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Max MacGowan is a work in progress. They’ve just turned forty, and are determined not to go gently into that good night. They identify as nonbinary genderqueer, and prefer they/them pronouns. While Max lives in North Carolina, they daydream constantly of Seattle and Portland and all other colorful points West. In the meantime, they’ll satisfy themselves with coffee and trying every recipe that piques their interest on the Food Network. While they can be quiet, friends will tell you all that still water can’t quite hide Max’s quirky personality, Or maybe it’s the ever-present puckish twinkle in the eyes that’s really to blame.
Max has a fantastic time writing male/male romance, and is especially fond of polyamory, found families, love in unexpected places, friends who become lovers, and romantic comedies. They’re owned by two rowdy tomcats who take pains to make sure their owner doesn’t ever get the status confused.
You can find Max online via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and their website.
You can also send Max an e-mail at email@example.com. They’d love to hear from you!
Male escort Rye Bellamy is looking for a way out. Any way out. He’s getting older, and clients are getting more dangerous. If he doesn’t find something better, he knows he won’t survive.
He sees his chance in Marcus Townsend, a functionally blind Army veteran. Marcus, who refuses to accept his condition as immutable, has a shot at seeing a specialist who might be able to help him—but that doctor’s based on the other side of the country.
When Rye and Marcus meet, they realize they can help each other. Marcus can’t drive, but Rye can. Marcus knows what Rye is, but he likes him anyway. In fact, he more than likes him. Driving cross-country with a near stranger is a daunting task, but Rye’s biggest risk is falling for the gentle, stubborn-hearted soldier—and it might already be too late to stop that.
They plan to part ways when they reach their destination, but plans change as the affection between them grows. Now neither wants their journey to end, but continuing means finding a way to bridge the distance between who they were and who they’d like to become.
It took three buses to carry Rye and Marcus from one side of town to the other. Not the quickest or most discreet way to make for a hideout, for sure, and Marcus made himself extra conspicuous by standing on all of them even when seats were there for the taking.
Rye thought he understood. Soldiers—men—like Marcus stood up tough and tall. If threats came knocking, they answered the damn door.
Good way to get killed, if anyone were to ask Rye.
But they didn’t, and Rye owed Marcus one for the rescue. Rye kept a close watch on their backs all the way there, and as far as he could tell, they weren’t being followed. Made sense. Pardloe wouldn’t have invested too much effort yet, and it wasn’t likely Baldy would go crying to the cops over being beaten up by a hooker. Maybe. He did seem the special kind of stubbornly stupid that could be unpredictable.
But not yet. He had to wake up first. Rye grinned at the notion. Might be suicidal, but it’d been damned satisfying too.
He recognized the motel Marcus led him to, a one-level cinderblock dump just off the highway. Anything less sturdy than concrete would have blown over in the backdraft from passing semis. “I’ve been here before,” Rye said while waiting for Marcus to dig out his key to unlock the metal door painted dogshit brown.
Marcus found his key and made a small noise of satisfaction when he fitted it into the lock. “Oh yeah?”
“Mmm. On business.” Rye regretted saying that right away, but he didn’t apologize. Marcus knew what he was. It’d be his problem if he didn’t like being reminded.
Sometimes Rye wondered if he’d forgotten how to be kind. Maybe it was his brand of special stupidity, but a prickle of irritation ran up the back of his neck and made him want to prove that no, that’s not how it is. He lifted his chin as he followed Marcus into the poky little box of a motel room. “Got a first-aid kit?”
“Say what?” Marcus clicked a lamp on and craned his neck around to peer at Rye.
“First-aid kit.” Rye took Marcus’s hand and turned it over, palms facing up. Skinned, scraped, a real mess. “If you’ve got a kit, I’ll take care of this for you.”
“It’s nothing but a few scrapes.”
“Do you know what kind of filth was in that alley?” Rye asked, eyebrow up in a sharp arch.
To his surprise, Marcus laughed. Rye hadn’t seen before how his face changed with humor, how wide his smile was, one slightly crooked eyetooth showing. “Yeah, I do. You knocked him out.”
“Damn right, I did. Doesn’t mean you’re immune to lockjaw. Sit on the edge of the bed. I can wash the scrapes out, if nothing else.”
“I’m up on my tetanus shots.” Marcus collapsed his cane and laid it aside. “But if it’ll make you feel better, I keep a kit under the bathroom sink. You can use it on one condition.” He reached up to lightly tap Rye’s cheek. Rye flinched, surprised by the sting. “This needs looking after too. Fair’s fair.”
Hard to argue with that. Rye sneaked a peek at himself in the dim mirror when he dug out the first-aid kit, and winced a second time. Shit. That big bald bull had marked him up good. Mostly bruises, with a fine black eye forming, and one small split over the cheekbone. At least that’d already stopped bleeding, but he’d look like a moth-eaten panda for days. Real sexy.
Not that it mattered anymore, he guessed. Not if Pardloe wouldn’t let him try and make his own way, and he’d jump feetfirst into hell before he went back to doing it Pardloe’s way.
Marcus hadn’t sat on the edge of the bed, but at the doll-sized table the lamp rested on. “Figured you’d need the light,” he explained. “It can be a little dim in here.” His mouth quirked. “Not that I mind, most of the time.”
Rye snorted. This guy. He never stopped. “You always deal with the elephants in the room by stepping on them?”
“Sometimes I try and ride them instead,” Marcus said.
“A smartass, okay. I see how it is now.” Rye turned the second chair around, tested it to make sure it’d hold his weight, and decided he could take the risk. He spread out the contents of the first-aid kit, better stocked than most, and chose a peroxide wipe to start with.
Marcus passed over his hand without being asked, scrapes up, and tucked the other beneath his chin. Sizing Rye up, by whatever means he had. Rye tracked the movement of his eyes as he patted the peroxide over Marcus’s knuckles. “How much can you see?”
“Enough to get by with.” Marcus shrugged one shoulder. “Sometimes.”
Rye blew over the raw skin to soothe the sting. “How much is enough?”
Marcus frowned. “Shapes. Colors. If you’re going to ask how it happened, I got my brains scrambled coming too close to an IED.”
Vague memories of M*A*S*H episodes flickered through Rye’s head. “IEDs. Are those like land mines?”
“Pretty much. The explosion flipped my vehicle upside down. It could have been worse.”
“Everything can always be worse. Doesn’t make bad things any better to say so.”
Marcus gave a short, sharp laugh. “I guess that’s true.”
“It always struck me as a shitty way to deal with life.” Rye tugged at Marcus’s sleeve. “Other hand.”
Marcus gave it over, still watching Rye thoughtfully, as if trying to figure him out. That was fine. What Marcus saw was what he’d get, pretty much.
“My cousin Jessie would like you.”
It was about the last thing Rye had expected to hear from him, but Marcus had a way of doing that. Rye liked it. Cleaning up the bits of wrapper scattered across the table, he asked, “You have a lot of family?”
“Not many, and not close. My cousin Chad. Jessie’s his daughter.” He grinned, sudden and quick. “She’s eleven. A real firecracker. Chad’s just about able to keep up with her now, but once she hits the teenage years, he’s going to need so much Zen.”
Rye chuckled. “Yeah, I know the type.”
“I guess you would.”
Rye shot him a sharp, curious look, but he didn’t think Marcus had meant any kind of slam by that. To tell the truth, he thought Marcus might have forgotten he was there, having slipped sideways into a fugue.
Until he spoke, that was. “They mean well, but they don’t get it.”
Rye knew the feeling. No one who’d never been there, like he and Marcus had, ever did.
Marcus blinked himself back to the real world. “Do you have family?”
“None left that I know of.”
“We’re a fine pair,” Marcus murmured. Outside, a rattle resolved itself into raindrops striking the window. Marcus turned his head as if to watch it. “You ever look at your life and think ‘it’s not supposed to be like this,’ or is that a dumb question?”
“Sometimes.” Rye had finished the job, but didn’t quite want to let go of Marcus’s hands yet. They were good hands. Sturdy rectangular palms, long nimble fingers. He kept his nails trimmed neatly, but not buffed, not polished.
“You ever want to do something about it?” Marcus asked.
Every day. “How did you find me? No, don’t answer that. I know you recognized me. Why did you come after me? No man left behind?”
“Maybe.” Marcus leaned forward thoughtfully. “I’d had a bad day. Seemed like a way to make it better. And because I liked you, when I met you.”
Rye traced the pattern of the lifelines on Marcus’s palms. Slow, slow, steady and slow. He watched Marcus shiver, faint goose bumps rippling up his arms. “Is that so?”
“That’s so.” Marcus had the kind of voice that reverberated in Rye’s chest, so deep, and his lips were untouched by any bruises.
Rye didn’t mean to lean over the table and touch his mouth to Marcus’s. It just happened.
Oh, Marcus did have a sweet mouth. His lips parted slightly—surprised by being kissed—and a whisper of his air passed over Rye’s chin. Rye took hold of Marcus’s shirt, warmed by his skin, bumping his knuckles against the smooth, hard muscles beneath. He slipped his hand under the shirt, and a hint of golden hair tickled his fingers as he ran them along the edge of Marcus’s stomach.
He could see himself reflected in Marcus’s eyes when he let go, his image scruffy and dark. Marcus’s throat worked in a hard swallow, but he didn’t react the way he had every right to. Didn’t throw a punch, didn’t curl his lip, didn’t push Rye away.
Rye licked his lips once, knowing he’d never forget that taste.
Then he lifted Marcus’s hands and summoned up a cheeky grin. “Standard procedure is to kiss it better, but that’s usually for kids. Figured I’d jazz it up. Hope you don’t mind.”
Marcus laughed. Rye thought he was as pleased as he was startled, and Rye had had plenty of experience at reading people. Good.
“That’s twice now,” Rye told Marcus, knuckling him lightly in the ribs. “Then again, after that alley, I think the score’s even. But I’ll still tell you to take care of yourself. I get the feeling you’re not too good at that.”
“You think?” Marcus asked wryly. He’d leaned back when Rye broke the kiss, but he hadn’t run. “What about you? Will you be all right?”
“I’ll be fine. Always am.”
“Uh-huh.” Marcus curled his lip in display of a good bullshit meter. Rye approved even if it made the situation stickier for him. “Stay for a while. It’s still raining. I can’t kick you out in the rain.” He grinned suddenly. “I think there are rules against that sort of thing.”
Rye usually only had one reason for hanging out in a motel room, quality or shitty, but Marcus’s tiny smile was infectious, evoking an equal response. “No union where I come from.”
“Even so.” Marcus cocked his head. “If you leave, I’ll get worried, and then I’ll have no choice but to come and find you on the street. You know I’ll do it.”
He would too. Rye had no trouble imagining that, and Bleeker was no place for anyone good after dark. He rubbed his jaw, careful of the bruises, and then let out a breath. He knew when he was beaten.
But he’d have to be careful. That kiss…. Big mistake. One taste of Marcus only made him want more, and Marcus had made it pretty damn clear already that he didn’t want what Rye had to give. Even for free.
It was the sweetness of him. How was a man, even one like Rye, supposed to turn away from that?
And yet…. No. If nothing else, Rye knew how to control himself and to be what a man needed from him. What Marcus needed was a friend. That it benefited Rye, and that Rye hadn’t had a friend in too many years, was incidental.
“I’ll stay for a little while. Till it stops raining.”