Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”: Part 3

I’ve written and deleted the opening sentence to this post three times now.

summer_fling-200x300I’m not really sure how to proceed at this point. If you missed the beginning of this story, it starts here and is continued here. The short version, if you prefer, is this: someone sent Amazon a takedown notice for A Summer Fling. Amazon demanded proof that I was the copyright holder. I sent them everything they asked for and more. I sent the original file of the story with the date stamp. I sent the link to the story on Goodreads (if you’re a member of the GR M/M Romance Group, you too can read the original version there) and the free anthology created from the Don’t Read in the Closet fest.

I sent them the Smashwords URL showing the date I first uploaded A Summer Fling in its current form. I sent the registration number for the pending copyright registration I’d filed. Yes, filed belatedly. More on that later.

I expected this to be resolved. After all, I am the legal copyright holder. This is a self-published free story of little value. Why was this even up for debate?

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Amazon saying that due to the third party dispute that had not been resolved, they would not be re-publishing my story. Surprise is putting it mildly. I was shocked and upset. I got on the phone with Author Central and KDP. I sought advice from authors who’d been in similar situations (though none quite like mine). I tried to get more answers from Amazon, but was stymied at every turn. The young man with KDP was very nice but he could not determine why the story was being blocked, despite my having provided so much information. He advised me to send a detailed email, outlining everything I shared with him and he would do the same from his end.

Later that evening, I got an email from KDP stating flatly that they would not release the third party’s name or what the basis of their complaint was. I was also advised to hire a copyright lawyer if I wanted to pursue the matter further.

My initial reaction to this situation was to suspect that the now-defunct All Romance Ebooks was behind this somehow. I’m still not convinced that they’re not. Their abrupt announcement of closure, along with offering authors only 10 cents on the dollar of owed 4th quarter royalties, as well as preventing authors from removing files from the ARe platform is suspect, to say the least.

But I have also discovered that copyright claim-jumping of self-published authors is apparently a thing, and that Amazon puts the burden of proof on the author, not the accuser. Self-published authors may be at greater risk.

It may be the case that it is a coincidence I happened to get targeted by a scammer the same day ARe acrimoniously closed their doors. But unless I hire a lawyer I will never know. The various articles I’ve linked discuss what you can do to protect yourself from these kinds of attacks, and the most common bit of advice is to register your copyright claims, even though technically the copyright is yours once you put your words to paper unless you sign them away. I haven’t signed mine away, and yet Amazon isn’t accepting my documentation. And frankly, if this IS an attempt by ARe to lay claim to titles that were simply hosted on their former website, then registering your copyright may have little effect on Amazon’s resolution to reinstate your book.

Kind of like how it happened here with me.

I will be registering all my stories from now on, however, as well as retroactively registering my existing ones. It’s an extra layer of insurance that may well protect you in the future from your run-of-the-mill scammer. The link for the US copyright office is here.

This morning I received a very nice email from Amazon stating that after a careful review of my documentation, they have decided to uphold their decision to block the sale of A Summer Fling, but that they look forward to publishing my future stories.

That’s very telling. They are no longer disputing the fact I wrote the story. They are saying someone is claiming I don’t have a right to distribute the story. A story that’s been freely available online for years. You can see why the list of suspects in this case is extremely short.

As for A Summer Fling, I have a couple of choices. I can file a counter-claim. I’m looking into that, but one of my concerns is making personal information available to this unknown third party. Another option is to contact Jeff Bezos directly and lay out my story. He probably gets thousands of emails a day, so I doubt it will get though, but it’s worth a shot. I emailed him this morning, forwarding all the information I’d given to KDP regarding my story. I stated in my email I wasn’t asking him to reverse Amazon’s decision not to publish my story, but I was requesting the name of the third party and the basis of their claims against me. We’ll see what happens.

Late last night, in a last-second cliffhanger twist, I was tagged on Facebook by someone involved with publishing the old DRiTC anthologies. She apologized profusely to me and said it was a possibility her statement to Amazon that no one else was allowed to publish the anthologies except her might have triggered this situation. She’s promised to speak to Amazon on my behalf, and for that, I am deeply grateful. However she did not realize I’d changed the title of my story. Unless she sent in a takedown notice for my story by name, then her blanket statement isn’t behind the complaint. That’s why I need to know who IS behind the complaint before I take further action.

Beyond that, I’m looking into my legal options. But honestly, I can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a free story. Perhaps that’s why it was targeted in the first place. In the meantime, it’s available on Smashwords for free, and it is my intention to send it out to other sites as well. Grab it while you can in its various forms, all linked in this post. Consider leaving me a review on Goodreads or Smashwords, as Amazon is no longer an option. It would be greatly appreciated.

Mostly, be aware. Amazon places the burden of proof on the accused and apparently *anyone* can waltz in and file a complaint. How can I address the complaint when I don’t know who made it or what the basis of their claim might be? Only by hiring a lawyer, and I’d be willing to bet most of us aren’t in a position to do that. My accuser could be someone with an axe to grind, a random scammer, or a former retailer looking to take advantage of the fact they are still holding my files. Amazon has blindfolded me and left me in the ring to duke it out against an unseen opponent who merely has to walk away to win this round.

If it is a certain retailer, then I am not the only person with stories at risk. I also have grounds for going to the people forming a class action lawsuit with additional information. But I can’t move forward without knowing the name of the third party.

If you know of anyone, or if you yourself have recently experienced something similar at the hands of Amazon, I would appreciate you letting me know. If this is not an isolated incident, it gives even more credence to my suspicions as to who the guilty party might be.

 

 

 

Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”, part 2

summer_fling-200x300A lot of people have asked for the details surrounding my current copyright dilemma with Amazon. Here they are to the best of my recollection:

As you can see from the book cover and the banner at the head of this website, there has been a longtime connection between myself and A Summer Fling. It was originally titled Surf’s Up and is part of the 2011 Don’t Read in the Closet fest with the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads. It was a light frothy story written to a photo prompt and included in the anthology produced by the group.

In 2013, I edited the story and bundled it with a short story I’d written for the Just One Bite contest, using the fictional character Mikhail Frost created by my fictional author, Ryan McFarland. I thought it would be fun to put the two stories together–kind of like Rick Castle writing the Nikki Heat stories. I created a cover based on my website’s banner and submitted the new combination to Smashwords on July 28th, 2013. A short while later (the actual date is unclear–I can’t access it any longer on the websites in question), I submitted the story to Amazon and ARe. The story has largely been a permanent freebie ever since.

Over the weekend, I modified my bio within the story to include a link for my website. When I went to upload the new version on Amazon, I could no longer set the price to zero. I didn’t worry too much about it–I’d pulled it from Smashwords and ARe had folded. It was my intention to place it in KU (though in retrospect, its previous incarnations would prevent that) so I left the price as 99 cents and went on with my day.

That evening I received an email from Amazon. At first, I thought it was just a glitch, a red flag triggered by something I did in the update. But here’s the crucial statement that belies that:

“Prior to your submission, we received a notice and takedown for a book that matches to yours, from a third party claiming that the distribution of the book above was not properly authorized due to copyright infringement.”

So someone out there is ACTIVELY claiming this work belongs to them, not me, and though I provided Amazon with all the information they requested, it’s not good enough. Moreover, this attempt to snag the book took place prior to my making changes, so it isn’t that I did something to trigger a red flag. Someone is trying to steal it, but Amazon is laying the burden of proof on me and refusing to publish something that’s been on their website under my name for years. At least they are no longer threatening to ban me for life. I’ve asked for more information, but I have not heard back from them yet.

Process of elimination and the unethical behavior of All Romance Ebooks makes them the most likely suspect in my mind. Not just because they closed their doors with little warning, offering 10 cents on the dollar in owed royalties, but only if we promise not to take legal action. Not just because of the timing–within 24 hours of ARe’s closure. But because whoever this third party is laying claim to my story, they have a strong enough stance that Amazon is taking them seriously–despite my sending them all the information they requested to prove my copyright.

dont-read-in-the-closetMy proof of copyright is sufficient enough that Amazon is no longer threatening to ban me from publishing on their site for life. But it is not sufficient enough to utterly disprove anyone else’s claim? The logical choice here is that someone with power and prestige–not some low level scammer who preys on indie titles–is behind this contested copyright. And since a takedown notice was given, this is either someone with a personal vendetta against me (not a fun thought) or someone with much bigger fish to fry. Because as I’ve said elsewhere, A Summer Fling is a lightweight FREE story. It was never meant to generate tons of sales. So why would anyone contest copyright on it? The Goodreads Group would not. The story has been freely available online in multiple formats for years. Why go after a free story now?

For me, the logical conclusion is that this is a test case on someone’s part. I only have a couple of self-published stories that would be open to such an attack. And since whoever it is has a strong enough stance that Amazon didn’t immediately dismiss their claim, I can only assume it is an entity with more online presence than your typical scammer. As in, someone who can claim they ‘published’ my story when they merely hosted it on their website. Incidentally, A Summer Fling is the first title that comes up on my self-published listings on ARe’s former site.

So, some words of advice here. If you aren’t in the habit of registering copyrights on your creative work, start doing so now. Factor it in as a cost of doing business. I never worried about A Summer Fling because it was never intended to be a big money maker for me. From now on, however, I will be registering copyright on ALL my works.

From the US copyright office:

1. Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship.
2. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
3. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
4. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Here is the link for the US copyright office. Yes, it is an extra step and there is a fee, but that additional layer of protection just may prevent the kind of headache I’m experiencing right now.

In the meantime, I can’t but assume ARe is behind this grab until I have proof otherwise. In part because of the suspicious timing, and in part because Amazon is taking the claim seriously despite my proof of creation. But also because the wording of Amazon’s email and their current stance to the issue suggests that my creative copyright isn’t being questioned as much as my right to distribute the story. I’ve sent Amazon additional information, including this document provided by ARe when I uploaded my story to their site. Pay special attention to the passages 3c and 4b.

All Romance eBooks Publisher’s Agreement

 

This Agreement is entered into on this date (logged as registration date), between All Romance eBooks, LLC, a Florida limited liability company (hereinafter known as “All Romance”), which provides content and services to www.allromanceebooks.com and omnilit.com (hereinafter known as “site”), located at 303 Main Street #186, Safety Harbor FL 34695 with an email address of info@allromanceebooks.com and a fax number of  1-866-844-5457, and the registrant whose details have been accurately entered and attested to upon acceptance of this Agreement (hereinafter known as “Publisher”);

 

In consideration of the foregoing the parties agree as follows:

 

  1. Governing Law

 

This Agreement is legal and binding in all countries. The laws of the State of Florida USA shall apply to the interpretation and enforcement of this Agreement.

 

  1. Non-exclusivity

 

This Agreement is not exclusive and does not impose any obligation or restrictions on either party with respect to competing business relationships or opportunities.

 

  1. Warranties by Publisher

 

(a) Publisher has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement;

 

(b) Publisher has not previously and will not grant any rights to any third party that are inconsistent with the rights granted herein;

 

(c) Each item provided to All Romance by Publisher and any other material including data and images (in each case, collectively the “Work”) are (i) either owned or licensed by Publisher with full right to publish in accordance with this Agreement, and (ii) do not and will not infringe any copyright, patent, trade secret, or other proprietary right held by any third party;

 

(d) Publisher warrants that product or associated marketing data supplied contains no libelous or unlawful statements and does not infringe upon the rights of others;

 

(e) The Publisher agrees that the regular list price of the Work on the All Romance site will not be higher than the regular listed price of this Work on any other site.

 

(f) The Publisher agrees that all data provided to All Romance, including a Work’s categories, heat rating, summary and sample excerpt will all be chosen to honestly and accurately reflect the Work’s content.

 

(g) All Works uploaded by Publisher to the All Romance site shall be subject to this Agreement and additionally eligible for participation in the All Romance “Buy ten, get one free program.”

 

(h) Publisher hereby grants All Romance the rights to reproduce, display, market, and store digital versions of Publisher’s Works on one or more computer facilities of or under the leased or similar control of All Romance on a worldwide basis, and to resell Publisher’s Works directly to consumers;

 

(i) To promote sales for Publisher’s Works, Publisher grants All Romance the right to distribute any and all content electronically including text, cover art, and metadata associated with Publisher’s Works.

 

  1. Warranties by All Romance

 

(a) All Romance warrants and represents, solely for Publisher’s benefit, that All Romance has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement.

 

(b) Except as otherwise set forth in this Agreement, All Romance acknowledges that all rights, title and interest in and to all intellectual property comprising the Works, including copyrights and trademarks used in connection with the Works, are the property of Publisher or its licensor(s), and in no event, including upon the termination of this Agreement, shall All Romance obtain any rights, title or interest in such intellectual property, copyrights or trademarks.

 

(c) All Romance agrees that no changes, additions, deletions, abridgements, or condensations in the text of the Work or changes of title shall be made by All Romance, its agents, or employees, without the expressed, itemized, and specific written consent of Publisher.

 

  1. Warranty Disclaimers and Limitations of Liability

 

All Romance shall not be liable or obligated to Publisher with respect to any breach of this Agreement or otherwise under any contract, negligence, strict liability or other legal or equitable theory for any amounts in excess in the aggregate of the fees paid to All Romance by Publisher during the one year period prior to any such breach with respect to the applicable material. In no event shall All Romance be liable to Publisher for any incidental or consequential damages including, but not limited to, loss of anticipated profits, or benefits of use or loss of business, even if All Romance is apprised of the likelihood of such damages occurring.

 

All Romance shall not be liable for misuse or unlawful distribution of Works by any customer, consumer or other third party.

 

  1. Termination

 

Either party may terminate this Agreement without cause upon not less than ninety (90) days notice to the other party. Any termination of this Agreement or withdrawal by Publisher of specific Works or other materials will be prospective, with respect to future sales only. It is the responsibility of the withdrawing party to remove or de-activate from sale all Works covered under the terms of this Agreement.

 

  1. Restrictions

 

All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance’s sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes for the purpose of titillation, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, Works that contain rape  or scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices that are for the purposes of titillation, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.

 

  1. Security and Buyer’s Terms of Use

 

All Romance does not encrypt the Works that it sells, apply DRM technology, or prevent printing or “Read Aloud” or “Text to Speech” functions. All Romance posts a message on its web site indicating the copyrighted nature of all material and the fact that making illicit copies is in violation of copyright law. The Publisher is encouraged to indicate the copyrighted nature of each Work.

 

  1. Reporting and Payment of Sales Commissions

 

(a) Publisher will have access to a Publisher’s Sales Report that details each of their work’s sales activity during the requested period.

 

(b) All Romance will pay Publisher commissions based upon the Sale Price (List Price or Discounted List Price as paid by the buyer, whichever is less) and as reported by All Romance’s Publisher’s Sales Report. This commission shall be sixty percent (60%) of the Sale Price. Payments for sales are made quarterly in US dollars, within 45 days of the close of each calendar quarter, and are net of bad debt and refunds.

 

(c) Once each calendar year, Publisher or their duly appointed representative shall have the right to examine at their own expense the accounts of All Romance pertaining to sales of Publisher’s Works for the twelve months prior to the date of the request for examination. Requests to assert this right must be made by the Publisher in writing and receipt must be acknowledged in writing by All Romance and such records shall be made available by All Romance to the Publisher within thirty (30) days. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in the Publisher’s favor, All Romance shall tender such monies due to Publisher within ten (10) days of acknowledgement by All Romance of the discrepancy. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in All Romance’s favor, All Romance shall deduct this difference from the next quarterly payment(s) due.

 

  1. Bankruptcy

 

If a petition in bankruptcy is filed by All Romance or against All Romance (and is not dismissed within 90 days), this Agreement shall terminate automatically without notice, effective as of date of All Romance’s filing of a voluntary petition (or the expiration of the 90 day period, as applicable) and all rights granted in this Agreement shall revert to Publisher.

 

  1. Benefit

 

Agreement shall be binding upon and inure to the benefit of the heirs, executors, administrators and assigns of Publisher, and upon and to the successors and assigns of All Romance.

 

  1. Survival

 

All provisions of this Agreement requiring performance after any termination or the breach of which is not discovered until after termination shall survive and apply to the parties with full force and effect notwithstanding any such termination.

 

  1. Force Majeure

 

All Romance is released from partial or complete non-performance of its obligations under this Agreement should force majeure circumstances occur, which prevent the fulfillment of such obligations, including without limitation, fire, flood, earthquake, strikes, labor disturbances, revolutions, embargoes, insurrection, governmental orders or regulations, electrical or computer failure, act of, delays or failure to act by any internet service provider or carrier or agent All Romance may use, systems, telecommunication companies and other entities of similar purpose, or any other conditions beyond the control of All Romance. The time stipulated for the performance and fulfillment of such obligations shall be extended for a period equal to that during which the circumstances of force majeure last.

 

  1. Entire Agreement; Venue.

 

This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between All Romance and Publisher with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior and contemporaneous communications. This Agreement may not be modified or amended except by an instrument accepted by both parties. All Romance and Publisher are and remain independent entities. This Agreement does not create any partnership, joint venture, agency, franchise, sales representative or employment relationship between All Romance and Publisher. Publisher and All Romance agree that any suit or proceeding in connection with this Agreement shall be brought exclusively in the state and federal courts presiding in Pinellas County, Florida USA and that service of process may be made by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the addresses of record for the parties under this Agreement.

 

  1. Electronic Signature

 

A check in the box below by Publisher shall constitute Publisher’s signature signifying acceptance of this Agreement with the intent that it be valid for all purposes and in compliance with the U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000 and the laws of any other applicable jurisdiction.

 

Updated: 03/14/12 12:00 Central U.S.

At the moment, my story is still blocked on Amazon and I have not received a response to my additional inquiries. I’ll let you know what happens.

Part Three Here.

Authors Be Warned: The Ongoing Impact of the All Romance Ebooks Debacle

pirates-bill-davenportI’m sitting here shaking with anger and disbelief.

The other day, I decided to make a few tweaks to my long-standing free story, A Summer Fling, with a view to making it exclusive to Amazon. No big deal, right? The only other place it was offered was Smashwords and All Romance Ebooks–also for free.

Last night, I received an alarming email from Amazon asking me to prove copyright or face permanent ban from publishing there again. Shocked, I consulted friends, who assured me this wasn’t that unusual and that it was probably in view of recent incidents of several people in my genre being impersonated online. I sent the required information back to Amazon and went to bed thinking it was over.

Imagine my surprise when I get a response from Amazon KDP that states due to an undisclosed third party claiming copyright, and their policy not to get involved in third party disputes, they have chosen not to publish my story. A story that had been on their site for three years. A story that is MINE.

Who could this mysterious third party be, hmmm? I have no proof, but I have suspicions. Which retailer–RETAILER, mind you, not publisher–recently massively screwed authors over by closing their doors with four days notice, sending an email out offering an insulting 10 cents on the dollar for owed royalties only on the promise that the author didn’t sue? Which retailer then allegedly told some authors they were holding the files of stories previously offered for sale on their site for the next seven years for tax purposes? Which retailer allegedly began manipulating sales data to reflect even less royalties owed than just 24 hours before? And which retailer has been accused of improperly reporting sales data in the past, and prevented authors from removing their books from the site (you could only inactivate them) while the allegations of unethical and illegal actions keep piling up?

Lori James and All Romance Ebooks, that’s who.

Let me just say this: the sum owed me initially wasn’t very large. I only had a few self-published titles with them. I’m not worried about the possibility of James or anyone else laying claim to my Dreamspinner Press titles–I know DSP will defend them. And after I neglected to capture the data in time (the download links would not work and I could only make screen caps of the info) and my reported royalties dropped by 2/3 with no way of proving it, I decided I would let it go. While some people may have signed publishing contracts with ARe, they merely hosted my self-published stories. They were not the publisher on record–I am.

summer_fling-200x300But now SOMEONE is disputing copyright on a story I created and published myself. Someone has stolen not only my past income but threatening my future income. A Summer Fling is a lightweight little story written for the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads back in 2011. It’s not a story worth fighting over. But my other self-published titles once hosted by All Romance, books I can no longer retrieve from the site, ARE worth fighting for. So while I once considered letting this battle go, I can’t AFFORD To close my eyes to this. The possibility that someone associated with All Romance intends to set up shop again under another name, selling books they are not entitled to sell, is frightening.

For the most complete summation of the extent of fraud perpetrated by the management of ARe–and more importantly, what you can do to prevent them from getting away with this scott-free, please check out this valuable post: Publisher All Romance: Closing Hits New Low in Stealing from Authors. The details in this post are jaw-dropping. If these allegations are true, then criminal charges need to be filed.

So if you have been a victim of the recent actions of All Romance Ebooks, I invite you to file a report with the  Florida Attorney General’s Office and The Department of Justice for Internet Crimes. Please spread the word to anyone you know who may be affected by this. If you are an author living in another country, please look into filing fraud charges in your country, making this an international crime.

In the meantime, I’ve put A Summer Fling back up on Smashwords. Snag a copy. Enjoy. And if you wouldn’t mind leaving a review, that would be helpful. But if you BUY this book anywhere online–you’ve been ripped off too.

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

EDIT: After having accepted that I am the copyright holder of A Summer Fling, Amazon’s position was that I did not have clear publishing rights to the story, based on the takedown notice of the third party they refused to name. After reviewing all the material I sent them, including the ARe agreement showing that they did not retain publishing rights to my self-published stories, Amazon/KDP still declined to reinstate A Summer Fling and advised me to hire a copyright lawyer if I wished to pursue the case further.

I’d been in contact with the publisher of the anthology in which A Summer Fling first appeared, and she took it upon herself to contact Amazon on my behalf. I also forwarded all my conversations with KDP and my documentation to Jeff Bezos. I asked only that the third party be named so I would know if I was dealing with a misunderstanding versus grounds for a lawsuit.

On 1/5/17, without any explanation other than on further review, they decided to reverse their decision, Amazon has reinstated A Summer Fling back on its listings. Heck, it’s even a freebie again.

I’ll probably never know for sure what changed their minds. Could it have been the amount of noise I made? Being contacted both by Al Jazeera and a Tampa reporter wishing to interview authors affected by the abrupt closure and failure of ARe to pay owed royalties? Was this all due to a misinterpretation of my rights to the story? Or did Mr. Bezos have someone review my detailed information and reverse the decision? There’s no way to tell. If this is the only incident of this nature, I’ll chalk it up to experience and a lesson learned about protecting the right to publish my own stories.

If it happens again with one of my self-published stories, there is only one party that could even remotely attempt to contest my publishing rights–and then I’ll have my answer, won’t I?

All Romance EBooks Pulls a Fast One: What You Can Do To Fight Back

pirates-bill-davenportI was at work yesterday afternoon when I got the email from All Romance Ebooks announcing they were closing their doors effective 12/31 and offering a paltry ten cents on the dollar in royalty payments to authors in lieu of the expected fourth quarter payment.’

Because I was at work, I quickly scanned the email (not noticing a significant typo of a date that gives the company a loophole with regards to making even the minuscule payments offered) and cursed. I immediately pulled my self-published titles from their website, and hurried to my publisher to see what they intended to do, as all of my Dreamspinner titles were posted on ARe as well.

I then made a post spreading the word:

  1. Readers should no longer buy anything from ARe, as authors were not being paid for their works.
  2. I’ve pulled all my titles for sale on the All Romance website in advance of their 48 hour notice of closure. The good news is that currently you can get all my Dreamspinner titles on sale at their own website until 12/30–which includes my new release, Holiday House Swap. As for my non-Dreamspinner titles, Fool’s Gold and A Summer Fling are still available on Amazon. Fool’s Gold is back on Kindle Unlimited, and A Summer Fling is permanently free. I hope to place A Summer Fling into KU once I make sure it is not available in any other markets besides Amazon.

Dreamspinner made the following announcement on Facebook last evening: In response to All Romance eBooks closure notice: If readers pre-ordered Dreamspinner titles on ARe then you will not be able to download them upon release. If rumors are true, ARe will also not refund pre-orders. Therefore, Dreamspinner offers to fulfill readers’ pre-paid Dreamspinner pre-orders from ARe. You need to forward the ARe receipt to contactATdreamspinnerpressDOTcom and the customer service department will be sure you receive the eBook at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Kudos to Dreamspinner! This is one of the reasons I love working with this press.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Though ARe called themselves a publisher, they provided no cover art, no editing, no formatting. They were a retailer only and their entire catalog was digital. Where did the money go? They were paying us out of a percentage of books already sold. How could they not pay us what was owed?

Then too was the shady practice of giving no advance warning of impending closure, of failing to notify anyone until the last day of revenue for the quarter had been wrung out of writers, publishers, and readers alike. Why then, were they offering ad space on their website just the week before–and saying it was almost sold out? You don’t just wake up one morning and decide your business is bust. I almost bought one of those pricey ads and I know other people who have. They aren’t being offered any means to get refunds.

Once the news spread, the website kept crashing as writers rushed to remove their titles and reader to download books already purchased before the ‘cloud’ vanished. People were left with ebucks that didn’t work and gift cards they didn’t know if they should spend or not, while the available titles dwindled sharply.

areMore questions have been raised, particularly in light of the extremely poor and insulting offer made to authors to accept a 10 cents on the dollar payout or NOTHING. Meanwhile, ARe posts a business-as-usual Tweet and nothing is said on their Facebook page, either. Most ironically, the banner on their Facebook page, which I saw when I went to leave a review about their shady practices, advertises “No Doors Closed.”

I can tell you, some of the author responses to this tone-deaf and out-of-place Tweet were priceless, even as the anger and worry came through loud and clear. I didn’t have a lot of independent sales on ARe at this time–I’d only recently moved Fool’s Gold off KU and over to wider distribution. But to be paid a handful of dollars when I’m owed hundreds is jaw-dropping. However ALL my Dreamspinner titles were on ARe as of last evening. Every story I’ve ever written. So I can only sit back and hold my breath to see what happens when DSP’s lawyers battle for what we’re owed. At least I have the power of an ethical and reputable publishing company behind me. I can only imagine how terrible it must be for authors who were counting on the fourth quarter royalties to make the mortgage payment or electric bill.

For the most complete summation of the extent of fraud perpetrated by the management of ARe–and more importantly, what you can do to prevent them from getting away with this scott-free, please check out this valuable post: Publisher All Romance: Closing Hits New Low in Stealing from Authors. The details in this post are jaw-dropping. If these allegations are true, then criminal charges need to be filed.

I’ve seen many readers ask what they can do to help. The first is don’t buy any more books from All Romance. Download the purchases you’ve already made. Seek out those real publishers, like Dreamspinner, who’ve offered via proof of receipt, to honor ARe’s fraudulent sales of pre-ordered books. But most importantly–leave book reviews. I don’t think readers have any idea just how much book reviews matter in visibility and discoverability in an increasingly discouraging and hard market. It doesn’t have to be much–but a short piece as to why you loved the story while you rate it is a big, big help.

Thank you.

Authors: Even if you decide to take no further legal action, please consider filing an internet crime report, copying and pasting your email from ARe and any pertinent information.

Dear Fans: All Romance EBooks closing–Where you can find my titles now

book by Ricardo Vasquez/freeimages.com

book by Ricardo Vasquez/freeimages.com

Dear Fans:

I’ve just received a shocking, no warning notice from All Romance Ebooks that they are closing their doors on 12/31. The terms of settlement they are offering is not acceptable to me, but they are probably the best I will get.

While I am sorry that yet another e book retailer is abruptly shutting down, I am also upset by the lack of communication until we were blindsided with this notice. Many of us are relying on our fourth quarter royalty payments, that will now be a fraction of what is due to us.

As such, I’ve pulled all my titles for sale on the All Romance website in advance of their 48 hour notice of closure. The good news is that currently you can get all my Dreamspinner titles on sale until 12/30–which includes my new release, Holiday House Swap.

As for my non-Dreamspinner titles, Fool’s Gold and A Summer Fling are still available on Amazon. I suspect I will shortly be putting Fool’s Gold back into KU.

Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

I’m afraid this is going to be a fairly controversial post.

I stayed up FAR too long last night reading the posts and comments generated after someone solicited recommendations for pirate sites on their Facebook page. A few people took her to task for finding ways to steal stories–because yes, that’s what it is–but astonishingly, others came to her defense. The perpetrator herself shut down the censure of others, blocking them, calling them names, and then making fun of the people who dared to call her out for stealing from others. I have no doubt there will also be retaliatory negative reviews on some author’s books because that seems to be the way things work these days.

This resulted in screenshots of her post being shared all over Facebook as a warning to authors. More people came to this woman’s defense and the furor grew, with additional voices weighing in on the subject by sharing the original post. And while I was annoyed and upset that once again, someone feels entitled to a creative work without paying for it, nothing prepared me for the number of people who agreed with her.

Now, I’ve been reading a lot about entitlement lately. Entitlement from fans demanding that showrunners give them certain storylines or fans contacting authors and demanding they receive free stories. Fans putting pressure on creators by bullying them online, by threatening their pets, by wishing dire things would happen to those same people who brought them the thing they love so much. I have some theories about why we are so angry these days. I think in part it’s because we’re all so hungry. We’re emotionally, financially, and in some cases, physically starving. We work our asses off at our jobs to barely make ends meet and at the end of the day, we want our reward, damn it. Be it our favorite television show, or that bottle of wine, or that tub of Rocky Road ice cream, or the latest release from our favorite authors.

I get that. I really do. I live that. Overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated–hey, join the club. It’s part of the reason I write. I tell stories because it helps me put aside the cares and worries of today. I jokingly say it’s cheaper than therapy. I share stories because I want to make someone else’s day a bit brighter.

But I don’t give them away for free. I can’t.

So it was upsetting to see how many people in so many posts defended the pirate-site seeker. There seemed to be three basic arguments:

I’m broke and I can’t afford to pay for my entertainment.

Oh honey. I’m with you there. See, I went to school, worked hard, racked up huge student loans to pay for my extensive education and spent twelve years paying them off. Just when things were starting to turn around for me, the economy went into the dumper, business fell off, and I incurred some major medical expenses. I haven’t had a television in 15 years and only recently could get access to broadband. I had to wait for favorite shows to come out on DVD and then had to save up to buy them. God bless Netflix. I’m now able to catch up on many shows I had to abandon.

But see, the thing is, I recognize that I am still a privileged person. I’m living in tight circumstances, yes, but privileged just the same. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and can mostly pay my bills. I have access to the internet in my own home, own a laptop, a ten year old iPod, and a smartphone. I choose to have certain things. By choosing to have some things, it means I can’t have others. That’s called life, sweetie.

Besides, there’s this marvelous thing called a public library. You can go there and check out books, movies, and music for free! The best part is the library already paid for these things! And because it’s a loan which you will then return, it’s not stealing. Also, the library paid for these things out of a portion of the taxes you give to your community. So not checking out books from your library is like paying for Netflix and never using it.

But you want to read stories in your favorite genres and the library doesn’t carry them. Ask them to. If there is enough demand, the library will look into getting the stories you want. It can’t hurt to ask.

Oh, but you want your reading on your Kindle–and you don’t want to give it back. Well, there are hundreds of places where you can access free reads. Authors post things to Wattpad, there are countless fanfiction stories on multiple archives, and there are stories in public domain sites, such as Project Gutenberg. Tons of free material for your reading pleasure. Let’s not forget Book Bub, which offers short-term deals on all kinds of stories. You can even tailor the notices to your favorite genres. I get a lot of my own reading material that way–even as I recognize the pitfalls of such practices. In my opinion, such services go a long way to helping devalue the price of books in the mind of the average reader… but it is a way of getting deeply discounted or free stories legally. There’s also Kindle Unlimited. I’m not a fan myself, but I’m told for a flat fee–again like Netflix–you have unlimited access to a wide variety of genres and authors.

Oh. You want stories in your favorite genres by your favorite authors and you want them today, without having to pay for them, regardless of their listed price. Yeah, that’s entitlement. And when you download them illegally from a pirate site or torrent, that’s stealing. Let’s just get the terms right, okay?

Come to think of it, the notion that books should be free might be a big factor in why many publishing houses are dropping their lines of cozy mysteries–they simply aren’t profitable enough, despite the existing fan base. Think about that.

Creative works should be free–the purpose of creativity is to tell stories and share them, and there shouldn’t be a monetary component to the process.

I gotta admit, I was gobsmacked by this one. I see. So the very nobility of my purpose means I shouldn’t get paid for it. I should create for the pure joy of making things and release my creative works like doves into the sky, crying, “Go! Fly! Be Free!” as I let them go.

By this argument, all medical care should be free. Because what higher calling can there be than to be a doctor? I think I’ll try that argument with the bill collection services. I’ve been paying off medical bills for the last ten years now. I’m sure if I point out how noble it is to be a doctor and how much money I’ve already spent, they’ll cheerfully waive my remaining fees.

And seriously, guys like Michael Jordan love the game so much, no one should have to pay athletes ridiculous amounts of money for your television entertainment. Oh sure, you’re not paying the superstars yourselves–but the teams are, and the television channels are, and the advertisers are–all to catch your attention for a few moments in the hopes of selling you something. Guess what? It may seem free to you, but it’s not. Someone paid for it and they’re hoping their investment will pay off. It’s not a direct payment on your part–but when you become convinced you can’t live without an iPhone, you only drink Budweiser, and you feel that you must have a new car this year–you are paying for it.

Besides, if there were no financial incentive for playing basketball, the players would be doing something else. They have to earn a living, too. So you wouldn’t be able to watch them play, unless you lived in their neighborhood and could drop by for a pickup game Saturday afternoon after work.

Forget about the effort it takes to write a story. Let’s ignore the author’s contribution to this endeavor and deny them any right to be paid for their creativity. This ‘art should be free’ argument completely discounts the fact someone has to pay the editors, cover artists, formatters, distributors, book promotions teams, buy a dealer’s table and so on. I guess entitled readers expect that investment to come out of my own pocket with no hope of return. And if authors didn’t pay someone for these services, we’d have to do them ourselves, taking time away from writing to do so. Not to mention a shabby editing job or poorly executed cover is one of the first things readers will complain about.

Writers already make enough money.

Dear Lord, this one made me want to cry. Seriously?? Yes, there are some writers who make a ton of money, just like there are some basketball players or actors who make a ton of money. But the vast majority of basketball players make little to no money at all. And the notion of an actor working at a bar or coffee shop to pay the bills is practically a trope.

I call it the Castle syndrome. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show in the early seasons. The premise was ridiculous but fun. One of the things that made me roll my eyes the most was the unlimited depths to Castle’s wallet. It made for an entertaining series because there was always the money to do outrageous things. But realistic? It was about as realistic as the notion that everyone in NYC can afford to live in huge apartments or that the NYPD would let a crime writer become permanently attached to the homicide squad.

Yes, there are authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and E.L. James that have made truckloads of money. Put it this way: you know there are people who win the lottery. It does happen. Chances are you don’t know anyone personally who has won, however, and the odds of it happening to you are slim to none. The stats on author earnings is grim to say the least. In this 2012 article by the Guardian, average earnings were less than ten thousand a year.

Let’s put it into perspective. I couldn’t get the above sentence out of my head last night, so I went to one of the illegal torrents I’ve battled in the past. Yep, four of my stories were there. So, counting only the royalties I would have received, not full price, I calculated how much I lost due to the over 16 K downloads listed. It came to about 13.5 K. That’s thirteen thousand, five hundred dollars and change. From one site. One. I routinely come across dozens of these pirate sites and torrents. I report them to my publisher. I send out DCMA notices. I report them to Google to block their pages in searches. All of this is extremely time-consuming and frustrating. No sooner do I strike down one, four pop up in its place. It’s like battling a Hydra.

Those lost royalties from that one site would have paid outright for the new car I desperately needed and was forced to buy. Or covered the medical bills I’ve been chipping away over time. It would have paid for the new septic system, or here’s a thought, I might actually be able to take more than two to three consecutive days off for  a change. I might not have had to wait five years to save up for extensive dental work that I had to have done, or made do another two years with glasses when my prescription had changed. I’m not looking to be a millionaire, folks. I’d just like to break even. Maybe put a little aside for a future in which I am no longer physically capable of working as hard as I do.

There are people who will argue that these readers, the ones that download my work for free, wouldn’t have bought them anyway. That word of mouth sells more stories than anything else, and if readers love my books, they’ll tell their friends. Yes, but if they acquire them illegally, they will tell their friends how to steal them as well. How exactly does that help me? My response to this argument is I don’t care if they wouldn’t have bought them anyway. Let them read something else.

I give away stories for free. I have a free story permanently listed on Amazon. My publisher routinely holds sales. I sell books at a loss at conventions (I look at it as promotion) because I want people to read and enjoy them–but I sell them to cover the cost of the table, of the travel, of the unpaid leave from work. It’s not free to me. None of it is.

Autumn Path WoodsAnd let me finish here by saying I deeply appreciate every single reader who supports me by purchasing my stories. You guys are the gems that have helped me through some rough times. You’re the people who paid for my dog’s life-saving surgery. You’re the people who’ve made the mortgage payment in lean months and let me take my first real vacation (eight whole days off in a row!) in nearly a decade back in 2012. You’re the reason I keep writing, when it would be smarter for me to put my time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into something else.

You’re why I don’t do that. You’re why I keep writing.

 

Walk a Mile is a finalist in the Rainbow Awards–and on sale!

WalkAMileGreat Scott! You could have knocked me over with a feather this morning when I received the email that Walk a Mile (Sixth Sense series Book 2) was a finalist in the 2015 Rainbow Awards! Believe me, I was tickled when it received an Honorable Mention, but I didn’t think it would progress any further in the awards than that. I almost didn’t even enter the awards this year because I wasn’t certain I had a worthy contender that qualified. I decided to enter in the end because all the proceeds go to charity, which just goes to show that we aren’t necessarily the best judge of our own material. 🙂

 

The awards are being announced tonight, and though I have no real hopes of winning–this is one of those situations in which it truly is an honor to be on the same list with such great stories–I can’t help but keep refreshing the page. However, the moderator is taking a break for a couple of hours and I’ve decided to just go to bed and see what the results are in the morning. 🙂 My congratulations go out to all the winners named thus far and the ones that will be announced shortly. Update: Walk a Mile came in 7th in the gay paranormal romance division–a delightful achievement–my thanks to everyone involved in the Rainbow Awards, and congratulations to the winners! A special thanks to the organizers of the awards, and the volunteers who helped make it possible. This year over $17,000 was raised for charity, donating to GLBTQ organizations!

The Boys of Summer400x600I’m also looking forward to the re-release of The Boys of Summer through Dreamspinner Press two weeks from today! This story is very dear to my heart and I hope that many new readers will discover it through DSP. There will be a book tour in January, with a chance to win an e-copy of this combination contemporary/WW2 historical story.

As part of K-lee Klein‘s 31 Days of Gratitude, I’ll be sharing with you a post about my own experimentation in practicing gratitude on a daily basis–and giving you another chance to win an e-copy of The Boys of Summer, as my post will go live Dec 21.

I’ll also be doing a Twitter Takeover of the Dreamspinner Twitter account on Dec 22, from 7-9 pm EST, so if you want to join me and chat about the upcoming Star Wars and Marvel Universe movies, hot pilots and the men who love them, what I’m working on next and where you might be able to meet up with me in person in 2016, then come join in the fun! There will be links to free stories, pics of hot heroes, and a good time will be had by all.

It’s not too late to go vote for your favorite author and stories in the 2015 Divine Magazine Awards. You might find my name there in a few places… *cough-cough* 🙂 I’ll also be taking part in Divine Magazine’s 12 Days of Christmas event, in which guest authors will be posting about what Christmas means to them, as well as offering terrific prizes in a Rafflecopter. Be sure to check it out! Among other things, I’ll be giving out the recipe for my ‘famous’ sausage balls. 🙂

UndertheMistletoe_DSPsiteAnd before I sign off the for the night, I must tell you that Dreamspinner Press is holding a 25% off sale on the entire story from Dec 8-11–which means you can grab any of my stories for a great price! Do check it out!

What are you waiting for? Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate at this time! 🙂

Today only: Unspeakable Words is free!

UnspeakableWordscoverWhat a whirlwind the last few weeks it has been! It seems like only a few days ago, I was saying, “Halloween already?” and now Thanksgiving has come and gone.

I have more to say on gratitude later, but I had to take a moment to get the word out: for today only, Unspeakable Words (Sixth Sense series Book 1) is FREE. That’s right, free! Snag a copyfree-sign from Dreamspinner Press until midnight tonight, EST. Even better, you can get the entire Sixth Sense series on sale until 11/30! Wait, not only the entire Sixth Sense series, but ALL my books are on sale! I know, right? That’s because Dreamspinner is having a 35% off sale  on the entire store until 11/30.15. In fact, you can even pre-order The Boys of Summer at the sale price (release date 12/21/15). So what are you waiting for? Go, shop, enjoy!

Discounted Books and Free Stories!

Whew! I know I haven’t been around much lately–life has been unexpectedly hectic! I did a serious number on my shoulder, I have an on-going medical crisis with one of the horses, we’ve entered the busy season at work, and I got a recall notice on my car just as I’m trying to leave town for a business trip. You know, life as usual… 🙂

Full store_sale_DSPsite

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some good news with you guys! First, Dreamspinner Press is having a 25% off sale on everything in the store from now until Monday, April 20th. But even better, for the rest of April, Dreamspinner is selling all in-stock paperbacks at 50% off! My DSP page is here, if you are interested in big savings!

 

photo_30486_20110214Looking for a great beach read? For a limited time only, A Summer Fling is free at Amazon and Barnes and Noble! In A Summer Fling,Daniel falls hard for a guest staying at the hotel where he works. Ryan McFarland is working frantically to finish his latest novel and shouldn’t be distracted. The attraction, however, is mutual, and all too quickly their time together passes. At the end of the week, will this have been just another summer fling?

Bite the Dust is a short story based on one of Ryan McFarland’s characters, the enigmatic and deadly vampire detective, Mikhail Frost.

A Summer Fling was originally published in 2011 under the title Surf’s Up, as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s “Don’t Read in the Closet” fest. Bite the Dust, a short story based on a character in Surf’s Up, was a finalist in the “Just One Bite” Contest. This compilation is the only place you can get both stories together, so check it out while the price is right. 🙂

On Amazon

On Barnes and Noble

So pick up a light read and eat your lunch outside in the springtime sun. Pretend you’re at the beach for me. 🙂

A free short story featuring The Boys of Summer!

Small_Banner_Boys_of_SummerWow! What a whirlwind these past two weeks have been! Today is the final day of The Boys of Summer Tour! The contest for the $50 Amazon Gift Card ends tonight at midnight, so be sure to go to the various blog posts, read, comment, and follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter to increase your odds of winning!

Earlier today (well, yesterday now) I was interviewed by Beckey over on In the Pages of a Good Book: 10 odd facts about me that I bet you never knew before! Be sure to drop by and find out where my hidden talents lie! *eyeroll* 😉

I want to take this moment to thank Andrea and all the hard work performed by Virtual Writers, Inc.! This has been a wonderful experience for me, and I have enjoyed meeting and interacting with everyone along the way. I hope you’ve had some fun, too! I would highly recommend this service to anyone seeking to do book promotion. 🙂

As a special parting gift, I’ve written a short story featuring Rick and David from The Boys of Summer. Warning: there are mild spoilers for the novel, so you might want to consider whether or not you want to read more if you haven’t read the story yet! And also, this short story contains a very explicit sex scene (okay, a smoking hot sex scene…). This is an adults only website, but I thought I should point that out.

So without further ado, here is “All I Want for Christmas”. Stay tuned at the end of the post to find out how to enter to win in the Rafflecopter. And thank you all for joining in on the tour–I couldn’t do this without you. 🙂

christmas tree_stevep2008“What on earth are you doing?”

Em’s voice coming from behind startled David. He yelped at the sudden intrusion of sound and spun with the pan of cookies he’d just taken out of the oven. Cookies threatened to slide off the no-stick surface and he had to juggle them to keep them from falling onto the floor.

“Jeez, Em! You scared the bloody wits out of me!”  Hastily, he set the hot pan down on the stovetop, tucking the potholder under one arm as he glared at her.

“Sorry. I thought you heard me come in.” She didn’t look sorry, however. She smiled widely at him, obviously amused at his expense.

“I couldn’t hear a thing over Bing there.” David indicated the CD player with the oven mitt, where Bing Crosby crooned about a White Christmas. Despite the fact that Emma was standing in his kitchen wearing a navy crop top and white shorts, which just so happened to set off her tanned legs very nicely, Christmas was right around the corner. Less than a week now. David was determined to make it absolutely perfect this year.

“You’re so cute when you get this domestic urge to bake,” Emma commented, flicking a long strand of copper hair back from one shoulder. “It’s particularly funny because you never cook at all the rest of the year if you can help it. I think you’d live on take-out, if you could.”

For the briefest of moments, David saw Rick in his kitchen, peering in his refrigerator with disapproval and volunteering to cook dinner. Standing in the kitchen, drinking a glass of wine, and watching Rick create a delicious meal out of what seemed like nothing at all had been one of his favorite memories to revisit in the four months since Rick had gone back to his home in Hawaii.

Well, one of his favorite G-rated memories, that is. His cock stirred hopefully at the thought of some of his other favorite memories of the month Rick had spent in California last summer.

“I like baking at this time of year. I’ve never heard you complain before, unless it’s about the calories.”

“I’m not complaining. I’m commenting. You’ve baked a lot this season, haven’t you? Tell me you made sausage balls again. No one makes them like you do.”

“The recipe is online. You just have to Google it.”

“I don’t care what you say.” Em shook her head. “No one has quite your touch.”

David couldn’t help but preen a little. “The secret is in the mixing of the ingredients. And the choice of ingredients, too. The right sausage is important, but the right cheese? That’s critical.”

“See?” Emma arched an eyebrow. “No one makes sausage balls that are as good as yours. I’ve never seen you bring home any leftovers from a party, either.”

“Well, I made plenty this time, but they’re all in the freezer right now. No one gets to eat them until Christmas.”

David had a reputation to maintain. He’d made several batches, experimenting with a gluten-free recipe as well. In the past, the sausage balls never made it to the Christmas party because everyone kept eating them before the big day. He’d made extra at Thanksgiving this year, but they were all already gone.

“What kind of cookies are these? They smell fabulous.” She reached around him to pick up one of the cookies cooling on the rack beside the stove.

“One,” he admonished. “Tell me what you think.”

sugar cookies wikipedia commonShe bit the head off of a reindeer dusted with colored sugar. “Mmmm. These are wonderful. Almost like tea biscuits. With just a hint of lemon, right?”

He nodded. “They’re sour cream cookies. One of my favorites. This year I added a little lemon zest. I don’t make them often because they’re such a pain in the ass.” He glanced around the kitchen at the hopeless mess. Over on the CD player, Bing began singing about coming home for Christmas.

Emma laughed. “It does look like you detonated a flour bomb in here. That’s why I wanted to know what you were up to. That and you’re wearing an apron over your gym clothes. You have been to the gym, haven’t you?”

David glanced down at himself. He was wearing a threadbare brown T-shirt with the word “Shiny!” printed on it. Below that, he had on running shorts. He’d exchanged the expensive track shoes for a pair of old flip-flops as soon as he’d gotten home, however. It was just as well—he had flour everywhere, despite the apron. “Well, you know,” he said a bit self-consciously, “I have to look the part of a successful scriptwriter. You know Hollywood.”

She snorted inelegantly. “Bullshit. Most scriptwriters in Hollywood look like they spend all their time playing World of Warcraft in their mothers’ basement. This has more to do with impressing a certain ex-fighter pilot than meeting Hollywood’s standards. What’s the news on that front, anyway?”

David turned to shift the cooled cookies into a container so he could move the ones from the oven onto the cooling rack. When he spoke, he deliberately misunderstood her. “Well, they’ve cast the role of me. Of David Braxton, that is.”

After David had returned from his scouting trip in Hawaii, where he and Rick had crash landed and had to survive under grueling conditions until rescued, he’d sat down to write about his experience there. Not the actual plane wreck or being marooned on a deserted South Pacific island, but about the incredibly vivid dream he’d had while they were there. In his dream, he and Rick had been transformed into two young men during the Battle of Britain—and they’d been doomed in love and by the war. David had changed their names a little bit for the purposes of the script, but had essentially written the dream as he’d remembered it. He’d feverishly written the screenplay in a matter of weeks, desperately trying to recapture some of the heartbreak of the story that had played out in his dream before he forgot all the details. The fact that he could remember nearly every element of the dream as though he was watching a movie had been an unexpected blessing. When he was finished, however, he thought he had a hopelessly maudlin tearjerker that no one would ever want to read. Emma had sobbed her way through the script and then begged him to shop The Boys of Summer around. To his surprise, one of the smaller studios he’d worked with in the past had snapped it up, claiming that WW2 stories were back in again.

So, David now found himself being hailed as a ‘promising’ scriptwriter after years of failed projects. Fortunately, his boss was cool about him being flexible with his hours, and things had slowed down due to the holidays anyway. Besides, from a practical standpoint, David’s newfound status wasn’t hurting Pegasus Productions, either. And his boss had offered to invest in the project, too.

“I wasn’t talking about the movie, though I still don’t see why you couldn’t play you. You’re certainly buff enough these days.” She snagged another cookie.

He smacked at her hand, but not very hard. The ‘buff’ compliment was nice to hear. “Yeah, but no amount of makeup or workouts will make me twenty again.” His voice was rueful. “Most of those pilots were hardly more than schoolboys.”

“I thought you made the characters older for the movie.”

“A bit. More than I liked, to be honest.” The studio had balked at finding actors young enough for the script the way it had originally been written. A gay love story set during the Battle of Britain had been a tough enough sell to begin with. The studio had been worried about projecting the wrong image had they gone with lead actors barely out of their teens.

He’d argued for keeping the integrity of the story intact, but it had been Rick who pointed out that maybe it was better to compromise on that point in order to get the story out there for people to see.

“A movie like that might have made a difference to me growing up.” He’d shrugged when he said it, but he’d liked the script. He said so. He’d also given David a funny look after reading it. “That was your dream?” he’d asked.

“More or less.” David had shrugged in turn.

Rick had surprised him with a full body hug, and then had kissed him as though he was trying to put into that kiss all the words he could not say.

It had ended the debate on the age of the actors, as far as David was concerned.

“Well, they’ve got thirty year old actors playing teenagers in high school all the time. I think you could make it work if you wanted. Face it, you just don’t want to be in front of the camera anymore.”

David nodded in agreement. “It’s an unforgiving spotlight, especially in HD these days. Besides, I like looking at things through the other side of the lens.” He’d given up acting himself years ago. He much preferred his job as a locations scout and being general dogsbody to the production teams for various movies and television programs.

Jaunty Irish pipes accompanied “Christmas in Killarney” on the player. David continued to roll out and cut cookies, dusting them with the lemon zest and granulated sugar before transferring them to the baking sheet.

“So, they’ve cast your role. What about Rick’s?”

“Nothing so far. They’re having a hard time casting that role.”

For the movie script, Rick Sutton had become ‘Rick Sheppard’. David had a very specific type in mind to play the role, and he’d made sure to make his wishes known. Everyone knew about the author of some popular vampire stories who’d been vitriolic over the casting of a mega-celebrity to play her main character. The producers for the film had completely shut her out for the rest of the film’s production. The author had later praised the actor’s performance—but that’s not what most people remembered. David didn’t want to end up shut out in the cold because he hated whoever they chose to play Sheppard in his story. But the role of Sheppard was critical. It had to be the right actor.

“So.” Emma dragged the word out playfully, reaching for another cookie but giving in with grace when David threatened her with a spatula. “Why the big push for the holiday spirit this year?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” David bent over the open oven door, positioning the cookies within. Hopefully Em would blame the redness of his face on the heat from the stove. He straightened and set the timer.

“David. The baking, the decorations. You’re kind of going all out with the Spirit of Christmas this year, aren’t you?

He maintained his cool, scattering more flour on the counter and re-working the dough. “I always decorate.”

“You haven’t done more than string some lights on the palm tree out front for years. This time it looks as though you hired Martha Stewart.”

“I told you, the Grinch stole all my decorations last year. He didn’t bring them back until this past week.”

“Uh-huh. Not buying it.”

David sighed and tossed the pot holder down on the counter. “Okay, so Rick hasn’t had much of a Christmas for the past, oh, I dunno, five or six years. This is the first time he’s been to his brother’s for the holidays since he was discharged from the military.” For being gay. Even though he didn’t say it aloud, he knew that both he and Em were thinking it. He often wondered what it was like to love something so much and yet know it was killing you. Rick had given the military everything he had and it had nearly destroyed him. It had taken a desperate man to deliberately use Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to force a discharge from service.

He swallowed hard. “I just want things to be perfect. Heck, if I could import George Bailey running through the village shouting ‘Merry Christmas’ while snow gently fell around him, I would.”

He snapped floury fingers when he realized he could recreate Bedford Falls, if he so desired. He had connections. He could hire a snowmaker and…

“Don’t.” Em put her fists on her hips.

“Don’t what?”

“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t. Rick doesn’t want a Norman Rockwell Christmas. He just wants to be with people who care about him.”

“But—”

“No buts. Trust me on this one. You don’t need to stage a big Hollywood-style scene. Besides, as hot as it is, you’d never get the snow to last.”

Damn, she really could read minds sometimes.

Emma laughed at his expression. “You’re so adorable when you’re in love.”

David stuck his tongue out at her. “When have you ever seen me in love before?”

“Like this? Never. That’s how I know it’s real.”

David certainly hoped it was real. Sometimes he wondered if the emotion was all one-sided—Rick was so guarded with his own.

“When’s he getting in town?”

David started prepping the next batch of cookies. He wasn’t avoiding her eye, really. “In a couple of days, I think.”

“Hmm.” Her tone indicated he wasn’t fooling her with his practiced nonchalance. “I saw his commercial the other day.”

“Did you?” David looked up, all pretence at not caring about Rick’s schedule vaporized. “What did you think?”

“I honestly teared up at his bit, and you know I am not particularly sentimental as a rule. But it was really good.”

The first time David laid eyes on Rick, he’d pictured him in Hollywood, playing a wide variety of tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold roles. He’d pulled some strings when Rick was visiting last and had gotten him an audition for a commercial which featured a solider coming home from the war. It had seemed tailor-made for Rick, and David had been right. Rick was perfect in the role.

“It was good, wasn’t it?” David tried to hide his bias but failed. “I mean, he’s more than just a pretty face—he can act too.”

Em nodded. “I thought he was going to cry when the dog came out of the house and it was so excited to see him. But he didn’t. The emotion was there just under the surface, though. Very convincing. “

“It’s getting a lot of hits on YouTube.” David felt as though it was a personal achievement. Well, in a way, it was. Rick had thought the whole idea of acting silly, and had only gone along with it to prove to David it wouldn’t work. He’d been surprised when he was accepted for the commercial, and staggered by how much he was paid for what he called ‘sixty seconds of work.’ The parent company, which had just been looking for a patriotic, schmaltzy way of tugging at the heartstrings in order to sell diapers, was delighted with the internet appeal of the commercial. David had been getting other nibbles along those lines, casting agents looking for someone with Rick’s devastatingly rugged good looks. Unfortunately, all he could do was forward them on to Rick, along with the membership information to join SAG and the other local organizations for actors. He hoped Rick didn’t think he was being a nag or trying to pressure him into relocating to the mainland.

“He hasn’t said anything more along the lines of moving here, though, has he?”

David shook his head. The only thing David wanted for Christmas was to hear that Rick had given up his air charter business in Hawaii and was moving to California. Where they could have a shot at a real relationship. It was a lot to hope for, though. Nothing could have surprised David more than when Rick came to visit in the first place. Sure, he was reconnecting with his brother again, but he’d spent a lot of nights over at David’s place, just the same.

The twang of a ukulele accompanied “Mele Kalikimaka” on the CD player, and David made a mental note to remember how to pronounce that phrase. It might come in handy over the next couple of weeks.

“No, but we do email each other all the time.” Well, David emailed Rick. He sent chatty emails about his day, and photos that he’d taken that week. He’d written long emails from his hotel room late at night, when he was bored and just a little bit lonely, working on some out-of-town job for Pegasus Productions. Rick, on the other hand, leaned toward one word responses. Sometimes he sent links to interesting articles, which David took as a hopeful sign that they were still in a relationship, but a grand epistolary romance, it was not. On some level David wondered if it would have been different if they were still writing old-fashioned snail mail letters to each other. If maybe the very fact that the letters took so long to arrive would lend some poignancy and strength to the communication. He doubted it though. He suspected only the convenience of email made Rick communicate at all.

Something of his thoughts must have showed on his face.

Em came forward and squeezed his arm. “I just don’t want to see you getting your hopes up or anything.”

“I’m not,” David lied. He forced a smile. “I’m just happy he’s coming into town for Christmas, that’s all. Best gift ever.”

“Uh-huh.” Em touched his arm again. “Well, you know where to find me if you need me. I’ll see you at your party if I don’t catch up with you before then.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m going to be late for yoga class if I don’t leave now.”

“You shouldn’t have eaten those cookies, then. I thought you were supposed to do yoga on an empty stomach.”

Emma wrinkled her nose at him. “Oh-ho, listen to the expert here. Why don’t you come by and sit in on a class sometime? I think it would do you a world of good.”

“Maybe after the New Year.” David smiled and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Be an angel and restart Bing on your way out, will you? I’m all covered in flour.” He waggled sticky fingers at her. The CD player had fallen silent. “Set it on replay while you’re at it, okay?”

“Sure. See you later!” She waved on her way toward the door, pausing to start the CD player again. The opening bars of “Silent Night” filled the room. David smiled as he went back to the baking. He tried one of the gluten-free cookies he’d made earlier. Adding butterscotch chips to the recipe had been a good idea. They didn’t taste like traditional Toll-House cookies, but they didn’t taste like they were full of sand, either. Still, they weren’t the same as the ‘real thing’. They didn’t bake the same, nor did they have the right consistency. There was nothing he loved better than a crispy on the outside, slightly chewy in the middle Christmas cookie. He couldn’t deny, however, that he felt better since making an effort to go gluten-free. Once the holidays were over, he’d go back to being strict again. For now, “but it’s Christmas” was his excuse for cheating.

The impression of movement behind him caught his attention.

“What did you forget this time, Em?” he asked without turning around.

“I didn’t forget anything. Just admiring the view.”

David dropped the cookie cutter with a clatter and whipped around. Rick was leaning negligently in the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest, his eyes hidden behind dark aviator sunglasses. David stared in disbelief for several seconds, drinking in the long, lean form of his body, memorizing details to take out late at night and review like a miser counting his gold. The way his black T-shirt stretched taut over muscles that were impressive without being ridiculous in the extreme. The half-smile on his face, as though he weren’t quite certain of his welcome. His dark hair sticking up in wild disarray, as if he’d run a careless hand through it without notice of the results. The suggestion of a rapidly approaching five o’clock shadow on his jaw line.

“Rick!” David was conscious of equal parts delight and dismay. Great. He’d meant to look his best when Rick arrived—hell, he’d offered to meet Rick at the airport and had been turned down, so it had been in his mind to look his absolute hottest when Rick finally came over. Happy as he was to see Rick now—two days early hadn’t been in his plans. “What the hell are you doing here?”

It might have been his imagination, but he thought Rick’s features froze just a little.

“Not that I’m not glad to see you,” he added hastily, looking around for something to wipe his hands on and giving up to smear flour all over his shirt when he couldn’t find a dish towel. “But I thought you weren’t coming in for at least another couple of days. This place is a wreck.”

A curious expression passed over Rick’s face; there and gone so fast that David only had time to register that something wasn’t quite right.

There’s something he doesn’t want to tell me. David’s heart began to batter its way against the walls of his chest like a wild bird looking for its way out of a building.

“I was able to trade my ticket for a few extra days.” Rick removed his sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of his shirt. David was tried to decide if he should give in to his joy in seeing Rick again or play it cool and act as though it was no big deal.

Rick took the decision out of his hands, peeling himself off the doorjamb with an easy grace. David found himself meeting Rick halfway, and then they were kissing as only two people who hadn’t seen each other in months could do. As though their very lives depended on the breath of the other. David tried keeping his floury fingers to himself, but Rick had his hands in David’s hair, turning his head so that their lips could lock. David couldn’t help it; he wound his hands into Rick’s T-shirt.

Even when they parted for air, Rick continued to gently nip and peck at David’s lips, displaying a desire for contact quite unlike him. All of David’s apprehensions vanished under Rick’s touch. Instead, he was filled with a need to growl and mark territory—to lay claim to this man and make sure the world knew who he belonged to.

Embarrassment at his feelings made him push Rick back reluctantly. “Crap. I got flour all over your shirt.” He brushed ineffectually at the black cotton—making things worse as he spread flour and remnants of cookie dough.

“I don’t care.” Rick moved in to kiss him again. This time, David could feel the hard length of Rick’s cock pressing against the denim of his jeans. For one glorious moment, David pictured the two of them sweeping the counter clean of the baking, snagging a bottle of olive oil from the cabinet, and going at it like rabbits right there in the kitchen. Hell, they wouldn’t even need to take their clothes off. David thought he might come right now just from rubbing up against Rick, from the very scent of him, from the feel of Rick’s arms around his body. Just a little more friction, a little more rutting, and he’d be there.

Instead, the timer went off for the next batch of cookies.

“Sorry.” David let the regret leach into his voice. “I gotta get these.”

Rick stepped back and watched with that small smile in place as David got the batch of cookies out of the oven.

He raised an eyebrow when David turned the oven off. “Don’t you have more cookies to bake?” He indicated the remaining mound of dough on the counter.

“Screw the cookies.” David did growl this time.

“I’d rather screw you.” Rick gave David his sexy smile now, the one that should be registered as a lethal weapon.

“Perfect. Exactly what I had in mind.” David grabbed Rick by the arm and dragged him, laughing, toward his bedroom.

It didn’t matter that Rick was hiding something from him. It didn’t matter that David wasn’t looking his best. He pushed Rick into his bedroom and hurried down the hall to the bathroom to wash his hands, hastily glancing in the mirror as he did so. Okay, so he was still grubby from his workout. But he recognized the raw need on the face staring back at him in the glass. Fuck or be fucked, he didn’t care. All he knew was that he needed Rick, right now, in his bed.

He fumbled with the nail file, making sure he got all the dough out from under his fingernails, digging furiously in his haste. He shucked off his T-shirt, too, and ran dampened hands through his hair in an effort to look a bit more presentable before returning to the bedroom.

Rick was waiting for him, standing with his back to the room, looking out the window.

Completely naked.

“God, what you do to me,” David said, causing Rick to turn. His cock stood up from the thatch of dark hair at his groin, begging for attention. David loved everything about Rick’s body, but most especially the aerodynamic perfection of his cock and the way Rick’s body hair seemed to do everything in its power to point to that lovely, wonderful organ.

He stalked across his bedroom, clashing with Rick in what was almost a grapple, mouths fighting for domination while their hands groped and clutched.

“Four months, three days, six hours.” Rick’s voice in David’s ear was electrifying. He was keeping track. By god, he was keeping track. Hope surged like a tidal wave and David engulfed Rick’s mouth, inhaling him deeply as their tongues met and fucked.

God, he was so close. It wouldn’t take much more—in fact, this whole thing was about to become very embarrassing if he wasn’t careful. Through his jogging shorts, he took hold of his cock, squeezing it off at the base to avoid coming too soon. He broke off the kiss with a mewl of frustration. “I need you to fuck me.”

The way Rick’s pupils darkened his entire eye was gratifying, to say the least.

Somehow they made it to the edge of the bed. Rick peeled off David’s running shorts, pausing to mouth his dick appreciatively until David pulled him up with a groan. Silently communicating to each other with only their eyes, they tumbled into bed. David reached for the beside drawer where he kept lube and condoms, but Rick beat him to it with a laugh. David rolled onto his back, clasping his knees with his hands and spreading his legs apart as Rick found both lube and a condom. Yeah, he was begging for it. So what?

He cried out at Rick’s first touch, his cock bouncing up in anticipation. The shudder that ripped through his body was exquisite. More. He needed more. He spread his legs even wider, tucking his pelvis up for easy access. Take me. He didn’t care what he looked like. Just fucking take me.

And more he got. Rick lavished attention on his body like a man starved for water finding an oasis in the desert. The backs of his thighs, the curve of his hipbone, the soft skin of his balls. Every time David thought he couldn’t take it anymore, that he was going to blow his wad any second, Rick would somehow settle him down by changing gears and devoting his efforts to another part of David’s body. His nipples were teased and pinched just the way he liked them, sending an electric current straight to his dick. Rick mapped every inch of David’s skin with his mouth, his lovely, oh-so-talented mouth. David writhed and basked under the pleasure of Rick’s touch, again and again coming to the edge of orgasm without crossing over.

David almost sobbed with relief when Rick finally brushed his hole. He arched up into the touch, his thighs quivering with tension. “Oh god, yes. Yes!”

Lubed fingers entered his body, pumping and thrusting in a way that had him rocking back against Rick’s hand.

“Look at you.”

The sound of Rick’s voice, so unusual during their lovemaking, made David open his eyes.

“You want this so bad. You—” Rick was obviously at a loss for words. “You abandon yourself. “

“Less talk, more fucking,” David ground out.

Rick laughed, as he knew Rick would. Rick withdrew his fingers from David’s ass. The loss was keen, but momentary. He watched in fascinated anticipation as Rick rolled on a condom and lined himself up. The pressure of Rick’s cock against his asshole was exquisite torture. David forced himself to relax, even as his entire body wanted to arch up into the pressure entering it.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” David turned his head from side to side as Rick folded him up and began to thrust. He felt the powerful contact of Rick’s thighs against the back of his own, and the indescribable fullness that came from having Rick’s cock fully up his ass. The urge to push back against him was powerful but David held still, maintain his position so that Rick could pound him freely.

A groan tore its way out of Rick’s throat and David smiled to himself at the knowledge of his power. It was a brief triumph, however. Rick caught the edge of his prostate, and David saw sparks behind closed lids. He slid over the edge into his orgasm. Rick continued to pound him, triggering shudder after shudder long after he thought he was done.

Rick suddenly stiffened, and David felt Rick’s thighs tighten as he released himself into the condom, the warmth filling David from within. He hooked his legs around Rick and rested, panting a little with the weight of Rick on top of him.

“Now, that’s what I call a Merry Christmas,” David said, in the quiet that followed.

He felt Rick’s laughter against his chest.

****

“No, you can’t have any sausage balls. They’re for Christmas.”

“I’m starving.”

“Well, if I’d known you were coming into town early, I’d have made sure there was plenty of food for feeding time at the zoo.” The morning sun streamed through the kitchen window, as golden and glorious as David’s mood. He hummed “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as he filled two mugs with steaming coffee.

“But you have enough to feed an army!” Rick protested. He was looking gorgeous, as usual, shirtless and wearing nothing but sweat pants. David was tempted to give him anything he wanted but felt he had to put up a token fight.

“You’re welcome to as many gluten-free sausage balls as you can eat.” David smiled sweetly.

“Um, thanks but no thanks.” Rick groused a little bit more but then began fixing the two of them omelets with chopped spinach and green peppers.

David cradled his coffee mug in his hands and asked the question he’d been avoiding since yesterday afternoon.

“So why did you come to the mainland early? Does your brother know you’re here?”

Rick froze momentarily as he stood at the stove, his back an expressive line of unwillingness to talk, and then he forced himself to relax. David had to give him credit; his level of self-control was amazing.

He tended to the omelets as though nothing had happened. “I got an audition for your script. For the part of Rick Sheppard. I came over early to test for the part. I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure, but I’ve been offered the part.”

He expertly scooped the omelets out of the frying pan and turned, plates in hand, to face David. His expression was one of hopeful anxiety.

Elation and concern warred within David. He didn’t know what to say.

Rick’s shoulders sagged. “You’re not happy. I can turn the part down, you know.”

“What makes you think I’m not happy?” David forced a beaming smile. Okay, the part had been written with Rick in mind, but there was the fact that Rick would be acting out love scenes with some hot, young actor, and David wouldn’t be human if a part of him wasn’t slightly jealous. “This is fantastic! I mean, I never thought you’d be offered the part, but you are perfect for it.” I wrote it with you in mind, after all. Sure, the part had been written for a younger version of Rick, but it was Rick just the same. There was a kind of beautiful symmetry in Rick playing the part of the dream that had made David bold enough to declare his feelings in the first place.

The tension in Rick visibly eased. “Really? You’re okay with this? I wasn’t going to accept the part until I knew how you felt about it.”

“Are you kidding? You’ll be awesome.” David moved in closer and kissed him. He suddenly pushed Rick back so he could stare at him. “Wait, does this mean you’re relocating to California?”

Red-faced, Rick set the plates on the table. “I got an offer for the charter service. That, plus the insurance money on the wrecked plane gives me a little cushion to see if this acting thing is going to work. I’m not giving up the house in Hawaii just yet,” he was quick to add, “but I can lease that for now. I figure I’ll give the acting thing a shot and see what happens.”

David thought he was happy before, but now he wanted to burst into song like a character from a cheesy musical. “Well, you know you can hang out here until you find a place of your own, if you want.” He made an effort to sound nonchalant, and caught Rick grinning knowingly at him. Oh well.

“Sam doesn’t know I came over early,” Rick confessed when they were cleaning up after breakfast. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure what was happening.”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” David warned. “I’ve seen more than one pilot or movie fold for lack of investors or poor market testing. Just because you’ve been offered the part doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing.”

“I know.” Rick was quiet when he answered. After a beat, he said, “Sam invited you to join us for Christmas. I guess he figures they’ll get to see more of me if you’re in the same house too.”

homecooked dinner flickr commonsImages of himself by Rick’s side suddenly flooded his mind—the two of them holding hands at the table, taking a post-prandial walk after they’d stuffed themselves with holiday goodies, his sausage balls being the hit of the gathering. “Cool. I’d like that.”

Rick’s smile was like someone had turned on a spotlight. It dimmed a little as a small frown creased his forehead. “You’re sure you’re okay with the movie thing?”

Rick’s uncertainly was endearing.

“Yes.” David reinforced his affirmation with a kiss. “I was just surprised, that’s all. I hadn’t heard anything at all, and well, you’re brand new at this.” He frowned. “You didn’t agree to a ridiculously low salary, did you?”

Rick snorted. “Don’t worry. Remember, Sam’s a lawyer. He won’t let me sign anything unless he looks it over first.”

“Well, that goes ditto for me too. I know the difference between a good contract and a bad one, so let me take a look at it as well.”

Later that evening, he pulled out his duffle bag with the intent on packing a few things to take with him to Sam’s house. It was the same bag he’d taken with him on their ill-fated flight that had resulted in a crash landing on a deserted island. Sometimes David dreamed of the crash, only in his nightmares he’d turned Rick over in the pilot’s seat to discover sightless eyes staring off into eternity. He always woke from those dreams with a startled gasp. Just being able to reach out and touch Rick was a wondrous thing now.

The bag proved to still have some sand, leaf litter, and bits of paper in the bottom of it, and he took it into the bathroom to shake it over the trash can. Ticket stubs to a luau, markers for a snorkeling trip, and receipts from the hotel fluttered over the can, some spilling onto the floor as well. He picked up the receipts—he’d need those at tax time. In fact, he should have turned them in to his boss for reimbursement long ago. Obviously, those normal post-trip details had slipped his mind in the aftermath of a near-death experience. He gave the bag a final thump and something pinged off the can and landed on the tile.

Frowning, he bent over to pick it up. It appeared to be a small disc of some sort. He thought it was cardboard at first, but then he realized it was some type of compressed fabric.  It was smooth to the touch when touched it. Something about it made him want to rub his fingers over it. When he did, he felt the worn edges of stamped lettering. He flipped the disc over, noting the how thin and frayed the material was around the hole meant for a chain to be threaded through. He couldn’t make out the words at first—he had to tip the disc toward the light.

To his surprise, he realized he was looking at a dog tag. A very old dog tag. He smoothed his thumb over the depressed letters in the material, his hand shaking a bit as he read them.

Sheppard, Richard J

It was followed by a string of numbers and the designation “RAF”.

It couldn’t be. It was impossible. He hadn’t even known that the RAF used compressed fabric for ID tags during WW2—he’d assumed they were metal, the way dog tags were in the military today.

How had it gotten in his bag?

Like a flash, the memory came to him of Rick holding the rotting leather journal they’d discovered in the abandoned base on the island. He knew Rick had tucked it in David’s backpack, which had later been stuffed in the duffle on the trip home.

The tag must have fallen out of the journal. What had happened to the journal?

Clutching the tag in his hand, he rushed to the desk in his bedroom, pushing aside papers and opening drawers until he found what he was looking for: the old journal. The book was in poor condition. He’d only tried to read it once; the ink was faded and the pages wanted to disintegrate when he handled them. He’d put it away, hoping it might dry out. But he’d forgotten all about it. Carefully, he opened the cover. On the flyleaf, in rusty brown lettering, he read the name of the journal’s owner.

David Braxton.

Okay. This was a problem. Names that he thought he’d made up obviously belonged to real people. The very first thing he needed to do was contact the production company and request a name change for the characters.

But that begged the question: how had he come up with the names in the first place? Perhaps he unconsciously picked the name Braxton after having seen it in the journal, though he didn’t remember doing so. But the dog tag? He’d never seen it before today.

Sitting at his desk, the journal in his lap, he opened his palm and looked at the tag lying there. What if his dream wasn’t just a dream? If it was real, then the David in his dream somehow ended up in the South Pacific during the war—and carrying his Rick’s tag.

Goosebumps raised on his arms.

“Hey. You okay?”

He looked up to see Rick leaning in the doorway, like he’d been leaning in David’s doorways his entire life.

David smiled, tucking the tag into his pocket. He closed the journal, placing it on the desk as he stood up. “Yeah.” His voice was a little shaky. “Just got distracted by some research.”

“That from the island?” Rick indicated the book.

David nodded, joining Rick at the door.

“Something tells me there’s another story there.”

“Yeah.” David took Rick’s hand in his own, marveling at the feel of the warm flesh against his skin. “But that can keep for another day.”

“Hey.” Rick looked down at their joined hands, his voice suddenly soft. “Things have been a bit crazy lately. I’m afraid I haven’t gotten you anything for Christmas yet. What do you want?”

He raised his clear blue eyes to lock gazes with David, giving his hand a little squeeze.

“You’re here,” David said simply. “What more could I want?”

The disc felt like it was burning a hole in his pocket.

~the end~

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