New Release – Speakeasy #4: Straight Up

Straight Up, Book 4 in The Speakeasy Series, is live!

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Five years ago, when K Evan Coles and I began writing Wake, we never imagined we’d be here now. With a story arc that spans six book, two series, and over half a million words. 
 
But Straight Up is the series finale in that arc and we’re so pleased to share with you now. 
 
Blurb:
Love, served straight up.

Malcolm Elliott has been keeping secrets. Helping his mom through a financial crisis has nearly emptied both his bank account and his kitchen cupboards, despite his thriving career with Corporate Equality Campaign. Malcolm is also bothered by his inability to tell the most important people in his life that he identifies as gray ace.

Stuart Morgan has a secret of his own. Though years have passed since the tattooed chef fled the Mormon Church in Utah for New York, he’s never truly come to terms with the kink that ruined that rigid but outwardly perfect life. Experience has also taught Stuart that keeping his love of lacy things under wraps is safer than telling the truth.

After Malcom’s boss, Carter, hires Stuart’s restaurant to cater a gala fundraising event, the strait-laced Malcolm is thrown together with badass biker Stuart. Despite their differences and a couple of false starts, the men discover they work well together and a friendship quickly forms.

As Malcolm’s feelings for Stuart deepen, his sexuality awakens, but he remains tight-lipped about his problems. And though Stuart grows more and more attached to Malcolm, he remains fearful of confessing his kink.

When both of their secrets are finally exposed, they find themselves at a crossroads in which they must choose between playing it safe or finally coming clean to the person they love.

Reader advisory: This book contains references to homophobia and polyamory. 

 
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If you haven’t read any of the books in either series, now is the perfect time to start!
 
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Begin here with Wake:
 
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And if you’ve been a long time fan of the series, we want to take a moment to say how much we appreciate your support for these books. We couldn’t have done it without you!

New Release – The Cupcake Conundrum

They say good things come to those who wait and I have a very sweet treat for those of you who have been patiently waiting for my *ahem* Valentine’s Day book.

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After Hank Edwards and I finished our respective winter holiday stories set in the Williamsville Inn universe, he mentioned he had an idea for Carter, the best friend of the main character in his book Snowflakes and Song Lyrics. He wanted to write a Valentine’s Day book. I considered the idea of writing one but didn’t immediately have any ideas and I really didn’t have time to add it to my schedule. But then one day, it hit me.

I immediately sent a message to Hank: “Aww crap. I have an idea for a Valentine’s Day story.”
He responded with: “Yay! I mean, ahem, oh no!”
I said, “When Seth and Erik from Snowstorms and Second Chances move in together, Seth’s brother Adrian helps him move from NYC to Philly and he meets Seth’s roommate …”

Off I went with the story. Unfortunately, in January, we both stalled. Hank had things in his life he was dealing with, I had a weird case of writer’s block. While I love Seth’s roommate, Ajay Sunagar, he was a complicated character to write. His parents are from India and he had a complicated relationship with them and with his heritage. As Jay told Adrian in the story, “I straddled this weird line of being too brown and Indian for white people and too white and American for the Desi community.”

I wasn’t sure how to write that. I wanted to do justice to how complicated and multi-layered his relationship with his family and his culture was but I was afraid of messing it up. I think somewhere along the line, I psyched myself out of writing completely, afraid I’d screw it up completely. But connecting with a lovely reader from one of the M/M Facebook groups who pointed me in the direction of where to research and answer questions about what it’s like being Indian-American, I made some progress. I sent it off to Hank for some early feedback, which broke through the rest of the block.

I can’t promise I got every aspect of what it’s like to be a second-generation Indian-American gay man perfectly right, and every individual’s experience varies so widely, but I worked very hard to do my best by Jay. And I love him for all of his snarky, sexy sweetness. Adrian is a lovely character too, a single dad who messed up his first shot at a relationship with Jay and who has to make amends for what he did.

While I’m about three months past the Valentine’s Day released I’d hoped to have, I am very happy with the way The Cupcake Conundrum turned out. Getting Adrian and Jay where they needed to be was tough but in the end, I love how it all came together and I hope you’ll enjoy reading the book as much as I love it now!

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Buy The Cupcake Conundrum at Amazon or read free through Kindle Unlimited!

The Cupcake Conundrum blurb:

What could be worse than having to spend a week with the man you ghosted?

When Adrian Cobb arrives in New York to help his brother move, he comes face to face with the biggest mistake of his past—a baking conference hookup he rudely ditched a year ago. Now, he’s sharing a guest room with Ajay Sunagar, who looks as tasty as the pastries he bakes, and Adrian desperately wants to prove he can handle the heat this time.

But Jay makes it clear he isn’t ready to forgive and forget Adrian’s bad behavior. None of Adrian’s repeated apologies seem to make a dent in the walls Jay’s put up and Adrian can’t tell if Jay would rather make him grovel or cover Adrian in frosting and lick him all over. Adrian’s afraid that this time, Jay will be the one to walk away—unless Adrian can find a way to make him believe in second chances.

The Cupcake Conundrum” is a sweet-treat story about a single dad, instant attraction, and falling in love all over again that takes place in the Williamsville Inn series world. It features characters from Brigham Vaughn’s Snowstorms and Second Chances, along with Snowflakes and Song Lyrics and The Cupid Crawl by Hank Edwards.

 


Excerpt from The Cupcake Conundrum:

“Jay?” Adrian said hoarsely.

“Adrian.” The blood had drained from Jay’s face, making his normally rich brown skin tone look almost chalky. But he looked every bit as handsome as he had when Adrian had first seen him a little over a year ago.

“Wait, you two know each other?” Seth’s voice snapped Adrian out of the daze he’d been immersed in.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Jay said. His jaw was clenched and he’d gone completely stone-faced. The warm brown eyes Adrian had loved looking into as Jay fucked him sent an icy shiver down his back now. Double shit.

“What? How?” Seth asked.

“The baking expo!” Adrian blurted out. Seth blinked at his loud tone, and Adrian winced, then cleared his throat. “You remember that international baking expo I went to last year?”

“Here in New York? Yeah. I was mad because you said you were going to visit me while you were here but you punked out on me.”

Adrian had punked out on him because he’d been in bed with Jay. He just hadn’t mentioned that part to his brother. He’d never mentioned Jay at all until today.

“Yeah, you’ll apparently never let me forget it either.”

“Nope. But so … what does that have to do with Jay?” Seth’s puzzled expression smoothed out. “Oh, you met there, huh? Well, that makes sense. Cool. What a small world!”

“Yeah, sure is,” Jay said with a scowl as he brushed past.

Grab your copy of The Cupcake Conundrum now!

And please, once you finish reading, take a few moments to review on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or BookBub! Every review is deeply appreciated.

New Release – Snowstorms and Second Chances

This summer, Hank Edwards and I discussed writing stories in a shared universe. He released his book Snowflakes and Song Lyrics on December 6th and my book Snowstorms and Second Chances just went live today!

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These sweet and sexy holiday romances are available for purchase on Amazon or free to read with Kindle Unlimited.

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Title: Snowstorms and Second Chances

Author Name: Brigham Vaughn

Universe: The Williamsville Inn

While both stories in this series are set in the same universe, each book features a different couple and can be read as a stand-alone.

Summary:

Erik Josef is a forty-three-year-old, recently divorced businessman with one goal: wrap up his last project of the year so he can spend the holidays in Tahiti. All he wants is drinks on a beach, served to him by a woman in a bikini.

While waiting at an airport bar for his business partner to fly into Buffalo, New York, he encounters Seth Cobb, a chatty travel writer waiting for a flight to Pittsburgh to visit his family.

After a huge snowstorm grounds all flights, a mix-up at the Williamsville Inn leads to Erik and Seth sharing a room. Seth’s love of Christmas gets on Erik’s last nerve, but a mugful of Seth’s hot chocolate slowly melts Erik’s icy exterior.

When Erik realizes he’s attracted to Seth, he must choose between the life he’s always known, or a new adventure with a man a decade younger and a second chance at happiness.

Excerpt:

“All joking aside, I guess we’ll have to hope that Christmas romance pans out for you after all,” Seth said a few minutes later.

“Guess so,” Erik said absently as he stared at the TV screen. He glanced at Seth. “For you too.”

“Thanks. Maybe that should have been my birthday wish last week.”

“You had a birthday last week?”

Seth nodded. “On the nineteenth. I spent it in Dresden. I was there to write a piece about the Striezelmarkt—the Christmas market—that’s been going on for over 600 years.”

“I’ve heard of those,” Erik said. “They’re all over Germany, right?”

“Yes. This is supposed to be one of the best though. There’s a carousel and the world’s biggest nutcracker. Plus, hundreds of booths filled with handmade crafts, pottery, candles, toys, wooden ornaments, and food. It’s incredible. Twinkling lights everywhere and the whole atmosphere feels festive.” By the end, Seth’s serious expression had melted away and was replaced by his now-familiar happy smile. He glowed when he talked about travel.

“It does sound incredible,” Erik agreed. “I can think of worse places to spend my birthday.”

“Oh, me too,” Seth agreed. “And I met a nice strapping German man by the name of Hans to celebrate it with. My German isn’t great, and his English was a bit broken, but we managed.” Seth gave him a little wink.

“I can’t say spending my birthday with Hans would be my choice,” Erik said drily. “But good for you.”

Seth shivered. “Is it just me or is it getting colder in here again?”

“It does seem like it.” Erik stood, then walked over to fiddle with the heater controls. “I’ll try cranking it up a little more.”

“I wonder if there are any extra blankets in the room?” Seth said as he walked past. He opened the closet doors. “Hmm. Nothing in here. Maybe in the dresser?”

“I didn’t notice anything when I put my clothes in there but check the bottom two drawers—I didn’t look in them. If you don’t find any blankets, I’ll have a talk with someone at the desk in the morning,” Erik said. He doubted a maintenance person was on hand twenty-four hours, especially in this weather.

“Or we could share body heat,” Seth said with a grin as he returned to his spot on the bed.

“Are you sure you didn’t get me liquored up so you could take advantage of me?” Erik asked, but he kept his voice light and teasing.

Seth shot him a dirty look. “No. Of course not. But the offer stands if you need it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Erik grabbed his toiletry kit and a pair of pajamas out of the dresser. “I’m going to shower. Alone. And get ready for bed unless you need the bathroom before I head in there.”

“Nah, I’m good.”

Erik fled to the bathroom as if Seth’s offer to help him out was hot on his heels.

Snowstorms and Second Chances IG Out Now (1)

Publisher: Two Peninsulas Press (Indie/Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Word Count /or Page Number: 43,309 words

Formats/Price: eBook – $3.29 Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

 

Buy on Amazon or Read on Kindle Unlimited

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New Release/Freebie – A Tidal Series Short: Southampton Sea Breeze

If you’ve read the Tidal and Speakeasy series, you already know Carter Hamilton and Riley Porter-Wright. Their books, Wake and Calm, were published in the summer of 2017, and we put together a short story to mark that anniversary.
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Southampton Sea Breeze is FREE to download from Pride Publishing:
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This short story can be read on its own, but it certainly has ties to the Tidal books, Behind the Stick, and the other Speakeasy books, so if you haven’t already, we suggest you enjoy them all!
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New Release – Speakeasy #3: Behind the Stick

“Behind the Stick”, Book 3 in The Speakeasy Series, is live!

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Kyle is one of our favorite characters and we know you’re going to love Luka as well so we’re really excited to share it with you.
Love, served behind the stick.

Kyle McKee lives a charmed life. He co-owns Under, an uptown speakeasy, where he is chief mixologist. Friends poke fun at Kyle’s tiny one-bed apartment in Chelsea, but they’re the best support system a man could ask for. Unfortunately, Kyle’s lackluster love life has led him to take a break from dating.

Harlem resident Luka Clarke is a lieutenant with Engine 47, the Pride of Morningside, where he carries on his father’s legacy with the FDNY. Luka, who is mixed race and bisexual, has his eye on Kyle, whom he met at a local burger joint and he just needs to make time to visit Kyle’s bar.

Before work one evening, Kyle is trapped inside the luncheonette when a fire breaks out. Luka’s firehouse answers the call and he connects with Kyle again under the most unexpected of circumstances. When Kyle gratefully invites Luka and the firehouse squad to Under, the flirting between the two men leads to a date.

Kyle and Luka quickly grow close, but Luka’s mother and sister distrust Kyle for being both white and gay. Luka believes his family will come around and accept Kyle in the end, but Kyle is not optimistic and hides his disquiet as attraction blossoms into love.

Kyle and Luka’s near-idyllic bubble is shattered one evening after a hate crime leaves them scarred, inside and out. Shaken, they put on a strong front but struggle inwardly against fear and personal demons. As the emotions seething beneath the surface finally come to a head, both men must decide if they have the strength to find love enough to conquer hate.

Click on the buttons below to order the book or save it on your TBR list:
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We hope you love these guys as much as we do!

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order – The Speakeasy #3 Behind the Stick

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K Evan Coles and I are excited to announce that “Behind the Stick”, Book 3 in The Speakeasy Series, is available for pre-order!

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Isn’t this cover gorgeous? Kyle is one of our favorite characters and we know you’re going to love Luka as well so we’re really excited to share it with you.
Love, served behind the stick.

Kyle McKee lives a charmed life. He co-owns Under, an uptown speakeasy, where he is chief mixologist. Friends poke fun at Kyle’s tiny one-bed apartment in Chelsea, but they’re the best support system a man could ask for. Unfortunately, Kyle’s lackluster love life has led him to take a break from dating.

Harlem resident Luka Clarke is a lieutenant with Engine 47, the Pride of Morningside, where he carries on his father’s legacy with the FDNY. Luka, who is mixed race and bisexual, has his eye on Kyle, whom he met at a local burger joint and he just needs to make time to visit Kyle’s bar.

Before work one evening, Kyle is trapped inside the luncheonette when a fire breaks out. Luka’s firehouse answers the call and he connects with Kyle again under the most unexpected of circumstances. When Kyle gratefully invites Luka and the firehouse squad to Under, the flirting between the two men leads to a date.

Kyle and Luka quickly grow close, but Luka’s mother and sister distrust Kyle for being both white and gay. Luka believes his family will come around and accept Kyle in the end, but Kyle is not optimistic and hides his disquiet as attraction blossoms into love.

Kyle and Luka’s near-idyllic bubble is shattered one evening after a hate crime leaves them scarred, inside and out. Shaken, they put on a strong front but struggle inwardly against fear and personal demons. As the emotions seething beneath the surface finally come to a head, both men must decide if they have the strength to find love enough to conquer hate.

To pre-order the book, click on the buttons below:
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ARCs will be happening soon, so if you’re interested in one, join my Facebook Fan

New Release – The Speakeasy #2 Extra Dirty

In addition to releasing “The Ghosts Between Us”, my co-written novel with K. Evan Coles was released!

It’s the second book in The Speakeasy series. The books in the series can be read as standalone stories, but if you haven’t read the first book and you’d like to, here is some more information about “With a Twist“!

If you’ve been eagerly waiting for Cam and Jesse’s story, here it is!

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Title: Extra Dirty

Author Name: K. Evan Coles and Brigham Vaughn

Tagline: Love, served extra dirty.

Series: The Speakeasy, #2

While the stories in this series are connected, each book features a new couple and can be read as a stand-alone.

Summary:

Jesse Murtagh loves his life as a wealthy bisexual businessman dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. With a circle of friends he trusts implicitly, he enjoys a successful career in his family’s business and as co-owner of Under, an uptown speakeasy, with his friend with benefits, Kyle McKee.

Music teacher and part-time DJ Cameron Lewis lives modestly in a DUMBO loft and isn’t interested in serious relationships. However, he’s always up for some casual fun.

Doing a favor for his friend Carter Hamilton, Jesse meets Cam and is immediately charmed. When Jesse discovers Cam’s other life as a DJ, he is further intrigued. Viewing Cam as a challenge, Jesse pulls out all the stops, but his usual methods to avoid serious relationships fail. Though Cam has no intention of becoming attached, he begins to fall for Jesse, unaware that Jesse’s feelings are changing.

Afraid of heartbreak, Cam pulls away, leaving Jesse bewildered and hurt. They remain friends until a series of misunderstandings widens the rift to breaking point. When Cam steps in to help Jesse through a family crisis, they realize they care for each other more than they’ve been willing to admit. Jesse and Cam don’t want a traditional relationship, but can they build a future that makes them both happy?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of mmm ménage as well as references to homophobia and recreational drug use.

Publisher: Pride Publishing/Totally Entwined Group

Publication Date: March 26, 2019

Word Count /or Page Number: 89k + words

Formats/Price: eBook – $4.99 Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

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New Release – The Ghosts Between Us

Somehow in the excitement of “The Ghosts Between Us” being released, I forgot to blog about it. Whoops?

But if you did miss the news, the book is now live on Amazon and available on KU/Kindle.

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Title: The Ghosts Between Us

Author Name: Brigham Vaughn

Tagline: From Loss, A New Beginning

Series: The West Hills (Book 1)

While the stories in this series are connected, each book features a new couple and can be read as a stand-alone.

Summary:

Dr. Christopher Allen knows how to deal with death. He’s a psychiatrist who works with hospice patients and their families, helping them cope with grief and letting go. But Chris’s job doesn’t prepare him for the sudden death of his devil-may-care brother Cal.

At Cal’s funeral, Chris is completely thrown when he meets Elliot Rawlings, an artist Cal has been dating. Chris is hurt to discover that the brother he knew as straight was actually bisexual. Elliot is angry and resentful of having been kept hidden from Cal’s family.

After the funeral, a night of drinking at the bar with Cal’s friends leads to Chris and Elliot falling into bed together.  The next morning, they’re overwhelmed by guilt and grief and agree to never speak of it again.

But Cal’s apartment needs to be packed up and Elliot reluctantly agrees to help Chris, as well as answer some questions about Cal’s life and their relationship. Despite their guilt and initial dislike for one another, they sort through the pieces of Cal’s life and begin to fall for each other.

Despite his best efforts to fix things, Chris’s family seems to be crumbling around him and he begins to question who he is and what his role with them is.  As his feelings for Elliot grow, Chris must decide if they’re worth further damaging his fragile relationships with his friends and family.

Elliot’s rough upbringing has left him distrustful of getting close to anyone, much less another man who isn’t willing to acknowledge him in public. The odds seem stacked against Chris and Elliot, but if they can overcome them, they may be able to lay Cal’s ghost to rest, along with their own demons.

Publisher: Two Peninsulas Press (Indie/Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Word Count /or Page Number: 130k + words

Formats/Price: eBook – $5.99 Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

 

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Readers are loving “The Ghosts Between Us” and you will too!

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Coming Soon – The Ghosts Between Us

If it feels like I’ve been teasing you with promises of this book for years, it’s because, well, I have. Somewhere about five years ago, the idea for it popped into my head. I jotted a few things down and then went on to work on other projects. Slowly, over that time, I’ve worked on the story. I did it in fits and starts as I struggled with it. First titled, “In Mourning” it slowly morphed into a massively long novel that explores grief, family, relationships, and love.

To be honest, it’s felt like a story I had to grow into. Both as an author and as a human. There were life experiences I needed to have along with writing skills I needed to develop. This story refused to be ready because I wasn’t ready.

But in a sudden burst of both inspiration and motivation, it came together. My beta readers returned it with some helpful suggestions for how to tweak and polish it, and a blog tour is being arranged.

I am truly excited to share this book with you–maybe more so than with any other book I’ve previously written–because I am so proud of it. I love the characters and I love the story and it was a real stretch for me as an author. I hope you’ll keep an eye out for it next month when it’s available because I know you’re going to love it as much as I do.

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Title: The Ghosts Between Us

Author Name: Brigham Vaughn

Tagline: From Loss, A New Beginning

Series: The West Hills (Book 1)

While the stories in this series are connected, each book features a new couple and can be read as a stand-alone.

Summary:

Dr. Christopher Allen knows how to deal with death. He’s a psychiatrist who works with hospice patients and their families, helping them cope with grief and letting go. But Chris’s job doesn’t prepare him for the sudden death of his devil-may-care brother Cal.

At Cal’s funeral, Chris is completely thrown when he meets Elliot Rawlings, an artist Cal has been dating. Chris is hurt to discover that the brother he knew as straight was actually bisexual. Elliot is angry and resentful of having been kept hidden from Cal’s family.

After the funeral, a night of drinking at the bar with Cal’s friends leads to Chris and Elliot falling into bed together.  The next morning, they’re overwhelmed by guilt and grief and agree to never speak of it again.

But Cal’s apartment needs to be packed up and Elliot reluctantly agrees to help Chris, as well as answer some questions about Cal’s life and their relationship. Despite their guilt and initial dislike for one another, they sort through the pieces of Cal’s life and begin to fall for each other.

Despite his best efforts to fix things, Chris’s family seems to be crumbling around him and he begins to question who he is and what his role with them is.  As his feelings for Elliot grow, Chris must decide if they’re worth further damaging his fragile relationships with his friends and family.

Elliot’s rough upbringing has left him distrustful of getting close to anyone, much less another man who isn’t willing to acknowledge him in public. The odds seem stacked against Chris and Elliot, but if they can overcome them, they may be able to lay Cal’s ghost to rest, along with their own demons.

Publisher: Two Peninsulas Press (Indie/Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Word Count /or Page Number: 130k + words

Formats/Price: eBook – $5.99 Available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43690574-the-ghosts-between-us

 


The pre-order for this book won’t be available until February 22, but if you want to be notified about The Ghosts Between Us when it goes live there are two options!

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New Release – Seeking Warmth

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“Seeking Warmth” is live everywhere!

Four years ago, I did a holiday blog hop.  The rules were to write a flash fiction with a winter holiday theme and a bad boy character. There was a black and white photo of two young men embracing in what looked like a gift shop.

I wrote about two thousand words and posted it on my blog, but I knew that someday I’d want to expand it. At some point in the past few years, I did start to expand it, so when I got the itch to write a holiday story, I knew I had something solid to start with. In the end, it came in around twenty thousand words, which makes for a perfect short story length.

I really loved telling Benny’s story and I hope you enjoy it too.

Title: Seeking Warmth

Summary:

Benny Fuller is on his way to rock bottom. He’s seventeen, fresh out of juvie, homeless, and desperate to find a job.  His dad’s in jail and his drug-addicted mom is in no shape to take care of his sick sister, Angel. A run-in with his ex-boyfriend, Scott Sullivan, makes Benny feel even worse. He’s a thief with no future. Scott is smart, with plans for college and a great future ahead of him. Benny knows Scott can do so much better than him. Because no matter how hard Benny tries, he can’t seem to find a job or a way to take care of Angel.

The further Benny falls, the more he needs Scott’s help. Benny will have to let go of his pride and trust Scott and the Sullivan family in order to get the Christmas miracle Benny and Angel so desperately need.

Reader Advisory: This is an older (15+) YA story with themes of homelessness, drug use and prostitution (off-page), neglect of minors, and foster care.

Excerpt:

People hurried past Benny Fuller without seeing him. They were bundled up warmly against the snow, clutching their holiday shopping bags and packages. They were too intent on their destination to see the kid they pushed past. Now that the sun was going down, the crowds were beginning to thin. The wind picked up and the fat, fluffy snowflakes grew smaller and sharper. They stung his cheeks and made his hands ache. It had been early spring when he went into juvie. He’d had a hat stuffed in his old, beat up Army-style jacket but no gloves.

When the caseworker picked him up at the juvenile detention center and drove him to a foster home, she frowned at his bare hands. She said something about making sure he had a pair of gloves—and a warmer coat and boots—but she got a phone call a few minutes later and apparently forgot. He hadn’t said anything to the foster care lady about it either. So now the slushy snow soaked into his shoes as he walked and he still had no gloves or winter coat. He’d have to make do. But that was nothing new for him, was it? Benny had been doing that for a while now.

He kicked at a piece of torn, soggy cardboard on the sidewalk as he passed it. It did nothing to relieve the gnawing hunger in his stomach or the cold air that crept down the collar of his jacket and numbed his fingers.

It was satisfying though. Something to do to let out all of the frustration and fear boiling inside of him. His job search had amounted to nothing. Everything amounted to nothing. There were no opportunities for kids like him.

He’d been wandering the city for a week. Ever since he left the foster home they placed him in. It hadn’t seemed bad at first. It was clean and there were only two other kids there, both younger. But one of them was a nightmare. Benny had never seen anything like it. The boy screamed and tried to hit the little girl all the time. The foster mother did nothing to stop it. The little girl had bruises on her arms and legs from the boy and it made Benny sick to watch it happen. Within the first day Benny was there, the boy bit Benny hard enough to draw blood, but Benny was the one who got yelled at by the foster mother for provoking him. Benny hadn’t done anything but sit down next to the kid.

Benny had tried to help out, thinking maybe the woman was just overwhelmed, but she yelled at him for interfering. The day after he got there, the little girl had to go to the doctor for pinkeye. Benny was left home with the boy. It was a nightmare. After the boy screamed and hit him and acted like a little monster all day, Benny couldn’t handle it anymore. As soon as the woman got home with the girl, Benny crawled out the bedroom window and left.

He went straight to his childhood home, even though there was no one there waiting for him. He collected his car and a few belongings, but he knew he couldn’t stay or Child Protective Services would just drag him out of there and back to a foster home.

But once he left his old house, he had nowhere else to go. He had a car though, thankfully. It had sat, unused, while he was in juvie. It was still registered, thankfully, although the insurance on it had lapsed. He’d have to hope he didn’t get pulled over, or he’d be in big trouble.

With no home and no job, what else could he do now but wander? Sit in his car and feel sorry for himself? Even if he wanted to, he didn’t have any money for gas so he couldn’t do it for long. He tried to run the engine as little as possible. Just enough to keep himself from freezing to death. At least when he was up and walking, his blood was flowing.

He wasn’t warm, but at least he wasn’t dead. That was something, right?

Up ahead, a brightly-lit storefront spilled yellow light onto the snowy sidewalk. Its warmth beckoned Benny to come closer, but as he approached, he recognized the building and scowled. Sullivan’s Fine Gifts, the sign on the window read. Damn it. His wandering had taken him to the last place he should be.

Stupid. Why did I come here? He wondered. It wasn’t like he could go in and see Scott Sullivan. God, he wanted to though. Scott was the only person Benny had ever trusted. The only one who really knew him. Scott was the best thing that had ever happened to Benny. Too bad Benny was the worst thing that had ever happened to Scott.

Benny stood in front of the gift shop long enough for the snowflakes to settle on his too-thin jacket. His breath fogged the window and cold and hunger faded away as he stared into the store owned by his ex-boyfriend’s parents, mesmerized by the cheerful lights and decorations. It advertised home and family.

Warmth. Security. Love.

All the things Benny didn’t have.

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