Illumination

Illumination

Author: Rowan Speedwell

Adam Craig is burned out. Lead singer of the hard rock band Black Varen, he’s tired of the empty life of groupies, paparazzi, and hotel rooms. Worse, a life in the closet. After the final concert of their latest tour, he flees the afterparty, pursuing memories of lost summers and carefree days, until he passes out on the patio of a shuttered lake resort.

Miles Caldwell is a brilliant artist, tied by agoraphobia and social anxiety to his family’s lodge. Alone but for his parrot, he spends his days illuminating manuscripts and hiding from the complexities of life. When he discovers Adam asleep in a deck chair, he’s furious but intrigued. Adam soon charms his way into Miles’s bed, and they lose themselves in a summer idyll, safe from the compromises and claims of reality.

But Adam’s life, with all it demands, is waiting for him. And Miles, uncertain of Adam’s true feelings, is battling demons of his own. Somehow, the man who’s never home and the man who never leaves it must find the strength to fight for a future together.

Price: $2.99

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

drug use

Chapter 1

Adam Craig worked his way through the crowd in the hotel suite, champagne bottle in one hand, cigarette in the other. Somewhere in this place was a balcony, he was sure; when they’d checked in earlier in the day he’d noticed it. And he was pretty sure this was the same hotel they’d checked into, since their manager had driven them back to the hotel and not that fucking drunk drummer Eddie.

He took a drag off the cigarette and elbowed his way past a skinny blonde who kept moving in front of him. The smoke was thick and the music way too loud and he was way too drunk and stoned. He needed that balcony, needed the fresh air—though “fresh” was probably a lot to ask for more than a dozen stories above Chicago’s Loop. Okay, air that didn’t taste of cigarettes and pot, but good healthy diesel fumes and smog. Yep, that’s what he needed.

“Awesome gig, man!” someone shouted at him over the scream of metal rock blasting from the suite’s high-end sound system. “You rocked ’em tonight!”

Adam waved the bottle at him and squirmed through the crowd. He nearly tripped over a pile of pillows where Eddie was cavorting half-naked with his girlfriend du jour and her girlfriend du jour, and holy shit, was that the lead from Unmet Potential? He’d thought those guys were in Slovakia on tour. No, he was pretty sure that’s who that was; he’d had a bit of a crush on him until he met him and found out what a fucking dick he was. He stepped over someone’s legs and worked his way along the wall to the sliding glass doors.

Fuck. The balcony was every bit as crowded as the room. Any minute now some asshole was going to get pushed over the railing and paint the sidewalk fourteen floors below. No point in going out there and guaranteeing it.

Someone grabbed his arm, and a Lady Gaga wannabe plastered herself to him. “Hey!” she shrieked. “Wanna fuck?”

“No!” he screamed back.

“Okay!” She wriggled away. A minute later, the crowd shifted and he saw her straddling Chuck the bassist’s lap while Chuck fumbled with the buttons on his 501s. Not very discerning, Chuck—but then again, none of them were. It was kind of pathetic, he thought, and took a swig from the champagne bottle. Not one of the women here would turn down a fuck with one of the guys from either the band or the roadie staff, and he would be willing to bet a grand that none of the male hangers-on in the room would turn it down either—at least not from one of the guys in the band. The roadies would have a harder time of it. He snorted in drunken laughter. “Harder” time. Right. Himself—he was the lead singer and the public face of the band—everyone wanted to fuck him. Not that there was a soul here he actually wanted to fuck.

Suddenly the noise and the smoke and the letdown of this being the last concert on the tour, with only a few weeks in the studio to look forward to, all ganged up on him. “Fuck,” he muttered, and this time worked his way across the room to his bedroom, seeking, if not quiet, then some measure of privacy.

There were three strangers fucking in his bed.

“Fuck!” he screamed, then threw the champagne bottle at them, spraying bubbly across the carpet and the bed and the three strangers. They got out of the way fast enough, but there was no way he was sleeping in that bed tonight. Instead, he ground out his cigarette on the marble table next to the door, and stormed out—out of the room, out of the suite, out of the hotel.

The wind from the lake was brisk and cooled the sweat on his neck. He reached behind and patted himself on the ass, checking to make sure his wallet was still in the back pocket of his leather pants, then hailed a cab. By the time one pulled up at the curb, the cool night air had brought a semblance of sobriety to his brain. He slid into the backseat, intending to tell the driver the name of a bar on Rush Street. Instead, he found himself telling the cabbie to drive to Milwaukee.

“Where on Milwaukee?” the cabbie asked.

“Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” Adam said. “You know. In Wayne’s World, when they went to Milwaukee to see Alice Cooper? I wanna go there.”

“They don’t make movies like that no more,” the cabbie agreed, and put the car in gear. “Gonna cost you, though.”

“You take plastic?” Adam handed him his AmEx card.

The cabbie ran it through and gave it back to him. “Cab’s all yours, dude.”

Adam lay back against the cracked vinyl seat and fell asleep.

He woke about half an hour later, according to the clock on the cab’s dashboard, still sleepy, but less foggy. They’d left the city lights behind, and now only the occasional distant glint marking a residence broke the darkness outside. “How far did we get?” he asked the cabbie drowsily.

“Just past Gurnee.”

“I used to love Six Flags Great America,” Adam said. “We went there all the time.”

“It was better back in the days when it was Marriott and really nice.”

“You ever go there?”

“Sure. Take the kids every summer.”

“I haven’t been there in years. Is it open?”

“Not at this hour.”

“Damn,” Adam said wistfully.

They drove in silence another ten minutes or so, then Adam saw one of the ubiquitous brown highway signs that advertised local sights, with the legend “Indian Lake.” “Indian Lake,” he said aloud. “Indian Lake. Where have I heard of that before?”

“It was a hit back in the sixties. The Osmonds or the Cowsills or some group like that,” the driver offered.

“No. No, I mean the lake. We just passed the sign.”

“Oh, there used to be a resort up that way. About twenty miles off the highway.”

“Go there,” Adam commanded.

“Your dime.” The cabbie took the exit.

***

“Dude,” the cabbie said, “you sure you wanna do this?”

Adam shut the cab door and leaned back against it. The entrance to Indian Lake Resort was a narrow graveled road with a chain across it. A half-rusted sign read, “Indian Lake Resort. Closed for Season. Private access only,” and another, “Private Property. KEEP OUT.” Both the latter sign and the chain looked relatively new, and the gravel was well kept.

“I knew it,” Adam said, more to himself than to the cab driver.

“Knew what?”

“My folks used to come here when I was a kid. Last time was probably when I was like eleven. Great place.” It had been, with a terrifically clear lake to swim in, boats to mess around in, horses to ride, trails to hike, and rocks to climb. The perfect place, with the last visit the summer before the divorce, before his mother had taken him and his brother to California. He’d forgotten this place, and he hadn’t realized how much he missed it.

“How long you gonna be?” the driver asked. “I only need to know cuz it’ll be morning in about two hours, and I’m goin’ off shift at eight.”

Adam pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the signal. “You go on home. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be, but I got bars, so I’ll just call for a ride when I’m ready to.”

“Okay. Lemme give you a receipt. Keeps the credit card companies happy.” The cab driver printed it out and handed it to him. “There ya go.”

Adam gave him a hundred dollar tip. “If anybody asks, you ain’t never seen me.”

“Seen who?” said the cabbie. He grinned and put the cab in reverse.

Adam waved absently as he ducked under the chain and started up the road toward the lake.

***

He hadn’t realized how dark it was until after the cab’s taillights had vanished back down the road, but when they were gone, it was just him, the scrub trees along the side of the road, and starlight. The moon had set some time ago, he guessed, or maybe it wasn’t up yet—he didn’t know from moon schedules. But there was a glint of light close to the lake: either one of the private cottages that had flanked the old resort, or emergency lights around the resort itself. Either way, he headed in that direction, stumbling a few times from the drink, the pot, or the gravel surface.

It was probably a good twenty minutes before he came out of the trees near the lake, and he was fucking freezing. He was only wearing a leather vest over his leather pants, and neither of them did anything to keep him warm. They make coats out of leather. Why, if it doesn’t keep you warm? Maybe it’s a different kind of leather . . .

Up the slope of the hill he was standing on was one of the resort’s cottages, the source of the light. He’d come off the gravel road at the foot of the short drive to the main building. The other cottages looked abandoned, dark and silent, and the main resort’s windows were all boarded up, though what looked like construction equipment was parked around the front. He walked across the grass toward the lake, at the foot of the rise where the lighted cottage stood. A patio halfway up the slope was cut out as a terrace, with white iron furniture set around it and a closed sun umbrella propped against the table, but he walked past it, wanting to be near the lake.

The water lapped lazily at the pilings of the dock. Adam walked out and sat on the end of the dock tailor-fashion, his custom Docs scraping on the warped, peeling wood. The lights from the house stretched and flickered over the surface of the lake. A soft breeze stirred his hair and shirt and brought the smell of dark earth, new grass, and . . . dead fish. Yep. He was at a lake, all right. The smell brought back forgotten memories of good times; he could almost hear the laughter and shouts and splashing from those long-ago summer days. He chuckled softly to himself and settled in to enjoy the quiet.

After about twenty minutes, though, the edges of the warped wood started rubbing against his ankles and his ass, and he was beginning to get sleepy again, so he shifted back onto his feet and walked up the dock and the slope of hill to the little patio terrace. Someone must use it regularly; the cushion on the chaise was both new and dry. He sat there and looked out over the water, basking in the view. Maybe he should think about getting a place on a lake, or the ocean. Not Malibu—overpriced and overpopulated. Someplace quiet. He didn’t even care if it was on the ocean. A lake, like this, would be just fine.

He fell asleep thinking about it, and dreamed of water.

***

Miles woke to the sound of a lunette scraping rhythmically over a cured goatskin. No, he thought a moment, calfskin—then the tenor changed again and he thought, no, definitely goatskin. “Grace!” he said sharply. Damn her. He’d been up late last night working on his most recent piece, and he’d really planned to sleep in.

“Love you!” caroled a woman’s voice.

“God damn you, Grace!” He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and looked around his bedroom. There she was, sitting on the rocking chair. Well, on the back of the rocking chair. The African Grey Parrot opened her beak and echoed back in his voice, “God damn you, Grace,” and then in his sister’s, “Love you!” Then she went back to the sound of scraping, interspersed with muttering he recognized as his usual imprecations about uncooperative materials. Then his cell phone rang and he reached for it, only realizing after he saw no incoming call that it was Grace again.

“Damn you, Grace,” he muttered. “I should’ve let Lisa take you when she moved out. But no, I’ve got to have some kind of company, she said; can’t leave you all alone, she said. Ha!”

He raked his hands through his hair and looked at the clock. Seven fifteen. “I ought to have you stuffed,” he said to Grace, who imitated his cell phone again in mocking response. “At the very least teach you to make coffee.” Hmm. There was a thought. All he’d have to do was set up the coffeemaker the night before and teach her to turn it on in the mornings. That was assuming he’d remember to set it up the night before. Or he could just break down and buy a new coffeemaker, one that had a timer that actually worked.

Sorting through the pile of clothes at the foot of his bed, he pulled out a T-shirt that wasn’t too smelly and a pair of paint-spattered jeans. Then he stumbled over the piles of books on the floor and into the bathroom.

Marginally more awake after a shower, he headed for the kitchen and coffee. The pot was dirty, of course, with yesterday’s brew staining the glass of the carafe; he swore under his breath and filled it with water to soak while he put a new little white filter in the holder and filled it with fresh grounds. Then he rinsed out the pot and filled the coffeemaker and turned it on.

While it brewed, he dug into the refrigerator and found a not-too-badly-out-of-date package of rolls and popped it open, sticking them on a cookie sheet and into the oven, adding two minutes to the bake time to compensate for forgetting to preheat it. God, cooking was complicated.

There was a bowl on the counter full of the beaten egg whites from yesterday; he carefully slid the meringue out and into the garbage, and checked the clarity of the liquid left in the bowl. Ah, excellent—a good batch of glair, no white left to leave unwanted glossy patches in the paint. He took the clean bottle he’d prepared and poured the glair into it, adding precisely three drops of oil of clove to prevent the egg white from smelling as it aged. Still thinking about the glair, he went out onto the back porch to check the copper plate suspended over the bowl of ammonia. There was a solid buildup of verdigris on the plate; another day or so and he’d be able to scrape it and grind it. No hurry on that one, though; he had enough of the previous batch of verdigris to get him through this current project.

The coffeemaker stopped wheezing just about the time the oven timer dinged, and he took the rolls out of the oven and turned it off before pouring his coffee, automatically checking inside the mug first to make sure he hadn’t been mixing paints in it. Most of the period pigments he used were innocuous, but there were a few that were pretty damn toxic, including the orpiment he’d worked with on his last project. Nasty stuff, orpiment, but no other period paint got that gorgeous shade of yellow.

He wandered into his workroom and set his coffee absentmindedly on the side desk, focused on the unfinished parchment on his worktable. The morning light picked up the gold leaf on the parchment, giving the piece the glow that medieval monks called “illumination.” Light. He hadn’t even begun adding color to it yet, but already the piece gleamed. He smiled contentedly to himself, pleased with the results of fifteen hours of gilding, fine gold leaf atop gesso made with slaked plaster using the period-accurate recipe in Cennini. Nothing gave gold that pure glow like the gesso in Cennini.

The calligraphy he’d be starting this morning was a poem the guy who’d commissioned the work had written—always an improvement over the morons who wanted him to put weeks of work into an illuminated manuscript with text copyrighted by someone else. He lost more commissions that way, but he would be damned if he was going to get into legal trouble because some asshole hadn’t done his homework. Now he kept copies of the permissions with the photo documentation of the process. He preferred original text—even if, like this guy’s, it was sappy and derivative. The best, of course, was text too old for copyright. Bible verses, medieval poetry, portions of epics—he’d done one with a fantastic portion of one of the Elder Eddas, in the original Norse or whatever, that had turned out to be one of his favorites, all intricate knotwork offset by runic letterforms. A twenty-four-color digital facsimile of it hung on his bedroom wall. The original had been commissioned by a huge Tolkien fan who had done his research. Those were the absolute best kinds of clients.

He hooked a bare foot around the rung of his stool and drew it over, settling down on it before adjusting the slant of his worktable. Without thinking about it, he reached over to the desk and closed his fingers around the ceramic beaker that held his quills (he’d cut and cured just enough for this project so he wouldn’t have to stop and recut halfway through, as he’d too often done before). The beaker went into the cutout on the side of the custom-built worktable, and he drew out a goose quill, running his fingers over the feathers he’d left at the top. Unlike many calligraphers, he left most of the feathers on his quills, trimming off only as much as he needed for finger room; he liked the balance and weight they gave the pen, and the soft flick of the barbs against his wrist as he wrote. Odd term, barb—it sounded sharp and harsh, not silky like feathers, though he supposed that it came from the little hooklike parts that held them together. He smoothed his fingers over the feather, closing up the little splits, feeling the tiny clicks as the hooks caught. Then he put the feather back into the beaker and, with a faint sigh, drew out the stick of lead to begin lining the parchment. This was the boring part, but thanks to modern technology, he’d already done a computer layout of the text, and all he had to do now was pen the lines the text would float between. The placement marks for those were already on the parchment, laid out there when he’d done the original drawing.

His hand was steady as he drew the lines, using a T-square both for accuracy and to keep his hand off the parchment. Skin oils were a nightmare, sealing the surface of the calfskin and causing erratic absorption of the iron gall ink. Sometimes he wore a cotton glove to work, particularly in areas where precision called for a steady hand supported by the document, but cotton too often picked up ink and smeared it exactly where you didn’t want it to go. Sometimes he’d rest his hand on a piece of paper or a scrap of vellum instead. Whatever kept his hand off the calfskin until the piece was inked.

Paints were more forgiving, but then the paints tended to float on the surface of the parchment, not etch themselves into it as the iron gall ink did. The painting was the easiest part of the project, even if it was the most toxic.

Lines drawn, Miles opened and stirred the contents of the ink bottle and set up the side tray with the stoneware bowl Lisa had made him in high school ceramics class. Pouring a little of the stirred ink into the bowl, he took out the quill he’d played with earlier and did a couple of test characters on a piece of scrap before starting the calligraphy. Then, with a faint sigh of pleasure, he set to work.

Chapter 2

“Love you!”

Miles glanced up to see Grace perched on the top edge of his slant board, her claws shifting anxiously. “What’s up, Grace?” he asked, and held out his hand for her to climb on.

“Love you!” she said again, bobbing her head. He frowned, then his brow cleared, and he looked out to see morning light bouncing off the lake. “Hell, I worked through the night again, didn’t I?”

He got up and filled Grace’s dish; she rubbed her head against his shoulder before stepping off his wrist and onto the perch where she ate. He watched her a moment, stretching. He’d remembered vaguely taking a break and noting that it was about four a.m.; he’d only intended to work a few more minutes, but he’d finished the calligraphy about midnight and started on his favorite part of an illuminated piece, the painting. And the few more minutes had somehow turned into—he glanced at the clock—two more hours. Oh, well. It wasn’t like it was the first time he’d worked through nearly twenty-four hours straight. He poured himself a cup of cold coffee and stuck it in the microwave while he fixed a fresh pot, then took the cup outside and wandered barefoot in his paint-speckled jeans and T-shirt down to the patio.

He was halfway there when he realized that someone was asleep on his chaise.

“Son of a bitch!” he snarled, and stormed the rest of the way to the patio, his bare feet slapping as he lunged onto the cold flagstones, intending to wake the vagrant and kick him off his property—if not into his lake. But as he got a good look at the sleeping man, he froze, startled.

Not an ordinary vagrant—he’d had to chase off one or two in the past, and they generally didn’t wear painted-on leather pants that looked expensive and butter-soft. The calf-high lace-up boots the guy wore probably cost as much as one of Miles’s pricey creations. The stranger’s leather vest laced up the front, and the black leather vambraces that covered his forearms were decorated with silver. Long brown hair, threaded with copper and gold that sparked in the morning sunlight, tumbled over his shoulders and face. An Aragorn wannabe, Miles thought, then amended, a rich Aragorn wannabe.

Then the wayward morning breeze lifted a lock of the silky hair off the stranger’s face, and Miles’s breath caught. The guy was fucking gorgeous. Fine, sharp features, an elegant nose beneath dark brows, and a mouth that looked cynical and sensual at the same time. Miles found himself caught up in a fantasy involving that mouth and vaguely wondered what color the guy’s eyes were—and then he shook himself out of it. Was he crazy? This guy was trespassing. “Who the hell are you?” he roared instead, almost more angry with himself than he was with the trespasser.

The guy shot up into a sitting position and stared at Miles wide-eyed. “Jesus Christ!”

“The hair’s right, but nothing else,” Miles said caustically. “Now who are you really?”

The eyes that stared at him, still wide with shock, were gold. Not brown, not hazel, not even amber, but gold. Gold like the 23K stuff he used for gilding. Gold as Cennini. “Where am I?”

My chaise,” Miles snapped. “My patio, my lake. You’re fucking trespassing, dude, and you need to get your ass gone.”

The guy dropped his head into his hands. “Fuck. Don’t yell. For the love of God, please don’t yell. My fucking head is going to fall off and roll down the hill and end up in ten feet of water and I’ll drown by remote control.”

Miles stifled an involuntary laugh. The guy, hot as he was, was pathetic, and Miles couldn’t help feeling just a little bit sorry for him. “How the hell did you get here anyway?” he asked at a more normal volume.

“Walked—I think. I—there was a cab, and the lake. Indian Lake.”

“This is Indian Lake. It’s private property, though. Why did you come here?”

“Used to come here when I was a kid.” The guy lifted his head, and his gaze focused on the mug Miles still held, forgotten, in his hand. “Is that coffee?”

Miles took a sip. “Yep, tastes like it, sorta.”

The guy groaned. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars for a cup of coffee.”

“Name first.”

“Adam . . . Karoshewski. That’s with a ‘w,’ not an ‘f.’”

Had there been a bit of hesitation before the last name? “What?”

“It’s spelled with a ‘w’ but it’s pronounced like an ‘f.’ People are always messing it up.” The guy rubbed his forehead. “Sorry. Babbling. Not awake yet.”

Miles shrugged. “Well, Adam Karoshewski with a ‘w,’ you can have a cup of coffee while you wait for a cab. My hospitality will stretch that far. Are you hungover?”

“That would be an understatement, but yes.” Adam threw his legs over the side of the chaise and stood up, holding a hand out for balance. “Okay. Vertical. Good start.” He looked longingly at the mug in Miles’s hand.

Miles shook his head, but handed him the mug. Adam took a drink. “God, this tastes like shit,” he mumbled, but took another drink anyway.

“It’s two days old,” Miles said.

“Nectar of the fucking gods,” Adam replied, and drained the mug. “Okay. I think I can walk now.”

“Science-fiction convention around here somewhere?” Miles asked as they started up the hill toward the cottage.

Adam frowned. “What?”

“Your outfit. You look like you’re auditioning for Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Figured you were with one of the cons; there are usually one or two running somewhere within a couple hundred miles. C2E2, Windycon, DucKon . . .”

“I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about,” Adam said blankly.

Miles opened the screen door and ushered him into the kitchen. He normally wouldn’t let a stranger indoors, but there was nowhere on that skintight outfit that Adam Karoshewski-with-a-“w” could possibly be hiding a weapon. Even his wallet and cell phone were clearly outlined in the back pockets of those painted-on pants. And he was skinny, that tall, long-legged androgynous skinny, like a character in the yaoi manga Miles loved. Miles probably outweighed him by forty pounds.

Despite the androgynous look and the long hair, Adam didn’t look girly. Maybe it was the firmly muscled chest underneath the tooled vest; maybe it was the lean muscle in his bare arms. It wasn’t until Adam leaned up against the counter in the kitchen waiting for Miles to pour him coffee that Miles realized that he’d also subconsciously noticed the very nice package the guy was sporting in front. No. Nothing girly about that. Miles flushed and bent to look in the refrigerator for milk to hide his embarrassment.

The guy apparently didn’t notice. “Black’s okay, dude.” He rubbed his eyes.

“So, if you aren’t dressed for a con, why are you dressed like that?” Miles asked, and found another mug. He refilled Adam’s and filled his own, then gestured for his unexpected guest to sit down. He turned around one of the two chairs that didn’t have books piled on them and sat in it backwards.

Adam dropped into the other empty chair and sipped his coffee, rubbing his head again. Miles took the hint and went to dig around in the cabinet where he kept his meds, finding the familiar green bottle of Excedrin and tossing it across the table to Adam.

“You are a saint,” Adam said fervently, and fumbled the bottle open. He took three and washed them down with the coffee. “Saint . . .?”

“Miles,” Miles said. “Miles Caldwell. Spelled the way it sounds, Adam Karoshewski with a ‘w.’ And you were going to tell me why you’re dressed like an elf.”

“A Ranger. Aragorn was a Ranger, not an elf. A human.” Adam took a drink. “I may not know geekspeak, but I know my movies. And besides, I’m not in costume. I mean, except that I wore it on stage last night and haven’t changed. I’m a musician.”

Miles regarded him thoughtfully. “Of course you are. Metal, right?”

“We like to think of ourselves as being on a higher plane than an ordinary metal band,” Adam said. “But yeah, essentially. A little harder than pop, a little softer than death metal. I call it light metal. Get it? As opposed to heavy metal?” His expression was anxious. “You listen to a lot of rock?”

“Nope. Opera. Classical. Nothing later than Beethoven.”

“No shit? Not even the Stones? Beatles? The Who?”

“When I was a kid, sure—everyone did, right? Not since I’ve grown up. So. You any good?”

“We do all right.” It appeared that Miles’s disinterest in his guest’s field of expertise was a good thing, because Adam seemed to relax. He even offered Miles a faint smile.

Miles liked the smile. He might not be interested in Adam’s music, but his body reacted with interest to Adam’s smile. He kept his voice neutral, though, as he asked, “So how the hell did you end up on my terrace? I don’t recall any concerts being held around here last night.”

“Not here. Chicago.”

Miles nodded. Probably in one of the clubs on Rush Street or something—it had been years since he’d gone clubbing in the city and he had no idea where bands played nowadays. “Helluva long ride from Chicago.”

“I think I fell asleep in the cab,” Adam admitted. He ran long, graceful fingers through his hair. Miles admired the way his neck arched as he did. “I remember something about Milwaukee.”

“What about Milwaukee?”

“I wanted to go there for some reason.”

Miles made a face. “Milwaukee? You a Brewers fan or something?”

“No. I think it was something about Alice Cooper.”

“Who’s she?”

The look on the stranger’s face was priceless. Miles snorted out a laugh. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.” He went back to the coffeemaker; the carafe was empty so he made a fresh pot. “Sorry I don’t have anything much to eat; there’s some rolls on the counter, but they’ve been sitting out since yesterday so I wouldn’t risk it.”

Adam glanced at the rock-hard biscuits and said politely, “No, thanks. It’s nice enough that you offered the coffee, considering I am a trespasser and all.”

“Well, you did offer me a grand for a cup.” Miles chuckled in spite of himself. “Don’t worry, I won’t hold you to it.”

“I’m good for it.” Adam pulled his phone out of his pocket and glanced at the display. “Crap. I got a voice mail.” He pressed the buttons and held the phone to his ear, then away from his ear. Miles heard someone yelling and a lot of background noise; Adam listened a moment, sighed and disconnected, then pressed another couple of buttons and held the phone up, rocking the chair back onto its rear legs. “Bill? Yeah, it’s me. I’m fine. What’s up?”

Miles watched the coffee drip into the carafe and pretended not to listen.

A few moments of quiet on his end, then Adam went on, “Don’t give me that crap. I told you I was fine . . . I’m from fucking Chicago, dickhead, of course I know where I’m going . . .” He frowned. “What the hell happened to Eddie? Swell. What a fucking asshole. Good thing the fucking tour’s done; he can spend the next six months in fucking rehab. Is the girl okay? . . . Christ. Nothing like pissing away all the good press we got with the tour. I swear to God . . . What? No, I’m not shacked up with a groupie. Christ, like we ain’t got enough of that bullshit to deal with. Hell, no, I didn’t sleep in my own bed—there were three total strangers banging each other in it when I went in there last night. Jesus, Bill, can’t you keep some control over who you let into the hotel room? You’re just lucky nobody fell off the balcony . . . Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before. That’s what we pay you for. Look, book me another room at the hotel, okay, and move my stuff down there. I’m gonna stay a couple more days but I don’t need a fucking suite.” He listened a few more moments, rolled his eyes, then said, “I don’t know. Yeah, that’s fine; beats having to find a cab.” He put his hand over the phone. “You don’t mind if I wait for a car to come up from downtown, do you? Shouldn’t be more than an hour. Bill’s gone all mother hen on me.”

“No problem,” Miles said, fascinated with the half of the conversation he could hear.

Adam returned to the phone. “No, send the limo. Indian Lake Resort . . .” Again, he took the phone from his ear and looked at Miles. “Address?”

Miles gave it to him, and the phone went back up as Adam repeated it. “No, I don’t need anything. I’m fine. I’m fine. Yeah. See you then.” He put the phone on the table and shook his head.

“Well, that’ll save you the cost of a cab,” Miles said.

The other man looked at him blankly.

“Having a car come up?”

“Oh, yeah. Right. Shit, I haven’t thought about the cost of a cab for years. I take ’em all the time.” Adam stretched, cracked his neck, and eyed Miles hopefully. “More coffee?”

***

Damn, his head ached. He wished he could remember what the hell he’d ingested last night—gin, he thought, probably in martinis with the preshow dinner he couldn’t remember; then champagne after the show; pot, of course, maybe some E . . . He’d done a line of coke before the show, but not more than that; any more and the value of the buzz vanished in a haze of confusion, and as front man for the band, he needed to be sharp. He wasn’t stupid enough to confuse the dizzy energy of coke with the real adrenaline high he needed to perform. And then the pot afterward to tone him down. He didn’t remember anything else in between. No wonder he’d ended up in Buttfuck, Illinois.

Just lucky he’d ended up in the hands of someone who, while understandably cranky, didn’t want to shoot his ass.

Speaking of asses . . . He shot a quick, surreptitious glance as his unwilling host turned to pour himself another cup of coffee. (That made three by Adam’s count just since his awakening, so no wonder the guy was cranky.) The paint-covered jeans were baggy, but what they were covering wasn’t. Nice shoulders, too, stretching out the T-shirt appealingly. And the rest of him wasn’t too bad, either; pretty blue eyes, sexy, tousled, light brown hair, and a day’s worth of scruff on a handsome face. Adam’s gaydar was usually pretty good, but he was getting confusing signals from this guy: plenty of don’t-touch vibes, but those blue eyes kept holding his a bit too long before glancing away. Adam sighed. Closeted, he’d bet money. Severely closeted. Just his luck. He looked like he’d give a guy a good fucking and what with the rock-star image thing going on, Adam hadn’t been fucked in years. He’d done plenty of giving, with girls and even a few guys, but the front man for a metal band like his couldn’t get caught taking it in the ass. And he fucking missed that. He didn’t dare it with any of his pickups—and these days, weren’t they all pickups?—and risk the publicity.

This guy didn’t even know who Adam was.

A cell phone trilled in the next room. Miles just stood drinking his coffee. Adam said, “Aren’t you going to get that?”

“Nope.” Miles fished his phone from his front jeans pocket and held it up to show Adam the screen. No new calls. The phone trilled again.

Miles turned toward the door into the rest of the house and yelled, “Goddamn it, Grace!”

“Love you!” a woman’s voice sang from the other room.

Adam’s heart sank. Great. The first hot guy he’d met who didn’t want to plaster his picture all over Facebook, and here he was not only closeted but married. Or shacked up, anyway.

Fuck. The day was just getting better. He couldn’t fucking wait to see what happened next. The goddamn hotel would probably burn down with his guitars in it. He didn’t care so much about the Rickenbacker 620/12, but the Fender acoustic had been a gift from his grandmother.

There was a strange whirring sound, and something flew into the kitchen in a flurry of gray feathers. Miles held out his arm casually and a big bird landed on it. A parrot or something, but not bright-colored like the ones Adam had seen before: this one was gray and white, with a wicked-looking beak and funky red feathers on its tail. It walked up Miles’s arm and Adam winced as the sharp talons dug into his flesh. They didn’t break the skin, though, and Miles didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he reached into a bowl on the counter and put a peanut between his lips, then turned toward the parrot.

Gently, the bird reached out its wickedly sharp beak and took the peanut, ate it, then said, “Kiss, kiss,” and Miles again turned his head so that the parrot could touch its beak to his lips. Then he said, “Say ‘Thank you,’ Gracie.”

“Thank you, Gracie!” the parrot echoed.

Miles laughed and reached over with his other hand. Grace, as apparently that was her name, stepped from his shoulder onto his fist, and he carried her over to a wooden stand in the corner. “She’s a Congo African Grey Parrot,” he said to Adam’s unasked question. “Smartest bird in the world.”

“She’s huge,” Adam said. “Beautiful.”

Miles grinned, the smile lighting up his fairly ordinary face. “Isn’t she? She technically belongs to both me and my sister, but Lisa works all kinds of shitty hours, and CAGs need a lot of attention.” He petted the bird gently. “Grace has a vocabulary of over four hundred words and phrases and can actually carry on a conversation. She’s probably as smart as a chimp. Who’s a smart girl, then?” This was addressed to the bird.

“Not you,” she replied.

Adam laughed. “She’s really cool.”

“That she is. As long as I keep her away from my workspace when I’m not around. I use a lot of toxic chemicals and CAGs are notoriously curious. When I’m painting with anything poisonous, she goes in her cage.”

“Dumb cage,” Grace opined. Then, “Stinky. Stinky pot!”

“Stin . . . oh, crap.” Miles went back out onto the porch. Adam got up to see what he was doing.

There was a largish basin on the porch that looked like hammered or galvanized steel or something. A platter was hung a few inches above it from a complicated hook setup anchored in the overhang of the porch roof. Miles crouched beside it and lifted the platter. It must have been copper, because the bottom was coated with green like the copper guttering on Adam’s mother’s house. When Miles raised the dish, Adam caught a whiff of what smelled like piss.

He said so, and was astonished when Miles nodded. “Yeah. Best thing for making period verdigris. It’s mostly ammonia, but regular ammonia doesn’t have the right chemical structure.”

“You use actual piss to make—what’s ‘period verdigris’?”

“Paint. Green paint. For illuminated manuscripts.”

It was English, but Adam didn’t understand a word. “What the hell is that?”

Miles straightened the platter again and looked up. “You don’t know what an illuminated manuscript is?”

“I know what illumination means and I know what a manuscript is, but not together. You make it sound like it’s something specific. Is it like an illustrated manuscript?”

“It is to illustrated manuscripts what Notre Dame is to your local church,” Miles said. “And I don’t mean the football team.” He stood up and put his hands on his hips. “Ready for a history lesson?”

Adam groaned. “Do I have a choice? I hated history.”

“Think of it as art, then.” Miles frowned at Adam a long moment, but Adam didn’t think he was angry. It was more of an assessing frown. “The thing is,” Miles said, “I don’t know you from—you should pardon the expression—Adam, and I’m not sure I should let you see what I’ve got here. I live alone except for Grace, there are no neighbors for miles, and while I keep a gun in the house, I’ve never had to use it and hope I never do. What I have here is valuable, and for all I know you’re likely to crack me over the head and take off with my artwork.”

Adam stared back at him a long time. Fuck, there goes my chance of hot sex with someone who doesn’t know who I am. But he was curious. “Shit.” He took out his phone again. This time he pulled up the internet browser and linked up to the band’s website. Then he handed the phone to Miles.

Miles took it and carried it back into the kitchen, looking at the phone’s screen. Adam followed. “What am I looking at?”

“Click on the ‘band photos’ link,” Adam said. His headache, which had vanished with Grace’s arrival, was back in full force, and he swiveled his head to stretch his neck muscles.

Miles obeyed and frowned down at the screen. “It says Adam Craig under your picture,” he said, then, “‘Black Varen’?”

“Yeah. That’s my stage name, Adam Craig. Black Varen’s the band.”

“I’ve heard of Black Varen.” Miles’s voice was aggrieved. “They’re huge.” His head shot up, and he stared at Adam accusingly. “Black Varen played the United Center last night.”

“Yep.” Adam leaned back against the counter and regarded him dispassionately. “I thought you didn’t listen to any music later than Beethoven.”

“I’ve never heard anything by you,” Miles shot back. “I’ve just heard of you. Hell, I don’t live under a fucking rock.”

“No, more’s the pity,” Adam said. “So it won’t come as any surprise when I say I don’t need to steal anything of yours because I could probably buy all of it and not even notice the cost?”

Miles stared at him with narrowed eyes, then shook his head. “Okay, I guess you probably aren’t going to mug me in my own house,” he said grudgingly. “Come on.”

“Another happy fan,” Adam muttered. Jesus, this guy was cranky. And unimpressed. Which, now that he thought about it, was actually kind of refreshing. He followed Miles out of the kitchen and around a dogleg corner into what had probably originally been the cottage’s living room, but was now sort of a workshop and library. Floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed with books on one wall and wooden boxes on another. A third wall was mostly window overlooking the lake. Half of the room—the half with the wall of boxes—was scrupulously neat, with everything set in place around a tilt-top table. The other half, with the books, was cluttered and disorganized, sporting a battered couch covered with more books and sheets of newspaper; even more books were piled on the floor. A dusty CD changer sat in the corner.

Miles walked into the center of the room and pointed at the back wall. “That’s illuminated manuscripts.”

“Holy. Fucking. Shit.”

The wall was covered with framed calligraphy pieces. Adam had played around with lettering in high school art classes, but nothing even remotely like these. The calligraphy was a bunch of different styles that he supposed were historical, and they were beautiful, but the painting that decorated the pieces was amazing. What looked like real gold was interspersed with designs and foliage and flowers painted in deep, bright colors, layered and detailed. He put his nose up close to the glass covering one of them to look at the tiny brushstrokes showing the minuscule hairs and veins of a leaf no more than a half an inch long. “Christ on a crutch,” he breathed. “You did these?”

“Yeah. They’re samples. That one you’re looking at is a reproduction of a fourteenth century Book of Hours—that’s kind of like a prayer book rich people carried around with them in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.”

“Whole books of these?”

“Yep.”

“Jesus.”

“Yep.”

Adam stood back and craned his neck to see the ones toward the ceiling. Those didn’t have as much gold—one didn’t have any at all—but they were even more intricate in the spiraling designs he recognized as Celtic. Others had amazingly realistic flowers and bugs painted so that they looked three-dimensional. One was entirely in shades of gray. The ones that had calligraphy all had the same text, which started out “Lorem ipsum . . .” The “L” was ornately decorated on some, with pictures inside the letter of flowers or people or animals. “So this is like, what, your catalog?”

Miles laughed. “Yeah, in a way. I do have a catalog, both physical and online—I have a professional facsimile photographer take pictures of finished pieces.”

The paintings dazed Adam, already only semi-functional from the hangover. He turned and said weakly, “I need one of these.”

“You look like you need to sit down.” Miles sounded concerned. “Here.” He cleared off a portion of the couch and led Adam over to it.

Adam sank onto the cushions. Miles knelt at his feet and took one arm, unbuckling the leather vambrace and pulling it off, then following suit with the other. “You okay?” he asked as he set the leather cuffs on the seat next to Adam and rubbed Adam’s wrists gently, almost automatically, his concerned eyes on Adam’s face.

Blinking, Adam said, “Yeah. I’m still kind of . . .” and he wiggled his hand. “Too much shit last night. And your art—fuck.”

“Do you see why they called it ‘illumination’?” Miles asked eagerly. “The way they seem to glow?”

“Hell, yeah.” Adam looked down at Miles’s face. It was glowing, too. Beautiful. “Fuck,” Adam said, and bent his head to kiss Miles.

Chapter 3

Miles held perfectly still as Adam’s mouth brushed over his, tasting, then settling in for a serious kiss. When Adam’s tongue flicked against his lower lip, he let him in, greeting him tentatively with his own tongue. God, it had been forever since he’d been kissed, and he didn’t remember ever being kissed with such tender skill. Adam’s lips were gentle, soft, and not too dry; he tasted of coffee, dark and bitter and hot. Miles felt a groan rattle his throat and heard Adam’s answering moan. Adam’s hands cupped his face and held it still for his gentle exploration.

He did nothing more, just kissed Miles for what seemed like forever, then finally drew back and released his grasp on Miles’s head with seeming reluctance. “Sorry,” he said in a rough voice. “I didn’t mean to do that—it just sort of happened.”

“It’s okay.” Miles licked his lips, drawing his tongue slowly over the upper as if tasting the remnants of the kiss.

Adam groaned again, closing his eyes. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“You’re not in denial at all, are you?”

“No. I never said I was. Why? What did you kiss me for then, if you thought I wouldn’t want it?”

Shaking his head, Adam said, “You really don’t have a clue, do you? About how different you are?”

Different. Miles rocked back on his heels and stood up. “Yeah, whatever. Look, if you wanna fuck, we don’t have to go through any of the mock-courtship preliminaries. You’re hot, I’m easy, and I’ve got supplies. Just not in here, okay? I gotta work in here.”

His guest slumped back against the couch. “Jesus, dude. It was just a fucking kiss. And I’m hungover.” Rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, he added, “So while it was a really great kiss and you are really very hot . . .”

“Fuck.” Miles’s gut wrenched. He’d fucked up again. He should’ve known better than to attempt anything like trying to communicate outside business relationships.

Adam looked up, frowning. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. I’m stupid, is all. Just ignore me. I’m not really good at reading people, and I make stupid mistakes. I apologize. Look, you want more coffee?”

General Details

Word Count: 80,200

Page Count: 307

Cover By: L.C. Chase

Translated Edition

You can buy this title at:

French - Amazon
German - Amazon
Ebook Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-052-9

Release Date: 09/28/2013

Price: $2.99

Print Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-051-2

Release Date: 09/28/2013

Price: $14.39