
“Okay.” Fee shrugged and scooted in to take his place. Ash was already gripping the armrests tight, and Fee’s fingers hurt just watching him. He put his hand on Ash’s and tried to pry his fingers free. “Hey, are you sure you’re okay?”
Ash bit his lips and nodded. “Fine. I’m fine.” The baggage door slammed shut underneath them, and Ash jumped.
“Sure, you’re fine.”
“Sorry if we’re not all world travelers,” Ash huffed and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Hey, I’m not judging.”
“No, of course not. You’d never do that,” Ash drawled.
Fee let out a breath and counted to ten. Ash’s jaw was clenched tight, and his leg was bouncing again. Soon enough the doors were closed and they pushed away from the gate. Ash’s hands went back to the armrests, and he had his eyes squeezed shut. They rolled down the runway, and Fee put his hand on Ash’s forearm as he leaned closer.
“Ash, it’s going to be fine. This is a simple hop. Two hours is nothing, right?” The plane slowed as they got into position for take off. Ash’s breathing got shallow when the plane started moving again. “Ash, look at me,” Fee said, putting a finger under his chin to turn his face to look at him. “It’s going to be fine,” he said again. He leaned in to kiss Ash, and Ash ran his fingers through Fee’s hair, grasping tightly when the plane lifted off the ground.
Ash kept his grip on Fee until after the plane leveled out and the flight attendant announced it was safe to use approved electronic devices.
Fee pulled back and smiled. “See? We’re airborne now.”
Ash nodded and took a deep breath. “Airborne’s good, right?”
“Yeah, airborne’s very good. How else can we join the Mile High Club?” Fee asked with a wink as the plane hit a patch of turbulence. Ash’s hands flew back to the arm rests, and Fee pulled one hand closer and wrapped it in both of his. “How about we just sit here for a bit?”
“Sitting’s good,” Ash said quickly when the plane bounced again.
“Sitting’s great, as long as I’m near you.” Fee smiled and leaned in for another kiss.
Ash laughed. “God, that was cheesy.”
“What can I say? You bring it out in me.” They spent the rest of the flight joking with each other and planning their weekend. When the doors opened, Fee could see Ash finally let go of the tension he’d been carrying in his shoulders.
The line at the cab stand was even longer than the security line at O’Hare, but it moved quicker. Fee had booked a boutique hotel near the Museum of Modern Art. He had been emailing the concierge during the week, planning a few surprises for Ash. He texted the man to let him know they were on their way by cab, giving him an estimated arrival time based on the cabbie’s guess. The ride to the hotel took about forty-five minutes with traffic, but Fee didn’t care. Ash was like a kid, moving between both windows, taking everything in.
“Thank you,” Ash said as the cab slowed in front of the hotel.
Fee smiled and checked his watch. They were right on time, and the concierge had texted to let him know that their check-in was already taken care of.
“Mr. Navarro?” a man in a suit asked as Ash got out of the cab. Ash shook his head and signaled over his shoulder to where Fee was paying the driver. Fee smiled, came over, and shook his hand. “Mr. Navarro, I’m Gus. It’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”
“Please, call me Fee. And this is Ash.”
“Gentlemen, I have your room ready, and Ernie will take your bags up for you. Just come down and see me whenever you’re ready to go to the museum.”
“Thank you, Gus.” Fee smiled and slipped him a twenty. They followed Ernie up to their room and waited as he set their bags down and pointed out the mini bar, thermostat, and light switches. Fee tipped him, and Ash collapsed on the bed after Ernie left.
“Nap time,” he said.
“Don’t you want to go get some lunch before the museum?”
“Go on without me. Save yourself,” Ash said as he hugged a pillow tight.
Fee unpacked their bags, setting out their toothbrushes and hanging their shirts up while Ash relaxed. He finished by tucking the small surprise he’d brought for Ash into the drawer with his boxers and leaned against the wall.
“You’re not going to let me nap, are you?”
“I promised you coffee.”
“Tomorrow?” Ash asked. Fee chuckled at the hopefulness in his tone.
“Come on. You’re going to love it. I promise.”
“Ugh. You’re so mean to me. Fine, give me a minute,” Ash mumbled on his way to the bathroom.
Fee sat at the desk and checked his email on his phone while he waited. He smiled when he saw the confirmation email he was expecting for the museum tour he’d arranged for Ash. The bathroom door opened, and Ash stepped out. Some of his hair was dripping, like he’d splashed water on his face and got it everywhere. He shook his head and a few drops landed on his shirt. Fee sat and watched him as he picked up his jacket and glared back at him.
“Well? Are we leaving?”
“Just,” Fee said, getting up. He went into the bathroom to get a towel. He dropped it on top of Ash’s head and scrubbed at his hair. Ash pushed at him, but Fee held tight. When he moved the towel away from Ash’s face, he was scowling. Fee couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out at that, making Ash scowl harder. He smiled and pulled Ash into a kiss.
“You’re just lucky I love you,” Ash pouted when they separated. He grabbed the towel from Fee and went back into the bathroom. Fee gathered their jackets and waited near the door. He watched Ash as he combed his hair, just enjoying the way his muscles moved in his forearm. He’d never had a hand kink that he knew of, but he loved watching Ash when he worked. The way he held his pencils when he was drawing, his long, strong fingers wrapped around the wood, always graceful, always elegant. It was sexy in a way Fee had never considered before meeting Ash. Now, he couldn’t get enough of Ash’s hands. He was still staring when Ash cleared his throat. “See something you like?”
“Oh yeah,” Fee said. He crowded Ash against the door and tucked his face into Ash’s neck.
“I thought we were going, not coming,” Ash whispered. Fee sighed, making Ash shudder against him. “You keep that up, and the only place we’re going is to that big bed over there.”
Fee sighed and stood up. “You’re right. Let’s get going.”
“Do we have to?” Ash started kissing Fee’s neck and rubbing his hips against Fee’s. Fee groaned and pulled back to look into Ash’s eyes.
“Yes, we do. At least for lunch. Because you’re going to need your strength later,” he growled against Ash’s neck when Ash started to pout again.
“All right,” Ash sighed. He took his jacket from Fee. “Feed me.”
They left the hotel and wandered around a little, taking in the sights before they made their way to a café the concierge recommended. After lunch, and four cups of coffee, Ash looked more alive. He was practically bouncing as they walked to the Museum of Modern Art. His eyes were sparkling as he turned to Fee.
“Let’s go in.” Fee nodded and grabbed the door handle. Ash grinned and stepped inside. He immediately started looking around the lobby while Fee went to the counter to check in. “We’ve got an appointment with Ms. Sheppard,” he said after he introduced himself.
“Hello, Mr. Navarro. You can call me Kelsey. It’s nice to meet you.” She shook hands with Fee and then turned to Ash as he walked up. “And you must be Mr. Byrne. I’m Kelsey, and I’ll be your guide today. Fee told me you’re interested in mixed-media artwork. Is that right?”
“Uh, yeah,” Ash said cautiously.
“Wonderful. We have a new exhibit starting next week, and we’re prepping it now. Would you like to see it?”
“Are we allowed?”
“Of course. It’s part of the private tour Fee requested.”
“Fee?” Ash turned to him, the question clear on his face. Fee nodded, and the look of confusion morphed into one of happiness. The smile that took over Ash’s face was even better than Fee had hoped for when he made the arrangements. His chest tightened as he smiled back.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, babe.”
By the time they left the museum it was early evening. Their personal tour guide had started with the museum’s newest exhibition, and then led them throughout the various galleries, stopping occasionally to highlight and delve into the history of certain pieces. After the official tour was over, Ash had wanted to revisit the contemporary galleries and, unsurprisingly, the drawings gallery which featured a collection of abstract geometric drawings that seemed to fascinate him.
Ash was practically vibrating with lingering excitement as they stepped out of the museum. He stopped Fee for a brief kiss just beyond the exit, grinning up at him as he pulled back.
“I can’t believe you did this,” he said. “Thank you so much. I’m sorry I was being such a grouch all morning.”
“You’re welcome.” Fee kissed the corner of Ash’s mouth and linked their fingers together. He wasn’t really one for big PDAs, but they were in New York and this was their Valentine’s Day celebration. It felt right. “I wanted to give you something special. And don’t worry about this morning. I understand. I didn’t know flying made you nervous.”
“I haven’t really done it very often,” Ash said as they started down the sidewalk. “Just a couple of times to Florida to see my folks. Not a fan.” He bumped Fee’s shoulder with his. “But you already gave me something special, you know? This whole trip was a gift. You didn’t need to add anything more.”
Fee shrugged. “I wanted to.” And it was true. He’d been secretly planning this trip since Christmas. They’d exchanged gifts and celebrated Valentine’s Day with dinner and a movie on the day of, but at the end of the night, Fee surprised Ash with the plane tickets for this trip. He’d already arranged with Tank for Ash’s schedule to be cleared over the weekend. The only thing left had been to pack. It was costing him a small fortune, sure. New York wasn’t exactly cheap. But it was the first trip they’d taken together—the first of many to come, he hoped—so he’d tossed aside the idea of a budget and embraced the thought of a couple of hedonistic days spent not giving a damn how many times he swiped his debit card. It was oddly freeing. Most of the time Fee lived a rather frugal existence, aside from the rare splurge on whatever new high-tech gadget caught his interest. What was the point of hoarding his paychecks if he never actually let loose and enjoyed the money?
“So where to now?” Ash asked.
Fee glanced at his watch. Friday night, just after six. More than enough time for them to go back to the hotel to shower and change before they needed to be in the East Village to make his eight o’clock reservation at Gyu-Kaku. He’d wanted to try the Japanese barbecue restaurant for ages, but somehow they never made it to the one in Chicago. Luckily, the location of this one was perfect for what he hoped to do after.
“Let’s go back to the hotel,” he said. “Then dinner and dancing, if that sounds good to you.”
Ash bounced. There was no other word for it. He smiled so hard it made Fee’s stomach warm to see it. “Sounds great.”
Dinner was fabulous. The two of them sat at a small table with a grill between them, sharing a bottle of hot sake while cooking a variety of marinated meats and vegetables. The novelty of preparing their own food at a restaurant kept them amused, though the noise level prevented any real conversation.
Afterward, they walked to The Stonewall Inn, which Fee had chosen for its historical value as much as the fact that the Yelp reviews said it was a great place for dancing. He figured Ash would get a kick out of visiting a bar so significant to the GLBT civil rights movement, and the way Ash’s face lit up when he spotted the name in the front window assured him he’d made the right decision.
They caught the end of a drag show and had a few more drinks before losing themselves in the music and dancing. Ash ground against him, tipsy and flushed as he slipped his fingers beneath the hem of Fee’s shirt to stroke the small of his back. A guy crowded Ash from behind, causing a moment of tension when he asked if they might be interested in a three-way, but he just shrugged casually and moved on when Fee glared and said no. Ash laughed then and tossed his arms around Fee’s neck to tug him down into a long, slow kiss.
By the end, Fee’s head spun and his cock was hard as a steel pipe in his jeans. He dragged Ash out of the bar amid breaks for kisses and gropes. They lucked out and caught a cab after a few minutes of wandering down the street. On the way back to the hotel, Fee fended off Ash’s advances long enough to text the concierge to set the rest of his surprise in motion.
Ash was about two exits past sober and kept up the touching even as they made their way into the hotel and crossed the lobby, leaving Fee grateful for the fact that he’d researched and found a gay-friendly hotel before booking a room. The clerks at the front desk didn’t bat an eyelash as Ash fondled him while they waited for the elevator. Fee’s face heated as he blushed. But, then, this was Manhattan. They’d probably seen stranger things than a couple of drunken, horny gay men making out.
When they got to the room, Fee entered first. He breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing that everything inside was exactly as he’d requested. Room service had left a couple of covered trays on the table next to their king-size bed. Excitement surged in his belly as he thought about what was beneath those stainless steel domes and how he would use it on Ash.
“What is that?” Ash asked. He leaned heavily against Fee’s side and rubbed a hand along his arm. “Smells good.”
“Another surprise.” Fee shrugged off his jacket and tossed it over the chair next to the table. He turned toward Ash and smiled at him as his fingers went to work on slowly unbuttoning his own shirt. Ash’s blue eyes tracked the motion, his pupils dilating with every inch of skin that Fee revealed. “Take off your clothes. Leave the cuff on.”
Ash’s nostrils flared as he drew in a shaky breath. He stripped down, baring his slender body and inked skin. As always he wore the soft leather cuff Fee had given him on Halloween, just as Fee never removed the bracelet Ash gifted him after Thanksgiving. Here they were almost three months later, still going strong. Fee wanted more, wanted Ash to move in with him and for them to start building a life together. But there’d be plenty of time to ask about that later. For now, there were surprises and yet another present waiting.
“Get on the bed,” Fee said once they were both naked. He grabbed the lube and his final gift for Ash from the drawer with his boxers as Ash obeyed his instructions. Then he walked over to the table and dragged it close enough to reach easily from the mattress.
Ash watched with obvious curiosity as Fee lifted the domes off the trays. Underneath one was a mini fondue set. There was melted caramel and chocolate, both white and milk. Beneath the other rested a tray loaded with various fruit—cantaloupe, pineapple, and plump, ripe strawberries—along with a cup of what looked like blueberry yogurt and a pile of large, fluffy marshmallows.
Fee gave Ash a naughty grin. “Dessert.”
Ash laughed as Fee settled on the bed beside him. “I like the way you think.” He reached for a strawberry, but Fee gently batted his hand away.
“Nope. Let me feed you.”
Grinning crookedly, his face still flushed from the drinks at dinner and the bar, Ash leaned back against the pillows with his arms behind his head.
Fee grabbed a piece of pineapple and dipped it into the white chocolate before pressing it to Ash’s lips. Ash took a teasing lick before biting off the end. Fee popped the rest of the chunk into his own mouth, watching as Ash chewed. There was chocolate smeared on his lower lip, but Fee didn’t tell him. He liked the look of it there, and besides, he planned on getting Ash a lot messier.
Next he picked up a strawberry. This went into the caramel before he offered it to Ash, but he pulled back when Ash went to take a bite, instead using the strawberry to trail caramel down Ash’s chin, over the lean line of his neck, to the hollow between his collarbones. He lowered his head and followed the caramel path with his tongue, relishing Ash’s soft moan and shudder.
Fee ate the fruit himself before leaning in to share a strawberry and caramel flavored kiss with Ash. Slowly, he used the melted dips and various chunks of fruit and marshmallows to paint designs on Ash’s chest. Ash laughed and whimpered in turn as Fee teased him, his cock resting hard against his abdomen, adding slick precum to the mix.
Just when Ash started to tremble, his body showing signs of impending climax from Fee’s tormenting alone, Fee stopped to reveal the final present he had for Ash. It was a vibrator, sleek and arced perfectly to apply direct pressure to the prostate.
Fee played with it, turning it on so Ash could hear the vibration, his fingers moving over the silky surface as Ash’s breathing grew ragged. “Ever used one of these?” he asked. He knew Ash liked toys, and they’d used the occasional plug or dildo in the past, but he hadn’t noticed one of these in Ash’s collection.
Ash shook his head, his teeth digging into his lower lip.
Fee smiled and turned the vibrator off. “Draw your legs up. Let’s see how long you last.”
Ash groaned but obeyed, parting his thighs, grabbing his own legs behind the knees to expose himself for Fee. He shook visibly as Fee clicked open the lube and slicked up the vibrator. Fee fought a groan of his own as he took in the sight Ash presented, his cock slick and leaking liberal amounts of precum, his pale thighs spread wide, lips kiss-swollen, chest covered in caramel and chocolate. He looked totally debauched, and Fee was nowhere near being finished with him.
Fee swirled a bit more lube around the puckered skin of Ash’s entrance and slowly pressed the vibrator in. It was slender enough that it went in easily, but Ash’s stomach muscles tensed and his eyes were wide by the time the base rested against his ass.
“Okay?” Fee asked.
“Good.” Fee turned the vibrator on its first setting, grinning to himself when Ash jumped a little before moaning long and low. “Right there?”
Ash nodded jerkily. “God, yeah.”
Fee reached for the pot of milk chocolate and dipped two fingers inside. It was warm, but not scalding hot. In other words, perfect for what he intended. He watched Ash’s face as he traced a line of chocolate from the base of his cock to the wet-tipped head.
Ash’s blue eyes were huge in his face and his chest rose and fell as he panted. Fee lowered his head and took the tip of Ash’s cock in his mouth, circling his tongue around the ridge.
“Oh, shit.” Ash’s head fell back and his hips bucked. Fee sucked him deeper, humming at the taste, sweet chocolate blended with the more bitter tang of Ash’s precum. They’d only been going without condoms for the past couple of weeks after receiving their negative test results at the end of January. Fee couldn’t deny he loved the experience without the latex, loved the feel of Ash’s hard, silky flesh on his tongue. He couldn’t do this with just anyone, but with Ash…with Ash it turned him on to the point that his own hips started working, grinding his cock against the bunched up comforter beneath him as he increased the suction and did his best to blow Ash’s mind.
He gave Ash another minute or so on the lowest setting before he turned the vibration up. Ash went rigid, a sharp crying tearing free of his throat. Fee pulled off his cock to let him get used to the feeling and trailed his tongue along the line between Ash’s balls over his taint to where his skin stretched tight around the girth of the vibrator. Fee licked him there too, tasting lube, but he didn’t mind. The brand they used was vanilla-flavored and water-soluble.
Ash’s thighs trembled on either side of his head, and Fee pushed them farther apart, spreading him wider. The sound of the vibrations paled in comparison to Ash’s increasing cries. Finally, when Fee turned the vibrator up to its highest setting and covered the tip of Ash’s cock with his mouth once again, Ash lost it completely. He made an agonized sound, and salty heat flooded Fee’s throat.
Fee moaned around Ash’s cock, the taste of Ash’s cum driving him wild. He shoved a hand between his body and the mattress and fisted his own shaft, stroking hard. It only took a few moments before he came too, wet warmth seeping through his fingers and slicking the last few tugs.
He had enough presence of mind to turn off the vibrator and gently withdraw it from Ash, who lay in a boneless heap with one arm thrown over his eyes. Fee put it aside to clean later before flopping onto his back, his breathing ragged. He reached out and grabbed Ash’s free hand, lacing Ash’s fingers with his sticky ones. There was chocolate and caramel everywhere and he hated to think of the state of the sheets beneath them, but who cared? It was worth potentially scandalizing the housekeeping staff in the morning.
“That was amazing,” Ash said breathlessly. He removed his forearm from his eyes, looking over at Fee. “Thank you.”
Fee grinned at him and reached out to brush sweaty bangs from Ash’s forehead. “Yeah, it was pretty great.”
Ash caught Fee’s hand and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “I love you.”
Fee felt his own smile go goofy as pleasure bloomed in his chest. It had taken them a while to get those words out in the open between them, but he didn’t think he’d ever tire of hearing Ash say them. “Love you, too.”
Ash laughed, scooting closer. “Best Valentine’s Day celebration ever.”
Fee chuckled softly and kissed him. “It really was.”
© Piper Vaughn & Xara X. Xanakas