Prologue

 

 

IF ANYONE had told me I would spend the first night of the Romantic Voyages convention in bed with an Olympian god, I would have said they were crazy. See, this guy was gorgeous. Way out of my league. It’s not that I’m ugly or anything. But this guy…. He was a good-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like the love child of Arnold and Ben Cohen. Luckily (in this case) men are a rare commodity at a romance book convention, and through some magical and fortuitous circumstance, I got the honor.

We didn’t do what I was hoping we’d do, what I’d fantasized about for the preceding hour (or day even), but I was no fool. I learned a long time ago that I would rather regret what I have done over what I haven’t.

Once, when I was barely out of the closet—I must have been all of nineteen—I went out of town to hook up with this guy I’d met several months before at a science fiction convention (I was a big old geek!). I’d gone to meet one of my favorite authors and wound up meeting this hottie as well.

We’d talked on the phone several times since we’d met, which had been kinky fun, and made plans to get together for an even kinkier weekend. I got there only to discover he had a brand-new boyfriend—i.e., they’d met two nights before—and it turns out they’d found “true love.”

In two days.

Right.

I was completely thrown for a loop, and I could tell it made Alan (my supposed partner) feel guilty (it should have!), and after a short conference between the two, they offered a weekend of three-way delight instead.

I turned them down.

I had my principles after all.

Principles?

They looked like really young versions of Starsky and Hutch—the originals, not the mediocre pair from the stupid movie—and I said no?

Oh. My. God! Or “O. M. G!” as my friend and comrade at New Visions Press, Jeannie Feinberg, likes to say.

For over twenty years now, I’ve wondered what fun I missed out on with those boys. I can only begin to imagine. Three nineteen- to twenty-year-olds having sex for an entire weekend? All that youthful energy? All that testosterone? All those ceaseless erections and multiple orgasms?

OMG! is right.

Who the hell did I think I was? Sandra Dee? I was going to spend the weekend with Alan to fuck (and maybe tie each other up), not discuss when it was appropriate to use tongue when we kissed. I hadn’t gone looking for romance.

The point—or moral, I guess—is never pass up a weekend of three-way sex with horny nineteen-year-old versions of Starsky and Hutch.

Never.

Ever.

Not for any reason whatsoever.

So when Dino Milosavljevic (cover model for many a barbarian, pirate, and yes, romance novel) pinched my nipples at the cocktail author meet and greet and asked me if I wanted to fuck, I answered with a quick and decisive “Yes!”

Had I known that I would become a suspect in a serious crime before the convention was over I might have made a different decision. But it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know.

Regret what I have done rather than what I haven’t, after all.

And really, even with all that happened—stabbings, attempted murder, police investigations, destruction, drag queens, and insane housewives—it all ended well.

Now, my high school creative writing teacher would have dragged my ass over the coals for starting my story this way. However, the famous science fiction editor Gardner Dozois once said to me: “Jude, I have a shitload of submissions to read. Mountains of them. I rarely get to the slush pile and when I do? Well, you got to grab me with the first sentence. Something like… ‘When the Pope woke up that morning, she realized she had forgotten to use her contraceptive the night before.’ Start a story like that and I guarantee you I’m going to read it!”

Thus all this stuff about murder, and sex with gods.

I’m not saying it is as good as his beginning, but it’s not too shabby.

What’s more, this is a true story.

It happened.

It happened to me.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

“MIND if I borrow your bedroom while you’re out of town?”

The question could not have been more unexpected—or more ill-timed.

“You want to ‘borrow’ my bedroom?” I asked. “What for?”

Lionel stood before me, hands in pockets, looking sheepish. Who knew if he was blushing or not? My beautiful roommate was so dark his skin was almost blue. I could see a lot of it too. Skin that is. All he was wearing was tight jeans that were riding so low I could just make out the top of his well-groomed pubes.

“I’m, ah….” He grinned, teeth dazzling and, like the rest of him, nigh on perfect. “I’m going to have a little party while you’re gone.”

I searched his face, his huge dark eyes, that full-lipped smile. What was he up to this time? A little party?

Then it hit me.

“Oh for God’s sake,” I said. “I take it you won’t be using my room for coats?”

Lionel shrugged, his mop of thin and yet somehow always controlled dreads bouncing around his lovely head. His grin grew even bigger.

“So when you say ‘bedroom’, what you really mean is my bed.”

“I promise to wash everything before you get home. Everything will be April fresh.”

“You’re having an orgy? This weekend?” I fixed him with what I hoped was a steely look. “Any reason why it’s this weekend?” Lionel had gotten me pretty heated up on more than one occasion telling me about his sex parties. I’d never been to an orgy before and wanted to. I’d had a few three-ways of course. What gay man who’s been out for over two decades hasn’t? I’d even been in a four-way. Once upon a time even a pseudo six-way. But never an orgy—although I suppose a six-way (even if it was only a pseudo one) could constitute an orgy….

Images of hunky naked men fucking over every piece of furniture in our apartment filled my mind. And I was going to miss out. “Dammit, Li. Why are your parties always while I’m out of town?”

“I have parties while you’re in town,” Lionel lied. He pulled his hands out of his pockets, held them out before him, all innocence.

“Not your sex parties,” I said.

Lionel shrugged again, this time in that curious, one-shouldered way of his. “I just didn’t think you’d be comfortable with this group of guys,” he explained. I couldn’t help but catch what sounded like a small note of sympathy in his tone.

“I see,” I said, getting what he wasn’t saying. “I’m not hot enough is what you’re telling me.”

His grin vanished, to be replaced by a look that reminded me of the expression on the face of my best friend Jeannie’s toy poodle when it was caught making “poopie” under the dining room table. All huge-eyed and sad. “Jude,” he moaned. “I didn’t say that. It’s just these guys are a younger crowd, you know?”

Ah. So it was my age. “Like forty-one makes me Methuselah or something?”

Lionel sighed. “In the gay world, it might as well be a hundred and forty-one.”

“Great,” I said. “Old before my time.”

“Not old-old,” Lionel said.

“Just gay-old,” I returned.

Lionel gave me a look that was half smile, half frown. “You know, you don’t even seem like the type who’d want to go to an orgy,” Lionel said.

“What type is that?” I asked. “I’m a red-blooded man. I want sex. What man, gay or straight, hasn’t fantasized about going to an orgy? Why wouldn’t I want to go to one of your parties?”

“Well, damn, Jude. Look at what you do for a living. You write sweet gay romances, not porn. You should have a husband and a pretty little house with a white picket fence and an itty bitty little dog.”

“I also work at Big John’s with you,” I remarked. Big John’s was a men’s specialty underwear boutique. It’s got quite a selection too. From your basic boxers to leather to thongs to underwear you might as well not bother wearing. There are even some that are assless. For easy access, I guess.

“True. You like the cock. But honey, you are romantic through and through. You should be looking for love, not just cock. Especially at your age.”

There was that age thing again.

“To tell you my honest-to-my-goodness truth, I can’t figure out why you’re single,” he said.

“You think I know?” I asked. Being single was not the goal of my life.

“You’re really all about the love. You’d make a great husband. Or wife. Or whatever.”

Or whatever?

Lionel sat on the coffee table, expertly crossing his legs and feet in that way of his that made my ankles hurt just watching him. “Why are you single, baby-doll?”

I shrugged. I had no clue.

I’m a nice guy. I am. I’m honest, kind, easy to get along with. I have a job—two jobs—pay my portion of the bills, and I have a car—although in Chicago, finding a parking space is almost as hard as finding a husband.

I’m not bad-looking, like I said before. I’m not Jake Gyllenhaal. But I’m not Willem Dafoe, either.

God knows I’ve dated. I’ve dated for twenty years. I’ve even had boyfriends, although my longest relationship was only about nine months.

The problem is… well….

Dammit!

I just always seem to date the wrong guys.

Like Fred, the guy who dreamed of once—just once—performing on stage as a drag queen. Okay, why not? Doesn’t exactly turn me on, but what could it hurt?

Fred didn’t make a very convincing woman. He was tall and wide, with large hands and a big jaw. Angelina Jolie he wasn’t. But damn, when he stepped out onto that stage, Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” blaring from the speakers, I could tell he thought he was. In his mind he was every bit of Angelina with some Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry thrown in.

I should have suspected trouble when he lip-synched so expertly that some people wondered if he was really singing. He also had no problem flinging himself around that stage in high-heels. First time? It might have been his first time on stage, but the man had been practicing a long, long time.

Within two months, Fred’s apartment was crammed with dresses, shoes, and wigs. You couldn’t go over and watch a DVD without sitting on a hat or stuffed bra. It wasn’t just his place either. My bedroom and closet were soon piled and stuffed with his female clothing and accessories. The bathroom too. Makeup and hair removal cream and he was shaving his legs and chest and OMG!

Fred expected me to help him lug all his shit around to the clubs every weekend! I had somehow instantly become what is known in the vernacular as a “drag husband.” I had not signed on for that. It was supposed to be “one time.” If I had wanted to be with a woman, I would have dated a woman. I liked men. Big, hairy, sweaty men. Hugh Jackman. Ben Cohen. Bradley Cooper. No shaved chests! No plucked eyebrows! No panty hose drying from the shower curtain rod!

I ended that relationship. I haven’t been able to deal with drag queens since. You couldn’t pay me to go to a drag club.

Then there was the vegetarian turning vegan who would lecture me every time I petted his cat or pointed out a cute dog on the street. He even called me a murderer once or twice.

“You say you love animals,” he would say in a terribly annoying drone. “But you’ll eat one!”

There was the “pet lover,” who turned out to have nine cats, two dogs, turtles, fish, three birds and a baby possum. In other words, no room for me.

There was the guy who said he “liked” video games and instead was obsessed with them and played them morning, noon, and night—even losing a job because he couldn’t break away from his Xbox to go to work.

The guy who was so out there that I felt like I was trapped in an episode of The Outer Limits every time I was with him.

There were the boring men.

The men who had problems with intimacy.

The men who were codependent.

There was the hypochondriac.

The germophobe.

The guy with no concept of personal hygiene.

The alcoholics.

The drug addicts.

The glory hole addicts.

The sex addicts.

The men who couldn’t have orgasms.

The ones who could have orgasms but it took all night, and I’d get a case of lockjaw in the meantime.

One guy who was into tantric sex—which he defined as sex without orgasms. He believed by stopping just before cumming, our sexual power was reabsorbed into our bodies, taking us to a higher plane of existence. “I think that spiritual orgasms are so much better than physical ones, don’t you? And a hell of a lot less messy!”

Fuck that shit! Pun intended.

Then there was the man obsessed with his mother.

And the man who hated his mother so much he wanted to kill her, and shared the fantasies of her death and how he might bring them about in great detail.

The racist, the bigot, the religious nut, and the general assholes.

The list goes on and on. I’ve dated all of these men and none were husband material. All I was looking for was a nice guy. Around my age. Decent looking. Hopefully hairy (God, I love a beard and chest hair). Funny. Intelligent. Not boring, and not too “out there.” Was that too much to ask for?

Apparently it was.

So I figured if I couldn’t find Mr. Right, I’d settle for Mr. Right Now. The problem was, that’s what my life turned out to be.

Twenty years of “Mr. Right Nows.”

 

 

“WHAT you need,” Lionel said, “is for some man to ride up on a white horse and rescue you.”

“Look, Lionel,” I said, sitting on the couch in front of him. “Stop trying to change the subject. Just be honest with me. Why aren’t I ever invited to your sex parties? I’ve got a dick. It’s a nice dick. I’m not ugly, and I’m not that old.”

“Juuude, it’s… it’s just….”

“It’s just what?”

“Most of the guys who are coming to the party are models and stuff,” Lionel continued. “Two are actually with Abercrombie and Fitch! Really thin, you know?”

This second part of his explanation felt like a punch to the gut. Or should I say paunch? “I’m too fat?” I asked, my hand falling to touch my tummy. It wasn’t a six-pack, but fat? Really? We couldn’t all be as thin as Lionel. “What, twenty pounds?”

Lionel looked down at the floor.

“Let me guess,” I said, not knowing whether to get depressed or furious. “In the gay world it might as well be twenty tons?”

Lionel said nothing and I turned away with a huff, then spied my suitcases by the front door. My eyes flew to the clock. Damn. I had to leave in twenty minutes and I was discussing orgies, or my lack of going to one. I could not be distracted. I was always a mess when it came to traveling, especially by plane. Did I have everything? My tickets? Picture ID? Had I packed something I shouldn’t have? Did my bottle of lube contain too many fluid ounces? Had I packed my Man Douche? And would airport security pull it out of my bag in front of everybody (again) and ask me what it was for?

“I’ll make it up to you,” Lionel said, a whiny tone threatening to take over his voice.

Yeah, right. “How?” I asked.

“I’ll throw you a bear party!” he said, the whine gone and glee taking over. “I’ll grill hamburgers and bratwurst out on the balcony. Put on some bear porn and voilà!”

“So you think I’m a bear, huh?” The vision of hunky men fucking was replaced by enormously heavy men instead. How could I be a bear? Sure I had a hairy chest, and yes, I often let my facial hair go for a few days or grew a goatee; I worked mostly at home, after all. I didn’t need to shave every morning. And it was a good look for Big John’s, especially for the reason I was hired. But that made me a bear? That and twenty pounds?

“Well, yeah,” Lionel said. “Sorta.”

Great. Just fucking great.

“Jeez, Jude. It’s not like you don’t ever get laid. You’re hot in your own way. All hairy and scruffy with that cute little muffin top. You’re sexy.”

“Just not Abercrombie and Fitch sexy,” I replied.

“Jude,” Lionel said. “It’s just that you wouldn’t get any action with these guys. They can be a little, oh, choosy. They might ignore you, and I don’t want you to get hurt. They’re all young and haa….”

He stopped and I knew he’d been about to say “hot” even though he suddenly changed the word to “boyish.” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “They’re clones,” he said. “I can’t believe that they include me.”

Sure. Right. Lionel had a body that looked like some ancient Roman statue. Carved from black marble to be sure, but definitely young and stunningly built, and unlike those statues, well-hung.

“You gotta understand,” Lionel said. “These boys all have the same haircuts and clothes and smooth chests and they’re all six-pack-y.”

Story of my life. Too old. Too hairy. Not hot enough. Not “six-pack-y.”

So was that the reason I was still single? Jeez. I worked for a male/male romance book company. Shouldn’t men, not to mention romance, be pursuing me like a pack of starved dogs?

“Fine,” I shouted and tried not to think of young gods fucking on my bed and the lack of benefit I was getting out of it.

He squealed and hugged me. “Have I told you I love you more than my luggage?”

“Not lately,” I said, pushing him away and looking at my own luggage again. Should I have brought my leather? Who knew? I’d never been to such a big convention before. Would Kansas City, land of Dorothy and Toto, even have a leather bar? And if it did, would I be too “fat?” Piss up a rope!

“I’ll tell you what,” Lionel said. “I’ll drive you to the airport. How’s that?”

I turned. “Really?” I asked.

Lionel nodded and I felt better immediately. I always hated driving into O’Hare, having to get there so damned early, what with security and everything. Leaving the car in satellite parking and catching the shuttle could add another hour easy. Chicago’s airport was like a small city unto itself. “Thanks, Li. That’ll help.” Then I remembered my lube bottle, and I was suddenly convinced it was too big. “Hey, you don’t have any of those tiny tubes of lube, do you?”

He grinned. “Do I? I have an ice bucket full of them.”

Of course he did. He was hosting an orgy this weekend.

“I’ll get you some. How many? Five? One a day?”

I laughed. Did he really think I’d get laid once a day?

“I’ll get you ten,” he said. “Just in case.”

 

 

JEANNIE picked me up at KCI airport per our plan. She lived in Wichita, Kansas, which was about two and a half hours outside of Kansas City, so of course she drove. My plane arrived only four minutes after it was supposed to, which was okay because she was a half hour late. I didn’t mind. It gave me time to get my shit together, grab coffee, and a little late or not, I didn’t have to take a shuttle. While I might have gotten to the hotel earlier, I just hate their shuttles, even the best of them. I’m always sandwiched in between someone with foul breath and a noisy, obnoxious child.

Jeannie is around fifty, about ten years older than me, has reddish-brown hair and big black glasses. She reminds me exactly of the actress Megan Mullally, especially when she started appearing awhile back on that weird show Breaking In. The first time I saw her character, I called Jeannie immediately.

“You’re back on TV,” I’d said with no preamble. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Wha-what?” she’d asked in that almost nasal voice of hers.

“But for shame, for shame. You are going to drive that cutie Christian Slater insane, you know.”

“What the jumped-up Christ are you talking about?” she’d squawked.

“On Breaking In,” I’d explained, as if to a child. “You’re on right now.”

“Breaking what? Goddammit! I told you Tuesday is date night with Joe.”

She called me about an hour later. Apparently date night had been ditched. “That was not me!” she’d cried. No “hello.” No “fuck you.” Just right into the deep end of the pool. “How many times do I have to tell you I don’t look a thing like her! Not on Will & Grace and certainly not now.”

“Spitting image,” I exclaimed. “Same hair, same glasses, same voice.”

“Eat me,” she commanded, and then hung up the phone.

I snickered on and off for hours. I loved Jeannie. If she were a man, I’d marry her. A lot of people don’t understand my relationship with her. She’s like the sister I never had. She can say anything she wants to me, but let someone else give me grief and she’ll come to my defense like a tiger. Plus, she makes me laugh.

And that time she got the last laugh.

The next time I saw her it was at our yearly New Visions retreat. She had tiny gold wire-rimmed glasses and a tight bonnet of blonde curls. I couldn’t even talk. Blonde? She’d dyed her hair blonde? I was all agog. I supposed the giant black widow spider tattoo on her neck should have given her disguise away, but I was too stunned to question her new look.

“You should have seen your face!” she’d crowed in delight.

The tattoo was temporary. The glasses were from the dollar store and the hair a cheap wig she’d found at a garage sale for two bucks. A deal at twice the price.

 

 

I FIRST met Jeannie about ten years ago online when I stumbled across a bunch of websites about one of my favorite TV shows, The Sentinel. Richard Burgi, the star of the show, was a huge fantasy for me in almost every way (oh, if only he had a hairy chest!). I was so hot for him, it was downright silly. It was a pure accident when I discovered fan-written stories online. A lot of them were pretty damned good, as well written if not better than many of the actual episodes.

But then one day I came across something that would change my whole life. Stories where the two main characters of the show, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg—his sidekick—were lovers. I was shocked. I remember thinking, Holy shit, Jim and Blair having sex! And then, Son of a bitch, this is freaking hot!

I don’t know exactly why I was so surprised these stories existed. I’d heard of “slash,” specifically the stories about Kirk and Spock from Star Trek, but that pairing had always sorta squicked me and I’d never given the phenomenon of fan-written fiction, or “fan fic,” much more thought.

But if there were stories out there about Kirk and Spock, why not stories about Jim and Blair, one who I thought was sizzling hot and the other a cutie in his own right? Now these were men I could imagine doing the dirty. It was practically canon. I mean, they were essentially lovers already. I never read gen fic again—“gen fic” meaning “general fiction,” stories that don’t include sex, and most especially not gay sex.

Give me the good stuff. Sorry.

One of my instant favorite authors was someone who went by the nom de plume “Wichitama.”

I had no idea what that meant. Was the author a witch? It didn’t occur to me to think of Wichita. I’m not sure I knew there was such a place.

It turns out that Wichitama was none other than Jeannie Fienberg, a housewife and mother of a son who’d just made the jump into teenagerhood. Jeannie and I were exchanging e-mails by the truckload in no time, and then I discovered she was soon going to be attending a big Midwest fan-fiction convention. A con that was only about four hours from where I lived.

I couldn’t resist meeting my new friend face to face, and a few months later I headed to my first convention in years.

I found Jeannie to be loud, brassy, and even more crass than her e-mails implied. We were instant buddies. Through Jeannie, I met one of her best friends, Gail Southgate, a slim little thing with lovely long dark hair. Like Jeannie, Gail and I bonded quickly.

I met other slash writers that weekend (there were all kinds of pairings out there apparently). All of them were women to my surprise, but I was quickly adopted into their little family. I was also their mascot. They loved having a gay friend who didn’t mind answering all sorts of intimate questions about gay men. Especially what they did sexually. Detailed questions about what they did sexually!

At first it was a little embarrassing, but soon I was answering questions like Dr. Ruth. They loved it. Today there are a lot of men out there doing that, but just a decade or so ago, I was pretty unique in fandom. I was even on some panels at slash cons where even more women asked me all kinds of stuff to help them with their own stories. It was fun. It gave me a certain fame or status I enjoyed, small time as it may have been. My ego loved it.

And over the next five years, me and the “girls”—there were about five us that had formed into a little clan—would meet whenever we could, usually at conventions.

It didn’t take long, in those early days, before I was writing as well and began to get a following of my own, online and off. I’d long fantasized about being a writer, and telling the tales of my television heroes seemed to be just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing.

I wrote mostly Sentinel fic, but I ventured out into a few other fandoms. Stargate SG-1 (I was so hot for Daniel Jackson), some Due South (for Paul Gross as Constable Benton Fraser—yummy—but sadly not either of his partners), and I even wrote a Starsky and Hutch story. It was a three-way story, and not very popular since I’d strayed from the holy duo, but hey! Guess what? I didn’t write it for the fans. That one was for me and that real-life adventure never realized.

Jim and Blair were my favorites, though. My true loves. For me, part of it was that I’m attracted to both of them. Not only the actors, but the characters. The people they played. I wrote a three-way about them too, but no one has ever seen it. In it I myself fucked Blair’s sweet little ass while Jim fucked mine.

Heaven. On. Earth.

Jeannie and I even wrote a couple of novellas together, although that ended because she felt my love scenes got “a little too graphic.”

“I just can’t imagine Jim eating Blair’s ass,” she said with a sneer. “It’s disgusting.”

“It most certainly is not disgusting,” I snapped, offended. “No more gross than eating pussy.”

“You just want to imagine a man like Jim rimming your rosebud,” she said, and pretended to shudder. At least I think she was pretending.

“Actually it’s Richard Burgi I fantasize about,” I replied.

“You want him to pound your rear end,” she said with a giggle.

“Maybe,” I admitted. “And maybe I want a shot at that miracle butt of his.”

“Stop!” she barked, holding up a defensive hand. “Squick! Squick!”

I stiffened, further insulted. “Hey! You calling me gross or something?”

“It’s like imagining my brother having sex. I know he does it. I just don’t want to hear about it.”

 

 

WHEN Jeannie picked me up at the airport, she was the same as always: roundish face despite a perfect figure, same shoulder-length hair, and big glasses. No wild costume to freak me out, but who knew what she had up her sleeve? The whole back of her old Taurus station wagon was stuffed with boxes. New Visions Press “lived” in Lawrence, pretty much a straight shot between Wichita and Kansas City, so she’d been charged with bringing the books. Gail, our publisher, was in Stockholm of all places. It was hard to imagine that New Visions was just about to hit five years of age, had been in the black for most of that time, and had, astoundingly, made nearly a million dollars the year before. I guess Gail deserved a trip to Stockholm. Of course it was for business. Rough.

We somehow crammed my main suitcase in back after much shifting—thank goodness I had no breakables—and I kept my carry-on in my lap.

“Jeez, did you pack for a fucking month?” Jeannie asked with her typical grace and style.

“I’m a gay man, in case you didn’t know. I have to pack for every eventuality.”

“No damned kidding. This isn’t the flood, you know. You didn’t have to pack your whole apartment.”

“Well, I know there are at least two of every book we’ve printed in those boxes,” I said, pointing with a cocked thumb over my shoulder. “At least I didn’t bring my harness.”

“Thank you for sparing my eyes that sight,” she said, and once again I felt fat. “Besides, we have five of everything, ten of our better sellers. And twenty of each of your books.”

“Oh really?” I said, suddenly mollified.

“We’ll sell them all too. You’re cute enough.” Jeannie laid a friendly hand on my knee, and then patting it said, “And you’re a real live gay man. The women will go batshit!”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise.