Geno Caan, an eighteen-year-old survivor of unspeakable abuse, now heading toward to a future he’s not entirely sure he wants.

Steffen Finch, an art therapist guiding Geno through the destruction of love, while attempting to build a new relationship of his own.

Javier Landes, a former escort unsure of his ability to love and be loved, consumed by his priceless passion for Stef and fearful of what it will cost if he loses it.

The second book of the acclaimed Venery series weaves three lives together in a gripping novel about how men make love in times of war.

Excerpt

Aedith perched on the edge of Stef's desk. “Want to catch a movie with me and Katie tonight?”

“Can’t. I’m meeting a guy for a beer.”

Aedith raised her eyebrows. “A meet or a date?”

“A meet.” Stef looked away and gathered together papers he didn't need.

“I don’t know, Finch," she said. "You got a funny look going on.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This is totally a date.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Shut up. Tell me everything. What are you going to wear?” She leaned into his space, eyes dancing behind her glasses. 

He gently pushed her back. “It’s not a date. We met, we’re having a beer.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s a straight writer who might help me build a website for that exhibition in Poughkeepsie. We’re having a beer to talk about it.” Stef closed his laptop and got up.

“You are blushing.”

“You are a pain in my ass. Move. I’m late.” As he walked out of his office, the back of his neck flamed.

“Wear blue,” she yelled after him. “It makes your eyes pop.”

He was wearing a grey shirt today. It would fucking have to do. He went straight from work to the bar. No going home to shower, pick a blue shirt and hang out in front of the mirror like a twink. 

Dig me, dig my crappy shirt.

He ducked in the bathroom and brushed his teeth, though. He had some pride.

He was five minutes early, but Jav was already there, sitting at the bar with a beer and a book. Cargo pants, worn along the seams and a hole in one knee. A black T-shirt. Unshaven as well. Attractive in a way that felt foreign in Stef’s veins. He was no stranger to appreciating a good-looking guy’s body, but not his face and eyes and hair and eyebrows, for fuck’s sake. To the point where it stopped him in a doorway and sucked the oxygen out of a room. This keen, detail-oriented interest was more akin to what he experienced with women. So was this goofy coil of warm excitement in his gut.

Weird.

“Hey,” Jav said, closing the book and extending a hand.

Stef shook it. “What’s up?”

“Good to see you.”

“Same.” Stef slid the book closer and spun it around. The Magic Orange Tree: Haitian Folktales. “Is this required reading or pleasure?”

“Bit of both. I’m working on a book of Latin American folktales.”

Stef slid onto a stool. “You know what’s funny, I think I heard you on NPR some time ago.”

“I was on Moments in Time back in July.”

“I think that was it. A writer was going around different Latino neighborhoods and collecting stories.”

“That was me.”

“You do a lot of that kind of thing to promote your books?” The bartender came by and Stef ordered a Stella.

“I’ve never done any mainstream promotion of my books,” Jav said. “But it’s about to change with The Trade.”

“When does it release?”

“Tomorrow morning,” Jav said. “And Saturday afternoon I’ll be drunk on an airplane, kicking off a three-week signing tour.”

Stef kept his face neutral, thinking, Three weeks?

“What’s the itinerary?” he said aloud.

“Miami first,” Jav said. “Atlanta, Charleston, Raleigh, Virginia Beach, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Providence… I’m forgetting something before Providence. Boston, somewhere else I think, then home.”

“Your agent coordinate all this?”

“Publicist.”

“Is she good?”

“She’s expensive. And so far, good.”

“What are the venues? Book stores?”

“Yeah. Some just signings, some will be readings.”

“Nervous?”

Jav paused, taking a deep breath. “Yeah.”

“I predict by North Carolina, it’ll be easy,” Stef said, taking a handful of peanuts.

“Here’s hoping.”

Stef’s beer arrived and they clinked glasses. “To the next phase of your career.”

They drank.

“So your card says Javier Landes,” Stef said. “Your book covers say Gil Rafael. Who’s the real you?”

“Technically neither. I was born Javier Gil deSoto. I left home when I was seventeen and became estranged from my family. The woman who eventually became my mentor, her name was Gloria Landes. I changed my name to hers when… Well, that’s a story for the third or fourth date.”

“Is this a date?”

Jav barked a laugh. “No. I mean…it’s just a line.”

Satisfied now? Stef thought. Let it fucking go already. “Who’s Gil Rafael?”

“Rafael was my dad’s name. It was literally a spur-of-the-moment decision. I was submitting a short story to The New Yorker, I wanted a pen name. I took Rafael and the Gil part of my original surname and put it together. Then at the last minute, I reversed them. Gil Rafael. And that’s who I’ve been writing as since.”

“Why use a pen name at all?”

Jav took a drink and stared straight ahead.

“Or is it for date six or seven?”

Jav glanced sideways and his shy smile opened up. “It’s no one asking me before, actually. Not even sure what the answer is.”

“Were you hiding?”

“Kind of. Or maybe if I bombed, no one would know but me.”

“Same if you succeeded.”

Jav nodded. “I guess I was okay with that.”

“Are you still estranged from your family?”

“Sadly, my nephew and I are the only Gil deSotos left.”

“This is the nephew at New Paltz?”

“Ari. He’s my sister’s son. Until two years ago, neither of us knew the other existed. But when my sister died, she named me his guardian. And we met.”

“What was that like?”

“Surreal,” Jav said. “But it ended well. He’s a great kid. I’d think so even if I weren’t related to him. I doubt I’ll be having any kids of my own at this point, so it’s like finding a son. No. Not really. More like finding a little brother.”

“I see.”

“You have siblings?”

“Two older brothers.”

“Are you close?”

“Not particularly.”

The bartender came by. “You guys hungry?”

Stef and Jav exchanged glances. “I haven’t eaten,” Jav said.

“Me neither.”

The bartender slid over some menus.

“You’re not close with your brothers?” Jav said, perusing his.

Stef smiled. “I’ll tell you about it on date nineteen.”

“Fair enough.”

“Short version is my parents divorced when I was thirty. If divorce is tough on young kids, it makes adult children into total lunatics. It resulted in a lot of sides being taken and a lot of bitterness.”

“Gotcha.”

“It also didn’t help that my mother left my dad for another woman.”

“Shut up.”

“It was an interesting year in my life. I’d tell you more about it if I remembered.”

“It’s a blur now.”

“Going through my own divorce made it even more hazy.”

Jav gave him a long, appraising look. “I think we’re gonna need a bigger bar.”

Stef laughed. All through another two rounds of beers and burgers, they laughed a lot, trading stories, asking and answering questions. Even it if wasn’t a date, it still felt like a really, really good first date. The kind that made you wonder when the next one would be.

“Well, good luck,” Stef said, after they squared up and headed outside. “You’ll have to sign my copy of The Trade when you get back. If your hand isn’t paralyzed.”

“My nightmare is nobody shows up.”

“Dude, not to cheapen your talent, but if you stand in the middle of Barnes & Noble, they’ll show up.”

Jav chuckled at the ground, scraping at the pavement with his foot. “Buddy of mine once described me as a marketing man’s wet dream.”

“He was right.”

Jav looked about to say something, then stopped.

“What?” Stef said, crossing his arms.

“Nothing. I’ll call you when I get back.”

“Give me a call from the road,” Stef said, he hoped casually. “If you want.”

“Sure.”

“All right. Knock ‘em dead.”

They shook hands, touched right shoulders and bopped each other on the back. Then walked off in separate directions.

After six steps, Stef ventured a look back. Just as Jav looked back. They each raised a palm before turning away again.