Gearing up for a new release!

I don’t know why I keep playing with self-publishing – I really don’t like any part of the process other than writing the books!

But for this series, I wanted to have more flexibility to write short stories, novellas, little bits here and there, and I thought it might work best with fewer publisher-related confines. So… I’m self-publishing.

And I’m hoping to release the first book in the series in the next few weeks, and I’ve set up NO promo. Absolutely none. Not even doing a half-assed job. There is no part of my ass involved in promotion at this time.

Feral-for-Kobo-1800-x-2700[1]But I will now officially fix that by… posting a picture of the book’s cover on my blog, which I rarely write in and which has very few followers. There. A tiny, tiny fraction of my ass is now engaged.

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Themes in Writing

When I was reorganizing my website(s) recently I used it as a chance to look over my books as a sort of body of work, rather than individual stories. (Does “body of work” sound a bit pompous? Oh well!) It was interesting to see some of the themes that I kept coming back to.

At the start, there was a lot of writing about death, and how it affects those left behind. The Dark Horse series, Shying AwayLost Treasure – different degrees of loss, but still, death was always there.

Then I seem to have gone through a bit of a ‘dealing with responsibility’ phase – it started with Beneath the Surface  and the conflict over doing your job vs. doing what’s right; phased into The Pawn and The Knight, with one character a reluctant leader while the other is learning to take responsibility for his own freedom; and then poor, overworked Joe and irresponsibly party-boy Mac in The Fall and Riding Tall, trying to find middle ground between the two extremes.

More recently? Past mistakes, and the consequences of those actions. Really, that’s been a pretty big theme in lots of my books, I guess. Dark Horse Danny isn’t exactly ashamed of his past, but he’s definitely affected by it. Same with Quinn in Shying Away, and Nick and Alex in Poor Little Rich Boy. But lately it seems like that theme has been coming to the surface more, and the mistakes made have been more public. In Mark of Cain, Lucas is just getting out of jail after killing a man, for god’s sake – hard to find a bigger mistake than that! Chasing the Dragon and In Too Deep also have characters who operated on the wrong side of the law for a while (a bonus ‘prostitution’ theme!) and who have to come to terms with that. And in the Cate Cameron book I’m currently editing (the second in the Lake Sullivan series) I’ve got a character getting out of jail after ten ears. He’s just a secondary character, but I think his situation gives the book a lot of heart.

Anyway, the interesting thing, to me, is seeing the triggers for all this in my own non-writing life. The death theme came from losing someone close to me. The ‘dealing with responsibility’ part is a bit harder to track, but I’m pretty sure it was just me settling into the daily grind of adult life, realizing that this is it for the next few decades until I retire. Not exactly dramatic, but pretty real.

And the imprisonment theme?

I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but it still strikes me as… I don’t know. As weird, I guess, but weird in a good way.

I’m Canadian. I grew up with the Tragically Hip. I’m not a huge fan, but they’re part of my culture and I’ve heard most of their big songs probably a hundred times. But a couple years ago, I was in the grocery store (I can still remember that I was pushing my cart through one of the middle aisles) and Thirty-Eight Years Old came on the piped-in music and I started bawling. I mean, it’s excellent writing, obviously: no extra words, every line doing its job perfectly. But the story it tells? The story itself is so awful and pointless and just a loss for everyone involved.

So, yeah, it got me thinking, but it also got me feeling. Which, in my world, is a pretty good combination for the start of a story! (Or, in this case, of quite a few stories).

Am I done with that theme, yet? Not sure. My current WIP definitely has a lot of past mistakes in it, but I’m hoping I can keep the characters out of jail. We’ll see how that goes…

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Technology – I’m done, for now

So I found a gallery plugin for the book covers, spent however long setting it up, went to change the order of the covers into something that made sense, and then found out I couldn’t do that without buying the premium version of the plugin.

I’m getting old and crusty, I guess. If there had been a price clearly announced at the start of the process, I probably would have paid it. But I feel like they’re trying to TRICK me into paying, making it look like I can do all sorts of things so I put the time into setting it all up, and only THEN telling me I have to pay. So – nope. Not gonna do it.

If it’s a bit weird that the first image showing on my webpage is the cover of a three-year-old novella? Well, it’s a bit weird. That’s all. Eventually I’ll hunt around and find a different plug-in, but for now – Room to Grow. You win, little book. You’re the star. Enjoy it while it lasts!

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Nope, Jetpack can’t help. I have to re-do it all.

But that’s good, right? They say if you figure something out and then don’t use your new learning, you’ll forget it. So this is my chance to entrench and re-enforce all my (meagre) web-design learning. Yay! Lucky!

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So, about a month ago my website caught something nasty, and in trying to get rid of it I ended up nuking the whole site.

After a frustrating round of attempts to transfer the domain to a new host, I finally got things set up, and then spent most of last night rebuilding.

I woke up this morning, connected the site to Jetpack, and… everything got deleted.

I’m currently a little despondent. And, more maturely, I’m waiting to see if the Jetpack folks can tell me how to restore yesterday’s work before I go to to the trouble of re-doing it all.

So, again… there’s not much to see, here. You can find out what I’m up to at Facebook or Twitter, or you can find lists of my books at Amazon or Goodreads. And you can find me, sitting in the corner, trying not to cry…

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Subterranean Winter Kingdom

Apologies for any confusion – this is a backdated entry, necessary b/c I’m rebuilding the website. No new content here.


Subterranean Winter Kingdom


Cade was glad he’d given in and let Aiden find a good suit for him to borrow. At the time it had seemed like charity, or vanity, or some weird combination of the two, but now, looking around at the well-dressed young men and women in the waiting area? It was good to know he fit in, at least on the outside.

A youngish man in khakis and a button down came into the room and consulted a list posted on the wall, then said, “Cade Martin,” and extended his hand with a smile when Cade stood up. “Thanks for coming in,” he said, as if Cade was the one doing the favor. Sincerely nice or sarcastically over the top? Aiden would assume the first, but Cade wasn’t so sure.

“Thanks for inviting me,” he managed. He knew he was lucky to be getting the chance; Kaminski Enterprises was widely considered one of the best summer internships in the country, and most of his class had sent in applications. As far as he knew, only two or three of them had been granted interviews.

“I’m Chris Foster. Legal counsel and general problem solver. I’m one of the people you’ll be meeting with. The other….” Mr. Foster stopped halfway down the hall and winced at Cade. “We had an interviewer call in sick, and we just happened to have another guy from head office in Chicago this week whose business wrapped up earlier than he expected. So he’s sitting in with me.”

Cade frowned, trying to figure out why this was wince-worthy. “Is he an engineer?”

“Uh, no. Neither of us is. But that’s okay—the point of the internships is to give people a picture of the whole company, and we’re hiring for attitude rather than specific skills. But, uh—”

A door opened then and a tall guy even younger-looking than Mr. Foster leaned out. “Chris, you’ve got him? Are we doing this?” He smiled at Cade and stepped forward with his hand outstretched. “I’m Evan Kaminski. You ready to go?”

Cade barely managed to get his hand up. Evan Kaminski. The CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Interviewing Cade for an internship. “I’m Cade Martin,” he croaked. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Mr. Foster nodded and patted Cade on the shoulder. “That’s more than the last guy managed to say at this point.” He frowned at Mr. Kaminski. “Seriously, dude, you should pretend to be someone else. You’re freaking people out.”

“It’s a casual company,” Mr. Kaminski said calmly, edging in next to Cade and guiding him toward the interview room. “I might not get to talk to everyone all the time, but we try to keep things friendly.”

Cade nodded and tried to take deep breaths. He thought about Aiden, and that helped. This interview didn’t matter, not really. Even if he messed it up, he’d still have Aiden. That was the only important thing.




Aiden checked the time impatiently. Cade was supposed to text him as soon as the interview was over. Were they running late, or was it taking longer than expected, or had it gone really poorly and Cade was too miserable to communicate… but, no, it wouldn’t be that last one. Not anymore. If Cade was hurting, he’d let Aiden know.

So there was nothing to worry about, not yet. Still, Aiden wished Cade would get in touch. It would be fun to spend the summer in San Francisco, sure, but more than that, this was another important step in Cade making the life he wanted for himself, and Aiden wanted to see that happen.

He was killing time in the mall that filled the ground floor of the building where Cade was interviewing, and let himself be distracted by watching a little boy staring at the huge train set running through the middle of the space. There were two men behind the boy, one a bit older and distinguished looking, the other damn hot. And they were pretty clearly together, parenting this kid, who seemed happy and well-adjusted and everything the homophobes said was impossible with two dads.

Aiden let himself imagine it. Him and Cade, being dads. No time soon, of course, but someday? Sure, why not?

His phone vibrated and he yanked it out of his pocket to stare at the screen. The text was from Cade, but it made no sense.

Is the zoo good during winter? For kids?

Aiden gave himself a moment to see if the meaning would become clear, then typed back, What? Is this for your interview?

Kind of. Is it good?

Aiden had no choice but to go along. It’s pretty good. There’s skating, and lots of the animals are inside.

A long wait for a response, and then instead of a text Aiden heard the younger dad say, “Hey, RJ? You want to go to the zoo?”

It was just one of those weird synchronicities. That was all. The two dads talked to the boy about the zoo, and Aiden typed, There’s ZooLights after dark. Some kids might like that.

And a moment later, he saw the hot dad look at his phone and say, “Zoo Lights. You might be a bit young for that? Do you want to see animals and go skating, or do you want to see lights?”

“Animals!” RJ said.

The hot dad nodded in satisfaction. “Yeah. Lights are stupid. Animals are cool.”

The older dad said, “Lights are nice, too. But maybe not as nice as animals.” He nudged the hot dad and said, “Ask him what else is good. We’re here for a couple days.

And a moment later Aiden glanced at his vibrating phone to see, What else is good for kids?

“Excuse me,” Aiden said, standing up and approaching the others while giving his best safe, preppy smile. “My boyfriend’s upstairs, and he’s supposed to be interviewing for a summer job but instead he’s texting me a bunch of questions about Chicago tourism for kids. Which is fine. Weird, but fine. But I heard some of your conversation, and it kind of overlapped with what I was telling him, so I just wondered….”

The older dad snorted. “He’s interviewing with Evan Kaminski?”

“Uh, with Kaminski Enterprises, yeah.”

“Asking the really probing questions to figure out who the best future employee would be,” hot dad said with a grin. Then he looked quickly at Aiden. “Does your boyfriend have a sense of humor?”

Aiden thought about it. “Usually, yeah. But probably not right now. He’s pretty nervous about this interview.”

Hot dad shrugged. “Okay. Too bad, but, hey, thanks for the tourist tips.”

“Wait.” It was probably a bad idea. But Aiden thought about how much Cade wanted this internship, and remembered how many applicants he’d said there were, for just a couple positions. Cade was an excellent student, but he wasn’t necessarily going to give a great interview; it took him a long time to warm up to people, and twenty minutes with strangers in a rented office space wasn’t going to show him at his best. “Evan Kaminski has a sense of humor?” he asked. “He’d think it was funny if you did… whatever you’re thinking about doing?”

“He’d think it was hilarious,” hot dad promised.

Aiden gave himself another moment to think about it, then nodded decisively. “Okay. If he wants, we’re in. What can I do?”




Cade felt his phone buzz and saw Mr. Kaminski—Evan. He’d said to call him Evan—looking at him expectantly. Strangest job interview ever, but Cade peeked down at his phone and realized it might be about to get just a little stranger.

If the interview’s going well, tell him there’s a big train set at the Botanical Gardens that kids like. If it’s not so good and you want to take a chance, tell him he might want to consider the Subterranean Winter Kingdom.

Cade had lived in the Chicago area his whole life. He’d never actually visited any of the places Aiden had been suggesting, but he’d at least heard of them. The Subterranean Winter Kingdom, though?

Is that new? He texted back. While waiting for an answer, he tried to evaluate the interview so far. He was pretty sure he was being boring. He was prepared to talk about engineering, and had researched a variety of the company’s current projects and speculated about the challenges they might be facing, but neither interviewer had seemed too interested in those ideas. Probably because their large teams of experienced, professional engineers had already found solutions to all of Cade’s imagined challenges. They’d seemed more interested in casual, get-to-know-you type chatting, and Cade had spent most of the conversation smiling nervously or babbling nonsensical replies. So, no, the interview probably wasn’t going too well.

He saw the message flash onto his screen. Trust me.

“There’s a big train set at the Botanical Gardens. But….” He took a deep breath before saying, “He actually suggests you try the Subterranean Winter Kingdom.”

“The what?” Mr. Foster—Chris, damn it—leaned forward, squinting a little in clear interest. “Subterranean? Really?”

“I don’t know. Should I get more information?”

“Absolutely,” Mr. Kaminski said. He seemed just as intrigued as his friend. And these two clearly were friends, as well as coworkers. At least friends.

So Cade typed More info, please, and then tried to look casual and comfortable as he waited for a reply. Sitting in an interview with a totally built, somewhat eccentric young billionaire and his handsome companion of indefinite relationship status, chatting about tourist destinations that might not really exist. Yup, just another day at the office.

He looked down at his screen, then back up at the men. He’d started this, so he might as well keep going. “Apparently you reach it through a tunnel near the airport? And once you’re inside, it’s all done up like the tropics? There’s a big beach, with a fake sun that’s like a tanning lamp, but really big.” The details kept popping up on his phone, making him marvel at Aiden’s typing skills as much as his knowledge of probably imaginary tourist spots. “And the world’s biggest wave machine. The water’s actually big enough that you can parasail… I don’t know if that’s true, to be honest. That seems really unlikely. And there’s a rain forest. Really? I don’t know, possibly there’s a rain forest, and you can go on guided tours of the canopy and learn about the different animals that live there. I guess kids would like that part. And they’d like the beach, for sure. If it exists.”

He risked a glance at the two men. They were staring at him in just about the way two powerful businessmen should stare at an intern-wanna-be who spouted nonsense like this in a job interview. Cade looked down at his phone, then back up at the men.

He was okay, he realized. The interview hadn’t been going well, so he wasn’t losing anything. Aiden had wandered away from reality, apparently, but Cade could pull him back eventually. And in the meantime, this was actually kind of fun. Not everything was life or death, according to Aiden, and maybe he was at least a little bit right. This internship wasn’t going to work out, so Cade would do something else. It would all come out fine. “There are sea turtles,” he said, and he smiled. “They lay their eggs on the beach, and that section gets fenced off because they’re endangered. But you can watch the eggs hatch from behind the fence.”

“Sea turtles in Chicago,” Evan said.

Cade nodded. “I didn’t know about it, either. But I guess so.”

“What else?” Chris asked. There was an interesting note in his voice, one Cade couldn’t quite identify.

He looked back down at his phone. “Well, swimming with the dolphins, naturally. You probably expected that, right?”

“It would have seemed empty without dolphins,” Evan agreed.

“And apparently the locals are a mix of all different cultures. There’s been a lot of immigration to the area over the centuries, and now it’s a big mishmash. There’s….” He frowned at his phone. “Well, of course there’s no military. But apparently you can go up the side of a volcano, if you want. That sounds interesting.”

Evan and Chris looked at each other, then at Cade. With one voice they said, “Danny,” and made it sound accusatorial.

Cade was tempted to leave them in ignorance. But he shook his head anyway. “Uh, no. Cade. Sorry.”

Evan blew out an exasperated breath that turned into a sort of snort by the end. He turned to grin at Chris. “The guy just can’t let go, can he?”

“The planning here is impressive, though. I mean, okay, he wanted to go to Costa Rica instead of Chicago. He doesn’t like snow.” Chris turned to Cade. “But how the hell did he recruit you?”

“I’m a pawn,” Cade said. “I don’t know what’s going on. My boyfriend just told me to go along with all this.”

“Your boyfriend.” Evan squinted at him. “Where is he, exactly?”

“I don’t know. We were going to go out for lunch after this—he was going to meet me downstairs in the mall.”

“The mall where Dan and Jeff were going to take RJ,” Evan said. He leaned back in his chair and grinned. “They think they’re clever.” He looked at Chris, then nodded decisively. “Text Danny. Tell him we have to cancel lunch because some idiot wasted a bunch of time in our last interview.” He grinned at Cade and shook his head to show he wasn’t serious. “Cade, you text your boyfriend and say I seemed really pissed. Okay?”

“Uh, wait. Can I just tell him to say you seem really pissed? Like, let him in on it? I don’t want to make him feel bad.”

“He doesn’t like jokes?”

“Uh, no, he’d probably love it. But if I played a joke on him, then he might start playing them on me, and I really don’t want to encourage that sort of thing.”

“Okay, let him in on the secret,” Evan agreed. He stood up. “We need to get down to the mall. Yeah, it’s good that your boyfriend… what’s his name?”


“It’s good Aiden’s on our side. Get him to tell you where they are. When we get closer we’ll set up an ambush.”

“An ambush?” Cade squeaked as he let himself be guided out of the office and down the hall, texting as he went.

“Absolutely. We have a double agent, now. That’s the perfect occasion for ambushing.” He turned to Chris. “We good?”

“I told him you were storming around and I had to go calm you down. Then if he texts back to confess, I can ignore him because I’m too busy with damage control.”

“Perfect.” Evan looked at Cade. “Can Aiden play it up? Make it sound like you really, really wanted this internship and now you’re crushed?”

“Yeah,” Cade said. “He’d enjoy that. And it wouldn’t be too much acting, really… I mean, I did really want the internship.”

Evan looked surprised as the elevator started dropping them toward the main floor. “Oh, yeah, the internship. Okay, you can have it.”

“Uh,” Chris interjected, “there’s supposed to be a process for that. You’re going to piss off everyone who’s spent their time interviewing people if you just start handing out internships like candy.”

Evan frowned, then shrugged. “It can be an extra one. They can do the process and pick their people, and Cade can work with me.” He turned to Cade. “Is that cool? There’d be a lot of travel, probably, but you’d get a good picture of all different parts of the company. And it’d be useful for me to have someone science-y around. Chris is useless that way.”

Cade tried to make words, but no sound actually came out of his mouth.

Evan saw his reaction and gave a nonchalant shrug. “I’m an excellent judge of character,” he said. “This will be good.”

“He’s a fast judge of character,” Chris told Cade. “And then he refuses to ever admit he was wrong. But, as it happens, I agree with him. And I’m actually an excellent judge of character.”

Evan made a rude noise as the elevator doors slid open and the three stepped out into the crowded mall.

“Get a precise location,” Evan urged, and Cade typed into his phone.

Chris looked down at his own phone and grinned wickedly. “Two texts from Danny, and now he’s trying to call,” he gloated. “Aiden must be a good actor.”

“He’s good at everything,” Cade said.

Chris grinned at him. Not sleazy, not trying to work an innuendo into Cade’s words. He just seemed happy to see someone in love. “You should help me with the Olympics this summer,” he said.

“Okay,” Cade agreed. He really had no idea what he was agreeing to, but he was pretty sure it didn’t matter. He seemed to have an internship, Aiden was somewhere close by and Cade would soon see him, and there was an ambush in the works. Everything was good. His phone buzzed and he glanced at it, then said, “They’re by Santa’s village. We should text when we’re close and Aiden will make sure they’re looking at Santa.”

“Excellent,” Evan said. “Is Aiden looking for an internship, too?”

“He might be,” Cade said. “Maybe you can ask him when the mission’s complete?”

“Good plan,” Evan agreed, and he waded out into the crowd, Chris behind him, Cade bringing up the rear.

It wasn’t the day he had planned. But it was a good day. And that was good enough for him.


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Twelve Days of Dark Horse Christmas

Apologies for any confusion – this is a backdated post, necessary b/c I’m rebuilding the website. No new content, here.


“The partridge is supposed to be in the pear tree,” Dan said. RJ was pretty fascinated by the scene regardless of authenticity, but Dan wasn’t interested in praising half-assed workmanship. A toddler might think that looking out to his front lawn and finding a huge cage with a potted tree and a captive bird was enough, but it really wasn’t what Dan was looking for.

“What did you want me to do?” Evan’s voice crackled a little over the phone, as well it should considering how far away he was, but Dan could still hear the familiar affectionate frustration. “Should I have wired him onto the branch?”

“You just jump to the most efficient method, without worrying about how cruel it is? What about training the partridge, Evan?”

“Oh. Training.” Now Dan could hear the just-as-familiar smugness in Evan’s voice. “Interesting idea. You see the little bell on the top right of the cage? Why don’t you lift that down and give it to RJ? Tell him to give it a good ring.”

Dan did as he was told and after a little coaxing RJ went along with the plan. And the damn bird flew up into the branches of the potted pear tree and perched there, calmly preening.

“If you had time to train a damn partridge,” Dan said into the phone, “You’ve known about this for a while. It didn’t just come up like you said it did.”

Back to affectionate frustration as Evan replied, “I’m not the only rich guy who’s ever screwed up around Christmas time, Danny. There’s a whole industry at work, here. Someone else trained the partridge.”

“This isn’t what I want,” Dan said. “You know what I want.”

Evan didn’t answer, not right away. Eventually he quietly said, “I love you,” and hung up before Dan had time to decide whether he was ready to return the sentiment.


“I was wondering why the cage was so big,” Dan said into the phone. RJ was merrily throwing tiny handfuls of birdfeed through the wire of the bird enclosure. The feed was being gobbled up by the partridge and the two turtle doves that had joined it that morning. “So I looked up the words to the song. That is a shitload of birds, Evan. I always sort of thought it was an even mix of stuff, but when you really look at it, it’s birds and people. That’s all.”

“There’s the rings….”

“I already have the only ring I want from you.”


But this time it was Dan who ended the call. He leaned back into Jeff’s chest and they both watched RJ together.


The French hens were chickens. Dan probably should have been able to figure that out, but he guessed he’d never really given it much thought. They came with a wooden coop and a wire-enclosed run, all set up in a little clearing half-way to the horse barn. Jeff was busy explaining eggs to RJ, who was responding with limited understanding and unlimited enthusiasm.

“Eggs!” he exclaimed, pointing at the birds. Then he frowned in confusion and looked back to Jeff. “Eggs?”

“Not right now. The eggs will come later. Right now they’re just chickens. But they’ll give us eggs soon.” Jeff looked over at Dan. As was his custom, he was staying out of the current disagreement between Dan and Evan. But now he said, “We’d talked about maybe getting some chickens. You were the one who wanted to do it.”

“If I’d wanted to do it, I’d have done it. I don’t need Evan to supply me with chickens.”

Jeff nodded slowly. “Still,” he said. “They’re nice birds.”

They were nice birds. But they weren’t what Dan wanted.


The calling birds weren’t what Dan wanted either. They were stuck in the big cage with the other non-chickens, and they sang nicely enough, and flew from one perch to another and seemed fairly content.

“RJ’s trying to learn how to fly,” Dan reported into the phone. “Jeff gave him the basic lessons before going to the gallery. Now RJ’s practicing.”

“The basic lessons?” Evan asked carefully.

“Flapping, mostly. A bit of hopping.”

“Is he getting anywhere?”

“Covering a lot of ground horizontally, but I haven’t seen him lift off yet.”

“He’s got to do his ten thousand hours of practice before he’s a master flyer.”

“I think he’d settle for being a novice, if he could just get some altitude.”

They were quiet for a while, Dan watching their son while Evan looked at… who knew what? “You still like the hotel?” Dan finally asked.

“Yeah,” Evan said. “I guess. I mean, I’d rather be at home. But—”

“If you’d rather be here, you’d be here,” Dan interrupted. Evan had made his choice, and there was no point pretending otherwise.

“There are people at the company who’ve devoted years of their professional lives to this deal. I can’t screw it up because I want to be home with my family for Christmas!”

Knowing it was true didn’t make it any easier to accept. “RJ made his first friend,” Dan said. He wasn’t sure if the story was his apology or if it was another accusation, one more part of RJ’s life that Evan was missing. “His name’s Luke. They were at the Play Place together last week and had a great time, and when I took RJ in today they recognized each other and headed right for the sandbox together.”

“Nice,” Evan said. He seemed willing to accept the topic chance. “This kid seems like the right sort of people? He’ll be a good influence on Robbie?”

“He’s a bit of a sand-thrower. But his dad stopped him, so… that’s good.”

“His dad?”

“Yeah. One of them. He’s got two.”

“Two, like a dad and a step-dad? Or they’re a couple?”

Yeah, Dan had done that on purpose. He wasn’t exactly proud of himself, but it wasn’t like he was lying. And if Evan got a little jealous, and if that made him come home a little faster? Dan would be okay with that. “A couple,” he said casually. “Paul’s a doctor, and Austin runs some sort of web design business. They seem really nice.”

“Jeff’s met them?”

“I don’t think so. They’re pretty new to town. They moved out from the city when Luke got old enough to start moving around.”

“Huh,” Evan said. He didn’t sound impressed.

“I’d better go. RJ’s getting tired of flying and I need to get to the barn. Thanks for….” Well, Dan hadn’t really meant to go that far. Was he actually going to encourage Evan’s insanity? “Thanks for all the birds,” he said grudgingly. “Have you got a plan for what to do with them when Christmas is over?”

“We can eat them.”

“A different plan?”

“Yeah. The guys will take them back, if we want. Or we can keep any that we like.”

“I think we should keep the chickens.” There. That was Dan’s apology for being crabby and for making Evan jealous.

“Great,” Evan said. He sounded like he meant it.



“The Rio Olympics,” Jeff mused. He looked at the paperwork in his hands, then at Dan. “Hotel reservations for Evan and me and RJ. Not for you.”

Dan nodded slowly, then reached for the phone. “Thank you,” he said as soon as Evan picked up.


“Yeah.” Going back to Rolex and winning? That had been for Justin, and for the Archers. But the Olympics? That was Dan’s dream, all on his own. Evan hadn’t wanted to even think about it. He’d been a nervous wreck for the weeks leading up to Rolex, too aware of the history and the danger, and he’d wanted Dan to retire from competitive riding as soon as he’d gotten the win. There had been a time when Dan had been happy working behind the scenes, training horses for other people to compete on. But he didn’t want that anymore. He wanted the Olympics.

And now Evan had found accommodations for himself and Jeff to be there, but he hadn’t reserved a spot for Dan. Because Dan should be in the athletes’ village. “I’m always careful,” he said now. “It’s as safe as it can be.”

“That’s not too reassuring,” Evan said, but it was pointless of him to keep arguing when the reservations made it clear he was giving his support to the idea.

“The Olympic rings aren’t all gold, though. There’s five of them, sure, but they’re all different colors.”

“Well, apparently the ‘calling birds’ were really supposed to be ‘coaly birds’, so you know… we’re taking some liberties.”

“Okay,” Dan agreed. “Thank you,” he said again.

“Please be careful.”



“They aren’t a-laying,” Jeff pointed out. He was standing behind Dan, his arms draped over Dan’s shoulders in a loose, comfortable hug, and they were both staring out at the geese paddling around on the pond.

“I was afraid to mention it to Evan. I thought he might have some bell we could ring and one of the poor things would have to squeeze out an egg on command.”

Jeff’s chuckle was as warm and familiar as his embrace.


“Swans are assholes. One of them almost bit RJ. They can stay for another five days, I guess, but they’re out of here on the day after Christmas. Okay?”

“Are they beautiful, at least?”

“They’re gorgeous. I guess that’s part of the plan. Lure an innocent tot toward you with your soft white plumage, then go apeshit and try to bite the poor little guy. Assholes.”

“You want them gone before Christmas? I can call the guys and they can come pick them up.”

Dan thought for a moment. “No. They’re good until after Christmas. Probably not a bad lesson for RJ to learn. Just because something’s pretty doesn’t mean you can chase after it and hug it.”

“Okay, if he was trying to hug the swans I can see how they might have gotten a little upset.”

“They got upset because they’re assholes. Day after Christmas, Evan—they’d better be gone.”


“This is a bit surreal,” Dan said, staring at the scene in front of them.

Jeff nodded. “Yeah. I was worried about the Maids-a-Milking. I really wasn’t sure what it was going to look like.”

“I’m not sure this is the most accurate interpretation of the song.”

“It’s good for RJ,” Jeff said. “He’s learning a lot.”

“About the dairy industry. Just what every toddler needs to know about.”

RJ wandered over, still shaking the little container of cream one of the milk maids had given to him. “Is it butter yet?” Jeff asked, and crouched down to inspect the contents. “Nope, not yet. Are your arms tired?” RJ shook his head stubbornly and started shaking again.

“Between the flapping and this, the kid’s going to have some serious upper body strength,” Dan said. Then he wandered over to one of the women holding the goat’s lead rope. “What do you guys do the rest of the year?”

“I work at a library, actually,” she said after making sure RJ was too far away to hear her confession. “There’s only two year-round milk maids. They tour around to schools and do educational programming. Heavily subsidized by a certain marketing board, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

She sounded a bit cynical for a milk maid, but it was reassuring to know she had a life outside of the obvious. “And they just recruited you for this job?”

“At Christmas? All of a sudden there have to be eight of us. We do parades, and the occasional private gig.”

Private gigs. Rich men who screwed up at Christmas time, trying to apologize with seasonal flair. Dan shook his head. “How many private gigs? Like, this year. How many?”

“Five. All day long today, we’re touring around, being the eighth day of Christmas. It’s a bit weird.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“You guys are our first of the day, though. I guess someone paid extra to bump you up the schedule and make sure we got here early.”

“Someone,” Dan agreed. Evan would know that they had plans for their days. Dan needed to ride, Jeff needed to paint, and RJ had so many activities booked that Tia said she was more of a chauffeur than a housekeeper. Evan had paid extra to get their activity scheduled first. No, that wasn’t the touching part. The touching part was that he’d thought of that. He’d remembered that the whole world wasn’t an offshoot of the Evan-Kaminski-show, and he’d made sure his silliness worked in around everyone else’s plans. “Do we get to eat stuff? Like, yogurt or something?”

“Absolutely. Do you want to wait until the little guy is done with his butter?”

“How much longer is that going to take?”

“We cheated a little; we gave him a jar that was already almost done. But even so, he might need a bit of help from adult arms….”

“Hey, RJ? Can I play with the butter jar too? And then can Daddy Jeff do some shaking?”

RJ handed over his toy without much concern; it had probably stopped being fun a while ago. So Dan took a turn, and so did Jeff, and then they handed it back to RJ to finish things off. He crowed in happiness when he saw the solid blob they’d created and trailed off after one of the milk maids to spread it on toast.

“He’s a lucky kid,” Dan’s milk maid said softly.

“We’re all lucky,” Dan replied.


“I saw them as more ballerina-like, in my head.” Chris stared at the scene on the front lawn as if he couldn’t decide whether to be appalled or amused. “This is… Danny, I’m not sure these are ladies dancing.”

“Ladies of the evening, maybe.” Ryan sipped his coffee and grinned. “I like it.”

“They’re not actually indecent,” Dan said. He didn’t know if he should be shielding RJ from this or not. I mean, there’s… there’s a certain… Okay!” he said as two of the women started grinding against each other. “Hey, RJ, let’s go see what’s for breakfast! These dancers are… Daddy Evan is going to need to explain what’s Christmas-y about these dancers.”

It’s okay if we stay and watch them?” Chris asked with a grin.

Dan lifted a fascinated RJ up and frowned over the child’s shoulder at Chris. “Just make sure they clean up after themselves.”


“Where?” RJ asked. He’d gotten used to his morning surprises and was clearly a little disappointed by the lack of one on the tenth day.

Dan poked his head cautiously out the front door and peered around. “It’s supposed to be Lords-a-Leaping,” he whispered to RJ. “Maybe they… where do you think they leap from?”

“The barn,” Jeff said from behind them. He wasn’t working that day and he and Dan had talked about taking RJ to see Santa Claus, but Dan hadn’t wanted to do it. He didn’t want to do anything Christmassy with just the three of them, not when it should always be four.

And now apparently Jeff had secrets about leaping lords. “Do you actually know that?” One look at Jeff’s smug expression gave Dan his answer. “What the hell? You and Evan are in league, now? You’re part of this?”

“Evan and I are always in league to make you happy. You know that.”

“Then get his ass home.”

“His ass,” RJ echoed softly.

Shit. The rest of the household dropped accidental curses around the kid all the time, and it was Dan’s slip that the kid picked up on? “That’s a word for grownups,” Dan said as calmly as he could. Then he took a deep breath and raised his eyebrows challengingly in Jeff’s direction. “So, the barn? There’s lords leaping at the barn?”

Jeff just smiled enigmatically. “Here’s RJ’s snow pants and jacket,” he volunteered. It wasn’t all that cold out, but a chilled RJ was unpleasant for everyone, so they tended to overdress him most of the time. “And his boots are by the door. Why don’t you grab your own jacket?”

Dan let himself be led. He missed Evan and wanted him home, but he had to admit the twelve days thing was a pretty good distraction. Now he wanted his lords a leaping.

So they bundled up and headed for the barn, stopping for only a few moments of chicken-inspection half-way. At the barn there were no apparent lords. Nothing amiss whatsoever, as far as Dan could tell. But Robyn poked her head out of one of the stalls with an expectant grin on her face, making it clear that there was a secret still to be discovered.

“What’s going on?” he asked her. This was his place of business, and he didn’t want any of Evan’s sleazy dancers showing up.

“Check the indoor arena,” she suggested.

He strode down the barn aisle, Jeff and RJ following behind him. He got to the arena railing and peered inside. A chestnut horse. Not one of theirs. What the hell?

He squinted at the animal. It looked strangely familiar… and then it started to move. A beautiful, bouncing trot, every movement speaking of athleticism and pride and balance. “Shit,” Dan whispered. He’d seen this colt almost a year ago. The owners hadn’t wanted to sell…

Robyn handed him a sheaf of papers. “There wasn’t time to change his official name,” she said. “But Evan insists that his barn name has to be Ten Lords.”

Dan fumbled for his phone, and Evan answered the call with, “You at the barn?”

“It’s too much,” Dan said. “There’s no way they sold him for anything near a reasonable price. They loved this horse.”

“Not as much as I love you. He was supposed to be your Christmas present, but I think I have something else worked out for that. He fits well on this day, right? As long as you don’t mind calling him Ten Lords. And I gave them a good price. At least, I think it was. I don’t know –I paid what I needed to.” Yeah, that was Evan’s traditional approach to shopping for things in his personal life. “But you know what really persuaded them? They saw you ride at Rolex. They liked the idea of their guy being brought along as carefully and perfectly as you did with Monty. I paid for him, Dan, but you’re the one who earned him.”

The horse set himself up and cantered over one of the low jumps set up in the middle of the arena. Free jumping, just because he wanted to. “Ten Lords is leaping,” Dan whispered. He lifted RJ up so he could see better, but RJ had seen lots of horses jumping in his short life; he was more interested in Dan’s phone. “You want to talk to Daddy Evan? Tell him about the swans.”

“Assholes,” RJ said sweetly into the handset.

“You need to clean up your mouth a little bit,” Jeff said as he wrapped his arm around them both and nuzzled in to Dan’s neck for a quick kiss.

“Yeah,” Dan said. He was still staring at the beautiful animal exploring its new home in front of them. “I still want Evan here,” he said, trying to regain a little composure. “But, damn… that horse is a hell of a consolation prize.”


“Fucking pipers,” Chris groaned. He and Ryan had moved in for the holidays the night before, and Chris and Tatiana had spent a little too much of their evening developing the perfect Christmas cocktail, all the versions of which had, of course, been tested through consumption.

“They sound good from far away,” Dan replied. And apparently RJ thought they sounded good from up close, too, because the little guy had his hands over his ears but was steadily approaching the kilted band on his lawn.

“Is that even Christmas music?” Tat groaned.

“It might be,” Ryan said, cocking his head as if to hear better. “But really, everything on bagpipes comes out sounding like a Scottish fight song.”

Dan pulled out his phone. If Evan was going to pay for this, he should at least hear it, the way the harsh, mournful sounds rang through the still morning air. But he just got Evan’s voice mail. Probably the guy was in some big meeting, signing some big… something. Something that was more important than his family. Dan hit the button to disconnect and made himself smile as RJ turned around and came running back toward him.

“Loud!” RJ said happily.

Dan lifted the boy up and snuggled into his soft neck. “They’re loud,” he agreed, and RJ affectionately twined his fingers through Dan’s hair.

It was Christmas Eve. Dan had Jeff, and RJ. He had Chris and Ryan and Tat, and the next day they’d have Anna and Robyn. He had lots of family around him, more than he’d ever thought he’d have. And he loved them all. But that didn’t mean there was no empty spot where Evan should have been.


The drummers brought a singer. It was a little unexpected, but maybe that was the idea. With every other gift mapped out and predictable, Evan had needed to get a little creative to mix things up. The Olympics, a strangely named horse, and now a mysteriously haunting set of Christmas carols based mostly on percussion with one pure, resonant alto soaring above the drumming.

The Little Drummer Boy, already RJ’s favorite song, had new power when one singer was accompanied by that many damn drums. RJ stood between Dan and Jeff, enthralled by the music, and he led the applause when the song ended.

“I think that’s the best version of that song I’ve ever heard,” Evan said quietly.

Dan nodded, then spun around. Evan. Right there. Standing there. On the front step. He was home.

There was more of an audience than Dan would have liked. Evan was all about PDAs, but Dan and Jeff were a little more reserved. And Dan was still kind of in shock. “It’s a good version,” he agreed. His breathing wasn’t quite normal.

RJ covered for him, rocketing toward Evan’s long legs and reaching his arms up to be lifted. “Daddy Evan! Daddy-E! Drummers! Eggs—eggs?” He cast a suspicious look in Jeff’s direction, but his enthusiasm returned as he told Evan, “Butter! Assholes!”

“They’re actually called swans,” Evan corrected gently. He held RJ in the crook of one arm and wrapped the other around Jeff as he approached for a hug and a quick kiss.

“You made it back,” Jeff said softly. He looked over at Dan, then back at Evan. “You’re teaching him bad habits. Now he knows that if he’s enough of a suck, you’ll give in and do what he wants.”

“He already knew that,” Evan said. “And it’s pretty hard to argue with him when what he wants is me. When we both want me home for Christmas.”

“You’re here,” Dan said. He wasn’t sure if the others had actually drawn back into the house or just faded out of his awareness. Probably the drummers were still out there on the lawn, but he didn’t care about them. Jeff was home. RJ was home. And now Evan was home. Dan stepped forward and leaned up to find Evan’s lips with his own. He pulled away before he wanted to because RJ was right there and he didn’t really need to see his daddies totally going at it.

“I’m here,” Evan said softly.

“What about your big deal?”

“I realized that both sides have been working on it for years. They’re not going to throw away all that work just because I took a few days off for my family.”

“You said it was a thirty-hour flight each way,” Dan said. “You flew thirty hours to get here? And you’re going to go back?”

“Well, the pilots did the flying. I mostly slept. Got caught up on some paperwork. Not a hardship.”

Dan wouldn’t argue about that. He probably wouldn’t argue about anything for quite a while. He laced his fingers through Evan’s and then leaned over and gave Jeff a quick kiss too. They were together, and it was Christmas. The drummers were packing up and there was breakfast in the kitchen. Everyone Dan cared about was safe and happy and warm.

“It’s a good Christmas, huh RJ?” Dan let his fingers brush along the impossibly soft skin of the boy’s cheek.

“Assholes,” RJ said happily, and then they all went into the house.

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Misc. Bit of Dark Horsiness

Apologies for any confusion – this is a backdated post, necessary b/c I’m rebuilding the website. No new content, here.

“This is not a good idea. This may be child abuse.”

“It’s not child abuse. If anyone’s suffering here, it’s Smokey.” Dan dug his fingernails into the permanently itchy spot behind the quarter horse’s ears and smiled as the animal rolled his eyes in appreciation but kept the rest of his body just as frozen as it had been for the last three minutes, ever since the precious package had been deposited on his back.

“Okay, okay.” Evan kept one hand on Robbie’s chubby thigh but eased slightly away from the child.

“Dan, you need to step back a little, or else get Smokey to lower his head. I can’t see you.” Tatiana waited while Dan shifted around. “Jeff, can you shift Robbie just a little? His butt’s off center and it’s making me paranoid.”

“It’s a strange world where Dan is the one who’s calm and easy-going,” Jeff grumbled, but he shifted the baby as requested, and he kept his hand hovering around the child’s waist, ready to lift him off the saddle at the first sign of any trouble.

“Dan’s calm because it’s a horse,” Evan said. He nudged Dan’s shoulder with his arm. “I’m keeping the rocking parrot, dude. It’s too cool to send back.”

“Rocking HORSES,” Dan said firmly. “It’s a tradition for a reason. There’s no point letting the kid think he’s going to grow up and ride parrots.”

Okay, you guys, Robbie’s the only one who’s looking at the camera. Would it kill the rest of you to give me a smile?”

They did, and the photo was taken. But Tat had been snapping away the whole time, and it was a different picture that RJ loved the most. The one that he took with him when he went away to school, the one that travelled with him on all his life’s journeys… it was the one where Dan was scratching Smokey’s ear and looking playfully grumpy while Evan grinned at him and Jeff watched them both fondly. RJ knew he’d been too young to actually remember having the photo taken, but he definitely remembered the mood, and the emotions it recorded. Dan, Jeff, and Evan, loving each other, teasing each other, and all three of them, always, keeping an eye on little Robbie, ready to help him if he needed it, but letting him try new things on his own. That was what made RJ carry the picture with him, in his wallet and in his heart.

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