Dangerous Love DINNER AT THE BLUE MOON CAFE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a newly re-released M/M paranormal romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. DINNER AT THE BLUE MOON CAFE has some heat and some horror as a man in his mid 20s falls hard for an older mysterious man, a new immigrant Sicily who may–or may not–be a murderous werewolf. If you liked THE PERILS OF INTIMACY, LEGALLY WED, or THE SECRETS WE KEEP you’ll likely enjoy this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
A monster moves through the darkest night, lit only by the full moon, taking them, one by one, from Seattle’s gay gathering areas.

In an atmosphere of spine-tingling fear, Thad Matthews finds his first true love cooking in an Italian restaurant called The Blue Moon Cafe. Sam Lupino is everything Thad has ever hoped for in a man: virile, sexy as hell, kind, and…he can cook!

As the pair’s love heats up, so do the questions. Who is the killer preying on Seattle’s gay men? What secrets is Sam’s Sicilian family hiding? And, more important, why do Sam’s unexplained disappearances always coincide with the full moon?

When the secrets are finally revealed, is Thad and Sam’s love for one another strong enough to weather the horrific revelations revealed by the light of the full moon?

How about a little taste?

Music from his clock radio woke Thad Matthews at 6:00 a.m. The song, “Smokestack Lightning,” yanked him from a heavy, dream-laden sleep. Its energy forced his eyes open wider, caused synapses, eight hours dormant, to tingle, and made him want to move. Nonetheless, he slapped at the snooze button, silencing the bluesy wail, rolled over, and then pulled the comforter over his head. He was glad he had tuned his clock radio to KPLU, Seattle’s only all-blues all-the-time station, but he desperately wanted to recapture just a few more minutes of his dream, in which he’d found himself on the moors of England. All he could recall was that the moors themselves were appropriately fog shrouded and lit with a silvery luminance from above. Someone waited for him in the shadows and fog. And he couldn’t, for the life of him, know for certain if that someone meant to do him harm or meant to just do him.

He’d been having a lot of sexual dreams lately.

As much as he wanted to unravel the mystery of the dream—and to perhaps savor the vague sexual vibrations he was getting from it—sleep eluded him. He found thoughts of the day crowding in, preventing even the most remote possibility of a recurrence of slumber.

Thad sat up in the four-poster, rubbing his eyes like a little boy, and wondered why he bothered setting an alarm. He had no job to go to, no pressing engagements, no muse to answer to—hell, he didn’t even have an appointment for an oil change.

This day, like all his others, stretched out before him completely unmarred with obligations other than the requirements life imposed upon him, such as eating and going to the bathroom, which the erection poking up under his sheets compelled him to take care of. He called this morning wood a pee-on, because once he had put that particular need to rest, it most often subsided.

After stumbling to the adjoining bathroom and letting go with a flow that caused a mighty sigh of relief to issue forth from him, he thought once again that maybe today should be the day he looked harder into getting himself some employment—anything to put him into contact with other people and to fill his waking hours. Lord knew he filled out enough applications and answered enough Help Wanted ads on Craigslist to keep the officials down at unemployment sending him checks. But all his efforts, dishearteningly, were ignored.

It had been nearly four months since he had been laid off at Perk, the national chain of coffee shops headquartered in suburban Shoreline. Thad had been there for six years, in the marketing department, spending his days writing clever sayings for paper coffee cups and point-of-purchase signs for the stores. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. And writing phrases like “Plan on Being Spontaneous” paid the bills, even if it didn’t provide much creative or intellectual challenge. It helped sell coffee, and Thad never kidded himself: that’s why he was employed there.

Except now they didn’t need him anymore. Who would write the signs for their special Iced Coffee blend?

He gazed down at the bubbling golden froth in the toilet and flushed it away, along with his thoughts about his former job. He turned and rinsed his hands under the sink, then splashed cold water on his face. Standing up straight, he stared at his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror.

“You’re too young for a life of leisure,” he said to his reflection, rubbing his hands through his short, coarse red hair, which stuck up in a multitude of directions. People paid good money for products that would make their hair look as fetchingly disheveled as Thad’s did right now. He peered closer at himself, taking inventory of his pale skin, his gray eyes, and the constellation of freckles that spanned his nose and the tops of his cheeks. He flexed, thinking he was looking a little flabby around the middle.

“Workout day. I’ll head over to the gym today. I need it.” He sucked in his gut and let it out again, thinking it was empty and needed refilling. A Pagliacci delivery pizza only went so far. His slumber and active dream life, he supposed, had all but digested the pie.

Thad moved to the bedroom and began tossing pillows on the floor to make up his bed. He wasn’t sure why he bothered with this either, since it was unlikely anyone would see the military-neat bed except for him, when he would approach it once more this evening just to mess it all up again. But it was important to Thad to have a routine. Otherwise his days would blend into one meaningless chunk of time, formless, without definition or purpose.

It was becoming increasingly hard enough to distinguish Tuesday from Thursday—or Sunday, for that matter.

Back when he was putting in forty-plus hours a week, he envied the increasing number of friends and acquaintances who had gotten laid off during the economic downturn. The money they made on unemployment seemed like enough—at least for him and his modest lifestyle in his Green Lake studio apartment—and the freedom they had seemed worth the cut in pay.

But now he wasn’t so sure. The uncertainty of what would happen if he still wasn’t working when the unemployment checks dwindled down to zero hung over him like a vague threat. And the freedom wasn’t really so great, when that same threat prevented him from spending much money, lest he should need it down the road for luxuries like food and a roof over his head.

Worst of all was what the job loss had done to his self-esteem. Thad needed some meaning in his life, a purpose. That much had been instilled in him since he was a little boy, back in Chicago growing up in the working class neighborhood of Bridgeport, where his father was a cop and his mother waited tables at a Lithuanian restaurant.

He pulled on a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, padded out to the office area of his apartment, and plopped down in front of his laptop. He planned to check out the classifieds on Craigslist, then Monster, then CareerBuilder. When he was first laid off, he looked only at writing and editing jobs but had lately broadened his search to include, well, just about everything. Thad realized he would work retail, man a customer service phone line, groom dogs, or wait tables, as long as he had a job.

Yet the rest of the world hadn’t gotten wind of his eagerness to accept any kind of employment. Or if they had, they weren’t saying.

Before he went through the often-depressing ritual of cyber pavement pounding, he would check out what had happened in the world since he had stumbled in last night from an evening of self-consolation and vodka on Capitol Hill. He hit the little orange-and-blue Firefox icon on the dock at the bottom of his screen to bring up the day’s online news…

And was jolted right out of whatever sluggishness he was feeling. He stared at the lead article for that day’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A chill coursed through him, and he slowly shook his head as he read the details of that morning’s top story, titled “Brutal Slaying in Capitol Hill.” The article described how an as-yet-unidentified young man had been killed in an alley in the Seattle neighborhood known for its heavy concentration of gay bars and clubs. Thad had to stop reading for a moment to close his eyes because the gruesome details were simply too much to bear. His stomach churned. The man had not just been killed but had been literally ripped apart. Very little blood was found at the scene. And forensics had already determined that there was no trace of metal found on the victim’s flesh, which meant that the deed had to have been done with something other than a knife. The worst detail of all was the fact that the remains bore definite signs that much of the man’s flesh had been eaten. Authorities are keeping details to themselves regarding who—or what—the perpetrator could have been. The story closed with the usual cautions about what to do—don’t travel alone, avoid strangers and unlit places—when something so unsettling and violent occurs.

Thad exited Firefox sooner than he had planned and stared out the window. His heart thumped in his chest. Bile splashed at the back of his throat and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He had been in Capitol Hill the night before, having a dirty martini or three at Neighbours, one of the gay ghetto’s most popular hangouts. He wondered if, as he had made his way back to the bus stop, he had passed the killer or killers. If perhaps the killer or killers had eyed him, wondering if he would suffice for their demented purposes. He could see himself through their eyes, being watched from the shadows of a vestibule or an alley as he made his way back to the bus stop on Broadway. He wondered if he looked appetizing. He had been told on more than one occasion that he was “tasty” and “delicious,” but those doing the describing were not thinking of him as dinner—at least not in the conventional sense. He wondered if perhaps the only thing that had saved him was the coincidental passing of a boisterous group from the University of Washington, coming up alongside him just as the fiend in the dark was ready to pounce. He shivered. For once, rejection was a comforting thought.

Rejection, under these circumstances, was the new “getting lucky.”

Still, some poor soul had not been as lucky as he had, and today forensics was probably busy trying to figure out just who this unfortunate soul was. From what Thad had read, it didn’t sound like they had much to go on. Dental records, maybe? What kind of animal would not only kill a fellow human being but also eat his flesh and drink his blood? Was this a human being at all? Thad had heard of bears occasionally making their misguided ways down from the mountains and into Seattle, but they usually got no farther than suburban parks and backyards. And the “bears” that routinely cruised the Capitol Hill neighborhood were of a much more cuddly variety.

Surely, though, an animal couldn’t have been roaming around busy Capitol Hill on Friday night. The neighborhood, on weekend nights, was a blur of barhoppers and partiers, its hilly streets filled with people and cars jockeying for position. Loud and well lit, it was the kind of neighborhood that would scare the shit out of an animal, at least an animal with normal fears and inclinations. This had to be the work of a person, or people, right? And whoever was behind such a thing had to be majorly warped. Thad had a quick vision of pale-gray eyes and enormous canine teeth until he banished the imagery to the back of his brain, grateful for another kind of canine distraction.

That distraction had just sidled up beside Thad, her arrival signaled by a clicking of toenails on hardwood. Thad glanced down at his gray-and-white Chihuahua, Edith, staring up at him with her dark eyes. Her tongue stuck out one side of her mouth, giving her a both comical and wizened appearance. The dog was about a hundred years old, and Thad thought, for better or worse, she was his very best friend in the world. Edith got up on her hind legs to paw at Thad’s lap, indicating to him that he was not the only creature in the house that had to pee first thing in the morning.

Thad got up and, with Edith following impatiently behind, slid into flip-flops and grabbed her leash. “C’mon, sweetheart, let’s take a little walk down to the lake, and then we’ll see about getting us both some breakfast.”

My Review:
Thad Matthews is a man in his mid 20s who’s recently been laid off ans is enjoying a bit of R & R in his Seattle apartment while he job hunts and lives of unemployment. He tries to stay fit and has recently signed up to volunteer at a local food bank that serves gay shut-ins. He’s a super daddy to his chihuahua Edith, and he would really like a guy to settle down with, but no one has seemed right in the longest time.

He checks out a brand new cafe one night and meets the owner, a secy Sicilian bear named Sam Lupino. Sam and Thad have an instant connection and their night only begins with Sam feeding Thad all the best of his cafe’s kitchen. It unexpected, but delightfully, ends with Sam absolutely blowing Thad’s mind in bed. And, best news of all, Sam wants a repeat and a real relationship.

Meanwhile, Sam’s life is “complicated” and he can’t really commit on account of family issues. Thad thinks Sam must be closeted and playing him like a side-piece, but it’s more that Sam’s adult son, Domenic, is extremely homophobic. Sam is afraid to upset his family dynamic and Thad is heartbroken. Through his volunteer efforts Thad meets Jared, who really wants to date Thad–but his heart is still bruised by Sam. And, there’s some back and forth where Sam and Thad do connect in ways that might lead to more.

However, there is a murderer on the streets of Seattle. Twice in the past two months–always on the full moon–men in the gay community have been brutally slaughtered in areas known to be cruising zones. Jared is nearly attacked, and he leans on Thad heavily as he recovers from the shock. Thad’s dreams are plagued by nightmares of werewolves, and he’s starting to piece together the nights he sought out Sam and couldn’t find him were always on the full moon. Is Sam a brutal killer? Is Thad losing his mind?

This is a really cool take on the werewolf horror trope and harkens back to Silver Bullet, a fave movie from my youth. The werewolf is definitely under control–but Thad and Jared are also in its sights. Sam’s mysterious behavior provides a great counterpoint to the building tension, and while I had picked the killer out in the first part of the story, there were enough turns to keep me 100% engaged and turning those pages. There’s a significant amount of suspense, and while the ending is technically happy, there is certainly a lot of loss and gore until we arrive there. It’s a perfect Halloween read.

Interested? You can find DINNER AT THE BLUE MOON CAFE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Captivated by the Danger THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share an excerpt and giveaway for a newly re-released M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR features a caring and lonely 20-something man caught up in lust and intrigue with his new and mysterious neighbors. If you liked THE PERILS OF INTIMACY, LEGALLY WED, or THE SECRETS WE KEEP you’ll likely enjoy this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jeremy Booth leads a simple life, scraping by in the gay neighborhood of Seattle, never letting his lack of material things get him down. But the one thing he really wants—someone to love—seems elusive. Until the couple next door moves in and Jeremy sees the man of his dreams, Shane McCallister, pushed down the stairs by a brute named Cole.

Jeremy would never go after another man’s boyfriend, so he reaches out to Shane in friendship while suppressing his feelings of attraction. But the feeling of something being off only begins with Cole being a hard-fisted bully—it ends with him seeming to be different people at different times. Some days, Cole is the mild-mannered John and then, one night in a bar, he’s the sassy and vivacious drag queen Vera.

So how can Jeremy rescue the man of his dreams from a situation that seems to get crazier and more dangerous by the day? By getting close to the couple next door, Jeremy not only puts a potential love in jeopardy, but eventually his very life.

How about a little taste?

How many disappointing dates will I endure before I just give up?

I mean, here I am, a perfectly attractive, fit, self-sufficient thirty-year-old, and I’m still waiting to meet the man of my dreams. Mr. Right. Hell, tonight I’d even settle for that character who seems to come along on dates for most of us, the all-too-common Mr. Right Now. But even he isn’t on the seat beside me. In fact, I strongly doubt he’s anywhere in the vicinity of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle where I live.

Believe me, I’ve looked.

Mr. First Date pulls his Ford Fusion up to the curb in front of my apartment building on Aloha Avenue. We sit in awkward silence for several long moments, listening as the engine ticks down as it cools. I can feel him looking at me. As he’s done most of the evening, he waits for me to speak. I turn my head and, in the dark, give him a weak smile. The date, dinner at a little sushi place on Broadway, had not gone well, full of uncomfortable silences, awkward pauses, and desperate looks around for avenues of escape—on both our parts.

Do I need to say we just didn’t click?

I didn’t think so.

So what he says now surprises me.

“Do you want me to come up?”

Really? We’ve just spent an hour and a half of agony together, trying to find a snippet of common ground that doesn’t exist, and he’s wondering if I want him to come up, which we all know is code for “Shall we make the beast with two backs?”

Seriously? The most irksome thing is, I’m considering it. I mean, he’s cute in spite of our lack of social connection. He’s a games developer for a software company here in town and looks it, with a sort of hipster/geek vibe going on. He has red hair, which I love. He has a beard, which I love. He wears retro glasses, which make him look paradoxically goofy and sexy—which I love.

Would it be so terrible to sleep with him? I mean, it’s been at least two weeks since I’ve enjoyed the charms of anyone other than Mr. Thumb and his four sons, so at least in terms of a release, maybe I should just say “Sure” and open the car door. If things go like some of my dates in the past, he’d follow me upstairs to my apartment and be back in his car in, like, fifteen minutes.

No, I tell myself. And then I tell him, shaking my head, looking sad, and saying the words countless heartbreakers have used over the years to stop ardent passion in its errant tracks.

“I’m sorry, Neil. But I have to get up early.” Lamely, I pat his hand. “Maybe another time.”

I don’t need to be psychic to know that we both know another time ain’t gonna happen.

Neil seems relieved as he restarts his car. He shrugs. “It’s okay. Club Z’s just a couple minutes away, right? Down Broadway and a right on Pike—easy.”

He grins at me, and I wonder if he expects me to laugh. Club Z is one of Seattle’s filthiest bathhouses, and yes, it’s only a few minutes away. He doesn’t seem to need directions.

It’s my turn to be relieved that I didn’t actually succumb to the temptation of inviting this jerk upstairs. Wordlessly, I get out of the car and slam the door behind me.

Neil roars off into the damp and still night.

I pause and sigh, staring up at the building in which I’ve lived for the past five years. It’s an okay place, an old redbrick three story with none of the modern amenities—no stainless steel, granite countertops, or gas fireplaces. My apartment is homey. It even has the original tile, sink, and claw-foot tub in its single bathroom. The living room is large, with three big windows that look out on Aloha and let in lots of light—on the days when we have sun in Seattle (that means usually summer days). The floors are scuffed original hardwood. The kitchen actually has a pantry and built-in china hutch. I’ve painted the place a cheery, soft yellow.

Upstairs, the TV, with its DVRed episodes of at-odds Sons of Anarchy and Downton Abbey, awaits. Upstairs, there’s the gelato I love from Whole Foods in the freezer—hazelnut dark chocolate.

Such is my life. Comfortable and a little lonely.

Sometimes I wonder, like Peggy Lee, if that’s all there is.

I head toward the glass-paned front door. I grope in my jeans for my keys. The mail had not yet arrived before I left for my date, and I wonder if there will be any surprises in the vestibule mailbox. You know, like an actual letter from someone, standing out from the usual assortment of bills and solicitations by the cursive spelling out of my name—Jeremy Booth.

My problem is I always have hope, even when there’s little reason.

I open the front door, and that’s when everything changes. My life turns upside down. I go from bored discontent to panic in a split second.

The first thing I hear is someone shouting “No!” in an anguished voice. I look up from the lobby to see two figures on the staircase above, on the second-floor landing. One is a guy who looks menacing and so butch he could pose for a Tom of Finland poster. An aura of danger radiates from him. Aside from his imposing and muscular frame, he’s even wearing the right clothes—tight, rolled jeans and a black leather biker jacket with a chain snaking out from beneath one of the epaulets. His high- and tight-buzzed hair gives him a military—and mean—air. He has his hands on the shoulders of a guy who looks a bit younger and much slighter, making me want to call up the stairs, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” The smaller guy, blond and clad only in a pair of pajama bottoms, struggles with his attacker, looking terrified. Their movements, clumsy and rough, would be comical if they weren’t so scary. The smaller guy is panting and batting ineffectually at the bigger one.

“Please! No! Don’t!” the smaller guy manages to get out, his voice close to hysteria.

I have never seen either of these men before. In fact, the whole scene has the quality of the surreal, a dream. The danger and conflict pulsing down the stairs makes my own heart rate and respiration accelerate, causing feelings of panic to rise within me.

And then the worst happens. The big butch guy shoves the smaller one hard, and all at once he’s tumbling heavily down the stairs toward me.

The fall is graceless, and it looks like it hurts. It’s over so fast that I’m left gasping.

I look up to see the leather-jacket guy sneer down at his mate, lying crumpled and crying at my feet, and then turn sharply on his heel to go back into a second-floor apartment that had been vacant yesterday. He slams the door. The sound of the deadbolt sliding into place is like the report of a shotgun. Both slam and lock resound like thunderclaps, echoing in the tile lobby, punctuation to the drama and trauma of this short scene.

I switch into Good Samaritan mode and drop to my knees at the sniveling, crumpled mess of a man lying practically at my feet.

“Are you okay?” I ask and reach out to lightly touch his shoulder.

He jerks away and, wincing, pulls himself up into an awkward sitting position. He stares at me with clear blue eyes for a moment, almost as though he’s trying to place me. He finally looks away.

“My ankle is throbbing. It hurts like hell. Maybe I twisted it.”

I don’t know what to say, other than to ask, “Would you like to try and stand? Test it out?”

He nods.

I lean over to grip him under the arms—it’s damp there, and I can smell the ripe aroma of body odor, probably inspired by fear or panic—and pull. He comes up with me and then stumbles, wincing and crying out.

“Damn. I might have sprained it when I fell.” His eyes are so appealing, in both senses of the word, as he stares at me, as though seeking direction for what to do next. He leans on me, taking his weight off the injured ankle.

I keep my arm around him, and together we limp over to a bench set beneath the bank of common mailboxes. We sit.

“What do you want to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. I think Cole may have locked me out for the night.”

My Review:
Jeremy is An out-gay man living in Seattle in his mid-20s. His squalid apartment is all he can afford as he works days cleaning other people’s homes and imagining he will finally write the next great American novel. His love life is lackluster and he’s normally not even willing to settle fo Mr. Right Now…unless he’s super hard up.

Jeremy comes home from yet another spectacular failure of a date and find his newest next-door neighbors fighting in the gangway. He witnesses one of the men being brutally knocked down the staircase and is really upset by the situation. This poor man is 100% gorgeous and Jeremy is afraid to get himself involved in what seems to be a domestic drama. However he cannot forget the young man who has caught his eye.

Jeremy, as a child, helped his mother a victim of domestic violence cope with the batterings that his father doled out. This situation is a huge trigger for him. The man who is tossed on the stairs, Shane McAlester, is his next-door neighbor. And Jeremy will not abandon him. He helps Shane escape from his attacker a person who seems to be called “Cole.” Yeah Shane says he lives with a man named John. And chain seems to be reciprocating Jeremy’s attraction. This is all very confusing for Jeremy who does not like cheaters or people who are dishonest.

Shane stories for his past and also his experience with John and perhaps Cole seem very flimsy and also a partially dishonest. This is upsetting for Jeremy whose attraction seems to grow the more he assists Shane. He tries to step away from the situation, but he keeps getting embroiled deeper and deeper despite his best efforts to stay away.

This is a interesting romantic thriller as we learn the depths of John/Cole’s situation and how Shane is involved. Jeremy cannot truly stay away, due to his caretaking history with his mother’s battery. He wishes that he could’ve helped her more even though he was just a child. Now that he is a grown man he feels a need to protect Shane from his affection is continually growing. Shane reciprocates these feelings. And it’s a big huge conundrum about how to escape what seems to be a very violent streak in John/Cole.

There is a lot of danger here, but there is also happiness satisfaction and a happy ending. Jeremy and Shane do match up quite well and they overcome the handicaps of Shane’s acquaintance with John. It seems as though the worst is going to happen however, John Jeremy will not allow his happiness to be ruined by another brutal man in the his life. Expect drama, and Shane to hide John’s nature, and John to pull unexpected shenanigans to keep Shane from finding happiness with anyone besides himself. I won’t say more because I might give away the most important parts, and I don’t want to spoil the story. I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it for readers of romantic suspense and contemporary suspense thrillers with a dash of romance.

Interested? You can find THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Now Available M4M–Excerpt and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share an excerpt and giveaway for a newly re-released M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. M4M explores the darker side of dating in the gay world, with apps and images attempting to connect lonely souls. If you liked THE PERILS OF INTIMACY, LEGALLY WED, or THE SECRETS WE KEEP you’ll likely enjoy this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Three great stories. One great love.
VGL Male Seeks Same

Poor Ethan Schwartz. It seems like he will never find that special someone. At age forty-two, he’s still alone, his bed still empty, and his 42-inch HDTV overworked. He’s tried the bars and other places where gay men are supposed to find one another, but for Ethan, it never works out. He wonders if it ever will. Should he get a cat?

But all of that is about to change…

NEG UB2

Poor Ethan Schwartz. He’s just had the most shocking news a gay man can get—he’s been diagnosed HIV positive. Up until today, he thought his life was on a perfect course. He had a job he loved and something else he thought he’d never have: Brian, a new man, one whom Ethan thought of as “the one.” The one who would complete him, who would take his life from a lonely existence to a place filled with laughter, hot sex, and romance.

But along with the fateful diagnosis comes another shock—is Brian who he thinks he is?

Status Updates

Ethan finds himself alone once more and wonders if life is worth living, even one with a cat. Via a Facebook friend request, an old nemesis appears, wanting to be friends. Ethan is suspicious but intrigued because it seems this old acquaintance has turned his life around…and the changes just might hold the key to Ethan getting a new lease on life…and love.

How about a little taste?

Ethan Schwartz was alone. At forty-two, the state of being alone was almost like having another person by his side, a person he was growing to know more and more intimately with each passing night in his too-big-for-one bed. In fact, Ethan sometimes wondered if being alone was his natural state of being. Perhaps it was simply his fate to spend his evenings in front of his brand-new forty-two-inch Toshiba HDTV, watching classic 1940s movies from an endless queue at Netflix.

He wondered if his life would ever change. Maybe he would continue to go to work at his job as a publicist for several Chicago theater companies, come home about seven o’clock, nuke a Lean Cuisine, fall asleep in front of the TV, and repeat the routine until he expired.

He had thought, as he tossed in bed at night, in those endlessly stretching hours slogging their way toward dawn, of getting a dog or even a cat. He envisioned himself walking into his apartment door at night, greeted by a French bulldog’s grin or the slightly harlotish leg rub of a Maine coon. But an animal just didn’t seem like—well, it just didn’t seem like enough.

In the above scenario, he also imagined a man coming in the same door minutes later and Ethan getting the four-legged companion riled up by saying “Daddy’s home!” No, Ethan knew—in his heart of hearts—he wanted an animal of the two-legged variety, one who would talk back to him, one he could spend long autumn weekends in Door County with, one he could take out to dinner parties and bring home to his family at Christmas. He wanted an animal that wouldn’t shed and would need little housebreaking. Well, at least not much. At forty-two, Ethan had lowered expectations.

He also dreaded the thought of subjecting some poor tabby or Boston terrier to a solitary existence much like his own. After all, the stand-in-for-a-boyfriend pet would spend most of its time roaming the apartment by his or her lonesome and staring mournfully out the window because of Ethan’s long hours at work.

He knew from experience that subjecting an unsuspecting animal to an existence akin to his own would be cause for calling out the SPCA.

So Ethan would have to go on dreaming of meeting Mr. Right in human form and continue to watch as those dreams faded into wispy gossamer as the years relentlessly marched toward old age. Already Ethan found it necessary to use a moisturizer on his face and a depilatory on his back. His dark brown hair he kept buzzed close to his skull in an effort to minimize its traitorous thinning. Starting at around age thirty-two, every year he’d added a pound or two to his five-foot-ten-inch frame, and every year that pound or two became harder and harder to lose, in spite of long, sweaty hours on the treadmill or a diet consisting chiefly of the frozen culinary delights of the people at Smart Choice, Lean Cuisine, or South Beach Diet.

Heading toward middle age sucked…especially when you were doing it alone.

Tonight Ethan dug in the Doritos bag for one remaining chip of decent size while glued to the adventures of Ugly Betty. Why couldn’t he at least find a nice nerd, as Betty once had? Why couldn’t he at least have a little drama at work, like the Mexican magazine assistant faced every single day of her charmed life? Ethan’s days were spent trying to chat up theater critics in hopes of persuading them to write a review or feature on whatever play he was pushing that week. Or he holed up in his cube and wrote the same press release over and over, with only the titles, venues, and dates changed. When he had taken the job ten years ago, he’d thought the free nights out at the theater would be a great way to get dates. He’d assumed he would meet lots of handsome actors, and they would all want to cozy up to the publicist who could get them so much press.

He’d thought wrong.

Ethan got up and shut off the TV and threw his Doritos bag in the trash. He stretched and looked out the window. His move to this North Side Chicago neighborhood had been another misguided romantic maneuver, one that started full of hope and confidence and had been dashed by cold reality. He felt even more isolated and alone as he looked down from his studio apartment on Halsted Street, the blocks between Belmont and Addison that Chicagoans referred to as Boystown. When he had rented the little studio above a gay bookstore a decade ago, he had reasoned that wrangling a date would be no more difficult than hanging out his third story window with a smoldering gaze and a come-hither pout.

He had reasoned wrong.

Shortly after Ethan had moved in and hung his first Herb Ritts poster, Boystown had begun quickly gentrifying itself. Most of the gays moved farther north to Andersonville or even Rogers Park. Sure, gay bars still lined the street, and the teeming throngs continued to taunt him with luscious examples of masculinity on the prowl, but it had been a long time since one of the minions had made his way up the creaking stairs to Ethan’s studio.

Oh, he supposed he could throw on some jeans, T-shirt, and his Asics and run across the street to Roscoe’s or any of the other watering holes lining the rainbow-pyloned avenue, but he had been to that dry well too many times to even consider it. Every year, it seemed, there was a new crop of gorgeous twentysomethings laughing and drinking…and practiced in the art of ignoring nice but nondescript men like Ethan. One could only endure so long the hours of standing against a wall, Stella Artois in hand, trying to look approachable and then never being approached. It didn’t do much for the ego.

And it didn’t do much for the wallet. Or the self-esteem. Or certainly the romantic, or even sex, life.

No, the bars had long ago lost their allure, becoming more and more an exclusive club for younger gays looking to hook up, or dance, or text message each other…or whatever other ways they found these days to make Ethan feel old. Besides, Ethan hoped for a more meaningful connection.

And with each gray hair, each crow’s-foot and laugh line stamped upon his features, he despaired of ever finding it.

He padded into the little bathroom and gasped as a cockroach beat a hasty retreat into a crack between the baseboard and linoleum-tiled floor. He shook his head and thought that even the bugs wanted nothing to do with him.

He looked at his tired face in the mirror and laughed. “Jesus,” he said to his reflection, “you’re pathetic.” He held his aging mug up to the light cast by the overhead fixture and said, “What’s wrong with everybody? You’re not so old. You’re not so bad.” And indeed, Ethan spoke the truth. He looked every bit of his forty-two years, but that was still pretty young, wasn’t it? Didn’t somebody at the office just yesterday say something about forty being the new thirty? And his face, while certainly not Brad Pitt sexy, was pleasing, with a nice cleft in his chin, a strong nose, and deep blue eyes framed by long black lashes. His lips were a bit thin—a gift from his German father—and he could probably use some sun to give his pasty complexion a little pizzazz, but all in all, it wasn’t a face one would run from, screaming into the night. It was every bit as cute as a Tom Hanks or Will Ferrell.

Ethan pulled his toothbrush from the medicine cabinet and decorated its bristles with orange gel—when had toothpaste gone orange?—and gave his teeth a savage brushing, even though his dentist always admonished him about that, telling him a slow, gentle course was the way, lest he wanted to erode his gums entirely away. But Ethan had never been able to dissuade himself from the idea that the harder the brush, the whiter the teeth.

He spit and wiped his mouth on the hand towel and headed back into the common area to pull out his queen-size—hush!—futon for another night of lonely slumber.

Tomorrow, he thought, he had to do something about his depressing state. And he did not mean moving out of Illinois. Somewhere there had to be a companion for him, just waiting. His dream man wasn’t in all the places he had fruitlessly checked, like the bars, backstage, and in his office. But he was out there, and like Ethan, he too was pulling the covers up by himself and thinking the answer to the riddle of how to escape a solitary existence was just within reach.

Just before he fell asleep, he wondered if his mystery man also cynically told himself the same thing every night.

“Shut up!” Ethan cried into the darkness. And then whispered, muffled into his pillow, “Tomorrow will be different. I just know it.”

I won’t be reviewing this, because I’m too strapped for time with teaching remotely, and getting my little ones on the remote learning cycle, but I would have if I could have!!

Interested? You can find M4M on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

A Sinister Specter: THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a near-historical M/M thriller with romantic elements from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE explores the darker side of human nature, and features connections between lonely souls and a serial killer. If you liked THE PERILS OF INTIMACY or THE SECRETS WE KEEP you’ll like this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
It’s the summer of 1991 and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested. His monstrous crimes inspire dread around the globe. But not so much for Emory Hughes, a closeted young man in Chicago who sees in the cannibal killer a kindred spirit, someone who fights against the dark side of his own nature, as Emory does. He reaches out to Dahmer in prison via letters.

The letters become an escape—from Emory’s mother dying from AIDS, from his uncaring sister, from his dead-end job in downtown Chicago, but most of all, from his own self-hatred.

Dahmer isn’t Emory’s only lifeline as he begins a tentative relationship with Tyler Kay. He falls for him and, just like Dahmer, wonders how he can get Tyler to stay. Emory’s desire for love leads him to confront his own grip on reality. For Tyler, the threat of the mild-mannered Emory seems inconsequential, but not taking the threat seriously is at his own peril.

Can Emory discover the roots of his own madness before it’s too late and he finds himself following in the footsteps of the man from Milwaukee?

How about a little taste?

Headlines

Dahmer appeared before you in a five o’clock edition, stubbled dumb countenance surrounded by the crispness of a white shirt with pale-blue stripes. His handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Chicago and all of America, to the depths of the most out-of-the-way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers, cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes: details too horrific to be credible in a novel of horror: tales of cannibalism, sexual perversity, and agonizing death, all bespeaking his secret history and preparing his future glory.

Emory Hughes stared at the picture of Jeffrey Dahmer on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, the man in Milwaukee who had confessed to “drugging and strangling his victims, then dismembering them.” The picture was grainy, showing a young man who looked timid and tired. Not someone you’d expect to be a serial killer.

Emory took in the details as the L swung around a bend: lank pale hair, looking dirty and as if someone had taken a comb to it just before the photograph was snapped, heavy eyelids, the smirk, as if Dahmer had no understanding of what was happening to him, blinded suddenly by notoriety, the stubble, at least three days old, growing on his face. Emory even noticed the way a small curl topped his shirt’s white collar. The L twisted, suddenly a ride from Six Flags, and Emory almost dropped the newspaper, clutching for the metal pole to keep from falling. The train’s dizzying pace, taking the curves too fast, made Emory’s stomach churn.

Or was it the details of the story that were making the nausea in him grow and blossom? Details like how Dahmer had boiled some of his victim’s skulls to preserve them…

Milwaukee Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen said authorities had recovered five full skeletons from Dahmer’s apartment and partial remains of six others. They’d discovered four severed heads in his kitchen. Emory read that the killer had also admitted to cannibalism.

“Sick, huh?” Emory jumped at a voice behind him. A pudgy man, face florid with sweat and heat, pressed close. The bulge of the man’s stomach nudged against the small of Emory’s back.

Emory hugged the newspaper to his chest, wishing there was somewhere else he could go. But the L at rush hour was crowded with commuters, moist from the heat, wearing identical expressions of boredom.

“Hard to believe some of the things that guy did.” The man continued, undaunted by Emory’s refusal to meet his eyes. “He’s a queer. They all want to give the queers special privileges and act like there’s nothing wrong with them. And then look what happens.” The guy snorted. “Nothing wrong with them…right.”

Emory wished the man would move away. The sour odor of the man’s sweat mingled with cheap cologne, something like Old Spice.

Hadn’t his father worn Old Spice?

Emory gripped the pole until his knuckles whitened, staring down at the newspaper he had found abandoned on a seat at the Belmont stop. Maybe if he sees I’m reading, he’ll shut up. Every time the man spoke, his accent broad and twangy, his voice nasal, Emory felt like someone was raking a metal-toothed comb across the soft pink surface of his brain.

Neighbors had complained off and on for more than a year about a putrid stench from Dahmer’s apartment. He told them his refrigerator was broken and meat in it had spoiled. Others reported hearing hand and power saws buzzing in the apartment at odd hours.

“Yeah, this guy Dahmer… You hear what he did to some of these guys?”

Emory turned at last. He was trembling, and the muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He knew his voice was coming out high, and that because of this, the man might think he was queer, but he had to make him stop.

“Listen, sir, I really have no use for your opinions. I ask you now, very sincerely, to let me be so that I might finish reading my newspaper.”

The guy sucked in some air. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled.

Emory looked down once more at the picture of Dahmer, trying to delve into the dots that made up the serial killer’s eyes. Perhaps somewhere in the dark orbs, he could find evidence of madness. Perhaps the pixels would coalesce to explain the atrocities this bland-looking young man had perpetrated, the pain and suffering he’d caused.

To what end?

“Granville next. Granville will be the next stop.” The voice, garbled and cloaked in static, alerted Emory that his stop was coming up.

As the train slowed, Emory let the newspaper, never really his own, slip from his fingers. The train stopped with a lurch, and Emory looked out at the familiar green sign reading Granville. With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat from his brow and prepared to step off the train.

Then an image assailed him: Dahmer’s face, lying on the brown, grimy floor of the L, being trampled.

Emory turned back, bumping into commuters who were trying to get off the train, and stooped to snatch the newspaper up from the gritty floor.

Tenderly, he brushed dirt from Dahmer’s picture and stuck the newspaper under his arm.

*

Kenmore Avenue sagged under the weight of the humidity as Emory trudged home, white cotton shirt sticking to his back, face moist. At the end of the block, a Loyola University building stood sentinel—gray and solid against a wilted sky devoid of color, sucking in July’s heat and moisture like a sponge.

Emory fitted his key into the lock of the redbrick high-rise he shared with his mother and sister, Mary Helen. Behind him, a car grumbled by, muffler dragging, transmission moaning. A group of four children, Hispanic complexions darkened even more by the sun, quarreled as one of them held a huge red ball under his arm protectively.

As always, the vestibule smelled of garlic and cooking cabbage, and as always, Emory wondered from which apartment these smells, grown stale over the years he and his family had lived in the building, had originally emanated.

In the mailbox was a booklet of coupons from Jewel, a Commonwealth Edison bill, and a newsletter from Test Positive Aware. Emory shoved the mail under his arm and headed up the creaking stairs to the third floor.

My Review:
The book opens in 1991, Chicago and is mainly centered on the life and times of Emory Hughes, a closeted gay man living in the north side with his mother and deadbeat sister, Mary Helen. Emory’s mother is dying of AIDS contracted from a tainted blood transfusion. She’s near death at the beginning of the book, lost in dementia and tearing her tiny family apart. Mary Helen has emotionally sealed herself off from her mother, barely caring for her at all while Emory works full-time to support all of them. He comes home at night and begins the arduous task of cleaning his emaciated mother and trying to feed her. It’s heartbreaking and lonely work, but he can’t let his dear mother down.

Emory sees his homosexual attraction as a deviance, and his sexual encounters have all been anonymous, and often a bit brutal. They are something he wants to hide from the world, and would wish to be without, if he could. It’s a personal failure to Emory when need brings him back to the adult bookstore peep shows for strangers to manhandle. It is around this time that the horrors of serial killer Jefferey Dahmer are revealed, his sensational case of murdering, dismembering and cannibalizing many gay men being headline news for days on end. Emory senses that Dahmer did not relish killing men, but was compelled by forces he couldn’t contain, much like Emory’s own internal conflict with his physical attractions and needs.

Tyler Kay is a fresh college grad from the north suburbs taking a job at the insurance analysis company where Emory has worked for the past 8 years. Emory is tasked with showing Tyler the ropes, and Tyler, who is out and proud, senses a kinship with Emory, a fellow who likes fellows, but mostly he senses Emory’s deep loneliness, and desire to connect with another human. He invites Emory out and makes no secret of his sexuality or attraction, and doesn’t let himself get bothered when Emory staunchly denies his own sexuality. He’s known many closet cases. Still, when Emory’s mom finally dies, Tyler’s attention lights something up inside Emory–and a tenuous friendship builds. This feels momentous, and caught in both grief and the novel sensation of being seen as a man, Emory begins a magnanimous effort to write letters to Jeffrey Dahmer in prison. Through these letters, Emory is able to reveal his true feelings and desires. He’s elated to receive letters in return that show a softer side of the ‘Milwaukee Monster’ one who encourages Emory to live his best life, and keep Tyler by his side.

Okay, to be clear, Emory is mentally ill. His lifelong loneliness has facilitated a delusional mindscape that shields and scares him by turns. Tyler is a wonderful friend, and he really wants to be a lover to Emory, but he gets scared off by Emory’s fascination with Dahmer, especially after witnessing a psychotic break following what had been some tender intimacy between them. Tyler’s retreat gives way to a whole new level of psychoses that trigger violence and self-flagellation. All the while the letters go out and new ones come back–with Emory missing time from his days and nights.

A random outing reconnects Tyler and Emory some months later, and Emory is in a prime state to ensure Tyler–whom he believes to be his soul mate–will stay with him forever. Emory has learned from studying Dahmer, who was obsessed with having a man stay–even if it was only in pieces.

I’m not going to go into more detail, but this story was really poignant and thrilling. The downward spiral of Emory’s mental state was revealed progressively, and his desire to love and be loved was gut-wrenching. He’s a man who has felt unloved and unlovable for many years, and his grief, his torment over his sexuality, and his loss of the only friend and lover he ever had when Tyler runs out on him, all become more than he can cope with. His sister, who has been selfish and self-serving to shield herself from the pain of their mother’s disease and death, is barely able to maintain any relationship with Emory, but it is her intervention that ensures Emory doesn’t make a complete psychotic break. We have hints of the brutal turns Emory has taken, and Tyler definitely suffers before the end. I was glad that the story continued into the future a few years to give closure to all the affected parties.

This story has some romantic elements, but it’s not a romance. Tyler and Emory have a spark, but Emory’s mental state is an impediment to true intimacy. I always love stories set in Chicago, and Reed’s attention to detail–taking the Metra versus the L, describing the city neighborhoods, the vicious weather, and popular haunts of gay men in the 90s–is as superb as ever. Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, I remember the heated fascination over Dahmer’s case during those brief years. I was a junior in HS when he was arrested, and a senior when he was sentenced. The gruesome spectacle in Milwaukee was routinely compared to the crimes of John Wayne Gacy, a near-Chicago suburban man who’d murdered dozens of Chicago-area men just two decades before–and our news media certainly pushed those connection stories. So I could really sense and relate to the history, as well as the emotions of this fictional thriller.

When one has such dark themes, it’s easy to envision a canned resolution. The extended scenes were inspired and inspiring, demonstrating the power of forgiveness at relieving the guilt and grief of bad decisions. At it’s core, this story is one of connection to humanity, and how people who are disconnected from humanity will make choices that temporarily assuage the pain their isolation engenders. These choices are usually not in their best interest, be they drugs, alcohol or violence, and Reed never left Emory to the winds of fate, or silenced his pain artificially. The ending, for that reason, was tender and loving even if there was no romance.

Interested? You can find THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Living Through Tragedy THE SECRETS WE KEEP- Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE SECRETS WE KEEP features two grieving men connecting at the funeral of a woman they both loved and lost. It’s an odd-couple romance, and the age and wealth gap pose interesting conflicts. If you liked LEGALLY WED, or THE PERILS OF INTIMACY you’ll like this one, too.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jasper Warren is a happy-go-lucky young man in spite of the tragedy that’s marred his life. He’s on a road to nowhere with his roommate, Lacy, whom he adores, and a dead-end retail job in Chicago.

And then everything changes in a single night. Though Jasper doesn’t know it, his road is going somewhere after all. This time when tragedy strikes, it brings with it Lacy’s older, wealthy, sexy uncle Rob. Despite the heart-wrenching circumstances, an immediate connection forms between the two men.

But the secrets between them test their attraction. Will their revelations destroy the bloom of new love… or encourage it to grow?

How about a little taste?

Prologue
“Hey! I don’t think you should go through that,” Rob said, barely audible because he didn’t want his fear to show. He sucked in a breath and clutched his suitcase close to him, as though it were a child—or a flotation device. Or a boy he loved and didn’t want to lose…

The water spread out on the road under the overpass like a black mirror. It could have been a few inches deep or a few feet. From just a visual, there was no way to gauge how deep it was. No person with any sense would drive into it.

His Uber driver, a sallow-complexioned man in his forties wearing a black baseball cap, gave out a low whistle. “We’ll be okay,” he said cheerfully, with a confidence Rob simply didn’t have. “Just sit back and let me worry. We’ll be fine.”

Rob wished he had the nerve to speak up, to command, “No! Don’t! Just turn around.” After all, this driver was putting them both in danger. But he felt like protesting would make him seem insane or, at the very least, silly. So what’s worse, he wondered, seeming crazy or drowning? He cursed himself for the ridiculous lengths he went to so as to avoid confrontation.

A thunderclap as loud as an explosion sounded then, and Rob swore the black Lincoln Continental shuddered under its vibration. Lightning turned the dark, cloud-choked dawn skies bright white for an instant, as though day had peeked in, seen the weather, and then ducked back out.

“This baby can get through it,” the driver said, giving the car a little more gas.

Rob tightened his lips to a single line and furrowed his brows as his driver set off into the small lake stretching out before them. As the driver moved completely under the overpass, the drumming sound of the rain on the roof suddenly ceased, and the silence was like the intake of a breath.

“C’mon, c’mon,” the driver urged almost under his breath as he sallied farther into the water, giving the car more gas.

Even before the engine started to whine in protest, Rob knew they were in trouble by the way the water parted to admit the Lincoln. Waves sloshed by on either side.

Rob thought again he should speak up—like maybe to suggest that the driver could attempt to back up—but held his tongue. The guy was a professional, right? He knew what he was doing.

They’d be okay.

And the driver continued, deeper and deeper into the water standing so treacherously beneath the overpass.

The engine made a lowing sound, like a cow’s moo, as the flood rose up the sides of the vehicle.

Rob gasped as brackish, foul-smelling water covered his loafered feet, pouring in through the small spaces around the doors.

The driver eyed him in the rearview mirror. There was a defeat in his voice as he said, “You better open your door and get out while you can.”

Rob wondered, for only a moment, why he would want to. Then it struck him with the adrenaline-fueled clarity born of panic that if he didn’t open his door now, he might never get another chance. The rising water and its pressure would make it impossible to open the door.

If it wasn’t already too late…

Rob leaned over and pressed against the door. The engine stalled at that moment, and his driver reached for his own door handle up front.

For a brief moment that caused his heart to drum fast, Rob feared his door wouldn’t open. He slid over and leaned against it with his shoulder pressed against the black leather, grunting.

The door held and then suddenly gave way.

Granted access, water rushed into the vehicle. The icy current rose up, covering his ankles and his calves. It was almost over his knees when he managed to slide from the Lincoln.

Outside the car, he stood. The water rose up almost to his neck. He felt nothing, only a kind of numbness and wonder. His driver was already sloshing forward toward the pearly light at the other side of the overpass. He didn’t give Rob so much as a backward glance.

Rob started moving against the water, wondering what might be swimming in it.

Thunder grumbled and then cracked again. The lightning flared, brilliant white, once more. And the rain poured down even harder.

He looked back for a moment at the Lincoln Continental, thinking about his TUMI bag on the seat. There was no hope for that now!

He slogged through the water and progressed steadily forward, feeling like a refugee in some third-world country, bound for freedom. In his head he heard the swell of inspirational music.

After what seemed like an hour, but was really only about five minutes, Rob reached dry land at the end of the overpass, where the entrance ramp veered upward toward the highway. Cars whizzed by, sending up sprays of water, the motorists oblivious.

His driver eyed him but said nothing. He was out of breath.

Rob stood in the rain and remembered his iPhone in the front pocket of his khakis. He pulled it out, thinking to call for help. But when he pressed the Home button, the screen briefly illuminated and then blinked out, the picture of an ocean wave crashing toward the shore first skewing weirdly, then vanishing.

“Shit,” he whispered and then replaced the phone in his soaking-wet pants pocket.

He needn’t have worried about calling for help, however, because it seemed the universe had done it for him. On the other side of the overpass, a fire truck, lights on but no siren, pulled up to the water’s edge. Then two police cruisers. And finally, surprisingly, a news van with a satellite antenna on top brought up the rear.

The rest was kind of a blur. Through a bullhorn, one of the firemen advised them to come back toward them but to use the median instead of slogging through the flood. The concrete divider was only a few inches above the sloshing water.

Somehow, Rob and his driver managed a tightrope walk across the lake the underpass had become, balancing on the concrete divider.

When they reached the other side, one of the newscasters, a guy in a red rain slicker, stuck a microphone in his face and asked him to tell him what happened. Was he afraid? Stunned, Rob shook his head and moved toward the cop cars. Behind him, he could hear the driver talking to the reporter.

At the first police car, a uniformed officer got out from behind the steering wheel. She shut the door behind her and held a hand above the bill of her cap to further shield her from the rain. She was young, maybe midtwenties, with short black hair and a stout and sturdy build.

“You okay, sir?”

Rob nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” He smiled. “Didn’t expect a swim this early in the morning.”

The officer didn’t laugh. “Where were you headed? We might be able to take you, or at the very least, we can summon a taxi for you.”

And Rob opened his mouth to say, “To the airport” and then shut it again.

One thought stood out in his head. I could have drowned. He looked toward the Lincoln, which was filled now with water up to the middle of the windshield.

“Sir? You need us to get you somewhere?”

Rob debated, thinking of a young man, perhaps out in this same rain, getting almost as drenched as he was. He opened his mouth again to speak, unsure of how he could or should answer her question.

What he said now could very well determine the course of the rest of his life.

My Review:
Jasper and Lacy are the best of friends living in a vintage courtyard one bedroom apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. They both work retail jobs, and they adore one another, but Jasper is openly gay, and Lacy is his subtlely enamored wingwoman. Jasper and Lacy make up each other’s “chosen family” since Jasper’s emotionally-closed father hardly calls to talk; his pregnant mother and younger sister were murdered when Jasper was a young child and his father never crawled past his grief. Lacy says her family are a bunch of liars and she wants nothing to do with them, so they support one another and have done so for the past few years as roomies and friends. Jasper knows Lacy wants a sexual relationship with him, but its beyond his ability, and he’s comfortable being her best friend anyway.

They are out for drinks one night and Jasper hangs out later than usual, hoping to find a sexy man for the night, but he gives up and goes home alone, where Lacy convinces him to cuddle with her following a bad dream. Jasper awakes in his own bed the next morning, unsure how he got there and unsettled by the stillness of the apartment. Lacy should have been up long ago, and his morbid curiosity leads him to find Lacy in her bed, cold and past saving.

Jasper is wrecked. Lacy was his lifeline, and he’s unable to do more than visit the funeral home where her detested parents have the wake arranged. “Lacy” was her chosen name, and he doesn’t recognize the goth girl he knew in the brown-haired pink-dressed Heather who fills Lacy’s coffin. Jasper is intercepted by Lacy/Heather’s uncle, Rob, a 40ish silver fox who seems desperate to know something of Heather’s life over the past five years, since she’d broken off all contact with her family. Lacy’d urged Jasper to move on, and not wonder about the darkness of her family, and how they broke her spirit, but he’s willing to console Rob for a bit.

The secrets of Lacy/Heather’s family begin to unravel in ways that Jasper couldn’t have expected. Turns out Rob is a famous mystery/suspense author that Jasper has been a fan of for years–and Lacy never shared that secret. Rob convinces Jasper to correspond with him via text and email, to keep Lacy alive between the two of them, and Jasper is reticent, but determined to share the truth of his dearest friend. This tentative communication begins to build more of a bond between the two men, and Jasper is kind of shell shocked. He’s never sought out older men, or fancied himself a gold digger, yet he’s difinitely attracted to Rob who is nearly 20 years older, and wealthier than God. This inequality is unsettling and a big barrier for the growing intimacy that Jasper and Rob are developing. It’s not until Jasper finally accepts Rob’s request to come visit his Palm Springs mansion that Jasper learns the true nature of Rob’s place in Lacy’s life–the huge secret that cut Lacy’s ties to her family.

This story had a lot of spooky-ish moments that seemed like sinister foreshadowing, but turned out to be more introspective than at first glance. I didn’t really know what to expect about the tragedies Jasper has faced, and I was sad for his losses. He’s a decent guy, but not nearly as happy-go-lucky as the blurb indicates. Losing Lacy really exposes Jasper’s depression, and he’s not sure he’s worthy of love, in many ways. It obstructs his ability to build strong relationships, but he works through his grief, and his confusion about Rob–who has his own secrets to share and grief to survive.

The end is truly a happy one, however, with Rob and Jasper living honestly, and supporting one another emotionally. I liked how Jasper repaired his relationship with his father, and made the effort to connect with Rob, who really needs a loving partner. The harrowing moments didn’t result in further tragedy, but there were certainly enough breadcrumbs out there to keep me on edge for the next shoe to drop.

I liked the story and enjoyed watching the love that grew through patience, honesty and communication between Jasper and Rob. They each deserved a caring lover, and they helped each other grieve and move on from the pain that first united them.

Interested? You can find THE SECRETS WE KEEP on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Coming to Terms With THE PERILS OF INTIMACY–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THE PERILS OF INTIMACY features two unlikely men making a connection–and realizing their history goes far deeper than a diner meet-cute. It’s an odd-couple romance, for sure, especially viewed through the lens of addiction, recovery and forgiveness. If you liked LEGALLY WED, you’ll like this one, too.

About the book:
Mark believes he’s meeting Jimmy for the first time in the diner where he works, but he’s wrong. Mark has no recollection of their original encounter because the wholesome Jimmy of today couldn’t be more different than he was two years ago. Back then, Jimmy sported multiple piercings and facial hair. He was painfully skinny—and a meth addict. The drug transformed him into a lying, conniving thief.

Mark doesn’t associate the memory of a hookup gone wrong with this fresh-faced twenty-something… but Jimmy knows. Can Mark see Jimmy for the man he is now and not the addict he was? The answers depend on whether true love holds enough light to shine through the darkness of past mistakes.

My Review:
Mark and Jimmy meet for the second time at Becky’s Diner in Seattle. Jimmy is the cute 23 year old waiter, and Mark is the 40-something flirtatious customer. They feel a spark, and set a date for a date. Jimmy has a sense of deja vu regarding this man, which is unsettling. Jimmy is a recovering meth addict and he hurt himself and a lot of other people when he was using. He’s been sober two years now, and is rebuilding his life. His intuition bears out when Jimmy remembers…Mark was a man he robbed during a meth-fueled hook-up shortly before Jimmy hit rock bottom and sought recovery.

Now, Jimmy is a whole different man. He lives with a fellow recovering addict and makes his meetings. He’s really got a spark with Mark, and he doesn’t want to lose out on the possibility of something good just because he was out of control years before. Mark hasn’t forgotten the violation of Jimmy’s theft. What he’d taken wasn’t that expensive, but the sense of violation was far more destructive for Mark. It makes him skittish around new lovers, and particularly when he connects the dots back to that terrible night. Sure, Jimmy has his life together at this moment, but what guarantee could he make to Mark not to hurt him again? What if he goes back to using? Can he really ever trust this Jimmy–knowing what he does about Jimmy’s past?

This story really hit home for me, having close family members who struggle with, and have overcome, addiction. Jimmy can only accept the responsibility for his actions, and continue to demonstrate how much he has changed in his sobriety. This situation with Mark is definitely stressful, and Jimmy reaches out to his supports to keep him from using when he feels triggered. Mark has to decide: can he forgive Jimmy for the man he was, and accept him for the man he is? They have a shot at getting a happy ending, but only if they are both able to be honest and trust one another.

I liked the compressed time frame of this story, that they connect on a Monday and their lives intersect several times in the course of a tumultuous week. This gave a lot of space to a deep dive into the character’s mindsets and struggles. Neither Jimmy nor Mark are simple men–even if they truly want something simple: a steady life and a loving partner. There’s a little bit of mystic running in here, too, especially for Jimmy who seems in tune with his past, present and future in the way of heightened awareness. This comes through in glimpses, with the deja vu, intuition, conversations with trusted “spirits” and the call to assist people–from junkies cleaning up, to Mark in the heat of a bad moment.

I really liked this one, with its messages of forgiveness–of both self and others–of redemption, and finding the right partner at the right time in one’s life. It stuck with me long after I turned the last page. The romance was low-key, but solidly based in connection of spirit and emotion.

Interested? You can find THE PERILS OF INTIMACY on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books.

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Compromised Love? LEGALLY WED–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. LEGALLY WED features a single gay man who’s deepest desire to be married leads him to take desperate action.

Scroll down to catch my review and enter the $10 Amazon GC giveaway below!
About the book:
Love comes along when you least expect it.
That’s what Duncan Taylor’s sister, Scout, tells him. Scout has everything Duncan wants―a happy life with a wonderful husband. Now that Seattle has made gay marriage legal, Duncan knows he can have the same thing. But when he proposes to his boyfriend Tucker, he doesn’t get the answer he hoped for. Tucker’s refusal is another misstep in a long line of failed romances. Despairing, Duncan thinks of all the loving unions in his life―and how every one of them is straight. Maybe he could be happy, if not sexually compatible, with a woman. When zany, gay-man-loving Marilyn Samples waltzes into his life, he thinks he may have found his answer.

Determined to settle, Duncan forgets his sister’s wisdom about love and begins planning a wedding with Marilyn. But life throws Duncan a curveball. When he meets wedding planner Peter Dalrymple, unexpected sparks ignite. Neither man knows how long he can resist his powerful attraction to the other. For sure, there’s a wedding in the future. But whose?

How about a little taste?

Same-sex marriage had just become legal in Washington State, and Duncan Taylor didn’t plan on wasting any time. He had been dating Tucker McBride for more than three years, and ever since the possibility of marriage had become more than just a pipe dream, it was all Duncan could think of. He thought of it as he gazed out the windows of his houseboat on Lake Union on days both sunny and gray (since it was late autumn, there were a lot more of the latter); he thought of it as he stood before his classroom of fourth graders at Cascade Elementary School. He thought of it when he woke up in the morning and before he fell asleep at night.

For Duncan, marriage was the peak, the happy ending, the icing on the cake, the culmination of one’s heart’s desire, a commitment of a lifetime, the joining of two souls. For Duncan, it was landing among the stars.

And for Duncan, who would turn thirty-eight on his next birthday, it was also something he had never dared dream would be possible for him.

Now, too excited to sleep, he was thinking about it—hard—once again. It was just past midnight on December 6, 2012, and the local TV news had preempted its regular programming to take viewers live to Seattle City Hall, where couples were forming a serpentine line to be among the first in the state to be issued their marriage licenses—couples who had also for far too long believed this right would be one they would never be afforded. Many clung close together to ward off the chill, but Duncan knew their reasons for canoodling went far deeper than that.

The mood, in spite of the darkness pressing in all around, was festive. There was a group serenading the couples in line, singing “Going to the Chapel.” Champagne corks popped in the background. Laughter.

Duncan couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he watched all the male-male and female-female couples in the line, their moods of jubilation, of love, of triumph, traveling through to him even here on his houseboat only a couple of miles north of downtown. Duncan wiped tears from his eyes as he saw not only the couples but also all the supporters, city workers, and volunteers who had crowded together outside city hall to wish the new couples well, to share in the happiness of the historic moment.

And then Duncan couldn’t help it; he fell into all-out blubbering as the first couple to get their license emerged from city hall. Eighty-five-year-old Pete-e Petersen and her partner and soon-to-be-wife, Jane Abbott Lighty, were all smiles when a reporter asked them how they felt.

“We waited a long time. We’ve been together thirty-five years never thinking we’d get a legal marriage. Now I feel so joyous I can’t hardly stand it,” Pete-e said.

It was such a special moment, and it was all Duncan could do not to pick up the phone and call Tucker and casually say something like, “Hey honey, you want to get married?”

But he knew he had to wait even if patience was a virtue Duncan had in short supply. On Sunday, when the first marriages would take place, he planned on bringing Tucker to their favorite restaurant, an unpretentious little joint on Capitol Hill called Olympia Pizza. There, amid the darkened and—for them—romantic interior with the smells of garlic, basil, and tomato sauce surrounding them, Duncan would propose, saying something clever like:

“I’m thinking about changing my Facebook relationship status to ‘engaged.’ Would you mind?”

In his mind, Tucker would chuckle and then rub at the tuft of blond hair that grew from his chin, regarding Duncan with his dark-blue eyes. Duncan could see the flicker of the candle lighting up his man’s features as he held the silence for a few moments, building the suspense. Then he would say something like, “I think I’ll change mine too.”

That would be one way it could play out—very twenty-first century.

Duncan would then imagine all his friends and family congratulating the newly minted fiancés with “Likes” and words of encouragement and shared happiness. Maybe he could get their waiter to take a picture of them, holding hands over a sausage and mushroom pie, right after the moment when they went from two guys dating to two guys anticipating…marriage.

Duncan found himself wiping yet another tear from his eye. Sunday was going to be perfect.

My Review:
Duncan Taylor is an out-gay man in his late 30s who is watching his dream come true play out on TV: same-sex couples in his very own Seattle, Washington are finally allowed to register for a legal marriage, not a partnership. It’s a watershed experience for him, and he’s prepared to ask his boyfriend of the past three years, Tucker, to marry him.

And, Tucker says no. Not now, and not ever. Which is a deep blow to Duncan. He’s so convinced that finding a man to be his monogamous husband is an out of reach dream he goes and does the previously unthinkable. He puts an ad on Craigslist for a female partner. Yep, Duncan figures he’s always had better female friends, and he could marry a woman for the companionship part of it–and having kids as long as they use IVF. Because Duncan really doesn’t want a wife for a sexual partner.

It’s preposterous, right? That’s what Duncan’s sister Scout says. She’s disappointed he’s giving up on finding a truly compatible partner. And yet, Duncan’s ad gets replies. Most are cranks and crack pots, but one extra-salty response has potential, from Marilyn Staples. She’s an older urban woman with a long history of hanging out with gay BFFs. Meeting Duncan is a bit fraught becasue she’s sure this sexy man is yanking her chain. And, she’s had just as bad luck with men as Duncan. They have common goals and interests and they develop a deep friendship. It takes some convincing, but Marilyn does come around to Duncan’s plan.

And then they hire a wedding planner. Peter Dalrymple is a ginger bear who is as gay as they come. He is sweet, sexy, and professional–and mortified to be attracted to a client. It’s a conundrum, and a big wrench in this ludicrous plan. I really loved all the characters here, and could feel their struggle. Duncan is such an earnest guy, who really wants a loving marriage and kids and whatever his het family and friends can get–he thinks–so easily. What Duncan didn’t realize was how deeply such a relationship could hurt both himself and Marilyn. Seeing Peter, and working on the details of a wedding to a person who is only really going to be a friend is like sucking raw lemons while a full pitcher of lemonade sits at your elbow. Duncan’s determination to follow through on his promise to Marilyn in the face of his attraction to a man who appears to finally be “the one” creates some extra conflict of conscience, and very nearly three super unhappy people.

Marilyn can see the writing on the invitations, though, and the platonic love she’s built with Duncan gives her confidence to set him free–she’s made a strong acquaintance with a great (straight) man from Duncan’s past and they have a spark that could grow past the ember stage. What was almost an honest, but dysfunctional, marriage, turns out to be two happy endings. I loved the story, and the angst, and how these folks work out their drama with grace. I read this one years ago, and the re-release is not demonstrably changed. So if you have an older copy, maybe give it a re-read. It’s worth it.

Interested? You can finhttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53246365-legally-wed” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Terrifying Visions: THIRD EYE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a M/M realistic surpernatural thriller with a dash of romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THIRD EYE features a single dad whose unexpected head injury brings unwanted insight into grisy crimes in his Pennsylvania small-town. I have read and reviewed a bunch of Rick R. Reed titles for Joyfully Jay, so I jumped at the chance to share a review here.

Scroll down to catch my review and enter the $10 Amazon GC giveaway below!
About the book:
Who knew that a summer thunderstorm and a lost little boy would conspire to change single dad Cayce D’Amico’s life in an instant? With Luke missing, Cayce ventures into the woods near their house to find his son, only to have lightning strike a tree near him, sending a branch down on his head. When he awakens the next day in the hospital, he discovers he has been blessed or cursed—he isn’t sure which—with psychic ability. Along with unfathomable glimpses into the lives of those around him, he’s getting visions of a missing teenage girl.

When a second girl disappears soon after the first, Cayce realizes his visions are leading him to their grisly fates. Cayce wants to help, but no one believes him. The police are suspicious. The press wants to exploit him. And the girls’ parents have mixed feelings about the young man with the “third eye.”

Cayce turns to local reporter Dave Newton and, while searching for clues to the string of disappearances and possible murders, a spark ignites between them. Little do they know that nearby, another couple—dark and murderous—are plotting more crimes and wondering how to silence the man who knows too much about them.

How about a little taste?

She was only thirteen. It wasn’t fair she now lay, bound, waiting for death. Before, there had been struggling: clawing and fighting, scratching their faces, pulling at their hair, batting at whatever part she could reach. Her breath had come in choking spasms, adrenaline pumping, burning, anteing up the hysteria so much she thought her air would be blocked. Then had come the dread that made her lose most of her fight, when her terror-addled brain had begun to accept her fate was to die here, in this tiny, hot room, with the only witness to her demise the sparkling eyes of her killers and the maddening, crooked whirl of a ceiling fan long past its prime and wobbling, doing nothing more than blowing the overheated, moist air around the room. The dread had risen up, a nausea twisting her gut and making her afraid she would vomit. And then had come the numbness, a dull tingling throughout her body that precluded movement, stripping her of coherent thought.

They stood above her. Faces she had trusted, faces she had seen before, around her neighborhood. The man she and her friends had had a crush on. He used to drive by her little house on Ohio Street in his old red Mustang, looking the picture of youth, confidence, masculinity. His hair was dark, cut bristle-brush short, and his face always clean-shaven. Thin lips bordered rows of perfect white teeth, and when he had smiled at her, only hours ago, she had lit up. A tingling had started in her toes and had worked its way up until the color rose to her cheeks. At her young age, the interest of a man in his twenties was inconceivable, although it had been something she had hoped for since the first day she had seen him, back at the onset of summer, when the sun had turned white-hot, burning up the grass and making illusory waves rise from the hot, cracked sidewalks.

He had pulled to the curb and sat there, car idling. She sat in the front yard, sorting through Barbie clothes: ball gowns and swimming suits, miniskirts and stretch pants. He didn’t say anything, not right away. She had looked at him once, then looked away, certain his interest could never be in her. Suddenly she felt ridiculous with her metal trunk, her Barbie dolls, and all the outfits she had once been so proud to collect. Swiftly, she returned the clothes to their case and slammed it shut.

She leaned back, resting on her palms, and lifted her face to the sun. Its heat beat down relentlessly, making the skin on her face feel tight.

She felt his eyes on her still. She opened her own eyes a crack and regarded him peripherally. He really was looking at her! The adorable little smile that caused a dimple to rise in his right cheek deepened in the sun’s play of shadow and light. She leaned back more, left hand reaching out to surreptitiously move the Barbie trunk farther away. In this posture, here on the withered and brown grass, she felt that her breasts, little more than two tiny bumps an unkind boy at school had once referred to as her anthills, looked larger. She could be eighteen, couldn’t she? With the right makeup and her hair pulled up….

But now her long blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, clipped with a pink plastic barrette. She wore a pair of cutoff shorts and an oversized South Park T-shirt belonging to her older brother. He would have killed her had he known she was wearing it. But he was away at the Y’s summer camp and would never know the difference.

The idling of the car was like an animal purring.

And then the sun disappeared, and she sat in darkness. Beneath her closed lids, she sensed someone standing over her.

Why hadn’t she heard the slam of the car door? Her eyelids fluttered, but she did not open them. It would be just like her mother to come outside now and stand above her, hands on hips, and ask her what she thought she was doing.

“Lucy?”

Finally, she opened her eyes and blinked at the brightness of the August day. He was smiling. So unlike the other guys in Fawcettville, he was dressed in pressed black slacks and a collarless white shirt, buttoned to his neck.

“How did you know my name?”

“Oh, I make it my business to know the names of all the pretty young ladies around here.”

Lucy felt the heat rise to her face once more. She grinned and could not think of a single word to say.

“Playing Barbie?”

She shoved the case farther away, until it was completely out of her grasp. The case lay in the white heat, glinting, looking, she hoped, as if it had nothing to do with her.

“What? Oh…no, no. These are my little sister’s. She always makes such a mess of things, and I was just organizing for her.”

“What a good sister.”

“Yeah, well…”

The two said nothing for a while, and Lucy began to grow uncomfortable under his gaze. She shifted her long, tanned legs in front of her, crossing them at the ankle.

“I was driving by and saw you sitting there, and I had to tell you”—he hunkered down beside her—“what a lovely sight you are. It made me stop just to have a better look.”

She laughed and thought she sounded way too much like the thirteen-year-old she was. “Thank you,” she whispered, wondering where her voice had gone.

“No, thank you, for being here, for making the heat of this day a little more pleasant.”

Oh, stop! she wanted to cry out but whispered again, “Thank you.”

He leaned closer, enough for her to feel his breath near her ear. In spite of the day’s heat, his nearness caused gooseflesh to rise on her arms, her spine to tingle.

“Listen.” He glanced around the empty street with eyes like none she had ever seen: green, ringed with thick black lashes. And in his gaze was a conspiracy that included only the two of them. “My car has air-conditioning. I know this is out of the blue and all, but I wondered if you’d like to go for a ride with me.”

Lucy glanced back at her house. She wished suddenly she lived in a bigger house, in a better neighborhood. Here on this modest residential street close to the river, her small white clapboard house was surrounded by other houses very much like it, some of them covered in rusting aluminum siding. She pictured her mother inside, on a vinyl-covered kitchen chair, watching All My Children on a thirteen-inch portable TV on the Formica-topped kitchen table. Her mother, she knew, would never approve of what was transpiring here, right in her front yard.

He stood suddenly. “Okay, okay. I get the message.”

“Wait.” She sat up straighter. A pickup rumbled by and left in its wake a smell of exhaust and a rush of hot air.

He turned. “What? Need to get your mom’s permission?”

“Of course not!” Her voice came out higher than she would have liked, the whiny protest of a child. She stood. “I’d like to come with you. But I can’t stay out too long.” She was about to say “My mom will be worried” but realized how immature that would sound. “I’ve got some people I have to meet in a little while.”

He smiled. And the smile erased any nervousness she had about going with him. After all, she had seen him around the neighborhood dozens of times. He wasn’t exactly a stranger, not really.

“That’s fine, Lucy. I’ll have you back within an hour. I promise. I certainly wouldn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with you.” He winked, and she followed him to the waiting car.

My Review:
Cayce D’Amico is a mid-20s out gay man in a Fawcettville, Pennsylvania raising his son Luke. It’s a tiny town deteriorating in the wake of most of the industry drying up. In this community there aren’t any real dangers except kids falling into the swift moving Ohio River and drowning. One afternoon, while Cayce is making dinner, Luke wanders out of the yard. In fear of a coming storm, Cayce combs the neighborhood looking for the boy. And, in the woods near the edge of the street, Cayce is hit in the head by a branch when a sudden bolt of lightning strikes.

About the same time, two young and beautiful people are convincing 13 y/o Lucy to step off her front lawn into their Mustang in the same neighborhood. Lucy doesn’t make it home.

Waking in the hospital, Cayce is mystified by the insights he gets off the people in direct contact with him. And, when he is handed a newspaper that features his own accident also describes mission Lucy. The dread builds within as Cayce reads the story and “sees” poor Lucy in her last moments with her killers. He’s terrified and horrified when the visions don’t quit. Especially when a second Fawcettville girl goes missing.

This is a realistic thriller with the paranormal angle of Cayce’s newly-developed third sight. He clings to local reporter Dave Newton. Dave is an older man who’s faced his own demons and mostly has his head on right. The story point of view flips between many characters as we learn the grisly details even through the eyes of one of the killers. Cayce’s attempts to get rid of his visions lead his to confide in local law enforcement, Dave Newton and the victim’s families. For all his earnestness, he’s not taken seriously and he decides to keep his mouth shut. Until Lucy’s desperate mother pleads for a break in their case.

Cayce’s assistance shines a spotlight on his abilities and puts this the killers on his trail.

It’s an interesting and timely thriller, with good pacing and fully fleshed-out characters. We see the dark and seedy interior of Fawcettville families on the edge. We see the not-so-silent prejudice of Cayce’s own mother–who doesn’t think he’s a good father to Luke. Cayce, for his part, is a devoted dad and a lonely man. He doesn’t have a lot of folks in his corner, but he’s going to turn over Heaven and Earth when Luke becomes a target. Luckily, Dave Newton is right there by his side. I was turning the pages as fast as I could, so I would finish this story before bedtime. I HAD to finish this before bed because I couldn’t bear to try and sleep while the dark horror of the prose was rattling around in my brain. There was a tiny niggle for me regarding the timeline, where I thought there was some disconnect. Other than that, I was riveted. There is a dash of romance–attraction that’s fueled by the intense moments of shared terror. Dave accepts Cayce’s new gift as it is, and tries to be a helper to him in his hours of need.

There are real gruesome bits, and it’s not all about the murders and dead bodies. Cayce does save the day for some folks, and the epilogue makes it clear that there is a happily ever after for Cayce and Dave. As a person who doesn’t deal well with horror/thriller well, I am glad to say I slept well after the read.

Interested? You can find THIRD EYE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Kobo.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 Amazon GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Gothic Connection A FACE WITHOUT A HEART–Review & Giveaway!

f-w-o-h-blitzbannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary retelling of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY chillingly woven by multi-published author Rick R. Reed. I’ve reviewed some of Mr. Reed’s books in the past and always find them well-written, considerate and thrilling, be they romance (DINNER AT FIORELLO’S, BIG LOVE, LEGALLY WED) or suspense (TRICKS), so I was really eager to see how he’d treat the gothic psychological Dorian Gray. I wasn’t disappointed by A FACE WITHOUT A HEART.

Catch an excerpt and get in on the book giveaway, below.

facewithoutaheartafs_v1About the book:
A modern-day and thought-provoking retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that esteemed horror magazine Fangoria called “…a book that is brutally honest with its reader and doesn’t flinch in the areas where Wilde had to look away…. A rarity: a really well-done update that’s as good as its source material.”

A beautiful young man bargains his soul away to remain young and handsome forever, while his holographic portrait mirrors his aging and decay and reflects every sin and each nightmarish step deeper into depravity… even cold-blooded murder. Prepare yourself for a compelling tour of the darkest sides of greed, lust, addiction, and violence.

How about a little taste?

He was beautiful. Beauty is so seldom ascribed to men, too often incorrectly attributed to men with feminine features—wavy blond hair, fine cheekbones, teeth cut from porcelain. But I’ve always thought of beauty as a quality that went deeper than the corporeal… something dark, dense, inexplicable, capable of stirring longings primal, longings one would be powerless to resist.

He was beautiful. I sat on a Red Line “L” train, headed downtown, bags of heavy camera equipment heaped at my side, one arm resting protectively over them. I watched the young man, unable to train my thoughts on anything other than this man who had blotted out the reality of the day, magical and transforming. Beauty, especially so rare a beauty, can do that. The young man was an eclipse, his presence coming between myself and the reality of the day hurtling by outside train windows.

He had come in behind three foreign people, a bright counterpoint to their drab clothes, colorless, already wilting in the August humidity. They chattered to one another in a language unrecognizable, Polish maybe, and I was annoyed at their yammering, unable to block it out sufficiently enough to concentrate on the book I was reading, a biography of William Blake.

I almost didn’t notice him. It wasn’t like me to pay much attention to what went on around me, especially when I was preparing for a shoot. Usually I used the time on the train to set up the photographs I would take, the way I would manipulate light and shadow and how it fell on my models, to arrange the props, set up and test the lighting.

But something caused me to look up when the doors opened—perhaps I was struck by the dissonance created by the unknown language—and I saw him. Close-cropped brown hair, a bit of stubble framing full lips, a bruise fading to dull below his right eye. The bruise did not detract from the man’s beauty but served to enhance it, making of the rough features something more vulnerable. The bruise was the embodiment of a yearning for the touch of a finger, the whisper of a kiss. He wore an old, faded T-shirt with a Bulls logo, black denim cut off just above his knees, and a pair of work boots, the seam on the left beginning to separate. In spite of the workman’s garb, there was something intellectual about the man, an intensity in his aquamarine eyes that portended deeper thought.

At that moment, I made a decision. I don’t know what caprice seized me. I have always led an orderly life, completely without surprise. But when the train pulled to a stop and the young man stood, I acted on an impulse that was as sudden as it was uncontrollable.

My Review:
Gary Adrion is a young man of incomparable beauty, spotted on the “L” train in Chicago by an artist, Liam Howard, who specializes in holograms. Liam is a little older, and not as attractive as Gary, but Gary-a mostly solitary trust fund kid-is intrigued by Liam’s work and agrees to sit for a piece. The result is astounding, and Gary is so taken with it, that he makes an inadvertent bargain to remain as fresh and youthful as his hologram, no matter the darkness and depravity of his actions.

Well, over the years Gary gets pretty dark, and awfully depraved. Egged on by Liam’s dear friend, an outgoing drag queen known as Henrietta, Gary’s life takes some disastrous turns. He thinks he finds love, and throws it away on a whim–which leads to deadly results. Liam acts as Gary’s conscience, taking him to task when Gary will let him near, and that’s not a good situation, either. The further down this rabbit hole Gary falls, the more his hologram absorbs the horror of his actions, turning from an objet d’arte into a grotesque. Meanwhile Gary never seems to age a day. Friends turn bitter and enmity is rampant, even among his hangers-on. Gary delights in beauty, and it’s ultimate corruption.

This isn’t a romance, which I knew going in. There is some sex, but it’s written for shock value and the effect is chilling, not amorous. As we know from the Oscar Wilde classic, Dorian Gray–our narcissistic Gary–never fully redeems his soul, despite knowing that he must if he’s ever to find peace from the ghosts of people that have died as a result of his actions–directly or indirectly. There’s lots of drug use, and a seedy club-kid-type vibe for some of the book, and there’s horror. Death and murder are part of Gary’s path, and the only end is the dramatic one we all know is coming.

As a psychological thriller, I’d have loved just a little more insight into what happened during the large gaps in time the book spans. Some people seemingly come from nowhere, particularly in the end, and I know they were a part of that murkiness. I also got that Liam sensed Gary’s menace from their first encounter, but I didn’t see where that came from, as a reader. Gary is definitely shady, but I’d have liked to know how and why we knew that from the first pages. That said, as a retelling of Dorian Gray, I wasn’t disappointed.

Interested? You can find A FACE WITHOUT A HEART on Goodreads, DSP Publications, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for a chance to win one of two haunting tales by Mr. Reed.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love.

He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). He is also a Rainbow Award Winner for both Caregiver and Raining Men. Lambda Literary Review has called him, “a writer that doesn’t disappoint.”

Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever “at work on another novel.”

Catch up with Rick on his website, blog, Facebook, twitter, Google+, and Bookbub.
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DINNER AT FIORELLO’S Is Delicious–my review on Joyfully Jay

Hi there! Today I’m sharing my love for Rick R. Reed’s contemporary M/M romance DINNER AT FIORELLO’S over on Joyfully Jay’s Book Reviews. This was an especially tender romance between a new-graduated high school boy, Henry, and an executive chef, Vito, who doesn’t want to fall in love.

I had previously enjoyed Reed’s LEGALLY WED, and was anxious to read more of his work. I was just as charmed as before with his characters and the lush setting descriptions. As a native Chicagoan I could see my hometown in the pages, with startling clarity. I, too, sweated along with Henry on sultry walks and sweating ‘L’ rides. I’ve had his same sun-baked feet too exhausted to go forward. I haven’t had his sudden lack of home and family, but Henry never squawks. He’s determined to make his life his own, even when the convenience he’s had growing up is suddenly yanked away.

imageAbout the book:
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

You can find my full review on joyfully Jay.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!