If you thought that rigatoni was good…

minestroneI’m here with my mom’s minestrone recipe! This soup is amazing, and super flexible in that it very much thrives on all kinds of stuff being dumped in it. I make it a little bit differently than my mom does, and I’ll make notes at the end of the parts I change. My soup comes out more tomato-y than hers does, but it’s equally terrific either way.

Directly from my mom’s email to me, without editing her commentary because it makes me happy every time I read it:

MINESTRONE

Description:
Secret to this soup is adding the rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano. It brings complexity and depth to a soup made with chicken stock (store-bought is fine). Rinds from which all the cheese has been grated can be stored in a zip-lock bag in the freezer.

2   oz or so pancetta fried until crisp in olive oil if you’re not a vegetarian
2   small leeks (1 large) washed thoroughly. White & light creen parts sliced thin crosswise (about ¾ cup)
2   medium carrots, cut into small dice (3/4 cup)
2   small onions, peeled, cut into small dice (about ¾   cup)
2   medium celery stalks, trimmed & cut into small dice ( ¾ cup)
1   medium zucchini, trimmed & cut into medium dice (1 ¼ cups)
2   cups stemmed spinach or escarole leaves cut into thin strips
1   can (28 oz) whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained & chopped
1   Parmesan cheese rind, about 5-2 inches
1   can (15 oz) canellini or garbanzo and red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
¼  cup basil pesto or 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary mixed with 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon extra virgin oil
Salt & pepper
Chicken broth at least 32 oz

Directions:
I start with frying up the pancetta in a little olive oil then adding the diced carrots, celery, onions and cook in a soup kettle or pot, or if you skip the meat, cook the hard veggies and 2 minced garlic cloves with a little olive oil until softened.

Add all the veggies (except the beans) with the chicken broth. You’re going to need a big pot. I even added medium diced butternut squash – so pretty too. My 4 1/2 quart wouldn’t hold the beans. Bring to boil, turn down to simmer and cook for an hour.  

Refrigerate overnight to let all the flavors find each other. You can freeze for a month. Defrost if necessary and reheat before proceeding.

Add beans & cook until heated through about 5 mins. Remove cheese, (I didn’t), stir in pesto or rosemary/garlic, salt & pepper and serve immediately with good, hard crusted bread and a nice Chianti Riserva, Querciabella or Dievole Rinasciemento, put on some Dean Martin, and when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s ………..
Love, ma xoxoxoxoxo 12/9/06

Number Of Servings: Lots

Preparation Time: How fast can ya chop?

That’s my mom’s fabulous recipe! Please note that she neglects to list the two garlic cloves in the ingredient list, so I inevitably forget about them until I’ve already got the carrots, celery, and onions softening, leading to frantic last minute peeling and mincing. I also use a can of diced tomatoes, because I’m lazy, and don’t drain the can, because I like my minestrone to be really tomato-y. I use a can of drained chick peas (garbanzo beans) and another of drained dark red kidney beans, and I add them when I add the rest of the vegetables. The more stuff in my soup, the better! And the beans do just fine. I also increase pretty much every veggie by 10-20% while chopping because the soup can take it and I like it. I do tend to need to add more broth than this recipe calls for, though. At least 50% more, but sometimes closer to double the broth, depending on how overboard I’ve gone with the veggies.

The first time I made this recipe, I didn’t have the pesto or the fresh rosemary, so I skipped those options entirely and have never gone back to try adding them since the soup turned out so delicious. But I’m sure you should try it!

You can make this soup for vegetarians too! Just skip the pancetta and use veggie broth instead of chicken. It will still be delicious, especially if you keep the rinds of cheese. They really give a richness to the broth.

That’s it. The flavors of this soup really deepen after 24 hours, by the way. My first bowl right off the stove is always fine, but tastes a little low key. By the next day, it’s always amazing. Enjoy!

Tom & Reese’s Celebratory Rigatoni

RealWorld 200x300You know how I’m always mentioning that I use lots of stuff from real life in my books? Yes, I mash it up with so many other things that my real-life stuff isn’t generally recognizable to anyone who knows me. But in REAL WORLD, everyone who’s ever been fed by me will definitely recognize my baked rigatoni.

I couldn’t help it! This is a recipe that must be shared far and wide across the land. My entire family makes it now. I get calls from young cousins in college, asking for the recipe, and it is top of my Most Requested list of delivery options to sick friends. So when I wanted to write about Reese making a meal for Tom that embodied all the love and comfort he had to offer, I knew he’d be making rigatoni.

If you’re a holiday music person like me, you can also listen to this awesome playlist of holiday music I made. I had this one going the entire time I was writing REAL WORLD.

If you’ve got the ebook, this recipe is already yours, because I included it in the back. But I don’t want to deprive anyone of the chance to enjoy the world’s best baked rigatoni, so with no further ado, here it is:

Reese’s Rigatoni

My family and friends will recognize the baked rigatoni both Reese and Tom make in REAL WORLD.  It is my go-to dish for feeding people, bringing to friends who are sick, or just making for those weeks when I can’t possibly manage anything more complicated for my family than microwaving a bowl of pasta for dinner.

The recipe is based on one I found in Real Simple magazine, with a bunch of tweaks I’ve made over the years. Just block out of your mind how much heavy cream and cheese you are adding to the pan. It’s worth it, trust me.

If you want to make a vegetarian version, skip the sausage. It’s still delicious. I don’t think a vegan version is possible, alas.

Ingredients

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

6-8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (original recipe called for 4 cloves, but I go waaaaay overboard with garlic)

1 28-ounce can & 1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained (I get “no salt added” cans if they’re available)

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoon sugar

16 ounces rigatoni

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmesan

1 package (5 links) of hot or sweet Italian sausage, cook’s choice! (I’ve also made this with turkey sausage & it was yummy.)

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, approximately 1 minute. Add the tomatoes (don’t drain the juice), red pepper, oregano, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Stir in the cream and 2/3 cup of the Parmesan.

Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni until it’s al dente. Don’t overdo it because it’ll cook further in the sauce. No need to salt the water, if that’s something you normally do.

Also meanwhile (this is doable, I promise!), cook the sausage. First, peel off the casings. Then pinch the sausage into bite size pieces and cook them in a pan over medium heat until there’s no pink. Drain and mix into the sauce.

Add the drained rigatoni to the sauce and toss to coat. (Usually, I only manage to fit about half of the rigatoni in the saucepan before I start spilling when tossing/stirring. You can put the rest in the casserole dish and mix it more there.) Pour into a 2-quart casserole and sprinkle the rest of the grated Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

You can assemble this dish in advance and do the final baking right before you want to serve it. Just remember to take it out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature before you cook it, or add extra time to the baking if you’re starting with a cold casserole dish!

(Unlike almost any other pasta dish, this one reheats beautifully in the microwave without getting dry. Be greedy with your leftovers—don’t send them all home with your guests! You’re going to want to eat this the next day, too.)

BUY REAL WORLD AT AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, KOBO, IBOOKS,GOOGLE PLAY, AREBOOKS OR AT THE SAMHAIN WEBSITE!

REAL WORLD is here at last!

RealWorld 200x300Sigh. Man, I love holiday novellas. I love reading them. I love writing them. I love the magic glow of family and friends and good cheer, the wallowing in sentimentality and hope and love. Yeah, it’s pretty much my favorite thing.

With REAL WORLD, Tom and Reese are back. We left them happy at the end of OFF CAMPUS, but still in college and figuring out how their relationship would work going forward. And I needed these two to get their forever HEA. But even more than that, I wanted to show how two people who love each other can struggle with the work a relationship takes, and still find themselves madly in love after making it through the rough patches.

Enjoy! And scroll down for a smexy excerpt…

When talking fails, it’s time to break out the big guns.

Bend or Break, Book 5

Five years ago, Tom Worthington busted his ass to overcome the fear and paranoia that led him to withdraw from the world and nearly lose his boyfriend. He never thought he’d find himself right back there, shutting Reese out, keeping secrets again.

Reese Anders is ready to try anything to get Tom to talk: if he can’t seduce his boyfriend with food, he’ll get Tom to open up in bed. But even Tom’s confession that his dad is getting out of prison soon doesn’t clear the air between them. And as the holidays approach, intensive mentoring from a new British boss creates more distractions, until Reese is keeping secrets of his own.

At a company Christmas party, it only takes Tom one look at Reese’s new boss to figure out how much danger their relationship is in. But he’s not about to let the connection that started all those years ago at Carlisle come to an end. It’s time to deal with their problems like adults. Face to face. Or back to front. Starting in the bedroom.

Warning: This book contains two adorable guys with way too many secrets, conciliatory rigatoni, a bedroom lesson on the power of multitasking, and indisputable evidence on what makes the perfect holiday HEA.

Buy REAL WORLD at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, ARebooks or at the Samhain website!

I’m at a whole bunch of blogs with this release, with giveaways happening at various stops. I’ll update the links as they go live:

Heroes & Heartbreakers – With some of my favorite proposals & wedding scenes.

Joyfully Jay – In which I gush over romance series about extended groups of friends.

Just Love Romance – An interview about Tom and Reese, upcoming releases, and the only wrong answer to the question, “What’s your favorite deep dish pizza in Chicago?”

Boys in Our Books – I rec all kinds of terrific books in this interview!

Sinfully – I rave about some of my favorite romances featuring food, glorious food.

Real World teaser hanging by a threadAll About Romance – Holiday romances are my jam. An eclectic mix of m/f and m/m stories.

Bayou Book Junkie – Tom and Reese get interviewed!

My blog! – I go completely overboard with even more holiday romances. I mean, completely.

Binge on Books – This interview is a podcast, which was so much fun!

 

In REAL WORLD, Tom and Reese are both going through difficulties they’re reluctant to share with each other. But couples can communicate in more than one way…

Dinner was a verbal two-step that only Reese knew was a dance, as he tried to open up avenues of conversation that would encourage Tom to talk to him. Halfway through the meal, though, Reese asked himself why he was playing this game instead of straight up asking Tom what was going on.

He figured out the answer to his own question before he finished his wine.

I want him to want to talk to me. Why does it feel like it doesn’t count as much if I have to flat-out ask him to tell me what’s wrong?

For the rest of the meal, Reese sat quietly, lost in his own head. Tom roused himself as Reese remained silent, thanking him for the meal and asking him questions about his day at work. But the effort fell short.

“Sorry I’m so distracted,” Tom said after losing track of the conversation again, reaching out to touch the back of Reese’s hand. “Sounds like a pretty cool opportunity with the Marketing guys. I’m happy for you.”

For whatever reason, they were having a hard time making a connection with words. But that hand on Reese’s wrist reminded him that words weren’t the only way they knew how to connect…

After they’d finished dinner, Tom didn’t let Reese back in the kitchen, pushing him out of the room with a proprietary hand on his ass and a kiss behind his ear. “You cooked. I clean. Go. Watch a movie. Read a book.”

“Take a bath,” Reese murmured, and Tom stilled behind him.

Take a bath meant something specific. Something special.

Before he could breathe, Tom pressed against his back, one arm wrapping over Reese’s chest to pull them tightly together. Reese tipped his head back, luxuriating in the feeling of being held so close. For a long time, being held had felt like being trapped, triggering panic and nausea that left him shaking and sick. Years of work had taken him through the healing, getting him from simply being able to tolerate touch like this—which had felt like a triumph at the time—to being able to enjoy it.

When Tom spoke, Reese could hear him and feel him, the words rumbling in Tom’s chest against his back. “Yes. Yes. Take a bath.”

The water in the tub was scalding. Reese cupped a hand over his delicate bits, easing himself down into the heat that felt so good on his legs and back, but was a bit too too at first for his poor cock and balls. But he didn’t want the water to grow cold too quickly. He wanted to linger, to soak and melt in the oil-slicked water that smelled like lemon and musk. Tom always sniffed and snuffled at his neck until Reese giggled, claiming Reese smelled like furniture polish, but Reese liked it and the scent soothed his nerves.

He scrubbed at all the places that needed scrubbing. While the tub was filling, he’d done a quick job on the inside bits too, not worried about perfection—they weren’t making a porno—but wanting his everything to be as friendly and welcoming as possible.

Halfway through his bath, there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” he said, appreciating as always that Tom was the kind of guy who would still knock after four years together, and not barge in on a boy in the tub.

But Tom didn’t come in all the way, only poked his head around the door and swept the tiny room with a glance before saying “I thought so” and pulling the door shut behind him again.

“What?” Reese called out to him, but there was no answer.

Five minutes later, though, another knock and repeated permission to enter. Tom edged the door open with his foot and entered the room holding the tray they used for those Sunday breakfasts in bed. Only this time it was covered with all of their tea-light holders and glass-jarred candles.

Tom had brought him romance.

After setting the tray on the counter next to the sink, Tom flicked the switch off, plunging the room into a darkness lit only by the flickering constellation of lights at his waist.

Reese leaned his head back against the hand towel he’d rolled up and used as a neck rest, sinking a little farther into the water.

One by one, Tom lifted the candles off the tray and set them around Reese. On the far corners of the tub, on the lid of the toilet seat, one tea light in the inset soap holder in the shower wall. Flickering yellow light reflected on the iridescent slashes of bath oil and water.

When he was done, Tom stood over Reese, looking down at him, so quiet and serious. Reese eyed his own pale, thin body, distorted under the smooth skin of water disturbed only by his breathing. He wondered sometimes what Tom saw when he looked at him. Because Reese liked his own face well enough, but his body was nothing special. Not like Tom’s glossy, golden muscles and strong limbs. Reese’s cock lay against his thigh, soft in the hot bath, and that didn’t look special either, although Reese liked the way his dick looked when it was hard. Strong, straight, with balls that didn’t distract from the main focus. He swished an arm through the water and broke the smooth surface, shattering his body into a hundred wobbly lines.

Tom pulled one of the poofy balls off the shower rack and sat on the floor next to the tub. He dunked the poof in the water and then lathered it up. The sharp tang of their citrus shower gel filled the air. Tom held out a hand.

Reese gave him his own.

In total silence, Tom washed him. Reese didn’t say a word, not even to mention he’d already done this himself. Because there was something different about having Tom do it to him. The washing wasn’t the point. The touching was. The lighting up and sensitizing of every inch of his skin, gently scraped to a heightened awareness by the slow strokes of a foamy poof up and down his limbs until he tingled all over.

real world teaser heartworthy grey heartBuy REAL WORLD at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, ARebooks or at the Samhain website!

#TeamCash Brings the Cute Animal Clips!

One of my favorite characters to write is Cash Carmichael, who shows up in most of the books of the Bend or Break series, and got his own story with Steph in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. Cash loves cute animal gifs and videos, and one of the best things about social media is how my readers have taken to sharing with me the best clips they come across.

I ran a “reader’s choice” giveaway on my Facebook page this month, and one of my readers asked to see more of Cash’s favorite animals. So, in no particular order, here are some of the best!

This bird playing peekabo is awesome.

NOT a very nice penguin.

Mama cat with her kitten is so cute!

This husky playing in a leaf pile makes us giggle.

The noises this porcupine makes!

It takes him a while to get in the bowl…

An orangutan being ridiculously cute with baby tigers.

And, of course, the Fuck This Cat.

View post on imgur.com

 

Catch up with Cash and Steph and some big news in REAL WORLD, my holiday novella about Tom and Reese from OFF CAMPUS, releasing November 17th! And join us for a release day party and giant recipe exchange for the holidays on release day!

Real World FB party pic 2

Shiny Purple Motorcycles and Being a Grown Up

Home from the Gloria Steinem & Roxane Gay event tonight. I promptly recited pretty much the entire evening–from their readings to the Q&A session–to my mom, who was babysitting my kid. Here are my takeaways:

-Gloria Steinem has made some kind of deal with the devil. I saw her ~25y years ago at Mount Holyoke College and it’s as if the woman has not aged a day. She’s 81 years old, and as savvy, articulate, passionate, and beautiful as she has ever been.

-Gloria Steinem also uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot. This is pure awesome.

-Steinem’s new book has a section about her being in Sturgis, North Dakota, at the same time as 250,000 bikers attending the annual motorcycle club rally there. She tells a fascinating story about her experience there, the moral of which is: stop making assumptions about how people will behave. They will often surprise you if you let them.

-Also, all women have a big, shiny, purple motorcycles inside them. 🙂

-Roxane Gay is brilliantly incisive and funny and clearly a woman you would kill to have a drink with.

-Gay’s book, Bad Feminist, is equally brilliant and funny. Seriously, she had to pause constantly to let the roars of laughter die down during her reading.

-Gay also seriously takes no shit. I love her. She was asked a question about white women and WOC and being an ally and what you can do to help. After giving a very interesting answer about why she’s done with the word ‘ally’, she said, “The number one question I get asked online, over and over again, is ‘what can I do to help?’ And I tell people, ‘You are a grown up. You got yourself dressed this morning. Figure it out.'”

I almost broke my hand clapping.

I follow Gay on Twitter & I see this constantly. Every day, all day, people repeatedly asking the same questions, people who clearly have not bothered to listen to what she has already said, over and over again, as if she is an unlimited resource that hundreds of thousands of people who want to dip their toes in activism can go to for advice. And all of those people need to head first to Google. Or a library. And go figure it out.

Asking the most famous black feminist you know on Twitter a generic question like what can you do to help on women’s rights and race issues? That’s not the action of someone who genuinely wants to help. That’s someone who wants a shortcut, or to *look* like they want to help.

If you really want to help, go do your research. Track down the people who are currently working on the issue you want to work on. Read everything they write. Read the stuff by other people that gets mentioned as being influential. Do your homework. Put in the time learning about the problematic mistakes that newcomers to your issue make, so you don’t go tromping around like a bull in a china shop, breaking shit when you really want to help.

LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK. FOR A LONG, LONG TIME. THESE PEOPLE KNOW MORE THAN YOU. PAY ATTENTION.

If you really want to help, you will find the ways you can do that. You will learn about local organizations who are doing the work on the ground. And *those* are the people who you can go to and say, “What can I do to help?”

Trust me. They’ll have a list.

If all you want to do as a feminist ally or a POC ally is make pithy statements on Twitter? Knock yourself out. But if you really want to do the work? That’s what it is. Work. And you don’t get it done by taking a shortcut.

I’ve been studying feminist issues for almost thirty years now and LGBTQ issues for about twenty-five. Only ten years ago did I figure out I needed to put the same work into my understanding of race. And it’s within the past three or four years that I began studying up on disability, trans, and genderqueer issues. Every day. I read blog posts and articles and essays and books. I watch documentaries and follow debates on social media. I talk to people who live the things I’m trying to learn, and when I say “talk”, I mean I listen.

I do all this, and I get things wrong all the time. I am nowhere close to knowing all the things I need to know to talk intelligently on any of these topics. But that’s the way it’s always going to be. So I show up where I can to do the stuff that will help people who are more involved than I am. Tonight, that meant working crowd control as a volunteer for Women & Children First Bookstore, so almost a thousand people could listen to these two amazing women speak.

Man, I love Roxane Gay. And it was an honor to listen listen to Gloria Steinem speak. Volunteer with your local indie bookstores at events, people! You can sit in on some seriously amazing evenings.

(Also, if you haven’t already, you should absolutely read Gay’s BAD FEMINIST and Steinem’s MY LIFE ON THE ROAD. Like, immediately. They are brilliant and political and wise and hella funny books.)

Queer Romance Month is Here With All the Awesomeness!

Queer-Romance-Month-2015

Queer Romance Month is here!

So many terrific posts today for the launch of Queer Romance Month! I’ve got an incomplete list for you, in case you’ve missed any.

KJ Charles is at The Mary Sue with “The Value of Reading What You Like & Being Who You Are”.

Santino Hassell is at HuffPo with “NYC to TX, and Back in the Closet”.

Alexis Hall is at USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog with a post about why Queer Romance Month was created.

And a bunch of us were at Heroes & Heartbreakers recommending some of our favorite queer romances.

Smexybooks hosted Tiffany Reisz talking about some of her favorite queer romances too.

Plus, at http://www.queerromancemonth.com/, the first batch of blog posts went up today, including an essay by a 16yo queer high school student who tells us her story, and a gorgeous post by Dahlia Adler about realizing her own queerness while writing queer YA romance.

I’ve got a whole bunch of fun QRM stuff coming up too! Megan Erickson and Santino and I are talking about NA romance at AAR tomorrow. I’ve got a QRM post of my own going up later this month, I’ve participated in a couple of other interviews, and I’ll even be sharing a audio recording of me reading an excerpt from an upcoming release. And wait until you see who else is participating! So many great things coming. You’ll find us all over the place through the 31st for a whole lot of LOVE IS LOVE.

Thanks for joining us! It’s going to be a fabulous month.

ETA: Another terrific post is up at Duke Duke Goose! “this is a story all about how my life got flip turned upside down”. Sorry about the ear worm.

REAL WORLD Cover Art Reveal! Plus smexiness…

RealWorld 400x600I’ve been waiting for this all September! REAL WORLD cover art and pre-order links are here and I couldn’t be happier.

When I wrapped up OFF CAMPUS, it was important to me not to pretend that everything was settled forever between Tom and Reese. They were both still in college, and both still had work to do on their own issue that made connecting with another human being a tangled mess sometimes. To me, it would have been out of character for the story to imply that this was their HEA. I knew I had to be satisfied with a HFN, at least right then and there. (HEA = Happily Ever After, and HFN = Happy For Now, if you’re new to the romance genre lingo.)

But I knew even then that I wanted to revisit these two, because if there was ever a pair of characters I’d written that deserved their HEA, it was Tom and Reese.

And they do live happily ever after. But not until they deal with some more adult conflict this time around.

What? You didn’t think I’d just let them roll around in the happy couple muck like a couple of mud wrestlers, did you? You know me better than that.

I only torment them a little bit, I promise. Plus, you get a peek at Cash, Steph, and the rest of their friends too!

You can pre-order REAL WORLD today at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play, and on the Samhain website, or add it to your shelf at Goodreads.

Bloggers, request an ARC here.

When talking fails, it’s time to break out the big guns.

Five years ago, Tom Worthington busted his ass to overcome the fear and paranoia that led him to withdraw from the world and nearly lose his boyfriend. He never thought he’d find himself right back there, shutting Reese out, keeping secrets again.

Reese Anders is ready to try anything to get Tom to talk: if he can’t seduce his boyfriend with food, he’ll get Tom to open up in bed. But even Tom’s confession that his dad is getting out of prison soon doesn’t clear the air between them. And as the holidays approach, intensive mentoring from a new British boss creates more distractions, until Reese is keeping secrets of his own.

At a company Christmas party, it only takes Tom one look at Reese’s new boss to figure out how much danger their relationship is in. But he’s not about to let the connection that started all those years ago at Carlisle come to an end. It’s time to deal with their problems like adults. Face to face. Or back to front. Starting in the bedroom.

Warning: This book contains two adorable guys with way too many secrets, conciliatory rigatoni, a bedroom lesson on the power of multitasking, and indisputable evidence on what makes the perfect holiday HEA.

 


 

In REAL WORLD, Tom and Reese are both going through difficulties they’re reluctant to share with each other. But couples can communicate in more than one way…

Dinner was a verbal two-step that only Reese knew was a dance, as he tried to open up avenues of conversation that would encourage Tom to talk to him. Halfway through the meal, though, Reese asked himself why he was playing this game instead of straight up asking Tom what was going on.

He figured out the answer to his own question before he finished his wine.

I want him to want to talk to me. Why does it feel like it doesn’t count as much if I have to flat-out ask him to tell me what’s wrong?

For the rest of the meal, Reese sat quietly, lost in his own head. Tom roused himself as Reese remained silent, thanking him for the meal and asking him questions about his day at work. But the effort fell short.

“Sorry I’m so distracted,” Tom said after losing track of the conversation again, reaching out to touch the back of Reese’s hand. “Sounds like a pretty cool opportunity with the Marketing guys. I’m happy for you.”

For whatever reason, they were having a hard time making a connection with words. But that hand on Reese’s wrist reminded him that words weren’t the only way they knew how to connect…

After they’d finished dinner, Tom didn’t let Reese back in the kitchen, pushing him out of the room with a proprietary hand on his ass and a kiss behind his ear. “You cooked. I clean. Go. Watch a movie. Read a book.”

“Take a bath,” Reese murmured, and Tom stilled behind him.

Take a bath meant something specific. Something special.

Before he could breathe, Tom pressed against his back, one arm wrapping over Reese’s chest to pull them tightly together. Reese tipped his head back, luxuriating in the feeling of being held so close. For a long time, being held had felt like being trapped, triggering panic and nausea that left him shaking and sick. Years of work had taken him through the healing, getting him from simply being able to tolerate touch like this—which had felt like a triumph at the time—to being able to enjoy it.

When Tom spoke, Reese could hear him and feel him, the words rumbling in Tom’s chest against his back. “Yes. Yes. Take a bath.”

The water in the tub was scalding. Reese cupped a hand over his delicate bits, easing himself down into the heat that felt so good on his legs and back, but was a bit too too at first for his poor cock and balls. But he didn’t want the water to grow cold too quickly. He wanted to linger, to soak and melt in the oil-slicked water that smelled like lemon and musk. Tom always sniffed and snuffled at his neck until Reese giggled, claiming Reese smelled like furniture polish, but Reese liked it and the scent soothed his nerves.

He scrubbed at all the places that needed scrubbing. While the tub was filling, he’d done a quick job on the inside bits too, not worried about perfection—they weren’t making a porno—but wanting his everything to be as friendly and welcoming as possible.

Halfway through his bath, there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” he said, appreciating as always that Tom was the kind of guy who would still knock after four years together, and not barge in on a boy in the tub.

But Tom didn’t come in all the way, only poked his head around the door and swept the tiny room with a glance before saying “I thought so” and pulling the door shut behind him again.

“What?” Reese called out to him, but there was no answer.

Five minutes later, though, another knock and repeated permission to enter. Tom edged the door open with his foot and entered the room holding the tray they used for those Sunday breakfasts in bed. Only this time it was covered with all of their tea-light holders and glass-jarred candles.

Tom had brought him romance.

After setting the tray on the counter next to the sink, Tom flicked the switch off, plunging the room into a darkness lit only by the flickering constellation of lights at his waist.

Reese leaned his head back against the hand towel he’d rolled up and used as a neck rest, sinking a little farther into the water.

One by one, Tom lifted the candles off the tray and set them around Reese. On the far corners of the tub, on the lid of the toilet seat, one tea light in the inset soap holder in the shower wall. Flickering yellow light reflected on the iridescent slashes of bath oil and water.

When he was done, Tom stood over Reese, looking down at him, so quiet and serious. Reese eyed his own pale, thin body, distorted under the smooth skin of water disturbed only by his breathing. He wondered sometimes what Tom saw when he looked at him. Because Reese liked his own face well enough, but his body was nothing special. Not like Tom’s glossy, golden muscles and strong limbs. Reese’s cock lay against his thigh, soft in the hot bath, and that didn’t look special either, although Reese liked the way his dick looked when it was hard. Strong, straight, with balls that didn’t distract from the main focus. He swished an arm through the water and broke the smooth surface, shattering his body into a hundred wobbly lines.

Tom pulled one of the poofy balls off the shower rack and sat on the floor next to the tub. He dunked the poof in the water and then lathered it up. The sharp tang of their citrus shower gel filled the air. Tom held out a hand.

Reese gave him his own.

In total silence, Tom washed him. Reese didn’t say a word, not even to mention he’d already done this himself. Because there was something different about having Tom do it to him. The washing wasn’t the point. The touching was. The lighting up and sensitizing of every inch of his skin, gently scraped to a heightened awareness by the slow strokes of a foamy poof up and down his limbs until he tingled all over.

Catch up with Tom and Reese in REAL WORLD, available now for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play, and on the Samhain website, and available everywhere on November 17th!

Needles Are Our Nemesis

This is a Facebook post I wrote a couple of days ago, after helping my son deal with his anxiety attack over an immunization shot. I was asked to post it elsewhere by someone for whom FB is a no-go zone, so here it is!

Anxiety is a thing that runs in my family. I’ve written about it before, about how it affects me and my kid and what strategies we use when dealing with it. One of those strategies is talking about anxiety, when he’s dealing with it, when I am, when anyone we know is, because the past couple of decades have taught me that many people I know are struggling with this. And knowing you don’t have to hide it always helps.

Today, my kid needed to get an immunization shot we’d postponed when he’d panicked at the doctor’s office during his spring checkup. He was supposed to get two shots then, but was so overwhelmed with anxiety that we decided to do just one that day. He panicked, shouting no and trying to get away from the nurse, which was a way bigger reaction than he’d ever had before. Our nurse, Nikki, was awesome and swift and by the time she was done, my son was in tears but saying, “That’s it? It’s over?”

Because our pediatrician’s office is awesome, they worked with us to get Nikki on the job again today. My kid and I focused on deep, slow breathing and some outdoor exercise in the parking lot beforehand. I reminded him of how his Tia Kelly had desensitized herself to shots by deciding to give blood regularly until the needles didn’t bother her, which meant his feelings about needles could change too. We remembered how *not* a big deal the shot in the spring turned out to be. When the time came, he tried reading the Kindle instead of watching the shot. (That is my own personal strategy, because I too do not like needles at all.)

There was some shaking and some rapid breathing, a last minute burst of anxiety that Nikki blew right past in her split-second shot delivery. But overall, my son talked himself through it (partly by giving me a thirty minute lecture on the armor and battle strategies of the various Roman empires on the car ride up) and is one step further down the path of figuring out how to manage this thing that makes his life harder but can be dealt with. We talked about adrenaline on the car ride home, what it does and why and what the aftereffects are. Also, why a snack and a nap are a great way to handle those effects, which is why he’s wrapped up in a penguin blanket right now.

Talk to your kids about the stuff that’s hard, man. It helps.

LEVEL HANDS is here! (Plus, a bonus chapter!)

level-handsIt’s here! Buy LEVEL HANDS at AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle PlayiBooksARebooks, and on the Samhain website.

When it comes to love, there’s no such thing as smooth sailing.

Rafael Castro is so far out of his element he can’t even see it anymore. Carlisle College in Massachusetts is a long way from his Chicago home, even farther from his Dominican Republic roots.

The only thing keeping him attached to his last nerve is the prospect of seeing Denny Winslow again. The first time they met, Denny taught Rafi to fly across the water, rowing hard in a knife-like boat. Now, two years later, on the wings of a rowing scholarship, Rafi is attending Denny’s elite college.

Even before the excitement wears off, Rafi is struggling with classes and fending off rumors that Denny’s family, not Rafi’s talent, won him his spot. To quash the gossip, Rafi tries to steer clear of the man he wants. A plan that evaporates in the fire of renewed attraction.

But Carlisle’s academic pressure cooker has Rafi barely treading water. And when a family crisis hits, both Rafi and Denny must pull hard to keep their relationship from capsizing in rough waters.

Warning: Contains a surly Dominican-American guy determined to show no weakness, a golden boy who knows his soft spots, some seriously dirty bachata dancing, and an excellent excuse for voyeurism in the locker room.

BONUS CHAPTER!

While editing LEVEL HANDS, we ended up cutting an entire chapter that I really loved, but didn’t move the plot forward. I decided to save it and offer it as a bonus free read to newsletter subscribers. So if you want in on that good stuff, make sure to sign up for my newsletter in the upper right hand corner of this page!

Read on for a NSFW excerpt from LEVEL HANDS. The guys have tried to sneak away for a weekend together, only to have their teammates insist on joining them for the road trip. But in the middle of the night, when everyone is sleeping off too many beers…

Rafi stayed sitting up, listening to Denny fumble into the downstairs bathroom and close the door. His heart thumped rapidly. He opened his mouth to breathe, because he couldn’t get enough air. The smell of wood smoke hung in the air as the logs shifted and settled.

He waited for a long time to hear Denny leave the bathroom. He heard nothing.

Denny was mostly naked, right down the hall. And everyone else was asleep. Or puking.

Rafi stood up and headed for the hall.

The bathroom door creaked open as he reached for its handle. A flush of second-guessing rushed through him. Maybe this was a bad idea. Suddenly, all he wanted was to get his ass back to the couch, where he could sleep away his embarrassment. In his head, he’d imagined Denny waiting for him, hoping Rafi would follow him through the dark to the tiny room.

But the gasp Denny let out as he nearly body-slammed Rafi exiting the bathroom said he wasn’t expecting Rafi to be there at all. He flung up a hand, catching himself against Rafi’s chest. His fingers spread over Rafi’s heartbeat, which was fucking racing at the feel of Denny’s hand on him. They stood frozen together for what felt like ages.

Denny snatched his hand away, curling it into a fist against his own chest. Then, as if recognizing who it was, he exhaled, dropping his hand again. Maybe he thought Rafi had been out here in the hall the entire time like a creepy stalker, listening to him piss.

Fifteen minutes was an awful long time to take a leak.

Maybe he’d been jerking off. Rafi licked his lips, his stomach muscles tightening. Don’t think about Denny jerking off.

Great. Might as well tell himself not to picture a pink elephant.

“Hey,” he breathed out on an exhale. Denny’s eyes were midnight on a lake, bottomless, quiet. Rafi could have sworn that neither of them blinked for a minute while they stood staring at each other. Close enough to feel Denny’s warm breath on his face. The brush of it made him shiver, the hairs on his arms lifting.

If he took a deep breath, their chests might touch.

On a shallow inhale, Denny stepped to the side to let Rafi pass him and enter the bathroom. Having none of that, Rafi stepped to the side too, winding up right in front of Denny.

“Sorry,” Denny murmured and moved back, looking down at his feet. Rafi wondered if his cheeks were pink.

Rafi crowded forward, blocking his way out of the bathroom.

Take the hint, dude.

Denny shook his head. Rafi told the zing of awareness rippling up his spine to settle down. He inhaled the smell of the other man, sleep-rumpled and warm.

Instead of continuing their awkward dance in the doorway, Denny took a step back into the bathroom, waiting for Rafi to come in so he could get past him.

Rafi stepped into the bathroom.

And closed the door.

The soft noises of an old house settling in the night were the only sounds Rafi could hear, and then the drumming of his own pulse drowned that out as the two of them stood in the dark. Silent. Staring.

Without a word, Rafi moved forward until their toes bumped against each other. As if in reflex, Denny put a hand out and grabbed Rafi’s hip, his thumb resting on warm, bare skin above the elastic waistband of Rafi’s sleep pants, where his T-shirt was rucked up.

His hyperawareness of Denny’s body was overwhelming. He damn near licked the air with his tongue in an effort to figure out if he could taste Denny’s scent. He was breathing harder now, his dick lifting in his sleep pants, because surely, surely this couldn’t be misunderstood.

I’m pressed up against you in the bathroom in the middle of the night. This is not a mixed message.

He waited, pretty sure he was welcome here, but wanting the go-ahead, given it was 2:00 a.m. in a bathroom. It felt like the sort of moment when he ought to drop to his knees and start sucking Denny off like a porn star, or smash their faces together in some kind of aggressive, tongue-diving make-out session. Instead, he let the quiet pull him under. Let the darkness and the secret of their being alone together in a tiny room under the stairs while the rest of the house slept lead him elsewhere.

With a soft exhale, Denny turned his cheek, laying the side of his face against Rafi’s shoulder. And Rafi realized that for now, for this moment, he didn’t need to be nervous. He didn’t need to worry about the why or the what of their coming together or how they would go forward from here. He could simply touch his chin to the top of Denny’s head and enjoy the quiet press of one warm body against another in the night.

The barely there brush of his hand against the short hair on the back of Denny’s head. The skim of his fingers dragging down smooth skin until he rested them, faint points of contact, at Denny’s waist.

Like an engine revving, the hum in his belly spread with honeyed warmth through his veins. Without hesitating, he slid his arm around Denny’s waist, easing them together until the thick length of his dick rubbed against Denny’s hip, the slight mismatch in their heights noticeable now that he wanted to press himself against the shorter man.

Simple enough though to lower his head and open his mouth against the delicate skin of Denny’s throat. The touch of Rafi’s tongue drew out a gasp and the hardening of Denny’s dick, easy to feel through the thin fabric of their sleep pants.

Smoky heat. The lingering taste of soap. And something fresh and clean that was maybe just Denny himself. Rafi closed his mouth against warm skin and sucked lightly, wondering if he’d even be able to see a mark if the lights were on.

He never wanted the lights to go on.

Rafi rubbed circles on Denny’s back, pressing harder as the pulse under his mouth sped up, vibrating against his lips. Their breathing tore ragged strips across the silence of the bathroom, tension stretching the moment until it felt like, if someone spoke out loud, the air itself would snap and break.

Denny lifted his hands, pulling at Rafi’s T-shirt. But before he could get it more than an inch above his waist, Rafi grabbed him by the hips and turned him around, pulling him in front of the sink.

The fading light from the moon striped the room through the window shutter. In the mirror, he could make out the dark line of his arm angled across Denny’s chest like a seatbelt. Denny leaned his head back against Rafi’s shoulder, and Rafi felt the tension seep out of him. It’s okay. I’ve got you. He watched Denny close his eyes.

Only to feel him gasp out loud and jerk forward as Rafi’s hand landed directly on his dick, finding the hard length unerringly in the dark and grabbing hold.

Buy LEVEL HANDS at AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle PlayiBooksARebooks, and on the Samhain website.

Everything is on sale! Or FREE!

I’m drive-by posting here because everything is happening at once! 🙂

Samhain is having a 40% off sale today, and everything is included, even pre-orders. So you can get OFF CAMPUS, NOTHING LIKE PARIS, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, and LEVEL HANDS for cheap!

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But don’t get OFF CAMPUS there actually! Because it’s on sale for 99 CENTS at Amazon and Kobo. I believe other retailers will follow as they post the sale price, too.

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ARebooks is having one of their terrific rebate sales today too. Get a 50% rebate (that you can also use today, and get a rebate on that too) on CALLIE, UNWRAPPED as they celebrate their new app!

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And finally, FULL EXPOSURE is available for FREE at all vendors, worldwide. Whee!

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And that’s all, folks! Phew. Go wild. I know I already have. My shopping cart at the Samhain sale alone has eight books in it. AJ “No Self Control” Cousins, that’s what they call me. 😉