Cutting ties with Dreamspinner and the future of Sarah Madison Fiction

This has been a hard post to write. So much so, I’ve put off doing it time and again.

Earlier this month, I made the difficult decision to ask for a reversion of rights for my stories with Dreamspinner Press. The decision was made for a variety of reasons, not the least of which concerns my own struggle to continue writing MM romance.

Were it not for Dreamspinner Press taking a chance on me and publishing Unspeakable Words back in 2010, I doubt I would be a published author today. I can’t believe it’s been almost nine years to the day. But the truth of the matter is I haven’t subbed anything to DSP in years, and now seems to be the right time to end our association. It was not a decision I made lightly. I do not have any hard feelings toward DSP, just a sense of regret, the way one does when a chapter in your life closes.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be getting back all my DSP titles. The plan is to re-edit, re-cover (if needed) and re-publish, though I confess, that looms before me as a daunting task when I have so little spoons to work with these days. It is also a financial outlay that I can ill-afford and not likely to give me a huge ROI on books that have been out for years.There is a strong probability I will be putting some of these titles in KU, though that remains to be seen.

If I sound discouraged, I am. To be honest, I don’t know what this means for writing future books under the Sarah Madison name. I’ve been promising for years now I would finish the Sixth Sense series and give it closure, but as you can see, that hasn’t happened despite all my best intentions. And the dissolution of my relationship with DSP will probably slow that timetable down once again.

By 2020, it will have been ten years since the release of the first edition of Unspeakable Words. It would be nice to end the series within a decade! But I have to accept the fact I can’t make promises any more.

I’m not certain what this means for my writing in general. Publishing is a hard business, especially if I’m in the longest publishing drought of my life. Perhaps the answer is to try my hand at something new, a different genre, a different kind of storytelling. Perhaps the answer is to accept the closing of this door and call it done.

But I’m a storyteller at heart. Even if I stop publishing, I won’t stop writing. It may just be stories I write for my own amusement, but I’ll still keep writing.

My biggest apologies to the fans of the Sixth Sense series who have begged for the final installment. I promised and I haven’t delivered. I’d like to believe I’ll still get there–I want to give Lee and Flynn their ultimate HEA as much as you want to read it–but I’m running a few quarts low on faith these days.

Interview and New Nicky and Noah Mystery from Joe Cosentino: Drama Dance

 

Hello, Joe Cosentino! Congratulations on the release of the eighth novel in your award-winning and popular Nicky and Noah gay cozy mystery series.

 

Thank you. I’m a legend in my own mind. 🙂

 

Completely justified, I’m sure! Thanks for stopping by to answer a few questions. As an author, we often get asked this, but when writing, do you use people and events from your own life?

 

As a theatre college professor/department chair (like Martin in the Nicky and Noah mysteries), I never seem to run out of wild characters to write about. My faculty colleagues and students kid me that if any of them tick me off, I’ll kill them in my next book. Since my spouse and I have travelled extensively, those situations often pop up in my books. I hear other things pop up as well when the readers read Nicky and Noah’s love scenes 🙂

 

*Snort* Too funny! It’s terrific you have such a rich background from which to draw on for your stories. It seems tailor-made for your series. Tell me, why do you think there aren’t many other gay cozy mystery series out there?

 

Most MM novels are erotica, young adult, dark thrillers, or supernatural. While that’s fine, I think we’re missing a whole spectrum of fiction. In the case of the Nicky and Noah mysteries, they include romance, humor, mystery, adventure, and quaint and loveable characters in uncanny situations. The settings are warm and cozy with lots of hot cocoa by the fireplace. The clues and red herrings are there for the perfect whodunit. So are the plot twists and turns and a surprise ending to keep the pages turning faster than a priest heading for altar boy training (as Nicky would say). No matter what is thrown in their path, Nicky and Noah always end up on top. At least Nicky ends up on top, which is just fine with Noah.

 

I love cozy mysteries, so I agree with everything you’ve just said! When you wrote Drama Queen, the first Nicky and Noah mystery, did you envision this as a series?

 

Totally. Though each book has its own complete story and ending, I wrote the first three books together. When they were so popular, I kept writing.

 

You’re a much better planner than I am! Did you forget certain things about the characters and their environment?

 

I keep really good notes on everything for continuity. Also, the regular characters are like family to me. I know them so well. I love watching them and their relationships grow and develop. It’s also great fun developing minor characters from earlier books into major characters later on, like Martin Anderson’s husband Ruben. It’s equally fun creating important new characters like Nicky and Noah’s son Taavi. Finally, I enjoy creating new suspects in each book. I laugh out loud when writing these novels, and the endings still surprise me—even though I wrote them!

 

That’s really wonderful to hear. Are Nicky and Noah based on any of your younger colleagues?

 

Like most of the characters in my books, Nicky is a combination of a few people I’ve known. He’s handsome, muscular, smart, charming, and he has an enormous manhood, which doesn’t hurt (or maybe it does). However, what I admire most about Nicky is his never give up attitude and sense of humor in the face of adversity. He is genuinely concerned for others, and he’ll do anything to solve a murder mystery. Finally, he is a one-man man, and Nicky is proud to admit that man is Noah Oliver. Nicky is also incredibly devoted to his family and friends. Noah is blond, blue-eyed, lean, handsome, smart, and devoted. He makes the perfect Watson to Nicky’s Holmes. (I always thought Holmes and Watson were a gay couple.) Noah also has a large heart and soft spot (no pun intended) for others. Finally, like Nicky, Noah is quite gifted at improvisation, and he creates wild and wonderful characters for their role plays to catch the murderer.

 

You make them sound so charming! (I’m with you on Sherlock and Watson, too) Since both you and Nicky are of Italian-American decent, are Nicky’s parents like yours? Are Noah’s parents like your spouse’s parents?

 

Both Nicky’s parents and Noah’s parents have many of the traits of my parents. They’re absolutely hilarious. I love Noah’s mother’s fixation with taking pictures of everything, and his father’s fascination with seeing movies. I also love how Noah’s father is an amateur sleuth like Nicky. As they say, men marry their fathers. Nicky’s parents’ goal to feed everyone and protect their children is heartwarming. Both sets of parents fully embrace their sons and their sons’ family, which is refreshing.

 

You’ve written twenty-five books in total so far. I envy you your productivity! As a college professor/department head, where do you find the time?

 

I’m a night owl, writing late into the night.

 

Any parting words, Joe?

 

Everyone read the blurb below and buy Drama Dance, the eighth Nicky and Noah mystery novel. You’ll die laughing!

 

Thank you, Joe, for interviewing today. Congratulations on this latest release–I’m sure it will be another smashing success!

 

It is my joy and pleasure to share this eighth novel in the series with you. So take your seats. The curtain is going up on Clara, the Nutcracker, the Mouse King, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Cavalier. And of course hilarity, romance, and murder!

 

DRAMA DANCE (the eighth Nicky and Noah mystery)

by JOE COSENTINO

http://mybook.to/DramaDance

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/942548

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/drama-dance-joe-cosentino/1131937902?ean=2940163240081

 

 

Theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza is back at Treemeadow College directing their Nutcracker Ballet co-starring his spouse, theatre professor Noah Oliver, their son Taavi, and their best friend and department head, Martin Anderson. With muscular dance students and faculty in the cast, the Christmas tree on stage isn’t the only thing rising. When cast members drop faster than their loaded dance belts, Nicky and Noah will once again need to use their drama skills to figure out who is cracking the Nutcracker’s nuts, trapping the Mouse King, and being cavalier with the Cavalier, before Nicky and Noah end up stuck in the Land of the Sweets. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining eighth novel in this delightful series. Take your seats. The curtain is going up on the Fairy—Sugar Plum that is, clumsy mice, malfunctioning toys, and murder!

 

Praise for the Nicky and Noah mysteries:

 

“Joe Cosentino has a unique and fabulous gift. His writing is flawless, and his use of farce, along with his convoluted plot-lines, will have you guessing until the very last page, which makes his books a joy to read. His books are worth their weight in gold, and if you haven’t discovered them yet you are in for a rare treat.” Divine Magazine

 

“a combination of Laurel and Hardy mixed with Hitchcock and Murder She Wrote…

Loaded with puns and one-liners…Right to the end, you are kept guessing, and the conclusion still has a surprise in store for you.” “the best modern Sherlock and Watson in books today…I highly recommend this book and the entire series, it’s a pure pleasure, full of fun and love, written with talent and brio…fabulous…brilliant” Optimumm Book Reviews

 

“adventure, mystery, and romance with every page….Funny, clever, and sweet….I can’t find anything not to love about this series….This read had me laughing and falling in love….Nicky and Noah are my favorite gay couple.” Urban Book Reviews

 

“For fans of Joe Cosentino’s hilarious mysteries, this is another vintage story with more cheeky asides and sub plots right left and centre….The story is fast paced, funny and sassy. The writing is very witty with lots of tongue-in-cheek humour….Highly recommended.” Boy Meets Boy Reviews

 

“This delightfully sudsy, colorful cast of characters would rival that of any daytime soap opera, and the character exchanges are rife with sass, wit and cagey sarcasm….As the pages turn quickly, the author keeps us hanging until the startling end.” Edge Media Network

 

“A laugh and a murder, done in the style we have all come to love….This had me from the first paragraph….Another wonderful story with characters you know and love!” Crystals Many Reviewers

 

“These two are so entertaining….Their tactics in finding clues and the crazy funny interactions between characters keeps the pages turning. For most of the book if I wasn’t laughing I was grinning.” Jo and Isa Love Books

 

“Superb fun from start to finish, for me this series gets stronger with every book and that’s saying something because the benchmark was set so very high with book 1.” Three Books Over the Rainbow

 

“The Nicky and Noah Mysteries series are perfect for fans of the Cozy Mystery sub-genre. They mix tongue-in-cheek humor, over-the-top characters, a wee bit of political commentary, and suspense into a sweet little mystery solved by Nicky and Noah, theatre professors for whom all the world’s a stage.” Prism Book Alliance

“This is one hilarious series with a heart and it just keeps getting better. I highly recommend them all, and please read them in the order they were written for full blown laugh out loud reading pleasure!” Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Bestselling author Joe Cosentino was voted Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Author of the Year by the readers of Divine Magazine for Drama Queen. He also wrote the other novels in the Nicky and Noah mystery series: Drama Muscle, Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective, Drama Fraternity, Drama Castle, Drama Dance; the Dreamspinner Press novellas: In My Heart/An Infatuation & A Shooting Star, the Bobby and Paolo Holiday Stories: A Home for the Holidays/The Perfect Gift/The First Noel, The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland with Holiday Tales from Fairyland; the Cozzi Cove series: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back, Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings, Cozzi Cove: Happy Endings (NineStar Press); and the Jana Lane mysteries: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (The Wild Rose Press). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. Joe is currently Chair of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and he is happily married. Joe was voted 2nd Place Favorite LGBT Author of the Year in Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards, and his books have received numerous Favorite Book of the Month Awards and Rainbow Award Honorable Mentions.

 

Web site: http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JoeCosentinoauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoeCosen

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4071647.Joe_Cosentino

Amazon: Author.to/JoeCosentino

 

Cover Art: Jesús Da Silva

 

Excerpt of Drama Dance, the eighth Nicky and Noah mystery, by Joe Cosentino

 

The Victorian-era playroom was adorned with wallpapered walls of pink and gold swirls. A large window hovered over a cushiony toy chest. Standing guard on one side was a grandfather clock and a pink chaise lounge on the other. Elaborately decorated gift boxes of all shapes and sizes stood between them. Cherished music played as couples in elaborate gowns and vested tuxedos executed a promenade at the Stahlbaum’s holiday party. Little boys in knickers galloped with their toy horses, and sweet girls in frilly party dresses danced with their dolls. A small, thin, elderly man entered in a puff of smoke, causing a hush in the room. Uncle Drosselmeyer, in a maroon suit, motioned for pretty young Clara, dressed in white, to join him next to the Christmas tree adorned with gold balls, candles, and garland. Clara’s younger brother, Fritz, joined her with mischief in his eyes. The adults and children left the playroom, except for Drosselmeyer, Clara, and Fritz. The lights in the room flickered as the bald man waved his tiny arms and magically produced—a garlic crusher.

“What happened to the nutcracker?” I asked from the front row center orchestra, resting the notepad and pen on my lap.

Ruben Markinson entered the stage from the wings. “I couldn’t fit a nutcracker up Martin’s sleeve.”

Martin Anderson dropped his Uncle Drosselmeyer persona and sneered at his husband. “So you expected Clara to dance with a garlic crusher?”

Ruben replied, “It’s less absurd than you dancing on stage at your advanced age, Martin.”

Martin glared at his longtime companion. “My body is a temple.”

“And it’s in ruins!” Ruben replied.

We’re back! For you Nicky and Noah mystery virgins, let me explain. I’m Nicky Abbondanza, Professor of Play Directing at Treemeadow College, a quaint college in picturesque Vermont. Treemeadow was named after the quaint gay couple who founded it: Harold Tree and Jacob Meadow. They are immortalized together in bronze at the quaint college entrance—to the delight of every pigeon in the county.

I had taken a sabbatical from teaching to direct and star in a Broadway play and direct two movies. But when producers responded to my calls with, “Don’t call us—ever again,” I realized that “those who can, do; those who did, teach.” So, missing my college more than a hooker misses a john with a fat wallet and narcolepsy, it was back to Treemeadow for me, where I was recently promoted from Associate Professor to Professor. For you non-academics, that means I make more money now. But I don’t teach and direct shows for the monetary rewards. I do it for the ulcers and heart attacks. This semester, after teaching my theatre classes at accelerated hours, I finished my classes mid-semester; and my department head and best friend, Professor of Theatre Management Martin Anderson, loaned me out to the Dance Department to direct their December production of The Nutcracker ballet. Since I have gotten myself out of many traps, I also agreed to understudy the cheesy role of the Mouse King.

For the carnally conscious, I’m tall, with dark hair, a cleft in my chin, emerald eyes, a Roman nose, and long sideburns. I have a muscular body, thanks to the gym on campus—and to my fear of giving into gravity now that I hit the big four zero.

My husband of five years, recently promoted Associate Professor of Acting Noah Oliver, as usual joined me as the production’s acting coach. Noah’s dance training in college made him a perfect understudy for the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier. By the way, Noah is seven years younger than me. But it doesn’t bother me. At all!

Noah is gorgeous with golden blond hair, sea-blue eyes, milk-and-honey skin, and a tight little body. We both always wear dress shirts, dress slacks, and blazers, except to bed. Speaking of clothing, to my tailor’s horror and Noah’s delight, I have a nearly foot-long penis when erect. Had I been a caveman, I wouldn’t have needed a club. A gay porn star would hang his head (both of them) next to me. Why am I telling you this? I tell you everything.

As for the rest of the cast and crew, elderly Martin is playing Clara’s elderly Uncle Drosselmeyer. Martin’s equally elderly husband, Ruben, agreed to be our props master. Dance faculty members took on the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Cavalier, the Mouse King, and choreographer. The star dance students were cast in the roles of Clara, Clara’s understudy, the Nutcracker, and the Nutcracker’s understudy. In the ensemble, the remaining senior dance students filled the roles of the parents, and the freshmen were cast as the children. I brought my theatre student, Nate Owens, along as stage manager. Other theatre students are doing the set, lights, sound, and costumes.

Finally, due to his vast talents, and my nepotism, Noah’s and my eleven-year-old adopted son, Taavi Oliver Abbondanza Kapule, was cast as Clara’s brother, Fritz.

Now back to the action.

 

Dear Disappointed Fan: I’m Disappointed Too

Recently, I got a message on Goodreads from a fan asking when we could expect the next book in the Sixth Sense series. I went to GR to respond to the post but it had been deleted. I’d gathered the gist of the message in the partial view GR had sent me, which was a polite but slightly forlorn request for an update. And I felt like crap when I realized the post had been removed. Now I couldn’t explain the delay to the reader. I felt like crap about the delay of the next installment, too.

See, when I submitted Unspeakable Words to Dreamspinner Press back in 2010, it was on a whim. I never expected it to be published. I expected it to languish on my hard drive while I kept banging out stories in the hope one day, I would be a published author. I didn’t think of it as the beginning of a series or the beginning of a writing career. It was just a roll of the dice that came up a winner.

I went on to write other stories people seemed to like, most notably Crying for the Moon and The Boys of Summer. I don’t write quickly, so it was 2013 before I began thinking about John Flynn and Jerry Parker again and realized they still had stories to tell me. I published Walk a Mile in 2014–four years after the first book. I caught a little flak for that, which made me wince, but it wasn’t like I hadn’t been working on other projects. I’m a slow writer. I’m doing good if I publish a book a year.

I left the boys in a bit of a dicey place at the end of Walk a Mile, and I definitely didn’t people left hanging for a resolution, so I went to work right away on Truth and Consequences, which came out in 2015. I had plans to move right ahead with the final installment of the series, tentatively titled Deal with the Devil, but first, I wanted to expand on some things in Unspeakable Words, so I went back and fleshed out some parts I felt had been underdeveloped. Right, so by the end of 2016, I was looking at pounding out DWTD and a publishing date of 2017.

Only that didn’t happen, did it?

In fact, I more or less disappeared. I popped in for the occasional post, but for the most part, I ghosted you, dear reader. For that, I’m very sorry.

I’ve been trying to decide how much of my personal life I should share with you here. The temptation is to lay it all out as evidence I have every right to be derailed by life events from completing my series. I alluded to some of the issues in this post here, but I’m disheartened to realize I wrote that post over a year ago. Part of me wants to justify my failure, if not to you, dear reader, then to myself. By saying, “See? I’ve suffered. I’m not just sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’m struggling here.”

That’s not to say I haven’t been writing anything. I have. The words have to be chiseled out of granite and the end result is the kind of blocky, formless statue a beginning art student might create. Most days I realize I’m trying to pump water out of a dry well, to inelegantly mix my metaphors here. Some days I think I no longer have the capacity to tell stories. I remind myself depression is a lying SOB, but the end result is the same, yes? No new story out this year.

I’ve been staring at this blinking cursor wondering if I should name all the losses I’ve experienced. Of the funerals I’ve attended. Of friendships that have crashed, and communities that are gone, the pressures of work and home alike. I started to list them, but decided on a better response instead.

This is the Social Readustment Rating Scale developed by Holmes and Rahe in 1967. Basically you add up points for the various kinds of stress in your life within a year (both good and bad) and if you score over three hundred, you have an 80% chance of developing a major stress-related illness.

My score is 816.

Eight hundred and sixteen.

That would make me giggle if it didn’t make me want to cry. Take your pick of the various stressors on the list and decide which ones I’ve experienced. Chances are, I have. The sad thing is I strongly suspect most of us have scores over 300, easy.

Okay, so the stressors occurred over two years instead of one, but that’s averaging a little over four hundred a year for two years running. I’ve taken hit after hit again and again. And that doesn’t begin to count the stress of seeing what’s happening in this country right now. In fact, the only good thing about all the personal stress is that it has distracted somewhat from my anxiety over the direction we as a nation here in the US have taken. The downside of the national situation is that it makes our future seem very bleak (not just as a nation, but as a freaking species), which makes it harder to feel as though writing stories matters in the long run.

Don’t worry. I think in times like this, stories matter even more than ever. I take great comfort in posts like this one, Write Despite, by Chuck Wendig. I just find it hard to implement at times. At the end of the day, I’m wrung out emotionally and mentally, and that makes it challenging to be very creative. So essentially this post is for that poor reader who desperately wanted a hopeful update as to the next installment of the Sixth Sense series, and this is me saying, not this year. Maybe next.

Which means it will be five years since I published Truth and Consequences before you can even possibly expect the final installment to the Sixth Sense series. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to do that to you guys again.

And seriously, where did the freaking time go?

 

EDIT: The reader contacted me–the deletion of the post was because it had been published too early before she’d completed her thought. So my angst wasn’t necessary, but I think my apology was. 🙂

National Pi Day and a Dreamspinner Press Sale!

I had to laugh at this notice in my mailbox this morning–it’s National Pi Day (not Pie Day, though there is one of those, too) and to celebrate, Dreamspinner Press is holding a 31.4% off sale from now until March 19th! How cool is that?

Interested? Check out all my Dreamspinner stories here! Read on a Kindle? You can choose the format of your choice and have your book sent to you! If you’ve been waiting for the right time to check out my stories, now is the perfect time to grab a slice of Dreamspinner Pi!

Dear Pirate Site Operator: No, I Did Not Give You Permission

So there has been a lot of hullaboo about the site Ebook Bike and its operator Travis McCrea. In case you haven’t been following the blowout, EBook Bike allows people to upload content to the site, which McCrea does not moderate (as you can see in his statement here):

McCrea seems to be part of the Sharing Community, which believes they have a moral obligation to share digital content. As a matter of fact, in 2016 McCrea was the leader of a minor party called the Pirate Party of Canada.

One might suggest if you didn’t want to be labeled as a pirate, you might choose a different name for your political party.

The only statement I can find on the site itself is a generic one: Ebook Bike is about providing a new life to reading, ensuring every person around the world has the best access to the best books.

Reports that the DMCA page/link isn’t working on the site sent me looking for it–I couldn’t find it at all. I’m also hearing reports that the site collects IP addresses of those who use the DMCA form and then block them from accessing the site, making it difficult to see that no one is complying with takedown notices.

I searched the site and didn’t find any of my own titles, but another site that has people talking, oregano.com, does have some of my books listed without my permission.

EDIT: As of today, I’m told that the Ebook Bike site is down. You can celebrate that as a victory, if you like, but I believe it will re-appear under another name in the not-too-distant future. And it is just one of hundreds of similar sites.

So I think it’s time to repost my thoughts on this: I ask that you check out my posts Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me and Dear Broke Reader and Your Sense of Entitlement (Part 2).

It’s also worth checking out this article by The Guardian, discussing the backlash against authors who fought to get their books removed from the now-defunct OceansofPDF. Um, we’re not the bad guys here. For the most part, we write our books in good faith, paying developmental and copyeditors, formatters, and cover artists along the way. We pay for book tours and advertising. I bring this up because the costs of bringing a digital book to market are not ‘zero’, as some people seem to think. But beyond that. I don’t think it’s wrong for us as creators to expect to be paid for our art.

And I do think it’s wrong for someone to upload our works to sites that allow thousands of downloads without our permission–or any compensation.

Believe me, I’ve heard all the arguments. They are discussed in greater detail in the Broke Reader posts. What it boils down to is that the majority of people who feel entitled to works without paying for them do NOT fall into categories of “but I can only get this particular story in this fashion.” Yes, there are pockets of people here and there without access to affordable books on a large scale, but that’s not representative of the average pirate/torrent user. The average user of these sites wants a particular title RIGHT NOW and doesn’t want to wait for a sale or look for it at the library. That’s what I mean by a sense of entitlement.

But I will say this: if you want to continue to get quality content, then pay the creator their due. Otherwise, instead of a Picasso or Monet, you’ll have to be satisfied with a paint-by-numbers or macaroni art by a kindergartner.

Someone told me in one of the previous posts that if I was any good at writing, I would be able to absorb the costs of piracy. Sweet pea, in order to be able to absorb the costs of piracy, you have to sell books on the scale of Nora Roberts, J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King. And believe me, I’d hazard a guess none of them are happy about piracy and illegal downloads.

I’m not a Nora Roberts, but I’ve been known to tell a story people enjoy reading. I had to write a pitch letter recently, and was surprised to learn I had more street cred than I’d realized. I’ve been publishing M/M romance since 2010. The majority of my titles are through Dreamspinner Press, though I have self-published as well. All told, I have a total of 16 published stories at this time and am a PAN member of the RWA.

I was a finalist in the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Rainbow Awards. The Boys of Summer won Best M/M Romance in the 2013 Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The Sixth Sense series was voted 2nd place in the 2014 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Mystery series, and 3rd place in the 2105 PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Paranormal/Urban Fantasy series.

Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M Romance in 2016 by the PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards. I was also voted one of the top ten M/M romance authors in 2016 by Gay Book Reviews.

I’m not saying this to brag. Lord, if you knew me, you’d know how much I’m squirming listing those achievements (and resisting mightily the urge to claim they are ‘only’ genre recognition and awards). What I’m trying to say is that, given the argument above, I’m not such a shabby writer that I deserve to be pirated to the extent that I can actually lose money on publishing a story.

But you know what? No one does. No author, no artist, no musician, no photographer–hell, not even your kindergartner putting his or her macaroni art up on your fridge.

New from Joe Cosentino: Drama Castle, a Nick and Noah Novel

Please welcome Joe Cosentino as he shares about his newest release!

A Different Kind of Family Vacation

by Joe Cosentino on the release of his Drama Castle,

the seventh Nicky and Noah mystery

 

Have you ever had a wild and wonderful family vacation? I’ve had many of them. So I decided to set the seventh Nicky and Noah mystery during a riotous and murderous vacation for Nicky Abbondanza and his extended family. College theatre professors/spouses Nicky and Noah pack up their adopted son Taavi and Noah’s doting parents and head to Scotland to live like royalty in a real 1700’s castle complete with moat, turrets, fireplaces, knight in armor, and coat of arms surrounded by a turquoise lake swirling through an emerald-green meadow and a steep cliff towering over the white-capped ocean. However, all isn’t as calm as a violet field of heather. After all, this is a Nicky and Noah mystery loaded with comic antics and five murders.

For those of you who haven’t yet guffawed and gasped through the Nicky and Noah mysteries, the clues and murders (and laughs) come fast and furious, and there are enough plot twists and turns and a surprise ending to keep the pages turning faster than a conservative politician removing environmental protection laws (as Nicky would say). Reviewers called the series hysterically funny farce, Murder She Wrote meets Hart to Hart meets The Hardy Boys, and captivating whodunits. One reviewer wrote they are the funniest books she’s ever read! No argument here.

In Drama Queen (Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award for Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Novel of the Year) Nicky directs the school play at Treemeadow College—which is named after its gay founders, Tree and Meadow. Theatre professors drops like stage curtains, and Nicky and Noah have to use their theatre skills, including impersonating other people, to figure out whodunit.

In Drama Muscle (Rainbow Award Honorable Mention) Nicky and Noah don their gay Holmes and Watson personas again to find out why bodybuilding students and professors in Nicky’s bodybuilding competition at Treemeadow are dropping faster than barbells. In Drama Cruise it is summer on a ten-day cruise from San Francisco to Alaska and back. Nicky and Noah must figure out why college theatre professors are dropping like life rafts as Nicky directs a murder mystery dinner theatre show onboard ship starring Noah and other college theatre professors from across the US. Complicating matters are their both sets of wacky parents who want to embark on all the activities on and off the boat with the handsome couple.

In Drama Luau, Nicky is directing the luau show at the Maui Mist Resort and he and Noah need to figure out why muscular Hawaiian hula dancers are dropping like grass skirts. Their department head/best friend and his husband, Martin and Ruben, are along for the bumpy tropical ride.

In Drama Detective, Nicky is directing and ultimately co-starring with his husband Noah as Holmes and Watson in a new musical Sherlock Holmes play at Treemeadow College prior to Broadway. Martin and Ruben, their sassy office assistant Shayla, Nicky’s brother Tony, and Nicky and Noah’s son Taavi are also in the cast. Of course dead bodies begin falling over like hammy actors at a curtain call. Once again Nicky and Noah use their drama skills to figure out who is lowering the street lamps on the actors before the handsome couple get half-baked on Baker Street.

In Drama Fraternity, Nicky is directing Tight End Scream Queen, a slasher movie filmed at Treemeadow College’s football fraternity house, co-starring Noah, Taavi, and Martin. Rounding out the cast are members of Treemeadow’s Christian football players’ fraternity along with two hunky screen stars. When the jammer, wide receiver, and more begin fading out with their scenes, Nicky and Noah once again need to use their drama skills to figure out who is sending young hunky actors to the cutting room floor before Nicky and Noah hit the final reel.

Now in Drama Castle, Nicky is directing a historical film co-starring Noah and Taavi at Conall Castle in Scotland: When the Wind Blows Up Your Kilt It’s Time for A Scotch. Rounding out the cast are members of the mysterious Conall family who own the castle. When hunky men in kilts topple off the drawbridge and into the moat, it’s up to Nicky and Noah to use their acting skills to figure out whodunit before Nicky and Noah land in the dungeon. Nicky and Noah are joined by their best friends and fan favorites Martin and Ruben, and by Noah’s eccentric parents. And book seven adds a number of captivating new characters like Brody Naughton, the hunky head of Housekeeping with a red beard and roving eye for the oldest Conall brother, Barclay, and for Donal Blair a waiter in the castle’s Great Hall dining room. Each of the three hunky Conall brothers (Barclay, Magnus, and Fergus) have a surprising secret, and Noah makes a shocking revelation.

It is my joy and pleasure to share this seventh novel in the series with you. So take your seats. The curtain is going up on steep cliffs, ancient turrets, stormy seas, misty moors, malfunctioning kilts, and murder!

 

DRAMA CASTLE (the seventh Nicky and Noah mystery)

a comedy/mystery/romance novel by JOE COSENTINO

 

http://mybook.to/DramaCastle

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/910555

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1129964877?ean=2940155897439

 

 

Theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza is directing a historical film at a castle in Scotland, co-starring his spouse, theatre professor Noah Oliver, and their son Taavi. When historical accuracy disappears along with hunky men in kilts, Nicky and Noah will once again need to use their drama skills to figure out who is pitching residents of Conall Castle off the drawbridge and into the moat, before Nicky and Noah land in the dungeon. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining seventh novel in this delightful series. Take your seats. The curtain is going up on steep cliffs, ancient turrets, stormy seas, misty moors, malfunctioning kilts, and murder!

 

Praise for the Nicky and Noah mysteries:

 

“Joe Cosentino has a unique and fabulous gift. His writing is flawless, and his use of farce, along with his convoluted plot-lines, will have you guessing until the very last page, which makes his books a joy to read. His books are worth their weight in gold, and if you haven’t discovered them yet you are in for a rare treat.” Divine Magazine

 

“a combination of Laurel and Hardy mixed with Hitchcock and Murder She Wrote…

Loaded with puns and one-liners…Right to the end, you are kept guessing, and the conclusion still has a surprise in store for you.” “the best modern Sherlock and Watson in books today…I highly recommend this book and the entire series, it’s a pure pleasure, full of fun and love, written with talent and brio…fabulous…brilliant” Optimumm Book Reviews

 

“adventure, mystery, and romance with every page….Funny, clever, and sweet….I can’t find anything not to love about this series….This read had me laughing and falling in love….Nicky and Noah are my favorite gay couple.” Urban Book Reviews

 

“For fans of Joe Cosentino’s hilarious mysteries, this is another vintage story with more cheeky asides and sub plots right left and centre….The story is fast paced, funny and sassy. The writing is very witty with lots of tongue-in-cheek humour….Highly recommended.” Boy Meets Boy Reviews

 

“This delightfully sudsy, colorful cast of characters would rival that of any daytime soap opera, and the character exchanges are rife with sass, wit and cagey sarcasm….As the pages turn quickly, the author keeps us hanging until the startling end.” Edge Media Network

 

“A laugh and a murder, done in the style we have all come to love….This had me from the first paragraph….Another wonderful story with characters you know and love!” Crystals Many Reviewers

 

“These two are so entertaining….Their tactics in finding clues and the crazy funny interactions between characters keeps the pages turning. For most of the book if I wasn’t laughing I was grinning.” Jo and Isa Love Books

 

“Superb fun from start to finish, for me this series gets stronger with every book and that’s saying something because the benchmark was set so very high with book 1.” Three Books Over the Rainbow

 

“The Nicky and Noah Mysteries series are perfect for fans of the Cozy Mystery sub-genre. They mix tongue-in-cheek humor, over-the-top characters, a wee bit of political commentary, and suspense into a sweet little mystery solved by Nicky and Noah, theatre professors for whom all the world’s a stage.” Prism Book Alliance

“This is one hilarious series with a heart and it just keeps getting better. I highly recommend them all, and please read them in the order they were written for full blown laugh out loud reading pleasure!” Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Bestselling author Joe Cosentino was voted Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Author of the Year by the readers of Divine Magazine for Drama Queen. He also wrote the other novels in the Nicky and Noah mystery series: Drama Muscle, Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective, Drama Fraternity, Drama Castle; the Dreamspinner Press novellas: In My Heart/An Infatuation & A Shooting Star, A Home for the Holidays, The Perfect Gift, The First Noel, The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland with Holiday Tales from Fairyland, the Cozzi Cove series: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back, Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings, Cozzi Cove: Happy Endings (NineStar Press); and the Jana Lane mysteries: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (The Wild Rose Press). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. Joe is currently Chair of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and he is happily married. Joe was voted 2nd Place Favorite LGBT Author of the Year in Divine Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards, and his books have received numerous Favorite Book of the Month Awards and Rainbow Award Honorable Mentions.

 

Web site: http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JoeCosentinoauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoeCosen

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4071647.Joe_Cosentino

Amazon: Author.to/JoeCosentino

 

Excerpt of Drama Castle, the seventh Nicky and Noah mystery, by Joe Cosentino

Ainsley Conall, the thirty-five-year-old lord of the manor, stood on the grassy moor surveying his property. He watched the mist spread to the nearby golden cliff, emerald mountains, and white-capped turquoise sea. His tunic, kilt, hose, and shoulder cloak matched the tall, strapping man’s long auburn hair and striking emerald eyes. The leather sporran hanging from a chain over the impressive lump at his groin proudly bore the Conall family crest—three lions. As he rested his size-ten leather brogue on a rock, Ainsley proudly gazed out at the ancient lighthouse, old abbey, and most importantly Conall Castle standing majestically in the distance. This was his heritage, his pride, and his joy.

An eastern wind blew the kilt up his back, exposing his melon-like bubble butt.

“Cut! We’ll save that for the blooper reel.”

I always wanted to say that. But I didn’t think I’d be uttering those words on a mountaintop at the northernmost tip of Scotland. I’m Nicky Abbondanza, Associate Professor of Play Directing at Treemeadow College, a private college plagued by murder in scenic Vermont. How did I get to Scotland, the land of men in kilts? After directing a play at Treemeadow College that moved to Broadway, I helmed a slasher film, which to nobody’s surprise was ignored by the Academy Award voters. However, Barclay Conell, the owner of Conell Castle and Hotel in Scotland, caught it while scrolling through one-star instant-play movies on his computer. It wasn’t so much that Barclay was impressed with my artistry. The film’s low budget and one-week production schedule caught the green in his eyes. You see Barclay was also the author of The Lord of the Castle, a five-hundred-and-thirty-eight-page novel that could turn an insomniac into Rip Van Winkle. Propelled by his novel’s high local sales, Barclay decided a film adaptation was in order—even when a local fisherman confessed he had bought up all the novels as gifts for unsuspecting fishermen in hopes of sinking the competition’s ships. When Barclay’s emails to Z-list celebrities went unanswered, undaunted in his cinematic pursuit, Barclay decided to star in the film version himself—playing his 1745 ancestor, Ainsley Conall. His wife, Moira (an unemployed actress currently working as his desk clerk), finally got an acting gig as Ainsley’s devoted wife. For reality sake, and to keep peace in the family, Barclay’s middle brother, Magnus (the hotel’s accountant), was cast as Ainsley’s middle brother and pal, Archibald. Finally, Barclay’s youngest brother, Fergus (the hotel’s restaurant manager), didn’t have much of a stretch to play Ainsley’s youngest brother and little buddy, Angus. And to keep the budget anemic, Lairie Naughton, the fourteen-year-old daughter of the hotel’s head of Housekeeping, was slated for the role of the devoted young maid, Aggie.

Barclay took no reservations at the hotel for a week in June and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a four-figure salary, a film budget as thin as a vegan with a malfunctioning juicer, and a one-week shooting schedule. How could I say no? So, I continued the casting by adding my ten-year-old adopted son from Hawaii, Taavi, as Ainsley’s adored son, Roddy. Before a divorce was threatened, I hired my husband of four years, Assistant Professor of Acting at Treemeadow College, Noah Oliver, to play Roddy’s noble tutor, Oliver, and to serve as the film’s acting coach. I decided to cast the smaller roles once we got to the castle.

There was the small, or not so small, matter of the film adaptation. Barclay’s attempt was as ponderous and heavy (pun intended) as his novel. So, my best friend and department head, Professor of Theatre Management Martin Anderson, wrote the screenplay, or as Ruben Markinson, Martin’s husband and our producer, said, “the foul-play.” With the excitement of a conservative politician nixing environmental laws, Martin went to work loading the script with scandal, seduction, and assassination. Try saying that three times fast. His new title: When the Wind Blows Up Your Kilt, You Need a Scotch.

 

 

Where in the world is Sarah Madison?

Where in the world is Sarah Madison?

You might be asking yourself that right about now–or maybe not. If you’re like me, sometimes the first time I notice someone has been absent is when they pop up to apologize for their absence–which then results in a flurry of guilt for not realizing before–please, don’t do that. It’s okay. I understand.

There have been reasons for the absence. Boring reasons that can be summed up with: life hit me hard and tumbled me into a well of depression. At the moment, I appear to be sitting on the ledge, contemplating pulling myself out and seeing what’s next. Part of that process appears to be reconsidering what Sarah Madison brings to the M/M romance table as a middle-aged cishet white woman.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure she does bring anything to the table that can’t better be told by someone with a deeper understanding of what it’s like to be a member of the GLBTQ community. I love writing. I fall in love with characters and want to tell their stories. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m the best one to tell them.

That said, it is my intention to bring the Sixth Sense series to a close–hopefully completing a draft for publication in 2019. I have other stories I’d love to tell, but I have to warn you, if I do, it will be a long, slow process to publishing. I’m not a fast writer these days. I’ve become self-critical to the point of hamstringing the process–that’s something else I need to work on.

But as we leave 2018 behind, I felt the need to poke my head out of the burrow and check the weather. For the first time in a long time, I scent hope in the air.

For all our sakes, I hope this is truly the case.

Here’s to a better 2019 for us all.

 

A Serious Question about POV

For some reason–one I do not question but am deeply grateful for–recently people have been popping in to tell me how much they love the Sixth Sense series. They’ve also been sharing their hopes that I will finish it–and it is my intention to do so.

Without belaboring the point, I have started several drafts of the next installment, Deal with the Devil. For a variety of reasons, I haven’t gotten past the first couple of chapters. Personal losses, subsequent depression, and a demanding day job have all been factors in my inability to move forward with the planned finale–as well as fears that no one will be interested after such a long delay–including my publisher.

At least I can lay to rest the worries about fans of the series. Your words of encouragment are a balm to a weary soul, thank you.

But recently, it occurred to me there may be another issue tripping me up right now: decidind which POV to write in.

The first two books were written in limited third: Jerry/Lee’s POV. This meant that if Jerry wasn’t in the scene, the audience didn’t see it. Much like the Harry Potter books–if Harry wasn’t in the scene, the action took place “offstage” as it were.
The the third book of the series, Truth and Consequences, was written in first person from “Lee’s” POV. I felt this was necessary because of the plot. Without spoiling anyone, the story simply worked best from that POV/perspective.
 
It had long been my plan to write the final book from both Lee’s and Flynn’s perspective–in part because I planned to separate them for part of the story, but also because I felt it was time to get John Flynn’s POV as well. Having changed POV partway through the series, I wasn’t too concerned about doing it again. But I’ve drafted two openings to Deal with the Devil, and to be honest, continuing to write from first person Lee’s POV feels more natural.
 
How important is it to you as a reader to get Flynn’s POV at this point? And out of curiosity, is first person POV a deal-breaker for you?
Please weigh in with your thoughts. I’d really like to know.

Take a Deep Breath. It will Be Okay.

It’s been an unusual year, to say the least.

Those who know me might realize I’ve been pretty quiet. I won’t go into details, but 2017 has been pretty rough on me. Suffice to say that you know it’s bad when someone’s personal life is so stressful and traumatic, it deadens the blow of watching your own democracy turn into a banana republic.

You know that scene in The Sound of Music where Christoper Plummer and Julie Andrews sing about how somewhere in their youth or childhood, they must have done something good in order to wind up together? Yeah, I keep wondering what I did that was bad to get this kind of karmic retribution. 🙂

I’ve written scarcely 2 K in the whole year. I was supposed to have the final installment of The Sixth Sense series finished and submitted in March of 2017, and it just didn’t happen. I’m so far behind on my deadlines I’m afraid no one will want to read it when I finally get it written–which of course makes it harder to sit down with the characters to tell their story.

I’ve also seriously considered giving up writing altogether. The stresses of the last year might have been extreme, but they aren’t going to change very much in the coming year. My ability to produce books on a rapid, timely basis isn’t likely to improve. And while I got a tremendous kick out of Wil Wheaton sharing my Sense of Entitlement post, it made me realize my real claim to fame might be having written a blog post that went viral rather than being an author. Face it. I’m a hobbyist with dreams of being able to retire on my writing and that’s never going to happen. And as long as I have a demanding day job, my ability to write will be limited to what I have the time and energy to do.

But maybe that’s okay.

I have a wonderful mare. Big, beautiful movement, magnificent presence–the kind of horse that made people stop and stare as you went past with her. But she’s nearly died three times due to colic, once having to have emergency surgery that put her out of the show circuit for over a year. My own work schedule meant that I could only get to a competition once or twice a year. But that was okay. Because for that one day, she got to show the world her potential. And I knew at home we were doing first level dressage and that she could clear a  4×4 oxer with ease. And while I never got to do all the things I wanted to do with her before I had to retire her, she is still alive. And I know how amazing she is.

It took me a long time to be comfortable with that. To recognize that was enough for us.  That given everything we’d overcome and survived, it was a bloody precious gift just to be able to walk out into pasture and see her lift her head and whicker at my arrival.

But I haven’t gotten there yet with the writing. I still feel that unless I’m producing a story a quarter (something that is never going to happen), no one will know I exist. No one will be excited for a new Sarah Madison story. At the same time, I also feel that disappearing for good would be no big loss. So yeah, giving it up has crossed my mind more than once this past year.

But maybe it’s okay that I write on my own schedule. I’d rather take the time to write a story I can be happy with than to try pumping out stories I don’t even enjoy creating. My life is too painful right now to add more stress to it by killing the one thing that has brought me joy. I’ve been reading a lot lately about how if you’re not cranking them out, there is something inherently wrong with your process and any story that is taking you too long to finish should be abandonned for one you can punch your way through. Maybe there is some merit in that. But I know when you run the pump while the creativity well is dry, you can burn up the motor.

Anyway, this is a long drawn-out way of saying that I was considering closing the door on writing. But the truth is, I’m not going to stop writing stories, so I might as well publish, right? It’s just going to have to be at my own pace.

And if you think that an encouraging word at the right time doesn’t make a difference, you’re wrong. I woke up this morning to over 20 notifications from Twitter. What the heck? I discovered that Dianne from It’s About The Book listed Unspeakable Words as one of the best books she’d read in 2017. You should check out the post. There’s a lovely review but I am also in some pretty exhalted company. 🙂

Maybe it will be like showing my horse. I might not achieve everything I want to in the time I have, but it’s a miracle just to be there.

I guess I should get back to work on that next Sixth Sense book, right?

A Boys of Summer Christmas Short Story

A few Christmases ago, I wrote a short epilogue for The Boys of Summer. I ran across it again today, and decided it would be fun to share again this Christmas.

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.

The Boys of Summer

David McIntyre has been enjoying the heck out of his current assignment: touring the Hawaiian Islands in search of the ideal shooting locations for a series of film company projects. What’s not to like? Stunning scenery, great food, sunny beaches…and a secret crush on his hot, ex-Air Force pilot, Rick Sutton.

Everything changes when a tropical storm and engine failure force a crash landing on a deserted atoll with a WWII listening post. Rick’s injuries, and a lack of food and water, make rescue imperative, but it takes an intensely vivid dream about the war to make David see that Rick is more than just a pilot to him. Will David gather his courage to confess his feelings to Rick—before it’s too late?

Finalist in the 2013 Rainbow AwardsNominated Best Historical in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice AwardsSelected as a Best Read in 2013 by Jessewave and a Top Pick Read by The Romance Reviews. Winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards.

On: AmazonBarnes and NobleDreamspinner Press

So without further ado, here is “All I Want for Christmas”.

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 looks 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 both 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 vogue again.

David now found himself being hailed as a ‘promising’ scriptwriter after years of failed projects. Fortunately, his boss was cool about him needing flexible 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 high-def. Besides, I like looking at things through the other side of the lens.” He’d given up acting 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 part.”

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 pretense 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 this 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 response. 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 last summer. 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 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 leaned negligently in the door frame, 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 Rick’s 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 what he needed. 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, maintaining 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 questions 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 they offered me the role.”

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, he’d pictured Rick in the role as he’d written the screenplay, but he never thought Rick would actually get it–he was too new to the business. Then too, there was the fact 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 character in the dream that had made David bold enough to declare his feelings for Rick in the first place.

The tension in Rick’s shoulders 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, as though 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~