At the end of the day, when the children had fled the room in favor of waiting for their parents to pick them up or catching the bus, Savanah still sat at her desk. She didn’t look as if she planned on moving anytime soon. Her pointy chin was propped up by her palm, and every few seconds she sighed loudly.
Cole gingerly sat himself in the chair at the desk beside hers. His legs wouldn’t fit under, so he had to twist sideways. Savanah’s workbook was still open on her desk, and her pencil was beneath her chair. He rolled it closer with his foot and bent to retrieve it. “Is something wrong, Savanah?” She didn’t thank him for returning the pencil to the groove in the desk.
“No.” She kicked her foot into the leg of the chair and nudged her pencil off the desk at the same time.
Cole was starting to suspect Savanah’s favorite word was no. He left the pencil for now. “How come you’re not at parent pick-up?”
She dropped her chin to the desk hard, causing Cole to wince. It couldn’t have felt good, even if she didn’t so much as blink in discomfort. “Daddy’s coming in,” she said, the words mumbled as she barely moved her lips.
It took Cole a minute to parse that and the sullen expression on her face. “To talk to me?”
Savanah rolled her eyes. “Duh.”
“That’s not how you speak to adults,” he said calmly. Explaining to her that her father was supposed to call and schedule a conference ahead of time wouldn’t change anything, so he didn’t bother. At least he’d finally get to meet and chat with the man responsible for Savanah. “It’s very rude.”
“But adults do it.” She twisted a strand of her black hair around her finger, cutting off circulation and changing the pigment. When she released it, the color came rushing back.
“Your dad tells people ‘duh?’”
She shook her head, dragging her chin over the desk and sending her workbook to join the pencil on the floor. “Mommy did. She liked to yell.”
Cole’s chest did the thing where it felt like it was shrinking, squeezing him too tight. He opened his mouth, not sure exactly what he’d say but knowing he should say something, when someone knocked on the open door. Savanah swiveled to look, resignation flittering across her features. She didn’t appear at all excited. Cole didn’t know what he expected Savanah’s father to look like. He didn’t really have an image in mind as he stood, turning to face the entry.
“Mister Whit’ker. Mister Whit’ker.” This was followed by an insistent tug on his sleeve.
Cole’s name whistled through the gap where Bobby Jenson’s two front teeth should be. He turned from where he’d been outlining the alphabet on the board and crouched to Bobby’s level, meeting his sincere blue irises. They were wide and his expression was insistent. His cheeks were red and a smudge of dirt hovered over one eyebrow. Cole had sent the class out for recess with his assistant not even five minutes ago. “Is everything all right, Bobby? Where’s Mr. Fred?”
Bobby’s lower lip wobbled. “Savanah pushed me.” Tears welled in his eyes. “I just wanted to go down the slide.” They spilled over, leaving streaks along his cheeks.
Sometimes, mostly when students like Savanah swept through his class like the Tasmanian devil, Cole wondered why he’d thought becoming a kindergarten teacher was the way to go. Little Savanah Emerson was proving in her first week at Ridgedale Elementary to be quite the bully. Bobby was the third student to come to him in tears. In a week. Was Savanah looking to set some kind of record?
“Did you tell Mr. Fred?” he asked Bobby, reaching out blindly for his desk drawer where he kept the candy stashed.
Bobby shook his head and sand flew from his hair, spraying Cole’s pants and hitting his face. He sniffled, wiping under his nose with the back of his hand.
Cole changed course, grabbing the ever present hand sanitizer from the edge of his desk. “How about we get you cleaned up, and you can do whatever you want for the rest of recess, hmm?”
Like the magic words they were, the tears vanished in reaction and Bobby bounced on his toes. “Whatever I want?”His lisp—thanks to his many missing teeth—grew more pronounced in his excitement.
Please don’t make me regret this. Cole held the Germ X out, squirting a tiny dollop on Bobby’s hand when he extended it. “Whatever you want.” He paused. “Within reason.” Always a caveat to be added when children were involved, he’d learned.
“I can color? With all the crayons to myself?” Bobby appeared ecstatic at the prospect. It was amazing how fast kids recovered.
“Sure, buddy.” Cole stood, holding a hand out for Bobby to take if he wanted. “Let’s get you a tissue, huh? Are you hurt at all?”
“M’fine,” said Bobby, already trying to steer Cole toward the art station in the corner. Cole resisted the tugging, heading for the cabinets in which he stored everything that could possibly be needed to contain germs. Once he was sure Bobby wasn’t going to spread snot all over the art supplies, he let him loose to do as he pleased.
He needed to have a talk with Savanah—clearly the first two had done no good. He was going to have to call a parent this time. He propped the door between his and Mrs. Berkley’s room open so she could keep an eye on Bobby, and then went to find Savanah before she could do damage to anyone else.
She was on the swings alone, the seats on either side of her empty. The other kids had started to avoid her after the first day, when she’d snapped Lily Hopkins favorite My Little Pony pencil in half. Cole had been horrified—and a little impressed by her strength, though he’d never admit it aloud.
He came to a stop just out of leg range. He didn’t want to add a kick to the stomach to his day. “Savanah, can I talk to you?”
He gave her this, she was a bold child. Her dark brown gaze locked on him and the, “No,” that left her mouth was nothing short of prim. Her long braids flew out behind her as she arced into the air. Her feet were perfectly pointed like a ballerina in her flats as she flew.
Cole had a feeling his day was about to get a lot more frustrating. “Savanah, it’s not an option. I need you to stop swinging and come have a chat with me.”
She ignored him, blithely continuing to rock back and forth. She was going too fast, and moving too high, for Cole to stop the swing himself. He wanted to speak to her, not knock her onto the ground. “All right then.”
He turned and scanned the playground for Fred. He was holding one end of a jump rope, head cocked in a way that said he’d been watching Cole. Cole whistled, loud and sharp, to get everyone’s attention. He raised his voice to be heard clearly. “Mr. Fred’s going to take everyone inside, and you’ll have free time to play at whatever stations you want. If you’re well behaved and keep an inside volume, everyone will get candy at the end of the day.” He’d learned to not be above bribery in his ten years as a teacher. It worked as he’d planned, and they filed into the classroom with barely any complaints. Fred shot him a questioning look, and Cole waved him on. He didn’t have the time to explain things now.
With the playground empty of all but Savanah and he, Cole took a seat in the grass to wait her out. Five year olds had a lot of energy, but they didn’t have an unending supply. Eventually she’d have to stop. While he waited, he perused Pinterest for dinner options for that night. He had Patrick, his boyfriend, coming over. Cole wanted to impress him with his (limited) culinary ability. He liked a butternut squash and spinach tortellini dish and contemplated the possibility of successfully making zucchini meatballs. Or maybe avocado egg rolls…. From the corner of his eye, Savanah stubbornly swung on.
The only time Cole moved was to yell to Fred to let him know he would have the honor of teaching today’s lesson on lower case letters.
Eventually, Savanah’s muscles overcame her stubbornness, and the swing slowly came to a rocking halt. They eyed each other. Sweat was trickling down the sides of her pixie face. The hair around the edges was curling, frizzing out. Cole could empathize. It was so hot out, his button up was probably soaked through in places.
“Are we ready to talk?” he asked.
She didn’t move from the seat. She also didn’t answer him. Her small hands were curled around the chain of the swing.
Cole glanced to the heavens and wondered why him. “Okay. I’ll talk then.” He didn’t stand. Towering over her would get him nothing, instead he went for eye contact. “We don’t push people. Not for any reason. If you have a problem you can’t solve with words—nice ones—then you come find me or Mr. Fred. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, how big or small. We never lay a hand on someone else. You wouldn’t want them pushing you, would you? It wouldn’t make you feel good. Don’t do to someone else what you wouldn’t want done to you, yeah?”
Her blank stare was all he received. Savanah had a hell of a poker face for a kid her age.
Cole sighed. “Come on. I’m done lecturing you.” He stood, dusting his khakis off and hoping the back wasn’t grass stained.
Savanah slid from the swing, her legs trembling under her weight for a moment. She straightened, and then walked toward him, coming to stop by his side. Her dark gaze took him in, assessing. He waited patiently, after all, what was a few minutes more?
“You’re not my daddy,” she said. The first words she’d spoken to him all day.
“I’m not.” He was starting to have a very low opinion of whoever was. “I’d like to meet him, though.” He had some strong words to share with the man.
Her long black lashes fluttered as she blinked. She had such a solemn countenance. “You won’t. He’s always workin’. He doesn’t have the time.”
Suspecting he already knew the answer, Cole asked, “And your mom?”
Little shoulders, clad in the standard maroon school uniform, shrugged. “She left.”
“She left” could mean a lot of things. Cole didn’t focus on that. He was starting to get a blurry image of what might be going on here. He’d like to say it wasn’t common, but he’d been around long enough to have seen the story play out in a thousand different ways. “Would you want to talk to someone about stuff?”
Her nose wrinkled. “You?”
She didn’t need to sound so skeptical. Cole was a great listener, thanks very much. “No. Not me. Someone who talks to people professionally.” The school had a counselor, and Savanah might really benefit from seeing her. Cole wasn’t equipped to deal with these kinds of problems on his own.
“If I think about it, will I not be in trouble?” Out came the innocent “who me” expression.
“Yeah, no.” Cole held in his smile. It wouldn’t be appropriate. “You’re going to the front office to tell them why you thought pushing another student was a good idea.”
For two months, Lucas had been looking forward to this game. They were in Arizona, playing against the Hares, and he had a hot date—win or lose—with the Hares’ red panda goalie, Marc. For someone he’d never taken the time to notice before, he was noticing him now. Couldn’t stop thinking about him, in fact. Lucas had an itch, and no matter who he scratched it with, it wasn’t as good as Marc scratching it.
“I’d like to do this again.”
That was what Marc had said to him after they won Worlds. It was obvious neither of them knew what “this” was, but Lucas wasn’t about to argue. He wasn’t going to fight the undeniable chemistry between them. He’d been around long enough to know he should take what he could get, while he could get it.
And Marc, with his big amber eyes and his twin dimples framing the sexiest mouth Lucas had ever seen, was more than willing to give. Hell, it wasn’t like he got nothing from Lucas either. He could still perfectly picture the look on Marc’s face when he came, his plump, blowjob-swollen lips parted, his cheeks flushed dark, the color spreading to the tips of his ears, down his neck, the way his pupils dilated, black swallowing amber.
It was an image he’d used to get off more than a couple of times since that night.
He’d like to see it again. And again. And again…
He shook his head and pushed all that to the back of his mind. First and foremost, he had a game to get ready for. Everything else came later. Second on the list of his priorities. The first of which was to win.
Jake Cullen, Cully as he was known to his teammates, shouldered him, knocking Lucas lightly into the boards. “Spaced out, much?” he asked. “I said your name three times. You missed my spin-o-rama.”
Lucas grinned, mentally shrugging off everything that wasn’t here and now related. “Got bored watching you is all,” he said. He laughed and skated away before Cully could retaliate. The wolf shifter had been working hard on his fancy moves, and the best the team could figure was he was trying to impress someone. Wolves got weird when they were looking for mates.
They were in the middle of game-day practice, trying to get a feel for the foreign rink. They hadn’t played there since last season, and every time seemed different. Probably because the guys on the Hares tended to always be a new mix. Marc, Chandler Kipling, Chris Wentz… those guys were steady for the Hares, but they were a team looking to make it to the playoffs. They’d been trading players a lot, bringing in new blood and trying to acquire veterans with a good reputation. Not that the Aces didn’t do that. All hockey teams did. The sigh of relief that swept through the league when the trade deadline hit was audible worldwide. It was the one thing Lucas hated about the game. And since he was a solitary shifter, he couldn’t imagine how his more pack-oriented teammates felt. He’d had several friends end up on the opposite side of the country thanks to a trade, and it never got easier.
James Bordeaux, a fellow defenseman and the one Lucas was most often paired with, hooked Lucas’s stick from his hands, sending it clattering to the ice as he passed. He tended to be frisky on game days, energy level ramping up. He drove Lucas crazy. But maybe that was because his inner jaguar knew he’d be eating James’s meerkat form in the wild. He doubted it, though. James was the team chirper, constantly egging on anyone that came within hearing range. Knowing better than to encourage him, Lucas picked up his stick and got in line to practice his one-timers.
Practice ended following a few rounds of scrimmaging, and then, once they were cleaned up, they all got on the bus and returned to the hotel for pregame naps—every hockey player’s favorite part of the day. Several of the more pack-oriented shifters filed into the same room, planning on switching forms and conking out together. Lucas’s roommate, Ryan Williams, was a fellow cat shifter. A clouded leopard to be precise.
Neither of them had any desire to cuddle before a game.
They went to their separate beds, Lucas shifting and Ryan stretching out in human form, and they didn’t stir till their obnoxious, loud-as-all-hell alarms started screaming at them. Lucas always felt like a trick was being played on him, and he’d only been asleep for five minutes or so. He wouldn’t put it past his teammates to pull that kind of thing.
Yawning, he arched his back, lazily flicking his tail in the air behind him. He always managed a better stretch in his animal form, all his muscles bunching and flexing in a graceful movement.
Ryan turned off their alarms. “You got a text, bro,” he said sleepily, mouth stretching around the words. “From a Marc.” Lucas swung around in time to see him double take, confusion spreading across his face. “Marc, like Marc Lacroix? The goalie for the Hares? Since when are you two pals?”
Lucas shifted midleap from the bed, landing lightly on two feet instead of four. He held his hand out for the phone. “We played together at Worlds. He’s a nice guy.” Ryan had been there for a short time, but the US team had been disqualified early on. By Team Canada, of course. Marc had shut down a couple of attempts by Ryan.
Pale green eyes gazed at him skeptically, but Ryan handed it over. “Look at you being all friendly and shit,” he said.
Lucas rolled his. “Go get dressed. I don’t want you hogging the bathroom when I need it.”
“Yes, Dad,” snarked Ryan, adding a salute to the words to set the tone. He brought his knees up obnoxiously high as he marched toward the bathroom.
From years of experience, Lucas knew to ignore him. It was a recurring theme with many members of his team. He waited till the bathroom door had been shut to read Marc’s message. Normally I’d say good game, but I want you to lose tonight. So I guess I’m going to wish you a mediocre game.
Unable to hold it back, Lucas smiled and giggled. Which, he never giggled. If anyone caught him doing so, it would ruin his image as the tough guy. He couldn’t have that happening. He didn’t know what it was about Marc that charmed him this way, set him off-balance. He felt twice as ridiculous when it took him ten minutes to come up with a response. Especially when the only thing he could think of was a lame Hope you have a mediocre game too, loser.
Marc’s the Spot is the sequel to my anthology short To Arizona, which released last summer. Marc’s the Spot will become available at Loose ID on Tuesday, the 21st of March. To celebrate sharing the cover, I thought it would be fun to share a sneak peak of the novel itself. Enjoy!
Marc lived in a good-sized block house surrounded by land and no other homes. It was an earthy taupe and had wide bay windows in the front. There was a three-car garage beside the house, and a basketball pole sat on the side of the driveway. The yard was well kept, probably by a lawn service.
Lucas felt ten years younger than he was, showing up at a guy’s house for a hookup. Sneaking behind their teammates’ backs. Not that he’d done this kind of thing ten years ago, because he hadn’t. It’s a little late to be getting so adventurous. He scoffed at himself. He was thinking about things too much.
A sleek black Dodge Charger pulled into the drive as Lucas reached the front door. It parked in the garage nearest the house, and a minute later Marc was walking toward him. His auburn hair was tousled, bouncing as he moved. He still wore his game-day suit. It was a stylish blue three-piece affair, and Lucas’s gaze went right to the gray waistcoat.
The only thing hotter than a waistcoat was suspenders.
Lucas licked his lips and propped himself against the side of the entranceway, waiting.
“Hey,” said Marc as he drew close, voice on the breathy side. His cheeks were already flushed. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, pulled them out, ruffled his hair, and cracked his knuckles. Lucas grinned at the show of nerves, and Marc finally huffed, ducking his head to hide his smile. He moved around Lucas and unlocked the door. “C’mon in. You want water or anything?”
“So polite.” Lucas crowded him against the foyer wall once Marc had locked the door behind them, and then slotted a thigh between Marc’s legs. Marc wrapped his arms around Lucas’s neck, lips parting to release a low gasp.
He nipped at Lucas’s jawline. “There was something we didn’t do last time,” said Marc between sucking kisses to Lucas’s neck. He trapped Lucas’s earlobe between his teeth and gently tugged. Marc rocked his hips in small, aborted movements, dragging the bulge in his pants along the muscled cord of Lucas’s thigh.
It took Lucas a minute to find his words. “Yeah, and what was that?”
Marc played with his hair, running his fingers through it and massaging Lucas’s scalp. It made his eyes go heavy-lidded in pleasure, and his chest rumbled with an animalistic purr, his inner cat preening under the attention just as much as the man.
“Making out,” said Marc, mouth now on Lucas’s cheekbone, pressing barely there kisses.
Lucas thought he heard him wrong. “What?”
Marc bit at Lucas’s bottom lip teasingly. “I want to go lay in bed and make out. Is that okay? I like kissing, and we didn’t really do it at all last time.” He undulated his body against Lucas, hips arching forward. “I’ve been thinking about your mouth since that night.”
He wasn’t alone in those thoughts, though Lucas had been thinking of Marc’s mouth on a much lower body part. He could roll with this. Kissing was something he normally left for relationships, most of his hookups not needing or wanting such intimacy, but then again, he wasn’t normally sleeping with someone ten years younger. He remembered kissing a lot of people when he was in his twenties.
It hadn’t yet lost its spark.
Wrapping his hands around the back of Marc’s thighs, Lucas lifted him, smirking when Marc gasped, legs instinctively going around Lucas’s waist. Marc giggled, his breaths making Lucas’s hair flutter. “Put me down. You’re going to hurt yourself,” said Marc, running his hands over Lucas’s back, exploring his muscles through his thin shirt. “How’re you going to explain throwing your back out to your trainer?”
Lucas growled and ducked his head to bite the join of Marc’s shoulder and neck sharply. “I’m in no danger of throwing my back out,” he assured Marc. Marc wasn’t a lightweight by any means, and Lucas probably couldn’t do this for long, but still. He laved his tongue over the imprint of his teeth. “Now where’s your bedroom?”
Hello and thank you Meg for hosting me today. The first chapter of Ringed Love is posted on Dreamspinner Press, so over the next two weeks I’ll be offering the first one hundred or so words of each subsequent chapter.
Todd was torn. He hated leaving Nick in the camp, and he didn’t want to leave people unprotected while they scouted farther down the tunnels. Yet he and Nick did work better when they could back one another up.
“We need to get a good look down those tunnels,” Todd said as casually as possible.
“Sal will be helpful, and I suppose Trey will insist on coming since he’s got the maps. Clara knows about the schematics,” Nick said.
“Yeah.” He hesitated, not sure how to broach with Nick what he was considering. “I think that we need to consider the best way to provide protection for these people.”
New Colorado Protectorate fell with the assassination of Chancellor Clarke. Like many others, Todd and Nick Ruger left the land of their birth and made a home to the north in Yellowknife. Their world was ever changing. The time came to say a sad farewell to some of their friends and loved ones, but they were taken in with open arms by others and in turn offered shelter to yet more. Through the years they remained steadfast in their duty as sentries to protect and defend those that needed it the most.
Time marches on but through it all they hold each other dear and cherish the love they’ve shared. There are still angry ghosts, Windigos and water spirits to contend with. Their lives change, offering them new roles. When the time comes, they do what sentries have done for generations prior and teach others the skills to carry on as sentries. The Rugers lives were rich and their hearts full with their devotion and love for each other. The tradition of the sentries lived on forever. It was the legacy of Todd and Nick Ruger. That was the way it was always meant to be.
Elizabeth Noble started telling stories before she actually knew how to write, and her family was very happy when she learned to put words on a page. Those words turned into books and fanfiction that turned into a genuine love of M/M romance fiction. Being able to share her works with Dreamspinner is really a dream come true. She has a real love for a good mystery complete with murder and twisty plots as well as all things sci-fi, futuristic, and supernatural and a bit of an unnatural interest in a super-volcano in Wyoming.
Elizabeth has three grown children and is now happily owned by an adorable mixed breed canine princess and her sidekick, tabby cat. She lives in her native northeast Ohio, the perfect place for gardening and winter and summer sports (go Tribe and Cavs!) and stargazing all year long. When she’s not writing she’s working as a veterinary nurse, so don’t be surprised to see her men with a pet or three who are a very big part of their lives.
Elizabeth received several amateur writing awards. Since being published two of her novels have received honorable mentions in the Rainbow Awards. Her novel Jewel Cave was a runner up in the 2015 Rainbow awards in the Gay Mystery/Thriller category.
Blurb: Nathan Barres has always loved hockey before anything else. When a one-night stand with Felix Moore gives him emotions, he flees the scene. He’s not expecting to see Felix ever again. So when an injury knocks him out of the game for several weeks, he’s less than pleased to see the Winnipeg Wolves’ newest trainer is none other than Felix.
Almost two years later, the feelings are still there. Nathan does his best to shove them to the back burner and ignore the temptation Felix presents. That is, until Felix makes him an offer that’s just a little too tempting–with amazing results. He’s a hockey player after all, and they’re nothing if not superstitious. If Felix is his good-luck charm, who is he to resist?
The team sends babysitters after his surgery. Nathan isn’t sure how they decide who gets to come take care of his bitchy ass, but he thinks they might be drawing straws. He’s loopy for the first couple of days, high on pain meds and vaguely aware that he’s probably being videoed. His suspicions are confirmed when he finally takes a look at Thor’s Instagram and sees a ten-second video of himself singing “Wrecking Ball.” He has no recollection of it and wishes he’d never gone looking. The likes are in the thousands. He has enough self-preservation not to Google his name and see how popular it is on other sites.
Unfortunately for his babysitters, he gets crankier once his pain medicines are reduced and the surgery is almost a week behind him. He wants to be up and moving, back on the ice and striving for the playoffs. He can’t watch the games in person at this point. Still has a couple of days at least to go before he can be out and about. He’s stuck in his house, on the couch or his bed, watching TV for endless hours. Nathan thinks his brain might be melting.
Sasha comes over and tries to play video games with him, but it doesn’t work with Nathan only being able to use one hand. It’s a venture that ends with Nathan angrily chucking the controller across the room and Sasha going to get him some apologetic chocolate chunk ice cream from the nearest supermarket.
Nathan is not a good injured person.
Renner’s with Nathan when the doorbell rings two days later, and he’s up like a shot. “Oh thank God,” Renner says. “Maybe it’s somebody to rescue me from this hell.”
They’ve been playing Scrabble for the last three hours, and it’s possible Nathan has been a bit of a stickler. There’ve been a few arguments. Renner might have pelted his face with some tiles. It’s not his fault that Renner keeps trying to use fake words. Neither of them is winning when it comes down to it. Nathan has slightly more points, but only because he’s been hitting the bonus tiles. He’s all about strategy. Renner would do better if he had some.
This, he thinks, is frustration at its highest level. He’s tempted to flip the board, but that would be childish.
He can’t hear who’s at the door, though he’s straining to. He only hears a soft murmur of voices. It’s probably someone trying to sell something. Maybe Girl Scouts. Renner is a sucker for their cookies, though they’re definitely not part of his approved diet. Nathan takes the opportunity to pull out his phone and Google his options for the tiles he has.
He hears the door shut, and he looks up, about to ask Renner who’s there, but he shuts his mouth abruptly when he sees Felix trailing Renner. He’s been trying to avoid having to deal with this, blocking even the tiniest whisper of a thought about Felix from his mind. Having the man in his house definitely doesn’t help him. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but he remembers the ache he got in his chest when he looked at Felix sleeping that night, and the way his stomach felt all fluttery. He remembers thinking it was the best sex he’d ever had, and he didn’t want it to stop. He wanted to stay in bed with Felix and never leave.
Felix doesn’t look any different. It’s almost two years later, and he’s wearing his hair the same, his posture is the same, his clothes are more casual—jeans and a blue V-neck—but that’s it. Nathan hadn’t ever expected to see him again, yet here he is, looking just as perfect. Just as irresistible. Nathan feels warmth bloom in his stomach, the familiar ache that signals he’s about to start chubbing.
Felix makes him want, and he can’t want. Not right now. Not with hockey.
The fact that he feels this way long after the fact is a flashing neon warning sign.
Renner points his thumb at Felix, oblivious to the struggle going on in Nathan. “He’s here to make sure you don’t stay a cranky asshole.”
Felix cracks a smile at that, and Nathan’s breath hitches. Of course Felix’s dimples haven’t disappeared. His cock is definitely starting to stir. He’s going to blame it on the painkillers. They’re fucking with his body. That’s all this is. “You’d be cranky too if you couldn’t play hockey,” he mutters sullenly, feeling his face heat up.
“I’m always a ray of sunshine,” says Renner, laughter in his voice, as he drops down into the armchair opposite the couch.
Felix takes his vacated seat on the couch next to Nathan. “Mind if I take a look?” he asks, motioning at Nathan’s shoulder.
“Sure,” says Nathan, sounding shorter than he wants to, but what else can he say? They’ll think it’s from the meds and pain anyway.
Cool fingers touch his neck, and he winces. “Sorry,” says Felix, tugging Nathan’s collar aside and leaning close. “Have you been icing your shoulder?”
“Ten minutes on, ten minutes off,” recites Nathan dutifully. He can feel Felix breathing on him, and his hair is tickling the side of Nathan’s face. Felix smells like fresh apples and cinnamon. He wonders if it would be too conspicuous if he dragged a pillow into his lap.
Felix hums as he looks. “You can start coming in tomorrow. We’ll take a scan of it to see. Work on some stretches.”
“How long before I can play?” asks Nathan, staring at a freckle on the side of Felix’s face. It’s tiny, shaped like a clover, and stands out against the line of his jaw.
“Six weeks at least,” says Felix, finally moving away from him. “You’ll be back on the ice for no-contact practice before then, but we can’t risk your shoulder.” He sounds like he understands how much this sucks, like he’s sorry Nathan has to deal with this.
Nathan thinks he can’t possibly understand how he feels right now. Nathan catches Renner’s sympathetic gaze over Felix’s shoulder, takes in the way his brows are lowered and he’s chewing nervously on his bottom lip. “Can you give us a minute?” he asks Renner, the words out before he can think about them. He wasn’t going to say anything, but he can’t not say anything. Not with Felix acting like there’s nothing to say.
Renner looks surprised and then confused, but he nods and points down the hall. “I’ll just go…do something,” he says. The look he shoots Nathan before he leaves the room promises there’s going to be questions.
Trying to have this conversation with Felix now is probably the height of stupidity, but he doesn’t want to have it at the rink. He doesn’t want to bring whatever this is into his safe space.
Felix doesn’t look at all surprised by Nathan’s request as he reclines against the corner of the couch and folds his arms.
They stare silently at each other. Nathan clears his throat, narrowing a pointed look on Felix. He doesn’t bite, and Nathan sighs. “I’m… Is this weird?” he asks finally. He kicks himself immediately. Of course it’s weird. He knows that. He doesn’t need it established.
Felix sighs. “It doesn’t have to be weird,” he says. “We’re going to have a professional relationship, and anything outside of that is irrelevant to the situation.”
Nathan blinks at the bland answer. It’s so precise, so unemotional. “That’s… It’s not going to be hard for you?”
When Felix laughs, Nathan feels his stomach curl unpleasantly. “It was a one-night stand, and you left without saying anything,” points out Felix. “It happened ages ago. I’ve slept with people I’ve known for much longer and not had it be weird.”
“Right,” says Nathan, trying to absorb that. His stomach is rolling. He’s been stuck with this ache in his chest and memories of a night that made him question his plans, and Felix has been skipping along merrily. “Right,” he repeats, nodding this time like that will make it sink in better.
Felix leans forward, dark eyes intent on his. “Are you going to be okay with this? I can ask one of the other trainers to take over if you’re not.” After a slight hesitation, he adds, “I’m not going to tell anyone about what happened.”
Nathan shakes his head and then hastens to add, “It’s fine,” when he sees Felix’s frown of disappointment. “There’s no need for that.” He coughs, grimaces when it moves his shoulder the wrong way. “I didn’t think you would tell anyone.” He probably should ask for a different trainer, but if Felix can be an adult about this, so can Nathan.
There’s one thing he needs to know. He picks at a loose string on his sweatpants. He’s careful to keep his tone even when he asks, “Did you know who I was?” He doesn’t know why it’s important, but it is.
Felix is already shaking his head, brown-blond streaked hair swaying behind his head, before he says, “No.” He cracks a smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I didn’t know till I’d accepted the job.”
“How is that possible?” blurts Nathan, mortified by how full of himself that sounds once it’s out of his mouth.
He shrugs. “Truth be told I don’t watch hockey. I worked for a soccer team in Colorado before I got this offer.”
There’s a lot of things that Nathan hasn’t been able to truly grasp about this conversation, but the news that Felix doesn’t watch, therefore doesn’t like, hockey is high on his disbelief scale. How can someone not like hockey and work for a hockey team? He’s so shocked by the new tidbit of information he can’t think of anything to say.
He looks at Felix then, really looks. His skin is smooth, the angles of his face sharp, his eyes deep set and definitely made for the bedroom. His lips are plush and pink, his nose slightly crooked. His hair is pulled back, but strands of it wisp around his face, moving slightly with the air from the fan. Nathan feels the rush of heat, the clenching of his stomach, the stirring in his groin. He tears his gaze away. This guy doesn’t like hockey, and Nathan’s still got this weird pulling sensation for him. What’s up with that?
Oblivious to what’s going on with Nathan, Felix claps his hands to his thighs and stands. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Nathan. See you tomorrow.”
“See you,” says Nathan, forcing himself to stare blankly at the TV rather than Felix’s ass as he sees himself out.
“Dude,” says Renner from behind him.
Nathan closes his eyes. Of course Renner was eavesdropping. He’s such a nosy fucker.
“Dude,” Renner repeats and comes around the couch, sitting next to Nathan. “You slept with our new trainer?”
“It was a while ago,” he says, for lack of anything better to say. “A onetime thing.”
“I see,” says Renner, sounding like he does in fact see. Nathan thinks they’re probably not seeing the same thing. When he finally manages to look at Renner’s face, his expression is way too thoughtful. It makes Nathan uncomfortable.
“I don’t want this to be a thing,” he says.
Renner mimes zipping his lips. “No one will hear about this from me.”
He may be a nosy, interfering guy, but Renner’s not a liar. Nathan allows his posture to slump, letting the couch cradle his sore back. “How about we watch Breaking Bad?” he suggests, and just like that they’ve moved on.
I’d like to welcome Tempeste O’Riley to Onwards, Upwards today to share the cover for her upcoming release Dreamers’ Destiny. It’s a gorgeous cover, and she’s got a giveaway and excerpt for you guys as well.
People don’t just materialize into reality simply because you want them to so desperately that waking up breaks your heart.
Dreamers’ Destiny by Tempeste O’Riley a Standalone story M/M Erotic Contemporary Romance Publisher: Dreamspinner Press Cover Artist: Reese Dante Release Date: May 13, 2016 (ebook/print) Length: Novel
Liam Grady is the owner of the Feathered Quill, a quirky little bookstore in Asheville, and—though he doesn’t realize it yet—a dream walker. His last relationship failed almost a year ago, and he’s not had the interest or nerve to pursue anyone he’s met since.
Cameron Danu is a tattoo artist from rural Georgia. Cameron is left without a job after his boss, Jose, is forced to close the shop after a heart attack. When Cameron learns Jose has set up an interview for him at a small tattoo parlor in Asheville, he hopes for a fresh start in a new town.
Fate brings Cameron and Liam together, and they realize they’ve met before—in their dreams. A chance encounter and a winged tattoo might lead them to their destiny—if fear doesn’t turn their dreams into a nightmare.
Liam walked beside Cam, noting every nuance of the man he’d been with most of his life, even if they’d never met while awake before. He was entranced with how Cam moved. He thought of the way Cam had spoken using his hands to emphasize and punctuate his voice when they were inside the tattoo shop, and even the little sidestep to separate them didn’t surprise or bother Liam any. Liam had expected it, truthfully, but he’d needed to feel Cam, to know he wasn’t imagining all this, either—that fleeting touch in the tattoo shop hadn’t been nearly enough.
Working with Nosha the last couple of weeks had been interesting, and he’d started to believe Cam might be real. However, seeing and touching Cam was very different from trying to willfully take control of his dreams or debating Cameron’s possible existence. And touching him? Liam suppressed a shiver as he opened the door for Cam to enter the little coffee shop.
“Thanks,” Cam murmured. “You always do things like this in the dreams too,” he added so softly Liam almost missed it.
Liam smiled, hoping Cam could adjust to this new knowledge and glad he’d noticed how Liam acted both in their dreams and now.
Thankfully, it wasn’t busy right then, so they got their coffees and were seated at the farthest table from the other patrons in a few minutes. Liam waited, watching Cam as he fidgeted with his cup, steadfastly refusing to meet Liam’s eyes.
Liam cleared his throat and asked, “Will you look at me, please?”
Cam raised his head slowly before finally meeting his gaze. “I don’t understand how you’re here. You’re supposed to only exist in my head. Well, in my dreams, anyway.”
Liam chuckled, thinking of how he’d made the same argument with Di and Nosha not that long ago about his seeing Cam at the club. “I’m still not entirely certain how all this works, but I’m quite real. As are you, it seems.”
The silver eyes before him flashed a moment before Cam snorted softly, then smiled, almost. “Why don’t you seem more, I don’t know, upset? I mean, this should be just as much of a shock for you as it is for me. Or do you go around invading people’s dreams and doing all those things with others you do with me all the time?”
He blinked hard as he thought about what to say and which questions to even answer.
Tempeste O’Riley is an out and proud pansexual genderfluid whose best friend growing up had the courage to do what they couldn’t—defy the hate and come out. He has been their hero ever since.
Tempe is a hopeless romantic who loves strong relationships and happily-ever-afters. They has done many things in their life, yet writing has always drawn them back—no matter what else life has thrown their way. They counts her friends, family, and Muse as their greatest blessings in life. They lives in Wisconsin with their children, reading, writing, and enjoying life—especially now that they have joined the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence® (as Novice Sister Eroti-Quill… can’t imagine where that name came from).
Tempe is also a proud PAN member of Romance Writers of America®, WisRWA, and Rainbow Romance Writers. Tempe’s preferred pronouns are they/them/their/theirs/themselves. To learn more about Tempeste and their writing, visit http://tempesteoriley.com.