Monthly Archives: September 2011

Shared Range, Troubled Range—a pair of M/M Westerns by Andrew Grey

This final installment in a week-long feature of Andrew Grey focuses on his contemporary western M/M romance. We have an excerpt from Shared Range, which was released last fall by Dreamspinner Press, and another from Troubled Range, released in March, 2011. The two stories share a location and some characters, but each has it’s own hot romance at its core. If you’d like to know more about Andrew and his work, you can read the author interview from earlier this week, and visit his author page at Dreamspinner Press, where you’ll find another interview and all his books.

It has been a pleasure to have Andrew as featured author this week.

Here’s a bit about the books. (Remember the cover images are the purchase links. Just click one.)

Andrew Grey ASharedRangeLG art Reese Dante
After a year in medical school, Dakota Holden returned home to take care of the family business full time and help his father cope with multiple sclerosis. Devoted to his family, Dakota allows himself just one week of vacation a year, which he spends in some exotic location having all the fun he can stand. On his last vacation, a cruise, Dakota struck up a friendship with Phillip Reardon, and it fills an important role in Dakota’s life.

So when Phillip decides to take Dakota up on his invitation to visit the ranch, Dakota is happy to see him and meet his veterinarian friend, Wally Schumacher. Despite Wally’s inclination to help the wolves Dakota’s men shoot to protect the cattle, he and Dakota find they have a lot in common, including a fierce attraction. But they’ll have to decide if the Wyoming range is big enough for Dakota’s cattle, Wally’s wolves, and their love.

*

The horse swayed gently beneath him, and Dakota could feel the tension and pressure slipping away with every step of the powerful bay.

“So, how was your first year of medical school? And don’t give me the crap you put in your letters so I wouldn’t worry.”

Dakota couldn’t help smiling over at his father, sitting tall in the saddle of the gray mare. He’d tried for years to get his father to use a different mount, but Sadie was his father’s favorite, and the two of them knew each other so well it was almost uncanny.

Dakota exhaled deeply, letting more of the pressure go. “It was the most challenging pressure cooker I could have ever imagined. The classes, the clinicals, oral and written exams….” The thought of the long hours and demanding professors actually brought a smile to his face.

“You loved it, didn’t you, son?”

There was definitely pride in his old man’s voice. But that wasn’t unusual. Jefferson Holden had always made it very plain that he was proud of everything Dakota did. The man wasn’t just his father—he was his best friend. They didn’t keep secrets and they shared everything. Well, almost everything.

“I did, Dad. It’s what I really want to do.” The horses continued moving across the wide open field, and Dakota took in the rolling hills that led to the steep mountains in the distance. “But there’s something about coming back here….” He didn’t know how to express what he was feeling in words, but his father looked over at him and nodded, the look on his face telling him he understood and that words weren’t necessary. The land was in Jefferson Holden’s blood. He lived and breathed every bit of it. And Dakota hadn’t realized how much it was in his blood, too, or how much he’d miss being away from it. “I thought we’d ride to the river.” Dakota saw the gleam in his father’s eye before looking ahead again.

“I knew you would. When you were a kid, I thought I’d have to tie you to the front porch to keep you away from the water.” His father’s rich, familiar laugh carried on the wind. “Come on. Let’s see what you’ve got.” Jefferson spurred his horse to a gallop and took off, with Dakota right behind him.

“Come on, Roman. let’s not let these old geezers get the best of us.” Dakota kicked his horse lightly and he took off, shooting across the grassland, hooves pounding the ground, breath fogging in the crisp morning air. Dakota could feel the animal’s power pulsing under him, and his spirit soared along with Roman’s. He’d spent months cooped up in classrooms and clinics. The scent of the range, earth, and a hint of water reached into his soul to reawaken what the city had deadened. “I’m right behind you, old man,” he called as he approached his father, overtaking him just before pulling the horse to a stop as the foliage near the water came into view.

His father pulled up right behind him, and together they walked to the riverbank before dismounting and letting the horses drink in the shallows at the bend. Dakota looked to the other side. The rope still hung from the old tree branch, and he could still hear the screams and squeals of his friends as they swung up before plunging into the frigid water. “One thing was for sure”—his father’s voice pulled him out of his memory—“I could always find you.” Dakota felt a hand on his shoulder. “You’d swim in the dead of winter if I’d have let you.”

“Not anymore.” Dakota couldn’t help smiling. As a kid, the water was never too cold, but now he figured it would always be that way.

“No, I suspect not.” They stood together, comfortably quiet, both watching the dark specks that dotted the range on the other side. Their cattle, the lifeblood of the ranch, moved slowly as the hulks foraged for food.

“It’s funny, Dad. When I left for school, I couldn’t wait to get away from here. I wanted to see some more of the world.”

“And now you look forward to coming back,” his father said, finishing his thought for him. Dakota nodded and his father laughed. “You think you’re the only one? When I was your age, I couldn’t get away fast enough, either, but there’s something in this land that called me back, and now it’s doing the same to you too.” Dakota turned to him and saw his dad’s blue eyes filling with love. “You’ll leave again, but you’ll be back. The land won’t let you stay away for very long. It’s part of you, just like it’s part of me.”

Dakota knew that was true, but he also knew that there was a part of him—a part that was becoming undeniable—that would make it very difficult for him to stay here, no matter how much he wanted to. Dakota opened his mouth, and for a second he almost told his dad, but he stopped himself. Now wasn’t the time. He’d come home to recharge and get ready for another grueling year, and a revelation that he preferred men to women was a distraction he just didn’t need, and neither did his dad. He wanted things to be as they were, at least for the summer.

“We should head back, Dad.” Dakota didn’t really want to leave this spot. The water gurgling around the rocks and the flowers along the riverbank were everything he remembered.

“You’ll be back here again, I expect.” Jefferson mounted his horse and began the journey back toward the house. Dakota knew he was giving him a few minutes. With a smile, he swung back up onto Roman and spurred him onward, flying past his father and calling to him as they sailed by. He knew his dad wouldn’t be undone and could hear the beat of the hooves behind him.

Dakota reached the paddock first and bounded off Roman’s back, walking him to his stall. “Hey, Dad, you need help getting down?” he teased as he closed the stall door. Dakota thought about removing the saddle, but he hadn’t heard his father approach. Thinking it strange, he left the barn and walked around the side, looking back over the field. Dakota’s heart nearly stopped as he saw Sadie wandering, riderless. Taking off at a run, adrenaline pumping, the ground flew beneath his feet as a dark mound that he knew was his father appeared as he approached. “Dad!” His cry was answered by a low, painful moan that pulled at his heart. “Dad, what happened?” Dakota skidded to a stop and knelt next to the older man.

Andrew Grey ATroubledRangeLg art Reese Dante
The neighboring Holden and Jessup ranches are anything but neighborly—Jefferson Holden and Kent Jessup loathe each other. But despite his father’s long-held grudge, Haven Jessup just can’t bring himself to hate, especially after Dakota Holden takes him in during a violent storm and Haven meets Dakota’s friend, Phillip Reardon.

Phillip accepts Haven for who he is, seeing through the mask Haven uses to hide his attraction to men, but their tentative and secret relationship will be under a huge amount of stress. Sabotaged fences, injured animals, unsavory plans, and Jessup family secrets will threaten Haven’s newfound happiness and his hopes of a future with Phillip.

*

Phillip got up and walked to his friend, receiving a hug, surprised when Dakota was followed in by a younger man, almost as broad and tall. Turning, Dakota spoke to the stranger. “Haven, I’ll give you a ride home as soon as I get my dad to bed.” Dakota looked at Phillip. “You gonna be up for a while?”

“Sure. Wally went to bed a while ago, but I can stay up for a bit,” Phillip answered, noticing that the other man kept looking at him. Phillip knew that look—one of confused desire that closeted boys got when they saw something that they were attracted to, but weren’t sure if they wanted to kiss or kill. Phillip saw Dakota take the nearly full beer bottle from his dad before wheeling him away down the hall toward his bedroom. The kid, Dakota had said his name was Haven, sat on the far edge of the sofa. “I’m Phillip, Phillip Reardon. Do you work for Dakota?”

Haven shook his head. “Haven Jessop. My dad’s ranch is just to the east of Dakota’s place.” He seemed nervous and uncomfortable, but Phillip felt confident that he wasn’t the source. There seemed to be something else that had the man wound as tight as a drum.

“Did you get the fence fixed?”

“Yes,” Haven answered, and he seemed to wind himself even tighter. Leg bouncing on the floor, eyes darting around the room, Haven almost seemed as though he was ready to explode at any minute. Dakota’s footsteps in the hall seemed to trigger him, and Haven jumped to his feet as Dakota entered the room. “That section of fence was fine this afternoon,” he blurted out excitedly, like he’d been waiting hours to say something.

“It couldn’t have been. The post was rotten.”

Haven stepped closer, looking earnestly at Dakota. “I know it looked rotten, which is why I checked it by hand. I saw it when I was on Jake and tested it. The post looked bad, but it didn’t budge when I tugged on it.” Haven was speaking louder, and Dakota looked dubious. Footsteps in the hall silenced everyone.

“Kota,” Wally said from the hallway, “you’re being an ass. I can tell from here that he’s telling the truth, and since when do we call people liars who just spent two hours helping us fix fences and get our cattle back in their ranges?”

Phillip had never seen the wind fly out of Dakota’s sails so fast before, but Wally wasn’t done. “I believe Haven’s telling the truth, and I think you should have a better look at the post tomorrow morning, when you can see. In the meantime, he needs to go home before his father has some sort of conniption, and you need to come to bed.” Without another word, Wally turned back down the hall.

“Let me take you home,” Dakota said to Haven.

“I’ll do it, Dakota. You go on to bed. You’re dead on your feet.” Phillip walked toward his room. “I’ll put on some shoes.” Phillip went to his room and slipped on some sneakers. When he returned, the two men were talking quietly and most of the tension had thankfully dissipated. “You ready to go?” Phillip asked, and Haven nodded, as Dakota covered a yawn with his hand.

“I promise I’ll check the post in the morning. I had the men throw it in the back of the truck.”

“Thanks,” Haven replied with a slight smile before following Phillip outside and across the yard to his car. “My dad’s gonna blow a gasket. I was supposed to be home hours ago,” Haven said just before Phillip started the engine.

Phillip put the car in gear and pulled down the drive. “Just say you were helping Dakota out. He should understand. Doesn’t everybody help everyone else out around here?”

Haven had him turn left. “My dad and Dakota’s dad have been enemies for years. Don’t know why, but if my dad finds out I was at the Holden ranch, he’ll skin me alive. It’s been that way ever since I could remember.” Haven pointed out the window. “The drive’s just up on the left about another half mile.”

Phillip watched for the drive and turned, pulling up to the small house, stopping the car. “I’ll see you around, and I promise not to tell your dad where you were.”

Haven smiled, his face warming, eyes sparkling with a touch of happiness. “Thanks, I appreciate that.” Haven opened the door and climbed out of the car. “I’ll see you around.”

The door closed, and Phillip watched as Haven climbed the steps to the house, disappearing inside. Phillip turned his car around and headed back down the drive toward the ranch.

Parking out of the way, Phillip got out of the car, surprisingly not at all sleepy. He looked toward the foreman’s cabin, its windows dark, thinking of Mario and the times he’d spent in that cozy little house with Mario keeping him warm. Wally was right. It had been foolish and unfair of him to think Mario would be waiting for him to come back. Truthfully, Phillip had started to wonder if he was made to settle down, but the bouts of loneliness were becoming more frequent, and he found himself becoming more and more jealous of the couples he seemed to be spending time with. Phillip smiled as he could almost hear Wally’s voice asking him what it was he wanted. He’d always thought he’d fall for a huge guy with muscles and strength, both inside and out.

Without thinking, Phillip found himself wandering into the barn, a small light at the far end enough for him to see the large heads poking out of the stalls to see what was going on. “It’s okay, guys, didn’t mean to disturb you,” Phillip told the horses before turning around. Leaving the barn, he wandered toward the front porch and into the house. Tired or not, he wasn’t going to sort his life out in a few minutes.

Opening the door quietly, he lightly stepped through the nearly dark house, making his way toward the bedroom. Cleaning up as softly as he could, Phillip slid beneath the crisp sheets and did his best to let the worries and cares that seemed to follow him lately fall away. Once he relaxed, Phillip smiled as he thought of Haven and the warmth in the brief smile he’d seen and the earnest way he’d needed Dakota to believe him. The boy was cute; he had to give him that.

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More Andrew Grey—*Dutch Treat* (Dreamspinner Press 07/11)

Yes, we have more Andrew Grey—that is to say, his writing. Here’s a bit about his novel Dutch Treat, with an excerpt to follow. (Then, come back tomorrow for a little Western action from Shared Range.)

If you missed the interview and would like to check that out now, click right here: Andrew Grey Interview

As before, if you’d like to buy a book, simply click the cover image for a direct link.

Dutch Treat

When Michael accepts a company assignment overseas, he doesn’t count on being dumped by his boyfriend on the way to the airport. The breakup is a bad omen–Michael’s time in Europe would be one long misery of loneliness and corporate backbiting if it weren’t for his friendship with his coworker, Stephan.

When he finds out Stephan wants more than friendship, Michael is torn. Even if he chooses to risk his one bright relationship in Europe for a chance at love, when this project is over, isn’t his only choice to say goodbye?

*

An excerpt:

“I think you’ll want to get that coffee now. Curtis called a management meeting for eight thirty, and you know how he is,” Kyle said after making sure the hallway was empty. Michael knew exactly how he was, even after having worked for the man only a few months. Curtis’s changing moods were well-engrained upon everyone who worked for him. Michael had often thought the man needed a good dose of mood stabilizers, but couldn’t say that to anyone.

“Thanks for the warning.” Michael opened his e-mail and saw the messages from Curtis sitting in his inbox like terrorist pipe bombs just waiting to ruin a perfectly good Friday. Ignoring them for now, Michael got up and accompanied Kyle down to the cafeteria, returning a few minutes later, coffee in hand, to go through his e-mails and prepare for his day and the infamous meeting.

At the appointed time, Michael got up from his desk and hurried to the conference room, finding the other managers already there and Curtis sitting at the head of the table, looking toward the door. Michael glanced at the clock just to make sure he wasn’t late before closing the door and taking one of the empty chairs. Curtis had a real thing about being on time for meetings and appointments, even though the one person on the team most likely to be late for anything was Curtis himself. Every week, Curtis had a set time to meet with each of his managers, and more likely than not, Michael would be kept waiting for his appointment. But heaven forbid, the world would end if he were a minute late for anything Curtis scheduled.

“We’ve been tasked with taking on an extra project because of the shuffles with the logistics team. They lost one of their project managers, and since our team still has two,” Curtis said, as he turned to Kyle and Michael with one of his self-righteous “I fought for you, so you owe me” looks on his face, “I’ll be reassigning the projects this morning, and things will need to change. Right now the workload isn’t balanced, and this additional project is going to make things even more complicated. Brian, I’m going to need you to take on one of the projects. It’ll be one of the simpler ones that fits with your team. Kyle and Michael, I haven’t figured out how I’m going to divide things up yet, but I’ll talk to both of you later this morning.”

Michael felt his stomach lurch, but he was careful to keep any reaction off his face. He currently had three projects, and all three of them were well under control, fully planned, and carefully timelined. He’d spent months doing all the requirements-gathering, documentation, planning, and team building, working nights and even weekends to make sure they were right, and now who the hell knew what Curtis was going to come up with. After Curtis’s little announcement, the man launched into stories that ate up almost the next half hour. Michael kept looking at the clock, wondering when he could get back to his desk. There was plenty to get done regardless of Curtis’s project shakeup, and he had calls that needed to be made. Zoning out, Michael tried to organize everything in his head so that when he could get out of here, he could get right to work.

“So I woke up in the middle of the night, wet, and when I lifted the covers, my crotch was green. The bag of peas had leaked all over everything. Never refreeze the bag of peas. Once they thaw, throw them out.” Everyone laughed, and Michael did as well because it was expected, even if he’d already heard the story of Curtis’s vasectomy and the infamous bag of peas at least twice. Kyle had confessed after the last telling that he’d heard it at least six times. The only comforting thought about that story was that the world would be spared from any more “little Curtises”—there was a God after all.

Finally, the waste of time Curtis called a meeting was over, and Michael hurried back to his desk. Checking his e-mail once again, he found it blessedly empty and began making calls, ticking other tasks off his list as he verified that all critical tasks were on plan. The last call he made was to the software rep, Marty, to make sure they would deliver the customized store register code as promised. Their timeline for delivery was already tight and any slippage would delay the entire project. Michael did not want to have to explain that to Curtis, or for that matter to Mark, the vice president of the technology development. After being assured that everything was on track and that no problems had been found, they talked for a few minutes about Marty’s new baby before disconnecting. Michael had known Marty for years and had worked hard under his previous director to build a good relationship.

Checking his list again, he set up meetings for the following week before starting to work on the next steps in his project documentation. Fridays were usually good days with limited meetings, which allowed him to get caught up, and if he were lucky, slightly ahead on the next week’s work. “Michael.” He looked up and saw Kyle peering into his office. “Curtis asked me to send you to his office.”

Kyle definitely looked a little worse for wear, and Michael wondered just what had happened, but Kyle walked away without saying anything more. Michael picked up his day planner, and after locking his PC, walked down the hallway toward the front corner offices where the directors and vice presidents had their offices. Curtis’s door was open, but he wasn’t at his desk. Taking a seat in one of the chairs, Michael opened his planner, updating his to-do list with tasks he needed to do next week, until Curtis walked in and shut the door. Glancing at his watch, Michael realized he’d been waiting for almost fifteen minutes.

“As I said in the meeting this morning, we need to reassign some of the projects, but something else has come up since then.” Curtis sat down in his leather office chair, fishing through the piles of crap on his desk. “The Shoe Finder project for Europe is in trouble. Europe doesn’t have the resources to work with Kyle to complete the project. They have people to do the work, but not manage it from their end. They asked if we could send the project manager over there to work with their people until the project is completed at the end of October.”

“So Kyle will be going to Europe for, what, five months?” Michael asked, trying to figure out which of Kyle’s projects he could take over to help out. “What can I do to help?”

“That’s the issue. Kyle isn’t willing to be away from his family for that period of time, and Mark wanted me to ask if you’d take over the project. I want to stress that this is Kyle’s project, and you don’t have to do this.” The last sentiments were added in a rush that rendered them completely meaningless. In other words, Michael read into it silently, you don’t have to do this, but Mark will remember that you weren’t a team player and weren’t willing to do what the company needed. Since Kyle had a wife and kids, those things didn’t seem to apply to him. Michael was speechless. He hadn’t seen this coming at all, and now everything had been turned on its end. Curtis continued talking without waiting for Michael’s response. “We’ll move the Canada and Asia projects to Kyle, and transition the Europe project to you. You’ll keep the automated-scheduling project since that’s already being implemented.”

“When do you need an answer?” Michael asked, bringing Curtis to a screeching halt, and Michael realized Curtis hadn’t made any plans for what would happen if Michael said no. Curtis had simply assumed Michael would do it, and he probably would have for Dennis, his previous supervisor and one of the best people Michael had ever worked with.

“We need an answer as soon as possible, but you know if you pull this off, this could be a career-making move for you,” Curtis said as he leaned forward, the part about the promotion that he knew Michael had been hoping for going unvocalized, but definitely implied.

Michael’s throat felt dry. “Let me think about it.”

“You did the US version of this project, so this shouldn’t really be all that hard,” Curtis told him, leaning back in his chair, and Michael could almost see him pull his salesman’s hat out of the drawer. “And you’ll get to spend some time in Europe. Have you ever been?” Curtis inquired, his voice taking on an edge of excitement.

“No, I haven’t,” Michael answered, feeling a twinge of excitement himself. “I need some time to think about this,” he said, checking his watch, “and I have a meeting in a few minutes.”

“Get back to me this afternoon, and we can hammer out any details.” Curtis turned his attention to his computer, and Michael realized he’d been dismissed. Opening the office door, Michael stepped out and saw Mark walking down the hallway toward him.

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Andrew Grey’s *Legal Artistry* (new release from Dreamspinner Press)

Andrew Grey is featured this week. Scroll down for excerpts from his latest release Legal Artistry, and from Dutch Treat, another recent release. To start, here is a blurb describing Legal Artistry, and a little bit about Andrew:

Note: Throughout this feature (as elsewhere in the blog) click any cover image for a link to purchase the novel.

Years ago, Dieter Krumpf’s grandmother died and left him everything, including a photo album containing pictures of the art collection she left behind when her family fled the Nazis. Now, Dieter is calling on the services of a lawyer, Gerald Young, to determine whether his family’s legacy might be returned to him.

Gerald doesn’t hold out much hope that the paintings will be returned, but Dieter’s earnestness speaks to him and he agrees to help. At first he concludes that while Dieter has a case, suing in Austria isn’t practical. But Gerald is a good lawyer, and as his feelings for Dieter develop, so does his determination to win the case. Together, Gerald and Dieter navigate research, hearings, and a dysfunctional family in the pursuit of fine art—and discover the art of love along the way.

Andrew grew up in western Michigan with a father who loved to tell stories and a mother who loved to read them. Since then he has lived throughout the country and traveled throughout the world. He has a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and works in information systems for a large corporation. Andrew’s hobbies include collecting antiques, gardening, and leaving his dirty dishes anywhere but in the sink (particularly when writing) He considers himself blessed with an accepting family, fantastic friends, and the world’s most supportive and loving partner. Andrew currently lives in beautiful, historic Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

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Andrew Grey—the interview

Hello, Andrew, and thanks for coming. I’m anxious to find out more about some of your many books, including Legal Artistry, your latest release. I’d like to start, though, by asking some questions about you as a writer—your process and perhaps what inspires you.

AG Thank you so much. It’s great to be here with you.

Q: You’ve lived and traveled many places. Did you spend most of your childhood in Michigan, where you were born? Do you think that landscape (whether urban or rural) influenced you as a writer? If so, how? What about where you make your home now, in Carlisle? If there has been any place or places in your travels that has influenced you more than others, perhaps you’ll talk a bit about why and how.
A: Yes, I spent my childhood and early adult years in Michigan, parts of them living in a rural community and I’ve found that all the places I’ve lived and visited have served as an inspiration. I’ve set stories in almost all the places I’ve lived in my life. The only places I haven’t used yet are Los Angeles and San Francisco and I probably will very soon.

I currently live in Carlisle PA and I love it here. The town itself is historic with a rich tapestry of scenery and personalities. I set A Taste of Love and A Serving of Love in Carlisle and I just finished A Helping of Love. I also have an idea for a new set of characters also set in Carlisle.

Q: It sounds like your parents were great inspiration, themselves. Do you feel you came into the world a writer in the making and they helped you realize that, or that you became a writer because of their influence, at least in part? (I know that may be an impossible answer, but I’m intrigued by the question, so if you can share your thoughts, that would be wonderful.)
A: My parents have always been rather supportive of everything I’ve tried to do. I did not come into the world as a writer. I love it, but discovered writing rather late in life. I’ve always been a reader and after discovering gay romance, I decided to give it a try.

Q: Why Romance, Andrew? Within that broader classification, you’ve written in several sub-genre, on a number of subjects—though your style seems consistent. How difficult is it for you to switch, for instance, from western romance to romance in a setting of foreign intrigue? Can you talk about the sub-genre you feel most inspired by or comfortable with?
A: I feel most comfortable writing contemporary. I love writing different types of stories because it helps keep my mind from getting tired of a particular setting or topic. I have no trouble switching between setting or sub-genre’s. I write what I like and what moves me.

Q: Generally, does plot come first for you and then you populate it with characters, or do your characters inspire plot? Any exceptions? How and from where do you draw your characters?
A: I usually begin with the characters, but that’s not to say that there haven’t been times when a plot idea has come to me and I built characters around it. Accompanied by a Waltz was a plot first story as is Legal Artistry to a certain degree. My characters themselves come from everyone I meet. I tend to use bits and pieces of everyone in my life in my stories.

Q: Okay, Andrew, this question is my favorite and most nefarious, and no interviewee escapes it: Who is sexiest, in your mind? Dieter or Gerald? Michael or Stephan? Two rules: you can fudge, but you cannot cheat (no saying “both.”); no one-word answers (not multiple choice, essay).

A: It’s hard to pick a sexiest character because each one has something that makes them attractive. For raw animal sex appeal, the sexiest man I’ve written is probably Gene from Spot Me. He’s full on, drop dead gorgeous sexy. But there are many things that make a man sexy and physical appearance is only part of it. Dieter is incredibly sexy in his innocence.

Q: It seems much, if not all, of your work includes an element of intrigue, and perhaps in Legal Artistry it’s especially strong. In general, do you find that helps or hinders kindling romance and moving it forward to the happy ending? In LA specifically, most of us are familiar with the controversy around true ownership of many valuable articles that were confiscated during the second World War—which was notably in the news several years ago. How long have you been thinking about including that in one of your novels? How did the idea to do so come to you? How did you choose location?
A: The idea came to me a while before I began writing the story and it percolated for a while. I love art and a bit of intrigue, so I thought I would try to combine them both. This topic fascinated me and I thought I would try to see how it would work. I also decided to use the Bottled Up universe because the situation seemed to fit my other characters.

Q: To my eye and ear, Andrew, your prose has a lovely, down to earth style that keeps the story flowing, keeps the reader’s attention focused on the characters and action (rather than the words), yet still imparting emotion, personality, and impressive setting. How natural is that style? Is it easier for you sometimes than others? This seems to be especially true in Legal Artistry. How easily did that novel flow?
A: The style in which I write is completely natural. I’ve always thought that I write the way that works for me because the world is more than what we say, it’s how we feel and the way we act. I try to include some of the nonverbal communication we all use in my stories. As for Legal Artistry, that story flowed easily for me as did its follow up Artistic Appeal. Both stories really seemed to work.

Q: Anne Cain has once again created a beautiful and expressive cover for LA. How much influence did you have in terms of elements, style, color. Your first reaction? You have published many novels with Dreamspinner Press—can you choose the artist, at this point?
A: The current cover for Legal Artistry is the second one we did. The first didn’t have the feeling needed for the story. I have some influence on the covers, but it was Anne and her brilliant artistic mind that developed the actual painting for “The Woman in Blue” and the rest of the cover flowed from there. I do not choose the artist for my covers, but I can ask if a title fits a particular style.

Q: In your Western series, you have a character named Wally, who is the love interest in A Shared Range. I love him. I know that’s blunt, but I just find him to be so much fun, and I love the way he takes over, from time to time, and leaves the big boss guy stunned and with no retort. How did you come to create him? Does his character reflect a person or persons you know? Did he, in particular, talk back to you as you were trying to write him?
A: Wally is strictly a figment of my imagination. I don’t know anyone like him and maybe that’s why he works so well. I love to develop characters where their personality is separate from the physical appearance. I think it makes the story much more fun. When I was writing Wally, he talked back to me all the time as most of my characters do. They tend to develop their own minds.

Q: About Dutch Treat, I’ve heard you mention elsewhere that you wrote it after having been on a similar assignment in the Netherlands for your “other job” as an IT professional. Can you talk a bit about that, and how it led to the in the story in the novel? Is this more autobiographical—not necessarily in terms of romance, but elsewise—than most of your novels?
A: Dutch Treat reflects a lot of what I felt during that extended assignment. I imparted in my character a lot of those emotions and experiences. As to how it led to a novel, I’m really not sure. I got the idea for a story and the setting just jumped out at me and I went from there. Often many of my stories spring out of my mind organically and they’re the ones I like best.

Q: I want to ask you about a series we haven’t mentioned yet—the Bottled Up series. I’ve read a couple of the books in that series, and it seems to me they showcase a special tenderness—between the lovers, and also on the part of the older men toward their wards. I’d love to hear about the origin and development of these novels, if you’d share. Also I should say that these simple, clean-styled covers are among my favorites, but I can’t find what artist created them. Can you share, and perhaps talk about your reaction to those covers when you first saw them?
A: The bottled Up stories were inspired by my brother’s wine store opening a few years ago. The covers were developed by Mara McKenna, the Artistic Director for Dreamspinner Press. When I first saw the cover for Bottled Up, I wasn’t sure about it, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. Mara also did all the Love Means… covers for me.

Q: Lastly, Andrew, what’s coming up? What can readers expect in the next year or so? Any new ideas kicking around that you’re especially fond of and don’t mind sharing? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: I have a ton of things in the works. Artistic Appeal releases in October. Love Means… Healing will release in November and Love Means…Family in December. I also have An Unsettled Range and January. In addition, Artistic Pursuits and A Helping of Love are with my publisher and I’m currently working to finish Legal Tender. After that, we’ll see what comes up.

I have very much enjoyed perusing your work and having the opportunity to ask about you—Andrew Grey the author—and your many stories. Thank you. I hope you’ll visit again, sometime.

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Legal Artistry Excerpt #1—Intrigue

“Dieter,” Mark started to say as he pulled a stool up to a rudimentary table that lined the side wall, “I know we were a bit mysterious when we talked earlier, but I thought this was something we should talk about privately.” Tyler pulled up a chair as well, and Mark set Dieter’s grandmother’s photo album in front of him. “I have a few questions for you that I hope will confirm my suspicions.”

“What is this about?” Dieter asked, placing his hand on the album. “And what does this have to do with Gram’s pictures?”

“I’ll explain everything I suspect, I promise,” Mark told him, and Dieter nodded, his eyes focused on Mark.

“Did your grandmother ever tell you the names of her parents?” Mark asked him, and Dieter could tell he was quite excited.

Dieter opened the cover of the photo album, turning to the page that had the picture he wanted. “Gram said their last name was Meinauer. This is Gram’s dad, Joseph, and this is her mother, Anna. That’s Gram sitting between them.”

Mark’s excitement seemed to ramp up, and Dieter saw him glance toward Tyler. “Did she ever tell you what happened to them?”

“Gram said her mother died after she’d been sick for a while. After that she said her father wasn’t the same. She told me that when she was about twelve, her dad came to her after she had already gone to bed and told her to be very quiet. She said he led her through the house and out the servants’ door. They got into a car and made their way through the streets. She told me her father took her out of Austria just ahead of the Germans. Gram told me stories of how they survived in Switzerland during most of the war. She said they were lucky because her father managed to take some of his wealth with him, at least enough that they were able to live during the war. Her father died still in Switzerland after the war, and she came to the US where she met Gramps.”

Mark appeared to listen intently. “Do you know who this is in this painting?” Mark pointed to the one hanging on the wall above them in the picture.

“Yes. That’s Gram’s mother. Gram said she was a real socialite and spent a lot of time with artists and writers. Gram said her mother had commissioned that painting for her father. But it was lost in the war,” Dieter explained, remembering how Gram had said that everything from her family was gone except these pictures. “She told me that these photos were in the bags her father packed when they left Vienna. Why?”

Mark seemed to get more excited and pulled out a heavy book from the stack on the table. “Does this look familiar?” Mark turned to a page with a piece of paper in it, letting the book fall open.

“That’s…,” Dieter stammered as he looked at the full color plate and then back at the photograph in Gram’s album. “That’s her. That’s Gram’s mother.” Dieter could hardly believe it. “But Gram said it was gone.”

Maybe gone to her, but the painting survived,” Mark explained. “This painting is entitled Portrait of Anna and is by a very famous Austrian artist named August Pirktl. I looked through your photo album, and I was able to identify four other paintings by Pirktl in the backgrounds. All of these paintings are in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna.” Mark closed the book. “Dieter, you need to know that Portrait of Anna is also known as The Lady in Blue and is world famous. This painting,” he said, pointing to the photograph in Gram’s album, “is one of the most important paintings of the early twentieth century and is considered an Austrian national treasure. I had a poster of the painting on my dorm room wall when I was at art school.”

“Oh.” Dieter didn’t know what else to say.

“I did some more research online, and there are a number of sources that say that the painting was confiscated during the war and that it was given by the Nazis to the Belvedere. These other four paintings I was able to identify by Pirktl are also hanging in the Belvedere.”

“What are you saying?” Dieter asked, as Mark looked like he was about to bounce off the chair.

“I’m saying that these paintings may not belong to the Belvedere. If the Nazis confiscated them and gave them to the museum, then the museum may not own them.”

“Then who does?” Dieter asked.

“You.”

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Legal Artistry Excerpt#2—A Little Body Heat

Gerald shifted in his chair, trying to get a better look at this gorgeous gazelle of a man, and as he glanced around, it looked like every guy in the club was trying to do the same thing, even the posers.

“If you’re interested in him, good luck!” Stan slurred from across the table, yet another empty beer glass in front of him.

“Why?” Gerald asked without taking his eyes off the dancer, waiting for him to turn around. Gerald was already picturing the man’s face, and he needed to see what he looked like.

“He only dances. Never with anyone else, and he never goes home with anyone. He only dances, for hours on end,” Stan clarified, his eyes becoming glassy and unfocused. Lucky for Gerald, one of the bouncers saw him and made his way to the table and helped Stan away.

“He always does this,” the bouncer explained as he helped Stan to his feet. “The man never knows when to stop.” Gerald thanked him and asked if he needed help, but the huge bouncer shook his head and led Stan to what Gerald hoped was a safe place where he could sober up for a while.

Gerald looked back at the dance floor and saw that the dancer had turned around. Gerald saw big blue eyes and a head of blond hair, made red in the light, but he knew him. Finishing his beer, Gerald stood up and walked across the club as the music ended and the dancer stopped his movements, waiting for the next song. Gerald knew he only had a few seconds. “What would your Gram say if she saw you now?”

Dieter whipped around, the fire burning in his eyes quickly turning to pain and hurt. He’d only been teasing, but Gerald realized he’d accidentally hit on a source of pain. “Sorry, I was only kidding,” he added hastily and saw Dieter’s expression soften. “I only wanted to get your attention.” It appeared he’d done that, and he’d also answered the question of whether Dieter was gay. He must have changed clothes, and Gerald took in the slim-legged jeans and tight shirt that hugged Dieter’s frame. Dieter wasn’t muscular, but what Gerald saw turned him on like nobody’s business.

The music began again, and Gerald moved away, expecting Dieter to begin dancing, but he seemed to be following him. Of course the table he’d had was gone, so Gerald found a small area of unoccupied space. “What are you doing here?” Dieter asked, but he didn’t seem upset any longer.

“I just needed to let off some steam, I guess,” Gerald confessed. “I could ask you the same thing,” he countered.

“Just dancing,” Dieter answered matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I saw,” Gerald said almost yelling now over the music. “I’m sorry about my crack about your Gram. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He really hadn’t.

“Thanks,” Dieter yelled back. Gerald figured any sort of conversation was nearly impossible, so he stood there looking at Dieter, who looked back at him, as confused as Gerald was about what to do next. “Wanna dance?” Dieter asked him before practically pulling him toward the floor. Gerald had two left feet and couldn’t dance to save his soul, but he let himself be led to the floor, and when Dieter began to move, Gerald went along, following his lead, trying not to embarrass himself too much. “Just move your body to the music,” Dieter told him when they were standing close. “Don’t be self-conscious and don’t worry about what anyone thinks, because it doesn’t matter. Just let yourself go.” Dieter began to move, and Gerald closed his eyes, letting the music inside. At first, Gerald simply swayed to the music, but then he began to move more and more. When Dieter put his hands on Gerald’s hips, Gerald forgot about everything but where those warm hands touched his body. Then he was dancing. It might not have been pretty or even very good, but Dieter smiled at him, and they danced.

Time seemed to move independently of them, especially since he spent the rest of the evening looking into Dieter’s eyes and with a perpetual hard-on in his pants. Every time he felt Dieter’s touch, a jolt of desire zinged through him, but Dieter made no move to do anything other than dance. Not that Gerald should have been surprised—it’s what Dieter seemed to do, although judging from the puzzled and jealous looks of the other people in the club, it was true that Dieter usually danced alone.

The song ended and a bell sounded, the lighting in the club increasing. Gerald blinked a few times, having gotten used to the dimness, and he realized it was last call. Dieter stopped moving, standing on the dance floor as people moved around them, most of them trying for a last hookup before the night ended.

Gerald looked deep into Dieter’s eyes and saw him lick his lips, that pink tongue making an appearance once again. Gerald leaned closer, wondering how Dieter’s lips would taste and how quickly Gerald could move to sampling the rest of Dieter’s mouth and everything else he could get his tongue, lips, and hands on. Right now, the whole thing about Dieter being a client was far from his mind. All he saw right now was the most enthrallingly sexy man he’d ever met in his life, and Gerald had rarely wanted anything as much as he wanted to get Dieter into his bed. And if the look he was getting were any indication, Dieter seemed to want that too. Gerald moved closer, his lips parting, and he saw Dieter’s eyes drift shut and his head tilt ever so slightly.

Someone bumped into Dieter as they passed, excusing himself as he went by, and Dieter looked away for just a second, but it was enough to break the spell. Gerald realized what he’d been about to do, and Dieter seemed to as well. In the light, Gerald saw Dieter color and look away. Gerald stepped back to give Dieter some space. “I think we should be leaving,” Dieter said, and Gerald nodded, not quite sure what he meant, but he felt a glimmer of hope well inside.

Dieter led the way to the door, and Gerald followed him outside. “Do you need a ride home? Or…,” Gerald said open-endedly.

Dieter studied him for a few seconds before pointing and saying, “My car’s over here, and I haven’t been drinking, so I’m fine.” Dieter began walking toward his car. “Good night, Gerald,” Dieter called warmly.

Gerald watched him walk away, feeling unexpectedly disappointed. Once he saw Dieter turn the corner, Gerald walked to his own car.

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Zahra Owens’ *Earth and Sky* M/M romance from Dreamspinner Press

Scroll down for interview with Zahra Owens and tantalizing excerpts.

Hunter Krause knows better than anyone that running a ranch is hard work. Wranglers are hard to find, and even with Hunter’s foreman and entire extended family on hand, the busy ranch is constantly short-handed. So when horses go missing, Hunter’s brother-in-law hires a man Hunter would never have considered: Grant Jarreau, a man Hunter can’t forgive for leaving Hunter’s best friend Gable after an incapacitating accident.

Grant quickly fits in, befriending Hunter’s sister and making himself invaluable. Despite Hunter’s misgivings, he can’t quite control his body’s reactions to Grant, and he isn’t sure what to do about it. Then Grant saves Hunter’s young nephew from drowning and one thankful kiss opens doors Hunter never knew existed.

While Hunter and Grant tentatively move toward a relationship, the family’s in an uproar, the ranch is struggling, they can’t figure out what happened to the horses, and to top it all off, Grant is hiding something. Can Hunter learn to trust Grant, or will the turmoil already tearing up his family claim another victim?

Zahra Owens was born in Europe just before Woodstock and the moon landing and was given a much less pronounceable name by her non-English-speaking parents. Being an Aquarian meant she would never quite conform, and people learned to expect the unexpected.

She started writing fairy tales in first grade; the same year she came into contact with her first group of English-speaking friends, a group which would eventually grow to include people from all over the world. On the outside she was a typical only child, accustomed to being with adults most of the time. On the inside, she sought ways to channel her wild imagination.

During the daytime she earns a living as a computer specialist, but it’s her former career as an intensive care nurse that tends to seep into her fiction. Maybe this has to do with her weak spot for flawed characters and imperfect bodies, or maybe it’s just her sadistic streak coming through. You be the judge.

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“Shapely asses in the saddle” (an interview with Zahra Owens)

Welcome to the blog Zahra! I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of things a fellow Aquarian might have up her sleeve, and also to having the chance just to chat about you and your work. Let’s start, if you don’t mind, with a few questions about who you are and what makes you write.

Thank you for having me!

Q: Your bio mentions that you were born in Europe, to non-English speaking parents. Of course that little bit of info raises a number of new questions. I’ll stick to just the basics. Where were you born? What was your parent’s native tongue? What part of the world is now your home? How do these factors of location and language affect how you write or what you write?
A: I was born and raised in the North of Belgium where we speak Flemish (a ‘softer’ form of Dutch). The best way to compare Flemish and Dutch is to compare British and American English. There are some different words or the same words with slightly different meanings and our pronunciation is quite different, but we understand each other without too much difficulty, despite the differences in culture.

I still live around the corner from where I was raised and I still use Flemish in my every day work life and in my family life or with most of my friends. I was raised bilingually though, through my mother who worked in the International School circuit, and I have parents who are anglophiles. My real life first names are English, which raised a few eyebrows when I was born.

It’s hard for me to imagine exactly how this effects my writing, since I don’t know what it’s like to actually be raised in say, the U.S., but I do know my vocabulary is a mix of all sorts of English and my beta’s most used remark is probably “We don’t say it like that” when I use a word or sentence I borrowed from England, or Australia even. Also, I’ve travelled extensively all over the world and this does give me a larger perspective on all sorts of things, from politics to culture in general.

Q: Your works are prolific. Do you write full time? If not how do you juggle?
A: Oh no, I work fulltime and write when I can. I wish I could write full time, but I can’t afford that and it will take a long time before I can start dreaming about it too, since I work in a country where taxes are sky-high. But I’m single and I have no children, so I just have myself to look after. That certainly helps.

Q: How did you come to write in the romance genre, and M/M specifically? You said you were non-conformist, did that play a part, or were you inspired by people you knew, or …? Have you written in other genres, and if not, do you think you will?
A: Like a lot of writers in our genre, I started in fanfiction. It’s a great place to start. You get instant feedback, you learn to write on your feet and you easily find out what people like and what they don’t. It’s also great practice to write within the constraints of a world you didn’t build yourself, but that you love, and to work with characters that are well known to your readers. After a while, though, you want to break free of the constraints and make your own characters and worlds.

I like my boys/men so M/M romance is my weapon of choice. When the story calls for it, I will write a het scene or a menage scene involving a woman, but I don’t see myself writing a het novel. There are a few M/M/F bunnies tugging at my fingers, but even then the main couple will always be M/M.

Venturing outside the contemporary romance genre is something I’m doing right now. I’ve found myself a writing partner who works in the sci-fi/paranormal realm and he’s dragging me along. If the novella we’ve submitted is accepted, you’re sure to hear more about this!

Why M/M is probably the question I get asked most, especially by people not familiar with the genre. I guess my best answer is that I write what I like to read. A lot of friends I made through fanfiction have made it into publishing and I’ve always read their writing and still support them now their writing is no longer free. I’ve also encountered a lot of other great writers through my publishing press and my love of the genre has only grown.

In my personal life I’ve always had gay friends and I admit I’m drawn to them. I do try to keep them out of my books, though!

Q: Going through your list of titles at Dreamspinner Press (which readers can find at Zahra Owens’ author page), your M/M titles come in a number of subgenres. These latest two are in the Western tradition. Do you see your future titles continuing in this vein? The Western seems to be particularly popular among M/M romance readers (and writers). Can you speculate as to why that might be, and whether that will continue?
A: The contemporary western is certainly popular and I think this is because of the mixture of rugged, manly men and the traditionally homophobic environment they live in. Also, it’s such an American tradition. Cowboys made America, at least for a while.

I’m stuck in the western for the time being. My next novel, Floods and Drought, is also part of the Clouds and Rain series and I think I have one more story up my sleeve after that. I’ve already told a few people I’ll try to make that my NaNoWriMo effort for this year, so I better hold myself to that.

After that, who knows? Probably no more cowboys, although I do love those shapely asses in a saddle 😉 Maybe I should tackle that other M/M staple and write a Navy Seal novel? Or maybe I’ll return to the traditional contemporary romance. We’ll see where the (numerous) bunnies take me.

Q: About Earth and Sky—your latest release—a couple of general questions. It seems from your excerpt that this novel has a large and complex cast of characters—after the manner of a saga. Do you feel that’s true? If so, perhaps you can tell us a bit about how such a large cohort came into being and how you manage them.
A: My two characters in Earth and Sky do come with families attached and I honestly don’t know how that happened. I tend to write very self-contained couples and have been called on that by reviewers. Clouds and Rain has very little going on outside of the two men the story is about, and I did want to expand a bit on that with this new couple. Hunter lives on a family-run ranch, so it was necessary to show that. Without giving away too much plot, Grant’s family is also a major part of the whole story, so it became quite a busy group to write about. I also like the idea of a big, rowdy family, made up from a few sets of parents and their children, all sharing the same roof. I think the western genre lends itself to that quite easily. Maybe I idealize this a bit too, since I come from a very small family with no siblings or uncles and aunts.

Q: From reading the excerpts, at the heart of Earth and Sky story are two mysteries—what’s happening to the horses, and (more of a tease, to my mind as a reader) what happened the night Gable was injured? In Clouds and Rain it seems the same question is being asked—what happened to Gable? But CAR came first; does EAS actually reach beyond CAS for backstory? If so, is that the way it was planned?

The stories are romance, but within that, do you see them as mysteries? In your mind, how much of a role do those mysteries play in the novels?
A: Yes, it was definitely planned that the mystery of what happened when Gable was injured was set in CAR and only resolved in EAS. There was no way to resolve it in CAR because the whole story of what happened to Gable is seen through Gable’s eyes and he only knows part of the story. He doesn’t know why Grant left that day and doesn’t find out until much later. As I was writing CAR, I realized I’d need the whole of EAS to explain it.

I’d also set myself to write a baddy (in Gable’s eyes) and then show the readers what I believe to be true: that no-one is all bad (or all good), it’s just a matter of perspective. A lot of readers ‘got’ that. Some didn’t and were stuck in the opinion they’d formed of Grant from CAR, which isn’t really fair, because Grant never got a say in CAR.

I don’t see the stories as mysteries. The mysteries are plot devices. To me these stories are still about the romance between two men and how the way to love is riddled with a lot of potholes.

Q: I just have to ask… One character is named Gable, as in the actor Clark, and another character is named Grant, as in the actor of similar era, Cary. Coincidence? Several of your characters have similar names. Confusing? How do you go about naming your characters?
A: You know, you’re the first person who’s dared to ask. LOL! You’re right. There’s also (Errol) Flynn and (Tab) Hunter, who was a popular actor from the fifties who came out as gay in later life. Even Bill Haines (the vet and one of my straight characters) is named after William Haines, an actor from the twenties who was gay.

With my main characters, I’ve only slipped once so far: Tim, who gets his own story told in my third CAR novel is just Tim, but he was named before I realized he had more to say and I couldn’t go back and change it. His better half is Rory McCown, though, and that name is the real name of one of cinema’s best known cowboys, Rory Calhoun (who’s real first name was Francis Timothy – are you still following me?). In the fourth novel, I’m back on track with two names from classic cinema, but you’ll have to wait for those (tease that I am).

I don’t see the names as being confusing, but that’s just inside my head. My editors are sure to call me on that (they have on other occasions).

Q: You introduce your second excerpt to Earth and Sky with an explanation ending: “This kind of runs out of hand.” This brings up in my mind a problem that seems to plague many writers. How often do you feel your characters sort of hijack your intended story line? If that does happen for you, do you fight it? Go with it? How do you strike a balance?
A: My characters hijack their stories all the time and the harder I fight them, the harder the writing becomes. I try to reason with them sometimes, but if they want things a certain way (and most of my characters do want things to go their own way), there’s no fighting them. They’re usually right, too, but it does mean that I need to chuck bits of plot sometimes. I write a lot more than ends up in the finished novel.

Q: Lou’s favorite question time: In the mind of Zahra Owens, who is sexier, Hunter or Grant? Gable or Flynn? Smudging the lines a bit is fair, but cheating isn’t—you can’t just say “both.” Explanations required—no one-word answers, please!
A: To me Gable is sexier than Flynn. Gable is a bit older, more rugged and more damaged and I do love my men with a chip in their armor. The disability is also a selling point (my non-conformist side, I suppose, or my background as a nurse, who knows?). He’s also moody and bad-tempered a lot, while Flynn is a lot more soothing and easy-going. One can’t live without the other, but I’ll take Gable any time.

In contrast, I think Hunter is more sexy than Grant and the reason sort of contradicts the reason I gave for choosing Gable over Flynn. Hunter is innocent in some ways and I find that very endearing. He’s never been with a man before Grant and is genuinely awestruck when he finds out he likes Grant more than any woman he’s ever had in his bed.

Q: About those covers! My, but they are beautiful. Anne Cain does some fabulous work, and these are no exception. How involved were you in terms of giving input on elements to be included, overall style, and perhaps the look of the men? When you first saw the cover for Clouds and Rain, what was your reaction? What about Earth and Sky?
A: The covers just blow me away. I love Anne Cain’s work and I’m already looking forward to cover three (although the novel isn’t even finished yet). I write quite extensive cover specs and Clouds and Rain came back exactly as I’d described, right down to the horses, the sunset, the rain and the way the characters looked.

Earth and Sky was a bit different. Most of the story takes place in the snow (the stories are set in Idaho, so winter means mounds of snow) and I’d asked for muted greys, blues and whites, and then it came back all orange and red… Also, both my characters are in their late thirties, early forties, so the character photos felt too young for me. The front character would do (you have to admit he’s gorgeous and since that was Hunter, I felt he could pass for young-looking mid-thirties), but I asked to change the back character to a more rugged man, which Anne did. They wouldn’t compromise on the color, though, since they wanted it to stand out. It certainly does that! (and wouldn’t have it it had been more muted)

Q: I mentioned briefly above that you have quite a number of publications with Dreamspinner Press. Do you have any other published work? Other than CAR and EAS, can you pick out one or two published pieces that are among your personal favorites, perhaps tell us a little about the pieces and how they came into being?
A: I’m exclusively published by Dreamspinner Press, but earlier this year I became a part of a British Anthology when I joined a UK meet of authors. British Flash is a free anthology of flash fiction (about a thousand words per story) available at Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65264). Tea And Crumpets (http://ukmeet.weebly.com/tea–crumpet.html) was published by JMS Books and proceeds of that will go to future UK meets. I contributed to both anthologies.
At Dreamspinner Press I have some other favorites as well.

My first novel Diplomacy will always be my baby. It is set mostly in my country and is a romance between a U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and a liaison from the British Embassy. When the story sets out both are involved with women, but for one of them it is definitely a relationship out of convenience.

Among my shorter work I have a soft spot for “You Can’t Choose Your Family” to such an extent that I wrote a prequel for it. The already published story is about an established couple of twenty years and the acceptance they feel from one side of the family in contrast to the absolute denial they get from the other side. The prequel “You Can Choose Your Friends” tells the story of how they got together in the first place. Both stories where inspired by Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s It Gets Better video and I decided to donate the proceeds of the sale of the prequel to their organisation. The prequel will be out in January 2012 at Dreampinner Press.

Note to the reader: Zahra is slated to come back for a visit to sylvre.com in January to celebrate that release, maybe talk a bit about the It Gets Better Project, and who knows? I hope you’ll watch for it and stop in.

Q: What’s coming up for your readers, Zahra? Will there be more of these ranches and, more importantly, ranchers? Something else in the mix?
A: As I said before: yes, more ranchers/ranch hands for the next novel for sure and if NaNoWriMo goes as planned there will be one more cowboy novel after that. I’m a slow writer, though. The novel tentatively slated for the spring of 2012 was my 2010 NaNoWriMo project!

January sees the prequel to “You Can’t Choose Your Family” called “You Can Choose Your Friends” and hopefully my collaboration with my writing partner will be accepted, so with a little luck, I’ll have something a little out of the ordinary to offer as well.

If I meet my deadline (and the story is accepted) the third CAR novel will be out somewhere in the spring.
After that I’m not sure yet. My writing partner and I have another story plotted, but we’ll need to find time to write it. We don’t live close to each other, but more or less in the same time zone, so hooray for the internet!

Zahra, I’m very glad you allowed me to feature you on sylvre.com. I’ve enjoyed getting to ask the questions and I love the answers! I’m looking forward to your next visit. Thank you!

Thank you for having me. It was a real pleasure!

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Excerpt fromEarth and Sky by Zahra Owens

“I’m telling you, we’re missing horses,” Hugh told his boss. “Not a lot, but last week I had Tim count again because we were one short, and this week we lost another one.”

Hugh and Hunter were riding fences. On a large ranch like Hunter’s, this was a job that took most of the day, especially when they needed to dismount from time to time to check something out or to make small repairs. Usually this job was done by two of the workmen, but because of Hugh’s concerns, the foreman had invited his boss to ride with him on this crisp spring morning.

Both men were tall and muscled and had practically been born in the saddle. Hugh was the oldest son of a ranch foreman who had worked for Hunter’s father and, later, for Hunter. Now that his dad had retired, Hugh was Hunter’s foreman. He had a younger brother Tim working with him, and a middle brother Jack, who specialized in horse dentistry. They lived and breathed horses.

Hunter had been born into the ranch as well. His father had been a rancher who had bought up most of the surrounding ranches during a recession—including the one Hugh’s father had owned—and who had done rather well for himself until his untimely death. Hunter had only been fourteen at the time, and if it hadn’t been for Hugh’s father, he wouldn’t have kept the ranch afloat. Now Hugh was married to Hunter’s older sister, Lisa, so he was practically family. Hunter was an even better businessman than his father, with more horses than ever being born inside the large perimeter of the Blue River Ranch and sold at auction or to other ranches all over the US. He worked hard and enjoyed getting his hands dirty in between all the paperwork and negotiating his job required.

Despite Hunter’s concern over the missing horses, a day like today, when he could spend it on horseback, was a treat. Sometimes he wished he could just work the ranch and not have to deal with everything else that came with running a successful business. Today felt like a holiday, something that was rare in Hunter’s world. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been away from the ranch for anything other than a rancher’s convention or an out-of-town auction. Then again, he really didn’t mind. Even on those occasions when he needed to travel, he always felt homesick from the moment he crossed the county line. This was his land, and if he had anything to say about it, he would be buried on it, just like his father. He hoped it would be after a long and full life—not like his dad, who’d been cut down in his prime—but nevertheless, he did not see himself ever moving away from it.

“So are you saying someone is stealing our horses, or are you thinking we have a predator on our hands?” Hunter asked his foreman after a long silence. He had his own idea about the matter, but Hugh didn’t spend all his time with his nose in paperwork, so Hunter valued his opinion.

“I’m thinking cougar or mountain lion, possibly with cubs and definitely hungry,” Hugh answered calmly. “Only thing we haven’t found so far is a carcass. Which would point to a horse thief, but then, if I were him, I’d steal horses that were already trained, not one-year-old colts.”

Hunter sighed. They didn’t need this. They’d only moved the horses to the higher meadows two weeks ago so they’d get the fresh grass that had been growing all winter. Among them were pregnant mares that would foal later in the year. For now, they were still quick enough to get away from any predator, but if Hugh was right, they wouldn’t get the good grass they needed to nourish their offspring in the later stages of pregnancy because they’d have to be moved closer to the house, where predators were less likely to strike. Hunter didn’t like this one bit. Then again, he hated losing horses, and not just because it meant less income.

Hunter was still deep in thought when he saw Hugh direct his horse toward a natural incline, where he jumped off.

“I think we’ve got an inquisitive mountain lion on our hands,” Hugh said gruffly. “Let’s hope she’s just here to feed her babies until her usual prey recuperate from the harsh winter, because if she’s been forced out of her habitat for some reason, we’re in trouble.”

“Are you sure?” Hunter asked from atop his horse.

Hugh was crouching down near a muddy patch on the small hill. “Oh yes, a puma’s been standing here, surveying her surroundings. Unless we find the carcass of a horse nearby, we can’t be sure she killed as well, but she’s definitely been here since the rain, which means within the last two days.”

Hunter unconsciously felt for the rifle in his saddlebag. The last thing he wanted was for mama puma to come out of hiding and make a tasty treat out of his foreman. Although mountain lions were notoriously wary of people, this one seemed to be more brazen than most, and it was hard to tell what a desperate puma would do for food.

“Did Tim say which horses we lost?” Hunter asked.

Hugh got up from his crouching position and nodded. “We’re not sure about this week’s, but last week was a late foal from October.”

“Damn!” Hunter cursed. He’d have to make a decision soon. He couldn’t afford to lose new foals. They were the ranch’s source of income, and every one they lost would show up in the books. He had no choice. They’d have to move the herd away from the outer fields again.

“Do we have enough wranglers to move the herd back down?” Hunter wondered aloud.

Hugh climbed back in the saddle. “In a word, no. We got one drifter walking in after we put out the feelers, and I put him to work in the stables. He’s not a bad worker, but I doubt he’s much of a wrangler. Haven’t seen him ride a horse yet, although according to Tim, he’s okay handling them. I suppose if we really needed him, we could give him a try, but that still leaves us two hands short. If you ask me, I’d move the herd in smaller groups, like we did to bring them up here. That way we should be able to handle them. Don’t suppose Gable’s made a miraculous recovery? We could use his help.”

Hunter sighed. “With the state of his leg after that injury he sustained last year, if anything, Gable will need our help from now on. Although, I think he found himself a ranch hand.” Hunter wanted to ask Hugh how his neighbor, running his ranch single-handedly and in dire straits, had found capable help when they could afford to hire staff but couldn’t find any. He didn’t, though. Gable had a hard enough time staying afloat, so Hunter didn’t begrudge him finding someone to lend a hand.

They trotted along, talking about the goings-on at the ranch while keeping their eyes peeled for anything unusual along the way. It had started to drizzle, and Hunter pulled the collar on his oilskin duster tighter, closing the zipper some more in an attempt to stay dry. He knew it would be futile, but he did it anyway. After a while, both men needed to dismount when they noticed a breach in a stretch of barbed wire. It was easily mended with an extra length and a pair of wire cutters, but Hugh pointed at the flattened high grass beyond the fence. They tied up their horses, and Hunter took out his rifle again before crossing the fence. They took their time, looking at the tracks in the mud and the broken-off bushes here and there, but found no evidence of the missing horses.

The rain started to pick up, so the men packed up to return to the homestead. From where they’d left their horses, they could see the mares with last year’s young, grazing. With a hungry predator around, Hunter knew they couldn’t leave them there for much longer.

***

“You mean there’s a puma eating our horses?” Danny asked eagerly as he scarfed down the mashed potatoes, peas, and roast beef they were having for dinner.

“Do we have to talk about this over dinner?” Lisa, his mother, admonished.

“He’s going to find out anyway, Lise,” Hunter told his sister. “It’s nature’s way. The sooner he finds out about it, the better.” He turned to the nine-year-old. “You can help move the herd on Saturday, bring them to safety.”

“And that’s the last I want to hear about it over the dinner table,” Lisa cautioned. “We don’t eat horse meat, and we don’t talk about anything else eating it at this table.”

Danny chuckled but stopped as soon as he saw his grandmother, who was clearly of the same opinion as his mother, giving him a stern look.

Even Hunter’s face turned serious. Although he loved his mother dearly, she was a woman you didn’t trifle with.

“So you’re moving the herd back down?” Beth Krause asked her son.

“Yes, ma’am,” Hunter answered. “We can’t afford to lose more colts to that puma or anything else that feels we’ve got plenty, and although it’s really great grass on those high pastures, we can’t keep round-the-clock surveillance to prevent them from becoming a moveable feast for predators. We barely have enough manpower to bring them down again.”

“Well, you’re not taking Danny if there’s a big cat on the loose up there,” Lisa added.

“Mom!” Danny protested.

“Come on, sis,” Hunter pleaded. “He’s big enough to ride more than a pony now, so if anything happens, he can get away. He’s been riding Belle down here on the grounds, and you know how beautifully she handles. She’s one we got from Gable, so she can be trusted, even carrying a shrimp like Danny.” He ruffled Danny’s dark, curly hair and winked at him to make his words sound less harsh. “You know we’re shorthanded, and he can work the fences. There’ll always be someone around to help out, and Hugh and I will take good care of him. Right, Hugh?”

Hunter looked at Hugh across the table. The foreman had been quiet until now, like he always was around his wife and mother-in-law. There wasn’t much point in protesting if you couldn’t win, so he simply shrugged.

“We’ll see,” Lisa compromised, silently asking for Hunter’s plate to give him seconds.

***

Saturday morning started off early with saddling the horses at dawn. The drizzle that had kept everything pretty much wet for the last few days had ceased, and the sun looked bright as it crept over the horizon.

“Great day to move some horses,” Hunter said aloud as he entered the row of stables toward the one that held Davenport, a temperamental gelding that had lost none of his spunk after being neutered. Hunter loved to ride him. It was a battle of wills, and Hugh always shook his head and laughed when he saw what Hunter put up with when it came to that horse.

“He’s almost ready,” an unfamiliar voice said from behind the brown steed.

Hunter patted Davenport’s neck as he rounded him. “And who are… Grant? What are you doing here?”

The tall and strikingly handsome cowboy turned toward Hunter. “Hugh hired me last night. I heard you were a few hands short, and I was in the neighborhood, so I figured I could help out.”

“Hugh hired you?”

Hunter didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he paced determinedly in the direction of where he thought Hugh would be: saddling his own horse.

“What the fuck made you hire Grant Jarreau?” Hunter shouted, not bothering to check whether there was anyone else present in the stable.

Hugh, always calm and collected, put his horse’s foot down and straightened his back. “We’ve been looking for help for over a year, and all we found was a halfway decent stable boy. Grant arrived here last night looking for a job, so I hired him.”

“And how long is he staying for?” Hunter asked, trying to keep his anger from boiling over.

Hugh shrugged. “Like any other horse wrangler. Until he’s found someplace better to work, which around here isn’t likely to happen. So I guess until he’s ready to move on.”

“He’ll leave in the dead of night, like after Gable’s accident. For all we know, he caused it and left Gable for dead. I don’t trust him to cover my back, Hugh.”

Hugh calmly looked at Hunter. “All I know is that he’s a damn fine wrangler and not too proud to get his hands dirty. He’s like us, Hunter. He’s welded to his horse, knows their language, and can get them to do just about anything. And on top of that, he doesn’t mind mucking out stables or saddling horses for other riders. If he leaves, he leaves. In the meantime, we have had a good worker to carry part of the load. If he doesn’t come around on Friday evening for his paycheck, I’ll have a drink on him.” A shy smile played around Hugh’s mouth. “Besides, even Davenport doesn’t dare to give him attitude. That was his test. I let him groom your horse last night, and the big shit didn’t even flinch. I figured if Grant was good enough for the prince, he would be good enough for you.”

Hunter eyed Hugh suspiciously and then conceded. “Fine! But I don’t need to like him. He’s trouble and he’ll prove me right one day. I can’t forget what he did to Gable and therefore to us. We had fifty extra horses to take care of because of him.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hugh replied with a smile. “You never mind helping Gable out, so it wasn’t such a big burden, right?”

Hunter narrowed his eyes at Hugh and then paced out of the stable without saying another word. He slowed his pace as soon as he came near his own horse. Grant was standing with his back toward him, bent over and apparently checking something on Davenport’s hoof. Hunter’s eyes traveled from the long, narrow back to where a red plaid shirt was tucked into a pair of fitted, slightly worn jeans that showed off a nicely curved ass, and Hunter felt all his blood rush south. He closed his eyes and swerved into the stable to prevent himself from bumping into Grant.

He couldn’t do this, couldn’t have these feelings. Not right now, and certainly not about Grant. He took a few cleansing breaths and willed himself to calm down. The thoughts would go away. They always did. He’d go out on the town tonight and get laid. He was popular enough and always got plenty of attention, so even if all else failed, he could count on Miranda forgetting he had turned her down so many times before, and she’d sleep with him. Take the edge off. She was good at that.

One more deep breath and Hunter was ready to step outside. He didn’t look at Grant this time, although he was aware that Grant had stepped away from the horse. Instead, he took Davenport’s reins and mounted him, turning the nervous horse around once. “Grant, you can ride Raven. You should remember him, since I bought him from Gable. I’ll meet you, Danny, and Hugh at the first gate.” And with that, he sped off.

Now that Hunter was concentrating on keeping his eager gelding in check, he slowly calmed down. This he could do. He could work hard all day, spend time in the open air, move some horses, stay alert to any trouble that was brewing in the herd, and do all this with men who were practically family to him. It would all run smoothly, even with Grant there. Hunter knew Hugh was right. Grant was a good worker and he knew what he was doing. Hunter would set his objections aside and work with him like he worked with all the other wranglers. It didn’t matter that he suspected Grant was gay. The other guys didn’t know, and Grant had always been discreet, so it wouldn’t make a difference.

Hunter shook his head and focused on watching where he was going. Davenport wasn’t always to be trusted when he was this eager to run, and Hunter had been thrown off more than once when his horse had decided to jump a fence or a hedge. He pulled the reins and made the gelding stop just before the first gate. He turned the horse around and saw the others trot leisurely over toward him: Hugh and his brother Tim, with little Danny in between them and Grant beside them on the dark horse Hunter had told him to ride. Even from this distance he could see how well Grant sat in the saddle. He almost had a regal seat, aided not only by his clear confidence but also by his tall physique, long, lean back, and broad shoulders. Hunter turned his horse around to force himself to stop looking at the new wrangler. Instead, he opened the gate and entered the lower range.

The mustering went smoothly, with the four experienced riders rounding up the horses and little Danny opening and closing gates. Danny was also putting in some extra effort, running behind the occasional spooked foal and unruly young horse, just so he could prove he was worth his keep. The mare he was riding did a good job protecting her young jockey, which wasn’t something that surprised Hunter, since that was the reason he’d bought her off Gable two years earlier. Hunter’s father had bought Hunter his first full-grown horse for his seventh birthday, so when Danny, Hunter’s godson, turned that age, Hunter had to buy him one too. Although at the time the horse had been a bit big for the seven-year-old, now that Danny was older, Belle proved an excellent choice for the young rider.

After the work was done and Hunter was assured that the herd was safe in the lower fields, the men dismounted and started rubbing down their horses. Although the ranch employed stable boys who were quite capable of grooming the horses and unsaddling them, the general rule was that if they had the time, every wrangler took care of his own mount.

With Hugh and Tim helping out Danny, Hunter was left on the other side of the stable block with Grant. Hunter brushed by Grant as he took Davenport’s saddle off.

“So does this mean I can stay?” Grant asked, smiling.

Hunter looked at him briefly, then walked on. When he returned, Grant was still waiting for an answer.
“You’re a good wrangler,” Hunter answered flatly. “And we’re shorthanded, so I’m not about to throw you out, but just realize that I don’t trust you. I won’t forget what you did to Gable.” With that, Hunter turned around and started brushing down Davenport.

Grant moved into his field of vision. “You don’t know the full story.”

Hunter sighed and avoided looking Grant in the eye. “All I know is that the day he got hurt, you disappeared. If there had been anything missing from Gable’s house, the sheriff would have put you on the wanted list, but there wasn’t. The rumors were there, though.” Hunter didn’t elaborate and Grant didn’t offer an explanation.

After what seemed like a long time, during which both men silently worked on their horses, Grant spoke again. “I wouldn’t trust rumors. Have you ever bothered asking Gable?”

Hunter didn’t give an answer, and Grant didn’t wait around for one. The tone had been set.

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Earth and Sky excerpt #2 (with sexy bits, intended for age 18+ only)

It was still raining when Hunter walked into the shower block more than an hour later. Automatically he shook the wet off his oilskin duster and took off his hat, making a stream of water run off that as well. He was so nervous he could barely breathe, yet he had to do this. He remembered feeling like this when he’d come home from school with bad grades one term and his mother made him wait in the mudroom for his dad to come in from the ranch. Only this time, he wasn’t going to be scolded. He simply wanted to convey his thanks to Grant and that was that. Yes, knowing that the wrangler was washing the rain off his skin, standing under the shower butt naked, was making Hunter sweat. Part of him hoped that Grant hadn’t shut the stall door all the way so he could catch a glimpse of him and could let his eyes wander over those broad shoulders and narrow hips, but another part of him knew that if that happened, he’d never be able to get the image out of his mind.

So he paced the small corridor that led to the shower cubicles, hat in hand and incessantly dripping, until he heard the shower being turned off. He knew Grant had to pass through the corridor on the way to the main house so it was simply a matter of being patient and Grant would come to him. Hunter couldn’t stand still, though, so he paced. He had just turned around when he heard Grant’s voice behind him.

“Hunter. What an unexpected pleasure.”

Straightening his back, Hunter turned to face him. “Grant,” he nodded. Hunter couldn’t look him straight in the eye, afraid he wouldn’t be able to hide his appreciation of the long limbs, the slightly rough skin, still wet with moisture, the fact Grant wasn’t wearing anything but a towel slung low on his hips. Suddenly Hunter was grateful Grant was carrying his wet clothes, otherwise he would have seen the dusting of chest hair or the washboard stomach he knew Grant possessed. Damn, there was a reason Hunter never went into the men’s shower block and it was because it would awaken feelings he tried every day to hide.
Grant was still staring at him, clearly expecting him to say something.

“I wanted… I wanted to say thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Grant nodded. “I didn’t think twice, to be honest. I saw Danny leave and I thought he might get into trouble so I followed him out. He’s too young to be out in this sort of weather on his own and on a horse he’s barely old enough to manage, so it was obviously without permission. I knew you’d never let him go out like that.”

“With his dad gone, he’s a bit messed up,” Hunter said, by way of apologizing for Danny’s behavior. “He seemed to be okay about it, but I guess he misses him.”

“Yeah, we all do,” Grant mused. “So he’s okay now?”

“Yeah,” Hunter said, still not looking directly at Grant. “He was shivering like mad and he’ll get an earful from Lisa as soon as she’s sure he’ll live, but other than a cold and a big scolding he won’t take anything away from it.”

“That’s good to hear,” Grant replied. “He’s a good kid.”

“Yeah, he is,” Hunter agreed, fiddling with his hat. “So what happened to that gate?” He knew he should let Grant get on with it, but he somehow had a hard time leaving.

“The storm dislodged it. Looked pretty bad and we couldn’t fix it, so we tied it up. We’ll have to repair it for good tomorrow.”

Hunter nodded, stealing looks from time to time, but not daring to feast his eyes. “Listen, I better let you run upstairs so you can get dressed, otherwise I’ll be responsible for you getting a cold as well.”
Grant smiled, so Hunter turned around to leave.

“I had the feeling you didn’t mind seeing me naked,” Grant added just before Hunter rounded the door.

Hunter stopped. He had to prevent himself from turning around and shouting something about Grant being an insolent prick, but instead he started walking again. With every step he took away from the crew house, he walked faster. Every step away made him realize that it was good that he hadn’t shouted at Grant, because he knew that the words would have only served to push Grant away, hoping that if his resolve not to kiss the man faltered, that Grant would move away from him, preventing the inevitable from happening. There it was. He’d admitted to himself that he wanted to kiss the man, push his body against Grant’s, and feel those hard muscles under his hands.

It was still raining when Hunter reached the mudroom at the side of the main house, but he didn’t walk in. Instead he smashed his fist against the worn wood. There was no reason to think that Grant would push him away if he returned to the crew quarters. He’d seen the way Grant had looked at him; he’d seen the unashamed lust in the man’s eyes; he’d felt the stolen touches, the way Grant always sought him out, despite the fact he hadn’t been very welcoming toward him. He’d only now allowed himself to understand them. The adrenalin of rescuing Danny was just ebbing away, but his heart was still beating fast. He was tired and wet to the bone, but all he could think of was that he needed to release the tension and his own hand wasn’t going to do. Not anymore.

Hunter turned around and paced back to the crew house. He had to get it out of his system, had to taste the forbidden fruit, just this once, and then maybe he would never again wonder ‘what if’? Hunter entered the house through the same door he’d left it earlier and almost ran up the stairs. Then he realized he had no idea which was Grant’s room. He had no other course of action than to call out his name. He hoped the other guys would either not recognize his voice or simply think that the boss was here to give Grant a hard time.

At the end of the corridor, a door opened and Grant stuck his head out. As soon as he saw Hunter he gestured for him to come inside his room.

“You’re back quick,” Grant said as soon as he closed the door behind Hunter. His voice was subdued as if he knew noises carried too far through the house.

Hunter didn’t answer. What could he say?

“Guess I don’t have to ask you if it’s still raining.”

Hunter looked up and gazed straight into Grant’s dark eyes. Grant’s smile was teasing and seductive and coupled with the fact that the towel that had only barely clung to Grant’s hips had been replaced by a pair of boxers and nothing else, made Hunter avert his eyes again.

“Why don’t you take your coat off?” Grant suggested. “You’re dripping all over my floor.”

Hunter hesitated, but Grant moved away, opening a closet and taking out a bottle of whiskey.

“Drink?” Grant offered

Hunter nodded and placed his duster over the chair standing next to the near wall while Grant took out two glasses and added about an inch of amber liquid to both of them.

“Here,” he said, offering one of the tumblers to Hunter. “It’ll help warm you up, because you must be cold by now and we can’t have the boss catching a cold, being as understaffed as we are right now.”

Hunter accepted the glass and downed the entire contents in one swallow. The liquid burned but Hunter welcomed the feeling. He gave Grant just enough time to take one sip and then took a step toward him.

Grant clearly noticed the overture and put his glass down on the table. He was still smiling as he reached for Hunter’s glass and just managed to bring that to safety before Hunter launched himself forward. Grant was roughly pushed against the window and as he spread his legs slightly, Hunter pushed even closer. Hunter’s kiss was rough and aggressive, but Grant could easily hold his own, even when his ass was pushed onto the window sill. He scooted back as far as he could and pulled Hunter to him. Hunter didn’t resist. In fact he pushed his groin against Grant’s and Grant felt Hunter’s arousal, which made him smile into the kiss.

“What’s so funny?” Hunter murmured.

“You are,” Grant answered as he put his hand on the back of Hunter’s neck to pull him back in for a kiss. This time Grant took the lead, pushing his tongue into Hunter’s mouth. Grant let go of Hunter’s hip to attempt to find his way into Hunter’s jeans. As they kissed, they fought for dominance until Grant found his prize and unzipped Hunter, inserting his hand into Hunter’s boxers and enveloping his swollen cock.

Hunter pulled back slightly, but didn’t move away. He stopped fighting Grant, his movements seeming automatic, slipping from Hunter’s control. The way Hunter was moaning against his mouth turned Grant on so much, he was rock hard inside his boxers as well. He resisted touching himself, not wanting to scare Hunter off. Instead he rubbed the hard shaft in his hands as Hunter was thrusting against the friction until without warning Hunter came with a loud moan. To Grant’s surprise Hunter did pull away this time, hurriedly zipping up his wet jeans and not looking at Grant before grabbing his coat and hat and running out before he’d had time to put them on.

Grant was left sitting on the window sill, rock hard and unsatisfied. He eventually got up to close his door and wash his sticky hand at the small sink in his room. His groin was aching and he took his cock in hand to finish himself off, simply to kill the dull ache, but it did little more than that. He let himself drop to his bed and rubbed his fingers through his short curly hair, trying to get over his frustration. Why did Hunter do that? Why hadn’t Hunter reciprocated? Grant couldn’t find an explanation that satisfied him. He hadn’t made a direct move toward Hunter before because he knew that Hunter was one of the few men who knew about his sexual preference. He imagined he wouldn’t need to advertise. If Hunter wanted him, he’d come to him; but now that he had, Grant was even more confused. The other reason had been that he needed the job. He’d been sent packing for far less than coming on to the boss. For some foremen, the knowledge that Grant was gay was enough. And news travelled. So all his life, Grant had played it like the others, by either staying vague about his sexual encounters or, in groups where it was commonplace to brag, he’d boast about his Saturday night conquests. It was surprisingly easy to lie about taking home some big-bosomed barfly. After all, Grant had had his fair share of women, just not lately. These past few years, he’d only slept with men, most of them nameless and faceless one night stands, with one exception: Gable.

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