Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, two writers (Tucker & Raisa) found each other on a site called Literotica. She took pity on me and served as my editor for several years. I’m happy to report I was able to return the favor down the road. Raisa and I have always worked well together. It’s a true joy to find somebody who’s able to offer honest and constructive criticism, and Raisa has never pulled any punches with me. She made me a better writer, and I hope I’ve done the same for her. It’s pretty rare to find such synergy between two creative people.
She was one of the first people to read the Dust & Ash Saga when it was still in its rough draft. I’m so thankful for that, and for the time she put into helping me craft better stories. The Dust & Ash Saga has been under construction for nearly ten years now, and I’m so proud to be able to share an exclusive excerpt from the first novel here. Enjoy!
Grounds Zero was pretty busy for a Sunday morning, a fairly heavy crowd of both students and churchgoers enjoying the assorted beverages and pastries, as well as the limited breakfast menu. The gender split was very nearly fifty-fifty. When all conversation ground to a halt, the barista turned off the bean grinder, and the lone bus boy dropped his dish bin with a clatter, Jason sighed. His singer had finally arrived.
Ash Redvers stood just inside the doorway to Grounds Zero. He wore faded, torn jeans slung so low on his hips, it was obvious he was commando under them. A dark designer T-shirt in some kind of gauzy, clingy material hugged his chest and abs, and a toe ring glinted from his flip-flops. Ash spotted Jason, smiled brightly enough to light up the entire café, and raised his hand in an enthusiastic wave. That stupid shirt climbed up and revealed a swath of bronzed flesh pulled taut over Ash’s perfect six-pack. Jason couldn’t do anything but curse silently and wave back, which of course drew every eye in the place from Ash to him. Jason’s face burned.
Jason had spent years becoming accustomed to everything about Ash. As the bass player in the Boys of Summer, Jason stood behind the guy all summer long. It was kind of like standing behind the sun. Ash’s glory shone down upon the world and when he was around, nobody else existed. As if the hot body, expensive clothes, and amazing voice weren’t enough, Ash had the face of a fallen angel: wicked, innocent, and sexy all at the same time. Jason wasn’t into guys, but Ash was so much more than just a guy.
Everybody worshipped the sun—at least a little.
Three minutes and a nonfat vanilla-and-caramel latte with whipped cream later, Ash settled down across from Jason, who was doing a wonderful impression of a thunderhead. Ash sipped his coffee, the tip of his tongue licking whipped cream from his upper lip.
“Damn, Jase, I’m not that late.”
“Steve got arrested again last night.”
“Fuck. Is he in jail?”
“No, he’s in the hospital.”
“Because this time, he didn’t just get sloppy drunk, drive home, and get picked up. This time he got totally fucking polluted, tried to drive home, and flipped his truck three times down the embankment at the top of Brewster Road.”
The blood drained from Ash’s face as he slowly set his coffee down on the little table next to his chair.
“Oh my God.” The look on Ash’s face asked the question he couldn’t seem to put into words.
“He’s really messed up.”
“They had to cut him out of the truck. His left arm was almost severed. The doctors don’t know if they can save it.”
Ash’s heart lurched up into his throat. He couldn’t imagine what was going on inside Jason. As fucked up as Steve was—and Steve was really fucked up—he and Jason were still brothers, Irish twins, born in the same year and as close as Ash was with his brother. Ash got up and walked around the table. Using one foot, he kicked a chair and sent it sliding several feet out of the way. He sank to his knees and yanked Jason into a hard embrace right there in front of God and everybody.
“Goddamn, man,” Ash murmured. “Goddamn.”
Jason stiffened and Ash let go. He sat back on his heels and studied Jason’s face, oblivious to the people watching them. Jason had turned to stone. No tears, no emotion. That worried Ash. He’d rather see Jason break down and cry, or listen to him shout about his brother being a drunken asshole. Ash caught Jason’s blue eyes flicking around the dining room and realized Grounds Zero wasn’t the place to prod Jase. Judging by the hot-red flush burning under the collar of Jason’s trademark Superman T-shirt, Ash had managed to embarrass the poor guy just by hugging him.
Ash got up and returned to his chair. “What can I do?”
“Well, Steve can’t drum.”
“We have to find another drummer, Ash.”
“You called me down here to tell me that?”
“We only have a few weeks to find a new drummer for the band. We have to practice with whoever we hire. That’s kind of a big fucking deal.”
“But you don’t want to talk about your brother?”
“I sure don’t.”
Ash drained his coffee in several large gulps and motioned for the server. Pulling a twenty-dollar bill from a clip thick with them, he waved it at the kid. “If you can make two egg sandwiches magically appear, you can keep the change.”
The guy grinned at Ash and took the money, along with his empty mug.
Ash turned back to Jason. “I’m starving.”
“Just two, but they were frisky.”
“Someday, my friend, you will find the one girl who will be enough for you.”
Not unless she has a dick, Ash thought, but he just smiled at Jason and shrugged.
“So, a drummer,” Jason said. “I was hoping maybe you knew somebody up at CMU.”
“Yeah, dude, nobody I know would play in a wedding band for the summer.”
“Even with the kind of bread we pull down?” Jason looked skeptical.
“Most of ’em think I’m nuts for even singing with the Boys. Write it off to the band being a family business.” Ash turned pouty. “Shit, you know how many Adam Sandler jokes I put up with?”
They sat at the table, brooding together in silence. Thoughts of broken contracts, returned deposits, and hysterically upset brides filled Ash’s head. Jason was right: they had to find a drummer, and they had to find one fast.
“Oh, thanks, man.”
Ash took the two steaming sandwiches from the server. Jason somehow wasn’t surprised when he saw the guy also brought Ash another cup of specialty coffee and a big, sticky pastry covered with icing.
“You looked really hungry.” The server stood there fidgeting with his tray and staring at Ash the way everybody stared at Ash. Jason rolled his eyes, his mouth thinning.
“I am.” Ash eyed the server, who was, no doubt, as sweet as the pastry looked. “And I love cinnamon rolls. You must be psychic.” Ash raised the pastry to his mouth and took an enormous bite, covering his pouty lips in gooey, creamy white icing that he slowly licked away.
The server blushed and scurried off. Jason kicked Ash under the table, hard.
“What?” Ash asked, his mouth full of food.
“Yeah, I bet that’s sweet too.”
But what Jason heard was “Yah, abba swee thoo,” as Ash attempted to chew, swallow, and speak simultaneously.
“We’re fucked if we don’t find a drummer who can replace my asshole alcoholic brother and you’re sitting here spitting at me while you dick around with the faggot waiter.” Jason glared. “That’s not cool, man.”
“All I said was ‘Yeah, I have a sweet tooth!’ And stop insulting the server. Gay-bashing is so beneath you.”
Ignoring his roiling stomach, Ash finished the cinnamon roll and picked up an egg sandwich. Jason’s rude comments were the biggest reason Ash wasn’t out to the guys in the band or back home. Not that Ash considered himself gay. As much as he liked girls, he figured he fell nicely into the bisexual category. He didn’t expect to ever meet anybody, fall in love, and get married. He simply liked sex with guys way too much to swear off it for any girl, and vice versa.
Ash wiped his mouth with a napkin. His sexuality, and its semicloseted status, was an old personal hell. He had a new fresh hell to deal with, one that involved Jason and Steve Teague, known affectionately in the band as the Disaster Duo. Ash briefly closed his eyes in a silent bid for patience. The summer hadn’t even officially started and they were definitely living up to their nickname.
“What about down at Pitt?” Ash asked. “There have to be all kinds of drummers down there.”
“I’ve already posted notices on all the b-boards, put flyers up, and made a Craigslist ad. I asked the two guys who I knew I could stand to play with, and they both laughed at me.”
“Didn’t want to play in a wedding band, huh?”
“You got it.”
“You tell ’em they’d be making five a week, plus tips?”
“Oh yeah, and then they laughed harder.” Jason checked his phone. “Look, I have to go. My parents are at the hospital. My grandparents are watching my sisters. I promised I’d be back as soon as I could.”
“It’s cool, man. Is there anything I can do to help out?”
“If I get any bites on drummers, you may have to interview them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get back into the city.”
“I don’t know dick about rhythm sections. I’m a singer. I belt songs and shake my ass.”
“And you fuck catering crew girls.”
Ash winced and sipped his coffee. “You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
“Dude, it was my amp you slimed up.”
“That’s… crude, Jason. Really crude.”
“You didn’t have to clean it up.” Glancing up and seeing the server returning, Jason made a face and stood. “I’m ghost, yo. I’ll call you.”
“Tell Steve I’ll be down to see him.”
Jason loped out of the coffeehouse without looking back. After all, he could feel the warmth and radiance of Ash’s sun shining on his back all the way to his car. As much as he loathed admitting it, the sensation was comforting with so much unfamiliar happening.
To celebrate the first release in the saga, I’m sponsoring a giveaway! There are three ways to enter: like my author page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or – if you’re already following me on FB and Twitter – leave me a comment about your favorite music to listen to at a wedding reception. I’ll be giving away three gift cards, and the winners will get to choose what they’d like to receive! Winners will be announced on my blog on September 30th.
Thanks once more to Raisa: for directing a critical eye to my work for so long, for supporting me from day one, and most of all, for a terrific dinner with dragons. You rock, lady! Thanks for hosting me and the Boys, and enjoy what’s left of the summer!