Tag Archives: LGBT

The Next Competitor by Keira Andrews

The Next Competitor is a New Adult Male Sports Romance that takes place in the world of Figure Skating.  It is recommended for readers 18 years and older.

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My FOUR Star Review:

I really enjoyed this story.  It was well written and very easy to follow.  The main characters are both figure skaters.  Alex is a singles skater and Matt is a pairs skater.  I will say, I didn’t really like Alex in the beginning.  But Matt I absolutely loved from the moment I met him.  It’s wonderful to read young love and watch as it blooms into something real and meaningful.

This story pulled me into the world of figure skating with all it’s ups and downs and I mean literally down, like falling onto the ice.   It’s amazing how many times a skater will fall and still keep getting up over and over again.

I especially loved the ending of this book and how everything turns out.  If you like male romance, young love and figure skating, then definitely pick up The Next Competitor.

More About The Next Competitor:

If he risks his heart, can he keep his head in the game?

To win gold, figure skater Alex Grady must train harder than the competition morning, noon, and night. He’s obsessed with mastering another quadruple jump, and due to the lack of filter between his mouth and brain, doesn’t have a lot of friends. As for a boyfriend, forget it. So what if he’s still a virgin at twenty? The Olympics are only every four years—everything else can wait. Relationships are messy and complicated anyway, and he has zero room in his life for romance.

So it’s ridiculous when Alex finds himself checking out his boring new training mate Matt Savelli. Calm, collected “Captain Cardboard” is a nice guy, but even if Alex had time to date, Matt’s so not his type. Yet beneath Matt’s wholesome surface, there’s a dirty, sexy man who awakens a desire Alex has never experienced and can’t deny…

Note: This gay romance from Keira Andrews features opposites attracting, new adult angst, sexual discovery, and of course a happy ending.

Find Keira Andrews here:  FacebookInternet WebsiteGoodreads, Amazon.

I received a copy of this book directly from the publisher.

As Always, Keep Writing/Keep Reading ~ janisf

Excerpt: The Next Competitor:

After the group finishes dinner, Matt says goodbye as we leave the restaurant. “Where are you going?” I ask before I can stop myself.

“It’s my first time in Philly, and there’s one thing I’ve got to see.”

My mouth opens and out plops, “I want to go with you.”

Matt’s eyebrows shoot up. “You do?”

“Just don’t feel like going back to my room yet.” I shrug, my cheeks hot as all eyes land on me again. “But if you want to go by yourself, it’s totally fine.” Why did I say anything at all?

“No, it’s cool.” Matt smiles, his eyes crinkling. “Come on.”

We turn in the other direction from the hotel after Mylene, who is giggling delightedly for some reason, waves goodbye. Night has fallen and the air has a frosty bite to it that reminds me winter isn’t far away, which means the Olympics aren’t far away either. We walk along in silence for a bit until I have to say something to break it.

“So, which sight is it?”

Matt zips up his jacket and puts his hands in his pockets. “You can’t guess?”

I think about what Philly is famous for. “The Liberty Bell?”

“Nope.”

“Some memorial to Ben Franklin?”

“Guess again.”

“The cheesesteak museum?”

Matt laughs. “Seriously? They have a cheesesteak museum?”

I laugh too, warmth flowing through me. “I have no idea. If they don’t, they should.”

We pass a big fountain, walking through a park in the center of a wide, looping street, an imposing building in the distance. As we get closer, it hits me. “Wait, wait. Is this the Rocky thing?”

Grinning, Matt nods and points to the building. “Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring the famous seventy-two steps Rocky Balboa ran up in the movie.”

“You a big Stallone fan?” I’m a bit surprised.

“Not really, but who doesn’t love that moment? Come on, it’s classic.”

“I’ll give you that.”

We keep walking toward the museum, which is lit dramatically. I hardly ever visit any sights when I’m traveling for competitions, so it’s a nice change seeing some of Philadelphia. A little voice still nags, saying that I should be resting and getting ready for my long program tomorrow.

Matt says, “My dad loves that movie. We used to watch it together when I was a kid, and it was like… I don’t know. Like it helped us relate to each other. He’s a plumber from a big conservative Italian family in Richmond Hill—you know, a bit north of the rink? Anyway, we don’t really have that much in common. It’s tough these days.”

He sounds forlorn, and I have to shove my hands in my pockets to keep from reaching out to touch his arm. Maybe things aren’t as perfect in Matt’s life as I thought.

I clear my throat. “I got lucky with my father. He’s always been pretty liberal. He was a hippie or whatever back in the day. We can talk about anything.”

“How does he feel about you skating?”

“Aside from not loving how expensive it is, he’s all for it.”

“My dad didn’t like me skating when I was younger. At all. I actually only started to improve my hockey skills, but soon hockey fell by the wayside. I don’t know if he’s ever forgiven me.” Matt’s laugh is strained.

“I’m sorry he’s not more supportive. That must be so hard.”

Looking both ways, we jog across the street to the museum, and Matt shakes his head. “Now that I’m doing so well, I think he’s happy. I’m sure he is. Well, I hope so. Besides, he’s worked his ass off for years to pay for it, so it’s not that he wasn’t supportive in that way. He totally was.”

“Totally,” I agree. Clearly Matt’s got a few conflicting feelings about his dear old dad.

“Still, I think deep down he’d much rather have some stereotypically macho, hockey-playing son rather than a figure skater.”

I’m not sure what to say, so I make an “mmm” noise to show I’m listening. I didn’t know Matt could talk this much in a row.

“I just wish he could love me for who I am. I’ve always tried so hard to make him proud, but I don’t know if he’ll ever accept a gay son.” Matt shakes his head and laughs. “God, sorry. I don’t know how this became a therapy session.”

“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind.” Wow, Matt Savelli has angst. He always seems so together and unruffled, but perhaps he’s not made of cardboard after all. And I knew my trusty gaydar was on the money. It shouldn’t send a thrill down my spine to hear Matt confirm it, but…

“You’re a surprisingly good listener.”

“Thank you? I think?”

His eyes crinkle in the glow of the street lamps. “No, no, I didn’t mean it like that. What I meant was… It’s been nice getting to know you better.”

“Yeah, you too.” My stomach somersaults again, my fingers tingling.

At the middle of the wide, empty stairway we stand at the bottom of the steps, peering up. I whistle. “Wow. That’s a lot of stairs.”

“Bet I can beat you up there.”

I do love a challenge. “No way, no day.”

Suddenly, Matt’s off and running, and I curse under my breath as I launch after him. He’s faster than I thought, and although I close most of the distance, he remains a stride above me as we power our way up the steps. My breath comes in bursts that fog up the chilly air, and I strain to catch up with him. We pass a few people who are coming down, and they applaud as we race by.

I manage to pull up, and we’re neck and neck as we take the last steps. We reach the top in stride, and Matt lets out a whoop of joy, raising his arms in the air and dancing in a circle. I join in, because that’s what you do when you run up the Rocky steps. I’ve never seen him so animated. Well, except for when he’s irritated with me.

We take in the amazing view of the city. Skyscrapers rise in the distance, and before us is the huge oval area we walked across surrounded by the road, with trees and grass and a statue of a guy on a horse I barely noticed passing because Matt was talking.

We jump around like idiots, working up more of a sweat than we did on the stairs, which weren’t actually that hard. Matt leans his hands on his knees, and I reach out to give his shoulder a friendly punch, but my palm just rests there instead.

A shock bolts through me, like I’ve just touched a metal doorknob in winter. We’re both breathing a little hard, and Matt gives me this long look that makes me want to throw him down right here and now and do things that would get us arrested and kicked off our national teams.

He stands up straight and my hand falls away as he steps closer. His voice is low. “Thanks for coming up here with me. It was way more fun than doing it by myself.”

All I can think of is something else that is way more fun to do with someone else—not that I’d know from personal experience—and I swallow hard, my throat suddenly dry. I manage to get out, “Sure.” My pulse thrums in my ears, and it’s not because of the running and jumping.

We lean toward each other. I’m staring at his thick lips as he licks them, and I am so turned on right now, imagining what those lips will feel like on mine, and how Matt’s hands and body—

“Hurry up!”

Matt and I leap apart as a little boy hurtles over the top of the steps. His parents and a few siblings follow, huffing and puffing from their climb. The parents say hello to us and we reply, and I’m glad it’s dark, because I know I’m blushing like crazy.

The father asks us to take their photo, and Matt does, telling them to smile. He gives the phone back, and we stand there awkwardly for a few moments. I clear my throat. “Actually, want to take a pic of me so I can Instagram it?”

“Sure.” He takes my phone, and I raise my hands over my head triumphantly with a big competition smile. It’s dark, but hopefully there’s enough ambient light since a flash will just make it look like shit.

I reach for my phone back, but he says, “Wait a sec.” Coming close, he puts a big hand on my shoulder, spinning me to face away from the museum as my heart thumps. He says, “I’ll get you from behind.”

Of course I practically choke on my tongue, my balls tightening at the thought as I gaze out at the city and try desperately to clear my dirty mind. Matt laughs awkwardly. “Um, you know what I mean.”

“Uh-huh.” I raise my arms. “Is this good?”

“Yep!” He sounds too cheerful now.

Once he’s got the picture, I take a few for him. “I guess we should…” I motion to the steps.
Matt nods. “Yeah, it’s getting late.”

It’s barely eight, but I murmur in agreement and start down. We descend side by side, not talking. It would seem weird to try and kiss him now. Or maybe I should stop overanalyzing and kiss him anyway. But wait, do I really want to kiss Matt? I’m not supposed to kiss anyone right now with the Olympics coming up, especially not Captain Cardboard.

But now that I’m actually talking to him, Matt’s different than I thought he was. He’s cool, actually. We haven’t even argued the whole night, and he wanted me to come out with him.

Well, he didn’t argue, and it’s not like I gave him a choice. He would have had to be totally rude to stop me from coming, and he’s too Canadian for that.

My palms sweat. Maybe he doesn’t like me at all. I think he’s cool now that I’ve given him a chance, but what if he thinks I’m a bigger jerk than he did before? And why should I even care?

“Is your family coming this weekend?” Matt’s voice sounds completely calm and normal. Maybe he didn’t really want to kiss me, but was swept up in the whole moment, or something. Or it was all in my imagination and there wasn’t a “moment” at all. I need to get a grip.

“Alex?”

I realize he’s waiting for an answer. “Yeah. They’re driving here tomorrow.”

“What does your mom do?”

I tell him about my mom’s work as an HR consultant, which I’m sure is fascinating for him. His mom’s a teacher, and we talk about that for a while, and before I know it, we’re back in the hotel.

In the elevator, Matt presses the eleventh floor. His hand hovers by the bank of buttons, and he looks at me expectantly. “Fifteen,” I answer.

Matt smiles as he steps off on his floor. “See you around tomorrow. Good luck.”

“See ya. You too.” I’m going for a casual tone and am moderately successful.

The doors close, and that’s it, like nothing happened. Which I guess is true.

Copyright © Keira Andrews

Love Plus One by P.A. Friday #HappyReleaseDay #Giveaway

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Happy Release Day P. A. Friday!!

Love Plus One is a 181 page male romance releasing today, January 9, 2017.   It is recommended for adult readers 18 years and older.  A Synopsis and Excerpt are below and be sure to check out the Giveaway just a little further down.

Synopsis 

Laurie and James are a monogamous couple with an occasional lover in James’s best friend, Al. It is a casual, friend-with-benefits situation which suits them all, especially given Al’s promiscuous lifestyle.

When Al is assaulted, however, Laurie and James are forced to confront the fact that their feelings for Al might be stronger than mere liking. But would free spirit Al ever want more than what they already have?

Excerpt

P.A. Friday © 2017

All Rights Reserved

Anyhow, Laurie hung around outside, a little distance from the shop. He was grateful that it was a decent evening, even despite the cold. Finally, he heard the door begin to open and walked towards it.

“Don’t stay, Al. I can manage from here,” Fen called.

“Yeah, okay.” Al’s voice sounded a little strained, and Laurie moved more swiftly towards him, unwilling to let him hang around alone on the doorstep.

“Hey,” he said, tapping Al gently on the shoulder as he came up to him.

“Laurie!” Al let go of the shop door and clutched his chest in an age-old gesture of shock. “God, you scared the bejesus out of me.”

“Hell. Sorry,” Laurie apologized. Appearing out of the darkness at someone who got attacked a couple of days earlier by a group of people appearing out of the darkness. Nice one, Laurie, he castigated himself mentally. “I didn’t want to hang around in the shop looking like some sinister spectre at the feast in case your boss didn’t appreciate it,” he explained guiltily. “But I should’ve thought. Sorry.”

Al gave a weak grin. “No, you’re right. Fen would probably not have wanted you standing about watching her cash up. I’m just a bit twitchy. Sorry, yourself.”

“I feel like an idiot,” Laurie apologized.

“Nothing new there, then,” Al said, his grin widening. Then he sobered up, touching Laurie’s arm. “Seriously, though, thanks for this. Meeting me, I mean. Didn’t realise how much of a fucking wuss I was until it came to going out, and it was dark, and…”

Laurie bit his lip. Bastards. He felt the now-familiar wave of anger wash over him. So much for being a peaceable sort of chap. Laurie would quite happily have committed murder at the moment, given the right targets. He pulled Al into a one-armed hug.

“Not a problem. You’d do the same for me.”

Al looked at him, his strange green eyes lit by the street light above them. “Yes, I would,” he said quietly. “I’m glad you know that.”

Laurie felt his cheeks flush, despite the cold. He hadn’t known, not really. If he’d thought about it, he’d have presumed that Al liked him well enough—but probably more as James’s boyfriend, not for himself particularly. His own feelings for Al were one thing (and he was slightly embarrassed about his level of protectiveness, not to mention love, towards the younger man), but he had no thought that they were reciprocated, and he hadn’t been unduly bothered by that. They didn’t have that sort of relationship. But there was something simple and genuine in Al’s response that was touching. It wasn’t the normal, teasing young man who Laurie usually knew. Laurie mumbled something incoherent and left his arm around Al’s shoulders as they walked towards home. James was too tall to hold like this; Laurie’s hand always fell across his back and rounded his waist on the far side. But Al was five or six inches shorter than Laurie, and Laurie’s arm slipped around his shoulders quite comfortably.

“What did Fen say—about your face?” Laurie asked.

Al shrugged. “Told her I got in a fight.

Laurie raised an eyebrow. Of all the people to get in a fight, Al was one of the least likely. Al stared at his and Laurie’s feet.

“Told her she should’ve seen the other guy,” he mumbled. “Wasn’t true. They were fine.”

“They were a ‘they’,” Laurie said, trying not to sound as angry as he felt. “With a knife.”

Al shrugged. It was such a familiar gesture, but this time Laurie’s arm was around Al, so he could feel it go through him. It seemed as if he could also feel the self-hatred Al was experiencing, too. It burnt, and Laurie felt helpless to do anything about it.

“Yeah,” Al said, at last. There was a silence. Then, “Laurie,” he said.

“Uh-huh?”

“I think I’m ready to tell the police now.”

Laurie could feel Al tense as he said the words; it was not going to be an easy experience for him, Laurie knew.

“You’re bloody brave.”

Al huffed, a little puff of cold air escaping from his lips. “Hardly,” he said. “Think I’m being anything but.” He stopped walking, shivering a little. “Thought how I’d feel if they did it to Fen. To someone else.” He leaned his head against Laurie’s arm. “I have to, don’t I?”

“No,” Laurie said quietly. “You don’t. But you will, because you’re brave. Because you’re you. Because you’re thinking about someone else two days after you—”

“Yeah,” said Al, cutting him off quickly. He hadn’t let them say the word—not Laurie, not James, definitely not himself. “I was shit. But—”

It was Laurie’s turn to cut Al off. “No, you weren’t. And no, you aren’t.” There were moments when one-armed hugs didn’t cut it. Laurie pulled Al close in against him, holding him as tightly as possible without pressing against him too painfully. No need to remind Al of all the bits of him that hurt in quite so physical a fashion. “You’re being incredible, all right?” Laurie whispered in Al’s ear. “Don’t think otherwise.”

“Going to carry on hugging me like this?” Al asked, sounding a bit happier. “Because you’re having a decent effect on my ego.” He gave a little wriggle, pushing himself up against Laurie. “More than my ego,” he added thoughtfully.

A warm Al pushed up against him was rather too good for a public street, Laurie thought. He said as much to Al, who laughed.

Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive an e-book of their choice from NineStar Press. Click the rafflecopter below to enter.

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Find P.A. Friday here:  Website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, NineStarPress.

As Always, Keep Writing/Keep Reading ~ janisf

Interlude: First Noel – The Executive Office 1.5 by Tal Bauer #Review #HappyReleaseDay #Giveaway

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Interlude: First Noel is 135 pages of time between the first and second book in Tal Bauer’s outstanding political, military, romantic, suspense/conspiracy series, The Executive Office.  You really need to read Enemies of The State before you jump into Interlude and enjoy Ethan and Jacks first Christmas.

Releases today, December 19, 2016 and is a male romance intended for readers 18 years and older.

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My FIVE Star Review:

I knew from reading  both Enemies of the State and Enemy of my Enemy that the time Ethan and Jack were separated was extremely hard for this couple but Tal brings it full circle with this very full 125 pages.  One minute my heart just about broke for both of these men and the next I was fanning my face.  Yes, this super couple is extremely hot and they used their time together very nicely!   They also used their time apart doing what they do best by either running the country or being knee deep in an investigation.

Tal’s writing is a true joy to read.  From keeping everything flowing within the storyline to all the Christmas decorations in the White House and all the little extras that fill these pages.

Thank you Tal Bauer for giving me this Advanced Reader Copy and for giving me more of Jack and Ethan. I cannot get enough of this super couple.

I truly believe Tal is a master storyteller. The Executive Office Series is full of political drama and an absolutely amazing love story. I very much look forward to the next book and the adventure to continue for Ethan and Jack.

More about Interlude:

Before Ethan returns to DC…
Before he becomes Jack’s first gentleman…
Jack and Ethan share their first Christmas together.

Step back to Jack and Ethan’s first Christmas season and the tentative early months of their relationship under the world’s spotlight.

Three months into Ethan’s transfer-in-exile in Des Moines, Iowa, the pressures of dating Jack, the president of the United States, start to wear Ethan down. His weeks are measured by the days he works in Iowa, chasing counterfeiters and financial crimes, and the weekends he manages to steal with Jack back in DC. The media stalks his every move, he’s isolated by his coworkers, and loneliness hammers at his heart.

In DC, Jack tries to piece together a global alliance to take down the Caliphate, while the world seems focused on tearing apart his personal life. Hostility surrounds him from all corners of the globe, but a surprise offer from President Sergey Puchkov may pave the way for a tentative alliance…and perhaps the beginning of a friendship.

As Ethan finds himself in the middle of an investigation that rubs too deeply against his soul and Jack tries to balance leading the free world and keeping his and Ethan’s relationship going, the two men must face what their love has become…and where they are heading together.

About Tal Bauer:

Tal Bauer writes LGBT fiction and romance, bringing together a career in law enforcement, trauma medicine, and international humanitarian aid to create dynamic characters, intriguing plots, and exotic locations. Tal’s stories weave together pulse-pounding adventure, cunning intrigue, and sweeping romance. Tal is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.

Find Tal here:  Website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, NineStarPress.

Reading order for The Executive Office:
Enemies of the State
Interlude: First Noel
Enemy of my Enemy

If you are like me and always looking for more of Ethan and Jack, be sure to check out Bauer Bytes on Tal Bauer’s Website.

Click for a chance to win an e-book from NineStar:  Rafflecopter

As Always, Keep Writing/Keep Reading ~ janisf

I received a copy of this book directly from the publisher.

Excerpt: Interlude:  First Noel

Tal Bauer © 2016
All Rights Reserved

“Twenty-seven credit cards, thirty thousand in hundreds—all with the exact same serial number—a credit card reader and a laptop.” United States Secret Service Special Agent Blake Becker whistled, shaking his head, and glared at the two suspects in handcuffs sitting in the back of the Des Moines police cruiser. “We bagged another couple counterfeiters, huh?” He squinted at Ethan, snowflakes clinging to the ends of his eyelashes. Becker was twelve years younger than Ethan, and two years out of the training center at Rowley. He was an infant, compared to Ethan.

Ethan said nothing. Becker’s use of “we” was disingenuous. Ethan had put together the case after pulling files from three different states. He’d worked long, lonely hours in his cubicle, reading arrest records and statements until his eyeballs felt like they were bleeding. He’d tracked the washed bills, the counterfeit currency used in stores and banks across Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Built a timeline along one wall of his cube, tracking the rise of counterfeit bills in the tristate area. Connected the dots, leading them to bust this run down motel room and this raggedy team of counterfeiters.

And, when he’d presented his case to Shepherd, the Special Agent in Charge of the small Des Moines field office, Shepherd had assigned Blake Becker as the lead agent, over Ethan. Days later, after Becker filed the affidavit under his name, he and Ethan, along with the Des Moines police, broke down the door of the motel room their suspects were living in and arrested two men in their boxers and stained tank tops. One of the men had a mullet. The other had a greasy mustache and not much hair on the top of his head.

Two white news vans sloshed through the motel’s parking lot. Muddy snowmelt splattered the sides of the vans, arching away from salt-crusted tires. On top of both, satellite dishes and transmission poles collected fat snowflakes beneath the dreary sky. Red and blue police lights swirled, giving a splash of color to the monotonous Midwestern gloom.

Becker jerked his head toward the new arrivals. “Media is here. Shepherd wants you to book it. Doesn’t want you anywhere near the press.”

Nodding once, Ethan kept his head down and headed for his Secret Service car, a nondescript sedan issued to him by the Des Moines office. He tucked his face into his scarf and his hands in the pockets of his trench coat, not looking toward the news vans.

If there was one thing Shepherd hated more than Ethan, it was the media attention Ethan received. “Secret Service Seduction” “Who Really is the Boyfriend of the President of the United States.” “Boyfriend in Exile; Can Their Relationship Survive?” “What are the Presidential Boyfriend’s Duties?” “Secret Service Hiding One of Their Own?”

He slid into his car, slamming the door shut. Leaning back, he exhaled, watching for a moment as the news crews set up around the motel parking lot, peering at the Special Agents and police processing the scene.

Ethan grabbed a pair of sunglasses and a ball cap from the passenger seat before he started his car. The sunglasses turned the drab gray sky almost black, but he kept them on as he backed up, maneuvering out of the crowd of police vehicles.

One of the reporters spotted his car leaving. She waved to her cameraman and jogged across the snowmelt, her brown boots sticky with slush. He tried to speed up, but she made it to his driver’s side as he waited to turn onto the street.

“Mr. Reichenbach?” She knocked on the glass, and her cameramen scraped their news camera’s lens over his window. “Mr. Reichenbach, can you talk about your involvement with the Des Moines Secret Service? What are your official duties?”

His jaw clenched, and his fingers gripped the steering wheel. A few more seconds, a few passing cars, and he could peel out of there.

“How does it feel to be separated from the president? Are you and President Spiers still together? It’s been a while since you were both seen togeth―”

Finally, a break in the traffic. Ethan wanted to slam down on the accelerator, spin his wheels and spray the reporter with mud and snow. But he couldn’t. Everything―every single thing―he did was a reflection on Jack. A reflection on the president of the United States.

He revved his engine once, a warning, and then rolled forward. The camera squealed across his window, and the reporter pounded on the glass, repeating her questions, almost shouting.

And then, he was out of the parking lot, back on the main road. He floored it, speeding off as the news camera tracked him. A few blocks away, he ditched the sunglasses, throwing them into the passenger seat with a snarl.

Three months in exile. Three months of living in Des Moines, Iowa—away from Washington DC, his friends, and the love of his life: Jack Spiers, the president of the United States.

His head hit the sedan’s headrest again, and his fingers kneaded the steering wheel. Three months of counting the days―and sometimes the hours―until he could see Jack again. He lived for Friday evening through Sunday night, when he flew to DC, and the forty-eight hours at least, it was just him and Jack. If he squinted while he was there, it was almost like it had been before everything came out, when they were hiding what they’d become together, and when Ethan had been his Secret Service lead.

Day in and day out, they’d been at each other’s side. Inseparable…and sharing a scandalous secret.

But every weekend ended, and Sunday night came, and with it, another flight back to Des Moines.

Ethan glared at the clock in his dash. It was too early to go back to his apartment and do anything but bang around the empty walls and sulk, and too late to go back to work and expect to get anything done. Still, he turned for the office, heading back downtown. At the least, he could work out in the private gym for the agents assigned to the Federal Building. FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service, and Customs all shared one building.

And all the agents seemed to share the same wide-eyed, horrified distance from Ethan. He moved like a pariah, as though he’d been branded with a scarlet letter and anyone who came near him would suffer the same catastrophic fall from grace he had.

From the most prestigious posting in the Secret Service―protecting the president of the United States―to puzzling through counterfeiting investigations out of a tiny field office in the Midwest. And giving those investigations up to another agent, a junior agent, and running from the media.

He waited at the stoplight downtown, just before the turn into the Federal Building’s garage, listening to his wipers scrape snow off the window. The red traffic light blurred through the slush on his glass, tinting the inside of his sedan a dark crimson. Christmas lights stretched overhead, arching over the streets and between the buildings. Evergreen garlands clung to the streetlights, and LED wreaths hung at every intersection. Over the weekend, Christmas had descended, just days after Thanksgiving.

If he knew then what he knew now, would he do it all again? Make the same choices? Take the same risks? Kiss Jack―the president, his sworn duty, his job―and throw caution to the wind, going against his very bones, his dedication to his career and the Secret Service?

The wipers slid against the glass again, squeaking, and the light turned green. His tires slipped on the snow, skidding out briefly, but he slogged across the intersection and turned into the underground parking garage.

Of course he would. Those forty-eight hours each week with Jack made everything else worth it. Made bearable the isolation, the intrusive media, the sidelong glares and bitten off conversations that abruptly stopped in his presence.

How his toes would curl as they kissed. Jack’s smile, and the way his eyes lit up for Ethan alone. How Jack had looked at him when he burst into the Oval Office, gunfire cracking the air, taking out Jeff Gottschalk and Black Fox’s operatives. Like Ethan was his whole world, the sun rising in the sky just for him.

Ethan had never loved anyone like he loved Jack. And he’d never been loved by anyone the way Jack loved him. It was still new, just six months old, but that love had remade Ethan’s entire world. So far, he’d put up with anything. Everything. As long as Jack kept looking at him like that. Kept loving him like that.

But, it had been over two weeks since he’d last been with Jack. ‘Every weekend’ had turned into something else. Loneliness scratched at the base of his heart, and whispers of fear snaked down his bones.

Ethan wound through the underground garage and pulled into his assigned space, in the corner beneath the leaking air compressor and next to the dumpster that always smelled like stale piss.

Shepherd’s car was still in his space. Great. He’d probably already seen the news footage of him, playing over and over on the local stations before being picked up by the national news for prime-time replay. He’d be pissed. More than pissed.

Sighing, Ethan badged into the building and onto the elevator, punching the button for the Secret Service’s floor. When the elevator spat him out, he gave Agent Gibson a tight smile as he passed him.

Gibson didn’t smile back.

Ethan badged into the backdoor of the office, heading for his cube and his gym bag. On the way, he passed Shepherd’s open office door.

The TV hanging on the wall in his office was on, images of Ethan driving out of the motel parking lot playing on repeat as the news anchor droned on about how evasive he’d been, how he hadn’t answered any questions. About what his presence at the crime scene might mean. And, of course, wondering why he hadn’t been seen with the president, or in DC, in weeks. They were America’s most scandalous couple, perhaps the world’s. The question had been blaring from every radio, every gossip magazine, every late night talk show host, almost from the moment they’d been photographed kissing on the North Lawn. Were they still together?

Of course, the questions had gotten louder these past few weeks.

Shepherd’s glare fixed on Ethan. Shepherd pursed his lips as he perched on the edge of his desk, arms crossed over his slight pudge, a beer gut in the making. His tie was undone, the first few buttons loose.

Ethan grabbed his gym bag, slung it over his shoulder, and trudged to Shepherd’s door. “Sir, I left as soon as they arrived. She chased me down. I wasn’t trying to get in front of the cameras.”

Shepherd pinched the bridge of his nose. “What did I do to deserve you?”

Ethan stayed silent.

“Thanks to this―” Shepherd gestured to the TV. “—the US Attorney is going to have to answer a million questions about you from the whatever defense these guys cobble together. What you were doing there. Why you were involved.”

“I put the case together―”

“And then it was given to Becker. All of it. The entire thing. Your fingerprints were stripped from it.” Shepherd sighed again. “I don’t want some criminal defense attorney trying to drag the president into one of our cases. Asking about what kind of special favors you get, or what the president is interested in, or how you don’t play by the rules. We have to prove everything you do is one hundred and ten percent above board.”

“Everything I’ve done here has been completely legal―”

“It’s what you did before you got here.” Shepherd fixed Ethan with another hard glare. “It’s your character. The kinds of rules you break. A good defense attorney would rip you to shreds on the stand.”

Ethan’s chest felt like it caved in. “I have never compromised an investigation for any reason.”

“No.” Shepherd snorted. “You just compromised the president.”

Silence.

“Get out of here.” Shepherd waved Ethan away, dismissing him as he stood. “I don’t know what’s going on with you and the president, and I don’t want to know.” His hand cut through the air, before Ethan spoke. He jerked his chin to the TV, and the reporter musing about Ethan and Jack’s relationship being on the rocks, or worse. “But you’ve gotten grumpier these past few weeks. And that’s saying something.” Shepherd squinted at him. “Go do something about that. If the media is going to hound you everywhere, you don’t want them thinking you’re a half breath away from snapping. Don’t add fuel to the fire.”

Clearing his throat, Ethan nodded once while Shepherd shuffled papers on his desk, dropping a stack of manila folders into his drawer. “Sir, I have a question for you.”

Shepherd arched his eyebrows and grunted.

“I submitted my vacation request for the holidays, but you haven’t approved it yet. Is there a problem?” Ethan had lost vacation time in his demotion, and had used up what he did have flying back and forth to DC. He was scrapping the last days he had to put together a trip back east over Christmas. It wasn’t as long as he wanted, but it was what he had.

Shepherd barked out a harsh laugh, slamming a stack of papers down on his desk. “Why do you do this?”

“Sir?”

“Why do you pretend like you follow the rules? Like they even matter to you? You can break every rule we have and nothing will happen to you.”

“That’s not who I am,” Ethan growled. “I don’t act that way.”

“That’s exactly who you are. And exactly how you acted.”

Ethan’s frown deepened, turning to a scowl. “Sir, I don’t get any special treatment―”

“Of course you do!” Shepherd cried. His hands rose, and then he was shouting, pointing at Ethan as his face turned red. “Why do you even bother coming in? Why do you put up the pretense of being an agent? You’d make it easier for everyone if you just stopped pretending!”

“I’m not pretending!” Ethan roared. “I’m doing my job!”

Shepherd laughed, long and loud. “You stopped doing your job the moment you compromised yourself and the president!”

“I am still an agent―” Ethan seethed.

“You’re a Goddamn pain in my ass.” Shepherd cut him off. “And I have no clue why you’re still an agent. You shouldn’t be. You should have been forced to turn in your badge and your gun and got kicked out of the Service.”

Ethan’s jaw snapped shut, his teeth clicking together.

“Let me be perfectly clear. I don’t give a shit what you do. Come to work. Don’t come to work. Go on vacation for the entire month of December. Run away with the president and get drunk on some beach. I don’t give a shit. Just stop wasting my time, okay?”

Ethan nodded once. “Sir.”

“Get out of my office.”

His hand clenched around the strap of his duffel, and his teeth ground together, but he strode out of Shepherd’s office with his chin held high. Rage roared through him, deep in his veins.

There had better not be anyone in the gym downstairs. He had to get this out, pound it out into a punching bag until his knuckles split and he vomited in the corner. He had to get this out, because in three hours, Jack was going to call him on his computer, and he couldn’t face Jack like this. Not about to fly apart, quaking with too much fury and raw shame. It hurt, God, it hurt. But Jack couldn’t see that. He couldn’t ever see it.

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