Guest Post | Second Wind by A.L. Lester

Second Wind: Meet Martin Reed!

Hello everyone! Thanks so much to Ofelia for letting me drop by today to tell you all about Second Wind, my new release.

Second Wind is a new story in my Theatr Fach universe. Theatr Fach (or ‘little theatre’) is the community theatre in the small Welsh seaside town of Llanbarac. The stories focus around the staff and their friends and family. The first story, Out of Focus, came out in the summer and Second Wind is the second. You can read them in any order though.

I’ve dropped in today to tell you a bit about one of the MC’s, Martin.

Second Wind Martin

Martin came to Llanbaruc as a stage manager at Theatr Fach twelve years ago when he’d first gone back to work after having his daughter Shannon. He’d had two years parenting and was increasingly unhappy at home with the baby at the whim of Lee, his husband. Things had begun to fall apart after Martin had a difficult pregnancy and depression once the baby arrived. Lee didn’t understand PND or Martin’s trouble with dysphoria while pregnant. And he resented the lack of cash coming in to the household with Martin not working any more.

Martin finally realised he couldn’t live like that and took Shannon and left. Llanbaruc was a pretty little town with a community feel where he and Shannon could make a home together. Lee was easier to get on with as a co-parent rather than a partner and it was an amicable divorce. When Martin had begun to think he was ready to transition a couple of years after he’d settled in to his job, Lee took it in his stride and backed him up. He’d learned a few lessons along the way over the last few years as well.

Martin’s happy. He’s got a good set of friends here in Llanbaruc. Shannon’s a good kid. They’re a team.

Martin isn’t the first trans character I’ve written, but I think he’s probably the most rounded. I set out to create a character who was happy with himself. I wanted his transness to be incidental to the story rather than the focus. He’s a normal guy, going about his normal life, happy with who and where he is.

Second Wind

Second Wind

What do a shy French-horn-playing accountant and a single-dad trans trumpet player have in common other than both being members of the community orchestra at Theatr Fach in the little town of Llanbaruc?

Gethin’s been more or less hiding from life since his marriage broke up a couple of years ago. He’s joined the orchestra because his sister told him he needed a hobby rather than sitting at home brooding about his divorce.

Martin is careful who he dates because of his gender and his teenage daughter. He came to Llanbaruc as a stage manager for the Theatr Fach twelve years ago. He’s got a good set of friends here. Shannon’s a good kid. They’re a team.

Martin and Gethin hit it off. Will their mutual baggage prove too much to sustain a relationship?

A gentle m/transm romance in the Theatr Fach universe.

Buy Links: Amazon US : Amazon UK : JMS Books : Everywhere Else

Second Wind keywords

Excerpt

“Martin!” Julie, the lead violin, waved him over. “This is Gethin,” she said, her hand on the arm of a tall, thin man nervously clutching a French horn and peering out from behind a thick pair of glasses. He resembled a nervous heron. “He’s new,” she added unnecessarily. “Can you take him under your wing a bit?”

Martin shot her a look. She was a very competent, friendly woman with no tact at all.

“Of course,” he said. “Pleased to meet you, Gethin,” he held out a hand and Gethin took it. “I’m Martin. Trumpet.”

“Gethin Jones,” the thin man said, shaking his hand a little too hard. His palm was warm and firm and he was clearly apprehensive. “Erm. French horn.” He waved his instrument vaguely at Martin. “As you can see.”

Martin smiled. “Come on,” he said. “Brass is over here. Let me introduce you around.” They started picking their way through the chairs. The brass section was made up of Martin and Alan on trumpet, Tim and Lucy on trombone, and Portia, a ten year old who played a tuba almost as large as she was. They were setting up music and gossiping about their week when Martin and Gethin reached them.

“Hullo hullo,” Martin said. This is Gethin Jones.” He waved vaguely at Gethin beside him. “Gethin, this is Tim, Lucy, Alan and Portia.” Everyone made noises of greeting. The room was beginning to echo with the sound of instruments being tuned and scales being played. It was a familiar cacophony.

“Are you Marion’s Gethin?” Lucy asked suddenly, leaning toward them to be heard over the cat-like screech of a young violinist and a burp from Portia’s tuba.

Beside him, Gethin tensed. “Not any more,” Gethin said brusquely, nodding. “But yes. I used to be.”

Lucy nodded, blushing. “Sorry,” she said. “My sister is Penny Wright. They went to school together. Penny told me what happened.”

Gethin nodded again. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, again. He didn’t add anything else. He seemed almost paralytically shy. But then, Martin would be reticent if he knew everyone was talking about his private business.

“I’ll go and get you some music,” Martin said, forestalling any more awkwardness. “Here, stick your horn down on the seat and grab yourself a music stand from the stack in there”. He gestured at the open door of the cupboard behind them.

The spare sheet music was on the table at the front. He made his way across the room, wending around chairs and people offering greetings until he could pick up a sheaf.

Julie met him there. “Is he all right?” she hissed at Martin, glancing past him over his shoulder at Gethin, an anxious expression on her face.

“Yes? Why shouldn’t he be?” Martin asked, frowning at her, puzzled.

“He’s Posey Morgan’s brother,” Julie hissed some more. “You know. Posey the health visitor?”

Martin shook his head. “Not my area,” he said apologetically. “Never met her.” He couldn’t remember who Shannon’s health visitor had been. An older woman though, no-one who could have been the sister of someone Gethin’s age.

Julie scowled at him, apparently blaming him for his lack of knowledge. “Well, she said he needed to get out of the house,” she continued, still hissing. “His wife left him two years ago and he’s become a recluse, she told me. I suggested he come along here to help take him out of himself.”

Martin bit his lip. As a gentle first step back in to a social life, he had his doubts about the suitability of the orchestra. One of it’s other activities was going to the pub after practice on a Friday and drinking steadily ‘til closing time. And there was a country-dancing-for-exercise sub-set of members he tried to avoid … they’d invited him along to one of the sessions and he’d been crippled for days afterwards.

“So?” he said. “He seems perfectly normal.”

“The wife took off with his best friend,” Julie told him, shooting another guilty look over his shoulder at the brass section, who were settling the newcomer in their midst like a chicken in a nest of ferrets. Martin stopped himself turning properly to look at them, watching out of the corner of his vision.

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Martin promised. “Does he actually play?”

“He brought it in to the shop to have it serviced,” she said. “He seemed to know what he was doing. And Posey said he played at school. But I don’t think he’s done much of anything for a while.” She pulled a face. “He’s an accountant.”

Buy Links: Amazon US : Amazon UK : JMS Books : Everywhere Else

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AllyAbout A. L. Lester

Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, mostly. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, some poultry. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.

Facebook Group : Mastodon : Twitter : Newsletter (free story) : Website : Link-tree for everywhere else

Guest Post | Coming of Age by Ellie Thomas

Ellie Thomas is back on the blog, yay! Welcome, Ellie 🥰

Coming of Age Promo 4

Thank you so much, lovely Ofelia, for having me as your guest again. I’m Ellie Thomas, I write MM Historical Romance, and I’m here today to chat about Coming of Age, my November release for JMS Books.

Coming of Age is the third story in my Twelve Letters series about the lives and loves of a group of young men in Regency London. The series expands mainly because the characters keep wandering into my head to continue their story!

By this stage, we have three established couples. Firstly, Captain Ben Harding and Doctor Edward Stephens, then gentleman about town Jo Everett and Daniel Walters, a Bond Street tailor, who met their love matches in the first story, Twelve Letters. Thirdly, we have an unlikely couple in Regency himbo Percy Havilland and sensible older man Nathan Brooks. This couple stopped squabbling long enough to fall in love in the second story, Queer Relations. In this third story, our assorted couples struggle with relationships and life circumstances while supporting each other as a group.

As I am a self-confessed history nerd, there’s nothing I enjoy more than poring over an antique online map or looking up a specific place where my characters will meet, or checking a history timeline for world events in the year I’m writing about. But what floats my boat is social history and that element always creeps into my characters and stories.

Percy and Nathan are both rich and privileged enough to escape conformity to a certain extent, but as they grow closer in this story, Percy shoulders more family obligations, which puts an inevitable strain on his temper and so, their relationship. Ben and Edward remain blissfully happy, with Edward outwardly acting as Ben’s personal physician, but their lasting togetherness is threatened by Edward’s father. Unaware of the nature of their union, the older Doctor Stephens fears that his clever son is throwing away his career prospects by pandering to a single wealthy patient, which puts poor Edward in an impossible situation.

Jo, my main character in Twelve Letters, has a conundrum to solve as he has fallen in love out of his own class. Jo might not be hugely wealthy but he’s still a gentleman by rank, whereas Daniel, his true love, although in a respectable and upwardly mobile trade, is still a working man. Within their small society, their love is entirely accepted, but in wider society, even their friendship would be viewed as unsuitable, and of course, in a time where gay relationships were illegal, they cannot afford any suspicion to fall on them. As Jo miserably concludes, if they were both gentlemen by birth, they could share lodgings apparently as companions and no one would be any the wiser, and so the class barrier for their future happiness seems insurmountable.

I thoroughly enjoyed causing historically apt problems for our ensemble cast, so that as couples and loyal friends, they could attempt to solve their difficulties. Now they have all fallen in love during the first two books, Coming of Age is about the shifts in relationships as circumstances change and the commitment needed for lasting love. But I have every faith in my boys that they will overcome their obstacles, if not in this story, then the next!

Coming of Age:

comingofageAfter the London Season of 1815, having guided his younger sister Eustacia through her come out despite the social impact of a disastrous family scandal, Percy Havilland is at a loose end. Accustomed to being spoiled and generally admired, although still wealthy, he is shunned by most of the ton. Also, he discovers that he misses looking after his sister now she’s returned to the family estate in Sussex. Taking his frustrations out on Nathaniel Brooks, his long-suffering lover, only makes Percy more uncertain about his future.

Also, Percy’s good friend Jo Everett is having his own problems, thwarted in his dearest wish to share a home with the love of his life, Daniel Walters, a hardworking Bond Street tailor. And the final couple in the ensemble, Captain Ben Harding and Dr Edward Stephens realises the course of true love doesn’t always run smoothly.

Can this society of gentlemen solve their romantic dilemmas to their satisfaction? And might Percy, with a birthday looming, surprise himself by opening up to love?

Extract:

In between dances with his hostess’ daughters, Jo could not help but witness a complementary series of moves around the edge of the ballroom as the night progressed. 

He had arranged to arrive with Percy, well aware that despite Percy’s formal invitation and the good graces of a favoured guest in Mrs. Dalrymple, walking into a crowded salon alone could be an isolating experience where those who wished to be disparaging would take full advantage. Jo’s presence was a welcome buffer, and it was no hardship for him to ensure a cordial start to the evening.

Naturally, the two men separated as the music commenced, with both of them engaged on the dance floor. Mrs. Southerby was not only financially generous towards the soldiers’ charity that Jo oversaw, but also showed great interest in helping in several practical ways, so Jo felt duty bound to demonstrate his gratitude by squiring her numerous female relatives for the remainder of the soirée.

Without such pressing obligations, Percy could afford to pause from dancing and bow out for a set or two. Halfway through the evening, from his position in the centre of the ballroom, Jo noticed Nathan’s entrance during one such refreshment break. Uh-oh, he thought as Nathan perceived Percy immediately, his rough-hewn features hardening into a scowl.

Percy, with his back to the door where Nathan had entered, was engaged in a lengthy conversation with the amiable Mrs. Dalrymple, his great supporter, who enjoyed nothing so much as an extensive and harmless flirtation with a gorgeous young man in a public setting. Jo was too occupied with guiding a somewhat wayward and chatty dance partner through her steps to gather the precise moment when Percy became aware that his disgruntled lover was present.

To an unpractised eye, it would seem as though Percy was entirely oblivious of Nathan for a full quarter-hour, but Jo had been at the receiving end of Percy’s games sufficiently to recognise some small but telling signs. In the old days, before Percy became involved with Nathan, Jo surmised as he twirled yet another young lady, Percy would have openly played the coquet with several of his most avid admirers to arouse jealousy or ardour in the breast of his current paramour.

Although Percy’s coterie had diminished somewhat with his family’s fall from grace, he would still be able to gather a circle of potential suitors had he so wished, but genuine attachment had modified his strategies. So Percy alternated between squiring ladies onto the dance floor before returning to exchange a few more words with his hostess or Mrs. Dalrymple. Nathan, who was not disposed to dance, and was much vaunted for his financial and business prowess, was talking in a quiet corner with other serious-minded gentlemen. 

Jo could not help but notice how, apparently artlessly, Percy orbited closer, casually selecting dance partners in ever-decreasing circles to Nathan’s proximity. Once they were within touching distance, instead of confrontation or apology, there was a teasing glance, just a flash of those glorious blue eyes directed at Nathan. The next occasion warranted a delicate half-smile revealing a hint of a dimple. 

Depending on the prowess of his current dance partner, Jo watched this progress with fascination as Nathan’s forbidding expression subtly softened at each circuit until Percy’s careful choreography drew them together. By the time Jo consumed a well-deserved glass of punch and discreetly mopped his brow with his handkerchief, the previously warring duo was standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Percy tilted his golden head winningly as he uttered a bon mot that made Nathan smile in genuine amusement, all annoyance forgotten.

Jo was unsure whether to be impressed or appalled at Percy’s scheming ways and his ability to manipulate the most clear-thinking and hard-headed fellow from a state of severe exasperation to pliable putty. 

He wasn’t remotely surprised when shortly afterwards, Percy prettily made his excuses to his hostess, with Nathan taking his leave after a decent interval of a full five minutes. So neither of them will suffer a lonely night, Jo thought with a grin. All’s well that ends well. That is, until the next spat.  

Book links:

Publisher: https://www.jms-books.com/ellie-thomas-c-224_420/coming-of-age-p-4523.html

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BM3TKRFD/ref=sr_1_1?crid=61N4W4RNC5D5&keywords=coming+of+age+by+ellie+thomas&qid=1668178195&sprefix=coming+of+age+by+ellie+thomas%2Caps%2C167&sr=8-1

Universal Book Link: https://books2read.com/u/3kYg9L

Bio:

Ellie Thomas lives by the sea. She comes from a teaching background and goes for long seaside walks where she daydreams about history. She is a voracious reader especially about anything historical. She mainly writes historical gay romance.

 Ellie also writes historical erotic romance as L. E. Thomas.

Website: https://elliethomasromance.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elliethomasauthor/

Twitter: @e_thomas_author

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19835510.Ellie_Thomas

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/ellie-thomas

Release Day | The Setup

It’s release day!!! 🥳

Normally, at this moment in the process, I’ve been posting about my upcoming release all over social media, I’ve written blog posts, both for my blog and other blogs where I talk about it, I’ve sent out ARCs and kept track of ranking on Amazon etc.

I haven’t done any of that this time. My mother passed away a few days ago, and in the days leading up to her passing, I spent in her room at the hospital. I didn’t turn on my computer for days, didn’t check my email or log into any social media.

But now we’re here, and this story is just what I need. Both because it forces me to focus on something other than grief, and because it’s short and it’s fluffy.

I wrote it back in July – I think it was July – because all Christmas stories had an early deadline, so when the edits came, I’d almost forgotten it. I hadn’t forgotten the story as such, but I’d forgotten that Ellis makes me laugh, and I needed to laugh.

We’re back in Nortown, though considering there is a snowstorm and Ellis and Dax are trapped in Dax’s cabin, we don’t see much of the town filled with queer lumberjacks 😆

Neither Dax nor Ellis wants to date. Dax because he doesn’t want to be in a relationship, Ellis because he’s drowning in work and doesn’t have the time. Their friends don’t listen, and when Dax and Ellis realise they’ve been set up, they plan their revenge.

I had so much fun writing this one, and who doesn’t love a snowed-in kind of story??

Below you can read the first chapter.

The Setup

the setupThree years ago, Dax Howard got out of a bad relationship and swore never to date again. He loves his picturesque cabin outside Nortown and is looking forward to three weeks of quiet over the holidays. He hadn’t foreseen a stranger turning in on his driveway in the middle of a snowstorm, claiming he’s there for a date.

Ellis Rush has risked his neck driving in a snowstorm to meet his friend Daniel and his boyfriend Dom for a double date he agreed to go on as a favor. Reaching the destination, he can’t see Daniel’s car anywhere, and when the mountain of a man opening the door says he’s never agreed to go on a double date, Ellis realizes he’s been played.

The more Ellis explains the situation, the more annoyed Dax gets. Dom is one of his closest friends, and he does not appreciate the setup, no matter how intrigued he is by Ellis. Since the roads are undrivable, Dax invites Ellis to stay, and together they plot their revenge. Cooking for Ellis, kissing Ellis, and sleeping next to Ellis isn’t the same thing as dating, is it?

Buy links

Contemporary Gay Romance: 14,382 words

JMS Books :: Amazon

Chapter 1

Ellis Rush tightened his hold on the steering wheel. He was gonna strangle Daniel, and then right before he died, he was gonna let up a fraction, so he could breathe for a second, only to then strangle him again. His brain painted a vivid image of his face turning blue. It didn’t look anything like how he assumed people being strangled looked, more like Daniel had become a member of the Blue Man Group.
The point was Daniel being blue and Ellis being pissed off as hell.
He was in the middle of fucking nowhere, not seeing more than a couple of feet ahead, and the snow was coming down in fast-falling, cracker-sized flakes. How the hell would he get home again?
Had he passed Nortown? Maybe he had. Daniel said it wasn’t more than a blip on the map. He’d gotten off the highway by the first sign to Nortown, as Daniel had told him to, but all he could see was snow.
He should turn around. Go home. Daniel would understand. Double dates weren’t something they did, and he sure as hell didn’t do blind dates. If Daniel wanted to date some small-town god, then he could do it without involving Ellis.
Fuck, this was stupid.
A knot formed in his gut. He’d been too focused on not getting stuck in the snow or driving off the road to think about the date. He had wine. Daniel claimed he was in charge of drinks, which was unfair. Why should he supply wine for four people, two of whom he didn’t know. He didn’t know if they liked wine. He’d bought both red and white since Daniel had failed to inform him what they were eating, and then he’d grabbed a few beers too since Daniel’s new obsession was a mountain man. Sasquatch. Daniel claimed he worked in a sawmill, but Ellis got serious Bigfoot vibes—he hadn’t met him, but he could sense these things. Demond was clearly a made-up name. No one in their right mind named their kid Demond… unless they were demons.
He had it all wrong. Daniel’s new boyfriend wasn’t Bigfoot. He was a demon.
Sighing, he slowed. He couldn’t see the road for all the snow and crept forward. If he had an accident and died, he’d haunt Daniel for an eternity.
Reaching for his phone in the cup holder, he growled. There was no reception. That settled it. He was gonna die. Being out of reception only happened in movies, not in real life. And when it happened in movies, there would either be a serial killer or a monster. Bigfoot and his friend would have him for dinner. Crap! He’d brought the wine, so they had something to wash him down with.
Squinting ahead, he believed there was a light flickering, maybe. He didn’t dare look away from the road long enough to make sure, but with luck, he was here.
He wished he could stop and double-check on his phone, but he’d have to live with the embarrassment if he was in the wrong place instead. Turning in at the driveway, he yelped at how his car sank into the deep snow. When they came running for him with forks at the ready, wanting to eat him, there was no way he’d be able to drive out of here. He didn’t think Bigfoots—Bigfeet?—would stop and allow him to shovel his car out of the snow before they attacked.
For a few seconds, he rested his forehead against the steering wheel. If Daniel wasn’t dead already, he’d kill him.
With a deep breath, he opened the door and looked down at the snow. It was knee deep, if not deeper, and he wore sneakers and his good jeans. He might not want to be on this date, but he never went on one without making sure his ass looked divine.
Better bring the bottles at once so he wouldn’t have to walk back through the snow to get them if he was at the right place.

* * * *

Dax Howard watched some idiot in a car turn in on his driveway. He hadn’t shoveled it. The snow was coming down hard. It had started snowing while he’d still been at work, but it was a Friday night, and he’d be off for the coming three weeks. He hadn’t planned on going anywhere for a few days and wouldn’t be shoveling anything until it had stopped snowing.
What kind of halfwit drove in weather like this?
For a moment, he considered going out on the landing and waving him away, but it was already too late. He’d already buried half his car in the snow.
Dax sighed and went to put on his rubber boots. It was knee deep out there. He grabbed his jacket and put on gloves. The snow shovel was out on the landing, leaning against the wall, and he had another in the garage. Though he wasn’t looking forward to trudging through the snow to get there. If someone was stupid enough to drive in this weather, surely they had a snow shovel in their car.
He yanked the door open only to draw back since the man standing there had a hand raised to knock, and Dax had been punched enough times to know he wasn’t in the mood to get a fist in his face.
“Oh, shit, I’m sorry.” The man moved back so fast Dax reached for him. He didn’t touch him, but it was instinctive to try to halt his fall. He didn’t fall, but he balanced on the edge of the landing for a few seconds.
“It’s okay. You need help out of here.” He didn’t make it a question, since it wasn’t one.
“Erm… Daniel isn’t here, is he?”
Daniel? Dax didn’t know any Daniel. “No.”
The man’s shoulders slumped. “Do you know how to get to…” It clinked as he put the plastic bag down in the snow. Glass bottles, wine most likely, Dax recognized the sound. The man grabbed his phone from his pocket and held it up to Dax. “There.” He sighed. “I’m to go there, but there is no reception, so my dot hasn’t moved on the map for the last half hour or so. I hoped I was in the right place.”
Dax frowned. It was his house on the map. “Are you sure you typed in the right address?”
“Is this some kind of practical joke?” The anger glinting in the man’s eyes made Dax look at the phone again.
“It’s my address, but I don’t know any Daniel. Was he supposed to meet you here?” It better not be a joke. He didn’t want to be part of a joke. And if it was a joke, it was at his expense as much as it was at the guy’s.
“You don’t know a Daniel?”
Dax shook his head. “I’ll help shovel your car free of the snow so you can go.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “But this is the address!”
Seconds went by as Dax watched him. “There is no Daniel here, and you shouldn’t be driving in this kind of weather. It’s gonna snow all night. I suggest we get your car free, so you can go home. It’s the safest thing to do.”
The man looked at his car. “Don’t you think I can put it in reverse and back out?”
Dax shrugged. He didn’t think so, but if he didn’t have to shovel, no one would be happier than him.
“Right. Sorry for disturbing you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Dax didn’t move as the man grabbed his bag of bottles and went down the stairs. Hopefully, he’d make it home okay. It wasn’t a night anyone should be out driving, but he was a grown man. He could take care of himself.
It was evident he didn’t have a lick of sense. He wore sneakers in a snowstorm. He was out driving in a snowstorm. He had no gloves and his jacket was way too thin. He drove a red Toyota Yaris. It was a miracle he’d made it as far as he had. He kept his mouth shut, though. The sooner the idiot left, the sooner he could go back to his quiet night in front of the TV.
“Fucking Bigfoot.” The man hopped between his previous footsteps, making the bottles clank in the bag. Dax hadn’t studied his feet, but considering he was a head, if not more, shorter than Dax, he didn’t think he had big feet.
“If the prints are big, it should be easier to step into them.”
The man stared at him over his shoulder. “Huh?”
“Big feet. It’s good with big feet when walking in snow.”
He nodded slowly. “I meant the man Daniel is dating.”
Dax nodded, only to then shake his head, and the man groaned. “He met this mountain man, but I don’t think he’s a mountain man at all. I think he’s Bigfoot. Oh, we’re queer, unless you’d figured it out by now. It’s not contagious. No need to kill me and bury me in the woods. You know what they say about big feet, and who can have bigger feet than Bigfoot? Anyway, Daniel and Yeti—”
“Bigfoot and Yeti aren’t the same.” Dax took a deep breath. He wasn’t surprised by the queer comment. Normally, he couldn’t tell when it came to people. Sometimes there was that spark. You met someone’s gaze, and you knew they were the same, but in general, Dax had been born without a gaydar. This man, Dax would’ve been surprised if he’d said he was straight.
“No, I know, Mr. Know-it-all, but Yeti is a nicer name than Sasquatch.”
Dax fought a grin at the exasperated tone. “You didn’t say Sasquatch, you said Bigfoot.”
“It’s the same thing!”
“I know, but it wasn’t the word you used.”
The man groaned. “I know which word I used.”
“Okay.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Are you making fun of me? Why is everyone making fun of me today?”
Dax hadn’t been, but he couldn’t help but smile.
“It doesn’t matter. Daniel has turned into a necromancer and has summoned a demon.”
Dax was quiet for several seconds. “You didn’t have an accident on the way over here, did you?”
The man widened his eyes. “No.”
His car looked unscratched. “Didn’t get out of the car to have a look around and slip on some ice underneath the snow? Hit your head?”
The man wiggled his fingers at him. “Ah, I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to be nice about calling me insane.”
Dax scowled. “No. I think you might have a concussion, is all. I never meant to imply you were permanently insane.”
He huffed.
“Look, what’s your name?” Dax hoped he wasn’t hurt.
“Ellis Rush, chocolatier extraordinaire.” He bowed.
“Chocolate?”
“The universe’s gift to humans.”
Was being a chocolatier a real job? There was a chocolatier in Whiteport. He’d never been there, but he’d heard people gush about it. “In Whiteport?”
“Ah, you’ve heard of me.”
“Not you specifically, but I’ve heard the… erm… salted caramel fudge, or whatever, is divine.”
“I’m divine.”
Dax laughed. “I’m sure you are. Now, let’s get you out of here so I can get back to my divine life.”

* * * *

Ellis winced. He always talked too much when he was nervous, and while he didn’t think he’d found a mountain man, he’d sure found a mountain of a man, a god of the forest, and it made him weak in the knees. “What’s your name?”
The forest god studied him for several long seconds, and Ellis almost whimpered—he was pathetic that way.
“Dax Howard.”
Dax. Ellis gave a dreamy sigh. It’d look good doodled in a heart. It would fit on a chocolate truffle.
“Are you all right?”
Ellis jumped; having forgotten he was in the presence of a god. “Yes, sure, why wouldn’t I be?”
“You looked like you were spacing out, and I’m still not convinced you’re not suffering from a concussion.”
“Because of Bigfoot?” He took the last few steps until he could reach the handle of the car door. He could see how he hadn’t made the best first impression.
“Among other things.”
Should he be offended? “No concussion. I was born this way.”
“Fascinating.” The tone was dry, but there was a sparkle of amusement in Dax’s eyes.
“I think it is.” He hesitated before opening the car door. “You don’t have a working phone, do you? I should call Daniel.”
“The necromancer?”
Ellis nodded.
“I have a landline.” He gestured toward the house, which looked plucked from a postcard from the Alps.
“Wow, you’re some kind of ancient vampire, aren’t you?”
Dax breathed in deep. “About the head injury—”
“It’s not an injury.”
“Drugs?”
Ellis huffed. “Can I use your ancient device or not?”
“You can use it.”
“I didn’t mean it in a dirty way.”
Dax’s eyebrows climbed his forehead. “What? Dirty how?”
“Your ancient device. I figured you’re a good bit older than me, ancient even, and when I mentioned your device, I didn’t mean your cock.”
Dax didn’t move a muscle for several seconds, and it wasn’t until the world spun around him, Ellis remembered to breathe.
“I’m not sure how to unpack that.”
“No! No need for you to unpack it.” Ellis widened his eyes but couldn’t stop himself from dropping his gaze to Dax’s crotch. Sadly, it was hidden underneath a bulky jacket.
“Jesus, I should take you to a hospital.” Dax eyed Ellis’s car as if he was thinking about commandeering it and drive to a hospital, then he gestured at the house. “Please, go inside and call your friend.”