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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.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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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.
“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.
[A] refreshingly unique novel.
This book is truly stunning. RAVISHING!
The writing is good, kept me engaged and flowed well, without slowing down the plot.
I was seriously impressed with everything about this book. Recommended.
[T]his will not be my last Rowan Speedwell read.