Today I present the first two chapters of my contemporary MMF book, Stoneface. (Trivia: It was originally written to be one of my Macy Largo books, along with Dead Moon Rising and Sunset Hearts, then Siren decided to release it as Tymber.) Although this book is definitely lighter in tone than both of those.
I won’t deny some of the scenes had me giggling, especially between the heroine and her brother, Liam. Eventually I would like to write more about the characters in this world, especially Liam, who I feel also deserves an HEA of his own.
[Ménage Amour: Erotic Contemporary Ménage a Trois Romance, M/M/F, with M/M]
Gwen has a cheating ex, a paranoid best friend, crazy overprotective and ultra-religious parents…and is a successful erotica writer. Forced to overcome her fear of flying to search for her sister in Rapid City, Gwen doesn’t expect to run into her internet buddy, Tim. Better yet, Tim’s boyfriend, Jack, is a police detective. They welcome Gwen and her older brother, Liam, to stay with them during their search.
Jack earned his “Stoneface” nickname after personal tragedy hardened his heart. He loves Tim, but Gwen stirs up painful memories that make Jack’s feelings for her suspect in his own mind. It doesn’t help that he falls in love with her.
Unfortunately, finding their sister leads to more problems. Shattered trust, broken hearts, and Liam coming out to their parents in a defiant showdown make Gwen question her priorities. Can she risk her heart again trying to break through Jack’s “Stoneface” façade?
A Siren Erotic Romance
Good morning, gorgeous! I received my ARCs yesterday from your editor. Kissy-huggy! You totally rock, Go-Go girlfriend! Love ya! – TimE.
Gwen propped her chin in her hand and blurrily stared at Tim’s e-mail on her laptop screen as she slurped her coffee. She’d only had three hours sleep the night before.
That’s what I get for taking Dickweed’s call.
Richard—AKA Dickweed—Callahan, her ex-husband. Drunk dialing, of course, but when he cried about how he wished he hadn’t screwed up their marriage, she was just pitiful enough she let him talk for a little while longer.
Until he propositioned her for a blow job. That’s when she started screaming at him, once she realized he was the same damn scruples-challenged horndog he always had been, and only called her looking for some easy midnight nookie.
His girlfriend had broken up with him that morning—oh, surprise!—for cheating on her. He got drunk and horny and called Gwen at one in the morning. She only answered when her cell phone rang the Psycho theme she used for him because she worried maybe he’d been in an accident or something.
It’s my own damn fault. I should know better.
She let out a disgusted sigh. Would have been better if he’d been in an accident. Of course, after that rant and hanging up on him, she felt so angry and wide awake that she couldn’t get back to sleep and lay in bed tossing and turning and concocting some pretty horrible revenge fantasies that would most likely end up in a book at some point.
Fucking asshole. A benefit of being a writer was that she could kill her ex off in multiple books and not only never do a day of jail time, but get paid for it in the process.
Cheaper than therapy.
Staring at her laptop, she smiled at Tim’s e-mail. At least something about her morning was going right. He was such a sweetie. He reviewed books on his store’s blog and had fallen in love with her and her writing.
Well, as in love with her as a gay man in a committed relationship could fall in love with a straight woman who wrote male-male erotica.
If she had to start a crappy, sleep-deprived, six-freaking-thirty morning at her computer, at least it opened with a sweet e-mail from Tim.
She set her nearly empty mug aside and tapped out a reply.
Kissy-huggy backatcha, babycakes. Hope you enjoy it. You owe me coffee one of these days. Snugs and Hugs, Go-Go.
She hit send.
It had been their routine for almost three years, ever since Tim discovered her and started reviewing her books. He’d dubbed her “Go-Go” because of her initials G.O., Gwen Oxford, even though she wrote the erotica under the pen name Gwenna Olmsford. Also, because he said she churned out books faster than a go-go dancer shimmied. He’d meant it as a compliment, not a complaint, because he was always begging her to “write more, write faster.” He always signed “kissy-huggy,” and she always signed “snugs and hugs.”
She’d never met him in person, but would like to one day. If she could ever find the time. She rarely left her town, it seemed like, much less made it across the country to Laguna Beach, California, where he lived. That would be one hell of a drive from her home twenty miles east of Columbus, Ohio.
Flying was not an option. She did not fly.
She drained the rest of her coffee and returned to the kitchen where she refilled her massive mug. It would be a three-pot morning, no doubt about it. Screw using the French press, too. She needed massive quantities of coffee on tap at all times to deal with a morning like this without committing homicide.
By seven o’clock she had poured mug number three and posted her morning Twitter and Facebook updates. She didn’t dare blog today. Not when she wrote, “Writing first kill scene between heroes this morning,” when she meant to type, “Writing first kiss.”
Ugh. Goddamned Dickweed. Divorced three years, and he still fucks up my life.
God only knew how badly she could screw up a blog if she tried to write an entry when this tired and cranky.
A little after eight, Amy’s car rolled into her driveway. Gwen stared out the front windows of her dining room, where her desk and laptop sat, and let out a deep sigh. Her older sister’s arms were filled with folders.
Gwen grabbed her mug and headed for the kitchen. By the time Amy made it into the kitchen and dumped the armload of folders on the counter, Gwen had started another pot of coffee.
“Please tell me that’s my tax paperwork?” Gwen asked.
Seeing her up close, Gwen thought Amy looked like she didn’t feel very good even though her dyed blonde hair had been perfectly styled, as usual, and her makeup flawlessly applied.
Amy examined a long, perfectly shaped and lacquered nail. “You wish. It’s not bad, though. It’s all the stuff from your lawyer about the divorce. I picked it up from their office yesterday afternoon. You can put it back in storage now, as long as Dickweed doesn’t try any more bullshit.”
Gwen shook her head. “Don’t say that man’s name to me this morning.” She related the drunk-dialing episode.
Amy studied the files. “Oh. Well, then maybe you should hold on to these. He might try another bullshit motion to get money out of you.”
“I’ll castrate him if he does.” He’d tried three different times, despite their divorce being finalized, to get alimony from her, or get his alimony payments to her reduced since her writing career had taken off, despite the fact that she still made far less than he did as an orthodontist.
“Enough about Dickweed,” Amy said as she tapped a fingernail on the table. “I’ve got an idea. What do you say I do some research for you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve got a conference in Rapid City next week. I can go hit the local monuments and stuff for you. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, all those. There’s a lot to do out in that area. It’d make great background info.”
“Evil day job?”
Amy dropped her gaze to examine her fingernails again. “Yeah. Tourism conference.” Her evil day job was working part-time for the county’s tourism board, in addition to helping Gwen as her assistant. Well, when she wasn’t home at their parents’ house and helping care for their brother.
It bugged Gwen that she couldn’t put her finger on it. “What’s up with you today?” she asked.
“You’re…off somehow. Is something bothering you? Did you get into it with Dad or Mom?” Wouldn’t be the first time, although they didn’t take out their ire on Amy nearly as much as they did Gwen.
Amy shook her head. “I need some downtime, that’s all. Vacation. Breathing room.”
“You need to get laid. You’ll be forty next year. Use it or lose it.”
Her sister’s brief smile told Gwen the truth. This wasn’t just a business or research trip. But she probably needed an alibi to extend her stay out there.
“Okay, spill it. Who is he?”
Amy blushed and shrugged. “Nothing serious, okay? Just a guy.”
“Not even worth sharing his name?”
She blushed again. “Maybe if it gets serious.” Amy had always been the closed-mouth child. While Gwen and Liam could talk about anything to each other, Amy did good to share what she’d had for breakfast, much less deeply personal details.
“Okay, I’ll leave you alone. Go, have fun. Enjoy yourself.” Gwen’s phone rang on the counter to the tune of “Wipe Out.” Gwen’s best friend, Ruth. Calling about her daily crisis, most likely.
Amy stood and left the room.
Gwen didn’t have time to wonder what else was really going on with her sister, even though she sensed something more bothering her than just a secret man on the side. “What’s up, Ruthie?”
“I think Bob’s cheating on me.”
Oh, this day suuucks. “What?” Gwen contemplated adding a heaping portion of Jack Daniel’s to her coffee and heading back to bed a little before lunch.
Hell, it’s five o’clock somewhere.
“I think Bob is cheating on me. I swear he is.”
“You say that every year about this time. Tax time just happened. He does taxes for a living. He works a lot of hours. You promised me last year when we went through this that you’d ask your doctor for extra meds this year.”
“No, I really think he is cheating on me this time.”
“You thought that last year. And the year before that. And every year.”
Ruthie’s voice turned petulant. “I thought you’d be sympathetic.”
“I am sympathetic.” Gwen eyed a bottle of Valium sitting on top of her microwave with her vitamins and Tylenol, three pills left, from back surgery she’d had two years prior.
Damn, out of date. She tossed it. “I’m sympathetic every year when you think he’s cheating, and every year I’m helping you apologize to him for acting like crazy jealous psycho woman.”
“I called one of the numbers on his private cell. A woman answered.”
Gwen took a calming breath. “And?”
“She answered like she was happy to hear from him, and she said his name. Then when she realized it wasn’t him calling, she hung up and wouldn’t answer when I called back and now the number’s no good.”
“Creepy women calling me and asking me if I’m schtooping their husband tend to make me want to hang up and hide too, honey.”
Ruthie’s tone changed, uncertain. “Do you really think I’m overreacting?”
“Probably. You’re always overreacting. Have you eaten breakfast yet?”
Now Ruth sounded like a little girl caught misbehaving. “No.”
“Okay, honey, what’s our rule?”
“I eat and take my meds before I call you.”
“Go eat. Did you take your meds?”
“What’s our other rule?”
“If I feel paranoid it means I probably didn’t eat when I took my morning meds.”
Gwen took a deep breath to help minimize the amount of snark in her tone. “Riiiight. Sweetie, go eat and call me back later. Love you.”
“Love you, too. Thanks for putting up with me, Gee.”
Gwen felt guilty for her irritation. She literally was the only friend Ruthie had left. She gentled her voice even more. “Go on, and call me back when you feel better.” She hung up and laid the phone on the counter.
Amy returned to the kitchen, still looking odd. Gwen wondered if maybe Mercury had gone retro again and no one remembered to tell her.
“What is it this time?” Amy asked. “Is her foil hat on a little too tight? Green men in her toilet?”
“I know you don’t like her, but she’s a good person.”
“She’s a basket case.” Amy sat at the kitchen table. “I don’t know how you put up with her.” She went back to examining a nail. “Damn sure don’t know how her husband puts up with her,” she grumbled.
Gwen turned on her. “Go through what she went through and tell me you wouldn’t be three steps from a rubber room,” she angrily sniped.
Ruthie used to be a had-her-shit-together bank manager. Until four years prior, when she was three months pregnant and taken hostage by a bank robber whose getaway driver spooked and drove off without him when the women resisted. She’d been working the isolated drive-thru booth with another teller, and the men had jumped them when they emerged after closing. Ruthie had offered herself as a higher-value hostage in exchange for the teller he’d grabbed first, a single mom with three small children.
When a police SWAT team rescued her from a hotel room eight hours later, she’d been beaten, raped, tortured…and ended up losing the baby. A baby they’d tried to have for five years and two IVF attempts.
Between Ruthie’s post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and other trauma-related issues as a result of the attack, she was nearly homebound. Other than their family, she had no friends left.
Ruthie’s husband, Bob, was a sweet man who had stood by his wife’s side during it all, including her multiple hospitalizations and suicide attempts. Bob wasn’t like Gwen’s horndog ex. He wouldn’t cheat on Ruthie. He loved her.
All Gwen had to do was keep reminding Ruthie of that.
“Okay. Back to research,” Gwen said to get the subject off Ruthie. “What did you have in mind?”
“You mentioned you wanted to write a series of romances set out west. I could do some footwork for you.”
“You want an excuse to use up your vacation time and be able to deduct it.” And have more time with your mystery man, she thought. “When will Bob have my taxes done, anyway? I filed the extension after the other bullshit with Dickweed.” Considering Ruthie’s state of mind this morning, Gwen didn’t dare call her back to ask if she knew, and didn’t feel like calling Bob, either. “Did he give you a timeframe when you dropped the stuff off?”
“No, he didn’t. I know he’s going out of town, he told me. So you don’t mind if I go?”
Gwen took a sip of coffee. Ruthie had mentioned him taking a business trip next week.
Great. That means I’ll be shuttling between her house and Mom and Dad’s. “I knew I should have stayed in bed this morning. Of course I don’t mind if you go. I’m your sister, not your freaking boss.”
“Technically you are, because you pay me to help you. You’ve got the book signing in town next weekend, remember?” That wasn’t the only thing Amy was worried about and Gwen damn well knew it.
Gwen groaned. “You know what? I can handle it. Liam can come with me. He’ll be dying for a chance to escape Mom for a few hours. Just go and have fun. You’ve more than earned it.” She gave Amy a one-armed hug and carried her coffee back out to the desk.
Tim had replied to Gwen’s e-mail.
You can have as much coffee as you want on me, if you ever come visit me, I promise. Kissy-huggy! – TimE.
Well, if her day had to go to shit, at least she had Tim to cheer her up. They normally e-mailed back and forth several times a week, sometimes several times a day. He felt like a close friend even though they’d never met in real life, or even talked on the phone. She loved their flirty banter despite knowing it would never amount to anything other than great fodder for her books.
Amy followed Gwen to her desk. “I need to go to work. So we’re cool with me bugging out on you for a little while?”
“Jesus, I said go. What, you going on safari or something?”
“No, just Rapid City for two weeks.”
She couldn’t resist the urge to bust Amy’s balls. “There’s two weeks’ worth of stuff to do in Rapid City?”
Amy rolled her eyes. “I’m going to drive around and sightsee. Do some hiking. If I don’t use that vacation time, I’m going to lose it. I’ll be out there already, so it’ll save me hassles with our ’rents, you know that. A legitimate reason to be gone so I don’t have to explain myself. You’ll back me up, right?”
Gwen snorted. “Yeah, they’ll blame me instead. It’s not like you have to change my diaper or anything, kiddo. I’m your little sister, not a fricking baby. I think I can check my own post office box and pay my own bills and stuff for a couple of weeks. And of course I’ll deal with Mom and Dad and keep Liam from killing them. Seriously, go have fun. You deserve it.”
Amy hugged her again. “Thanks, sis.”
Amy left, leaving Gwen to wonder if maybe she should head back to bed. Dickweed’s call, her sister acting odd and with a secret guy on the side, and Ruthie acting odder than usual.
And people wonder why I’m a writer.
Jonathan stared at her with deep, dark emerald eyes full of passion. “I am going to claim you, woman. You belong to me.”
Shelaine wanted to resist but her body said otherwise. She felt moisture pooling between her legs as her own hunger grew. That’s when Markham growled in her ear. “And I am going to claim you, too. By the time the sun arises, you will be filled with our seed and begging for more.”
Her mind tried to rebel, but the rich, musky scent of the two shapeshifters was more than her senses could take. She fell into Jonathan’s arms as Markham reached beneath her dress and ripped her panties off her. His fingers plunged into her soaked pussy as—
Gwen’s computer made a whooping noise, pulling her out of her writing the love scene as Morticia Addams’ voice announced, “Mail’s in.” She grinned and switched over to her mail program. That special alert meant e-mail had arrived from Tim.
Read it, loved it! Can I have your baby now, pleeeeease? Kissy-huggy! – TimE.
Gwen nearly snorted coffee through her nose while reading Tim’s e-mail. That will teach me to drink and read. She set her mug on her desk before typing her reply, all thoughts of writing the impending fuck-fest between horny wolf shifters Jonathan, Markham, and their main squeeze Shelaine driven from her mind.
I think I have the wrong parts to interest you, babycakes, but I’m glad you liked it.
Snugs and Hugs,
She tapped send.
Gwen drained her coffee and turned to get up. Before she did, she stared at her table, where she’d left the five-pound box of travel and tourist brochures from the Rapid City area that had arrived in the mail the previous afternoon. She had to stand in line for twenty minutes with the claim note from her post office box, waiting behind a rather smelly guy who apparently never made the acquaintance of deodorant. Or soap.
Or a shower.
Amy’s been busy. Not only had Amy included brochures, but a spiral notebook with page upon page of handwritten notes, dated and everything, with interesting tidbits and helpful information not included in the brochures. And two CDs of digital pics Amy had dumped off her camera onto her laptop and burned for her.
Amy hadn’t called her in the past few days, but Gwen didn’t worry. She was probably enjoying her “downtime,” if that’s what Amy insisted on calling it. At thirty-nine, Amy was the eldest of the three siblings and seven years older than Gwen, the baby. As sisters, they’d spent a lot of years not very close. Gwen and their brother, Liam, had always been super tight. Amy, not so much with either of them.
When Liam was diagnosed with MS five years earlier, it brought their whole family together.
Well, as much as their family could ever be together. Gwen’s relationship with their parents had been strained since her teenage years for a variety of reasons. Now Amy lived with their parents and Liam ten minutes away from Gwen, helping them out. Never married and no kids, Amy had volunteered to sell her house and move in with them after Liam got sick.
Gwen owned her house, courtesy of the divorce judge decreeing Dickweed had to hand it over to her as per their prenup because he cheated. It wasn’t uncommon for Amy to spend a night or weekend there with her when she needed to escape their parents, or for Liam to come over for an overnighter or day visit to hide from their mom.
Gwen didn’t mind pitching in and helping at their place, except when her father started in on her over her choice of ex-husband, the failure of her marriage despite it being Dickweed’s fault, her career writing “trash” books, and her failure to attend church on a regular basis like her “good” big sister. He constantly threw Amy up as the example Gwen should aspire to. Gwen didn’t blame Amy for that, but it had caused hard feelings in her for years, with only Liam there to understand and support her. Their mom always took their father’s side.
Self-preservation, she supposed. If she’d had to share a bed with David Oxford every night, she’d use every survival tactic she could latch on to, including alcoholism, if necessary.
Thank god for big brother.
Gwen was about to finally get up when another e-mail from Tim arrived.
I love you for your great head…eh, brain, Go-Go girl, so you absolutely have the right parts to interest me. 😉 – TimE.
Laughing, Gwen shook her head and walked to the kitchen. If only he wasn’t gay with a boyfriend. Lucky bastard. Why can’t I find a guy like that in real life?
Her cell phone rumbled out the attack theme from Jaws.
Eyeing the Jack Daniel’s bottle with longing, she answered the call. “What’s up, Dad?”
“Have you heard from your sister?”
“Technically. I just received a huge box of research material she shipped me from Rapid City. Why?”
“Your mother left three voice mail messages for her yesterday, and she hasn’t returned any of them.” Gwen hadn’t been over to her parents’ house in two days. Liam assured her he was fine and would call her if he needed her to come help or run interference for him with their parents. They’d had a blast last weekend at the book signing.
Gwen closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Yeah, no shit, she’s probably enjoying her peace and quiet. “I’m sure she’s busy, Dad. She’s got meetings, too.”
“According to the agenda she left, her meetings ended three days ago. There’s no reason she should be busy.”
Gwen didn’t necessarily believe that, but didn’t want to rat Amy out. She opted to feign ignorance. “What?”
“Your mother has a question about one of Liam’s prescriptions, and we can’t get ahold of her.”
“Did you call her hotel?”
His tone took on indignation. “She lied about where she was staying. They have no record of Amy Oxford on their reservation records.”
That wasn’t Gwen’s first thought. She probably lied about who she was staying with. But the lack of a return call did worry her. “I’ll try her myself.”
“Well, if you get in touch with her, tell her that she’s got her mother worried, thank you very much. I would expect this kind of irresponsible behavior from you, not from her. Something must be wrong.”
He hung up, cutting her off.
She walked over to the bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a smaller one still half full from a Christmas party five months earlier. She uncapped it and dumped it into the sink. At this rate it was too tempting. She’d never been anything more than an occasional recreational drinker despite ample legitimate reasons over the years.
This latest blowup could really make her want to start.
She called Liam’s cell. He answered using a Humphrey Bogart voice. “How ya doin’, shweeheart?”
Gwen giggled. Her partner in crime. “Hey, bro. How’s it hanging?”
“Long and low as always, baby sis. What’s up?”
“Dad’s freaking out. I figured I’d better call you and get the accurate story.”
He sounded aggravated. “I told Mom I had the information about my scripts. She insisted on calling Amy anyway because she hadn’t called home in a couple of days. They keep tabs on her like freaking prison wardens. I’m not worried about her.”
“Ah. I thought that might be it. Maybe she just wanted extra downtime.”
He laughed. “Probably more like up and down time.”
“Hold on.” It sounded like he put his phone down, and a moment later he returned, his voice lower. “I wanted to shut my door so Mom doesn’t overhear. I think Amy was meeting a guy out there. Which would explain why her name didn’t show on the hotel register.”
Suspicion confirmed. “We think alike, bro.”
“I couldn’t say that for fear of blowing her cover, you know? What am I supposed to tell them? ‘Hey, don’t worry about her, I think she’s just getting her freak on.’ I think not.”
Gwen burst out laughing. “Yeah. Dad would threaten her with the convent again.”
“I haven’t managed to convince him that one, we’re not Catholic, and two, she’s an adult.” He sighed. “Can you come spring me tonight? Please?”
Another guilty pang. Except for the fact that she’d want to kill her father, she would have volunteered to live there to help take care of Liam instead of Amy. “Will they let you out tonight? Are you feeling okay?” He’d almost been hospitalized over a kidney infection a few weeks earlier. She’d got him to the book signing only because he snuck out while their mother was out making her regular grocery store trip and their father was out playing golf. Liam waited to call their mom until after Gwen had safely spirited him away for the day.
“Just, please, come take me to your place for a couple of nights. I’m having a good week. I can move around okay. You saw me on Saturday, I feel fine. Two or three nights, please? You can order me a hooker. Or at the very least a damn pizza.”
Gwen laughed. No way in hell could she tell him no. “Be ready to run at three. Toss your bags out the window.”
“You are such a good baby sister. I’m willing my Star Trek collection to you, you know that, right?”
“Even Malibu Worf?”
The old joke never failed to make him laugh. “Malibu Worf, Malibu Data, anatomically correct Q, the whole damn crew.”
“Okay. You break it to them, and I’ll slow down on my way past so you can jump in.”
“See you at three.”
She looked around. Nothing needed cleaning, but she’d have to rearrange the living room a little so he could easily navigate in his wheelchair if he needed to use it. He’d sleep in the downstairs office she rarely used. The comfortable queen-sized Murphy bed folded down from the wall and was easy for him to get in and out of. She’d had the downstairs guest bath modified a couple of years earlier, after his diagnosis and before her divorce from Dickweed, so it opened into the office with a door wide enough for a wheelchair and configured so Liam could use it without assistance. She fingered her phone and decided to send Amy a text message instead of calling.
Pls call or txt me or Li. M&D going batshit. We won’t rat u out, promise.
Hopefully that would get some sort of response.
If not, she wouldn’t get a moment’s peace.