Publishing, Treble and the Lost Boys

Here Comes Trouble!

Introducing: Ryley Skye! Forensics expert. Violinist. Cheater. Exhibitionist.

Mage?

Ryley can’t take anything seriously. Not the murder scenes he investigates, nor the fact that he’s cheating on his boyfriend. Not the bloody nightmares he gets every other night, and especially not Vic’s ridiculous theory that Ryley might be a mage.

Magic? Him? There’s just no way.

When Vic decides he’s had enough of Ryley’s cheating and breaks things off, it couldn’t come at a worse time. They’ve just been handed a case that will require them to work closely together, whether they like it or not. But Ryley plays along. He has to. He can’t afford any kind of confrontation. Things happen when he gets angry or aroused. Weird things. Bad things. He has to stay bottled up and in control at all times.

Then he meets Asher Arden, and indulges in what he thinks is a little rebound fling. But when Ryley loses control and puts Asher’s life at risk, he realizes two things: He loves Asher more than anything else in the world…

And Vic just might have been right all along.

The book is now available in both paperback and Kindle formats! Be sure to add it to your Goodreads TBR, and check out the Pinterest board for some neat visuals! There’s also a blog review tour and giveaway, courtesy of Signal Boost Promotions!

And huge thanks, once again, to Dana Leah at Designs by Dana, for the lovely cover.

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Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Publishing, Shifting Isles

Authoring: You’re Doing It Wrong (Or: Happy Birthday to Me!)

MatchmakersToday, I turn 33 (finally an adult! … in hobbit years, that is), and I’m celebrating by launching my first m/m romances. Seems a bit strange and backwards to be voluntarily working on my birthday. Then again, writing isn’t really work. At least, certainly not like the day job.

Even through the frustrations and hassles of editing, formatting, writer’s block, and the emotional ups and downs, writing ultimately is all love and no work. I love it. It’s my passion. It’s the only thing I want to do with my life.

And so, I’m celebrating. My birthday present to myself this year is the release of the Matchmakers Trilogy: three gay romances set in the world of the Shifting Isles.

Am I qualified to write m/m romance? Debatable. I read a lot in that genre (almost exclusively in that genre, truth be told), but that may or may not mean much. Will the books go over well? I have no idea. I’ve already sold more books this morning than I have over the entire last year, but that may change over time. I suck at marketing, and I know that. I know I could be selling a hell of a lot more books if I sat down and put in the time to properly promote them, but it’s not what I want to do. Would I like to sell more books? Of course. Who wouldn’t? But is that what I’m in it for? Yes, and no. I’d love to make a career out of writing, but I don’t do it for the money. I do it for the love. So I’m authoring wrong. I could be authoring much better. But marketing just hasn’t ever been a priority for me.

Will people like these books? I don’t know, and I honestly don’t care all that much.

Alright, yes, I do care, but not to the point that it will make or break my day. I do write for my readers, of course, but mostly I write for myself. I write because I have to. I write because I love it. I write because it’s the only thing that gets me truly excited every day. After spending all my school years wondering what the hells was wrong with me, since I had no goals in mind, while all my classmates were off pursuing their future career studies, I’m just grateful to have something about which I’m passionate. That’s all that matters. Instead of wondering what the hells I’m alive for, I’ve got my stories, and that means everything.

I still can’t believe these books didn’t even exist in concept until six months ago. Six months. Just six months from concept to completion. Three whole novels from start to finish in six months. Good gods, I must have been out of my mind to even consider such a thing, but the Muse commanded and I obeyed.

And I will readily admit I love these stories. I love these characters. Even if these books don’t go over well with an audience, I have never been so excited or so proud of something I’ve written. These even surpass my love of Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, Book 3), and I thought there was no way anything was going to top that writing experience.

Releasing the Matchmakers books is also part of a simple matter of self-validation. After having spent so much of my life hiding and pretending and trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be, this year I’ve finally come to the conclusion that life is too damned short to be miserable. Life is too short to wear a mask. Just the simple matter of being able to say “I read nothing but gay romance” and of being able to write what I want regardless of the reception and to be true to myself in every small way I possibly can, to own my identity and to not be ashamed…what better gift could I possibly give myself than that? What better gift could anyone give himself than the freedom to be himself? Such a seemingly small mental switch, but it makes a world of difference.

To stand up and say, “I am.”

So, today I am 33. Today, I’m not ashamed to be trans. Today, I’m releasing three gay romance novels, just because I can. Just because it’s what I want to do. Just because it’s what I love.

And if even one reader enjoys them, even better.

The Matchmakers Trilogy is now live on CreateSpace and Amazon, in both print and Kindle formats. They are also listed on Goodreads, and I’ve got a small Pinterest board started for the trilogy. The books can be purchased separately, or in one combined volume at a discounted price.

Inspiration, Publishing, Shifting Isles

Introducing: Matchmakers (A Shifting Isles Trilogy)

So begins a (slightly) new venture for myself, one on which I had ultimately planned, albeit not quite so soon.

I’m about to release my first m/m romance novels, set in the world of the Shifting Isles. I had planned to jump into m/m romance with the J.A. Wood series, planned for a few years down the road, but these new books pretty much just jumped up and took over my life for a few months, throwing my writing schedule completely off-track, but I simply had to run with it.

41f+T193FWL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_The Matchmakers Trilogy all started when I was writing Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4). In that story, there is a minor character, Remy, who appears in all of two scenes and has a mere handful of lines, but somehow he grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

In Broken, the MC, Daivid, is working as a stripper at a gay club in order to pay off a debt he owes the club owner. One night, due to a shortage of staff, the boss has Daivid participate in a live pornography stage show instead of his usual stripper act. Daivid, being the Kinsey Zero that he is, freaks out about this, but ultimately gives in, since it’s either that or lose his job, and wind up even more in debt than he already is, and his criminal record is so long that no one else will hire him.

He winds up performing the stage show with Remy, a flamboyant kid who popped out of my imagination on a moment’s notice just to make Daivid’s situation harder (*ahem* Sorry…more difficult). Remy is about as gay as they come, so his flirtatiousness only makes things worse for Daivid when he’s already having a miserable night.

After the show, Remy pops off with the following comment:

Hey! Maybe next time I’ll get you all out on display like that again, and I’ll ride you. What do you say?” Daivid choked and took a step back, but Remy pressed right up against him and dropped his voice to a husky murmur. “My boyfriend just loves to watch me bottom. Makes him so friggin’ hot. Mmmph. Yeah. Next time. Totally.

Now, what kind of guy would have a boyfriend who actually enjoys watching him have sex with other men? This question teased me for the longest time. I mean, it felt like such a Remy thing to say when I wrote it, but as a strict monogamist myself, I was having a hard time wrapping my head around that as a real situation.

So that got me thinking: Who was Remy’s boyfriend? And why was he so easy-going about Remy’s job? Why wasn’t he jealous? Was he always like that, or did they have a hard road to get to that point?

Second ChancesBam! There you have it. The makings of a new story: Second Chances. Once those questions started popping up, I couldn’t stop. A minor character who appears in two scenes suddenly had his very own novel.

And Remy … *sigh* Remy, Remy, Remy …

The more I wrote him, the more I absolutely adored him. Remy is the kind of character you want to just wrap up in your pocket and keep safe. By night, he’s a porn star and a stripper who absolutely loves his job. But by day, Remy is an intelligent, sophisticated, responsible young man who likes to wear nothing but suits and ties, and all he really wants in life is to settle down and be loved, to have someone for himself.

So along comes Chance Whitaker. And yeah, alright, spoiler alert, they get their HEA, of course, since they’re still together during the events of Broken, but it’s not an easy road. (And, as it turns out, Chance really does like to watch Remy bottom on stage…)

While I was working through this story, I was also discovering Queer as Folk. I know, I know. I’m only about 15 years too late. That’s apparently how I operate when it comes to TV shows. But I got sucked into the show and completely fell in love with it…

Until the finale. I mean, come on: BRIAN AND JUSTIN DON’T WIND UP TOGETHER?!?! WHAT?!?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!?!

*sigh* Alright, fine. Yes, I agree, that is exactly how the show should have ended, considering their characters. It totally made sense, but a part of me hated that it made sense, because I was so rooting for that big, romantic HEA.

So, of course, I had to fix it.

I needed a story where the guy who refuses commitment (Brian) comes across a man he simply can’t live without, even if he has to learn it the hard way. I needed Brian and Justin to have that big, happy ending.

The story wound up taking a different direction than I originally expected, but as I was finishing Second Chances, I was suddenly well into mentally outlining the sequel, Second Drafts.

Second DraftsShain Ahren, Chance Whitaker’s brother, flat refuses to settle down, and won’t even sleep with the same guy twice. A writer and a major control freak (that doesn’t sound familiar at all … *ahem*), Shain simply won’t let anyone in.

Until he meets…

And here’s where the story really threw me for a loop. I needed a counterpart for Shain, someone to shake up his world and mess with his control, and the first (and only) character who came to mind to fill that role was Elliden Crawford.

Elliden also appears in Broken, as the unstable artist who is the brother of Daivid’s love interest. Elliden inherited an extreme chemical imbalance from his mother which leaves him prone to violent outbursts. When he has one of his fits, his sister literally has to wrestle him to the floor and hold him down until he works the fit out of himself; otherwise, he carries pills that can quickly sedate him and stop the violence before it starts, but they leave him lethargic and unmotivated to do anything whatsoever. His volatility forces him into a very sheltered, isolated existence. In some ways, he’s really not much more than a child, though he has the intelligence and rationality of any other man his age.

I really struggled with this character choice at first. Right off the bat, I knew there was going to have to be a sexual element between Shain and Elliden, and I had the most impossible time trying to picture Elliden as a sexual being. Straight or gay, I just couldn’t imagine it. To me, he always came off the page as not only a virgin, but as someone who would probably never have sex in his life. I just couldn’t see it ever happening.

What I could see, however, and see so easily that I knew he was the perfect choice for this book, was his need to be dominated. What little I’d written of him in Broken translated perfectly into his interactions with Shain. Elliden knows he’s dangerous, and he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. However, he’s also lonely, but thinks he can’t ever be close to someone because he’s unstable. Still, he does manage to succumb to his sister’s control, and even to the authority in Daivid’s voice, so pairing him with the domineering control freak, Shain, just made perfect sense. Elliden knows he needs someone not just stronger than him, but someone with enough presence to get through to him when he’s having a fit. He finds that he actually craves that outside control.

This whole book is really about control: taking it, needing it, and letting it go. Not to mention, an element of shame attached to it all. Apparently, the Writing Muse was trying to teach me a lesson with this book. I kept trying to get back on track with writing the Shifting Isles series, but the Muse wouldn’t let me, insisting I work on Second Drafts instead.

And no wonder. I was having some major control issues of my own. Some parts of my life in which I needed to take control, but thought I couldn’t (like Elliden does when he first moves out on his own). For instance, standing up for myself and seeking out the health care and procedures I needed in order to embrace my trans identity, rather than suffering the misery of constantly pretending for the sake of not upsetting others. Just like Elliden felt ashamed of wanting to take control and have his own life, I felt ashamed of wanting to take control and embrace my identity. Through my own character, I learned a lesson.

…Some parts in which I needed to let go of control but didn’t want to (like Shain does when Elliden starts to affect his life). For instance, not getting myself so worked up about things being done just precisely the right way (I might be a little bit OCD), and learning to let go and ask for help when things get beyond my power or ability (something I’ve never been good at because, hang it all, I want to be able to do things myself).

…Some parts in which I needed control, and was ashamed to admit it (like Elliden craving Shain’s presence to keep him in line). For instance, I’ve learned that exercise requires another’s presence. I can’t seem to motivate myself, but if I have someone else there pushing me, telling me what to do, I love it. Just as Elliden felt ashamed of wanting that controlling presence to keep him in line, I felt some shame in wanting the same thing in the gym, and we both had to learn to let go of that shame and embrace what we needed.

And through both of these stories, there is the matchmaker himself, Danny Berringer. Through Danny’s interference, Remy and Chance are brought together, then Elliden and Shain. Only fair that the matchmaker get his own love story, right?

Second PlaceThus, rounding out the trilogy (and, as it turns out, delving into more of my personal life), is Second Place.

Danny is still in love with Bryan, even after they’ve been apart for years, even though Bryan is married to someone else. But Bryan’s marriage seems to have fallen apart, and as much as Danny would give anything to have a chance to get back together with Bryan, he’s also dying to know what went wrong with Bryan’s marriage, considering he matched up the pair, and he never gets couples wrong.

This story centers heavily around death, guilt, betrayal, and moving on. Without even realizing it, this whole story exploded out of my own grief over losing the family dog. It was a year ago yesterday that we put her down, but it feels like it just happened. Even after a year, I still struggle with the guilt I feel over her last day. She spent her last day at the vet’s office, a place she hated, and when we went to say goodbye, she clearly thought she was finally going home, but instead we all cried over her while she was put down.

It felt like we’d killed her. She spent her last day away from her family, and then we killed her.

That thought tormented me for the longest time. Still does, to some degree.

And even though she was just a pet, I’m not quite ready to move on. I thought I was finally getting to that point, until my father started talking to a breeder about getting another dog, and I burst into tears, thinking, “You can’t replace her!” Stupid thought, but there it was.

So all these feelings — the grief, the guilt, the struggle to move on — came out in this story. Once again, the Muse was leading me where I needed to go, rather than where I wanted to go (namely, sticking to my writing schedule).

Hmmm, there’s that control thing again…

Despite all the difficult feelings that arose in these stories, I am so completely in love with them, and I can’t wait to share them with the world (well, my small readership, as it is, but it feels like sharing them with the world). As I sit here, eagerly awaiting my final proof copies to arrive, I’m counting down the days to their scheduled release date.

July 24th. Giving myself a birthday present this year. Writing what I want to write and not caring what anyone thinks about it. Trans guy writing gay romance. *shrug* That’s just who I am.

The Matchmakers Trilogy will be available — separately and in a combined edition at a discounted price — on Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com starting July 24th. I can’t wait!!!

Inspiration, Publishing, Shifting Isles

When Characters Have Their Own Way

So, I finished writing a book last night.

Not the one I was supposed to be working on, mind, but one that grabbed my attention just about a month ago and wouldn’t leave me alone.

With the release of Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4) at the end of December, and a completed draft of The Five-Hour Wife (Shifting Isles, Book 5) around the same time, I was trying desperately to start working on Betrayal (Shifting Isles, Book 6) in hopes of getting myself back on track after it took so much longer to finish Broken than I’d anticipated.

But, no matter how hard I tried, I was stuck. Betrayal just wasn’t speaking to me. At all.

I fought and struggled and tried to focus on writing Betrayal. I really did try. It drove me insane. I know exactly where I need the story to go; most of it is already laid out in my head; I just can’t seem to get it down on the computer.

The problem? I was completely and thoroughly distracted by a minor character having a mind of his own and taking charge of my muse.

In Broken, the MC, Daivid Thaton, works at a strip club in order to pay off a debt due to money he’d stolen from the owner of the club. One of his coworkers at the club is Remy, who popped into my head one day and pretty much demanded a place in Daivid’s book, just to torment Daivid’s very heterosexual masculinity. Remy has all of a handful of lines and appears in only two scenes in the book, and that was the extent of my plan for him.

Well, Remy, apparently, had plans of his own, because while I was struggling to work on Betrayal, he jumped up in all his flamboyant glory, threw his arms in the air, and shouted, “I need a book of my own!”

What can I say? I obeyed.

It didn’t take much for his story to take shape. Just his few lines in Broken got me thinking: How does a kid wind up being a stripper and a porn star? Why does his boyfriend not mind his job, and even gets off on it? Was it an easy road to that relationship, or was it a struggle getting his boyfriend to accept him as he was?

And there it was. Story concept. And as I started writing it, other characters popped up out of nowhere, more backstory developed to come back to haunt Remy, and suddenly, in a matter of weeks, the gorgeous, energetic Remy Dawes had managed to star in a book of his own.

But, of course, he couldn’t leave it at that. He had to drag in his boyfriend’s brother, who will also have his own book (alongside Elliden Crawford, who makes appearances in Return To Tanas (Shifting Isles, Book 3) and Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4)), and then Remy’s boss stepped up and said he needed a book, too, which rounded out the stories and developed this neat little M/M romance trilogy that would run as a side-step from the main Shifting Isles anthology.

The trilogy, which I’m calling Matchmakers, after the name of the club where Remy works, will be available…well, I’m not really sure. Since I really should be focusing on the main series, I should be putting this new one off until the end of my current writing schedule, which is already about three or four years out. Then again, this project has me so wound up and excited that I just might make it a special release amongst and between the scheduled release dates of the main Shifting Isles series. I hate to be vague, but there you have it.

I just hope I can get back on track with Betrayal. Granted, all my deadlines are self-imposed, so it’s not like the end of the world if I get off-schedule, but still…my OCD wouldn’t be too happy with me were I to do that.

Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration, Lethean, News, Publishing, Teasers and Excerpts

Round Two (Teaser Included!)

Uncommonly StrongUncommonly Strong (Lethean Trilogy, Book II) is finally here!

I know, I just put out Book I less than two months ago, so it’s odd to say finally in this case, but considering how much I had to fight the plot in this book, finally feels very apropos.

Whereas The Lethean (Book I) and Hale and Farewell (Book III) seemed to practically write themselves, Book II gave me a world of trouble. There were huge chunks that I tore out and rewrote several times before I became even just content with the story, and finally got it to a point where I was happy with it. It could still probably use some improvement — what couldn’t? — but as a reader, I quite enjoy it now, particularly for the characters.

Though I do rather adore Landon and Victoria from Book I, I had a little more fun with the personalities of the characters in Book II. Sati is always making lighthearted comments that no one finds funny (I don’t know anyone like that…*ahem*…); Joseph is all about the love of his family, even when they drive him crazy (cue plugging his ears when Thomas and Spencer start in on their openly intimate talk); Thomas is Joseph’s three-minute-older twin brother, the stylish, suave one who is the most open-minded and often the voice of reason, though he does have his dark side, too; and Thomas’s partner, Spencer, who is pretty much the adult kid in the family, always smiling and enjoying life.

As a bonus, Uncommonly Strong includes a short story at the end, partly inspired by the 2013 documentary Bridegroom. The overall theme of the Lethean trilogy is that love is love, despite what society or the law may have to say, and after watching that film, it triggered some inspiration to delve a little more deeply into the characters of Thomas and Spencer. In general, though, it’s not just about any particular minority rights, so much as general human rights. In The Lethean, Landon and Victoria come from vastly different social circles, and their relationship would have been at least frowned upon if not forbidden in Regency England. In Uncommonly Strong, Thomas and Spencer being a gay couple certainly has its related persecution — and even Sati and Joseph’s relationship is questioned by Sati’s very religious foster family. In Hale and Farewell…well, I won’t spoil it. That one is not as obvious a forbidden romance but the element does come into play.

I am so thankful that author Lisa Clark O’Neill suggested serializing The Lethean. It was originally meant to be a standalone novel, but after she mentioned the possibility of turning it into a series, I started looking more into certain aspects of the Lethean lifestyle and culture and wondered how those aspects would play into different situations. Thus, Books II and III came to life — and I’m so glad they did, because I absolutely love Book III and can’t wait to get to that one! It’s already written, just waiting for a few final rounds of editing, and should be available in July.

By the way, Lisa has a new novel out as of yesterday. Be sure to check it out here. And if you haven’t come across her Southern Comfort series, I highly recommend it.

And, of course, I must once again tip my hat to the beautiful and talented Natalie Fawn Danelishen for her work on the cover art.

So, without further ado, here is Chapter 1 from Uncommonly Strong. Enjoy!

 

Chapter 1

Are you ready?”

Joseph Hale put the question to his twin brother, Thomas, as they stood side-by-side at the mirror in the immaculate men’s bathroom on the twenty-third floor of Haven Marketing. Just down the hall was the conference room where they were scheduled to present a new ad campaign, and they had ducked into the bathroom to check their teeth and straighten their ties before meeting the new client.

The brothers were nearly indistinguishable. They had the same straight nose, the same diamond chin with the same short boxed beard, the same broad shoulders, and even the same steel grey eyes. Other than the fact that Joseph favored pinstripe grey suits, while his brother preferred his signature taupe, the only way to tell them apart was that Joseph’s hair was so dark it was almost black, while Thomas’s was closer to chestnut brown. Even then, people still mixed them up – and once, back in high school, when Thomas had dyed his hair to match that of his three-minute-younger brother, not even their own mother could tell them apart without reading them by touch.

I’m always ready.” Thomas grinned confidently, and pulled out a comb to run through his hair.

Joseph laughed. “You’re not ready.”

Thomas pocketed the comb with a sigh, rolled his eyes, and turned to face his brother, grabbing Joseph around the back of the neck and bringing their foreheads together.

Joseph’s laugh vanished as he and his twin turned serious – head-to-head, eyes closed – and he realized he was more anxious about the presentation than he wanted to admit. Without thinking about it, his hand copied that of his brother, and they stood there for a long moment, clasping one another’s necks while they shared encouraging thoughts through the touch of their foreheads.

It was a habit that had developed from childhood, an unspoken ritual that they never failed to perform, especially when something important was about to occur. They tried to do it where they wouldn’t be seen, strange as it must look for two men to stand so close and so silent for so long, and hoped that if anyone ever did witness it, they could chalk it up to nothing more than a twin bond.

Yet, it was so much more.

Thomas focused all his thought on the celebratory drinks they would share once they succeeded in their presentation; and Joseph, reading his brother’s thought, grinned.

* * *

Peter Jenkins, President and CEO of Haven Marketing, rarely had a chance to sit in on a campaign pitch – and seldom visited the San Francisco office – but when it came to a potential client the size of Carson Electronics, he certainly couldn’t afford not to be present.

Especially,” he muttered to himself, “not after two of my best teams have failed.”

He watched the Hale twins stroll down the hallway toward him, looking composed and confident. At least, he certainly hoped they were confident. Carson’s Board of Directors were being extremely gracious coming for a third presentation, and though circumstances weren’t exactly dire, Jenkins wanted the security of this contract in order to help Haven weather the shaky economy.

Jenkins stuffed his hands into his pockets and tried to swallow his nerves, wondering if the Hales’ presentation would be accepted where the others had not been.

The first two teams had taken radically different approaches to the sample television spots they’d made for the Carson Board. One was raucous and colorful, the other pale and muted. The only similarity between the two presentations had been the dull monotones of the team leaders’ voices.

Both presentations had been utter failures.

Jenkins had asked the Hale brothers to rehearse their pitch for him the day before. The ad itself took rather a middle ground between the two failed presentations, being neither too boisterous nor too quiet. It was a good, professional product, but what struck him most were the brothers themselves. Whereas the other two teams had been so businesslike as to be almost boring, the Hales had given an energetic, masculine introduction to their ad. Jenkins hoped this more impressive lead-in would be what it took to capture the attention of Daniel Carson – a man who looked like he belonged in a plaid shirt with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder rather than in a business suit with a pen in his hand.

Good morning, Mr. Jenkins,” the twins said in their annoyingly perfect synchronicity.

Good morning, good morning,” he responded, a little too gruffly, shaking their hands in turn. “Are you boys ready for this?”

Yes, sir, Mr. Jenkins,” the light-haired one responded. Joseph? Or Thomas? He wasn’t quite sure and was too anxious to bother asking.

You both know how much we could use this contract,” he said sternly, and watched them both nod in reply. “I like your presentation, and I’ve heard good things about you from your department head, so if you can pull this off – if you can succeed where Edwards’s and Benson’s teams failed – it’ll mean tremendous promotions for you both.”

We’re ready, Mr. Jenkins.”

We won’t let you down, sir.”

Jenkins looked from one to the other, opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a secretary coming to an abrupt stop at his side, nervously clutching a binder to her chest.

Mr. Jenkins,” she said quietly, “the Carsons are here. I’ve just shown them into the conference room.”

Jenkins swallowed and forced on a smile. “Thank you, Tina. That’ll be all.”

The secretary nodded and hurried off, while Jenkins spun on his heel and led the way to the conference room, hearing the light footfalls of the twins behind him.

* * *

The first handshake was always the most stressful part of meeting a new client. Joseph knew that both he and Thomas were steeling themselves for the physical contact that would give them the competitive edge they needed – or would reveal their secret.

Upon Mr. Jenkins’s introduction, Joseph and his brother took turns shaking hands with Daniel Carson himself, and both twins inwardly sighed with relief when they realized their secret was safe. Then it was Mr. Carson’s turn to introduce his associates: a wiry assistant named Brian and a voluptuous blonde named Gertrude. Their handshakes with Gertrude lingered ever so slightly, and as the Carson team took their seats, Joseph and his twin shared a look of understanding.

* * *

Jenkins was already irritated. He didn’t think anyone else could tell, but he had seen the extended handshakes the Hale twins had shared with the woman, and his first thought was that his boys no longer had their focus on the task at hand. He had to admit, Gertrude was quite the distraction, and he realized he was already bracing himself for another utter failure.

Across the room, at the foot of the conference table, he saw the twins share a brief look, and the almost imperceptible nod one gave the other right before they both turned their attention to the Carson representatives.

Jenkins clenched his fists in his lap, waiting for the rugged, manly presentation he’d seen rehearsed the day before, and felt his jaw drop when he began to witness something entirely different.

Whereas, the day before, the twins had been the very image of a boys’ night out – an approach that Jenkins was sure would work on rugged Mr. Carson – they had now slipped into entirely different mannerisms. Their movements were fluid instead of rigid, their voices soft instead of bold. The words were precisely the same as they’d been during their rehearsal, but what Jenkins saw now was something that bordered on sensual.

To further his dismay, he saw that, while certainly not ignoring Mr. Carson, the twins were directing their attention and presentation primarily toward the woman.

Carson Electronics,” Thomas wrapped up, giving the woman a look that could only be described as smoldering while he delivered the tag line: “One step ahead.”

Jenkins felt himself turning red with anger. He was going to throw both of these boys out on the street as soon as they received their certain rejection from the Carson team.

Very impressive, Mr. Hale, and Mr. Hale.” Daniel Carson nodded to each of the twins after a brief, whispered conversation with the woman at his side. “I just have one question for you. No one has ever seen through our farce before. How did you know that Gertrude has the final say?”

Jenkins choked on a “What?” as his jaw dropped again, and he saw the twins share a look, grinning with satisfaction.

* * *

Alright, explain to me what just happened in there!”

Joseph and his brother, along with Mr. Jenkins, had just said goodbye to the Carson team – after signing a six-figure advertising contract – and now the twins braced themselves as the boss was finally free to drop his forced calm and explode.

Just like they explained, sir,” Joseph said. “Gertrude is actually Gertrude Carson, who started the company, but no one has ever taken her seriously because she’s a woman, so on paper she’s only V.P. while she lets her cousin Daniel appear as acting President.”

Yes, yes, I heard all that.” Mr. Jenkins waved his hands in frustration. “What I want to know is how you two knew that! And you didn’t say a word about it yesterday! When you started changing your presentation, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!”

We didn’t know it yesterday, sir,” Thomas added respectfully. “We only just…realized it when we met them today.”

Yes, but…how?”

Joseph looked at his brother, who shrugged, so he simply turned a smile on his boss and said, “Call it a hunch.”

* * *

At their favorite downtown bar, Joseph and his twin squeezed through the crush of bodies and took a booth in a relatively quiet corner. In the heat of the room, and free from contact with other people, Thomas gladly divested himself of his jacket, lounging comfortably in a black polo shirt and khaki slacks, with an off-white fedora tilted low over his brow. Joseph unbuttoned the cuffs of his blue-and-white striped dress shirt and rolled the sleeves up to his elbows.

A waitress took their drink orders, and once the brothers were alone again, Thomas pulled a gold ring from his pocket and slid it onto his left ring finger. Though Joseph was used to the action by now, he still couldn’t fathom how his brother could stand not to wear his ring at all times. Joseph knew that, when he finally met his own partner someday, he would never want to see his own ring off his hand. At least Thomas’s partner was aware of the behavior and didn’t seem to mind one bit.

A few minutes later, the brothers were enjoying their respective bourbon and scotch, while a martini sat at Thomas’s elbow, waiting for its drinker.

They sipped in silence, watching the crowds around the pool tables and on the small dance floor, one brother occasionally resting a hand on the other’s arm to silently share a thought. Whereas the cacophony of thoughts that could be picked up from direct contact with such a crowd could be burdensome, silent contact with one another was a source of amusement. The brothers, being what they were, could watch people and make comments about them without uttering a single audible word.

Joseph rested his elbows on the table while Thomas slouched back, tugging the fedora down lower over his eyes. Joseph could see his older brother smiling to himself as he sipped his drink, quietly enjoying their accomplishment of the day.

Across the room, Joseph spotted a young man wearing skinny jeans, a pink plaid button-up T-shirt, and a grey scarf. Blond curls peeked out from beneath a black slouch beanie, and a broad smile lit up the man’s freshly shaved face as he squeezed through the crowd, walking with a slight limp.

Joseph set down his drink and rested a hand on Thomas’s arm, making him grin.

You don’t need to tell me he’s coming.” Thomas laughed, sitting up straight and pushing his hat back with an index finger to the underside of the brim. “I can feel him, you know.”

Joseph shrugged and laughed. “Force of habit.”

Hi boys!” The newcomer giggled, blowing Joseph a kiss before sitting down right beside Thomas. “Sorry I’m late–”

His words cut off as Thomas gathered him up in his arms and gave him a long, deep kiss.

Joseph rolled his eyes. “Tom, Spencer, really? Can’t you guys wait until you get home?”

The couple ignored him, kissing one another hungrily, so Joseph focused on his drink and tried not to laugh.

Mmmm, I missed you too,” Spencer managed to get out when Thomas stopped for a breath. “What was that for?”

We had a really good day,” Thomas murmured, and kissed him again.

Guys, come on!” Joseph laughed.

Thomas sighed and nodded toward his brother. “We really need to find him his partner.”

Spencer gave Joseph a pointed look, then made a show of kissing Thomas back before straightening himself on the bench and resting his head on his partner’s shoulder.

Really, Joseph,” Spencer said, “you just don’t understand.”

I just thought we were celebrating, that’s all.”

And what do you think we were just doing?” Spencer grinned childishly. “What are we celebrating, anyway?”

Spencer started sipping at the martini while the twins recounted their successful presentation, and he had to look back and forth between the two as they habitually finished one another’s sentences.

When they were finished, Spencer sat forward and held up his hands, saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute! You guys read your clients? Again? Isn’t that cheating?”

How so?” Thomas asked.

Well…doesn’t that give you an unfair advantage, being able to read their thoughts?”

Not necessarily,” Thomas said. “An advantage, sure, but–”

“–it’s no different from any other ‘advantage’ a person could conceivably have–” Joseph continued.

“–like some people are naturally better at math–”

“–and some at making speeches–”

“–and some at engineering–”

“–or sports–”

“–or art–”

“–and they couldn’t help being born the way they were–”

“–and neither could we help being born Lethean–”

“–so we just use what we have to work with, that’s all.”

Spencer put a finger to his lips and loudly shushed them, then shook his head, dizzy from the conversation.

Thomas looked slightly chagrined at having said the word aloud, but as the trio glanced around, no one seemed to have taken any notice of their conversation, so they each heaved a sigh of relief. There were very few of their kind left in the world, but maintaining the secret of their Lethean heritage was still considered a cardinal virtue.

They knew perfectly well that, should their abilities ever be made public, they could be in for a world of trouble.

It’s not like we asked to be born this way,” Thomas continued, lowering his voice. “It just simply happened, so like Joseph said, we use what we’ve got.”

Right. It’s not like you’d see a world-famous athlete give up his ability just because of some supposed ‘unfair’ advantage over, say, someone who’s disabled,” Joseph added, to which Spencer had to nod in agreement.

Besides–” Thomas grinned, putting an arm around his partner. “I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in the world. I hear the sex isn’t as great for regular humans.”

Pfff, speak for yourself.” Spencer laughed. “I’d still be great in bed, even if I were only human.”

Thomas looked at his brother and shrugged. “He’s got a point there.”

Mmmm, you know it–”

Guys! Really?” Joseph interrupted, rolling his eyes.

Spencer laughed and jabbed his partner in the ribs. “You know what we should do? As soon as we get a chance for a vacation, we should take your brother traveling to find his partner. Get him all nice and paired up and then he’ll finally understand what he’s been missing, and stop pestering us about our pillow talk.”

You know, that’s not a bad idea.” Thomas grinned and turned to his twin. “How about it, Joe? Where is she, do you think?”

She?” Spencer raised an eyebrow, and laughed deviously. “What if it’s a he?”

Joseph looked down at the empty glass between his hands, and quietly responded, “No, she. I’m not sure how, but I can tell it’s a woman. And she’s very far away. Very faint. Somewhere east, but…”

He felt the other two watching him, but didn’t take his eyes off his glass. After a moment, Thomas reached over and rested a hand on his shoulder, asking seriously, “Joe, what’s wrong?”

Joseph glanced up at his twin and back down at his hands, sighing. “She’s in pain, and always so tired. It’s very faint but I can always feel it there. She’s very weak, and I can feel her fear. I wish I could understand it, but she’s too far away.”

Have you tried sending her positive feelings?” Spencer asked, serious for a change. “I know that helped when Tom did that for me. Remember? When we were in the hospital and–”

Thomas visibly shuddered. “Ugh, don’t remind me,” he said, automatically reaching down to massage Spencer’s bad leg.

Have you tried that, Joe?” Spencer asked again.

Joseph nodded. “Every day. I can’t tell if she feels it, though. She’s just…ugh, by Lethe, she’s just too far away.”

Well, I think–” Spencer began, but got interrupted when another man approached their table.

Tom! Joe!” the man called, and Joseph looked up to see their coworker, Brad Edwards. “I hear you got the Carson contract. Congratulations.”

Joseph shook his offered hand, surprised at the truth and sincerity in the man’s voice, considering Brad’s was one of the Carson pitches that had failed.

Thank you,” Joseph replied while Brad perched on the edge of the bench next to him.

No hard feelings?” Thomas joked while he reached across the table to shake Brad’s hand.

Nah.” Brad waved it off. “I knew our pitch was crap. But what could I do? The team insisted it was good enough, but it didn’t seem right to me, and I couldn’t very well go against four other people who agreed with each other, now, could I?”

Why not?” Thomas asked. “If you know in your gut that something isn’t right, why would you play along? Why would you let others decide for you?”

Brad shrugged. “Just easier that way.”

Joseph stifled a laugh, thinking of all the times he and his twin had bickered over certain ad concepts, neither one backing down without good reason. He could never understand how people like Brad would simply bow down to the opinions of others.

Looking over at his twin, he figured Thomas was probably thinking the same thing.

A low whistle distracted him out of his thoughts, and he heard Brad say, “Would you get a load of those legs! Look, Joe, I think they’re checking us out.”

Joseph felt his twin kick him under the table, and turned to follow Brad’s gaze. Leaning against the bar were two women who looked as though they’d just stepped off a magazine cover, complete with slender legs, short skirts, and overflowing low-cut tops.

Brad smacked him on the arm. “Come on, Joe.”

No, thank you.”

Brad swung around to face him with an incredulous look. “Are you crazy? They’re looking right at us and you’re going to pass that up?”

Joseph shrugged and spun his empty glass around on the table.

Dude, tell me you’re joking.”

In response, Joseph just shook his head.

What, are you gay or something?” Brad asked, then a horrified look came over his face. “Shit. Sorry, Tom. No offense.”

Thomas held up a hand like he was waving off the comment. “None taken.”

You’re really not interested?” Brad asked again, and Joseph shook his head. “Christ Almighty, man. Very well. Suit yourself.”

With that, Brad got up and approached the bar alone, and Thomas kicked his twin under the table again.

What?”

You’re supposed to at least pretend,” his twin hissed, and Spencer nodded along beside him. “You don’t want another Mike Callahan incident, do you?”

Joseph grimaced, remembering the fight with Mike all those years ago. “No,” he answered. “But do you have any idea how hard it is to fake interest in a human?”

Thomas grinned. “Oh, sure. It’s hysterical.” He shared a look with his partner and the two burst out laughing.

Did I miss something?” Joseph asked.

When Thomas finally got his laughter under control, he said, “Spencer dragged me to this gay bar one night, a couple months back, even though he knows I hate dancing.” He paused and shot his partner a look, but Spencer just grinned back at him. Thomas cleared his throat and continued, “As a joke, he asked me to try dancing with other men. I couldn’t keep a straight face for the life of me, and this one guy was absolutely furious that he couldn’t get me hard.”

Ha!” Spencer laughed. “I almost forgot about that. The guy with a tattoo on the back of his hand, right? Oh, the look on his face was priceless.”

Joseph cut through their laughter, asking, “So you couldn’t do it for one hour, yet you expect me to keep up the charade day after day?”

Well, until you find your partner, Joseph, I–”

I don’t like pretending to be something I’m not,” Joseph interrupted him, and the mirth across the table evaporated.

Thomas reached over and squeezed his hand. “You’re right, Joe. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to see you have to go through another incident like–”

He was cut off when Spencer grabbed his arm, gasping, “Ah! Tom, it’s our song. Come on, let’s dance!”

Spencer jumped up from the booth, tugging on Thomas’s hand, while his partner complained, “Did I not just remind you – again – that I hate dancing? And besides, you’re only going to aggravate your leg.”

Pfff, like you don’t enjoy helping me with my stretches.” He tugged on Thomas’s hand again. “Thomas, darling, dearest, mera pyaar, mon amour.” He pouted. “Please?”

Thomas turned to his brother and sighed. “The things I do for love.”

Spencer grinned and seemed to drag Thomas to the dance floor, but once there, Joseph could tell that his brother was happy right where he was, in the arms of the person he loved more than anyone else in the entire world.

In the arms of the person who carried the other half of his soul.