Lone Wolf (A Bluewater Bay Novel)

Lone Wolf (A Bluewater Bay Novel), by Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-239-4
eBook release: 
Dec 22, 2014
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-240-0
Print release: 
Dec 22, 2014
Word count: 
96,000
Page count: 
358
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Bluewater Bay universe.

This title is part of the The Bluewater Bay 2014 Collection collection. Check out the collection discount!

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Print $18.99   $15.19 (20% off!)
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Hunter Easton is screwed. Fans, producers, and his agent are all chomping at the bit for the next book in his wildly popular Wolf’s Landing series, but he’s got epic writer’s block and is way behind deadline. Then he reads The World Tree, a fanfic novel by his online friend “Lone Wolf.” It isn’t just a great story—it’s exactly what the series needs.

Kevin Hussain is thrilled when “Wolf Hunter” wants to meet up after reading The World Tree. When Wolf Hunter turns out to be Hunter Easton himself, Kevin is starstruck. When Hunter tells him he wants to add The World Tree to Wolf’s Landing, Kevin is sure he’s being pranked. And when their online chemistry carries over—big time—into real life, Kevin is convinced it’s all too good to be true.

The problem is . . . it might be. The book deal, the sex, the money—everything is amazing. But fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Kevin is left wondering if Hunter really loves him, or just loves his book.

Runner-Up: Best Gay Romantic Comedy in the 2015 Rainbow Awards!

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Hunter Easton decided there was definitely something to be said about casually dating a man who loved showers, not to mention shower sex. The stall in Ryan’s bathroom was large enough to clean a truck in and the water pressure was oh-just-so-right. While Ryan dozed in the other room, Hunter positioned himself in the sweet spot that all those nozzles targeted and moved a bit to get his sorest areas massaged. Those between his shoulders. Not the other ones.

Over the sound of the water, he couldn’t hear a thing. Not Ryan’s soft snores, and certainly not Hunter’s phone. That little tyrant was still in the bedroom, and on purpose. His voice mail was rapidly filling up with messages from all the people who really wanted book eight because it meant another large deposit in their various bank accounts.

Ryan’s shower was damn near orgasmic, which was nice when his body had run out of the other kinds of orgasms. Hunter stretched under the water, then leaned forward against the lapis lazuli tiles to enjoy the massage jet hitting his spine. Nothing else existed. Only hot water, steam, his body, and a mind that was very slowly waking up. Yesterday he’d been stressed out, but Ryan had fixed that with a couple of hours in the gym, a steak at a friendly grill, and then lots of sex. Also, Ryan didn’t read fiction. He wasn’t dumb, just a bit of a meathead. If he cracked a cover at all, it was a fitness manual or a nutrition book. No time for paranormal thrillers.

Perfect fit.

Hunter’s brain was kicking into gear and with that came his to-do list. Get coffee. Drive home. Finish chapter ten. Probably return a few calls lest somebody leak to a reporter that he’d gone “missing.” His agent Leanne kept joking that he was the type of author who’d just vanish midseries to join a Buddhist temple in Lhasa. Preemptive mind control via guilt-trip. But it kept him somewhat on the straight (ha) and narrow.

He fully expected several voice mails from Leanne. More from her than anyone else. After all, she was the only one who’d caught on thus far that there might not be an eighth book because . . . because he had no idea what needed to happen next. He’d been beating his head against the wall for months, and he’d reached the point of avoiding his entire office for hours, even days at a time because he couldn’t stare down the barrel of that book anymore. Wolf’s Landing had pretty much poured out of his brain for seven and a half volumes, but now he didn’t know where to go with it. He hadn’t told Leanne what was happening—or not happening, as it were—but she’d caught on regardless. And he just couldn’t deal with her today. He couldn’t deal with anything. All the pressure and obligation was seriously getting old.

The water started to get cold, so Hunter shut it off and stepped out. He dried himself and dressed in the bathroom so he wouldn’t wake Ryan, but as he crept back into the bedroom, Ryan stirred.

“You’re leaving?”

“Yeah.” Hunter slid his phone into his back pocket without daring to look at the screen. “It’s pushing noon.”

Ryan stiffened. He scrubbed a big hand over his face and glared at the clock beside the bed. “I’ll be damned. This is what happens when you keep me up until four.”

Hunter laughed as he leaned down to kiss Ryan’s scruffy cheek. “Well, it was worth it. I’ll see you on Thursday?”

“Mm-hmm. Mind putting the coffee on before you go?”

“Always do.”

“Thanks.”

Shoes and jacket in hand, Hunter left the bedroom. He slipped into them out in the hallway, then swung by the kitchen to put on the coffee for Ryan. He’d have stayed for a cup himself but Ryan had the most horrendous taste in coffee. And even if he didn’t, it would just be an excuse for Hunter to hang around here until Ryan was awake and presentable, which would lead to breakfast, which would lead to sex all fucking afternoon. And then he’d still be here tomorrow morning, avoiding his cell phone all over again.

He’d get coffee down at the ferry.

He made his way through Victoria to the dock, where the ferry would take him across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles so he could drive home to Bluewater Bay. He parked in line, and ordered coffee from one of the espresso carts. They knew his face by now, and practically had his order rung up before he’d even reached the cart—maybe he was spending a little too much time on this side of the water if even the baristas knew who he was. Well, they knew he was “Grande mocha with nonfat milk.” They didn’t know he was Hunter Easton. Thank fuck.

While he waited, he pulled out his phone, ignored the voice mails and text messages, and opened his personal email. At least that one wouldn’t be exploding with “Hunter, where the fuck is your book?” messages.

As soon as his inbox loaded, his gaze went straight to a message from Lone Wolf. The subject line brought a huge grin to Hunter’s face: Finally finished it.

About damned time, kid.

Lone Wolf had been working on The World Tree, a Wolf’s Landing fanfic, for months. Technically, Hunter wasn’t allowed to read fan fiction or anything unpublished—in case of unintentional plagiarism—but Wolf Hunter, his alter ego, could read whatever the fuck he wanted. He generally didn’t, just to be safe, but contracts be damned, Wolf Hunter had been itching to read Lone Wolf’s magnum opus forever.

“Your coffee?”

“Huh?” Hunter looked up. The barista held out his mocha. Shit, one glance at that email, and he’d almost forgotten about his seven-dollar cup of life-giving nectar. “Right. Thanks.”

He took the coffee and damn near sprinted back to his car so he could read the new story.

Lone Wolf was an administrator on Fandom Landing, the site where they’d met and also one of the top five Wolf’s Landing fan sites. It was Hunter’s favorite because it loaded fast, there were no purple-on-black font choices, the mods were serious about using the ban hammer, and it didn’t contain any stolen kitschy artwork. Also, the erotica was behind a PG wall. Everything about the site was controlled and vetted, and while the rest of the fandom called it elitist, Hunter liked it there. Quite a few of the fans on Fandom Landing were serious artists—painters, illustrators, and more than a few very accomplished writers.

Though he didn’t read the stories as a rule, he couldn’t help browsing through the artwork because, damn it, he really enjoyed how offbeat and weird some people treated his characters.

And after reading hundreds of Lone Wolf’s posts, and enjoying their eloquent style and subtle humor, Hunter hadn’t been able to resist, and he’d finally read a short fanfic piece. From that point on, Lone Wolf’s written work had him hooked. His take on Wolf’s Landing was unashamedly queer—and he really got the whole werewolf mythology. If anything, he ramped up the mysticism and spiritual side of it. All things that Hunter had been forced to play down. He’d given in to pressures of the market, hadn’t trusted the potential, and rewrote the whole thing with the old publishing paradigm in mind—what sells goes. That was way before he’d understood that “anything goes if you have fans.”

He settled in his seat, cup in the holder, and scrolled past the beginning, which Lone Wolf had already posted as a teaser. The World Tree was huge. Almost a quarter of a million words—the labor of eight months’ very hard work. Two thick paperbacks’ worth of writing, and not a word wasted from what Hunter had read so far.

The best part was that Lone Wolf had his own voice. It wobbled in places, probably when he was fighting a bout of insecurity, but otherwise it was so clear that Hunter could hear it in his head when he closed his eyes, which was rare. He imagined that was how the guy behind Lone Wolf actually spoke. Fairly confident, full of heart and authenticity. This was the kind of writer he could go totally fanboy over. One who took him away into a world that was like his own but seen through a different pair of eyes, written by somebody who loved the characters (some much more than Hunter thought was warranted, but whatever), and told a story because it wanted to be told. Lone Wolf was irresistible, like a half-grown puppy playing in the snow, and Hunter envied him that carefree attitude in grappling with the monster that he himself had created.

The loudspeaker came to life, startling Hunter and announcing that the ferry was now boarding. He grudgingly put the phone in the second cup holder beside the coffee he hadn’t even touched. Normally, he was patient with the tedious loading process, but today, he came up with a thousand more efficient ways that would let him get on the goddamned boat and start reading again.

The cars in front of him crawled forward, inching toward the ferry, and he followed, muttering “come on, come on, come on!” the whole way. Did it always take this long? He was sure it didn’t. It couldn’t possibly. Someone would have gone on a rampage by now from the sheer slowness of Jesus Christ can we get on the motherfucking boat?

At last, a dockworker in an orange vest directed him to a spot behind another car—near the front, thank God, so he’d be one of the first to unload—and he could finally park. As soon as the engine was off, he dug around in his glove compartment for that pack of Dramamine he always kept handy. He was prone to seasickness when he tried to read, and he planned to spend this entire ninety-minute voyage doing exactly that.

He washed down the tablets with his coffee, and then picked up his phone and reopened the file.

It was strange how the mind perceived time. Boarding the ferry had probably taken fifteen minutes at most, and yet it had felt like he’d done a stint in stop-and-go purgatory. The ferry ride from Victoria to Port Angeles was an hour and a half, but Hunter swore he had just pulled up The World Tree again when that damned announcement came over the loudspeaker.

“Arriving in Port Angeles. Please return to your vehicles.”

More like return to reality after an all-too-short visit to Lone Wolf’s vision of Hunter’s fictional world. Grumbling, he put the phone in the cup holder again. As he waited for the boat to dock and the workers to direct him off the ramp, his mind kept wandering back to the story. He was maybe eight chapters in, and already white-knuckling the wheel because he needed to know what happened next.

Lone Wolf didn’t just love the characters of Wolf’s Landing. He understood them. He was perfectly comfortable in the driver’s seat of Detective Gabriel Hanford’s brain, and damn if he didn’t have a flawless handle on Max Fuhrman’s tics and general weirdness. None of the other fanfic writers could get Max quite right. Even Hunter himself struggled with that dude sometimes.

Someone tapped on the hood of his car. Hunter shook his head and looked up. Behind him, someone blared their horn, and the dockworker who’d tapped the hood gestured impatiently for him to move.

Christ, Lone Wolf. You’ve got me so wrapped up in my own damned characters, I turned into That Guy on the fucking ferry.

He waved an apology at the worker and the driver behind him, and got the hell off the boat. By the time he was past the border patrol and on the road, he’d all but forgotten his momentary embarrassment. Normally, it would’ve left him feeling mortified all the way home, but not today. Not when he really, really, really needed to know right fucking now what was going to happen to Gabriel after that multiverse portal had opened.

A multiverse portal. In Wolf’s Landing. How the hell had he never thought of that? It made perfect sense, and now he felt like an idiot for beating his head against the eighth book all this time when clearly this was how he should have written it. No wonder his contract forbade him from reading unpublished works—a less scrupulous author would steal Lone Wolf’s book and pretend he’d never seen it before. Any resemblance to other work is entirely coincidental, etc., etc., etc.

Hunter would never do that, of course, but he was definitely screwed now because this story was the missing link. It was the thing he’d been searching for and couldn’t put his finger on, and now he couldn’t imagine any other possible direction for the story. Shit.

But he’d deal with that later. Now, as he accelerated down the highway at a good fifteen over the posted speed limit, he had to know what happened to Gabriel.

Just a few more chapters when he got home. Then he’d email Lone Wolf back, and finally return those calls, texts, emails, smoke signals, SOSs, certified letters, and telegrams that had no doubt piled up during his twenty-four hours of training and fucking in Canada. Once he knew what was on other side of that portal, then he could put The World Tree down for a little while.

He didn’t even bother getting out of the car. Seat belt still on, keys still in the ignition, he closed the garage door behind him and picked up his phone again.

Seven chapters later, he made it into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

Five more chapters, and his coffee had gone cold on the end table beside the couch where he’d sat down to read.

A couple of text messages came through. He ignored them. The phone rang a few times, and he swore aloud every time it jarred him out of the current scene.

Then a message came through in bright red letters that he couldn’t ignore:

Phone Battery - 20%.

What the hell? He’d just charged it in the car. It should have been good for at least seven or eight hours. It was only—

It was dark outside.

Hunter rubbed his eyes. He looked around. It had been early afternoon when he’d sat down here. Now it was dark?

Oh. Right. Because it was almost ten o’clock.

His back ached and his stomach grumbled. His throbbing head assured him that yes, it really had been hours since he’d sat down to read “a few more chapters.” Damn this nonsense of being over forty and feeling every day of it.

Grimacing and creaking, he stood and went back into the kitchen to plug in his phone. While it charged, he poured himself a cup of reheated half-day-old coffee, and as he drank it, he stared at his darkened phone. The World Tree was amazing. No two ways about it. He wondered what Lone Wolf would think if he knew who he’d sent it to. He was probably shy and socially awkward—what writer wasn’t?—and thought he was sending this book to some other fan of Wolf’s Landing. Not the author himself.

I need to know the face behind this book.

Hunter tapped his fingers on the counter beside his phone. The two of them had chatted and emailed, even flirted a bit—okay, a lot—but they’d never exchanged photos or real names. According to Lone Wolf’s administrator profile, he lived in a suburb of Seattle, so just a few hours away.

Hunter opened his email and quickly wrote out a message.

LW,

This book is fucking amazing. Would you be interested in discussing it over coffee?

WH

Before he could think twice, he hit Send.

Even though he reloaded the page a few times, Lone Wolf didn’t respond immediately.

His stomach grumbled again, and he opened the fridge to check for edibles, but nothing appealed to him. There was one lone pomegranate in the crisper, but that didn’t count for a full meal, especially after Ryan had warned him about not eating enough protein right after training. Nobody delivered pizza out here, and he might have been able to throw something together based on the two vine tomatoes, the half jar of pesto, and the red onion he’d spotted, but what he really wanted to do was sit down and either read the rest of the story, even though he should probably do his fucking job and at least go up to the office to bang his head against the half novel that was mocking him from the twenty-four inch screen.

Just then, the intercom buzzed—one long, two short. Thank God, it was Chastity. He padded to the door and opened it. She held a pile of letters and a cookie tin. “Hey, do you have time?”

Code for, “You’re not writing, are you?”

“Come on in.” He stood aside and waved her into the house. “You know you don’t have to buzz me, right?”

“I know, but God forbid I let myself in while you’re in the zone.”

“Much appreciated. Fortunately, I’m not.” He started toward the kitchen. “I’m . . . I was reading. Checking something in the chronology.”

“So how’s the book going?” she asked.

“It’s not really going, but I’m working on it.” He resisted checking whether Lone Wolf had responded. He knew stalkers and obsessives, and he wouldn’t turn into either of those. “How’re you?”

“Jesse’s off to his grandparents, so . . .” She shrugged. “Kind of bored, I guess.” Between being Hunter’s bodyguard, part-time PA, and the mom of a very active eight-year-old, Chas had the patience of a Swiss glacier. Bored or not, she deserved a break.

“Have you eaten yet?”

“I have. And I brought you muffins, in case you’re interested.” She put the tin down. “Jesse didn’t manage to eat all of them, though he gave it a good try.”

“Thank you, Jesse, patron saint of starving artists.” He opened the tin and found one of the banana-and-chocolate ones that he loved. Beat cooking for one person while feeling guilty about not writing. “Coffee?”

“I’m too wired. I’ll make tea?”

“Sure.” He offered her the kitchen with a sweeping gesture, “Mi casa, su casa.”

She gave him an ironic glance, considering she lived on the property as part of her package (and because her last house had been torched by her crazy ex). While she went through the cupboards to assemble a teapot and hot water, Hunter demolished the muffin in a few bites, and then set up the coffee machine again.

“So, planning a long night?”

“There’s a full moon. I absolutely plan on a long night.” He had the most amazing view from the office, and he could happily spend a few hours gazing at the moon if the novel didn’t budge. The whole werewolf thing had started because some of his Army buddies had teased him about being a secret werewolf: nocturnal, a “dark brooding charm,” a penchant for taking solo night hikes during full moons—all of that. And look where it had taken him.

“You getting anywhere with that book?”

Hunter groaned.

Chas laughed. “Still?”

“Still.” His eyes darted toward his phone. “Of course, then one of my fans manages to figure out exactly where the story needs to go.”

“You’re letting fans beta read for you now?”

“No, no. He’s . . . I told you about Lone Wolf, right?”

“Lone—” Her eyes lost focus. “Oh right. From that fan site.”

“Yeah. He finished his book. And it’s . . .” Hunter sighed and threw up his hands. “It’s amazing.”

“So what are you going to do? Ask him if you can use it?”

Hunter straightened. “I’m not going to take his work.”

“No, but if it’s really that good for the series . . .”

“I don’t know. Leanne will probably blow a gasket if she even finds out I’ve been reading fanfic, never mind wanting to incorporate some of it into the series.”

“If the alternative is waiting another year for the eighth book, she might be flexible.”

Hunter laughed dryly. “Good point. Well, I emailed him to see if he wants to meet and talk about it.” His stomach clenched. Had that been too forward? Was Lone Wolf a lone wolf for a reason? Didn’t like meeting people in real life? Might think—

“Oh, Hunter.” Chas snickered. “You’re so adorable when you’re flustered.”

“What?”

She rolled her eyes. “The second you mentioned meeting him, you got all tense and pink.” She gestured at her cheeks, and Hunter could suddenly feel the heat in his own.

“I’m just a little nervous. He has no idea who I am.”

Her eyebrow arched. “Is that the only reason you’re nervous? Because he’ll find out his biggest fan is Hunter Easton?”

“I . . .”

Chas laughed again and patted his arm. “So adorable.”

“Shut up.”

“Is that any way to talk to the woman who keeps the stalkers away at cons?”

He groaned theatrically. “Fine. Sorry. And yes, it is the only reason I’m nervous about meeting him.”

“Bullshit it is.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

She ticked the points off on her fingers. “You blush whenever you mention him. You’re clearly more nervous about meeting him than you were about being on a panel with a bunch of your literary idols at Comic-Con. You actually think I’m going to believe for a second you’re nervous about meeting another writer who’s—”

“Okay, okay, I get it. But you’re still wrong. I’m just . . . okay, maybe a little intimidated by this kid.”

Chas blinked. “Intimidated? Why?”

He waved a hand at his phone. “Because he can write fucking circles around me with my own goddamned characters! What the hell am I supposed to say to him, anyway? ‘You clearly know my own world better than I do, so how much do you charge to save my ass?’” He shook his head. “Fuck, I shouldn’t have emailed him. It isn’t like I can use his book, and for all I know, he completely botches the ending anyway.”

“And how likely do you think that is?”

Hunter met her gaze, then sighed. “About as likely as me finishing book eight by tomorrow morning.”

“Sounds like he might save your ass, then.” She smirked and started to speak, but he gestured sharply at her.

“Don’t even say it.”

“Say what?”

He glared, and she smothered a laugh.

“All right, I won’t say it. But has he responded to your email yet?”

“I . . .” He glanced at the phone again, eyeing it like it had morphed into a spider that was about to bite his hand. “I don’t know. I haven’t checked.”

“Well.” She nodded toward the spider-phone. “Check it.”

He hesitated, but figured there was no point in arguing with her—there never was—and picked up the phone. He refreshed his inbox, revealing several new emails. Most were notifications about posts on threads he’d been following on the fan site, but there it was:

Lone Wolf.

Holding his breath, he tapped the message.

Are you serious? Coffee? That’d be great. When/where? — LW

Hunter was almost certain that if Chas hadn’t been standing there, he’d have emitted a mortifying high-pitched fanboy squeak. Only her presence and playful scrutiny kept his dignity in check.

“He wants to meet.” And Hunter couldn’t help grinning like an idiot. Probably blushing again, if the heat in his cheeks was any indication.

“Aww.” Chas grinned. “So it’s a date?”

“It is not a date.”

“Why not?”

“Besides the fact that he’s probably half my age?”

She snorted. “Or maybe twice your age?”

Hunter rolled his eyes. “Point being, I want to meet him because I want to talk writing. Maybe I can hook him up with Leanne, get his career going.” Unless, of course, he was already a seasoned writer who’d been impersonating a newbie to get his kicks. But no. No. Lone Wolf had seemed really fucking genuine about everything. Hunter didn’t know that much about him in real life—they’d mostly talked writing and wolves and fan stuff. He’d kept his own life under wraps so he could be himself. Which was ironic. This whole fame thing locked him into behaviors and reputation and expectations.

“Hunter.” She folded her arms and arched her eyebrow. “It is okay to get involved with someone. You know, if you click.”

“And it’s okay not to get involved with people.” He sipped his coffee. “I’ve done just fine this long.”

Chas studied him. “You get lonely sometimes.”

He shrugged. “Happily married people feel crowded sometimes. Doesn’t mean they want the other person to leave. In my case, yeah, I get lonely once in a while.” Another shrug. “Doesn’t mean I want someone else in my space.” They’d had this discussion before, and the thought of going through the whole thing again exhausted him, so before she could answer, he held up his phone. “You mind if I send him a quick reply?”

She waved a hand. “Sure.”

He typed out, You’re in the Seattle area? What about Saturday, around lunch? You choose the location. He knew Lone Wolf was working in IT—he sometimes referred to a “job” and a “boss.” And if they hit it off, he wanted the option of spending a few hours rather than being constrained by schedules and such. Damn that need for a day job for most writers. A talent like Lone Wolf should be raking it in and choosing his own hours.

“So what’re you going to wear, Casanova?”

“Uh. I was planning to go kind of low-key.” Thank God he’d only given in to that author photo-related pressure after the publisher had agreed that it didn’t necessarily have to resemble him; so some atmospheric black-and-white shoots and Photoshop had made sure he didn’t really look like the guy on the jacket. However, if Lone Wolf was the überfan he appeared to be, he’d have seen Hunter at conventions, or on Tumblr and YouTube. “Won’t be fooling him I guess. Damn.”

“Ah, the burden of fame.” Chas put a hand on her heart.

“Well, I could use a little break. Head out to Seattle on Friday, watch a movie or something, and come back on Sunday? You want to come along?”

“Movie sounds great.” She opened his fridge and made a face. “I have a nice ratatouille bake at the house.”

“No competition from the lone pomegranate.”

“I thought so. And while I go get that . . .” She pointed at the pile of letters. “A few nice ones this time.”

“That’s because you burn the nasty ones.” He finished off his coffee. “How bad were the bad ones?”

“Mostly threats over the next book not coming out.”

“Christ, every time I read one of those I want to kill a character.”

“Yeah, yeah, Mr. George R. R. Martin, we know.” She laughed. “I’ll go get that ratatouille.”

She left the kitchen, and Hunter’s gaze went back to his phone. So that was that. In a few days, he’d meet the guy who apparently knew his own stories better than he did. And much like the unfinished book upstairs, he had no idea how this weekend was going to play out.

 

Chapter Two

Kevin idly stirred his mocha and kept glancing at the coffee shop door. His iPad sat on the table beside his arm, the screen dark, and whenever he wasn’t staring at the door, he was staring at the tablet, trying to convince himself not to read through this or that chapter of The World Tree again. Now that Wolf Hunter had read it, all the errors were jumping out at him. The pacing in chapter seven was a mess. Gabriel would never have let the suspect go in chapter three without roughing him up a bit more. Damn it, what was he thinking? He should have given it one more editing pass before he’d sent it to his friend.

At least he hadn’t posted it on Fandom Landing yet. Shorts were one thing. He wasn’t posting a full-length novel without having it beta read first. And apparently it wasn’t even ready for that step.

Damn it, why did I send it? I should’ve waited. Read it again. Something.

Ah well. The damage was done. He could correct it on his iPad all he wanted, but the only version Wolf Hunter knew about was the jacked-up version Kevin had already sent.

Which must not have been too bad, he supposed. Not if the man was willing to come see him to talk about it. Hopefully he wasn’t just stroking Kevin’s ego. Or desperate for human contact under the guise of “let’s talk about your book, which actually sucks but you don’t need to know that.”

He sipped his coffee. As if he needed the caffeine; he’d been jittery as hell all day. Maybe because he had no idea what to expect. With as little as he knew about this guy, Wolf Hunter could literally be anyone. And he hadn’t given Kevin a description. Kevin had sent him one—I look Middle Eastern, and I’ll be wearing a black leather jacket and black-framed glasses—and Wolf Hunter had just responded with “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The door opened again, and Kevin almost dropped his coffee on the iPad.

He was tempted to take off his glasses, wipe down the lenses, and look again, but no, he wasn’t seeing things. He knew that face anywhere. Fucking anywhere.

Silver foxes weren’t exactly uncommon in Seattle, but Kevin could pick Hunter Easton’s face out of any crowd.

He glanced at the door. Maybe he could grab an autograph from Hunter, and then get back to his table before Wolf Hunter showed up. Or he could stall Hunter long enough for Wolf Hunter to meet him too since he’d be here any second.

And . . . Hunter Easton was coming this way.

Walking right toward him.

Looking right at him.

Holy fucking hell, he wasn’t . . .

Kevin’s gorgeous idol stopped in front of him and extended his hand. “Lone Wolf?”

Holy shit. What?

Autopilot kicked in just in time, and Kevin extended a hand. It was probably shaking. Definitely sweaty. Oh God, he’ll think I’m a total dork. “Kevin.” Which, yeah, total letdown after Lone Wolf. “I mean, Kevyan.” CallMeAnythingOkay.

“Nice to meet you. Another coffee?”

“Any more will probably blow out my heart valves.” Sure. Because the caffeine is the problem right now. He cleared his throat. “Thanks, though.”

“No problem.” Hunter smiled in the exact same way he smiled when somebody asked him something really weird on a panel. “Can I get you anything else?”

Do they serve replacement brains here? This one stopped working. “I . . . I’m good. Feel free to get something. I’ll be here.” Unless I’ve sunk through the floor because holy shit I’m being a dork.

“Okay.” Hunter gave him another smile and a wink, and Kevin needed both hands to keep himself upright on the chair. That was the kind of smile that routinely made fangirls and quite a few fanboys squee. In the flesh, it was even more powerful. And Hunter did it to him rather than to one of the actors at Comic-Con.

Hunter headed for the counter, and Kevin managed to breathe and wipe his palms on his jeans. It was like two realities were playing Titanic and iceberg: a collision that was somewhere between life altering and catastrophic. Women and fandom first!

He brushed at his face in case he had food crumbs stuck to him, and then peered back to where Hunter was patiently waiting for a coffee with a cellophane-wrapped sandwich in his hand. Comfortable-looking sneakers, a pair of really nice black jeans, a graphite-gray T-shirt, and a blue-and-gray windbreaker for those unexpected rainy interludes.

At cons, he sometimes wore a suit, or pieces of a suit with jeans, and compared to most thriller or paranormal writers Kevin knew, Hunter was a sharp dresser. He was also distinctly lacking the wild hair and beard. Not one perfectly trimmed gray hair out of place. It was a bit of a cliché, but Kevin had figured Hunter Easton was gay after his first con appearance—and by how he treated gay characters in his books.

The more he’d read about him, the more certain he’d become, up to the point where Hunter’s famous “I like to keep some parts of my private life just that” comment in a Publishers Weekly interview had confirmed it. And made Kevin a little bit embarrassed that he had cared a great deal whether Hunter was actually gay. It really shouldn’t have mattered, right?

Wolf Hunter was gay. He’d never made any bones about it. And he and Lone Wolf had been known to flirt a bit. Okay, a lot. Kind of in a roundabout way: exchanging slash fic, discussing what they’d do to various Wolf’s Landing characters if they had some lube and half a chance, and holy fuck, it was so weird realizing he’d been getting off on a character with the very guy who’d created that character. That was like gushing online about how much you wanted to fuck someone in every imaginable way, and then finding out you’d been talking to the dude’s father. Who you also happened to have a huge crush on. Fuck.

Right then, that gorgeous silver fox turned around with a large coffee and a sandwich. Kevin drained the last of his long-since-cooled mocha. The caffeine wouldn’t do him any good, but he needed something because his mouth had inexplicably gone dry.

Hunter took a seat at the table and as he stirred cream and sugar into his coffee like a perfectly normal human being—you’re not fooling anyone, Easton—he said, “You mentioned your real name is . . . Kevin?”

“Well, Kevyan. But most people call me Kevin.” He tried his damnedest not to become a stark raving lunatic fanboy over the fact that Hunter Easton’s sandwich wrapper had just touched his iPad.

Dude. Get a grip. Like, now.

“So, Kevin. That’s what you prefer?”

“I can go either way.”

“Okay. Oh, and I guess I should introduce—”

“You’re Hunter Easton.” Kevin said it quietly to avoid drawing any attention—back off, assholes. He’s mine for today.

Hunter’s hands stopped, and the corner of his mouth rose. “You recognized me.”

“You don’t sound surprised.”

“Well, people have been known to plaster my face all over the forum, so . . .”

“Yeah. And I’ve met you.”

“Have you?” He didn’t sound surprised at that, either.

Kevin nodded. “I . . . yeah. At Comic-Con.” And WolfLandCon. And RainCon.

Color bloomed in Hunter’s cheeks, and he smiled a bit sheepishly. “I, um—”

“You meet thousands of people at these things.” Kevin smiled back. “I don’t expect you to remember me.”

“I do try to remember people’s faces. But, as you said, thousands . . .” Hunter focused on his coffee again. His hands suddenly didn’t seem as sure and steady as Kevin would have expected. He wasn’t nervous too, was he?

“So, all this time . . .” Kevin cleared his throat and tugged at his glasses. “All this time, I’ve been fanboying over Wolf’s Landing with you.”

Hunter chuckled. “Yep. I very carefully didn’t let anyone know I was Wolf Hunter.”

Kevin’s cheeks were on fire now. “You could have warned me before I sent you that one about Gabriel skull-fucking Max.”

Snickering, Hunter winked. “But then you wouldn’t have sent it to me, would you?”

“Uh, no. Definitely not.”

“Which would have been a shame. I rather enjoyed it.”

Kevin had been well aware that Wolf Hunter had enjoyed it. Several times, from what he’d said. Usually with one hand.

“This is . . . My God, this is so surreal.” He covered his face and groaned. “I’ve written slash porn with your characters and sent it right to you and oh my God . . .”

“Kevin. Relax.”

“Relax?” Kevin groaned again and looked across the table at the man who had read some of his kinkiest, most twisted, filthy stories. The ones he couldn’t even show anyone else—not even in the password-restricted NC-17 click-at-your-own-risk subforum—because they were that dirty. As a few of his titles ran through his mind, he wanted to crawl under the table and die.

Or crawl under the table like Gabriel did in that interrogation scene with Max Fuhrman? Where “tell me where she is” had suddenly turned into “tell me where to put my mouth”?

Hunter leaned forward, resting an arm on the table. “Your stories are really good. Some of the other fanfic writers out there come up with really skeevy and bizarre stories, but yours are . . .” He dropped his gaze, and his cheeks colored again. “They’re really good, Kevin.”

“Thanks.” Kevin drummed his fingers beside his coffee cup. “What about the new one? The big one?” He cringed. “The big story, I mean. The long— The novel, damn it.”

Hunter laughed. “That’s the one I wanted to talk to you about. It’s brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant.”

“It . . . I . . .”

“I’m not kidding.” Hunter folded his hands. “I finished my reread at one o’clock this morning and just lay for two hours thinking about it. I haven’t had a book hangover in a long time, but that one?” He whistled. “Nicely done, Kevin. Nicely done.”

Kevin stared at him. It was mortifying to hear Hunter Easton admitting he’d read those stories, but he couldn’t begin to get his head around the man looking him in the eye and telling him The World Tree was brilliant. “It . . . Really?”

“Really.” Hunter’s smile faded a bit, and he glanced into his coffee cup. “To be honest, you figured out everything that’s been driving me insane with the series. I’ve been killing myself trying to write the eighth book, and you . . . God, I don’t know who you sold your soul to in order to come up with that story, but please hook me up with him, because you’ve basically written the next Wolf’s Landing book.”

“Wow. I mean. It just made sense that way.”

“Not in my head. I’ve been struggling with how to get the characters out of the trouble I dropped them in in book seven, and you solved it—and the way you worked in Yggdrasil—so all those visions and interferences aren’t so much hauntings but alternate realities . . . the dreamtime. It’s good. Solves all the problems and opens up the series to tell so many different kinds of stories. Damn, I’d love to write one that’s more historical. Maybe something like that flashback in the first book. That was one of those things that happened during a late night, didn’t really seem to belong, but I didn’t cut it because I loved it, and then you wove it right back in.”

“You didn’t know where it was going?” In interviews, Hunter had referred a few times to how the whole series had taken “unexpected directions,” but surely nobody could just wing their way through a complex seven-plus-book series? Could they?

“Well. The whole thing started as a mystery thriller about a cop who’s having these weird intuitions and suddenly comes up against something out there—a parallel society. I guess there’s quite a bit of Clive Barker in its DNA, but then it kept growing and people loved the paranormal element, and I got into it myself rather than just dabbling. But there was this unexpected stuff lurking in the background. I had no idea I’d get myself into a place where the only thing that saves me is a multiverse-type setup.”

“Seriously? I thought that was all done on purpose.”

Hunter lifted his shoulder. “Nope. Best I can do is fake it and claim I did. But in reality? No fucking idea.”

“Wow.” Kevin shook his head. “And I thought you were being all mysterious because you just try to keep us guessing.”

“Well, I don’t want to ruin the fun for anybody, but I’m making it up as I go. My characters barely obey me, so trying to work with an outline is a lost cause. I had books two and three outlined and then Gabriel ended up leaving Detroit and went clear out to Wolf’s Landing to chase his mystery.”

“Yeah, he wasn’t really cooperative with me either.” Kevin grinned and Hunter laughed. “But Max was the worst.”

Hunter groaned. “Don’t get me started on him. He was supposed to die in book three and went, ‘Nope, not having it.’ I was planning to kill him a lot sooner than I did, but, well, he was too smart and a fan favorite, so killing him off in book seven took some serious work.”

“And then I brought him back.”

“I loved it. Ripping his soul out in the portal and bringing him back as kind of a saner version of himself . . . it really gives him some complexity. I thought he was starting to turn into too much of a one-note character, but in The World Tree, you kept his weirdness but also increased what readers love about him. Levi will be thrilled to read this.”

It was all Kevin could do not to let his jaw hit the table. Did Hunter fucking Easton just fanboy his book? And mention Levi Pritchard at the same time? Holy. Fuck.

Hunter shook his head and lowered his gaze. “I’m sorry. I’m kind of rambling on here, aren’t I?”

“Uh, no. It’s okay. I’m still a little . . . startled, I guess.”

Hunter flashed a toothy grin. “Surprise!”

Kevin chuckled. “Pretty much. Listen, do you mind if I grab another drink?”

“No, of course not.” Hunter smiled and picked up his own coffee. “I was hoping we could talk for a while, so I’m in no rush.”

Oh. My. God.

Kevin fumbled with his wallet as he stood, and tried not to trip over his own feet on the way to the counter. This had to be a joke. The man sitting at his table was undoubtedly Hunter, but he was practically squeeing all over The World Tree, and—

Kevin stopped abruptly.

“Levi will be thrilled to read this.”

The actors didn’t read fan fiction. And even if they did, why would Levi care? He’d only be playing Max Fuhrman as he was written in the actual series. So what difference would it make to him unless—

Kevin’s heart skipped.

He and Hunter had exchanged fanfic for the better part of a year and a half. Some of it mortifyingly dirty, but some were more like spin-offs, continuations—legitimate additions to the story line. And in between talking about those stories, they’d both made the odd comment about eventually meeting, but had never made any serious effort.

Not until Hunter read The World Tree.

And not five minutes after he sat down, he’d mentioned Levi being thrilled to read it.

Oh. Oh shit.

“Can I help you?”

Kevin blinked, suddenly realizing the barista had been watching him. “Um. I’ll . . .” What did I come over here to do? He scanned the menu over the counter. Right. They served food here. And drinks. “Just a bottle of water, please.”

She handed him the bottle, and after he paid, he took a long swallow before he headed back to the table.

In spite of his certainty that Hunter would evaporate into thin air or a camera crew would jump out and yell “Psych!”, the author was still sitting there, sipping his coffee. And he’d pulled out his own iPad and was scrolling through something.

White background. Black lettering.

Oh God, he’s looking at The World Tree right now.

Kevin cleared his throat as he took a seat. “I’ve got a question.”

Hunter turned off the iPad and folded his hands on top of it. “Shoot.”

“I’m just curious, but . . .” He hesitated, taking a quick drink just for something to occupy his hands. “We’ve talked about fic online. You’ve given me tons of feedback. Why did you suddenly want to meet over this one?”

“Well, I would have met you earlier, but I was worried about the disclosure part.”

“Where you’re, like, Hunter Easton?”

“Yep. I didn’t want you to think I’m that creepy type of author who stalks his fans. Except obviously that’s kind of what I did. But I love the characters and the world too, and sometimes it’s nice to talk about it with people who aren’t my agent, publisher, editor, or anybody with a financial stake in the game. I want to talk about the characters, not about how a new minor character would appeal to the Baby Boomer demographic.” Hunter wrapped his hands around his coffee. “It’s nice to just play, you know. No stake, no money involved. Just being crazy and fun and if that means writing slash fiction or writing a noir version of the story or exploring a character who frankly never moves the plot . . . It helps keep the writing fresh. Most of that never makes it on the page, but I get to play and that’s how I keep it all alive. And stay sane when I’ve got people gutting and altering my work.”

“Okay.” Kevin sipped his water. “That has to suck. They really do that to the books?”

“Thank God my agent deals with the worst of that shit. But are they trying? Absolutely.”

“So you were protecting yourself.”

Hunter nodded. “Being able to socialize with people who don’t know who I am and don’t treat me any different to any other fan out there helps keep me grounded and feeling like a normal person.”

“Oh shit, I can imagine. I won’t tell anybody. I don’t want to ruin that.” Nobody would believe him anyway. His fan group would lose their minds. Though whether he could still send him any of the explicit stories . . . He shook his head.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, just . . . thought about those other stories I sent you. Did they, I mean, did they weird you out?”

Hunter grinned, and, well, the only word to describe that grin was wolfish. “I found them pretty damn hot.”

Oh God, my favorite author ever has jerked off to my fan fiction.

“Uh. Any, errrr, favorites?”

“I like your take on Max and Gabriel. There’s obviously huge control issues in play, but their chemistry is mind-blowing.”

Kevin gulped. “I . . . Wow.”

Hunter chuckled. “Relax. I’m still Wolf Hunter.”

“Yeah, but Wolf Hunter turned out to be Hunter Easton. I’m sure you can see why that’s a little difficult to wrap my head around.”

“I’m just a guy who writes books.”

“Uh-huh. You’re the guy who writes those books.”

Hunter studied him for a moment. Then he pushed his coffee aside. “I want to let you in on a secret.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows.

“I really am just some guy writing books. And I happen to be a guy who’s stuck like hell on a book that a dozen people—not to mention legions of fans—are expecting me to cough up in very little time. And to be honest . . .” He shook his head, sighing. “Up until the other night, I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen in that book. I’m stuck. I don’t wave a magic wand and produce those stories.” He paused. “And the thing is, what you’ve written is perfect for the direction the series needs to take.”

“It . . . Oh. Uh, thank you.” Kevin tilted his head. “If you want to use the whole World Tree idea, that’s cool.”

“I don’t think you understand. Your story is perfect.”

Kevin blinked.

“You think you’re just a fan who’s writing these stories for fun, but you’ve come up with something amazing. And . . . look, I can’t promise anything. I’ve got my hands tied by so much legalese and contract bullshit, this could get vetoed the second I talk to my agent, but—”

Kevin almost choked. “Your . . .”

“Yes.” Hunter locked eyes with him. “I want the eighth book in the series to be The World Tree.”

Kevin sat back. He glanced around, searching for camera lenses. This was a joke. He was being punk’d.

“I’m serious, Kevin. I want this book in the series.”

Kevin studied him. Then something tightened in his chest, and he gritted his teeth. “Are you . . . are you suggesting taking my book”—he thumped his iPad with a fingertip—“and putting it out there instead of the one you’re writing? With your name on it?”

Hunter’s eyes widened. “What? No!” He waved a hand so sharply he almost knocked his coffee cup off the table, but he caught it, steadied it, and then showed his palms. “Of course not. No, I didn’t mean I wanted to take it from you. I mean I want to incorporate your book—as your book—into Wolf’s Landing.”

The tightness in Kevin’s chest eased. Thank God—that would’ve been an uncomfortable revelation about both his friend and his idol. He absently turned his coffee cup between his fingers. “But . . . it’s your series.”

“And you’ve written the story better than I could have.” Hunter lowered his hands and closed them around his own cup. “I wanted to talk to you before I broached the subject with my agent. In case you had any objections.”

“Objections?” Kevin laughed. “No way. I just . . . Are you sure this isn’t a joke?”

“It’s not a joke. I promise.” Hunter shook his head. “But like I said, it could get sticky from a legal standpoint. Technically, I’m not even supposed to be reading fanfic or unpublished work.”

“In case an element shows up in your work and someone says you ripped it off?”

“Exactly.”

“But . . . you’ve been reading fanfic all this time.”

Hunter lowered his gaze, and there was that pink in his cheeks again. “I’ve been reading your fanfic all this time.”

“Mine?”

Hunter nodded. “I joined the site, but avoided everyone’s stories because of my contract. Occasionally I saw little snippets here and there, and then I caught a glimpse of one of yours and couldn’t stop reading. That was right before we started chatting privately.”

Kevin’s head spun. In all the time he’d been writing and posting stories, he’d never even fantasized that Hunter might be reading them.

He was thankful as fuck he’d never posted that smutty little story about himself and Hunter at a convention. That one would go so deep behind bars on his hard drive it would teach the Mafia something about vanishing inconvenient stuff. “So you don’t do that with anybody else?”

“Check my history. I was hanging out with some of the illustrators, because VixenDreams’s illustrations are absolutely amazing, but I never beta any of the fanfic. I never even click on it.”

“Wow.” Kevin leaned back, still with that distinct World Tree–style sense of realities mixing and converging, like he was a werewolf changing planes. Only difference was, this had been happening for coming on fifteen minutes, whereas in his book it took no time at all. Actually, it took negative time, which he’d thought was a neat touch and . . . Okay, babbling. “You really want to buy the book? I mean, that’s . . . It wasn’t what I was going for. I . . .” He laughed and shook his head. “I didn’t even know I was sending it to, well, you. I just wrote it because I couldn’t wait for the next one and your characters moved into my head and started rearranging the furniture. Gabriel kept on talking, and I couldn’t sleep.”

“He does that.” Hunter didn’t even grin, just had a . . . compassionate look on his face. Were they really discussing fictional people moving from head to head like a family of raccoons switching houses? “But you nailed him. You took those seven books and developed it like you owned it. That takes some confidence, never mind really hard work.”

“I reread them all in one go and it just happened. I had the whole movie in my head.”

“With the same cast?”

“Oh, the casting is perfect. Levi Pritchard? I really didn’t see that happening, because he retired, but getting him to play Max?” Kevin swooned. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. With werewolves. I can’t wait to see it on screen.”

Hunter laughed. “Good, because we had to fight hard to get him to sign.”

“Really? He’s perfect for the role.”

“Yeah, but he’s not keen on playing games with production companies. Doesn’t help that the producer who approached him is an insufferable cunt I’d like to toss off a bridge into a pit of rabid sharks.”

Kevin blinked. Holy fuck. This really was Wolf Hunter. That wasn’t an insult he used frequently—and this version wasn’t one of Kevin’s favorites—but Kevin had definitely heard a variation of it before. Hunter had incredibly colorful ways of expressing his distaste for people and things. What was it he’d said about that troll who’d infested Fandom Landing a few months ago?

“He needs to be fucked sideways with a flaming cactus.”

Yep. The man sitting across from him—the man who’d fucking written Wolf’s Landing—was definitely Wolf Hunter.

Kevin cleared his throat. “Well, I’m uh . . . I’m glad Levi gave in.”

“Me too.” Hunter shifted a little, playing with the handle on his coffee mug. “So, going back to the book. If you’re really okay with it, I can talk to my agent.”

Kevin released a breath. “That’d be amazing. If it pans out, I mean.”

Hunter held up one hand with his fingers crossed.

“You’re still going to write the ninth book, right? I mean, I left it open for more. I think.”

“Are you kidding? The way you set it up, I could write Wolf’s Landing books until I’m old and, well, grayer.”

Kevin chuckled. “That’s a good thing, right?”

“Now that I’m not ready to staple myself to death just to get out of writing book eight? Yes. It’s a very good thing.”

“Good, good.” Kevin took another drink, and as he capped the water bottle, asked, “So, what happens if your agent says no?”

“Not a clue. The thing is, to be perfectly honest, I can’t even envision the story going a different way. It’s like there were two freeways being built, and now that they’re connected, there’s no changing their direction.”

“Well, if she won’t buy it, you’re welcome to use it. The portal thing, at least.”

Hunter sighed. “Except that would still be plagiarism. Unethical would be an understatement. And I’d never take your story and make it mine. This isn’t about my name. It’s about the Wolf’s Landing series, and The World Tree is the next step. It just . . . is.”

Mind. Blown.

“Wow. This is . . .” Kevin shook his head. “If I don’t seem excited about this, I’m just in shock.”

“It’s okay.” Hunter smiled, obviously unaware of what that did to Kevin’s ability to think. “I’ll talk to her tonight, and then I can email you. Or call you, if you want.”

Kevin almost tumbled out of his chair. “You want my phone number too?”

Hunter smirked. “Well, I could stand on top of Mount Olympus and shout, but you probably wouldn’t hear me.”

“Very funny.” Kevin rolled his eyes. “Yeah, if you want to give me a call or shoot me a text . . .” He pulled out his phone and set it on the table.

And thirty seconds later, he had Hunter Easton’s phone number in his contact list.

 

Chapter Three

One thing that kept surprising Hunter about fans was how awesome they were in their own rights. He’d met plenty of cool people who turned out to be fans (like more than half the show’s cast), and sometimes he was just stunned and humbled to find out who loved his work, like that USMC vet who’d been blown up in Afghanistan and told him the series had kept him sane during his very long and very tough recovery, adding, “Max Fuhrman, that’s me.”

Well. People put all kinds of things into it. There was wishful thinking and projection, but maybe the most gratifying was when it inspired another artist. One of his favorite fan emails was from a writer who’d just landed her first deal and told him, “You were my inspiration.”

He’d have thought it couldn’t possibly get any better than that.

And then there were the incredibly cute fans.

Lone Wolf could have been anybody. Thanks to the internet, gender and attractiveness were virtually irrelevant. Lone Wolf could have been a grandmother or a pimply fourteen-year-old, and that would have been okay, because Hunter believed only one thing about writers and that was that the proof of any writer was in the actual story, and everything else was bullshit.

But Lone Wolf turned out to be cute. Cute in a hot kind of way. Mid- to late twenties. Tall and on the lean/gangly spectrum, though it was hard to guess under the T-shirt and leather jacket. An intriguing long, pale throat. Glasses that played up the “sexy geek” image, but considering he was a fan and had clearly been shocked, he hadn’t been awkward. And Hunter couldn’t deny that Middle Eastern men had always caught his eye.

Even before he’d seen Lone Wolf, though, Hunter had found something about him attractive. He’d always been tremendously talented and enthusiastic and smart and generous—someone Hunter couldn’t not be attracted to. And then seeing him in person . . .

Kevin had to be too good to be real. There was no way someone that sweet, smart, and fun could also be that good-looking.

He grinned to himself on the way to his hotel room. His phone buzzed again in his pocket, and he fished it out once he’d closed the door behind him to read the text.

For the love of everything that’s holy, please call me. — Leanne

Well, that was a call he couldn’t avoid for much longer. He walked up to the curtains and opened them wide, looking out over the darkening sky above Seattle’s distinctive silhouette.

And finally, he hit the speed dial.

Angry agent freaking out in three, two . . .

“It’s about time!”

“And hello to you too, darling.”

He could almost hear her rolling her eyes. “Please tell me you have some good news for me.”

“Well . . .”

“Damn it, Hunter. You told me you’d work on it. Have you gotten anywhere?”

He scrubbed a hand over his face. “You want some good news, and I might have some for you. Do you want that first? Or do you want to hear about how that book is kicking my ass up one side and down the other?”

She groaned. “Give me some good-ish news.”

“What would you say to the idea of another author joining Wolf’s Landing?”

She didn’t respond immediately, then finally said, “Go on.”

“The thing is, I know I’m technically not supposed to, but I read something written by a fan.”

“I thought this was good news.”

“It is good news. Kind of.” He cleared his throat. “The book is amazing. Just, utterly jaw-dropping.”

“And . . .?”

“I want to add it to the series. In place of book eight.”

Leanne should’ve known by then not to take a drink when she was on the phone with him—though maybe she needed something good and strong while they were talking—but she choked and sputtered a few times. “You want them to buy a Wolf’s Landing installment written by a fan? When you weren’t even supposed to be reading that kind of thing?”

“To be honest, at this point, it’s either that or wait until Armageddon for my version.”

“It’s giving you that much trouble?”

“It’s driving me insane. And this kid’s book . . . It’s unbelievably good.” He ran a hand through his hair as he gazed out at the skyline. “It’s like he reached into my head, stole all my characters, and made them his collective bitch.”

“But Wolf’s Landing is your series. People are expecting Hunter Easton to write the books.”

“I could always fake my own death and will the series to him to finish.”

“Keep delaying the book, and you won’t have to fake it.”

“Exactly. But I’ve got a solution to all of our problems, which is a way better book than I would have written myself.”

Leanne was quiet for a moment. Possibly drinking something again. “Does he know you’ve read it?”

“He sent it to me.”

“What? When the hell did you start—”

“Relax. This is the only guy whose work I’ve read.”

Another long pause. “And it’s really that good?”

“It’s two hundred and fifty thousand words, and I read it in two days.”

“Two days when you could have been writing.”

He blew out a breath. “Not likely, given how badly I’ve stalled. Listen, let me send you a few chapters. Give it a read, and if you hate it, I swear on my mother’s grave I will have the eighth book to you by the end of the month.”

“Whoa. You’re really that sure I’ll like it.”

“Yes. In fact, if you don’t like it, I’ll finish the book by month’s end and I’ll sell the Ferrari.”

“You’ll . . .” She sighed. “Okay, fine. Send me the first ninety pages or so.”

“Consider it done.”

“Well, just in case, I’d suggest you get cracking on your book right after you write the ‘for sale’ ad for the car.”

“Nope.”

She laughed, though it was a tense sound. “Okay, send it. I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon, and so help me, if I get your voice mail, I will be on your doorstep on Monday morning. And you will not like that.”

“I’ll keep my phone with me, and it’ll be turned on. Promise.”

***

An obnoxious buzzing combined with a shrill beep dragged Hunter out of a sound sleep. Worse, he’d been dreaming. About Kevin. Fuck you, whoever interrupted that dream.

He felt around blindly and picked up his cell phone. Below the clock, which announced it was almost three in the goddamned morning, was Leanne’s name. Closing his eyes, he put the phone to his ear. “Do you know what time—”¬

“I need the rest of that book.”

“What?”

“The book. The World Tree. Send the rest of it now.”

He rubbed his eyes. “But it’s three in—”

“I swear to God, if I don’t have that book in the next two minutes, I will rewrite your next contract to make you come to every convention dressed like Hello Kitty. Send. The fucking. Book.”

“I’d have a witty repartee for you, but it’s three in the morning.” And I have Kevin on the brain. The little brain.

He picked up his iPad, selected his inbox, and forwarded her the email with the file attachment. “There. It’s on its way to—”

“Okaythanksbye.” The line went dead.

Damn. Replaced in his agent’s affections already. After ninety goddamned pages. He couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that after seven books and all the money she’d made off him, she’d shut him down like that. But Leanne was a huge geek herself, and when they’d had that first, “Let’s see, dear writer, if you’re insane” face-to-face vetting meeting, they’d descended into arguing the merits and flaws of every Star Trek version and all of its spin-offs. A woman who could quote the Star Trek technical manual at him even while drunk at a hotel bar impressed the hell out of him in geek terms.

He lay back in bed and turned off his iPad. The room went dark again, or as dark as it got with the nearly full moon shining right into his window. (And hadn’t the hotel staff looked at him funny when he’d insisted on a room from where he could see the moonrise.) With the disturbance taken care of, his mind went back to the dream he’d been having before she’d called.

Hunter closed his eyes. He pushed the covers away and ran a hand down his body. The interrupted dream had been a strange mix of The World Tree and Kevin and him at some nightmarish convention where none of the panels happened in the rooms given in the program—there’d been some reality jumping, and then some hot and heavy sex. And werewolves, though that part had blurred by now.

None of it made sense except for a memory of Kevin’s lips and heavy breaths and lots of skin on skin. Replaying that in his mind was probably a bit weird, so he changed the mental program to Tell Me, his favorite Lone Wolf story, one that had featured surprisingly consensual hate-sex between Max and Gabriel before they formed their tense alliance. That was safer. Hunter gripped his erection harder and stroked, arching off the bed when he got close. But even that rough against-the-wall sex image didn’t last— There was still Kevin, slipping back into his fantasy, kissing and stroking and grinding on him. Hey, it was just a fantasy, not the real guy; a fantasy of a multiverse kind of Kevin rather than a weird kind of groupie fantasy. Same hot guy though, same enthusiasm and spirit, same generosity. Hunter worked himself harder, imagined trading breathless, near-choking kisses with Kevin, and finally came.

Usually, he’d immediately start feeling around for some tissues to clean himself up, but for a moment, he just lay there, eyes closed and hand still as he caught his breath.

Finally, he sat up and found the tissues. Once he’d cleaned himself off, he settled back onto the sheets and stared up at the ceiling. The postorgasm fatigue was there, relaxing his muscles and trying to drag his eyelids shut, but his mind was going a million miles an hour. Even now that he’d scratched that itch, he couldn’t stop thinking about Kevin. The dream Kevin. The real Kevin. The Kevin who’d penned those insanely hot stories about Hunter’s own characters.

The Kevin who’d turned out to be an irresistible combination of sexy and cute, with a voice Hunter could’ve listened to all day—night—long. And that little bit of shyness had been so adorable Hunter could barely stand it, especially knowing what kinds of things lurked inside that brain of his. Yeah, maybe he blushed as easily as Hunter himself, and yeah, maybe he’d been starstruck, but he’d also written at length and in great detail about Gabriel bending Max over the trunk of a cop car and fucking him senseless while the guy still had his hands cuffed behind his back. And that was one of his tamer stories by a long shot.

Hunter shivered. He was probably well out of Kevin’s preferred age bracket. After all, a guy that hot could probably snag himself someone outside of the cradle-robbing, old-enough-to-be-your-father, twice-your-age, oh-my-God-that’s-creepy range.

A guy could dream, though. And Jesus, Hunter had dreamed.

Not that he’d be dreaming again anytime soon, since he was wide-awake. Which didn’t usually happen after he’d jerked off, but then again, he wasn’t usually this caught up in whoever he’d jerked off to.

He sat up and pulled his iPad off the bedside table again. Might as well see what was happening on his various forums.

He logged into Fandom Landing and scrolled through the threads he was following. The sidebar showed the handle of whoever had posted most recently in each, and . . .

Lone Wolf.

Lone Wolf.

Lone Wolf.

Odd. Kevin wasn’t usually much of a night owl. In fact, he almost religiously logged out of their chats at ten o’clock unless he didn’t have to work the next day. Even on weekends, he was usually asleep by midnight.

Hunter clicked on Kevin’s handle, and the green light was on. He hesitated, then pinged him on chat. You’re still awake?

Nothing for a few moments, then the response: Sorry, was getting a drink. Yeah. Awake. You too?

Not sleepwalking. I think. Ask me tomorrow.

Another long pause. Hunter realized that he’d made an invitation there. Formulated sufficiently openly to count as an invitation to meet in the flesh.

Okay. When & where?

Oh. Well. All right, then.

Your choice. You prob know the area better than I do.

And when?

I’m free. Maybe not super early.

Heh. No. Noon again? We, IDK, could get some food?

Sounds good. Did this feel a bit stilted and unnatural? Guarded? Weird for Lone Wolf and Wolf Hunter to be that way, but he supposed it was normal after meeting face-to-face for the first time.

Kevin went on, Mind’s still blown. Have you talked to your agent?

Briefly. She’s reading it.

Another pause. Then: Holy shit.

You’ll be fine. I think the only way she’ll love it more is if you worked in some Shatner/Nimoy slash.

!!!!

I know. I prefer the new cast too, but don’t tell her that.

. . . You’re serious.

Hunter laughed into the stillness. Well, she is a Trekkie. But yes, she’s loving the book. I sent the 1st 90 pgs last night, & she woke me up at 3am to threaten me if I didn’t send more. He paused, then added, That’s why I’m awake.

For almost a full minute, Kevin said nothing. Then he posted, Holy shit.

Still can’t promise b/c of legalities & stuff, but it’s a step.

Silence.

Then his phone buzzed, startling the hell out of him. “Seriously, Leanne?” He grabbed the phone and—

Nope. Not Leanne.

“Hey, Kevin.”

“You’re fucking serious.” He sounded shaky. “This is really happening.”

“It is. Just breathe. Leanne is really reading it, and she’s loving it. What happens next is out of my hands.”

“I . . . Wow.”

“Yeah, she even threatened me with Hello Kitty over it.”

“What?”

“Sorry, inside joke. Anyway. I can’t promise a thing. This stupid business is half writers’ tears and half utter chaos where nobody knows what the other’s doing, but sometimes people get lucky. Especially if they’re talented.”

“And well connected.”

“I guess it helps, but talent is important, too. Just keep in mind it’s still the publisher who needs to be won over. It’ll take time and might involve a battle and the sacrifice of a firstborn, but I’d rather have Leanne on my team than against me.”

“Okay. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just publish it on my website. Some people have been asking about it. Should I take the teaser down?”

“No, just don’t say anything in public yet. I don’t know how Leanne will want to play it and that leaves all her options open.”

“Okay. Wow. How . . . I mean, could you sleep when you had your first book out there with an agent?”

“At that point I was busy with some other books and did my damned best to forget that first one even existed. But no. Lots of stress and tension. The only thing that’s good about getting older and having a pile of books under your belt”—under your belt, Hunter? Really?—“is that it becomes much more routine and you take less shit from all the parasites making a buck off your work.” He snorted. “I guess that makes me sound like a bit of an asshole, but God knows I’ve signed some awful contracts to get my books out there.”

“I’ve heard some of the contracts can be pretty shitty.”

“You’ve heard right.” He sat up and set his iPad aside. Playing with the edge of the coarse hotel blanket, he said, “Really, don’t worry too much about it at this point. If the publisher isn’t on board, we’ll . . . figure something out.”

Kevin didn’t respond right away. “We?”

“Well . . .” Warmth rushed into Hunter’s face. “I really want this story to succeed. Not just because it would save my ass, but it’s that good.”

“And you own the characters and the world, so it’s not like I can do anything with it without your permission.”

“That won’t be a problem from me. My editors and agent? Possibly. But try not to sweat over it too much right now.”

“You know that’s easier said than done, right?”

Hunter laughed. “Yep. I know it very, very well.”

“So you know I’m still going to worry about it.”

“I do. Try to get some sleep, though.”

Kevin huffed. “If I could sleep, we wouldn’t be talking at three in the morning.” He paused. “Why the hell are you still awake, anyway? Oh, right, because your agent called. I forgot. Sorry. Tired.”

“It’s all right.” It’s only half the truth anyway. “I guess we’ll both be drinking strong coffee tomorrow. Thank God we’re in Seattle.”

“Right? Well, I’ll let you go. See you tomorrow.”

Hunter smiled. “See you tomorrow.”

 

Chapter Four

Three shots of espresso revived Kevin from a semicatatonic state to something closer to consciousness, but he was still dragging ass. Thank God the place he’d suggested was only a few blocks from his condo. The brisk wind coming in off Puget Sound would wake him up a little more, and at least if he fell asleep walking, the worst that would happen was he’d wind up sprawled out on the sidewalk or stumbling into a parked car. Which might actually wake him up even more, so . . . win-win.

He turned the corner at the end of the block, and the effects of caffeine, the wind, and a hypothetical face-plant were rendered moot.

Hunter.

His back was turned, but Kevin recognized that black jacket and the more-salt-than-pepper hair from a mile away. As he walked toward Hunter, he let himself subtly ogle the man because why the hell not? An ass like that was made to be appreciated.

Wouldn’t mind doing more than just appreciating—

Ahem.

Hunter turned around, holding his phone to his ear, and when he smiled, Kevin returned the smile and hoped he didn’t look like a total idiot.

“Oh, what do you know?” Hunter stepped toward Kevin. “He’s right here. You want to talk to him?”

Kevin stopped so abruptly he almost fell on his ass.

Hunter held out his hand. “You want to talk to the woman who wants to be our agent?”

He wanted to, but whether or not he could . . .

“Uh, okay.” Kevin took the phone. “Hello?”

“Kevin, my dear, where the hell have you been, and why aren’t you submitting original stories to me so I can make you rich and famous?”

“I was just, uh, fooling around with some characters?” Great first line. Now she’ll think you can’t or won’t write original fic. “I mean. I . . . was just playing? Just enjoying myself.”

“You don’t exactly write like this is your first, though. Your voice is too mature for that.”

“I’ve written some short stuff.”

“I see. How long did this one take you?”

“About eight months, but I got stalled in the middle, just before the second big plot point. So, more like six.”

“Well, hon, tell you what—I’ll make some phone calls and test the waters as it were, and then I’ll come over to Seattle so we can all have a long chat and get to know each other better.”

“Okay. Sounds great.” If his heart beat any harder, it was going to burst.

“Excellent. What about next Saturday? By then I should have a clearer idea of our options. Do you mind if I show this to some people?”

“That’s fine. And Saturday sounds great. I’m working weekdays.” Did he sound like an idiot? He’d definitely take a day off if Hunter Easton’s agent wanted to see him in person. “Anything I should do until then?”

“Yes. Keep writing. And get me a list of your other projects. Publishers like authors who keep writing.”

“Okay.” There went his peace of mind. He’d poured the better part of the last three years of his life into the Wolf’s Landing fandom, and nearly everything he’d written besides had stalled out or was so awful it was in no condition to be shown to anybody.

“Don’t worry too much about it,” Leanne said. “We can focus on this book first, but it’s good to have a medium- to long-term plan. I’ll send you my email address and will be in touch about Saturday.”

“Great. That’s . . . Looking forward to it.”

“Excellent. Now could you give me back to that ruggedly handsome male specimen who’s likely trying his level best to overhear our conversation?”

“Uh. Sure.” He turned to Hunter—who was craning his neck a bit—and held out the phone. “She wants you.”

Hunter snorted as he took it. “Somehow I doubt that.” To Leanne, he said, “Yes, darling?” They spoke for a moment, which mostly consisted of Hunter giving “uh-huh” and “okay” and “right, I’ll let him know” multiple times until she must’ve finally dismissed him. He hung up and put the phone in his pocket as he met Kevin’s eyes. “So. Coffee?”

I don’t think I will ever need coffee again. “Sure.”

They went inside, and both looked up at the giant menu handwritten in chalk on a slab of black slate.

“So, um.” Hunter’s eyes widened as he scanned the millions of options. “Any recommendations?”

“Depends. You in the mood for something sweet?” Why does that sound dirty? Christ, I’m losing my mind. “Or, um—”

“Something sweet could be good.” Hunter glanced at him. “What do you like?”

“The Black Forest cherry hot chocolate is really good. Not very strong, caffeine-wise, but it’s good.”

“Hmm, I’ll have to give that a try. What about the food?” He gestured at the case that was crammed with every imaginable variety of pastry.

“I like the crepes. But don’t go for the super sweet ones”—he gestured toward the triple-chocolate crack-laced cupcakes—“if you’re getting the cherry hot chocolate. It’ll put you in a sugar coma before you even get to the table.”

Hunter laughed. “Spoken from experience?”

“Oh yeah.”

They ordered their drinks and crepes—Hunter went for the apple cinnamon while Kevin got the peanut butter and banana—and found a table in the corner. This was one of those hipster-type shops where all the wannabe poets had their obnoxious poetry slams on Friday and Saturday nights, but at least for now, it was fairly quiet. Kevin wasn’t opposed to poetry, but fuck, it was like they deliberately scraped the bottom of the barrel.

He also met with one of his critique groups here. Not the fun, laidback fanfic group—they met at the local library. Or someone’s garage if anyone felt like having some “totally legal recreational relaxation.” No, he met his pretentious group of Serious Writers™ here. Tawny even wore a goddamned beret. It was ironic bringing Hunter here to discuss publishing his fanfic doorstop. Everyone in that crit group would be so enraged by the idea, so horrified by the knowledge that Kevin dabbled in such dark arts, they would become a black hole of arrogance and cause all of Seattle to implode.

What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Or all of Seattle.

Hunter took a cautious sip of the steaming hot chocolate. “Oh, wow. You’re right. This is really good.”

“Glad you liked it.” Kevin smiled, then sipped his own.

Hunter set his cup on the table. “So did you manage to get any sleep last night?”

“Eventually.” In spite of my elbow being a little tired . . . “You?”

Hunter shrugged. “I fucked off on the forum for an hour or so after we hung up, but I did finally knock out.”

Kevin laughed to himself and shook his head.

“What?”

“It’s just weird. Hearing you talk about the forum. I mean, I know you’ve been there forever, but you’re . . .” He picked up his mug again. “Let’s just say my world views have shifted a little since yesterday.”

“It happens. When they invited to me to panels with the authors I’d grown up with, the peek backstage meant seeing all the cogs turning. The man behind the curtain, as it were, and that can be pretty sobering. Some were perfectly nice people and some couldn’t hold their liquor and some ended up being homophobes and sexists.” He shrugged. “But, for the most part, it’s still good fun. Best job in the world, if you ask me.” Hunter gave him one of those knee-melting smiles. “What do you do, anyway? I mean specifically?”

“Uh. I’m a software developer for the same company that conveniently updates your operating system when you’re trying to edit.”

Hunter snorted. “So I can complain about it to you?”

“I didn’t write that part.”

Hunter gave him a playful glare. “Good.”

“And I’d love to write full-time, but . . .”

“It gets really weird when you go full-time, trust me on that.”

“I don’t think you ever said what you did before you started writing.”

“Six years ago, I was still on a military base. There isn’t much to tell—I just worked and wrote short stories and then novels because all my damn short stories turned into novels. And then the first Wolf’s Landing book sold, and . . . here I am.” Hunter’s eyes lost focus. “The Army was my life for twenty years, but now it seems like it was another lifetime altogether. Doesn’t feel like it was six years ago.”

“I can imagine. Your life must’ve changed pretty dramatically.”

“It did. It really did. And every day I’m grateful that it happened. I was ready to move on from active duty, and I don’t think I was bred to be a desk jockey, you know?”

“God, I know the feeling.”

“Not happy with your job?”

“Well . . .” Kevin sighed and sat back, idly picking at his crepe. “It pays well. I can’t complain there. Not seven figures or anything, but it’s enough to keep me going. I’m just not sure if it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Hunter grimaced. “Yeah, I’ve never understood how anyone manages thirty, forty years behind a desk. I think I’d rather make money doing what I love and just buy myself the gold watch instead of waiting for a company to give it to me as a retirement gift.”

“Assuming you don’t get laid off right before you’re eligible to retire.” Kevin cut into the crepe with his fork. “My dad did twenty years at Boeing, then got laid off. Nothing like trying to find a new job in your midforties.”

“Tell me about it. When I retired, it was tougher than I ever thought it would be. I mean, I was happy, but it was still a transition.”

“I’m sure. So did you spend any time in the Middle East while you were in?”

Hunter nodded. “Two Iraq tours and some time in Kuwait. They were all pretty uneventful, though, compared to what they could have been.” He cocked his head a little. “Out of curiosity, where is your family from? I’ve been trying to put my finger on it, but . . .”

Kevin laughed. “Good luck with that. Everyone tries to guess, but I got some Italian features from my mom that throw people off.”

Hunter snapped his fingers and chuckled. “That makes sense, then.”

“My dad’s Syrian, though.”

“I see. Looks like you got the best features from both sides.”

Kevin tensed. It was obviously meant to be a compliment, and he took it as one, but was Hunter . . . flirting? A book deal and Hunter flirting with him? He might be able to fit one of those things into his skull. Both, though? He tried to think of a response. What would Lone Wolf do, since he’d be talking to Wolf Hunter and wouldn’t be half-intimidated, half-aroused by sitting across from Hunter Easton?

Hunter glanced to the side as if gazing at the menu, and Kevin could have kicked himself for not coming up with a Lone Wolf–style answer like, You’re not too bad yourself, yo. Bantering with a close friend was one thing. Talking to his idol like that without stumbling over his own teeth was another.

Hunter faced him again. “So, about The World Tree. I have to say, I really like how you made Gabriel’s sexuality a lot more ambivalent.”

Kevin nearly choked. Yeah, let’s talk about Gabriel’s sexuality. Right now. Awesome. He shifted in his chair. “Do you? I always got kind of a . . .” He searched for the right word. “Kind of a ‘not straight’ vibe off him.”

“Perceptive.” Hunter smiled. “He’s set up as straight and all that, but that’s not how he started out in my mind. Just back in the day, going with a bisexual lead in a thriller series was an absolute no-go area. Leanne said she’d be able to sell it to much bigger houses if I cut all that out, so I gave in and took it out.” His smile got a little wider. “You put it back in though.”

“Will they make me change it?”

“I think it’s subtle enough that people looking for it will see it and all the rest will just get the type of alpha male that they like. Let them guess. Considering just how many queer fans there are, I’d say the message will be understood.”

“I just . . . I saw that whole quest for his own identity, and he’s running from his past, and there’s clearly some serious anger issues that he can’t deal with. I thought it wasn’t so much about being a werewolf and a lot more about who he is as a person.” Thinking, Kevin played with his spoon. “Shit, that makes sense. Considering you were in the Army under DADT.”

“It’s not really any more autobiographical than any other fiction.” Hunter leaned a little closer and winked. “Or at least that’s what I tell people. I make stuff up. I mean, hey, werewolves don’t exist, right?”

“Right.” And that wink? Hunter was definitely flirting. The Lone Wolf and Wolf Hunter thing, the accident (or not) of their online handles, had given him a sexy little tingle while they’d been online. Offline though, he was overwhelmed. Did Hunter flirt because he wanted him? Or because it was just a habit from interacting online? Either way, it was just flirting. Right? Didn’t mean anything would come of it. Kevin couldn’t possibly sleep with his idol and one of the hottest men he’d ever met. That would be too weird. Wouldn’t it?

Sleep with him? Getting a little ahead of myself here.

“Kevin?” There went that head tilt again. “You kinda zoned out on me.”

“Sorry. I . . .” He cleared his throat. “Just a lot to take in since yesterday.”

Hunter gave a slow nod. “Yeah. It is. And I’m not gonna lie—there’s going to be a lot more to absorb once we sit down and talk with Leanne.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Kevin muttered, and took a bite of his nearly cold crepe.

Hunter watched him for a moment. “Do you want some more time to take it all in? We can move slower if need be.”

“Isn’t your publisher chomping at the bit for the next book?”

“Yeah.” Hunter shrugged. “But I’ve stalled for this long, I can dazzle them with some bullshit to buy you a few weeks. You know, if you need it.”

“Seems a bit silly to postpone success, doesn’t it?”

Hunter grinned broadly. “I suppose it does. Sounds like you’re already starting to get your head around things.”

“Kind of. Some of it has sunk in. Some of it hasn’t.” Like the fact that you’re him. And you’re here. And you’re looking at me like that. Again.

Hunter cradled his mug between his hands and rested his elbows on either side of the plate, the subtle shift in position narrowing the distance between them. “Which parts haven’t?”

Funny you should ask . . .

Kevin held his gaze. “Uh, well, for one, the part where it turns out I was sending explicit slash porn to my favorite author.”

Hunter laughed. “Fair enough.”

“Which I guess explains why you never sent me any of your racy stories.” Kevin groaned and pressed his elbows against the table as he buried his face in his hands. “Oh my God . . .”

“Kevin.” A gentle hand squeezed his arm. “Do you think I would’ve kept asking to read them if it bothered me?”

“Well, no.” Kevin lowered his arms, and as Hunter took his hand back, added, “You weren’t, uh, laughing at them, were you?”

Hunter’s cheeks reddened. “Laughing isn’t the word I’d use.”

“It’s— Oh. Oh. You weren’t kidding about that part.”

Good God, if the man’s face got any brighter . . . “No. I wasn’t.” Hunter watched his thumb run up and down the handle on his mug. “Honestly, I kind of wanted to put more explicit stuff into the Wolf’s Landing books, but that was pretty much moot once the TV series came around.”

“Yeah, I guess they didn’t sign up for Fifty Shades of Gray Wolves.”

Hunter burst out laughing. Kevin couldn’t help laughing too, in spite of his weird embarrassed-flirty-uncomfortable-in-heaven feelings.

“I’m going to have to remember that one.” Hunter wiped his eyes. “Fifty Shades of Gray Wolves. Well played, Lone Wolf.”

Kevin chuckled and took a drink. “So, have you written anything like, uh, what I’ve written? Just not published it?”

“Not much, but yeah, I have a few on my hard drive.”

Their eyes met.

Kevin couldn’t quite make himself ask for copies.

Hunter didn’t offer.

When the silence became unbearable, Kevin cleared his throat. “So, Leanne’s really coming to town next weekend?”

Some tension evaporated from Hunter’s shoulders. “Sounds like it, yeah. I’m not sure if she’ll want to meet us here in Seattle or out in Bluewater Bay.”

“Bluewater Bay would be awesome. I’ve never been there.”

Hunter straightened. “What? Seriously? But you’ve nailed the setting. I mean, Wolf’s Landing is basically Bluewater Bay with a few names changed to protect the innocent.”

Kevin half shrugged. “I just worked with what you gave me.”

“Under those circumstances, I’ll have to give you the tour. Can you take some time off? There’s a lot of things in the town and around it I’d like to show you. We could even go out and find the exact location of your portal.”

Kevin’s heart was racing—out in the woods alone with Hunter, actually looking for a place where in the book . . . holy shit. “I could take Friday off. Maybe come up Thursday night and leave Sunday?”

“Great. Make sure you bring some decent hiking boots.” Another wink. Trust Hunter to punctuate an innocent conversation with flirting. Well, nothing was perfectly innocent to a writer’s mind. “If you can do Thursday, I could meet up with you in the evening after the gym.”

“Sure. I’ll just find a hotel or B&B . . .”

“Not necessary. I have more space than I can fill up. There’s guest bedrooms in my house.”

Oh God. All kinds of possibilities when they were alone. All he knew was that Hunter lived like a recluse. There were no interview shots of him in his house—he was usually photographed outdoors somewhere, playing up his man’s man persona with moss-covered trees or rocks in the background. Or, as Kevin had described it, “Hunter plus landscape” shots. He was dying to see how the man lived. Just the thought of being able to browse his bookshelves and see what kind of fiction he’d read and what kind of references he used . . . talk about mind-blowing. And what kind of desk did he use? Was he neat or a whirlwind of chaos? How would it feel being in Hunter’s space?

He cleared his throat. “Great. Well, I mean, I can drive over. Just email me your address.”

Hunter smiled. “I’ll do that. I’m looking forward to this.”

Kevin’s mouth had gone completely dry, but he managed to croak, “Me too.”

from Just a Sci-Fi Kid Like Me (by Caitri)

[T]he perfect thing to relax with when you’ve had too much “real life”—online, or off.

from The Novel Approach

The plot, pacing and tone of this book are solid; the authors have taken an unbelievable situation and made it work. This is not a fairy tale, it is a romance, and it left me wanting more… More in the series, and more glimpses of Hunter and Kevin.

from The Jeep Diva

[W]hen Hunter and Kevin meet...*fanning self* did the sparks fly! These two clicked like a couple of puzzle pieces that were just meant to go together.

from Queer Town Abbey

This has to be my favourite book of the four in the series. I found it very well written, it flows beautifully to make an enjoyable read.

from Crystal's Many Reviewers

[A]n excellent installment in the Bluewater Bay series and proved to be just as enjoyable as previous contributions to the series, and quite possibly even more humorous. 

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