Beauty is only skin deep, but some marks—and what they represent—are impossible to escape.
Eric resents his comfortable college life and the restrictions his family’s expectations put on him. Dwayne, his best friend Angel’s cousin, is a pierced and tattooed ex-con trying to rebuild his life. Eric sees only the tattoos and the way Dwayne’s upbringing have dictated his future. It takes a surprising revelation from Angel to force Eric to see past Dwayne’s defenses to the generous heart beneath and to realize it’s time for him to break free of his own instilled beliefs. The men can’t keep apart, and they gradually learn that everything they thought they knew about each other might be wrong.
Opposites attract as two men from very different backgrounds move from enemies to lovers in a story of understanding, compassion, and redemption.
First Edition published by Pink Petal Books, 2011.
THE SLAM of the back door closing rattled the kitchen cupboards, jerking Eric out of the slug-like sleep of the overindulgent. A low, throaty “Fuck you too, asshole” in a voice he didn’t immediately recognize drove away some of the fog. The heavy snarl of a muscle car engine outside and the squeal of tires dissipated the rest. Still. He wasn’t ready to open his eyes. Not quite yet.
He grimaced as he rolled over. Even that amount of movement reminded him why he shouldn’t have gone to the bar with Angel after they’d lost the game by two stinking baskets last night. Why he’d agreed to crash at his teammate’s dumpy apartment was now far beyond him. He always ended up on the too short couch with his feet hanging over the arm. Rooms went to couples, and since Marcus had basically shut him down at Christmas, not only was he not part of a couple, he was done with guys. The whole scene no longer interested him.READ MORE
His own bed in his own apartment, now that interested him. He’d give a lot for it right about now. His bed, his blackout curtains, and the nice, soft comforter that actually covered all of his extra-long frame defined heaven for him in his current agony. The ache of sunlight pressed on his closed eyes, warmed the air around his head, and baked his brain. His already pickled brain. He let out a low, miserable moan.
“Wakey, wakey.” A hard slap on his ass jerked him to sitting.
“What the fuck! Oh Jesus.” He doubled over and braced his head between his hands. That pain momentarily eclipsed the lingering smart of the slap.
His outburst and subsequent collapse earned a chortle from the interloper. Dwayne. He might be Angel’s cousin, but they were nothing alike. Angel was studious and determined. Dwayne had a part-time bike courier job and who knew what he did with the rest of his time. Angel was clean-cut, down-to-earth, and generous. Dwayne, covered in tattoos, was perpetually scowling and irritating, filling up Angel’s space with his there-ness.
Now, he plopped down on the couch beside Eric with a little wince. “Fuck me, my ass is sore,” he muttered.
Eric peered at him from between his fingers. “Why do I need to know that?”
A tiny leer played about Dwayne’s lips. He observed Eric from the corner of his eye, dark brown glittering at him from between lush black lashes. A gold barbell piercing through his eyebrow shone in the sunlight, and a shard of diamond in his nose, bright against his dark skin, blazed a spear of sunlight into Eric’s eyes.
Eric curled a lip and yanked the blanket he’d had wrapped around him out from under Dwayne’s ass. “Fuck off.”
“Baby. So hostile.” He grinned as he wrapped a strong, calloused hand around the back of Eric’s neck and squeezed.
Eric told himself the flash of white teeth from between those full lips was not what made his morning wood pulse in his loose boxers. The scrape of rough skin across his nape was annoying, not arousing. He balled the blanket up in his lap.
Dwayne yanked on him, and he almost toppled into his lap. “Little twinge just means I got some action.” He wiggled his tongue out and clicked the piercing in the tip against his teeth. “You got the couch again, I see.”
Eric shoved Dwayne’s hand off him. “Excuse me for having some fucking standards,” he snarled, scrubbing a hand through hair he knew would be standing out in messy blond spikes across his head.
“Oh, darlin’, you keep tellin’ yourself that.” Dwayne laughed.
“You are a fucking train wreck waiting to happen.”
“And you have a potty mouth this morning, Eric Sinclair. What’s wrong? Got a stiffy and no one to take care of it for you? Again? And here I thought all you had to do was bat those baby blues and people fell at your feet begging.”
“Eat shit,” Eric muttered. He would have gotten up, walked away, but why confirm Dwayne’s speculation? About the stiffy, not about people falling at his feet. He had his share of offers. Last night at the bar had been no exception. But unlike Dwayne, he wasn’t interested in a hookup who saw blond hair, blue eyes, and a bank account and didn’t care what went on in his head.
“Aw.” Dwayne patted his knee. “Pretty boy didn’t get any nibbles last night?” He waggled that tongue again, and his hand slid upward. “Maybe you just need to loosen up. Not think so hard. It can be a strain, using so many brain cells all at once.”
Was it less insulting that Dwayne at least mocked him to his face? His head gave a vicious throb, and he moaned.
Dwayne just grinned lasciviously with more tongue action. The piercing there did not make Eric wonder what else was modified, or curb his desire to palm himself at the images that popped into his head.
Seriously? Fantasies about this asshole?
“Go wash your john off. That’s disgusting.” Eric gave him a halfhearted shove, trying hard to ignore the zing of electric heat that shot up his arm as his palm contacted Dwayne’s sweat-slick bicep.
Dwayne sighed and shook his head. “Manners, darling.” He got up and sashayed off to the bathroom.
Eric groaned and flopped over into the empty space. Thank God the horrific smells of stale beer and old pizza overpowered the lingering scent of sex and Dwayne. Still, he kept his cheek pressed to the soft pillow and closed his eyes, letting his imagination go a bit. No way would Dwayne ever know Eric entertained even the slightest thought involving him, or what it might be like to run his fingers over his cornrows. Or how easy it would be to get into the sagging pants he always wore. Or what he might look like under them, because he didn’t carry himself like some of the other out-of-shape swaggering thugs in the neighborhood. But Dwayne never had to know he thought about those things. “Or his tongue. Or his cock. Fuck!” He swore into the couch cushions twice more for good measure.
“What?” Angel had entered the room in his customary silent fashion. He nudged Eric’s head. “Move over.”
“Nothing.” Eric righted himself and looked up Angel’s long, lanky frame.
Angel grinned down at him, one steaming cup of coffee in each hand. Somehow his smile, set against his dark features, was not quite as brilliant as Dwayne’s. “You got the couch again. I’m tellin’ ya, bro, your standards are too high.”
“No, they’re not.” Marianne, Angel’s girlfriend since high school, nestled herself in between Angel and the arm of the couch, her own cup of tea in hand. “Baby, his only standard is anyone he can’t have.”
Eric took the coffee Angel handed him and blew across the top. “That is not true.”
“It is.” She leaned forward to see him, and her long black tresses tumbled over her shoulder and into Angel’s lap. “You remember Annabelle Peters in twelfth grade?”
“She was hot,” Angel reminded her, earning himself a good slap.
“She was also practically married to Simon, even then. If I recall, you lusted after him too. I hear they just had twins. What does that make? Five now?” She picked up her tea bag by the string to dunk it up and down in the steaming water.
“He was hot too,” Eric mumbled, his bottom lip never leaving the warmth of his mug.
“What about what’s-his-name in first year that time?” Angel asked.
“Steven,” Marianne supplied. “Mmm-mm. Gor-geous.” This time she got the slap, which made her squeal.
“And so straight he made Indiana Jones look like a flamer,” Angel added. “And don’t forget Carrie-Anne.”
“Who was not straight,” Eric conceded.
“And then there’s Marcus….” The way Marianne trailed off made Eric wince. “Too soon,” she whispered, and sipped her drink.
“Too soon,” Eric agreed. If anyone ever asked, he’d say he wasn’t that invested in Marcus, so it didn’t matter that Marcus chose someone else over him. But Marianne and Angel didn’t ask. They didn’t have to because they knew him and knew the rejection had smarted more than he wanted to admit.
“You gotta pick someone who’s available, man.” Angel shook his head, then sipped his coffee as he sank back against the lumpy couch cushions. “That’s a disturbing pattern you got going on.”
“There’s no pattern.” Eric protested his friends’ assessment of his love life, but in fact, he had to wonder if maybe they weren’t at least a little bit right. He’d known Marcus was more invested in his ill-advised relationship with one of the professors than he was in his flirtation with Eric. Now Marcus had his teacher, and Eric had a hangover and Angel’s lumpy couch. But Marcus looked happy, which he hadn’t done in a long time. Eric had to credit that to something.
“You know,” Marianne said, once again peering at him around her boyfriend and drawing his attention back to the sun-warmed living room and his hangover, “there is someone I can think of who wants you bad. And he’s available.” She raised one manicured eyebrow over her almond-shaped eye and grinned a sharp, wicked little grin. “I hear his tongue isn’t the only thing he has pierced.”
“Oh fuck no!” Eric took a deep swallow of his coffee. It burned all the way down, but that didn’t stop his mind from shooting straight to the gutter and his heart shooting straight into his throat.
“She’s right.” Angel lolled his head around to look at Eric. “Dwayne’s got a major boner for you, dude.”
“That asshat gets a boner for anyone with a toy to shove up his ass. No, thank you. Pierced or not, no idea where that’s been. Ain’t gettin’ anywhere near me.”
Angel sucked in a breath between his teeth. “Harsh.”
“You aren’t exactly Mr. Upstanding, there, Eric,” Marianne pointed out. “The Marcus fiasco might have slowed you down some, but you’ve had your fair share.”
“Compared to him? I’m the fucking queen mother.”
“You don’t know shit about me.” Dwayne’s words dropped like tiny lead balloons from over the back of the couch.
“Fuck me,” Eric whispered, reluctant to turn around and face Dwayne. Angel craned around, and Marianne set her tea down.
“Dwayne.” She started to get up as Eric at last turned to face him.
Dwayne waved her back. “No, no, don’t get up, sweetness. You kids have a nice slagfest.” He was fully dressed and strapping on his bike helmet. “Some of us work for a living. Days like this”—he wiggled his ass—“being a bike courier just sucks, ya know?” He winked at Eric. “I’ll see you later, sweetcheeks.” He left out the kitchen door, closing it softly behind him.
“Jesus Christ.” Eric flumped back down the right way round on the couch.
“If it’s true,” Angel said quietly, bringing his coffee back to his lips, “no harm saying it, right? You’re just being real.”
Eric snorted. Angel always had a way to point out his mistakes without really saying he’d done anything wrong and still making him feel like shit about it. The last person Eric wanted to owe an apology to was Dwayne Sayer. “Look, Angel—”
“Don’t tell me, sweetcheeks.” He offered Eric his tightest, meanest grin. “Piercings and tattoos and fashion you don’t agree with don’t make a guy a thug.” He stood up and held his hand out to Marianne. “And liking sex doesn’t make him a slut any more than it does you.”
Eric wanted to glare at him, maybe tell him off. But he was right.
Angel shrugged. “Just sayin’.”
Marianne took his hand and got rather more gracefully to her feet. She smiled, leaned over, and kissed Eric’s forehead. “You’re all right, hon. Just apologize. I’m sure he won’t hold it against you.”
Trouble was, part of Eric wanted Dwayne to hold it against him and stay the hell away. Another part of him wanted Dwayne to hold that hot, hard bike courier’s body against his. He just wasn’t sure which part was bigger.COLLAPSE