Despite a successful college teaching career, Noah Daniels has become depressed. He feels he’s leading a monochromatic life: love has eluded him. When he’s offered a chance to teach in London as part of an exchange program, he accepts, hoping a change of scenery will do him good. But once he’s there, his outlook on love and sexuality changes in ways he never expected.
Robert Callinan is Noah’s English counterpart in the program. The men exchange not only their jobs, but also their homes, and it is what Noah stumbles across while staying at Robert’s house that sends him on a journey of self-discovery—both mentally and physically. A journey that puts color back into his life… just not in the way he expected. When the exchange program ends, Noah has to go home, but he doesn’t know if he wants to return to the life he left behind.
SITTING WITH my ass parked on my favorite barstool, at my favorite bar—the Redhead Piano Bar on Ontario—I nursed my bourbon and silently asked myself the usual questions. Well, actually, it was really only the one question phrased a hundred different ways. That’s what happened when you went the route of academia—you learned how to complicate the shit out of things and use fancy-schmancy words. If you thought about it, it was a bit ridiculous to be using three-plus-syllable words to ask a question, when most of us were usually seeking a simple one- or two-syllable word answer. Yes. No. And, if we’d really lucked out: maybe.
I snorted into my drink, remembering the words of my most admired college professor, Ross Whedon: Noah Daniels, how many times have I told you? An academic will always take a whole paragraph for what could have been said in one sentence. Christ, even my thoughts were long-winded.
What was my question again?
What the hell is wrong with me?
I mean, really, what the hell was wrong with me? She was gorgeous. Tall and willowy, with long, flowing mahogany hair that still managed to look sleek and glossy under the dim lights of the bar. Big brown eyes, clear skin, an impressive rack, and when she walked away from me, I saw she had a great peach-shaped ass.
That’s right, she walked away. Why?
Because I gave her the brush-off. That’s why.
Hence my question. What the hell is wrong with me?
She wasn’t irritating. Her voice didn’t grate. Quite the contrary. She was charming and friendly. In fact, I’d go so far as to say she was interesting and articulate—she was in PR. Surely that meant she could string together a sentence?—and yet, I’d passed on her not so subtle come-on. I looked at her again, knowing I could have her if I wanted her, but try as I might, I couldn’t muster even the slightest bit of enthusiasm for the idea.
And that was the problem.
Me and enthusiasm didn’t seem to be on speaking terms anymore. All the color had seeped out of my life. I was living a monochromatic, black-and-white photograph of a life where everything was a shade of tedious.
I wasn’t sure how it happened, or even when it happened.
It just had.
It crept up on me, like a slow-spreading parasitic vine, gradually sapping the vibrancy from my life. One day I woke up and everything was gray, dull, and lifeless.
And it had been that way for a while.
Lifting the glass, I paused, letting the bourbon wet my lips before throwing my head back and tossing down the last of my drink. Closing my eyes, I hissed, relishing the searing burn to my throat—a small reminder I was actually alive—a living, breathing, sentient being and not merely a walking, talking robot.
If only there was a whiskey burn for my emotions, I’d be set.
Glancing down at the aged cherrywood bar, I vaguely wondered what they used to achieve such a high polish. It was almost mirrorlike in its sheen. I could clearly see my face reflected upon its surface.
And instantly wished I hadn’t.
After grimacing at the shell staring back at me, I decided scrutinizing myself wasn’t such a good idea. Taking my own advice, I looked up, meeting Seth the bartender’s gaze. He raised his eyebrow at me in query, and I gave him a brief nod, watching as he poured me another finger of Booker’s.
As he slid it across to me, not a word was spoken. I nodded, he nodded, and we both went back to doing our own separate things—me to thinking, him to serving the other patrons. The opening notes of a melody from the piano situated at the opposite end of the dimly lit room, and the dulcet tones of Stella McClaren floated above the chatter of the Thursday-night crowd. They went quiet as she continued. I wasn’t surprised. She was good.
The start of the music was my alarm clock, telling me it must be eight o’clock. Time to head home to the never-ending pile of papers waiting to be graded.
Sighing at the thought of what awaited me, I took another sip of the amber fire in my glass and swirled it around my mouth before letting it seep, drop by drop, down the back of my throat. Once again, I said my silent thanks to the bourbon for serving a dual purpose: anesthetizing me while at the same time reminding me, with its burn, I was still alive and breathing. Quite an achievement.
Another sip, more swirling and the drip, drip, drip down my throat; then I motioned to Seth to tally up my tab.
The crowd was swelling—the live acts here were good—but I just wasn’t in the mood to be entertained. It was a sad state of affairs, I decided, that I preferred to be home alone reading essays than here being chatted up by a beautiful woman who probably wanted me to warm her bed as well, if her body language was to be believed.
I looked at her one last time as she mingled with her friends, long-legged and sexy in her tight black jeans and figure-hugging top, and mentally apologized to her. Though why I felt the need to apologize was beyond me. If she was anything like my previous bedmates, she’d have enjoyed being impaled on my cock had I chosen to share it with her.
They all enjoyed it because I could fuck them for hours. No problem with premature ejaculation here. No sirree. They thought it was because I had incredible control, like I was some sort of master cocksman or something, but the truth was a lot more humbling.
None of them excited me enough to get me off, and more and more, it all felt like too much hard work to even try.
It was one of life’s sweet ironies that the less interest I showed in them, the more they showed in me. Life could be cruel.
Once upon a time, I searched energetically for the Elizabeth to my Darcy, the Juliet to my Romeo, the Jane to my Rochester, but with each successive disappointment, my enthusiasm for the task waned. Now, at the ripe old age of thirty-one, I couldn’t even be bothered to get naked with them. Why make the effort when the act itself only left me feeling more empty and hollow than I had before performing it? When the supposed euphoric afterglow I was meant to experience left me feeling aching and raw… as if it were taking something away from me rather than filling me. Having sex, I decided, was like trying to fill a bottomless cup—both physically and emotionally. Really, what was all the fuss about? Why were men so obsessed with it?
I tossed the last of my liquid fire down my throat, pursing my lips at the heat that went all the way down to my belly, then pushed my empty glass away. After sliding off the barstool, I turned toward the cloakroom by the entrance, and with a final nod at my favorite bartender, bid him farewell. “’Night, Seth.”
I SLID the key into the lock and turned my wrist, nodding at the smooth action of the tumblers clicking over to unlock the door to my quaint little house. And quaint it was—there was no other word for it. My safe haven from the world looked like a small Tudor-style English church, a tiny piece of England set within the heart of Chicago, Illinois, in the good old US of A. Its historic exterior satisfied the history buff in me—I was, after all, the youngest tenured Art History professor at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an achievement that should have filled me with pride and happiness.
Should being the operative word.
Unfortunately, my successful career left me feeling as hollow as my love life, or lack thereof. I loved teaching. I loved seeing the light go on in another’s mind, and I was proud to do it well, but what was the point if there was no one to share it with? And how were you supposed to find someone to share it with if you never felt that spark?
Which, of course, took me back to my question.
What the hell is wrong with me? Why have I never felt the spark? I’ve dated beautiful women. I’ve dated smart, funny, and talented women. I’ve dated older women. Younger women. Shy and extroverted women. Blonde women. Brunettes. Redheads. I’ve dated them all. But no spark. Not so much as a flicker of spark.
I stepped inside, reaching beside me, knowing exactly where to place my fingers despite it being dark, and flicked the switch. A dozen small lights positioned over the myriad of artworks that lined the central hall flared into life as I quietly closed the door and locked it. With quick, sure moves, I shirked my coat off and hung it on the coatrack beside the entry before striding down the hall. I bypassed the bedrooms and study as I made my way to the rear of the house—to the comfort of the open-plan living, dining, and kitchen area.
Another flick of my wrist and more small lights sprang to life, showcasing the artworks and sculptures that lined my walls and dotted my floors. There was hardly a central ceiling light to be found in my entire home—I preferred the softer, more intimate lighting of several lamps. I liked my drawings, prints, photographs, and paintings to be lit in the way they deserved. I might enjoy my home’s historic exterior, but I was glad about its mostly modern interior and fixtures.
Entering the kitchen area, I made a beeline for the sink. I pressed my hips firmly against the cupboards, wanting the mild sensation of pain, and closed my fist around the upturned glass I’d used and rinsed that very morning. I registered its smooth cool surface as I righted it and then held it under the tap, filling it with water. The bourbon had made me thirsty, and I drank greedily. In my haste, a small droplet leaked from the side of my mouth and slid down my chin. Using the back of my hand, I wiped it away before finishing the glass and replenishing it.
My thirst was slaked, but I was not yet ready to seat myself on the cream leather couch to commence reading the stack of essays awaiting me. Instead, I walked to the antique walnut sideboard that resided in the dining area. I sipped my water, contemplating the photos arrayed upon its surface. All but a few were of my brother, Mitch, who was older than me by a mere fourteen months, his pretty wife, Miranda, and their two sons, my beloved twin nephews, Ricky and Jared. The exceptions were my parent’s wedding photo and a couple of me with Mitch and his boys.
Again and again, my gaze was drawn to the photographs showing Mitch and Miranda together.
They had the spark. They had it in spades. They had it spilling over the edges and overflowing. It was blatantly obvious. It was there in every look they gave each other. It was almost tangible—so real I found myself reaching out to touch the space between their faces on the glass of the frame, surprised to feel nothing but its smooth surface.
Mitch felt the spark from the time he was sixteen, when we moved to Chicago from Pittsburgh. He knew it from that first day at Lake Forest High when blonde and cheerleader-beautiful Miranda Rowlands was assigned the task of showing him around. I could still hear his voice, dreamy yet resolved, and nothing like his usual joking smartass manner, when we met up at the end of the day to drive home together. I’d asked him how his first day went. Couldn’t be better, Noah. I just met the girl I’m going to marry. I’d behaved like a typical pesky younger brother, laughing and teasing him, but he’d remained unfazed, and time proved him right. Neither Mitch nor Miranda had ever had eyes for anyone but each other.
Sighing, I replaced the photo, trying to deny the small kernel of envy and jealousy that settled in my chest, irritating and impossible to ignore, like a pebble in a shoe. They didn’t deserve such emotions from me—Mitch might be a bit of an overbearing older brother at times, but both were decent people who’d shown me nothing but love and support, and now with our parents gone, having died in a car crash, they, and their boys, were all I had left.
But I was jealous.
I was envious.
I wanted what they had.
Why couldn’t I have it too? Why had my search been so fruitless? Why had the fates seen fit to deny me my safe harbor?
Sexy, passionate, endearing and romantic… even if there is a little heart-break in there as well.
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Heart Knot Mine is a definite must buy.
I cried in places, laughed in others—and found a lot of heart in these pages.
Sexy. Steamy. Enjoyable. Emotional.
It was sweet. It was heartfelt. I definitely needed a tissue…or two (tears of joy, people; tears of joy).
Noah Daniels’ love life is—to put it mildly—unsatisfactory. None of the women he’s been dating really do it for him, but he doesn’t know why. None of them strikes a spark inside of him. What’s the matter with him? His brother Mitch and his wife Miranda have spark—in spades. Noah wants what they have. Why can’t he have it too?
When the opportunity arises for a job exchange—he’ll go to London for a semester and teach art at central Saint Martens while his British counterpart takes his own position in Chicago—Noah decides to go for it. Maybe he just needs a change.
He settles into the other guy—Robert Callinan’s flat, and becomes familiar with his new surroundings. He meets Robert’s next door neighbor, Mrs. Higginbotham—a very friendly older lady who welcomes him with a casserole. Noah does some exploring of London in the week before he’s due to start work, and he likes what he sees.
While settling into his new digs, Noah makes an interesting discovery—some homemade porn DVD’s—featuring Robert. Noah can’t seem not to watch—or his body to react. His inadvertent voyeurism starts him on a voyage of self-discovery he’ll never forget.
More than just a holy cow I’m gay book, this is one man’s discovery of who he really is, one that will take him to some very interesting places, especially as he finds himself increasingly drawn to the star of the DVDs—the man whose bed he’s sleeping in.
But, as with most such journeys, there are ugly truths to be learned as well. I cried in places, laughed in others—and found a lot of heart in these pages. Most importantly, I felt.
I first read Lily Velden in her story, Hunter or Hunted, in the Love, Loss, Laughter & Lust anthology. I knew then she can write. This book more than confirms that.
Her style is classic and descriptive, her characters well-drawn. I look forward to reading the next book and see where Noah goes from here. Well done, Ms. Velden, well done!
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