Welcome to day three of the Howloween Blog Hop! Comment on this post to win an ebook copy of your choice of one my Dreamspinner Press releases. You can check them all out here or by clicking on the “Books” link to the left of this post. Don’t forget to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win! I’ll be drawing a winner on October 30th.
Since the theme for the hop is Halloween, I thought I’d talk about things that scare us. But not in the horror movie sense. I want to talk about real life fears that keep us from being the people we want to be. At their core, all of the Blue Notes Series books address these types of fears.
In the original “Blue Notes,” lawyer and former pianist Jason Greene has lived his life the way everyone has told him to live it. His success is just a sham, though. Beneath the “perfect” veneer is a man who is unhappy. Why? Because he’s never faced his personal demons: his sexuality, his fear of performing, and his fear that what makes him happy isn’t what people think should make him happy.
In the second Blue Notes novel, “The Melody Thief,” cellist Cary Redding has been running from his childhood all his life. He never feels as though he deserves his success–he believes he’s stolen it. He is the melody thief. Unworthy, undeserving, deeply flawed. He tries to dull his pain by drinking too much and seeking out anonymous sex in the seediest of places.
Book Three of the series, “Aria,” also revolves around the characters’ fears. In “Aria,” Sam Ryan (who readers meet in “Blue Notes”), is afraid to let go of the memory of his first love, Nick. When he meets opera singer Aiden Lind (who appears as Cary Redding’s best friend in “The Melody Thief”), the attraction is intense and immediate. But Sam just isn’t ready. Aiden, too, has his demons. Supremely talented and successful, he fears that people will realize he’s just an unsophisticated kid from backwoods Mississippi. And when he catches his partner cheating on him, he half believes it was his own fault.
What else do these books have in common? A happy ending. Because there’s nothing like unconditional love to begin the healing process. Each character heals in a different way, and in a way that I hope readers will find believable and human.
Interested in reading more? “Aria” will be released by Dreamspinner Press on December 24th. A long sneak peek at Chapter Five of the novel follows (18+ excerpt – this one is steamy and NSFW!). I hope you enjoy it! And don’t forget to comment. You could win a free copy of your choice of the books! -Shira
NOTE: Prepublication excerpt, content may change. 18+ only, NSFW, contains explicit sexual content
New York, New York
The SoHo bar was crowded when Sam arrived a few minutes after eight o’clock. Some of his friends had recommended it to him, but he had never been inside. Typical of many establishments in the area, the walls were stripped bare of years of paint. Modern canvasses in various sizes and shapes broke the monotony of the ancient brick. Italian track lighting hung from the drop ceiling illuminated the artwork and the tables. Sam could make out the strains of classic jazz over the low drone of conversation. The smells of alcohol, aftershave, and musk hung in the air.
Sam realized his hand rested on his briefcase. He thought briefly of the metal cookie tin inside, which inevitably made him think of Nick. He and Nick first met in a bar, but Sam had never liked them much. As a couple, they had mostly socialized with friends, alternating hosting get-togethers at their loft apartment and spending weekends upstate in small B and Bs.
Sam felt overwhelmed as he sat down at the end of the bar and ordered a drink. He reminded himself that he was just here for the alcohol, but the Manhattan gay scene loomed frighteningly on the horizon, and he was woefully unprepared. Even now, a year after Nick’s death, he knew he wasn’t ready, though he’d already received a few appreciative looks in the few minutes since his arrival. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for it again—it had been intimidating enough the first time around.
“Vodka tonic,” he told the bartender. Tonight he needed something stronger than his usual beer. Running a hand through his hair, he took a look around the bar for the first time. There was no dance floor, so the action was subtler. Men filled nearly every seat at the long bar, chatting in undertones over drinks. He fought the urge to leave. When the bartender placed a drink in front of him, he thanked the man and took a long, desperate swallow. The comforting effect of the alcohol began to kick in.
What am I doing here?
The man seated to his left got up and threw a twenty down on the bar, then waved to the bartender and the other men at the counter. Sam finished his drink in one long swallow and looked up again, this time into a pair of warm brown eyes framed by long lashes. The newcomer smiled affably at him. Sam managed to return the smile before quickly looking back down at his empty glass.
This was a mistake. He pulled his wallet out of his jacket and rummaged for a twenty.
“I hope you’re not leaving on my account,” said the man next to him. And, God, what a voice! A resonant, sexy-as-fuck baritone that went straight from Sam’s ears to his cock.
“Aiden Lind,” he said more formally as he offered Sam his hand.
“Sam Ryan. Nice to meet you.” Sam’s hand was warm, his grip firm.
Aiden gestured to the bartender. “Two more. On me.”
“I was just about to leave.” Sam didn’t want to be rude, but he needed to get out of the place. Coming here had been a mistake.
“Sure I can’t convince you to stay?”
“No. But thanks, Aiden. It was good meeting you.” Sam forced a smile and picked up his satchel before heading for the door. A moment later he stepped out into the chilly night air, taking deep breaths to calm his racing heart.
He wasn’t ready. He pulled his jacket collar up, then started for the subway station.
Sam turned around to see someone running after him down the street. What was his name? Aiden.
“Look, Aiden,” Sam said as he caught up with him, “I’m tired.”
Aiden blinked. “Oh. No. It’s not like that.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wallet. Sam’s wallet.
Shit. The guy was being nice, and Sam had tried to blow him off.
Sam took the wallet and their fingers brushed. Sam’s cheeks warmed as their eyes met. Uncomfortable, he shifted his briefcase from one hand to another. “Thanks. Damn good thing my head’s attached to my body tonight.”
“No problem.” Aiden shoved his hands back into his pockets.
“It was good meeting you.” Sam was hard-pressed not to like the man.
“You too, Sam.” Aiden hesitated a second longer, then turned and waved as he headed back toward the bar.
It’s only a drink. No strings. It’s not like you have anyone waiting at home.
“On second thought,” Sam called after Aiden, “I think I’ll have that drink.”
“Great!” Aiden turned around and beamed at him, and Sam’s initial hesitation evaporated in the warmth of Aiden’s smile.
A few minutes later, they walked back into the bar. Aiden motioned to a free table. “This okay with you?”
“Sure.” Sam set his briefcase back down and settled into one of the metal chairs.
“What are you drinking?” Aiden asked.
“Great. I’ll be right back.” Aiden headed for the bar before Sam could offer to spring for the drinks.
Now that they were back inside in the light, Sam got his first good look at Aiden. He hadn’t noticed when they were sitting down, but Aiden was nearly as tall as he, probably around six feet. He’d already noticed Aiden’s curly hair, high cheekbones, and the strong line of his jaw. Now, Sam couldn’t help but notice the black jeans that hugged Aiden’s firm ass and the long-sleeved Henley that fit his upper torso tightly enough to hint at the muscle beneath. Casual but undeniably sexy.
Back a minute later, Aiden sat facing Sam, and Sam noticed Aiden’s foot tapping the leg of his chair.
He’s nervous too. That surprised Sam. The guy was good-looking, friendly. Trying to quell his own anxiety, Sam took a deep breath. “Thanks for the drink. And thanks again for the wallet.”
Aiden seemed buoyed by Sam’s change of heart. “Long day?” He brushed a stray lock of hair from his eyes.
“You could say that.” Sam shook his head and exhaled audibly. If only you knew….
A waiter brought their drinks. “Cheers.” Sam held up his glass and Aiden touched his beer against it.
They drank in silence for a few moments until Sam realized he must have been staring, because Aiden leaned in and gazed at him—a gaze that held more than a whisper of lust. For the past year, Sam hadn’t even considered how he looked to the world at large. He donned his expensive suits like the uniforms they were, shaved, and combed his unruly hair, but he’d just gone on living, nothing more. He’d had a few blind dates friends had set him up on, but none of them had gone anywhere and he hadn’t cared. Now he was suddenly self-conscious, his suit rumpled after a long day bent over piles of documents, his hair undoubtedly sticking up in odd places as it liked to do.
When did it get so hot in here?
Sam pulled off his jacket and draped it over the back of his chair. As the second drink went straight to his shoulders, he felt his old confidence return. “What do you do for a living, Aiden?”
“Really? What kind?”
Aiden appeared uncomfortable, almost apologetic. “I’m a singer. An opera singer.”
“You’re serious?” Explains the voice of God vibe.
“Yeah.” Aiden shifted in his seat.
“That’s cool,” Sam said enthusiastically.
Aiden laughed—a warm, rumbled laugh that made Sam melt like a puddle into his seat. Aiden Lind was a handsome man, even more so when he laughed. “I get a lot of flak from my family about it.”
“Really? Why?” Sam finished his drink and flagged down the waiter for another round.
“They think it’s queer. I used to sing rock and gospel. That was okay with them. But opera? And shit, if they knew I liked men and women….” He laughed again, but Sam heard an edge to the sound this time and saw a flash of something like pain in Aiden’s eyes. “So what do you do, Sam?”
“Compared to singing opera? Just boring stuff. I’m a lawyer for a firm near Wall Street.”
“I sort of guessed. Nice suit, briefcase ’n all. Nice tie too.” Aiden wasn’t looking at Sam’s tie, though; his gaze never left Sam’s.
Maybe it was the booze, but Sam wasn’t in the slightest bit tempted to look away. Instead, he loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt.
“So what kind of law do you practice?”
Shit. What was it about Aiden that made everything he said sound like an invitation to do something sexual? The voice. Definitely the voice.
“Personal injury. Not my first choice.” Sam had rationalized taking the job for many reasons, but one in particular topped the list: the prospect of going home to Tennessee and back into the same dark and claustrophobic closet he had come out of was too horrible to contemplate.
“What would you rather be doing?”
At that moment Sam could think of a few things he’d rather be doing that had nothing to do with practicing law. “Employment law. Plaintiff’s work. You know, the underdogs?”
“Nothing wrong with that, is there?”
“No. Nothing at all.” The job had been a compromise: it hadn’t been what Sam had wanted, but it hadn’t been part of Samuel Stetson Ryan III’s “plan” either. It had been a huge disappointment to the old man that Sam didn’t return to Memphis to work for his firm.
Sam shifted in his seat, brushing Aiden’s foot by accident. At least he thought he’d done it by accident. “So.” Sam changed the subject and tried to focus on something other than Aiden’s foot rubbing against his own. “What’s it like, singing opera?”
The waiter came with another round of drinks—Sam lost count of how many he’d downed. Was this three already? It was hard to focus, and Sam was pretty sure it wasn’t the alcohol that was turning his brain to mush.
Aiden leaned back in his seat with his legs slightly apart. It was an inviting pose. Aiden held his beer in his right hand and gesticulated with it as he spoke. As Aiden’s leg pressed against Sam’s, Sam did his utmost to keep his eyes focused on his companion’s face. His own face felt warm.
“It’s great,” Aiden replied. “I’m planning to go to Germany soon, maybe do a few auditions there.”
“Sounds exciting. What would you be auditioning for?” Laughter erupted from the bar, and Sam moved his chair closer to better hear Aiden’s answer.
“Most of the larger German cities hire contract singers for their opera houses. It’s better than in the States. Here, you mostly just string gigs together to make a living. There, you have a steady job for a year at a time, do stuff in repertory. Beats waiting tables.”
“I didn’t realize it was that tough getting work.” He and Aiden were only about a foot apart now. From this distance, Sam could see the hint of Aiden’s hard nipples beneath the close-fitting Henley. It was difficult to focus on the conversation when his mind was busy imagining how he might take one of those nubs between his teeth.
“Once you get an agent, it gets better. I only graduated from school a few years ago, and it’s hard to get hired for big roles right away.”
“Kind of like getting stuck doing the grunt work right out of law school.” Sam knew the feeling well. He’d only made partner last year, and he’d done his share of shit jobs before that.
“Yep.” Aiden finished the rest of his beer, lingering over the mouth of the bottle before giving Sam a smile.
Sam swallowed hard and tried to ignore the renewed jolt of sexual heat he sensed in Aiden’s gaze. He looked down at his drink. It definitely wasn’t only the booze talking. He got hard just thinking about kissing Aiden, tasting him. “Are you from around here, originally?”
“Nah. I’m from Mississippi. Little town named Fenton, right outside of Jackson.”
“Really? Hell, I grew up in Memphis.”
“No shit.” Aiden laughed. “I thought I heard a little Tennessee in you.”
“You had me fooled. I figured you were from up north.”
“Comes with the territory. Good ear. Had to study French, German, and Italian in school. You lose the drawl fast or they beat it out of you.”
They talked about growing up in the South for a few minutes. Comfortable, easy conversation. How long had it been, Sam wondered, since he’d had a conversation like this with someone other than Nick?
“Listen,” Aiden began as he stared awkwardly at his beer, which was now clearly empty, “would you like to get out of here?”
Since Nick died, Sam had said no to anything but casual hints at dating. This was much more of an offer.
“I’d like that,” he heard himself say.
Aiden looked surprised and pleased, but no more than Sam. Had he really said yes?
“I live over in Alphabet City. It’s not much, but….”
“That’d be fine,” Sam reassured him. He might be ready to spend the night with someone, but he sure as hell wasn’t ready to take a man back to his own apartment—the apartment he and Nick had shared. Not yet, anyhow.
After a short cab ride, Sam followed Aiden up the stairs of a third-floor walkup off Avenue C and into a small two-bedroom apartment. The living room appeared to double as a third bedroom. Pots, pans, and cooking utensils hung from every inch of the high-ceilinged walls of the tiny kitchen. An electronic keyboard sat atop a cardboard box, and piles of music filled the built-in shelves. In spite of the clutter, the apartment was clean and smelled vaguely of lemon.
“I live with two other singers,” Aiden said. “Mark works nights, and Rob is out of town at a gig, so we have the place to ourselves.”
Sam put his briefcase down and tossed his coat onto the couch. He turned to find Aiden only a few inches away. In the shadows of the semidarkness, Aiden’s high cheekbones were more defined, his body backlit by the light from the streetlamp outside.
A moment later they were kissing. Rough, hungry lips met with equally awkward eagerness, teeth tapping against each other as Sam and Aiden found their bearings. Sam ran his tongue against Aiden’s lower lip and gained entry before pressing inward to find the warmth that waited there. Aiden’s mouth tasted good, with a hint of dark beer that lingered from the bar.
“Bed?” Sam asked.
Aiden’s answer was a low growl with the same deep resonance of his speaking voice. Sam had never realized the sound of someone’s voice could be such a turn-on. His body was thrumming now, and he knew there was no going back. He’d waited so long, denying himself in silent penance for circumstances over which he’d never had any control. Now he would let that final piece of Nick go and give his body over to someone new.
You know he would have wanted this for you.
Aiden put his arm around Sam’s waist as he led him down the short hallway, then pushed the bedroom door open with his foot. Sam felt the bed at the backs of his knees as Aiden pushed him down on top of the ragged comforter. The bedding smelled clean, though. Sam didn’t have a chance to take in the rest of the room before they were kissing again. Sam scrabbled for purchase on Aiden’s shirt, reaching to pull it over his head. He needed to feel Aiden’s chest, to feel someone else’s skin beneath his fingers.
Aiden’s body was as finely honed as Sam had imagined it to be back at the bar. Lean—not the overly sculpted abs that graced Times Square billboards—but just the way Sam liked them, with more than a dusting of dark, curly hair between his nipples. He pressed his hand to Aiden’s enticing skin. He wondered what it would be like to feel that chest vibrate when the other man sang. The thought led him to a renewed jolt of desire, and he pinned Aiden to the bed before pushing down Aiden’s dark jeans along with the gray boxer briefs to reveal the purple tip of a sizeable cock. It took only another minute before Aiden was completely naked on the bed. The fact that Sam was still fully dressed only served to arouse him more.
He didn’t need any encouragement to take Aiden’s erection in his mouth; he had to taste it. God, but the man tasted so good! Sam swallowed Aiden’s long cock down, pulling back the foreskin as he went and grabbing the base with his hand, slicked up with saliva. For a man who made his living with his voice, Aiden remained remarkably silent, but the upward arch of his body was tacit reassurance. Sam licked with abandon at the underside of Aiden’s hard width, then tightened the suction until he was rewarded with a gasp.
Sam’s ran his teeth and lips over Aiden’s cock as he moved upward to the tip, then nibbled his way around the crown and probed the leaking slit with his tongue, sucking to milk the salty essence there. He could feel his own hard-on pressed against his pants, which only served to intensify the experience. Denial for now. But later….
“Shit, Sam,” Aiden murmured in a distant rumble. “So good. So fucking good….”
Sam smiled wickedly, happy to have finally coaxed a sound from Aiden’s lips. He reached his free hand underneath Aiden’s balls, rolled them in his palm, then licked them, all the while fisting Aiden’s hard cock. He swallowed it again, skating wet fingers to find the clenched ring of muscles between the tight asscheeks. The press of his finger against the tight opening was rewarded with a low drawn-out groan, so he teased it again.
“Lube?” he whispered as he released Aiden’s cock for a moment.
“Don’t want any,” came the tense response. “Just push your finger in.”
“Nah, Sam. It’s good like that… I like it like that sometimes.”
The words shot through Sam like fire. He pressed his saliva-slicked finger inside and felt Aiden’s big hands grasp his shoulders and pull him closer, encouraging him to push deeper. Sam hollowed his cheeks and increased the suction, pulling and licking until he could feel Aiden’s balls pull tight against his forearm.
“Shit… Sam… gonna… come,” Aiden warned.
Sam released Aiden’s cock from his mouth but continued to rub his lips and hand over it until he felt the warmth of Aiden’s come on his cheek. After Aiden stopped shaking, Sam met his warm brown eyes and smiled.
Aiden reached up and wiped Aiden’s cheek with the sheet, then leaned back against the pillow and inhaled long and deep. “Good God,” he said in an impossibly low, sexy voice, “that was incredible.”
Sam’s face warmed at the compliment, and he fought the urge to protest. Even after so many years of living in New York as an openly gay man, he still felt the stirrings of shame from time to time, his Southern Baptist roots too well ingrained to ignore. But the moment of embarrassment was short-lived, eclipsed by his own unsatisfied need.
“I want to fuck you,” he whispered. “If that’s okay….” He had never been hesitant before, but he felt like he was seventeen all over again, doing it for the first time in the woods behind the cabins at summer camp.
“You’re joking, right?” Aiden laughed. “Hell, yeah.” He reached under the mattress and pulled out a box of condoms and a small bottle of lube, then tossed them within Sam’s reach.
The tension in Sam’s shoulders relaxed until he felt his companion’s hand rubbing at the crotch of his pants. His breath caught in his throat. Too long. Way too long. He started to loosen his tie, but Aiden stopped him.
“Fuck me in that suit. It’s so damn hot.” He rolled onto his stomach and lifted his ass in blatant invitation. “I want you to fuck me in your clothes.”
“Damn,” Sam hissed as he unzipped his fly and pulled his cock out. There was something thrilling about the way Aiden had taken control, something about the way Aiden’s words had sounded almost like an order that made Sam shiver. And, oh God, the globes of Aiden’s ass beckoned, tight and smooth. Sam began to stroke him while he uncapped the lube and slathered his fingers with it, then reached around to press at the hole he had only barely breached before.
“No prep,” Aiden rumbled. “Lube it up. I like it when it hurts a little.”
What the hell do I say to that?
Sam knew the feeling himself, although he had never admitted it to Nick. He and Nick had been tender lovers—the kind of lovers who explored every inch of each other’s bodies with gentle fingers and tongues. Their lovemaking had never approached the rough animal sex Sam had often fantasized about. That hadn’t been Nick’s style; he had been as laid-back and slow in bed as he was in life, and Sam had loved that about him. The sex had been great. Better than great, but now….
Sam rolled the condom over his erection and greased it well, then leaned over and spread Aiden wider. Aiden’s low laugh was an invitation, and Sam looked up to see Aiden’s eyes filled with a mixture of need and playfulness. He pressed the head of his cock against Aiden’s hole, inhaling sharply as the outer ring of muscle gave way and he felt the warm tightness nip at his sensitive tip.
“Come on,” Aiden urged him. “I want it all the way inside.”
He pushed harder, Aiden’s inner muscles gradually releasing with some resistance until Sam was seated up to his balls. Aiden was half-hard again, and Sam grasped his thickening flesh with one hand as he pulled out. Then he pushed in once more, making sure he brushed against Aiden’s prostate. He felt Aiden’s shudder and saw the look of pleasure on his face.
“Harder, Sam. Need it harder.”
“Oh God, yes. But it’s been too long. I won’t be able to….”
“I don’t care.” Aiden’s voice was now rough, husky with need. “Do it like you know you want to.”
The realization that Aiden had guessed at something Sam himself had long denied only served to intensify the urge to pound Aiden senseless. “Fuck,” he panted. “You’re so tight.”
The bed shook as he picked up speed, pistoning back and forth, letting go of all of his repressed desire. His shirt clung to his skin, his pants rode up his ass, but that only increased the pleasure that ran from his cock up his spine and pulled his sac tight. He came with a shout and a series of shudders, then leaned down so his face was only inches away from Aiden’s.
Their eyes met. For Sam it was like diving into dark water—he didn’t know what he might find, but he was caught in the siren song. Aiden’s lips met his, and something deep inside Sam’s heart let go. A door he had closed when Nick died opened just a crack. It stayed open for a brief instant before he felt ice in his veins as fear seeped back inside.
“Stay?” Aiden offered hopefully.
“I….” Sam hesitated. “Okay.” He knew he should leave, that he wasn’t ready for this, but he couldn’t do it. He was so raw, so hungry for Aiden’s touch. He wanted more.
Aiden smiled at Sam and began to unbutton his shirt.