Another flash from Dev's News Flash

I send out a newsletter every month with an original piece of flash romance. Keep scrolling down for an example from last month. If you're interested in finding a little story in your inbox every now and then, all you need to do is sign up (and of course you can always unsubscribe). I've posted my privacy policy on this website but basically the only thing I'll ever send you is a little bit of news and some fiction.

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Stepping in It

 

“That sounds disgusting.” I wrinkled my nose. My sister, Annie, should know better than to ask me to something called Brunch in the Barn.

“Come on, Guy, it’ll be fun.” She poked my side in that irritating, baby sister way she has. “Hot farmers. Maybe a cowboy or two?”

“Right, because nothing shouts hot gay guys like a barnyard full of cow shit.”

“How would you know? You never leave the house. Not exactly a great strategy for meeting Mr. Right. Besides, I didn’t expect to find true love at a cooking class and yet here we are.” She waved her new, shiny engagement ring at me.  “Maybe your plus one will be in the barn having brunch with his sister too. You won’t find out unless you try.”

I’d known it was a losing argument from the beginning. Annie had flown in for the weekend to rope me into wedding planning. I hadn’t seen her since Christmas and if she wanted brunch in a cow shed, I’d pull on my oldest, grossest shoes and go along. And she was right about the getting out of the house part. My last relationship fell apart a week after I started freelancing from home. These days a trip to the grocery store felt like an adventure.

I drove, and she navigated. The road wound through vast green fields. We passed maybe a dozen decrepit barns with peeling paint and missing boards. Ancient pickups and mud-encrusted farm machinery dotted the front yards. Every now and then I caught the distinctive smell of fresh manure, and my appetite disappeared.

But when we finally arrived at the right farm, the freshly painted farmhouse and pristine red barn weren’t anything like I expected. Late model cars filled the drive and people clustered in small groups. Everyone held a mug of something and they all looked happy.

“This is so cute, even better than on the webpage.” Annie grinned at me. “Oh, Guy, thanks so much for coming.”

My mood lightened when I saw how happy she was. Maybe this was a good idea after all. I climbed out of the car with my heart full. We started up the drive toward the other happy, smiling people.

That’s when I stepped in it.

Cow shit, chicken shit, even pig shit – I’d been expecting all of those. But instead I felt that familiar urban squish and smelled the stink as my shoe slid across a big, fresh pile of dog crap.

I swore loudly enough that a few of the cheery brunch folk looked over. Someone laughed. Someone else groaned in sympathy. Too many people watched as I scraped my shoe against the gravel. No wonder I never left the house.

“Come on over and we’ll get that cleaned up.” A man’s voice cut through the crowd.

I looked up to see a vision beckoning to me from beside the farmhouse where he stood holding a hose. He was tall and lean with curly dark hair and bright blue eyes. He smiled, and my knees went weak.

“Go on. You need to wash that off.” Annie poked me in the ribs and I realized I was just standing there, gaping at him. I closed my mouth and limped over, feeling stupid and awkward and unable to take my eyes off him.

When I got closer, he patted a white plastic lawn chair. “Sit down and take off your shoe. I’ll get it cleaned up. Dog dirt, that’s what the Brits call it. Sounds much more appetizing, don’t you think?” He held out his hand and kept talking, which was great, because I’d been struck dumb. “I told Madison that if she was going to let the dogs out in the front this morning that she’d need to clean up after them. But you know how kids are.”

“Madison?” I managed to ask as I slid my shoe off and handed it to him. A little zing flew up my arm as our fingers brushed.

He gestured with my dirty shoe to a middle schooler who was passing through the crowd with a tray of muffins. She had his coloring. A blond woman holding a carafe of coffee stopped to stroke the girl’s head in a proprietary, motherly way. His family. My little vision of walking into the sunset with this gorgeous man dissolved in a surprisingly painful wave of disappointment.

I gestured to my shoe and the hose in his hand. “Thanks for cleaning that off. It’s really nice of you.”

“No problem. I’m something of a clean freak.” He grinned at me as he held the shoe away and sprayed the tread. “I doubt you’d enjoy your meal with the smell of poop wafting up from your feet.”

I looked around at the farm fields and the freshly painted barn. Very attractive as a farm, but hardly somewhere you’d expect to find a clean freak. I cocked my head and looked up at him. “Being on a farm must be a challenge.”

“Tell me about it.” He examined the dripping wet bottom of my shoe. “Did you and your wife drive out from the city this morning?”

“My sister.” I glanced at Annie, who was busy trying not to watch our interaction.

He looked me full in the face, his smile even more radiant than before. “Your sister. How nice.”

The beautiful man with a lovely wife and child held my gaze for a few more beats, then he handed back my shoe. “What a crappy start to your barn brunch experience, so to speak. Still, welcome to the farm. I’m Patrick.”

“I should have offered to clean this off myself but I’m really glad you did. As a fellow clean freak, I know what a sacrifice you made to enhance my brunching experience.” I held up the shoe in a weird little salute that only sort of reduced the tension between us. “Thank you, Patrick. I’m Guy.”

“You must be the Guy I’ve been waiting for.” He grinned.

I blinked at him. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the joke, but I was pretty sure I’d never heard it from a husband and father. Maybe he swung both ways. But even though he was heart-wrenchingly attractive, I just couldn’t see myself as anyone’s piece on the side.

I decided to act like I’d misunderstood. “Excuse me?”

He looked away. “Sorry. Just. Never mind.” He gestured to his wife and continued in a more formal tone. “You better head on over to Sue and get yourself some coffee. I hope the food makes up for the inconvenience.”

I walked away, telling myself that spending any more time with him was dangerous. That way lay heartache. I rejoined the crowd without looking back. Sue gave me coffee. I grabbed a muffin from Madison, and found Annie, whose expression was all questions.

I shook my head and mouthed, “Married.”

She scrunched up her face into a comforting look of disappointment. She’s a great sister.

Birds sang, bees buzzed, and a rooster crowed in the distance. Eventually Sue led us all to the back yard where long tables had been set between the vegetable gardens.

It was like a rustic garden party, not at all the manure scented meal I’d been expecting.

 A familiar voice from just behind my ear said, “They only do barn service in the rain.”

They? I turned. Patrick’s face was inches from mine. He smelled of soap and coffee and fresh air. He held my gaze for a long moment, then patted my shoulder and moved out of the crowd and toward the kitchen door. I stared after him.

Beside me Annie whispered, “Are you sure he’s straight?”

I shook my head. No, I wasn’t sure at all.

For the next hour, Sue and Patrick and Madison and three other clearly related children brought out heaping platters of food. Grilled vegetables, eggs, meat, sliced tomatoes, pastries, homemade bread and jam, all washed down with rich coffee and fresh cream. Annie chatted happily with the woman next to her and the couple across the table. I ate and stole glances at Patrick.

Who was often looking right back at me.

At the end of the meal the kitchen door opened, and a man stepped onto the stoop, wiping his hands on a towel. With broad shoulders and thick biceps, he was much larger than Patrick, but the similarity in coloring was striking. People around us started clapping and whistling.

Someone called, “Chef, chef.”

The man on the back stoop smiled tiredly. Sue put down a platter and stood beside him, her arm around his waist, smiling at the group of clapping guests.

Annie was looking from Patrick to the chef and back again. She turned to me and mouthed, “Brother?”

I nodded. My attention was riveted on Patrick. As I held his gaze, his smile widened. Annie had been half right. It hadn’t been in the barn, with his sister and he’d been serving, not eating brunch. But I’d found my plus one on the farm. Thank god he was just visiting for the weekend. Our first date was back in the city where I belonged.

It all goes to show, even after a shitty start, there might just be a happy ending.

The End

A Time to Plant

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Just a week ago it was quite cold and the yard was covered in snow. Today the sun shone, the temperature pushed 70 and I saw the first robin (not the first robin anyone saw this spring, just the first one I noticed). A bad mood seems impossible.

Our little community garden opens next week. It's still a while before we can plant anything less hardy than peas or spinach up here in the northwoods. But somehow that makes the gardening season even more precious.

I've been thinking about our long, dark winters and how much I treasure the warm weather when it comes. There's a metaphor in there somewhere about valuing things more when they're rare - like good friendships, exquisite meals and true love. I wish you all three, and the feeling of gratitude that comes from knowing just how precious these good things are.

Passover with Nathan and Isaac

It's Passover and I thought you might enjoy the Seder from Learning from Isaac, my Passover book from the Tarnished Souls series (available for free at Instafreebie). The Seder happens about a third of the way through the book but I think all you need to know to make sense of this excerpt is that Isaac is working his way through college as an exotic dancer and sex worker and that Nathan is his biology professor. There's a great deal of chemistry between them but they've (mostly) kept their hands to themselves so far and are determined to keep it platonic until after Nathan graduates.

 

Chapter Seven, Learning from Isaac

 

The first night of Passover happened to fall on a Sunday night at the beginning of spring break. On Sunday morning, I arrived at my mother’s house. She and Jeremiah were finishing breakfast.

Mom waved at me with her toast. “Help us finish this loaf of bread. It’s too good to throw out.”

“Coffee?” At my nod Jeremiah reached into the cupboard and produced a cup.

When I was growing up, Mom’s observance of the proscription against eating leavened bread during the eight days of Passover was spotty, at best. One of my earliest memories was of stopping for cake on the way home from my strictly observant grandparents’ Passover Seder. Now for Passover, she cleaned out the cupboards in deference to Jeremiah, who had converted to Judaism sometime in his forties. I hadn’t asked whether she still stopped for pastries when she was by herself.

My own faith was complicated. For years, I approached Judaism as an identity more than a religion. But since I had started teaching at a Catholic college, I’d found I wanted to carefully distinguish myself from my colleagues. Not that I was religious. If there was a God, I hadn’t met him. Still, I intended to survive on matzo through Passover, and gratefully accepted my mother’s delicious toast, since it was the last I’d have for over a week.

“How are you, son?” Jeremiah pounded my back.

“Great. And you?” I took the coffee he offered.

He sat down beside my mother and patted her hand. “Your mother’s as stubborn as a mule, but other than that, I’m fine.”

She handed me my toast. “Don’t try to rope poor Nathan into this. It’s between you and me.”

I reached for the butter. “You proposed again?”

He nodded. “And she turned me down, again.”

Slathering butter on my toast, I grinned at him. “She’s a lawyer. There’s no way you can make an honest woman out of her.”

Jeremiah guffawed. “You  probably have something there.”

Mom made a face. “Jeremiah Bridges, you were a lawyer before you were a judge. Don’t encourage Nathan with his lawyer jokes.”

I bit into the toast, savoring the rich, hearty taste. “So, how many tonight?”

Mom counted on her fingers. “Your Uncle Mickey, of course, and Cousin Steve with Cindy and their little girl, Kayla.”

At my groan, she admonished, “They’re not that bad.”

I snorted. “Steve’s a prig, Cindy’s dumb as a stump, and Kayla is spoiled rotten.”

Jeremiah chuckled. “Good thing there’ll be four cups of wine.”

Mom shook her head. “Grape juice this year. My friend Marla who works at Kaperman Recovery Center is sending over two Jews stuck in treatment over the holiday. I promised an alcohol-free Seder.”

I looked at Jeremiah and winked. “Maybe we should do shots before they get here.”

Mom glared at me. “Don’t even think about it.”

I gave in. “All right, all right. No booze. Tell me Cousin Leah is coming. If I have to endure Steve, it’s only fair we get his sister, too.”

Mom refilled our coffee cups. “Leah’s coming, with Pete and the children. Jeremiah met a University of Chicago visiting professor from Israel, and invited him too. An interesting man, a novelist. I think you’ll like him. And of course, you and your student.  That’s fourteen.”

Jeremiah sat back in his chair, settling his coffee cup on his prodigious belly. “Tell us about this student. Is he a dim or a bright bulb?”

The image of Isaac was sudden and vivid. I probably blushed. I know I stuttered. “Uh, he’s, um, he’s very bright.”

My mother’s eyebrows nearly touched her hairline.

I rubbed my hands together and glanced around the kitchen. “So, how can I help?”

* * * *

When the doorbell rang, my cousins, Steve and Leah, had just started their annual Passover argument about whether their mother’s matzo balls sank or floated in the soup. Aunt Deb had been gone so long that even Uncle Mickey couldn’t remember how she made the matzo balls. My mother bought hers at Manny’s Deli, and most years they float. The two strangers Marla had delivered from Kaperman watched the exchange with the dazed expressions of battle survivors. Given they were in treatment for alcohol or drug abuse, that was probably a fair description of their lives.

Uncle Mickey and the Israeli, whose name, Tzvi Nacham, Mom, Jeremiah, and I had spent the afternoon practicing pronouncing, seemed to be engaged in heated agreement about the injustice of Palestinian occupation. The kids were playing an elaborate game that mostly involved running around the house screaming. As the oldest and most obnoxious, Steve’s daughter Kayla appeared to be the ringleader. Her younger cousins, Naomi, Lilly, and tiny Seth, trailed behind in various stages of mania.

I opened the door. The only guest unaccounted for stood on the doorstep, awkwardly holding a bouquet. In a black wool coat and pressed chinos, he looked so beautiful that I had to hold on to the doorjamb to keep from touching him.

“Hey.” Isaac held out the flowers. “I wasn’t sure what to bring.”

“Thanks.” I moved to give him room to come inside. “May I take your coat?”

“Sure.” He stepped into the narrow hallway and shrugged out of his coat. Our hands brushed as I took it from him. There was something electric about it all, Isaac in my mother’s hallway, standing close enough that I could smell him. He met my eyes, and I could tell he felt it too, the intimacy of shared space and time.

He smiled. “I’m looking forward to seeing where you come from.”

I laughed. “You may not say that after you meet the family. They’re not exactly normal.”

I led him into the living room and introduced him around. Cousin Steve shook his hand in a very bankerly way, while his wife, Cindy, dithered about how nice it was to have a young adult around. Cousin Leah and her husband Pete were both more restrained and pleasant. The folks from Kaperman muttered and shuffled, and the kids careened into him.

Tzvi shook Isaac’s hand formally. “You look familiar. Perhaps I’ve seen you around the University of Chicago campus?”

I took another look at Tzvi. Had he been to the club and seen Isaac dance? Or worse? I clenched and unclenched my fists, trying to shake off a sudden need to lash out.

Isaac shook his head. “No. Must be someone who looks like me. That happens a lot.”

The Israeli gave Isaac the once-over. “I doubt that.”

Isaac’s smile was forced. He turned to my  mother. “Thank you very much for having me.”

“My pleasure.” She looped an arm through his and led him toward the dining room. “You’re sitting by me. I’d like to hear all about how things are going for you here in Chicago.”

Leah caught my eye and cocked an eyebrow.

I shrugged. I wasn’t about to tell her how complicated things were. We all followed Mom and Isaac and found our preordained places. As I settled into mine, with Tzvi on one side and Leah on the other, it clicked why Mom had insisted on putting him next to me. It was a setup. I could practically hear her thinking, “Both academics, both Jewish, they have so much in common.” Only what we had in common was the handsome young man on her right. From the way Tzvi was staring at Isaac, I was sure he’d been to the club. While he might not remember yet, it looked like he might remember soon. I’d need to quickly engage him in conversation The last thing I wanted was to embarrass Isaac in my mother’s house. Or myself, for that matter.

Mom clinked a fork against her glass. “I’m delighted to have you all here. Let’s get started, or we’ll never eat.”

My shoulders relaxed as Tzvi’s focus shifted to his prayer book.

In my grandparents’ house, the Seder meal took hours. The formal telling of the Exodus story, the songs, psalms, prayers—it all went on and on and on. I remember falling asleep before any real food was produced. My mother’s Seders preserved bits and pieces—the Israelites still crossed the Red Sea, my second cousins fidgeted and blushed through the four questions, and we all ate horseradish hot enough to make us weep, but the whole thing zipped by at record speed so that we could get on to the important things, like food and conversation.

After the Seder service, Isaac jumped up to help me serve the soup. Steam from the soup pot rose, permeating the kitchen. As we stood together ladling soup, I whispered, “So, Tzvi?”

He paled. “I don’t know, maybe. It’s not like I would remember most of them. And I don’t even register the guys who watch me dance out front.”

I winced. “Right.”

Picking up another bowl for me to fill, he looked into my eyes. “If we got involved, you wouldn’t be able to handle meeting my ex-customers, seeing how they look at me, or knowing what I might have done with them. You know you wouldn’t....”

I bit my lip, chicken soup dripping onto the stove top. “It’s new territory for me, I’ll give you that. But I don’t think it would scare me off.”

He brushed a finger along my cheek. “I got an internship with an environmental engineering firm in downtown Chicago. It starts right after graduation. Doesn’t pay much, but enough to cover my rent.”

I was puzzled by the sudden subject change. “That’s great.”

He arranged the full bowls on a serving tray. “If things go well this spring, I’ll have my loans down to a manageable level by graduation.”

I nodded, handing him another bowl. I didn’t want to think about how he was earning enough to pay off his loans now.

He gave me an exasperated look. “It means I can quit in May.”

“Thank God.” A wave of relief swept through me that was so strong I almost dropped the bowl of soup I was carrying. Even if nothing happened between us, the thought of Isaac safe felt like a miracle.

Cocking his head, he looked at me. “I still think you won’t be able to handle it.”

He picked up the tray of bowls and disappeared back into the dining room. I stared at the closed door for a long time, wondering if he was right. I returned to the task of filling bowls with clear, aromatic chicken broth and two, perfect, floating matzo balls.

During the main course—a Moroccan chicken recipe with apricots and almonds, served with beautiful red potatoes and fresh green beans—Mom turned the conversation to slavery and what it meant to be enslaved.

“For example.” She gestured with her fork at Steve. “Is the financial world enslaving us, or does money set us free?”

“It’s unfair to pick on Steve that way,” Cindy whined, batting her big blues at her husband.

Leah snorted. “The financial world enslaves us all. Take, for example, public school teachers. Pete and I haven’t had a raise since the economy tanked. And why did it tank? Because big investment companies, like my brother’s, let their own greed ruin us all.”

“Public schools,” Steve scoffed. “Why should you get a raise when all you’re doing is babysitting those kids?”

Uncle Mickey’s fists slammed against the table hard enough to make the crystal rattle. “Oh, for God’s sake, would you two stop it? Grow up, will ya?”

Jeremiah cleared his throat. He had on what Mom calls his judge face. “Historically, slavery has its roots in both economics and greed.”

One of the alcoholics spoke, her voice little more than a whisper. “I feel like I’ve been a slave to my disease.”

Her friend nodded vigorously.

Isaac spoke softly into the silence that followed. “Maybe the answer to your question is that both are true. If we’re desperate for money, it’s enslaving because of what we become willing to do to get what we need. Having enough money makes us free to choose our way in the world.”

Tzvi shifted beside me. I could almost feel the pieces snap together in his mind. His smile as he faced Isaac was cruel. “True, but financial circumstances needn’t make us prostitute ourselves.”

Isaac held his gaze. “We’re all prostitutes in one way or another. Some are simply more straightforward than others.”

I stood and began clearing plates. “So, dessert, anyone?”

Leah stood to help as well.

My mother smiled at Isaac. “You’re very wise for such a young man. What are your plans after graduation?”

Isaac’s mouth twitched, but he didn’t look at me. “Actually I’ve been accepted into graduate school in environmental engineering.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful.” She handed her plate to Leah. “Where are you going?”

He glanced down the table at Tzvi. “I have a few offers but haven’t decided yet. It depends on a lot of different things.”

She patted his hand. “I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.”

Jeremiah stood and rubbed his hands together. “I’ll have you all know I made a chocolate almond flourless torte that is out of this world. Who’s game to try?”

In the kitchen, Leah whispered, “What’s the story with your student?”

I shrugged and hurried back out to get more dirty plates.

Tzvi was standing. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Kohn, but I must be going. I have an early day tomorrow. No, no, don’t get up. I’m sure Nathan can show me where to find my coat.”

As everyone murmured good-bye, I had no choice but to follow him down the hall.

“Seder is a solemn event, don’t you agree, Nathan?” Tzvi asked as I handed him his coat.

“Of course. Although we try not to take ourselves too seriously.”

He frowned at me. “Is that why you brought your whore to Seder?”

“Get the fuck out.” I slammed the door in his smirking face.

Mom appeared beside me. “What was that about?”

“Nothing.” I leaned against the wall, trying to bring down the pounding of my heart. “He’s a creep.”

She made a tsking sound. “I was afraid he wouldn’t be your type. I do like your young man, though.”

I shook my head. “He’s not my young man.”

She patted my arm. “An environmental engineer. Very impressive.”

I rolled my eyes. “He’s twenty years younger than I am, and a student, for God’s sake.”

“Maybe we could all have dinner sometime soon.” Her heels clicked decisively as she made her way back down the hall.

I stayed leaning against the wall, nostalgic for my regular, dull life. Loneliness wasn’t really that bad, was it?

But then Isaac appeared and my heart lifted.

His smile was sad. “I’m sorry I ruined the party for you.”

“What?” I sprang off the wall. “You didn’t ruin anything.”

He shook his head. “I don’t belong here.”

I rested my hands on his shoulders. “My mother wants me to bring you to dinner.”

He brightened. “Does she? I like her.”

“She likes you, too.” I ran my hands down his upper arms. “I do, too.”

He cocked his head. “Tell your mother I’d be happy to come to dinner. After graduation.”

Footsteps approached. I handed him his coat and opened the door.

Halfway down the steps, he stopped and turned around. “Thank you for inviting me to Seder, Dr. Kohn. It was the best one I can remember.” And with that, he ran down the steps and began striding away.

Leah’s arm curled into mine. We watched together until he disappeared. Then I closed the door.

She leaned her head on my shoulder. “You like him, don’t you?”

I nodded. “It’s complicated.”

“Because he’s a student?”

I patted her hand on my arm. “For starters.”

She smiled up at me. “You’re a good guy, you know that?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I kissed her forehead.

“Thank God you don’t teach high school.” She giggled.

“I don’t know, the kids are too young, but I hear some of those teachers are hot.” I wiggled my eyebrows at her.

She pushed me. “Flatterer. He won’t always be a student, you know.”

“That’s what he says.” I let go of her arm and turned back toward the kitchen. “He also says I’m not up to it. And he might be right.”

....

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Except from Driving into the Sun

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I thought you might enjoy visiting with Joe and Dusty today

Joe’s cousin’s place was a two-story wooden house with a screened-in front porch. At this hour, most neighborhoods were quiet, but Dusty guessed that was usually true for this tree-lined lane.

Joe parked on the street. He turned to Dusty. “How you feeling?”

“Like I’m coming down and I’ll be sorry when I land.” Dusty opened the car door. He grimaced against the pain in his knee as he stood. “And stupid. I should have come with you in the first place.”

Joe opened the hatchback and picked up Dusty’s bags and the medical kit. “I’ve known a siren call or two in my life. You need help walking?”

Dusty took a step forward. His knee throbbed but held. “Your cousin’s not going to meet us with a shotgun at this hour, is he?”

Joe gave a low chuckle. “She might, if I hadn’t left a note. She’ll want to smoke you before she shoots.”

“Smoke me?” Dusty imagined some elaborate ritual with a peace pipe. But would it be a peace pipe if she then shot him?

“Sorry. Army term.” Joe started up the walk. “Sue tends to be protective of me.”

Just what Dusty needed. More angry relatives. A bird started to sing as Dusty limped after Joe. Each step echoed with a dull pain in his head. He could feel his heartbeat in the ache of his knee and the throbbing of his hand. He didn’t even want to think about all he’d lost in one night. A few fucking hours.

Joe slid a key into the door and pushed it open. He held his finger to his lips. Dusty nodded and followed him inside. The house smelled of cinnamon and old wood. Through the window, a streetlight lit the living room with silvery, ghostly light. Dusty could make out comfortable furniture. A plant hung in the window. Hardwood floors creaked under his feet.

Joe dropped Dusty’s gear in a corner and led him down the hall to a bathroom. Joe stepped in, gestured for Dusty to follow, and closed the door behind them. He flipped a switch, and Dusty blinked against the light. The room was small, white, and clean—a powder room with just a toilet and a sink.

Joe whispered, “Sit down. I want to look at that hand.”

Even at a whisper, he had a gorgeous voice. He leaned against the wall so Dusty could maneuver past. Dusty brushed against Joe, who smelled of cedar and sleep. Joe held Dusty’s good elbow and steadied him as he lowered slowly onto the toilet seat. He leaned back against the cold tank and held out his hand for Joe.

Joe gently unwrapped the bandages and turned Dusty’s hand to the light. Blood welled in the wound. Joe pushed on one side and then the other, and the pool of blood grew. He turned on the faucet. Dusty closed his eyes as Joe pushed his hand under the faucet. His hand throbbed under the cool water, and he felt the flutter of his ripped skin. The thought of his flapping skin made Dusty’s stomach lurch. He tried to concentrate instead on the warmth of Joe’s hands beneath his. When Joe shut off the water, Dusty opened his eyes.

Joe held out a pale blue washcloth. “Hold this against your palm with your other hand.”

Dusty pressed it against his palm. Bloodstains grew at the edges, where his fingers pressed into the cloth. He watched Joe bring things out of his big yellow box and line them up along the edge of the sink—hydrogen peroxide, a white bandage roll, a surgical clamp, and a rectangular foil packet.

Dusty nodded toward the foil packet. “That looks like a condom.”

Joe’s eyebrows rose. He held up the skinny rectangular package. “Who have you been dating?”

Dusty snorted. Nobody. Not in a very long time.

“It’s a suture kit.” Joe pulled on a fresh pair of latex gloves.

Dusty looked at the gloves. Right, the blood thing. “I’ve been tested. I’m negative.”

Joe knit his eyebrows. He followed Dusty’s gaze to his hands. “You already told me that. If I was seriously worried about catching a blood-borne disease, I would have double gloved. These are to keep me from inadvertently infecting you with any of the garden-variety pathogens that live on hands. The things we worried about even before HIV.”

“Oh.”

Joe produced a small glass bottle and a syringe. Dusty watched, fascinated, as he filled the syringe, tapped it, and pushed the plunger until a tiny spurt of liquid shot out the top.

“That’s quite the magic box you’ve got. Do you carry that stuff with you all the time, or is this a road-trip special?”

Joe was holding Dusty’s hand and peering at his palm. He looked up, and Dusty’s breath caught at the big, toothy smile that transformed Joe’s face. “I assembled this as part of my last job. Comes in handy.” Joe focused again on Dusty’s hand. “This will numb you up, but first it might sting.”

Dusty squeezed his eyes shut against the burn in his palm. When it eased, he opened his eyes to see Joe using the surgical clamps to push a fishhook-shaped needle through the skin of his palm.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

“Army trained.” Joe didn’t look up as he hooked the other side of Dusty’s wound, pushed through, and efficiently looped, spun, and tied off the stitch.

Right. Army. He’d said something about that before. That explained the great posture. Dusty looked away, staring at the dark blue towel hanging neatly on the wall in front of him. The clamps clicked open and closed. Dusty swore he could hear the pull of catgut or whatever it was through his skin. He needed to start a conversation, if only to hear something other than the click, swish, click of his hand being stitched up. The buzz was gone, leaving behind a dull ache in his head and a thick layer of stupid in his brain.

And the knowledge that he owed Joe a big apology. Not just for waking him in the middle of the night, but for siding with Ryder in the first place. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry about tonight.” There was so much more he should have said, but he couldn’t come up with the words. “If it makes you feel better, I lost half my cash.”

The clicking stopped. “Why would that make me feel better?”

Dusty shook his head. “Because you were right.”

“That doesn’t make me happy.” The clicking started again. “We can stop by an ATM in the morning.”

Dusty stared at Joe. Of course, a normal person would have an ATM card with a functional bank account behind it. Lose a little money, no problem, just replace it from the rainy-day fund. But then, most people hadn’t been living in a downpour for months.

He mumbled, “That won’t be necessary.”

Joe stopped sewing and looked at him. Dusty stared at the floor. After a moment, Joe grunted and went back to work. “That’s rough.”

Dusty couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Joe was clearly way too perceptive. Dusty decided to keep his mouth shut. He stared at the towel. It felt like forever before Joe let go of his hand. Dusty turned his head and looked at a precise line of black knots across his palm. “Looks like ants.”

“I’ve always thought stitches looked more like flies.” Joe used a pair of scissors to open the bandage roll. Dusty watched him wrap the gauze around and around Dusty’s hand. Despite the fact that Joe’s hands were wide, his fingers were long and thin, his movements precise. Nice hands.

When Joe finished with the hand, he put his fingers under Dusty’s chin and tipped his face toward the light. His touch was gentle, like a lover right before a first kiss. Dusty’s lips opened as he stared up into Joe’s dark brown eyes. Joe’s gaze flicked to Dusty’s mouth, then away. He wet some gauze and began dabbing at Dusty’s cheek. Dusty had forgotten about the scrape on his face. Now it stung. So much for the moment before a kiss. He bit the inside of his lip to keep from pulling away.

“Don’t worry.” Joe’s voice was soft, amused. “This won’t scar your handsome face.”

Dusty rolled his eyes. Handsome was about the last thing he’d call himself tonight. Still, he found himself smiling at the thought.

When he was through with Dusty’s face, Joe sat back on his heels. “Where else does it hurt? Your knee? If you want me to take a look at that, I can.”

Dusty glanced down at his pants—skinny jeans, now filthy, but not torn. He’d need to take off his pants if he wanted Joe to look at his knee. “It’ll be fine. Thanks.”

“Suit yourself.” Joe stood and started cleaning up.

Dusty held the sink with his good hand and stood. His hand didn’t hurt, but his face stung, his head throbbed, and he knew his knee would scream the minute he put any weight on it. He felt beaten down, and the worst part was that this time it was his own fault.

He touched Joe’s shoulder. “I guess I’m a ride board nightmare.”

Joe raised his eyebrows. “Keep your cowboy fetish in check for the rest of the trip.”

Dusty nodded. He followed Joe out of the bathroom and into the living room. His knee hurt like crazy, and he hoped they weren’t going far. The sky outside was light with the blue-gray dawn.

Joe pointed toward the couch, where a red wool blanket lay in a tangle. The pillow at the end still held a dent. “I’m up for the day. You get some rest. I’ve got some errands to run. We’ll leave when I get back.”

Dusty knew he should protest, that he shouldn’t take Joe’s bed after all he’d done for him. But every muscle in his body begged him to lie down. He stumbled to the couch and crawled under the rumpled bedding. The pillow smelled like Joe. It was oddly comforting. Dusty inhaled deeply and fell asleep.

Available at Amazon

Driving into the Sun

One of my favorite stories, out with a shiny new cover by the inimitable Jordan Castillo Price.

Two lonely men, one small car and two thousand miles

Chicago has become a dead-end for Dusty Walker. He’s lost his job, his apartment and most of his self-respect. The only choice he’s got left is to move into his parents’ basement, even though they live half a country away, didn’t approve of him when he was a teenager and are even less likely to now. 

Joe Black Eagle has his own complicated past. He made a mess of things five years ago. Since then he’s concentrated on his sobriety and earning back his nursing license. He’s about to get a fresh start with a new job in Seattle. Things are finally looking up.

Dusty has a few more mistakes to make and Joe might be just the guy to help him find his way. Provided Joe doesn’t toss Dusty out of the car somewhere in North Dakota first.

From chapter two:

When Joe finished with the hand, he put his fingers under Dusty’s chin and tipped his face toward the light. His touch was gentle, like a lover right before a first kiss. Dusty’s lips opened as he stared up into Joe’s dark brown eyes. Joe’s gaze flicked to Dusty’s mouth, then away. He wet some gauze and began dabbing at Dusty’s cheek. Dusty had forgotten about the scrape on his face. Now it stung. So much for the moment before a kiss. He bit the inside of his lip to keep from pulling away.

“Don’t worry.” Joe’s voice was soft, amused. “This won’t scar your handsome face.”

Driving into the Sun is a stand-alone, gay romance with just enough sex and a very happy ending. This full length novel was first published by Loose Id in 2014

Available on Amazon

A Valentine's Day story from the archives

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As many of you know, my monthly newsletter is called Dev's News Flash and consists of a bit of news and an original piece of flash fiction (if you're interested in signing up, you'll find a form for that on the right hand bar of this page). I thought I'd offer up last year's Valentine's Day flash. Enjoy.

The Valentine Fairy

The only thing more pathetic than being single on Valentine’s Day, was being a queer guy in his thirties in charge of the mixer at a local nursing home. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my job. But as much as the seniors I worked with busted open my heart on a regular basis, I was in the market for someone a little closer to my own age. It’s just that the Valentine’s Day Fairy hadn’t ever showed up for me.

There’s a myth out there that after a certain age, people are just done with the whole sex, love, romance part of life. That’s true for some, but plenty of the folks I know are still chasing that elusive something right up until the end. And maybe it’s because they’ve lived a long time and seen a lot of heartbreak and joy, but it seems to me that old people truly believe in love. At least more than most guys my age. Maybe even more than me.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Mary Jane approached me after the first V-Day Dance planning committee meeting. I was collecting the used coffee cups when she sidled up beside me, wearing her signature pale pink sweater.

“Joe, is there a special sweetheart you’d like to bring to the party?” She smiled up at me.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d met someone who qualified as special, much less was sweet enough to enjoy dancing to the oldies with a bunch of octogenarians. Most of the guys I knew got turned off when I even mentioned my job.

But I didn’t need to go into all that with Mary Jane, so I just beamed down at her and said something inane like that she should save a dance for me.

She patted my hand. “That’s what I thought. I’ve got a surprise for you, someone I think you’re really going to like.”

I stared down at her, trying to figure out what to say. While I stood there gaping, she gave me another wide smile and a brisk pat, then swung her walker around and walked away. When she was almost out the door, she turned and waved. “Wear that blue shirt. It really brings out your eyes.”

And with that she was gone.

Mary Jane was setting me up. That couldn’t be good. For one thing, letting her go all matchmaker on me wasn’t very professional, and for another, while I’m not exactly in the closet, I’ve also never made a thing of broadcasting my sexuality to the clientele. In my experience, the older generation wasn’t always on board with the whole gay agenda. Half my own grandparents were cool with it and the other half thought I was heading to hell, so I figured it was just easier not to deal with the issue at work.

On the other hand, the fact she wanted to find me a date was sweet as hell and I didn’t have the heart to shut her down. With any luck, whoever it was she had in mind would have better things to do on Valentine’s Day than come to an oldies but goodies party. I decided to hope for a no show.

I’d almost forgotten about it by the afternoon of the party. I took one last look around the community room and had to admit that we’d done a pretty good job on a shoestring. It’s amazing what you can do with balloons, crepe paper and a few well-placed tea lights. I straightened the collar of my best blue shirt.

Then my heart fell as I spotted a tall young woman standing in the doorway. I really hoped she was a new nurses’ aide or social worker come to join the festivities and not Mary Jane’s phantom pick for me. She was a good ten years too young and definitely on the wrong team.

A voice called, “Miranda.”

The young woman turned at the name and I recognized Mary Jane’s click-step tread coming down the hallway. I schooled my face, not wanting her to see how awkward and awful I felt. I really hoped Miranda and I wouldn’t have to have that conversation. With any luck, Mary Jane hadn’t clued her in on the plan.

I busied myself with a balloon bouquet and tried not to listen to their conversation. Mary Jane sounded peevish, though. I hoped there wasn’t a problem with the food preparation. I gave the air a surreptitious sniff but nothing smelled burned. Miranda bent down close to Mary Jane. They whispered back and forth while I fussed with the decorations, staying as far away from them as possible. It was unbelievably embarrassing. All I wanted to do was get out of there.

“Joe.” Mary Jane waved me over.

I put on my best professional smile and crossed the room, bracing myself for the awkward introduction. Which didn’t come. Instead, Mary Jane waved toward the foyer.

“My granddaughter left a tray of cookies in the car. Could you go get them, please?”

An escape. Relief coursed through me. I didn’t even stop to wonder why the granddaughter couldn’t get the cookies on her own, or try to figure out Mary Jane’s plan, but bolted from the room like it was on fire.

Outside the sun bathed the surrounding fields with a lovely late afternoon gold. The air was brisk, but not cold, and I wondered just how long I could linger before I had to go back in. I scanned the parking lot, realizing I had no idea what I was looking for.

Until I found it. A tall dark man leaned against the hood of a compact. The sunlight hit the smoke from his cigarette, lighting a halo around his head. My breath caught. He was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen.

I must have made a noise because he glanced over. He paused, as if startled to be seen. Then he smiled.

He stood and stubbed out the cigarette.

I walked a few paces closer.

His smile grew. “God, I hope your name is Joe.”

Simon, Miranda’s brother, turned out to be even sweeter than he looked. That was just the first of many holiday dances the two of us attended. Who knew the Valentine’s Day Fairy was an old lady who only wore pink? It’s never too late for love. Clap your hands if you believe.

 

The end

 

Walking the Trail

I have some friends I meet in town for coffee every Friday morning. It's about a fifteen minute walk from my house, mostly along an old railroad track that's been turned into a walking/biking/snowmobiling trail. I live in the lake country of northern Wisconsin. Back in the day, passenger train service built the tourist industry here. There used to be two trains a day from Chicago. I often think about how nice that would be. I love it here, but I'd love it even more if I was only a train ride away from the city.

Still, the old railway trail is a beautiful way to get into town and I walk it whenever possible. This morning the temperature was -10 F, colder with the wind. Nevertheless, I bundled up and trudged over, grateful for the moon on the way to town and the sun on the way home. It's such a pretty walk that about half the time I take a picture to post on Facebook. I can't tell you how many versions of this scene I have, one even made it onto the cover of Whistle Blower. And yet, again this morning I stopped to record and share it. 

There's that old homily about falling into the same pothole along the same route until you finally decide to go a different way. Maybe there's something to be learned from the opposite experience of going the same route every day and marveling at the ordinary beauty. I hope so, because I doubt I'll stop taking and sharing this picture. It just gets me every single time.

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A holiday story

Every month I send out my newsletter with some news and a piece of flash fiction. I thought I'd share this month's story with you all since it's a sweet holiday piece. Those of you who get the News Flash have already read this. If you would like to sign up to get a little love in your inbox every month, I've included a place to sign up at the end.

This year's flash is a little bit Hanukkah and a little bit Christmas. I hope you enjoy.

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Beating the Hanukkah Blues

 

The tyranny of Christmas – that’s what Mike was thinking as he crossed Main Street against the light. Once upon a time, just last week, he’d lived in New York, where the December

extravaganza was all about commerce, but where there were also plenty of dreidels and latkes to balance things out. Here in the middle of fucking nowhere Wisconsin, even the Chinese restaurants had signs saying they’d be closed for Christmas.


Last Friday, as his sister helped him load the last of his crap into a van, she’d asked him why he’d agreed to move into the wilderness. He’d made a lame joke about the diaspora but really, what was he doing? This town wasn’t exactly a mecca for gay Jews. So far it looked like Mike was the only one of either group. He sure hoped the job he’d come for was worth it.


And here he was, going into a big box store the week before Christmas. No matter where you lived, that was a crazy thing to do. But the new apartment needed stuff. With any luck, he’d be in and out in ten.


“Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas.” 


Mike jumped as a guy in a Santa suit boomed it out behind him.


Mike scowled at him, but the guy, who had very nice blue eyes under all that fake beard, just winked. “What do you want for Christmas, little boy?”


Mike stopped. Was Santa flirting with him? He peered at Santa, trying to see the man behind the costume. Despite the padding, the red suit and the fake hair, there was something very appealing about the guy.


But come on, it was Santa. Mike squared his shoulders. “The Salvation Army has a history of homophobia.”


“What can you do?” Santa shrugged. “It’s a small town.”


“Not really into Christmas.” Mike turned away. 


“So happy holidays,” Santa called.


Mike held up his hand in what he hoped was a cool, over the shoulder wave then went off in search of light bulbs, laundry soap and floor cleaner.


On the way out, Mike was disappointed to find a woman in a deep purple parka standing by the red Salvation Army bucket. It was those eyes, he decided – lapis blue with little laugh lines around them. This Santa wasn’t an old man, but he wasn’t twenty either, maybe fifteen years older than Mike, a thought that definitely clanged his daddy-kink bell. 
 

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Mike’s shoulders ached. He stood and stretched. Enough with the cleaning and unpacking, he needed to get something to eat. No use looking in the refrigerator. If there was anything there it had been left by the last tenant and Mike didn’t want to open it up to check.


He slid on his jacket, grabbed his keys and headed out to see if anything was open at ten on a Sunday night. This wasn’t the land of twenty four hour take-out, but hopefully that didn’t mean he’d be stuck with a gas station hot dog.


As Mike drove through the quiet streets, he had to admit the lights were pretty against the snow. The neighborhood looked like a Christmas card, twinkly and cheesy and sort of appealing. 


He almost didn’t see the restaurant. A converted Victorian with a small sign out front – Vitolli’s pizzeria. It didn’t look like any kind of pizza place Mike had ever seen. The yard was meticulously landscaped and fairy lights lined the windows. Old fashioned blue, red and orange lights had transformed the giant pine by the doorway into a Christmas tree.


It was too classy looking to be open this late on a Sunday in a small town, so Mike almost drove on by. But then he spotted the electric menorah in the window with five bulbs glowing, the same number of candles that would have shown from Mike’s window if he’d managed to get the menorah unpacked. Above the candles, hung a hand lettered sign saying simply, “open”.
Mike parked and climbed out of his car, feeling a little like a moth drawn to the Hanukkah not-flames-but-bulbs. The image was amplified when a blast of hot, delicious air hit him as he opened the door. 


The place was empty. Mike kicked snow from his boots but kept his jacket on.  “Hello?”


A man stepped out from the back. At the sight of him, Mike straightened his shoulders. He resisted the impulse to run fingers through his hair to try to tame the curls.


The man smiled. “Well, hello there.” 


Mike tried not to stare. The man had dark hair with just a little gray at the temples. His skin was weathered, his features rugged and his body looked lean and fit under his long, white apron.


“Um, are you still open?” Mike shifted on his feet, trying to place what was so familiar about this guy’s face.


“I can be.” The man patted the bar in front of him. “Sit here and we’ll talk while I cook.” His eyes twinkled.


Mike sat. It was the eyes, that color. 


“Excuse me, but Santa?” He stuttered.


The guy laughed. “For someone who’s not into Christmas, you’re very observant.”


“So are you. I can’t believe you remember me.” Mike stuck out his hand. “Mike Greenberg.”


“Ephraim Vittoli. It isn’t every day that a handsome stranger comes to town and insults the Salvation Army. Although I gotta say it’s refreshing to know someone cares about homophobia.” His hand was warm in Mike’s. Mike didn’t want to let go.


When he finally did, his hand tingled with the memory. He stuck it in his jacket pocket. Two days in town and he was hitting on Santa?


He gestured to the window. “Ephraim and a menorah, don’t tell me you’re Jewish. I didn’t think there were any other Jews here.”


“Jewish and Italian, raised agnostic, I’m the town odd ball.” Ephraim leaned across the counter. He held Mike’s gaze. “So, Mike, what brings you to town?”


And now Santa was hitting on him. Mike leaned in. “I came for the job but I’m thinking of staying for the company.”


“Good answer.” Ephraim slid a menu across the counter. “Wait until you try the food.”
Mike smiled. Happy holidays indeed.
 

The end

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Equity strikes again

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It can be hard to look at the news these days, at least here in the US where our political life has been taken over by trolls. So it was great to read some good news coming out of Australia, where marriage equity became the law yesterday. It got me thinking about the role of marriage in gay romance stories.

My first book, Moving in Rhythm, came out in early 2012. At that point marriage in the US was a mess, with same-sex marriage legal in a handful of states, outright banned in more and in still others "civil  unions" made up a hybrid sort of marriage-lite. It was possible for a couple to come down from Canada where they'd been legally married, and drive around down here going from married to single to married again as they crossed state lines. People in California didn't even need to move around to have their marital status change.

With everything in flux, it just didn't make sense to have a love story between two men end in marriage in 2012. My first wedding book was Bread, Salt and Wine, which came out in 2014. Because the story spans several years and takes place mostly in California, whether or not George and Kenny can marry remains in flux through most of the book. It's only been three years since then, but all that is already ancient history. As of today, that's true even in Australia.

It is a cliche that in straight romance, the story always ends with a ring. That hasn't been true in gay romance, but things are changing. For me, I'm still not ready to have wedding bells at the end of every book, but I'm ever so grateful for the choice. And I'm happy to be thinking good thoughts today.

Lots of free stuff

The weather is gray and cold here and it feels like a perfect time to hunker down with a good book. So I have a couple that I'm giving away.

Today and tomorrow (Nov 15 and 16), my Hanukkah story, Sacred Hearts, is free on Amazon just to start getting us all in the holiday spirit.

But wait, that's not all..... I'm part of a great giveaway on Instafreebie November 16-26. I'm giving away Learning from Isaac and there are books from lots of great gay romance writers like Charli CotyMissy Welsh and the incomparable Jordan Castillo Price. Check out the giveaway and collect a stack of books to while away these winter hours.

 

 

Life's a gamble. And David's partner has lost so much at the blackjack tables that David is forced to close their restaurant, the hippest little place in Portland. He sells everything and moves back home. But at thirty-five, he's not eager to sleep alone in his childhood bed. He needs to start over, maybe with someone like the elusive man who keeps showing up in his dreams. An old friend offers David a job catering a movie set in Puerto Vallarta. He stuffs his few remaining possessions in a backpack and takes the next flight down. 

All he has left are his dreams. And what dreams they are—tall, dark, and luscious. As Mexico prepares for Christmas, David lights Hanukkah candles, celebrating the return of the sun and wishing for true love. On the first night of Hanukkah, David meets a tall, dark stranger who rocks his world in a secluded moonlit cove. Is this the mystery man of his dreams—the answer to David's prayers or just another illusion? To find out, he’ll need to gamble everything, even the dream of true love.

Reading and writing with Pride

I'm so excited to be heading to Seattle for Read (and Write) with Pride (the conference formerly known as GRNW). In addition to a reading and the book fair, I get to participate in a panel titled : Writing Queer Romance in Turbulent Times: Escapism, Political Act, or Both? with CJane Elliott, Rick Read and Karelia Stetz-Waters  It should be a great conversation.

I'll be there on Friday 11/3 for Write with Pride and on Saturday 11/4 for Read with Pride. If you're in the Seattle area, I'd love to see you. Even if you're not....

Here's the event page. Check it out.

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An invitation to my newsletter - and a flash

On the first Friday of every month, I send out a newsletter that I call Dev's News Flash which consists of a little bit of news and a new piece of flash fiction. If you're interested in getting an original story delivered to your inbox every month, here's a form to sign up. 

And here's this month's flash. I hope you enjoy it. It's called Russian Mark

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“How did you meet Russian Mark?” The kid couldn’t have been more than 20. I envied the ease with which he sprawled in his chair.

“It’s a long story.” I pushed the plate of muffins toward him. God knew someone ought to be able to eat them. At my age I couldn’t afford the extra calories.

“I’ve got all afternoon.” The kid stuffed half a muffin into his mouth.

I took a sip of coffee. “It all started because my friend Cassie thought I should get a dog.”

I remembered it was raining that April morning when Cassie showed up at my house. She’d thrust a fancy coffee at me and pushed her way in.

“Mark, we have to talk.” She eyed the scattering of fast food detritus that surrounded my couch.

“I’m still healing,” I’d pleaded as I made a half-hearted effort to clear away the clutter. Half-hearted had been the best I could do since my latest boyfriend moved out.

“He wasn’t worth this much misery.” Cassie scooped up a potato chip bag and several takeout food containers and tossed them in the kitchen garbage.

I trailed after her, holding a single empty candy bar wrapper. “You’re right. But they’ve all been awful. I’m done with men. I just have to come to terms with the fact that I’m doomed to be alone.”

She put her hands on her hips and stared at me. “What are you talking about? You’re not even thirty. You’re a healthy, reasonably attractive man. You just haven’t met the right guy.”

“All I ever meet are losers and alcoholics. I can’t take it anymore,” I whined as I sank onto a barstool at the kitchen counter.

Cassie leaned toward me, across the kitchen counter. “If the only places you go to find men are dive bars, how the fuck are you going to meet anything else?”

“You don’t understand.” I put my head in my hands. “It’s easy for you. You can meet women all over. That’s what women do, they congregate. Men aren’t like that. Single men have to go to bars to look for other single, or not so single, men. Where else am I supposed to meet guys?”

Cassie smiled. “You need a dog.”

“A dog?” I pulled my head up and stared at her. Even for Cassie, this was a stretch.

“Walking around with a dog is a great way to meet people.”

“You want me to get a dog so I can meet men. That’s no reason to get a pet. It’s a big responsibility.”

 “You own your own house and work from home. There’s no reason you can’t have a dog.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And you’re always talking about how much you miss the dog you grew up with.”

I had to give her that one. “He was a great dog.”

Cassie gestured to my depression nest on the couch. “Look, maybe a dog won’t help you meet the right man. But what’s the worst that could happen? Even if you don’t meet the right guy, you’ll have a dog. And from where I’m standing, it looks like you could use some companionship. I say we head over to the shelter right now and find you some unconditional love.”

“Unconditional love.” I thought of my childhood dog and how happy he’d been every time I entered the room. “Yeah. I guess I could use some of that.”

“So that’s where you met Russian Mark?” The kid jolted me out of my story.

I shook my head. “I told you, it’s a very long story.”

Gigi was a dirty white bichon chihuahua mix, all fluff, shake and attitude. It was love at first sight. It was clear to me that her first two years had been even worse than my twenty-eight. Taking care of her pulled me right out of my depression. Soon, we’d established a routine –we walked around the block after breakfast, lunch and dinner, she slept on a chair by my desk as I worked, I scratched her belly as we watched TV, and she slept on my feet every night.

I wasn’t as lonely as I had been, but I was just as isolated as before.

When Gigi came to me, she was afraid of a lot of things. Over our first few months together, she started to relax around the regular terrors of a knock at the door, the telephone ringing, dust bunnies skittering out from in front of a broom. But she just couldn’t get comfortable around other dogs. When we ran into the dachshund that lived two doors down, Gigi would cower behind me, so we started skirting around that house on our walks.

“Maybe she needs more exposure, not less.” Cassie told me when she came over to dinner one night. “Deliberately keeping her away from other dogs can’t be helping. How about taking her to puppy classes?”

I looked down at Gigi, who was curled in my lap. “She’d be terrified.”

Cassie frowned in frustration. “When I suggested you get a dog, I didn’t mean you should use it as just one more excuse to never leave the house.”

“We leave the house. We go to the grocery store and the post office, not to mention all our walks around the block.”

“Just try one class. Gigi will thank you for it.”

The kid sat up in his chair. “And Russian Mark was at that class?”

I shook my head. “We never went. I just couldn’t subject her to the stress of a class. But one day, I read about a new dog park being built just down the street from my house.”

It had been the announcement that the new dog park would have a separate space for small dogs, that’s what caught my attention. I thought that if all the dogs were her size, she might get used to them. And I had to admit Cassie had a point. We needed to get out more.

It had been a warm July morning when Gigi and I drove to the dog park. There was only one other car in the parking lot when I pulled in. I eyed the section for small dogs. It was empty, just like I’d hoped it would be. I wanted to give Gigi time to get used to the space, smell the other dogs and relax before we had to confront anyone else. I carried her through the double gates and set her down on the wet grass to explore.

In the distance, in the large dog section, I saw a man tossing a ball with what looked like a Great Dane. The dog and the man looked like they matched – both tall and thin. The Dane bounded after the ball with great loping strides, but it was the man who captured my attention.

The kid grinned. “Russian Mark?”

I nodded. “Russian Mark. Only back then he was just Mark, newly arrived from Russia.”

“And you met that day at the park?”

I shook my head. “Not that day. It took a long time. Gigi and I went to the park the same time every day and watched them from a distance.”

The truth was, it had become something of an obsession as I tried to time our trips to the park to coincide with his. Some days I had barely noticed him because I was busy holding Gigi and letting her get acquainted with another dog from the safety of my arms. I’d look up, and the man with the Great Dane would be gone. I hated the sinking feeling of those days.

Then, one cool October morning we’d arrived just as the man and his dog were getting out of their car.

“Morning.” I think I blushed as I said it. I held my breath waiting for him to answer.

“Good morning.” His accent was thick. And sexy.

Up close he was even more handsome that he’d looked from a distance. Tall, dark, with a shy smile that grabbed me deep in my guts. Neither of us moved toward the entrance to the dog park. I held Gigi close but for some reason she wasn’t shaking, even though the Great Dane was only a few feet away.

I cleared my throat. “I’ve seen you here before. I think we come around the same time.”

“Yes. Every day.” He held out his hand. “I am Mark. It is nice to meet you.”

“Oh.” I blinked at him. “I’m Mark, too.” Our hands touched. It was a long time before either of us let go.

I smiled at the young man sprawled across a chair in our living room. “And that is when I became Mark G and he became Russian Mark. And the rest, as you said, is history.”

“What about the dogs? Was Gigi okay with the Dane?”

I laughed. “They were best friends from the start. It turned out Gigi was only afraid of other small dogs. She loved the big ones. We never went into the small dog section again.”

The sound of the front door opening was followed by the thunder of three dogs galloping through the hallway and into the living room.

Mark appeared in the doorway, looking just as handsome at 65 as he had at 30. “Have you finished your interview?” His accent had softened over the years, but it still got to me. “I hope you told him that after all these years you still want to marry me, because now it is time to get dressed.”

“Good.” The kid sprang up. “I wanted to get a couple pictures of the two of you in your tuxes. But first, do you have any relationship advice for the younger generation?”

Mark met my gaze and smiled. “I’m sure Mark G told you the most important thing. You should always have a dog.”

 

The End

Making Home - coming out 10/3/2017

I'm so excited to announce that my newest book comes out tomorrow! It's a novella, the first in a new series set among the faculty and staff at Bay Valley U. Making Home is the story of two men with very different histories who have to figure out how to make a future together. This beautiful cover was created by  Fiona Jayde.

In his real life, Manu Contrares makes a decent living as a videographer in New York. But when his mother goes into hospice, he heads home to Bay Valley to help take care of her and ends up back at his first job on the janitorial staff of the local college. It feels like a long step down for a proud Hispanic man.

Chris Hall loves teaching but hates research. That’s becoming a big problem because his third-year faculty review is coming up and if he doesn’t make something happen soon, he’ll be out. He’s spending his nights working in the lab on a Hail Mary attempt to save his job.

When the two men meet, it’s explosive. And complicated. Chris is lily-white and culturally tone-deaf and Manu’s only in town for a short stay. It’s a recipe for heartbreak. Still, the pull between them is too strong for either to ignore. Can they overcome their different backgrounds and somehow surmount the geographical problems, or is this a fling that will leave them both more exhausted and lonely than before?

Have a happy, healthy New Year

In honor of Rosh Hashanah,  the Jewish New Year starting on Sept 21, Fields of Gold will be free on Amazon 9/22-25. Fields of Gold is the second in the Tarnished Souls series (you can get the first one, Learning From Isaac for free by signing up for my newsletter on Instafreebie). Tarnished Souls is a series of Jewish holiday romances. (yeah, I know, who knew that was a thing?). Learning from Isaac is the Passover story and Fields of Gold centers around the Rosh Hashanah themes of forgiveness and redemption.

Here's the blurb:

Politics has always been a dirty business. Avi knows all about that—after all, not only has he been studying historical compromises and intrigues, he has been sleeping with his very own corrupt politician. The affair used to be about love, but lately Avi’s going through the motions, waiting for the day when he completes his dissertation and finds a job far, far away.

Waiting for that day to come, he has put his life on hold and gets jolted awake when he meets Pete, a tall blond farmer who charms Avi with his dazzling smile and his straightforward life. Except Avi knows that even an organic farmer can have an agenda and if something is too good to be true, it is time to get suspicious. Is this just another nightmare or can Avi leave his doubts behind, learn to trust and find a life in the sun?

Check it out for free from Sept 21 to Sept 25. My New Years gift to all of you. L'Shana Tova.

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Helping out

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I'm a diver and a swimmer and being underwater is one of my very favorite things. I live in a very part of the world - this county has 10,000 lakes. (Most are tiny, but still....) I love the taste of our well water and the greenness of our vegetation. Here, a heavy rain in the summer just means I don't need to water the garden for a few days. All in all, I love water.

Spending time on (or in) one of the lake up here it's easy to forget that water can be dangerous and even deadly. Then I turn on the news. It seems like the world is swamped in watery disasters lately. So I thought I'd dedicate this week's blog to reprinting information on how to help out victims of the flooding in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Texas.

The New York times has a nice article on donating to Harvey victims, listing national and local charities including the LGBT Disaster Relief Fund. Consumer Reports also has a list, and some tips for avoiding frauds

The flooding in South East Asia this monsoon season  has been horrific, over a thousand people have been killed. The Independent has some information on the monsoon flooding and some donation suggestions, including Oxfam. The Red Cross/Red Crescent is working on all fronts, a sort of one stop donation point.

It's hard to take in the devastation water has been wreaking this summer. And it's difficult to know how to help. I'll be donating a little cash to help out. It seems like the least I can do.