An asexual man falls in love with a male model… and they make it work.
Chris and Mark try to separate.
It doesn’t go smoothly.
Why was it so easy to grow close, yet now so difficult to pull apart?
Maybe they can pretend one last time… can they pretend to be boyfriends for a week? Can that solve their problems?
Welp, I was raging after the 2nd book. Like, spitting fire, tantrum throwing rage for
days hours seconds before hopping onto the 3rd book (thank you for dispensing the first three at once, Chris). That ending ruined all hope of adulting until I got to a “pleasant” place in this one, The Partner. I use pleasant lightly because there were tons of feels in this. Chris goes through so many emotions in this book as he struggles with his feelings on his relationship with Mark, the type of relationship they will have, what he will and will not be able to contribute, etc…
Chris doesn’t sugar coat his quirks. He lets them allllllllll hang out and Mark is totally here for them. Mark’s a trooper. If he wasn’t so steadfast in his feelings for Chris (even though we know what’s coming, I don’t believe it ever came down to not feeling enough), I don’t believe Chris would have come out on the other side to have a partnership with so much love. Mark dusts himself off after every missed hurdle and keeps on going.
Actual footage of Mark trying to progress their relationship:
Ok, all silliness aside, They have come a long way and seem to be finding some footing with their new relationship. That doesn’t mean everything is perfect, it’s real life and growing pains are inevitable. They work through issues (even if Chris is having lots of internal dialogue that provides a case of whiplash). Alongside the real issues are humor and love. Again, that’s life. Although, reading from Chris’ perspective makes me giggle more. Because quirks. 😂
Did I mention that this is a REAL story? About real men, dealing with real emotions and real life events? I will 100% continue on this journey of finding love while sometimes getting lost and needing to take the scenic routes. Recommended.
Copy provided for honest review.
When the mercenary Caledon meets a young man named Hadrian, he falls instantly, hopelessly in love with him. Black-haired and silver-eyed, Hadrian is unlike any man Caledon has seen before. His uncertain responses to Caledon’s advances only make the mercenary more determined to pursue and win him.
But Hadrian is a mystery, and harbors untold secrets. He hails from an island inhabited by sorcerers and has come to Caledon’s city to recruit the mercenaries for a well-paying job offered by Hadrian’s father. Except the job is a lie. Hadrian is far more dangerous than his disposition suggests, and what he wants with Caledon and the mercenaries of Rhiad will forever change the land and set in motion a prophecy that will bind two men together in love, lust, and hatred…until death.
He could see now that he had erred when he had first tried to label Hadrian.
Caledon had been fascinated by the other man’s apparent inexperience and naiveté. But the truth seemed more incredible. Hadrian was untouched―untouched by affection, untouched by desire. How this had come to be, Caledon couldn’t imagine. But he knew it to be true. He felt it in his bones.
Nothing else could explain why Hadrian literally melted beneath his caresses. Every touch Caledon made upon the younger man’s skin left Hadrian trembling and breathless. Why has no one done this before me?Caledon wondered as he eased open the stall door with his free arm wrapped firmly about Hadrian’s back.
He should simply be grateful that it was he who had been the one to find Hadrian first. That was what his self-serving side told him. But a deeper, more empathetic part of him was saddened by the discovery. Everyone deserved the comforts of touch, of affection. Why hadn’t anyone offered those things to Hadrian?
Caledon’s body urged him to ignore the mystery. He wasn’t trying to develop a permanent relationship with the other man. Hadrian would be gone in a few days. This would be but an interlude for them both.
Even so, Caledon vowed to make it something worth remembering.
They were like two hurricanes, touching down on the same shore.
Amir is a rising slam poet who wants to make it big. While he works a day job at a café, he writes poems like his life depends on it and performs at a local poetry slam every week.
But then Landon comes to a slam, and he’s not impressed by Amir. When he joins the slam team, he jeopardizes Amir’s chance to go to Nationals, all Amir’s been dreaming about for the past year. He vows to show Landon that he is the better poet.
As Amir and Landon clash to get the last spot at Nationals, their bickering and attempts to undermine each other quickly turn into angry lust. Amir’s priority is to win, but he can’t seem to get Landon out of his head…
This is the first book in the Coffee & Cardigans series, but can be read as a stand-alone. The next books will follow different couples.
I love slam poetry so hard. If there’s a story that features it, I wanna read it. I’m not a connoisseur of poetry but there’s just something about slam poetry AND two characters that live for it that gets me excited.
Slammed Into You was calling my name loudly and I had to dive in. Amir is a slam poet. He may work at a coffee shop but he lives for writing and performing his poems. He’s the only male on his slam team until an annoying yet handsome new guy wants to join.
Landon participates at open mic night and jumps at the offer to join a slam team. He’s standoffish and provides lots of feedback to the others, especially Amir, on how to improve their poems. Amir dislikes Landon right away and tensions run high for much of the book as they prepare for different slam competitions while figuring out the other person.
I mentioned that I love slam poems right? Ok, just checking because Amir annoyed the hell out of me. I had to keep on reminding myself that I want to read the poems since Amir almost had me DNFing. He’s whiny, self centered, insecure, and, immature. There’s only Amir’s POV which definitely didn’t help and his character doesn’t really show growth from beginning to end with his it’s all about me ways. Landon remains a mystery outside of his religious upbringing that comes up as they are planning a group poem. I think Landon’s POV would definitely improve the enjoyment factor and also help with his character development.
Amir and Landon’s relationship could use some finessing. They aren’t fleshed out as individuals and that carries over to their relationship. Their relational progression seemed disjointed and some of the sex is awkward to read, especially when Amir wants to try “being the dominant one.” Amir and Landon are very sexual once the seal is broken which I don’t typically complain about. But conversations and/or some info seeking usually occurs prior to whipping out the lube and/or condoms but not in this read. Their first time was hate sex with spanking, choking, and flip fucking. Without a single word on preferences. Hard limits. Nothing.
Slammed Into You does have a diverse group of characters and clear diversity is represented through their poems which is refreshing. The poetry was the highlight for me and kept me coming back for more.
Warning: Slam poetry tackles a variety of topics that may be sensitive to readers. In this book some tackled conversion therapy, religion, and politics.
Copy provided for honest review.
Walker Reed’s Louisiana cattle ranch is in debt after costly repairs from hurricane damage. To get the money, his family schemes to make Walker the star of a new bachelor reality series: Queer Seeks Spouse. How hard can it be to fake interest in a dozen handsome men for a few weeks in exchange for enough money to solve all of their problems?
Roan Carmichael never got his Masters degree after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. With medical bills piling up, and a costly experimental treatment available, Roan signs on to be a suitor on Queer Seeks Spouse. While he hates having to leave his sick mother long enough to win the cash for her treatment, he’s willing to do whatever it takes.
Can two men who are just in it for the money fake their way into real and lasting love?
“We’re going what?”
“Noodling.” Walker looked far too calm. And smug. Roan figured this probably heralded danger in brooding southern cowboys.
“And I need these.” Roan held up the waterproof bib overalls.
Walker smirked. He had his arms folded over his chest and was leaning against the doorjamb of the kitchen. Roan had been cornered there by Walker and John while making sour apple tea. “Technically you don’t, but I’m sure you’ll want to wear them.”
Roan narrowed his eyes. “But that means we’re going into the water. I know what lives in your water down here. Alligators. And venomous snakes. I googled.”
“Now, why would you do that?” Walker dramatically slapped his forehead, then leaned in closer as if to share a secret. Roan leaned in too, drawn to Walker’s firm, muscled body and cheerful brown eyes, despite his probable imminent death on this so-called date. “Here’s the thing: gators aren’t that aggressive really. You probably won’t even see one. They want to stay as far away from you as you do from them.”
“No. But it makes it easier to get in the water if you tell yourself that.”
Roan stared at him.
“But, seriously, I’m not scared of the gators, and if there was a real, true danger, you know they wouldn’t let us anywhere near the water.”
Roan swallowed hard. The morning light from the kitchen window highlighted the little wrinkles at the edges of Walker’s eyes. Probably from squinting into fields all day. The man even smelled like fresh-cut grass and fresh air.
“As for the snakes, yeah…well.” Walker shrugged. “You just have to make sure you don’t wander into a nest of moccasins. I’m sure the set nurse has antivenom on hand.”
“Water moccasins. The shoe snakes.”
“They don’t look anything like shoes.”
Roan put the waterproof overalls on the counter. “Oh my God, I’m going to die.”
Walker straightened, and the attractive, teasing grin fell from his face. “Seriously, though, if you don’t want to do it, just say so. I won’t hold it against you.”
“If you say bless your heart, I’ll know exactly what you mean,” Roan grumbled. Walker laughed, and God. He was so damn handsome. Feeling his face heat, Roan looked down at the dry bib overalls. They were pretty thick. Maybe the fabric would stop the snake bites. “Fine, I’ll come.”
“I’m mighty glad.”
“You should be.”
Between the threat of biting critter, the thrill of Walker’s sweet drawl, and the headiness of his eager attention, Roan’s head was a swirl. Leaving his tea behind untasted, he stomped away for some privacy to get changed, ignoring John who said, “That’s got to be the most reluctant acceptance of a date I’ve ever seen. Andy’s going to love it.”
About the Authors
Author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.
After living in Michigan, USA for seven wonderful years, Indra Vaughn returned back to her Belgian roots. There she will continue to consume herbal tea, do yoga wherever the mat fits, and devour books while single parenting a little boy and working as a nurse.
The Companion (It’s Just Us Here #2) by Christopher X. Sullivan: Review by Lost in a Book
An asexual man has met a male model… and they became fast friends.
The summer has been magical so far for both Mark and Chris. Their friendship has grown naturally and quickly, but now it will be tested in ways that go beyond casual friendship.
Both men are generally tight-lipped about their internal struggles. Can they be trusting enough to evolve from mere friends to something deeper?
Mark, the globe-trotting man who usually treats friends as accessories to be changed with the seasons… finds Chris to be a steadying, consistent companion. Mark sees something in Chris that is so tantalizing… and starts to dream of a settled future he used to mock.
Chris, the often reserved writer who always seeks to avoid confrontations… enjoys Mark’s youthful, untroubled personality and is unable, or unwilling, to guard his heart around the straight-acting model. Chris has always felt most comfortable in friendships with straight men and lesbians… because then there’s no chance of sexual pressure.
[ADVISORY: This 100,000 word installment is the continuation of my self-portrait, It’s Just Us Here. You should read Book 1: The Friend before reading this, but I don’t think you’ll be completely lost if you start here. I have written this series as a romance so some of you will be expecting a HEA… this installment doesn’t have that.]
I’m telling y’all again, these pages are laced with crack.
I know I haven’t kept my love of this “story” a secret but I’m still amazed at how real it all is and how much feeling each stage of Chris and Mark’s relationship can evoke.
I mentioned in my review of The Friend that they have an intimacy that isn’t seen in many intimate relationships. Chris and Mark are very much different but seem to crave the closeness of each other. This isn’t a problem for many except that their idea of closeness differs drastically as an already deep “friendship” deepens. By now, Chris and Mark have began sewing each other into the very fabric of their beings. Mark is treading carefully forward (and loving it) while Chris is panicking and one
touch lingering look sweet word light breeze away from calling a time of death on the progression of their relationship. What they have *is* a romantic relationship and that realization creates an emotional tail spin.
I love the change that takes place in this installment. There are so many feels of elation, anxiety, happiness, hope, and almost paralyzing fear. Chris wants someone to share his life with yet is insecure with his ability to fit into a relationship. To become a pair, love someone so much, and still fall short.
How I ended my previous review on the first installment still fits and I’ll probably end them all this way…
Did I mention that this is a REAL story? About real men, dealing with real emotions and real life events? I will 100% continue on this journey of finding love while sometimes getting lost and needing to take the scenic routes. Recommended.
Copy provided for honest review.
—Years of loving in secret. Now the secret’s out.—
Mage. Reasonable. Mature. In love with his best friend’s little brother.
Dawn. Painfully shy. Crazy talented. An anxious cinnamon roll in need of protection.
Mage has always been Dawn’s hero. He’s been there for him when Dawn was bullied, when Dawn came out, and when he joined The Underdogs. He’s also been Dawn’s first and only love—painfully unrequited, since Mage is straight. But that’s only for the better, because they’re bandmates, and Dawn’s brother is Mage’s best friend.
It would all be too intense, too complicated, too real.
But then one drunken kiss proves Mage might not be as straight as he seemed, and their whole world turns upside down. Even though Dawn craves Mage’s love so much his heart could burst, his shyness stands in the way of any future they could share.
While they have to keep their budding relationship under wraps and they prepare to sign a major record deal, Dawn’s anxiety gets out of control. Mage will have to choose between the success he’s always craved and the love of his life.
Themes: rock band, bandmates romance, older brother’s best friend, coming out, bisexuality, first love, anxiety, compromise, music, secret love
Genre: Contemporary M/M Rocker Romance
Heat level: sweet, explicit scenes
Length: ~50,000 words (Can be read as standalone, HEA)
Hmmm… I’m not sure why I thought this was my first Merikan read but it wasn’t. However, it’s worlds different than Laurent and the Beast which is my only other read by this duo. This was sweet, really sweet and while I know I’m not one to gravitate to fluff, this one didn’t hold my attention. At all. So, I’ll just move on over to my dissenting-opinion-table for one and get this lonely party started.
Dawn has been in love with his brother’s best friend (Mage) and now they’re both adults playing in the same band, The Underdogs. Mage, being older than Dawn has always looked out for him starting from a young age. When Mage saved him from bullies, Dawn’s kid heart fell in love and hero worship began. As both grew older, their bond strengthens and they become inseparable.
Dawn has anxiety, is very sensitive, and comes off as super fragile. Mage is here for it though and has been and continues to be his protector. Dawn feels everything- too much of everything. It doesn’t help that he’s in love and that it’s supposedly unrequited. Until, it isn’t.
See? Mage is soooooo sweet. But, something is missing. There are time lapses that skip over parts I actually wanted to read. How did Dawn and Mage go from a panic attack while kissing to making out and curled in bed together? Tour dates are mentioned without much detail and somehow they go from roughing it at the beginning of their tour to nice hotels? There’s not a lot of sex which is totally fine because it fits Dawn. However, many of the moments where they were apparently deepening their connection happens off page and then mentioned after the fact.
I haven’t read any others in this series and maybe that was a mistake as they could have potentially filled in some of the holes? Maybe not? IMO, not much happened in You. Forever. Always. that will entice me to read the others. It was just okay and not a ride that I will continue. As always, while I won’t recommend it, YMMV.
Copy provided for honest review.
When Peter has a mental breakdown and rushes out of office, his coworker Arnold drops everything to help him. The two start a lonely pilgrimage through lunar landscapes of Iceland. Peter’s goal is to discard his sadness at the sea, while all Arnold wants is to win Peter’s heart. Peter isn’t interested… Or is he? Arnold doesn’t know, but he won’t stop hoping.
I’ve been trying to think of the nicest way to say that this didn’t work for me. At. All. But, I couldn’t so there you go. I suppose now I just need to explain why I gave it a 2 instead of a 1.
As the synopsis states, Peter has a breakdown at work, leaves, and Arnold follows him. They start off on a journey as friends and quickly become more.
That’s pretty much it. Their interactions are awkward, I didn’t get their attraction nor did I believe their connection. Arnold comes off as stalkerish (apparently, not on page prior to the start of the book) while Peter is contradictory with disliking that and then not caring. I’m also unsure of the point of many things but will highlight these two.
“I prepared his desk for him, and he sat at it the way women sit, with legs crossed, as if he wanted to hide his manhood.”
“While everyone else seemed to have grown up already, I still felt jumpy and struggled to focus. The revelation came during a twenty-five-hour psychology course. At home, I started solving quizzes to figure out what was wrong with me. And I realized then that I had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Aka the infamous ADHD. I didn’t want to go to therapy and dig into what exactly had gone wrong with my life, so I opted for a more comfortable option, which was medication.”
The first might be nitpicky but the ADHD self diagnosis with zero therapy but somehow got medication as the comfortable option? Ermmm… ok.
I truly don’t want to rip apart the entire novella. It could definitely use another around of revision/editing for spelling, grammar, word usage, sentence development, awkward dialogue, etc…
With all of that, I still gave it a 2. *sigh* I feel like this story got lost in translation. I’m assuming that this wasn’t originally written in English (hopefully). It seems to me that important bits of information and *potentially* meaningful encounters were lost in translation. Maybe the phrasing, blasé mentions of suicide, ADHD (and how it was treated), truncated sentences, and editing would have been more cohesive and sentimental? Maybe those topics held more weight of importance in its original format? Or I could be entirely wrong and this was actually written in English and then it really, really didn’t work for me.
This one missed the mark for me but YMMV. Not recommended.
Copy provided for honest review.
It was supposed to be just sex… Famous last words.
Tyler doesn’t overthink pleasure and avoids complications. He knows it might be stupid to get involved with his closeted boss, but the temptation is too great. At first, the cold and beautiful Joel Sandstrom seems to loathe Tyler’s guts.
Except one late night at the office, his reasons become clear…and his control breaks.
Every time they touch, Joel’s stony face comes alive, harsh lines smooth out, and for a minute, he looks serene. Happy, even. Just sex – dirty, intense, spectacular sex.
During their covert encounters, Tyler discovers the power he has over the lonesome man, and it’s a heady feeling. What if he could set Joel free and give him peace of mind? When Tyler realizes how much Joel needs him, he doesn’t regret breaking his own rules.
Gay erotic romance. Contains explicit scenes and sexual interactions between more than two partners. For adult readers only.
Before we get started, I’ll just need a moment (or ten) to cool down after this read. I decided to start The Other Book while getting a pedicure. At a nail salon.
This story escalates very quickly and within the first six page swipes I was starting to sweat from gems like,
“Either you get out of my way or you get down on your knees,” I said.
“Hands behind your back.” He did as he was told, looking up at me with defiance. And hunger.
I’m sure it was the hot pedicure water causing me to squirm but dayum, I was all ears for the rest and the pedicure was *ahem* touch and go from there.
Tyler works for Joel Sandstrom as a freelance employee. They have a lust/hate relationship. Joel is a bossy boss showing little emotion which drives Tyler up the wall. Then, after both men are worked up with all that employee/employer stuff, it’s time for hands and knees (can’t have all work and no play😉). There’s HATE SEXXXXXX.
It’s fanfreakingtastic hate sex, too. The power exchange is delicious. There’s lots of sex. Seriously, a ton of sex. It doesn’t come off as pornland (even if I started skimming towards the end) because the sex has a purpose and drives the plot forward as characters find their way to themselves and each other. Their relationship is well written and comes with a lot of feels as they deal with internal and external factors. (Homophobia warning) Tyler is a free spirit who likes pleasure and doesn’t apologize for who he is and what gets him off. Joel is tightly locked up in the closet and isn’t able to let go; until Tyler begins to slowly set him free. It’s important to note for some readers that there are explicitly erotic sex scenes with a third and fourth character added. I wasn’t mad at all.
There’s a note from the author I would usually skip over but I’m glad I didn’t. It provides insight that I think is valuable prior to reading. The Other Book is about finding inner peace with who you are and not being ashamed of what you desire. I’m a fan of Roe Horvat and would absolutely recommend this book (although I don’t recommend reading it in public because it’s hot AF).
Copy provided for honest review.
Book Title: Apple Boy (The Quiet Work #1)
Author: Isobel Starling
Publisher: Decent Fellows Press
Cover Artist: Valentine Pascadian (Lennel)
Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M Romance
Heat Rating: 3 flames
Length:103 600 words/ 556 pages
Release Date: February 15, 2019
Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited
After a traumatic event, Winter Aeling finds himself destitute and penniless in the backwater town of Mallowick. He needs to travel to the city of Serein and impart grave news that will bring war to the Empire, but without a horse, money, and with not a soul willing to help him, he has no choice but to line up with the common folk seeking paid work on the harvest.
As wagons roll into the market square and farmers choose day laborers, Winter is singled out for abuse by a brute of a farmer. The only man who stands up for him is the farmer’s beguiling son, Adam, and on locking eyes with the swarthy young man Winter feels the immediate spark of attraction.
Winter soon realizes there is a reason he has been drawn to Blackdown Farm. The farmer possesses a precious item that was stolen long ago from Winter’s family, and he determines to retrieve it. He also cannot take his eyes off the farmer’s son, and as the young man opens up Winter can’t help wondering if Adam is just kind or his kind!
“Apple Boy” by Isobel Starling
“You boy, aye, YOU. Ain’t never seen ye round ‘ere before,” The farmer directed his bellow at me.
It was sunrise, and at last, I’d found the courage to step out of my hiding place and join the common laborers who gathered in Mallowick market square. We were waiting for the farmers’ carts to come by and choose their day workers. I’d watched this ritual each morning for the past three days, peeking out from shadowed doorways, or while crouching behind barrels.
It was harvest time, and it appeared to be routine for peasants to walk from the surrounding hamlets before dawn and assemble in the square to seek work on the farms. There was wheat, barley, root vegetables, and tree fruits to be gathered before the weather turned. I was informed by a ruddy looking fellow in the tavern that anyone could get work on the harvest, and so, with my pride cut to ribbons and my pockets empty, I’d stepped out of the safety of my hiding place and joined the commoners.
“Does ye wants work or no’? Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ye. What’s yer name?” The burley farmer roared. I looked up, stunned to be singled out from among all of these strapping men and hardy looking women, for I felt invisible. Four carts had already passed and taken their pick of the young, strong peasants, but none of those farmers gave me a second glance. I should have known something was afoot, for when this particular wagon turned up the women in the square shrank back into doorways, and men sidled away to lean against buildings. On the side of the wagon, writ-large in bold off-white letters were the words BLACKDOWN FARM. There were around thirty of us left on view, like cattle.
I had never partaken in manual labor or any kind of work before. I was a gentleman and far more familiar with spending my days relaxing, reading, attending social events in the city, or taking a horse for a gallop in the country. But my life had changed since I’d become stranded here in the Pasturelands provincial town of Mallowick two weeks earlier. Now I was living on my wits. Each day was a fight for my life, and I’d sold all of my fine belongings, intending to pay for passage on the stagecoach from Mallowick to the city of Serein. But I had not thought things through, and it did not happen that way. My body’s needs took precedent. I’d become so ravenous, and therefore the meager coin I’d gathered from selling my finery was spent on what I could afford—basic rough barley bread and ale, just enough to stave off the gnawing pangs of hunger in my belly each day. Now, I had no belongings, and the money was all but gone. I was no thief, and the only thing I had left to sell was my body. Looking like a wretch, I did not believe I could earn even a copper that way! Before I left on my travels, I was warned that the province of Erias had strict rules about men bedding other men and I did not want to tempt fate. I was at a loss—hard labor or starvation were the only choices available to me. Gods, if my father could see how far I’d fallen in such a short time, he would be thoroughly ashamed. I was living hand-to-mouth, and if I dared to seek out my reflection and observe my disreputable state of dress, I was sure I would see I was no longer a gentleman at all.
I assured myself that all would be well as soon as I could get to the city of Serein. There I would attend my father’s depository and obtain funds from his account—as had been arranged, and then, I could find my way to my uncle’s residence and attend to a much grimmer business.
So, with no other choice, I was here, standing in Mallowick market square with a bunch of rough-looking fellows and ruddy-faced women with just the ragged clothes I stood in to my name. I wondered if my visage had taken on the same gaunt, starved, haunted look some of them wore.
“WELL?” The farmer roared.
“Leave him be Pa; I think he’s a mute. P… p… please don’t—” A swarthy young man urged, stepping to the farmers’ side. The man appeared to be in his early twenties, with broad angular shoulders, slim hips, and wavy jaw-length hair that longingly reminded me of Montestein tea. When the morning sunlight broke through the clouds and caressed him, the strands of his hair revealed all the shades of autumn. It was beautiful. His eyes were bright emerald green, and his skin bore the wind-burned tan of a man who spent his days working the land. I met his gaze for a second that seemed to stop time, and I felt a flutter of longing erupt in my gut. I found myself mesmerized by him. He appeared a little embarrassed, for himself or for me, I wasn’t quite sure. The farmer turned to his son.
“Shut that filthy mouth o’ yours, apple boy!” he spat. His large meaty hands twitched. He sneered and glared at his son in such a wicked way I knew it should have been followed up by a sharp slap. I worried that the young man would endure further public humiliation at the hands of his father, but the farmer moved his disdainful glare back to me. I shuddered with fear. I had a feeling that he was saving his son’s punishment for later—away from the prying eyes of the townsfolk. I did not like that thought, not one bit. I did not know why the farmer was drawn to me, but he sized me up with a sweeping glance of consideration, then wrinkled his nose as if he’d sniffed a revolting stench—I hadn’t bathed in two weeks, so maybe I did smell a tad ripe!
“Is ye a mute?”
I shook my head. I would say, if anything, I was deeply traumatized by the unfortunate circumstance I’d found myself in, but no, I was certainly not a mute. I just wasn’t used to a lowly man speaking to me so roughly. Generally, men who dared to address me knew their betters and behaved appropriately. But here in Mallowick, in the province of Erias, I was no better than a beggar on the street. There was no one I could call on for favors, no one who, on hearing my family name, would loan me coin for the stagecoach or a horse to ride to the city and send word to my father.
When I’d first arrived in Mallowick, telling the truth of my station had gotten me dragged down an alley where my finger and earrings were stolen, and I’d received a beating. This farmer from Blackdown Farm had no idea who I was, and I would not make the same mistake again.
I took a breath and stepped out of line. “Master Irwin Harding, sir. You may call me Win.” I winced at hearing my own soft, well-spoken voice, with my accent, the clipped tongue of Thorn. I had not used my real name and wished I had not used my true voice either. The fact that I was the son of the Duke of Thorn meant nothing here. Thorn was west of Erias, on the other side of the Silua Montis Mountain range, and I doubted any of these illiterate souls in Mallowick knew anything other than that folklore passed around by storytellers.
The farmer stepped to stand in front of me. He was a big, bulky bastard of a man and stank of stale sweat and baccy. He had a grizzled podgy face and thick dark hair shot with strands of silver pulled into an untidy tail. The tension grew between us, and I worried I’d spoken out of turn. I looked down and watched my bare, filthy feet as if they held endless fascination. I’d seen men like him before. He had hands like shovels, and I’m sure they’d done damage in their time. My father would have used a man like him well, probably as muscle to intimidate the city folk while the Royal Chancellor did the rounds collecting taxes.
Afraid and sweating with anxiety, I glanced up and away, unable to look at the farmer directly and meet his fierce piggy eyes. Instead, I looked left and caught the eye of his son. I felt another flutter of attraction. I was grateful for it because it dampened my fear a little. The glance the farmers’ son sent me back was sheepish, apologetic. He shrugged and put a finger to his lips, signaling for me to hush. I’m sure now he knew what was coming.
“Master, is it?” The farmer gave a raspy malevolent chuckle. “Well, well, well aren’t ye an uppity little scrote. Such a pretty voice an’ all. Have your balls dropped yet, lad?”
The townsmen men standing around me shuffled on their feet and snickered uncomfortably. I could tell from the tentative laughter they were afraid of this man too. My chest tightened with fury, and I felt the flare of heat rush to color my cheeks. If in Thorn I would have put this fellow in his place, but as directed by the farmers’ handsome son, I held my tongue.
I dared to look up as the farmer scratched his grizzled chin and consider me. It was then I saw it. A chill iced my bones. On his chubby right index finger, he wore a gold ring set with a large red gemstone that I was aghast to see held the intaglio engraving of a rose thorn—my family’s seal. How had this disgusting Pasturelands farmer come upon my family’s ring? Anger curdled my gut, but I forced myself to focus and fixed my features so as not to alert the man to what I was looking at. That ring was more precious than I could say. It was not set with any common gemstone, oh no, the setting was Star-fall. The legend was that mortal tools could not cut the rich-red Star-fall stone. The gemstone was shaped by sorcery, and the power that carved into the gem was stored inside it as if the Star-fall was a reservoir for the magic. It was illegal for any other than the Twin Kings of Osia to own Star-fall. The king’s men had scoured the Empire to remove all traces of the priceless gem from common and aristocratic hands and possessing it was a death sentence. Did this ruffian have any idea what he wore?
Not getting a rise from me, the farmer stepped yet closer and found out for himself if my balls had dropped. He reached for my privates and squeezed.
“Ahh, ye got some big stones de’re al’right, boy,” he said with a filthy sneer.
“Done any labourin’ before, lad?” My eyes watered. I shook my head and winced as the pressure on my most sensitive parts rose. I wanted to shout and push him away, punch him in that bristly pug face. I’d trained in hand-to-hand combat and swordplay, but that was of little use to me now that I had no sword and was cast as naught but a commoner myself. I stood frozen to the spot with fear, my cock, and balls in the hand of this brutish man. I was sure that clutching my nethers was not the best way to test if I would be a good apple picker.
The farmer let go, stepped back, and looked me over again like he was sizing up a prize pig. I wanted to keel over, hold my sensitive parts and howl, but, with my eyes watering, I kept my back ramrod straight and looked past the farmer, using his son’s regretful, pretty green eyes as my focus.
I appeared to be a boy, but I am nineteen and about to make my majority. I have a tall, willowy frame, and little muscle to show for my near twenty summers. Weeks before, I was clothed in the silken garb of a lordling, but all I wore now were my stinky silk britches and a once-white linen shirt. I’d even had to sell my fine leather boots. My flaxen hair hung loosely to my shoulders and was bedraggled. My mother had always told me my hair shone like a golden halo. I guessed that was no longer the case. I had not seen my reflection in two weeks so I could only imagine how frightful I appeared to onlookers. My circumstance was terrible, but I refused to let it defeat me. I was a son of Thorn, I was a gentleman, damn it, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to do to find my way to my destination and seek justice for all the ill-luck that had befallen me.
“Right, scrote, up on the wagon,” the farmer declared. “We can always do wit a few extra scurrier’s fer the windfalls.”
I had no idea what that actually meant, but strangely relieved to be selected, I nodded subserviently and then, ducking my head to avoid the farmers’ glare, I scurried to the wagon where I surreptitiously gave my aching intimate parts a gentle rub.
I’d heard from a fellow in the tavern that harvesting wheat at Robinswood Farm was backbreaking, as was digging root vegetables at Windy Oakes Farm. He advised that apple picking was easy work and if I could get employment at Weatherby’s or Blackdown Farm, they paid good coin. He said the mistress at Blackdown was particularly well-liked and always gave laborers a bread and cheese luncheon with last season’s cider. I was so hungry that bread and cheese sounded like a banquet. The fellow had neglected to tell me that the farmer was a brute!
The farmers’ son met me by the wagon and offered to help me aboard. For a moment, from the look of consideration in his eyes, I thought he could see past the disheveled state of me to the gentleman I’d once been. But that was ridiculous. The farmers’ son hopped up onto the back of the wagon with dexterous athleticism, and then offered me his hands. I took them without a thought. His warm touch and the strength in those work-roughened fingers twisted my gut into uncomfortable knots. He fixed my gaze as he gripped both of my hands and tugged me up as easily as if he were lifting feather down. He pulled me closed and pressed me to his hard chest.
“Don’t back chat him or it’ll be the worst fer you,” he whispered the warning to my ear. Alarmed, I eased back from him and cautiously met his eye for a split second. In the look he gave me I saw that the warning was well-meant. Bewildered, I nodded in thanks and understanding. I had no idea why this stranger was looking out for me, but the fact he was warmed my heart. I choked back a tear. No one had looked out for me over these past weeks, and I had been so terribly lonely. I’d learned some hard life lessons on this leg of my journey, and I’d come to understand that here my title was irrelevant, and without money I was suddenly invisible; therefore small kindnesses meant more than I could say.
My adventure into the provinces had been made to appease my father for my supposed ‘lack of direction.’ I’d become bored with my easy life in Thorn, and not intending to marry; I’d told my father that in-light of my upcoming twentieth Bloomsday I wanted to tour the Empire. If I were to one-day become Duke of Thorn, I needed to know a little of the politics of each province and so, pleased with my initiative and happy to be rid of me for a while, he’d set me on my way. I’d toured the provinces of Terria, Corvay, and Reuss and then continued to the province of Osia, spending time in the capital city Altea, at the court of the Twin Kings, Kristoff, and Fabian Von Harte. With this journey to Erias, I was to have the full set of provinces under my belt. But fate was not on my side.
On benches affixed to either side of the farmers’ wagon sat fourteen men morosely staring at their bare, filthy feet, not a word of chatter between them. They each owned a small pack of belongings and a wrapped blanket that each had stowed beneath the bench. At this moment they were better-off than me, for I did not even have a blanket to my name. There was space for me and five more, totaling twenty men. The farmer chose from the remaining laborers with less consideration than I had been afforded.
“Right… I’ll take Allin, Jed, Arthur, Bartram, and Matty, that’ll do me fer the week,” he hollered decisively.
The week? I thought I’d promised myself for a hard day’s labor? But then again, I considered the harvesters who were sitting in the wagon, and yes, they appeared to have prepared for an overnight stay. Confused, I sat down as the other laborers were pulled up onto the wagon by their comrades, and then we shuffled along the benches until we were all seated. I noticed the shoulders of the remaining men in the market square sag a little in apparent relief as if some mighty weight had lifted from them. I didn’t understand it. I thought they’d wanted to work?
The farmers’ son clambered over into the front of the wagon. His father climbed on, the man’s bulk shaking the timbers of the rickety wagon as he settled on the bench beside him. The son handed his father the ribbons, which the farmer greedily snatched up, and then with a fearsome bellow of “Geddup” and a thunderous whip crack, the large mottled grey workhorse began its cumbersome trot down the main street and onto the dusty road to Blackdown Farm.
About the Author
Isobel Starling spent most of her twenty-year professional career making art in Ireland. She relocated to the UK and, faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, Isobel started to write and found she loved writing more than making art.
Isobel is currently working on her nineteenth book.
“As You Wish” (Shatterproof Bond#1) narrated by Gary Furlong won the Audiobook Reviewer Award for Romance 2018. It is the first M/M Romance audiobook to win a mainstream audiobook award.