Thursday, June 27, 2013

Alice’s Alpha By Ann Gimpel

Alice’s Alpha
By Ann Gimpel

Publisher: Liquid Silver Books
ISBN: 978-1-62210-012-5

Release Date: 7/1/13
35,000 words
Spicy hot shifter ménage story

Snared by the shifter mate bond, Alice’s carefully tended wasteland of a heart cracks wide open.

Genre: Paranormal Romance
It’s 1936. Thirty-year-old Alice has almost given up finding a man. Between civil engineering and mountain climbing, her interests are so masculine she scares men away. A poor route choice lands her next to horror movie star Lon Chaney’s cabin deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She’s wary when Jed, a strikingly handsome man, offers her shelter.
By the time she discovers he’s clan leader for a pack of wolf shifters, she’s in way too deep to back out. Her carefully tended wasteland of a heart cracks wide open and all her preconceived notions shatter. Snared by the mate bond, Alice discovers passion hot enough to change her forever. She’s just getting used to Jed when his clan brothers show up, and she discovers she’s mated to all three.


…Alice sputtered. The stranger had just accused her of shoving Brent over a cliff. “How dare you?” she cried. Her face heated from more than the fire. She balled her hands into fists at her sides.
“Well.” He cocked his head to one side. “I wasn’t there. You’re on your feet, and he isn’t. What is he, your husband?”
She gritted her teeth. “No.”
“What then? Brother, cousin—”
“He’s just a friend and it’s really none of your business. If you’ll unlock the door, I’ll take my chances with the mountain lions.” Alice grabbed her lantern and her pack and strode toward the door, eying the windows as possible escape routes. They could work. She’d have to unlatch the wooden shutters, but still… “You can have my ice ax. I don’t need it anymore.”
He shot her a blinding smile. His eyes glowed like exotic gemstones. She blinked. Alice had never seen such a gorgeous man. Red-gold hair fell to his shoulders. His face was more than handsome. He had a high, broad forehead and sharply cast cheekbones. His teeth were very white and very straight. What would it feel like to run her fingers through that wonderful hair, to stroke his tanned skin?
She shook herself mentally. I have to get out of here. Alice covered the remaining distance to the door and rattled the knob. “Let me out. It’s against the law to hold people against their will.”
“You’re being hasty. I apologize for suggesting you injured your friend. Please,” he gestured toward a carved wooden sofa with colorful cushions in front of the fireplace, “I’m not being a very good host. Have a seat. Let me get you a drink.”
“I don’t think so.” She curled her fingers around her pack straps. A spicy, exotic scent filled her nostrils. It seemed to be coming from him. A cross between bay rum and musk made her nose twitch. Alice tried to cling to fear and outrage, but felt them slipping away. She took a step closer to him before she realized what she was doing. Her gaze fixated on his lips. She wanted to feel them pressed against hers, needed to lose herself in his arms.
What’s wrong with me? How could I be so attracted to him? She struggled to regain her equanimity, but her body had other ideas. Her gaze swept lower. When she realized she was staring at his crotch, she got hold of herself. Heat flooded her face. She hoped he hadn’t noticed the direction of her gaze.
“Please,” he repeated and extended a hand, “I don’t even know your name. Like I said, I haven’t been much of a host.”
Alice swallowed hard. It didn’t make sense, but she wanted to run into his arms and wrap hers around his lithe frame to see what it would feel like right up against her. Her nipples hardened again, and her breath caught in her throat. It was like he was making love to her from ten feet away. For one wild moment, she wanted to strip her clothes off and…
“Here.” He walked to her and pried her pack and lantern out of her hands. She tried to hang onto them, but her fingers wouldn’t cooperate. Close like that, his lush scent surrounded her. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Christ! For the first time she understood the phrase “It smelled good enough to eat.” To her horror, Alice’s lips parted and turned upward, as if she were waiting for a lover to kiss her. What the hell is happening to me?
She shook her head hard and took a couple steps away from him and her pack. She couldn’t think. Hell, she could barely breathe. Her crotch was wet; it throbbed with need.
“Your name?” He set her pack next to a chair and moved to her side.
“Alice.” Her throat was thick. It was hard to talk.
He tugged her wet jacket off her shoulders and draped it over a chair. “Well, Alice, how about if you sit by the fire and I’ll bring you something to drink. Food, too, if you want. Your boots look pretty wet. Maybe you’d like to take them off.”
She tried to tell him that no, she needed to leave, but the words wouldn’t come. There was a part of her—the wise part—that wanted to run like hell. The rest of her couldn’t have left if someone lit a firecracker under her ass. She breathed in his scent. It was like a balm, heating her nerve endings and soothing her fears at the same time.
She watched his graceful form move to the kitchen alcove. He had a high, tight ass and long legs. She wondered again what his skin would feel like beneath her fingers. Alice caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror mounted to one side of the fireplace. Spots of color rode high on both cheeks. Her eyes glowed. Her nipples were fully visible pressed against the fabric of her wool shirt, and so were the curves of her breasts. She bit her lower lip and chastised herself for not wearing a bra. She’d hoped Brent might get … ideas if he could see more of her body. Except she flaunted it right and left, and he never did. And now here she was with a stranger—
Am I so desperate I don’t care anymore, just so long as someone has sex with me? It didn’t feel like that, though. Not really. It was more like she’d known Jed in some other lifetime and had some sort of bond to him. Alice rolled her eyes. I’m being ridiculous. It’s just nerves and exhaustion catching up.
“Here you go, sweetheart.” He pressed a glass into her hand and set a plate on the coffee table near the fireplace. “Come on. Sit. You must be exhausted.”
Alice sat, but it was because her legs didn’t want to hold her up anymore. To her surprise, he knelt and unlaced her boots. Once both layers were loosened, he tugged first one and then the other off. “Just as I thought,” he murmured. “Your socks are soaked.” He stripped them gently off her feet and hung them over the table’s edge nearest the fire.
It did feel good to get her heavy boots off. Alice wriggled her toes. They were cold. Almost as if Jed could read her thoughts, he rubbed her feet between remarkably warm hands. Her body sank back against the cushions. She took a sip of whiskey; it burned all the way to her stomach. She followed it with another. Her free hand moved with a will of its own. She yanked it back before it buried itself in Jed’s shiny hair.
He pushed back on his heels and rose in a single, fluid motion. In moments he was back, kneeling by her feet. He wrapped a warm towel around them. She moaned softly. “Where’d you get that? Surely you don’t have electricity all the way out here.”
He laughed. “It was on a hook by the fireplace. The fire warms the stones so anything hanging next to them gets toasty.” His blue gaze latched onto hers. “Relax. Everything will be all right. Have a bit more whiskey. It’s from Ireland and more than twenty-five years old. There’s bread and cheese on the table.” He winked at her, a slow, lascivious wink, which made her heart beat faster. “Let me spoil you a little.”
“I really shouldn’t.” Her words lacked conviction. She knew it. Worse, so did he.
He rubbed her feet through the towel and then wrapped it around one while taking the other in his hands. He massaged her weary arches and the ball of her foot with knowing fingers. “Do you always do what you should?”
The sexual innuendo was unmistakable. Her swollen pussy lips and clit thrummed with tension. She took another sip of whiskey, letting it roll around on her tongue. It was rich and oaky, like liquid gold. “Usually.”
“What’s that saying? Good girls never have any fun.” His fingers worked her toes, and then shifted to the top of her foot and her ankle.
“I climb mountains. Most girls don’t do that.” Her head buzzed pleasantly from the liquor. I should eat something. If I don’t, I’ll be drunk in no time. Alice leaned forward and took a slice of cheese from the blue earthenware plate on the table in front of her. She wrapped a piece of bread around it and took a bite. The bread was flaky and fresh. It tasted homemade.
The longer he worked on her feet, the more she wanted him. Alice was mystified. She’d masturbated her lust away before, but what was happening to her now was in a whole different league. She’d never felt she’d die if she didn’t come. It didn’t take much to imagine those strong hands moving up her calves, settling between her legs, and… Her hips twitched. She covered the involuntary motion by shifting her position on the couch.
“I was talking about fun, not mountaineering.” He rubbed the spaces between her toes with gentle strokes.
“But they’re the same.” Her face heated again. The special place deep inside her ached to be filled. She wished she knew more about sex. It just wasn’t the sort of thing people ever talked about, though. She’d hunted down medical texts in the library, but they hadn’t been terribly helpful, other than giving her names for intimate body parts.
“There’s more than one way to have fun.” Jed wrapped the foot he’d been working on in the towel and switched to the other. “Is it still warm enough, sweetheart? Would you like me to get another?”
“No, really, I’m fine.” Alice was flustered—and so aroused she couldn’t think. She rubbed her thighs together. Maybe there’d be some way she could sneak off to the privy. Her head would be clearer if she made herself come. She drank some more whiskey. Between that and his suggestive comments about good girls and fun, the sensitive nub between her legs throbbed mercilessly.
She settled into the feel of his hands on her flesh. Her feet really were tired. The heavy, two-layer mountaineering boots didn’t have much give to them. They were made by a German manufacturer, and the standing joke in the climbing community was you had to adapt to them because they’d never bow to you. The next time she raised her glass, she was surprised to find it was empty. Alice set it on the table and leaned back against the cushions.
“Would you like more?” His voice was rich and smooth, just like the whiskey.
She shook her head. “I’ve probably had more than enough. I—” Alice stifled a gasp. He’d bent his head and taken her big toe in his mouth. He sucked gently, and then ran his tongue down the underside of her foot. Her hips writhed against the sofa cushions. His mouth moved to her second toe and he sucked harder. He ran a nail down the underside of her foot, and then did it again.
Heat roared through Alice. Her arousal from moments before was nothing compared with what was happening to her now. Her thighs fell open. Fingers moved between her legs. Momentarily confused, she was horrified to discover she’d jammed a hand atop her vulva and was rubbing her clit through layers of pants. She tried to drag her hand away, but her body had other ideas. It wanted to come. Had to have release or she’d die.
Her face heated with lust and humiliation. She glanced at him. One of his hands was buried in his crotch. The swell of an erection tantalized her and made her even hotter. He must have sensed her gaze on him because he raised his face from her foot. “Just let it happen, sweetheart,” he murmured, voice raspy with passion. “We needed to start somewhere. If you were any closer to coming, you’d be there. Go on, rub yourself. Or,” something feral and untamed blazed from the depths of his blue eyes, “I can do it for you.”
About the Author 
Short Bio:

Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent.  Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing.  A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Several paranormal romance novellas are available in e-format. Three novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search, and Psyche's Promise are small press publications available in e-format and paperback. Look for two more urban fantasy novels coming this summer and fall: Fortune’s Scion and Earth’s Requiem.

A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pride Master by H.C. Brown

Pride Master by H.C. Brown
Fairies & Fangs Book 1
 Dragged into a future realm Leo Marshal’s erotic dreams become a reality. Has he found his found his dream lover, and Master in Ashrin of Ecatnie Pride? Life is vastly different in this new sensual world of sex and discipline. The only problem is, Leo is afraid Ashrin will love him . . . to death.

      "You belong to me, Leo."
The voice spilled over him like liquid silk; the man's face a dark shadow in the twilight. Leo lowered his head to nuzzle the hairless balls, to drink in the rich, hypnotic scent he craved. Under his palms, strong thigh muscles tensed, moving under sweat-soaked skin. Leo moved his mouth, pressing kisses up his lover's long, hard shaft. Strong fingers twisted in Leo's hair, dragging his mouth to the weeping slit.
      "Open your mouth; suck me." The deep, sensual voice commanded.
Leo swiped his tongue across the tip, the familiar, rich, musky flavor bursting across his tongue. His heart clenched; he loved this man with a soul-destroying passion. This man completed him. His dream lover, his ultimate fantasy. Leo moaned in bliss. He couldn't wait to taste him again and lunged forward to slide his tongue across the velvet shaft.
    I don't know your name. Tell me your name.
The bed began to lurch and roll. The dream faded and he awoke achingly hard and frustrated. Damn it. Why do I always have the same dream?
      "Winds of up to one hundred and fifty miles an hour . . . ."
      Leo Marshall lifted the baseball cap off his eyes and yawned. What was that?
Stretching, he eased out of the chair and pulled up his fishing rod. The balmy summer day had vanished, hidden behind a violent, black storm front. Clouds of every shade of grey charged across the sky. An icy wind cut through his t-shirt and whipped the once glassy, blue ocean into angry, white caps. In the distance, lightning brought flashes of the coastline, misshapen behind a wall of torrential rain.
Fuck. Leo secured his belongings and ducked inside the cabin. On the twoway, he could hear the Coastguard giving out warnings. He radioed in his details and position.
"You won't make it to Harper's Peak; didn't you hear the warnings?" came the response. "You will have to try and ride it out. We have your position. Do you have a satellite beacon?"
      Leo ran a hand through his hair. "Yes, I do, thank God."
The Coastguard signed off and Leo stood transfixed, watching the sea join the inky blue of the sky and close in around him, plunging him into twilight. The Laura Jane rolled and dipped, huge waves crashing over her bow. Leo dragged on his life jacket and pulled his way to the stern to up anchor. Wind tore off his baseball cap, dragged his long hair from its binding and whipped it across his eyes. Brushing at his face, he looked up at the savage sky; his eyes widened. "Holy fuck."
Highlighted by blanket lightning, a funnel rose from the sea. The awesome beast swirled high into the clouds and danced across the ocean like a giant hydra. Long trails of water undulated from its twisting neck with gaping maws. The wind roared, lashing salty rain into his face and tearing at his clothes with icy fingers. Leo dropped the anchor on the deck and battled his way back to the cabin. I've got to get out of here. He depressed the start button on the engine, once, twice.
He ran his arm over his face, swiping at seawater stinging his eyes, and tried again. "Come on girl."
The motor caught and burst into life. Leo laughed in triumphant desperation and fought frantically to turn the craft around. A great surge of boiling water picked up the Laura Jane and dragged the small craft up to the crown of a gigantic wave. Leo clung to the wheel, water swirling in the cabin up to his knees. The boat hovered on the crest then surfed down the shimmering wall at world record speed. Leo looked down the face of the twenty-foot wave and gasped. I'll never out run it.
The boat crashed into the foaming water, bobbing like a cork. It lurched to one side and the crab basket and fishing tackle slammed against Leo's legs. In his hands, the slippery wheel fought against him, spinning one way and then the other. The bow dipped sharply and the propeller broke free of the waves, the engine screaming in protest. The sea roared its discontent, and before him, a whirlpool opened up, a giant vortex sucking everything to oblivion. Leo swallowed, fear closing his throat, ears deafened with the roar that sounded like a freight train. The Laura Jane lay on its side, dark, swirling water pinning it in its embrace. Whipped into a giant centrifuge in hell, Leo joined the speeding procession of marine debris. Above, a mountain of spinning, black water, below, a swirling orifice of black and green sank down to the depths of hell.
Leo clung to the cabin door, his legs floating in midair. The howl of a thousand devils shrieked in his head. The roof of the cabin ripped off in a whine of twisted metal. He looked up one last time, seeking the heavens. Within the madness, a strange calmness enclosed him. His fingers grew numb and slipped off the cabin door. Goodbye, Mom and Dad.

Pride Master’s Slave by H.C. Brown

Pride Master’s Slave by H.C. Brown
Fairies & Fangs Book 2
At midnight on All Hallows Eve, the Gates between the realms are wide open. Good and evil in equal measure seek to slake their desire. Be careful for what you wish for Humans, once the Gates shut, there is no going back.
At midnight on All Hallows Eve, the Gates between the realms are wide open. Good and evil in equal measure seek to slake their desire. Be careful for what you wish for Humans, once the Gates shut, there is no going back.
Chase Drake curled his fingers tighter around the steering wheel. The sleek
Mercedes' headlights picked up the white line down the center of the road but little else. His ears still rang from the insipidly happy voice from the G.P.S. Damn, stupid woman had sent him into a field and told him he was at his destination. He had little choice but to keep heading north.
An hour later, the busy motorway and streams of traffic were a distant memory. The narrow road, flanked on each side by the odd, stark, trees was as quiet as a cemetery. Chase swore colorfully and pulled off the road. I'm fucking lost—great.
Leaving the engine running, he turned on the interior light, and then searched the glove box until he found the map. He spread it across the steering wheel. After turning it around several times, he traced a finger along the line that marked the highway. The directions from the helpful guy at the last gas station ran through his head.
"It's easy; take the M3 to Salisbury and just follow the signs for Stonehenge. There's accommodation available about two miles away in the town of Amesbury."
      Chase switched off the light and peered into the darkness. "What damn signs?
I've been on this road for over an hour."
He folded up the map, stuffed it back into the glove box and sat back, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. He glanced at the clock in the dashboard; hell, it was only 6:30 p.m. and already pitch black. What happened to the twilight? Isn't England world renowned for twilight . . . or was that Scotland? Beats me. He squared his shoulders.
Make a decision man; go back, or stay on this road.
This All Hallows was important to him; he had decided to come out and tell the world he was gay. The decision to travel from his home in California and begin his new life on Samhain had been an easy one. He had made his wish to Samhain at nightfall. Tomorrow morning, he would stand at Stonehenge with fellow Pagans. To watch the sun break over the horizon would finally free his mind of any lingering doubts. He would leave with a new resolve to follow his heart. Carrying the embarrassment of being a virgin at twenty-four would soon become a distant memory.
A flicker of light far in the distance caught his attention. Chase put the car into drive and with a crunch of gravel, headed slowly toward the light. The road wound through hills and valleys, diminishing until only a cart track remained. He drove on, confidant the remote light was a beacon to guide his way.
Without warning, the Mercedes groaned to a standstill, and then hissed like a giant reptile. In the headlights, steam rose and billowed out from under the hood, curling and twisting before the wind carried it way. Chase turned the key in the ignition—nothing. Damn rental cars; they're all the fucking same. What else can go wrong?
He reached in his shirt pocket for his cell phone and flipped it open. Chase stared at the message on the display in disbelief. "No signal—what do you mean, no signal?" He pushed the cell phone back into his pocket and grunted with disgust.
Chase shivered; the temperature inside the car had dropped considerably without the benefit of the heater. He reached into the back seat for his overcoat and turned back in time to see the headlights slowly fade and then blink out completely.
Shit, shit, shit.
Darkness suffocated him in a cloak of black velvet. Wind buffeted the car, showering it with dry grass and leaves, the noise like sharp talons clawing over metal.
Immediately, his mind tormented him with images of ghouls and demons, dragging him from the car to steal his soul. A loud bump sounded on the roof, and his heart missed a beat. He swallowed with visions of an axe murderer on the roof, swinging a bloody, dismembered head. He gave himself a mental shake. Stop acting like a girl.
Chase searched the darkness for the comfort of that elusive, single light—a torch, he'd imagined, as he'd driven toward it. There, at the top of the hill, the light paused as if waiting for him to follow. He had to make it to Stonehenge. Even if he had to walk. Taking a deep breath, Chase dragged on his coat, then grabbed his backpack and climbed out of the car. He glanced furtively at the roof and chuckled as he saw the low hanging branch above it, no doubt the cause of the earlier noise. "I gotta stop watching horror movies."
Under the full moon, the countryside, dressed in every shade of gray, appeared surreal. A line of trees in the distance snaked along a wide, black river dancing with a flotilla of ghostly boats formed by moonbeams. Above him, the ink-blue sky sparkled with a thousand diamond-like stars, not one cloud masking its beauty.
Chase pulled his coat around his body to fasten the buttons. Shivering, he reached into his pockets for his gloves. The wind buffeted him, sending icy fingers through every gap in his clothing. He took the flashlight from the backpack and surveyed the area. The river ran adjacent to the road to Stonehenge. He remembered reading somewhere how the builders of Stonehenge used it to carry pillars to the ancient site. If he walked toward the light and kept the river on his right, he should run into the monument eventually. He slung his backpack over one shoulder and followed the path. I wish I brought my iPod.
The cart track diminished with every step and finally disappeared beneath the thick tussocks of grass. Chase hugged his body. The icy chill had permeated every stitch of clothing. His teeth chattered like some bad castanet player. If I don't find shelter soon, I'll die of exposure.
He scanned the area. The moon sat high in the sky like an old-fashioned gas light, changing everything it touched to silver. Ahead of him loomed a group of trees, their late-autumn leaves rustling eerily in the wind. In the moonlight, the blackened trunks stood like sentries, dressed in shadow cloaks, guarding the entrance to a dark glade. They used to put crypts in the woods, or bury murderers in unconsecrated ground. This would be the perfect place for a vampire's lair.
Chase shuddered, tentative of his next step. Coward. He stared at a dark gap in the trees and turned his head from side to side, certain he could hear muttering. Before he could blink an eye, a colony of bats flew out from the trees and swirled around him. The flap of a hundred, featherless wings broke the silence of the night. He fell to the ground and covered his face, his heart pounding against his ribs.
      "Are you injured?"
Chase raised his head and stared into the face of the cloaked man kneeling beside him. He reared back in shock. "Where the fuck did you come from?"
"I came from the woods. I'm sorry to startle you." The stranger helped Chase to his feet and stared at him in silence.
Growing uncomfortable beneath the man's steady gaze, Chase brushed the leaves off his clothes. He turned to face the man and offered his hand in greeting.
"Chase Drake."
"I'm called Si." He clasped Chase's arm. "I must say I'm happy that you've answered Dracu's summon this eve."
Chase shrugged to re-position his backpack. It was good to meet someone else in this God forbidden place, even if he spoke a load of nonsense."Dracu? I'm not familiar with that name."
      "Dracu is our Master. Tonight, we celebrate All Hallows." He inclined his head.
"If you aren't here for the celebration, why are you here?"
Did his eyes glow red just then? Somewhere in the distance, a dog or perhaps a wolf, howled repeatedly, drawing Chase's attention. Ice-cold shivers slithered down Chase's spine. Bloody scenes from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre mixed with Alien's man-eating extraterrestrials played in his head. Facing Si, he stared into his eyes; his dark pools reflected only the moonlight. You're imagining things again.
      He swallowed the instinct to run and forced a smile ."I'm here to celebrate All
Hallows too. I came from California. Tomorrow will be a new beginning for me."
 "How so?" Si walked toward the clump of trees.
Chase fell in step beside him. "I'm gay, and after I see the sunrise at Stonehenge, I'm shouting it to the world. I'm sick of living a lie. After tonight, I'll never be ashamed again. In fact, just thinking about coming out, here at Stonehenge, makes me damn proud to be gay."
"I'm happy too." Si chuckled. "Tonight, my Master may include me in his final selection."

End of the Line by Ash Penn

Book One in the Dark Love Series.
Bookworm David knows the difference between fantasy and reality...until he meets Alex.
Orphan and loner David Greene has always found solace in the dark romance written by his great-grandmother. The book and a crumbling old house on the edge of town are all that remains of his ancestry and the family he never knew. But when David meets Alex, the new owner of the house, his world spins out of control.
Alex is every bit of man and mystery David could have conjured in his wildest erotic dreams, and he is drawn into a strange romance where weirdness becomes the norm. He even begins to sense the spirit of Vincent, the novel’s mysterious anti-hero, who issues a warning about the dangers of involving himself with Alex.
As Alex begins to manoeuvre and manipulate David’s empty life, the question soon becomes not who is Alex, but what is Alex? And once the truth is out David discovers that the fictional world of his great-grandmother’s novel was never quite so fictional after all.


"Mind if I join you?"
The soft male tones that caressed David’s eardrums were far too close for the question to be directed at anyone else. He looked up from the depths of page eighty-two and into eyes as blue as a perfect summer’s day. Unexpected heat flooded his cheeks. He adjusted his glasses and scanned the array of empty Formica tables and chairs around them.
"Uh, no, I guess I don’t mind," David replied, puzzled. Not that it mattered. He’d be leaving right after he’d finished his coffee.
"Great." The guy offered a dazzling smile. Twin dimples etched perfect hollows in his cheeks. Why this beautiful man should seem so pleased about being granted permission to sit with him wasn’t something David wanted to contemplate.
"What you reading?" the stranger asked, taking a seat at the opposite bench. Completely flustered, David had forgotten about the novel in front of him. By the time he thought to look down, the book was being drawn away from him across the table. He lunged, swiping the book closed and into the bag at his side before the guy got a chance to spy the cover.
"It’s nothing," he blurted out. "Just a novel."
"Just a novel?" A spark of humour lifted the stranger’s tone.
"Yes." David shifted in his seat. "I like to read."
The guy shrugged beneath a shabby leather jacket that looked as though it had led a full and active existence. "That’s nothing to be ashamed of. I read too."
David didn’t for a moment believe someone as good-looking as this man bothered to read anything past a car manual, and certainly not romance novels. "What do you read?"
The guy’s lips tilted into a smile. "Menus, mostly." He reached for the laminated board on a stand between them. "By the way, what’s your name? I’m Alex."
Since when had this turned into the kind of conversation where first names were exchanged? The guy had asked to share the table, not life stories. Still, it was a small thing to ask, and David didn’t see any real reason not to answer. For a fraction of a second, he contemplated giving a fake name. Something like Frazer, or Zane. Something interesting and exotic, something the complete opposite of who he actually was. But then, when he stopped to contemplate why exactly he’d want this Alex to think better of him, he couldn’t come up with a reason. Not one he’d accept anyway.
"It’s, um, David," he said eventually.
"Okay, um, David." Alex lowered the menu. His blue eyes loomed closer. "You got a…um, boyfriend?"
David heard the question clear as day, and experienced the shock as vividly as if he’d stuck his finger in an electrical socket. Why would this guy—a complete stranger—ask such a thing? No one had accused him of being gay since his schooldays. He couldn’t understand what he’d done to be accused of it now. "Excuse me?"
Alex set down the menu. "I’ll take that as a no." He glanced over his shoulder at the waitress attending to another diner a couple of tables away. "Yo, sweetheart." He clicked his fingers. All four heads in the place swivelled their way. "Over here."
"Wait your turn, sweetheart," the waitress called back, busy writing in her pad.
"I think I should go." David zipped up his bag. How dare this person assume such a thing about him? What a ludicrous question to ask a stranger.
"You’ve not touched your coffee." He nodded at the still full mug sat on the table.
David glared back. "It’s cold."
"I’ll get you another. I don’t like to eat alone. Oh, hey—"
David rose.
So did Alex. "At least let me buy you lunch, if only to apologise."
"For what?"
"For my uncouth manners. I’m new around here and I don’t spend much time in company. Sometimes I say the first thing that comes into my head. And when I do it’s usually wrong. You got any idea how many people I’ve already pissed off and I’ve only been in town a month?"
David couldn’t resist asking, "How many?"
Alex puffed out his cheeks, pressed his palms together then drew them apart like an angler measuring the size of an elusive fish. Then he pushed them together again, as if in prayer. "Please take pity on this tactless, friendless out-of-towner by allowing him to buy you lunch?" He lowered his hands and slid the menu across the table. "Please, order anything you like. It’s on me."
David still hesitated. He didn’t believe Alex wasn’t used to being around people. Men like him were never short of friends. Men like him didn’t buy lunch for men like David. Not unless they were desperate for company. Well, he had said he was new in town, so maybe that was exactly what Alex was. Desperate. David had already spent most of his wages this week on his roommate’s slice of the rent. Why he bailed Gemma out so often he wasn’t sure, but his stomach rumbled its hunger and Alex’s eyes kept getting bluer.
"All right." He resumed his seat. "I could manage a sandwich." And while he was at it he could put this guy straight about his sexuality too.
"A sandwich! No way. Go for something hot and delicious, like yourself." An odd sparkle danced in the man’s eyes. It wasn’t quite mockery, though David never imagined he’d make even lukewarm on anyone’s heat scale. "What? You’re offended I paid you a compliment?"
"No." David grabbed the menu, grateful for an excuse to hide his blushes—his cheeks the only part of him likely to be considered hot. So much for reaffirming his heterosexuality.
"You looked in a mirror recently? I mean properly?"
David shook his head from behind the menu. He had access to the bathroom mirror at the flat, which he used for shaving and combing his hair. Not for preening. He left preening to men with something to preen over. Like Alex.
"May I?"
David peered over the menu, curious now despite himself. "May you what?"
"Indulge me?" Alex flashed those perfect teeth again. He reached over the table, grasped the arms of David’s glasses then guided them carefully away. The world fuzzed over. "Now, if you’d quit screwing up those sexy brown eyes of yours—"
"But I can’t see."
"Wanna know what I see?"
"A squinting moron?"
A flash of white bisected the pale cream blur of Alex’s face. "Nope. Try, a handsome young guy who’s spent too long cowering behind a pair of… What are these?" He held the glasses aloft. "Titanic’s portholes?"
"They’re my prescription. I’ve always had bad eyesight. There’s nothing I can do. Can I have them back?" He held out his palm, aware of how his hand trembled, afraid this guy would toss the glasses to the ground and stamp on them like so many others had done before.