Innocence & Carnality – Release Day! #steampunk #lgbtbooks

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It’s here! Finally!!!!

Come play in my new steampunk MM novel from Dreamspinner Publications. Suspense, drama, and sexiness abound as our hero learned to survive in unfamiliar territory.

Details and links below!

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Innocence is his only currency.

The gilded cage of propriety where Nathan grew up as a member of the Deilian aristocracy became a true prison when, at fifteen, his homosexuality came to light and created a terrible scandal. His parents see only one way to preserve their reputation amongst the other noble families: fit Nathan with a chastity belt to increase his value to a potential partner and marry him off as soon as possible.

The recipient of that prize is Lord Rother Marsh Delaga III. After a hasty wedding, Rother whisks Nathan away to the strange and seductive land of Marisol, where Nathan will begin a new life, free to explore the pleasures of the marriage bed, though his life is still not his own.

But Rother’s Delaga House is a place of secrets, dangers, and depravity Nathan can scarcely comprehend. Where friends are few and peril waits around every corner, Nathan must employ all the manipulation he learned from high society, along with his talent for clockwork. Most of all, Nathan must adapt, compromise to survive, and cast off the preconceptions of his homeland.

Because only he can orchestrate his freedom, and it’ll come at a cost.

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BUY LINKS:

Dreamspinner Publications / Amazon

Apple / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Google Play

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 37 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

Roku’s admission leaves Arad with a few things to think about, doesn’t it?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 37

Arad had no idea how to process his day with Roku. Most attracted strangers found it easier to get along the more time spent together, didn’t they? For Arad and Roku, each passing day tangled their lives into something far more complicated. Given the growing connection between them, it shouldn’t be so easy to drive them apart. A curious situation for two people so fond of one another.

So fond of one another? What a glaring understatement.

Pulling to free the cover’s tension, Arad turned over to better see Roku in the dark. Watching Roku sleep had become a habit he should consider breaking. It started as a response to an unknown person on board, but now it had become something else. Curled on the floor, Roku snored, the gentle sawing a soothing sound. The proof of normalcy in what was anything but.

At first he’d dismissed his attraction as a byproduct of caring for the DemiShou clan. Then from the awkward circumstances of their first encounter which still aroused him, even without the Syn. After that, he passed it off as admiring the physique of a well-constructed male. Purring voice, god-like muscles, and yes an unfairly ample endowment added up to appreciating Roku’s more primal aspects.

Roku’s torso swelled and shrank with his breathing in a smooth motion. No sign of agitation. No sign of new nightmares. The jagged shards of his fractured memories piercing the surface made Arad ache. They barely knew enough to craft a rumor, and it chilled worse than an unprotected spacewalk. Roku mostly knew peace when he slept. Mostly.

Yeah… it was all about animal attraction. Sure it was.

Arad began to relax, finally feeling like he could drift off, but cursed silently over the need to pee. It was always something, wasn’t it? Getting out of bed required a careful dance around the tiger blocking the floor. Arad suspected that was deliberate on Roku’s part. His position created a wall between Arad and the door. Not that they had to worry about intruders, but the intent was appreciated.

After nearly kicking Roku getting around him, Arad tiptoed to the door. He cringed at the noise of the door opening and looked back over his shoulder to find Roku exactly in the same state. Neither of them liked to sleep with the hatch open. Roku and Arad shared similar issues about shelter and security, but while Arad’s stemmed from living on the streets, Roku couldn’t really explain why.

Barefoot, Arad made his way to the lav as quietly as possible. The automatic lights were turned down to minimum because he hated how Torrins let them blind everyone in the middle of the night. Arad relieved himself and took a quick drink from the sink. He was pretty sure he could crash now.

As he stepped out into the hallway, he nearly screamed at the figure in the shadow.

“Roku! Son of a bitch! You about startled me to death!” Arad stage whispered his frustration, somehow keeping from disturbing the non-existent neighbors.

Not moving or speaking, Roku sat on the floor waiting, face in his bent knees.

“Roku?”

The tiger snuffled into his knees. Dead asleep.

Arad shook his head as his pulse settled. “My hero from the terrors in the night.”

He may have been mocking the DemiShou, but Arad’s admiration for Roku grew. Roku was tortures by his animal instincts. Frightened by their intensity, he didn’t trust himself to stop if he gave in to his baser urges. He wanted Arad. The taste he had when waking hadn’t curbed it, and Arad didn’t know how to handle it. He wanted to believe Roku had enough self-control, but he also knew how groggy Roku had been when he woke. If he had been more aware, would he have been less animalistic? Or more?

Neither knew, and Roku refused to risk it. So he made due with being near Arad. He stayed close, protecting Arad from himself and any other that might do him harm. More than casual friendship had spawned in their time sequestered together.

If only Arad knew what to do with that.

Sex had always been a tool. A pleasurable tool, but a tool nonetheless. Perhaps not the most seemly of skills, but it had its advantages. Learning to seduce a man became an easy thing to learn and knowing how to use it to extract a trade came soon after. Arad had never known a man he wanted to bed down without getting a prize in return until Roku. Only problem was, he didn’t know how. It had always been part of a transaction. Trading services in that way made Roku uncomfortable, so Arad would have to teach himself how not to be a whore.

Assuming of course that Roku ever gave him the opportunity.

With a sigh, Arad tapped Roku’s shoulder, trying not to startle him. “Roku. Get up, you overgrown stray. Let’s go to bed.” 

It took three tries to get a response and it was limited. With a garbled murmur, Roku nodded as he rose without really opening his eyes. Arad headed back to the bedroom, Roku’s incoherent mumbling trailing behind him. He peeked back more than once to be sure the tiger didn’t fall and break his face open during the short trek.

Leaving the bedroom door open, Arad got into bed and arranged the covers to keep himself cool in the warmer atmospherics while keeping watch to make sure Roku survived the return trip.

Shuffling his feet, Roku crossed the room with all the grace of a brain-dead tweaker, stripped off his kilt, and crawled in bed. He rolled on his side and pressed his gloriously naked self—thick muscles, cock and all—against Arad. A lullaby of snoring immediately resumed.

Arad froze, unwilling to breath out loud.

Rigid with indecision, he stared at the ceiling, praying his heartbeat—which thundered for a completely new reason—wouldn’t wake Roku.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 36 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

Now that Arad has injured himself, it appears Roku insists on taking care of him.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 36

Roku ushered Arad into the infirmary, fine droplets of blood marking a dotted path from the cargo bay. Being dragged through the ship didn’t sit that well with Arad, but Roku’s determination stomped out Arad’s resistance. Although when Roku picked him up by the waist and wordlessly deposited him on the exam chair mounted to the wall, he considered being difficult.

“It’s not really that bad.” Arad wiped up a wayward line of blood trailing down to his elbow.

Ignoring Arad’s comment, Roku tore open the first aid stash and scavenged what he needed. He lowered the tray hinged to the wall next to Arad and dropped half the kit’s contents on it.

“At least the supplies here are sufficient. I won’t have to chuck you in the medbed.” Roku pried open Arad’s hand and pressed a sterile pad to sop up the wound.

“Ow. That stings.”

“Hold your hand open.”

With a lack of squeamishness Arad didn’t share, Roku prodded and examined the cut, probably to look for any debris, but his bedside manner could use some improvement. Arad couldn’t watch. The sharp twinges from Roku’s unusual rough handling was making him feel nauseous.

“You keep poking that hard, I’m gonna puke.”

Roku stopped and put a new sterile pad in Arad’s palm. “Then I’ll throw you in the medbed.”

“Wonder what that’s like. I’ve never been in one before.” Even when Arad still had his parents’ favor, he’d never been ill enough to require automated healthcare.

 Roku side-eyed the medbed and gave a caustic snort. “I noticed the other day it doesn’t have any DemiShou parameters, so let’s hope nothing horrible happens to me.”

“Oh well, you know the Demi module is on order. Probably lost in shipping.”

“Your sarcasm is refreshing.” Roku sounded unimpressed as he squeezed the cut closed and applied a wound sealer.

Arad hissed at the sting, but insisted on keeping his composure. “Did you want me to sugarcoat it?”

“Why start now? It doesn’t change the fact that the DemiShou on board, myself included, were only a commodity to be sold. I don’t even understand why you care so much.”

“Because I know what it’s like to have no choice.”

Closing his eyes, Roku paused. His shoulders swelled, and he let out a gradual, cleansing breath. It did little to ease the tension in his body. “I’m sorry. Your being injured has me on edge.”

“It’s hardly life threatening.”

“I know. I didn’t say my reaction was rational.”

Roku finished the wound sealing and cleaned Arad hand. Far more carefully than before, he testing the cut for seepage. Satisfied he was no longer bleeding, he applied a new bandage and began wrapping Arad’s hand.

“I want to apologize for what I said before. You didn’t deserve that.”

Arad shook his head. “I know you didn’t really mean to judge me—”

“Yes, I did. And I’m ashamed to admit it. My missing past must have left me hardwired to be a little inflexible in my moral views.”

“A little?” Head titled and brow raised, Arad caught Roku’s eye.

“Perhaps more than a little.”

“And now?”

“They’re flexing.”

Since they’d entered the infirmary, Arad had noticed how Roku tended to him without making eye contact. As if he was only allowing one kind of intimate contact at a time, still keeping a distance.

“I’ve noticed you’ve gone out of your way lately to avoid touching me.”

Roku paused without looking at him. “It’s for your safety.”

“You’re touching me now.”

“You’re injured.”

“You’re taking care of me.”

Roku tested the bandage and released Arad’s hand. “It’s a distraction.”

“You wouldn’t hurt me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Not on purpose.”

A sad laugh lacking any humor tumbled out of Roku. “Ah, but there’s the point. Not on purpose.” Roku lowered his voice as if terrified someone else might hear his confession. “I have these urges. I remember how we met. How it felt. How you smelled. Sometimes I want to give in… touch you… hold you down. Stomp my morality into the floor and make you do things. I’m afraid if I give in, take what I want, I might lose control and be more animal than man because I won’t want to stop. I crave it.” A heady shudder raced Roku’s neck and shoulders. “Some days I think I should be locked up on the other side of the ship where I can’t see or smell you, but I can’t bring myself to do that.”

Was it suddenly warmer in the infirmary? Arad couldn’t understand why his mouth felt so dry. “I don’t think the ship is big enough to really do that.”

“Please. Don’t joke about this. I’m serious. I… I need to be near you. It will have to be enough.”

Arad covered Roku’s hand with his. “Roku, it’s okay. You don’t have to live like this—”

Stop it!” Roku snatched his hand back. “Yes I do. I can’t trust myself. I just can’t.”

Eyes glossy and hands shaking, Roku began gathering up the used supplies, throwing the soiled items in the dispenser. Both in the same room, yet so far apart. Arad could feel the chasm growing. Now that he’d admitted things, Roku would walk out and it would all be different. Different as in worse and the realization panicked him.

“What about your human half? What does it think?”

“There isn’t a human side and an animal side. If I’ve learned nothing else since I woke, there’s only me.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that.”

Nodding, Roku collected the remaining med supplies and put them back into the kit, slamming it shut harder than required. Arad still sat cradling his wrapped hand as Roku stopped in the doorway, clutching the jamb.

“If there really were two sides to me, Arad, I doubt the human side would stop me.”

Roku stepped out into the hall, leaving Arad loathing the cargo bay and the empty crates it housed.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 35 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

Feeling a little raw these days, Arad and Roku find a useful way to pass the time.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 35

“Another empty.” Arad couldn’t stop from grousing as he kicked the empty container. It slid across the cargo bay floor, banging into the growing cluster of boxes littering the room. Each time he tossed one aside, Roku’s twitchy gaze followed. Arad had finally downloaded Torrins’s shipping manifest to his handheld and dragged the tiger along to search the inventory for potential parts to repair the damaged engine.

Most of what he kept finding on the list were vague descriptions with nothing inside the crates. Knowing Torrins, he inflated the documents to give the impression of the Midas Ascending being a more professional operation and entice clients for higher-end contracts. Arad glanced over at the sleeping DemiShou pods. The method worked. Sort of.

“Always scheming for a bigger paycheck, Torrins. Should’ve skipped this one.”

The wall of crates hiding the DemiShou was half-dismantled. Roku pulled another off the stack with barely an effort and Arad checked it against the list. Random household supplies. Pressing his thumb to the lockplate, the lid popped open from his captain’s access. He swung the top back on its hinges and dug past the packing foam. It took a few minutes to identify the series of stoppered metal cans and random supplies inside.

“Paints?” Red, white, grey, and black. The colors of the Ansariland’s interior. “Typical. We’ve been living in this rustbucket with the walls peeling and the fix has been here the whole time. Probably because there wasn’t any profit in it. Torrins, I’m glad you’re dead.”

Speaking to the former captain was marginally better than the weird silence hanging over himself and Roku. His outburst yesterday, while justified, made Arad feel far more vulnerable than he was accustomed to. Slashing your past open with a ragged knife took its toll. Condescension plagued slugs on a daily basis and pity wasn’t something he stomached well. Feeling they both must have shared since neither man were talking much beyond what was necessary.

Arad didn’t know how or if he was ready to correct that. Instead of facing it, he found a task to distract himself, to stop thinking about past events that couldn’t be changed. So far, he’d been successful.

“I guess we’ll set this one to the side with the useful stuff.” 

Arad closed the lid and turned to find Roku climbing into one of the empty crates. Despite his bulk, the tiger seemed determined to squeeze himself inside. Licking his lower lip as he worked, Roku shimmied and shifted his furry muscles until only his rounded shoulders and the top half of his head peeked above the box’s rim. He appeared awfully pleased with himself as he wiggled into the confined space. When he caught Arad’s inquisitive stare, he froze, eyes wide and unmoving.

“Are you enjoying yourself?”

Hunched over, Roku’s nose and mouth stayed hidden within the crate. “Yes…”

The hint of guilt or emabarrassment Arad heard in the careful response was quite charming. He sighed with a chuckle, relieved to release some of the present tension. “Now’s a good time for a break. Let me know when you’re done. I’m still going to need your help.”

“Okay.”

Without another word, Arad left Roku to explore the allure of the magical trunk. He drifted to the cryotubes and checked on Shichi and Hachi. All health signals still green, they both floated peacefully, unaware of their surroundings or the potential trouble ahead. Arad wished he could wake them both, find them a new home, but with the current technical problems and limited resources, they were safer where they were. Unless Arad could repair the Ansariland… No. He didn’t wan’t to think that far ahead.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could be put on pause too?

Now, only the tips of Roku’s ears were visible. Arad laughed to himself. Hopefully the goofy lug could get himself out again. Arad didn’t know if he had a pry bar, and he wasn’t about to cut him out of there with a plasma torch.

Since Roku was still busy, Arad slumped down to the mattress which still lived in the cargo bay. Even with all the surrounding chaos, it continued to have the best vantage point. From here he could keep an eye on Shichi and Hachi, watch Roku work on turning inside the crate without exiting, and take a mental note of how many more boxes there were to go.

“Are you ready to keep going?” Roku asked.

Arad blinked. He’d actually fallen asleep for a moment.

Back on track, they worked their way through the remaining inventory. Hours passed as they inspected and reorganized the containers until they had checked every crate in the cargo bay. They found the series of water and air recycler modules Arad had been hunting for last week. Two containers held more food packets which he guessed might extend their stores for another few months. Other boxes, if they had anything inside them, were filled with a myriad of other useless items. The maze-wall segregating the DemiShou had been reduced to blocks lining the outer walls. What they didn’t find were the spare engine parts Arad needed that were specifically listed on the manifest. More of Torrins’s bogus entries. 

Without those parts, there was no way to repair the Ansariland.

Once again the captain had managed to screw Arad. At first literally, then figuratively from every moment after he’d been incinerated in space.

“I can’t believe this! You’re just are worthless dead as you were alive, Torrins!” In utter frustration, Arad lashed out at the nearest container, sending it tumbling and catching his hand on the edge of the lockplate. “Ow!” He made an instant fist and clutched it to his chest.

Roku rushed to Arad’s side. “Are you all right?”

Blood seeped between his fingers, as he tried to hide it from Roku’s probing stare. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.” Roku took Arad’s arm in a firm, yet gentle hold. “Come with me. Now.”


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 34 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

What’s Arad like when he’s really pissed off?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 34

Ear twitching at the sound of Arad’s angry footsteps, Roku turned just in time to take the brunt of Arad’s rancor.

“You don’t get to judge me.” Arab jabbed his finger into Roku’s unyielding chest. “Your memory may be shot, but I can take one look at you and know you’ve never struggled until now.”

Roku’s eyes may not have been human, but Arad knew the damnation within the stare. He’d lived under silent disapproval for more years than he cared to admit in Grey District. Clergy, rich, and authorities, they were all alike. Only other slugs had ever respected him completely. 

“I wasn’t born a slug. My family was stupidly wealthy. But the family money was under some archaic, discriminatory contract that shouldn’t have been legal of having male heirs every few generations. And since population laws only allow for one child per family, you can imagine how proud my parents were to have a gay boy who wouldn’t marry a female. They were so worried about losing their fortune, they demanded I go in for sex reassignment so I could bear a child because of the sub clause forbidding surrogates. I refused. I wasn’t transsexual or third gender. As punishment they sat back as two brutes in black jackets dragged me off screaming to a private workhouse.”

Arad knew he was ranting, but the airlock was open, and all the oxygen rushed to escape. There could be no stopping it. He continued to shove and poke at Roku with every sentence, determined to make him understand. The tiger took it all, wide-eyed and slack-mouthed without defending himself.

“Workhouses are just prisons for the homeless and delinquent. I learned to survive the beatings while forced to learn the mech trade. I had to earn my keep, and the house governors kept virtually all the money.”

“That’s illegal,” Roku whispered.

Annoyance raised Arad’s volume. “Of course it is! And the authorities knew all about it. The company who lost the last work contract to our house had their gestapo kick in the doors. They burned the place to the ground and everyone scattered like roaches. Out on the streets, I caught pneumonia and nearly died but got lucky and Sketch took me in.”

“Who was he?”

“A Syn dealer.” Arad narrowed his eyes. “And before you say anything, he treated me better than any police or authority figure I’d ever met. He even helped me find my way back to my family. What a complete waste of time that was.”

“They didn’t take you in?”

A new swell of rage burned Arad’s eyes. “I had to confront them at the door because the concierge wouldn’t let me in. Pretended he didn’t know me, even when my parents came down with a new son on their arm. He didn’t even look like me, the fake bastard, and my parents wouldn’t even acknowledge me. When security called the police, they scanned my hand, but my DNA wasn’t tagged to any ID anymore. They had me erased. And replaced.”

Roku sounded equally shocked and confused. “How did they pass off the new boy as their son?”

“How else? Money and fear of powerful people. I looked him up and the history says he’s always being theirs. Me? There isn’t a single piece of evidence of who I am anymore.”

“That shouldn’t be possible.”

Arad scoffed. “Then call it magic. I was the son of one of the wealthiest men in the city, and now I’m undocumented. Do you know what that means? The grid doesn’t acknowledge me. I’m not eligible for any school or employment programs. I can’t apply for housing and there’s nowhere I can go to change that. I don’t exist.”

“What did you do?” Roku’s brow crinkled, his face drooping in sadness, which only added to Arad’s frustration. 

“The prep school boy with the bright future ended up becoming a criminal, helping deal Syn for a few months until Sketch got arrested.”

A long pause stretched out as Arad simmered under Roku’s penitent gaze. The DemiShou should have intimidated him, but he held his hands up as if trying to quiet Arad’s vicious tirade. For all the good that would do.

“What happened to him?” Roku asked.

Old memories made Arad snarl. Pain and outrage sat front and center of his soul, the toxic bile roughening his words. “The same thing that happens to all slugs the authorities come down on. They vanish. Then you’re back on the street and doing things you never believed yourself capable of. I was terrified of the police, but had to steal more often than I wanted, and after what I put up with among the boys in the workhouse, I knew better than to join the gangs.”

Arad’s eyes stung. Roku’s face lost its crystal focus. “I was supposed to have friends, dances… first kisses… and all of that was taken away from me. When your only choices are to either go without food for days or let the fat, dirty foreman who likes underage boys be your first, or disappear like Sketch, your virginity seems less important.”

“I’ve done things and people I wish I hadn’t, but I refuse to let the pieces of trash who claimed to be my parents win. And you don’t get to make me regret who I’ve been either. I’m not the spoiled brat anymore, and I won’t be him again.” Sucking in a lungful of ragged air, a tear streaked down to his jaw. “Ever again.”

The past couldn’t be changed, and Arad hadn’t cried over his shattered life in years. Yet now that he’d dredged it up, confessed his sins to the law-abiding Roku, his anger became muddied with shame until he couldn’t tell the two emotions apart. Roku didn’t say a word as more tears fell and his vision blurred into foggy daylight.

With a stuttered inhale, Arad spun and trod out of the lavatory, thankful when Roku didn’t follow.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 33 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

What happens after that kind of nightmare?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 33

The nightmare continued to be an unspoken topic while over the next several days Arad and Roku slipped into a routine of meals, tablet work, digging through the Ansariland’s entertainment hoard, and babysitting DemiShou in between bouts of exercise and sleep. He tried to hide it, but Roku continued to avoid making direct physical contact with Arad. It stung, but Arad put on a brave face and pretended it didn’t. 

The discussion could wait. Their possession of time made them rich men.

Three hours of research had convinced Arad that a spacewalk was realistic. Repairing the engine was another matter. Damage reports gave him an idea of which parts needed replacing, but until he dug up the cargo manifest and laid eyes on what he needed, he couldn’t be sure if all the effort had been wasted.

Twisting his neck to relieve the tension, he padded into the gym, finding Roku hard at work.

His precious tablet sat nearby while Roku pushed the weight stack to its limit. The capacity had been substantial because of Tank’s requirements, but Roku’s strength made it look easy. His breathing was measured yet strained, more likely from the quantity of repetitions rather than the max kilograms. Roku’s chiseled muscles swelled, the striations visible through his fine fur. The blanket robe sat in a heap near the tablet, and it allowed for a lovely view.

Arad raised his hand to say hello and stopped himself. He’d hate for Roku to stop.

The weight hits the floor with a clang and Roku stood up and moved over to the combat dummy mounted on the far wall. Shaking out his shoulders, he bounced on his feet before preparing himself to strike. The stance: police, military, or equivalent authority figure. Arad had seen enough of those goose-stepping jerks “maintaining order” in Grey District to recognize it. Somehow, seeing it in Roku didn’t raise Arad’s alarms.

Sharp and fast blows rained over the padded leather, the dull slaps singing surges up Arad’s spine. Roku’s kilt had been split up both sides, allowing his legs room to snap out kicks that shook the target. It also gave an indecent glimpse at the curve of Roku’s rear as the fabric parted.

The harder Roku worked, the more guttural the grunt and growls. Exertion emphasized the size and power of each heaving muscle in his arms, legs, and back. Few men had ever drawn Arad’s fascination enough to fixate over. But watching Roku exert himself… Arad couldn’t deny he was staring. The whole scene was… hypnotic.

Roku paused mid-strike and sniffed. He dropped his combat stance and turned to Arad. “You never struck me as a lurker.”

Arad raised his eyes to Roku’s face and found using full sentences a touch difficult. “Not usually, but… um… you know…” He rubbed the embarrassment out of his face with a firm hand. “Okay. That was impressive.”

“The exercise helps focus me.”

“I know it’s a stretch, but does it spark any memories?”

“Not so far. But it feels good to push myself, to see how strong I am, test my limits.”

“Well, you may not remember your past, but you obviously still have some crazy skills. That was not the workout of a street slug.”

“You might be right.”

“I know I’m right. Geez, if I tried to do half of that, the dummy would fight back, and I’d end up on my butt.”

A soft chuckle graced the beginnings of Roku’s smile. “It’s good to know I’m here to save you from injury.”

Even this short amount of banter lifted Arad’s spirits, thawing the current distance between them. Having Roku on board hadn’t been planned, but he found himself missing their growing camaraderie, even over what little time they’d known one another. Making Roku smile, that fed his soul in so many good ways.

“The Ansariland can use a man with your kind of skills, my good sir. You want to be head of security? I’m taking applications.” The deep timbre of Roku’s laughter spurred Arad into a rare fit of his own. It wasn’t long before his lungs protested the lack of air, but it was well worth it. “Oh man, back in Grey District, if you were around, I’d have traded a piece of ass for that kind of protection.”

Roku’s humor faded away and his brow furrowed. “You shouldn’t joke about things like that. I’m already ashamed of how we first met. It shouldn’t have happened like that. Being intimate with someone should be something special, something that should be shared, to bond over. It’s not something you barter over as payment.”

Gathering his blanket and tablet, Roku turned and headed towards the showers.

And as quickly as it began, the banter was gone, leaving Arad stunned as he tried to understand what went wrong. Why couldn’t he joke about exchanging sex for funds? If he thought back far enough, virtually every sexual encounter in Arad’s past was a way to gain food, shelter, or some other service. One made do with the opportunities left in their path.

True, it wasn’t an ideal option. Selling himself had its downsides. Safety would always be dubious and reliable income could be fleeting when you didn’t embrace the work. Other slugs may have whispered behind his back, but they understood. Arad wished other jobs had come his way, but he’d made some amount of peace with his lot in life. Too many factors worked against him to get out of the life entirely. The only people who had issues, who condemned and threw judgement over the limited choices his life left him were people with means. People who believed themselves to be above such sleazy prospects while hiring him for the night. People who saw hustling as a gross travesty of law and order. 

People like corporate police and other authority figures.

Confusion ignited into outright insult. “Wait one minute. Did you just call me a whore?”

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 32 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

Welcome to another free read Wednesday!

We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.

Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!

Another night on board the Ansariland.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 32

When Arad woke up, he found himself in his bed instead of curled up on the floor where he’d drifted off holding Roku. The DemiShou was already gone, the absence a profound ache after the night before. Dressing quickly despite his newfound mood, Arad headed out hoping to find the wayward tiger. It didn’t take long. There were only so many hiding spaces on the Ansariland.

Eating alone, Roku paused, food centimeters from his mouth when Arad entered the galley.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Arad asked.

Roku barely grunted in response.

Arad gathered a meal for himself in spite of a lack of hunger. He sat across from Roku while they ate, without a moment of eye contact between them. Silence spoiled any flavor. Neither spoke of the nightmare or any other pleasantries. With Roku’s humiliation radiating like poisoned starlight, Arad had the distinct feeling conversation wasn’t wanted. 

The moment he finished, Roku stood, dumped his bowl on the counter, and headed for the hallway. “Going to the gym.”

Arad sighed and pushed his own bowl away. He’d lost interest.

The first night in the workhouse, Arad had terrible dreams. Lost in mist, abandoned, pleading to be taken back. He could be better. The grief the other boys gave him over his cries in the night isolated him even more than being the new arrival.

Perhaps it was time to not repeat history.

Back in his room, he collected his tablet and made a trip to Nixta’s old room, digging through the leftover treasure trove. It took a while to find the item, but once he did, he headed straight to the gym.

Roku was dressing, fastening his kilt after clearly having just showered, his damp fur slightly matted from toweling off. The line patterns criss-crossing his back were fascinating, but Arad didn’t want to stare. Roku had been made uncomfortable enough. He started to backup, trying not to be noticed.

“I know you’re there,” Roku mumbled.

Heat flushed Arad cheeks. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to creep up on you.”

Deliberately avoiding the mirror, Roku grabbed his blanket and set about covering himself. When he pulled the cloth over his head, sadness pinched Arad’s chest.

“I have something for you.”

Roku’s turned, his gaze tracking the second handheld computer in Arad’s outstretched hand.

“This was Nixta’s. She was probably the least awful to me, but in truth, she just ignored me. This was her personal tablet. I already had Franc’s so I hadn’t gone hunting for it until now. Figured you need something to do while I’m do maintenance or research or babysitting the other Demis.”

Gratitude shined in Roku’s eyes as he gradually stepped forward and reach for the tablet. When his fingers accidentally brushed Arad’s he jerked back and averted his eyes.

The rejection stung, but Arad refused to show it. He placed the tablet on the sink within Roku’s reach. “You can have it. I don’t need it.”

Rather than wait for a response, Arad turned and headed for the cargo bay. Shichi and Hachi looked healthy in their paused state, so Arad took his seat on the mattress and started searching for procedures for spacewalking. It would take him some time to figure out the details—assuming the Ansariland had the proper equipment—because even though he was a good mechanic, many unfamiliar systems and technical aspects of the ship required him to sidetrack which schematic he was studying. If he didn’t understand it, he needed to learn it. Even the horrible boys at the workhouse couldn’t hammer his sense of determination out of him.

The reading would take some time, but he needed the distraction.

He’d read the spacesuit protocols three times before Roku’s soft footsteps caught his attention. The big tiger taking a seat on the other end of the mattress caused Arad to gently rock.

Roku’s graveled voice, although quiet, was a soothing balm. “Thank you. For the tablet. It was very kind of you.”

“You’re welcome.” 

Arad wanted to say more, but decided to let Roku pace their interaction. The nightmare had unsettled him like so many things since waking, and it would probably be better to let him to talk if he needed it. Or revel in a lack of noise, or even more ideas.

Turning on the tablet, Roku began searching through its directory. He opened and closed a few pieces of software until he left a graphics program active on the screen. Trying not to be obvious, Arad watched as Roku pulled the stylus from its holder along the tablet’s edge. The slender tool looked ridiculously fragile in his bulky hands, but it didn’t stop him from experimenting on the screen, making marks and lines of various thickness and then erasing them.

For the few hours, Arad alternated between reading his tech articles and spying on Roku’s efforts. The little strokes quickly advanced into simple line art, and as he grew bolder, into clever drawings. Each random image became brighter and fuller as he tested the tablet’s capabilities. Roku’s blanket robe began slipping as he drew, less concerned with keeping covered as he became absorbed with his new projects.

Standing up, Arad stretched a particularly sharp kink out of his neck. “You ready to get something to eat? Roku?”

Startled, Roku’s head shook as he realized Arad wasn’t still sitting next to him. “What?” 

Arad almost laughed at Roku’s stunned expression. “Eat. We’ve been here for about four hours.”

“We have?”

“C’mon. I’m starved and I could really use a break.”

Shutting down his handheld, Arad stepped towards the exit and looked over his shoulder. Roku sat, gaze darting between Arad and the tablet clutched in his possessive hands. A faint horror colored his face as if he was torn having to choose between them.

A satisfied chuckle spilled out of Arad. “You can bring that with you.”

With a snort and a smile, Roku stood and followed Arad to the galley with his new tablet in hand.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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