The followup to Tony and Brandon is Ralph’s story, my saucy photographer. Coloring Outside the Lines is slated for Dec/Jan release. If you’re wanting to keep up with the lowdown, check out my Facebook page, or my Newsletter group.
Cover Artist: DWS Photography
The hole in Tony Teagan’s heart is slowly shrinking. Since losing the love of his life, he’s buried himself in running West TonDe Press, but now he can remember the good times. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s ready for a new man in his life. Then he meets nighttime delivery guy Brandon, who appears on his doorstep with Thai food. Tony’s interest is piqued despite their ten-year age difference, and Brandon is all for a new relationship. Relinquishing his hold on his deceased lover is the hardest challenge Tony will face, but if his future is combined with Brandon’s, he may have a second chance at love after all.
“The perfect setting to “pay it forward“. “
CAPPUCCINO jelly beans.
Tony held the front door open for a split second as the scent assaulted him. His lashes fell and he almost spoke the name on the tip of his tongue in response. A quick inhale and it was gone, the imagined scent replaced by a very real frown. He knew he was imagining it, a long-ago memory. Devyn and those same jelly beans were gone. Two years gone. His heart still ached, though not as badly. Time had softened the loss. The hole in his heart that losing the love of his life had created was slowly, though no less painfully, shrinking.
Closing the door of his Glendale home behind him, he began to work the knot of his tie loose as he crossed the room to the kitchen table. Thick pile carpet silenced his step until he reached the wood plank of the kitchen, the crisp tap of his shoes the only sound in the home they’d once shared.
After removing his jacket to hang squarely on the back of one of the chairs, he opened his briefcase to palm the two files within. Submissions to review for two new books. The authors were waiting for the final decision and he didn’t like taking more time than was needed to approve or decline. He knew these two personally and didn’t want to delay. Submitting was enough of a hurry up and wait.
With the files staring up at him from the table, he went to the cabinets and withdrew a bottle of wine from its place in the rack. He delved for the corkscrew in the drawer, then with it in hand, popped the cork free to let the wine breathe. He pulled down one glass, barely the slightest hitch in his motions now, when out of habit he would have set two on the counter before.
Taking a few minutes to retreat to his bedroom, he changed from his work clothes. Dressed in shorts and a lightweight T-shirt, Tony was more comfortable against the streaming sunlight entering through the panoramic windows in the living room.
Once he had his glass a quarter full of wine, he grabbed the files and sauntered to his leather couch, where he could read and relax with the broad lines of his home to one side and the lush greenery of the hills on the other. The blazing sunlight sparkled off the nearly mirror-flat surface of his swimming pool. A single glance was all he allowed himself, knowing his memories would overwhelm him if he lingered.
He flipped open the first file. “Okay, Frankie. What did you send me this time, you goddess?” Tony mused. His staff vetted public submissions, but he handled a few long-timers personally. Frankie, AKA Frank Rogel, was a long-in-the-tooth stable author of Tony’s from their early days together. Rarely, very rarely, did he not accept one of Frankie’s stories outright. Tony had spotted her talent early on, when he was still a struggling agent himself and had snatched her up like a hot commodity. She’d been writing for him ever since. West TonDe Press wasn’t her only home, and he was fine with that. Overlap was encouraged and helped promote names readers might not otherwise see. It didn’t hurt one bit that everyone who read her work believed she was a male author of the hottest male-male romances out there. He needed to get down to West Hollywood and take his best girl out to lunch sometime soon.
Shadows lengthened as Tony was drawn into the story—a wild-animal activist for big cats and the one man who was his nemesis, face-to-face. One who was desired like chocolate-covered strawberries when they could actually sit down to discuss things other than the land they both wanted.
Tony had learned early on that if he didn’t skip the sex scenes, he’d be taking a shower more than once with her work in his hands. Frankie put the steamy back into sex, as far as he was concerned.
A grumble of his stomach drew him out of the story and he noted the time. Not that the long shadows decorating his living room didn’t fill him in to begin with. “Did it again,” he grumbled. He still forgot to eat without Devyn there to get his ass off the couch and his nose out of whatever he was reading.
Dropping the pages on the table in front of the couch, he lurched to his feet to find the phone and hit speed dial.
“Hi, Angela. It’s Tony Teagan,” he said to the hostess at his favorite Thai house.
“Good evening, Mr. Teagan.” Her voice was whimsical, warm. “The usual tonight?”
“Yes, please. Delivery.”
Tony heard the tap of keys on the other end. “Look for our driver in about thirty-five minutes.”
“Thank you.” He hung up and reclaimed his comfy spot on the couch, tucking in firmly to the pillows behind him. Devyn would have had a fit if he knew how often Tony was now eating out. Devyn had been the chef, not Tony. He could manage the coffeemaker and the microwave. More than that and he was proven to be the inept one in their relationship. Why change something at this late stage had been his oldest argument, the kind that always had Dev laughing at him right before he would be engulfed in loving arms for a heated kiss or more.
Tony placed the pages in his hand on his thighs, rubbing stiff fingers over his eyes. Moments of melancholy were rarer. At least they’d had twelve years together to make memories, good memories.
Devyn had been a prince, the sweetest man when they’d met.
Tony dropped his chin to his chest, concentrating to even his breathing before the heat in his eyes turned to tears. “I miss you so much, Dev.”
Sucking in a shaky breath, he steadied himself and grasped the loose pages on his lap, determined to give Frankie his absolute attention. At least he knew she’d give him a happy ending, something he once thought he’d have for the rest of his life.
BRANDON popped through the rear doors of the restaurant and walked toward Mikahl’s driver stand. The restaurant did a booming business out front, but the delivery was well-known for being prompt and personable, which put them in high demand. “Here are the receipts for Dessel and Hopkins.”
“Thanks.” Mikahl palmed them and slapped them into the register account book. He quickly wrote down notes on a tablet by his elbow and then spoke into the headset on his ear. Brandon didn’t really focus on any of it, just glad to get thirty seconds to be still.
The quiet didn’t last long before he was handed another order. “Brandon! My man! I have a hot one.” One of the cooks slid it across the rear chrome counter toward Mikahl, who quickly bagged it up and printed the order tally.
“Where to?” He lifted the receipt and read the address. Lucas Street? He swept a quick look to Mikahl. “Wait. Doesn’t Rodney usually take this area?”
“He’s already out, and Mr. Teagan is one of our best customers.” Mikahl patted a shoulder. “He’s a good tipper. Don’t let the area intimidate you.” He gave a directed push to go with an impatient don’t waste time wave.
“Okay,” Brandon said, hiding his tiredness before Mikahl picked up on it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do the delivery, but the houses up in the hills did intimidate him. He slipped out the back door to the alley where the delivery guys parked their cars: his, Rodney’s, and Paul’s, who were both already out. After packing the Styrofoam boxes into the insulated cube carrier, he settled it on the passenger seat, and once he was in, buckled it down, then did the same for himself.
Looking at the clock display, he noticed he still had two hours of deliveries before he would be off for the night. After that, he had about an hour to squeeze in some studying and then sleep before he went into his other job at the coffee shop.
He knew finishing college was going to be hard. Putting the car into gear, he refused to think about where he could have been if only he’d agreed to do things his parents’ way.
As in denounce being gay.
Brandon could denounce a lot of things: his love of mystery thrillers, his love of cheesecake—but he couldn’t denounce being gay.
It had been three years since he’d last seen his parents. They’d withdrawn financial aid for his degree, which had put him working two jobs instead of just the one at the coffee shop. He liked both, for different reasons. The coffee shop because there were always interesting customers and discussion, everything from politics to the latest fashion trends to who in Hollywood had adopted a dog or a kid.
As for the delivery night job, that just kept him moving. No matter how tired he was, he never noticed until he was done for the day. Usually an hour or so of studying and reading was about all his fatigued brain could manage before he dumped himself headfirst into bed. He would rise the next morning, before dawn, to do it all again.
It was hard, but it wasn’t killing him, and until then, he refused to give up on his dreams. He was slowly making progress toward his degree. He wasn’t going to let it slip through his fingers now, even without his parents’ help. It would have been easier, but this was life—his life—and he had to work with what he was dealt.
An upbeat song started on the radio and he cranked it. One other good thing about the night job: he could sing to his heart’s content as loud as he wanted. He could be his own rock star behind the wheel, and no one knew anything about it.
Lucas Street appeared in front of him and he made the left, gaping just a little at the large homes. They were beautiful marble and stone creations, with pristine lawns, trimmed bushes and shrubs, and large leaf-filled trees. Paradise in the middle of town, or actually on the north side of town, but no one was that picky, least of all Brandon.
Eyeing the ticket quickly, he released it and hunted house numbers. “Lawdy, Miss Mae. I do hope he’s a tipper,” he drawled in a sultry falsetto. He rolled to a stop at the curb and double checked the numbers.
Brandon hopped from the car in front of the right house and grabbed the insulated carrier in sure palms. He skipped up the four steps to the door and hit the doorbell with a thumb. A moment or two was all it took.
“That was quick tonight, Rod—Oh, sorry. I thought you were Rodney.”
The hunk in the doorway short-circuited Brandon’s brain for about three solid seconds. Sleek, satiny black workout shorts and a soft-as-suede T-shirt that fit his chest like a dream. And that was just what was directly in front of his eyes. He wanted to take all the time in the world to investigate and stare, but the man’s voice dispelled his visual groping.
“How much is it?”
“Huh?” Brandon blinked and shook himself, feeling his face heat like a bonfire on the beach. With his fair skin, he knew it was impossible to pretend it didn’t happen. “Sorry.” He hunted for the ticket, using it as an excuse to get his tongue into the right gear. “Fourteen eighty-three.”
“Sounds right. Are you new?”
Brandon slipped the boxes from the insulator. “No, Rodney was already out,” he replied lamely, hiding his jealousy that this guy was one of Rodney’s regulars. No one in Brandon’s area, as of yet, had turned out looking like this god.
“Oh. Well, here.” He handed over two bills. “Keep the extra.”
“But….” Brandon stared at the two twenties. Forty bucks? Seriously?
A dark-brown eyebrow hiked up over sparkling eyes. “Unless you don’t want it,” he teased.
“Oh! Um. It’s… just… unexpected.”
The man in front of him dipped his head and Brandon realized he was hunting for the name tag on his shirt. “It’s okay, Brandon. I believe in paying it forward. I didn’t always have those two twenties to rub together, much less splurge on Thai food. I remember,” he offered with a smile. “Thanks for bringing it tonight. Maybe I’ll get to see you again.”
He took a step backward and Brandon realized he was going to close the door. Brandon didn’t know how to stop him, so with a final glimpse of the man’s facial features to store and fantasize on later, he spun and trotted to his waiting car.
“God, Rodney. No wonder you love this street,” he muttered when he was sitting behind his steering wheel again.
Brandon smoothed his hair and his clothes with barely steady flicks of his fingers, hoping he looked put together and not thrown together, which was closer to the truth. Then he walked through the front door of West TonDe Press, trying to show he was confident even though he really had no idea what the modeling suggestion would involve. The pulse of AC-driven air was quick to chill his skin as his nerves snapped.
He spotted a woman at a desk and, as a guess, walked to her.
Her head popped up from the computer she was typing on. She smiled warmly before saying, “Hi. Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Mr. Teagan.” Brandon fisted his hand to hide the tremors.
Before she could answer, Ralph came swirling into the lobby. “Clara! Get Diane on the phone. Georgia is late! Oh. Hi there. Brandon, right?” He thrust out a hand and Brandon shook almost mechanically, absolutely speechless at the whirlwind before him. “Glad to see you could drop in for a few minutes. Clara, let me know if Diane knows where her girl is, would you?” He swept an arm over Brandon’s shoulders. “Come with me. I have all kinds of ideas I want to use you for.”
“But…. Where’s Tony?” Brandon followed, though stiffly. He felt utterly out of place amid the finery of the office and Ralph’s obviously designer composition of color and material, most of which was silk. Ralph was a glistening rainbow on steroids. Ralph clearly loved color.
“Probably in his office,” Ralph replied with a blasé wave of his hand. They swept around a corner, nearly taking out a tall potted palm in the process. Ralph tapped a knuckle to a closed door as they passed it. “That man gets lost all the time in whatever he’s reading at the moment. Devyn was the only reason he ever remembered to eat.”
Before Brandon could form a reply, Ralph swept him into a small studio-like room with white screens and little else. “Okay. Off with the shirt. I wasn’t kidding. I have to see what you’ve got to know where I can use you.”
“My shirt?” Brandon took a step back and jolted when he accidently bumped a stool.
“Yes, dear.” Ralph tapped his lip as though considering something deeply.
“He didn’t say anything about this,” Brandon was quick to point out. He clasped at the stool to keep it from teetering over. I thought he’d said this was legit. Brandon’s self-preservation warnings were blaring like National Weather Service bursts.
“Because I haven’t had a chance to tell you anything.”