FIRST EDITION RELEASE DATE: March 13, 2013 by Samhain Publishing
Finalist, Gay Contemporary, 2013 Elisa Rolle Rainbow Awards
Format: Novel • Genre: Contemporary Romance • Length: 67,500 words
Cover Artist: Kanaxa
eBook ISBN: 978-1-64080-053-3
Print ISBN: 978-1-64080-052-6
Characters: Vincent Fierro, Trey Giles
Publisher • Amazon • Kobo • iTunes • Barnes & Noble
Sometimes family chooses you.
At forty, Vincent “Vinnie” Fierro is still afraid to admit he might be gay—even to himself. It’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, it’s getting harder to ignore what he really wants.
Vinnie attempts some self-exploration in Chicago’s Boystown bars, far from anyone who knows him. Naturally, he runs smack into someone from the neighborhood.
Between working two jobs, going to school, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his mother’s ongoing substance abuse, Trey Giles has little time for fun, let alone dating someone who swears he’s straight. Yet after one night of dancing cheek-to-cheek, Trey agrees to let Vinnie court him and see if he truly belongs on this side of the fence—though Trey intends to keep his virginity intact.
It seems like a solid plan, but nothing is simple when family is involved. When Vinnie’s family finds out about their relationship, the situation is sticky enough, but when Trey’s mother goes critical, Vinnie and Trey must decide whose happiness is most important—their families’ or their own.
This book was co-written with Marie Sexton.
“Vinnie?” I yelled, moving around the barflies in between us to get to him. “Vincent Fierro, is that you?”
What a stupid fucking question. Of course it was him. And when he turned to me, the blood drained from his face like I was the goddamn ghost of Christmas past. “Trey,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
Well, at least we were tied on the stupid-question front. There wasn’t an empty stool next to him, so I angled myself into the narrow space between him and the bar. “I’ve never seen you here before.”
“It’s my first time.”
“I didn’t realize you were gay.”
All the color that had left his cheeks came back with a vengeance. The glare he turned on me would have made me back up, if I’d had anywhere to go. “I’m not.”
I laughed. What the hell else could I do? “Oh yeah? Let me guess. You wandered in here by mistake, saw all the guys practically having sex on the dance floor, and thought you’d just pull up a seat for the hell of it, right? ’Cause that’s what all the straight guys do.”
He clenched his jaw, turning away from me, and I felt a twinge of guilt for having goaded him. Tough guy like him, big Catholic family—it couldn’t be as easy for him as it had been for me. My Gram had barely batted an eye when I’d come out to her, and that had been six years ago.
“It’s cool, Vinnie,” I said. “I get it.”
He seemed uncertain, and I did my best to be reassuring. “Let me buy you a drink.”
He winced, glancing around the bar like he was searching for an escape hatch. “I don’t think I’m staying.”
Christ, offer to buy a guy a drink, and he’s ready to bolt. He probably assumed I was trying to get in his pants. Of course, I’d been in that position a billion times myself, so I didn’t take it personally. “You don’t have to go. I’ll leave you alone—”
“No!” I had a feeling the word had escaped without him meaning for it to. He looked like he regretted it. I wasn’t sure what to say. I wasn’t sure if assuring him that I wasn’t cruising was what he wanted to hear or not.
He took a deep breath and blew it out. “I didn’t mean because of you,” he said at last. “I just mean, I really hate this scene. What the hell kind of music is this anyway?”
“I keep wondering if this goddamn song will ever end. It’s been going on for at least an hour.”
I laughed. “No, it hasn’t. This is some club mashup of ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Single Ladies.’ That last song was something by Lady Gaga. The one before I think was—”
“You mean these are real songs?”
I laughed. “What else would they be?”
He rolled his eyes. “I thought it was a techno loop clubs played when they couldn’t afford to hire a real DJ. Or a band. I didn’t realize people actually listened to this shit.” He shook his head, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. “Fuck, I’m old.”
The music wasn’t exactly my speed either, although I’d long since grown immune to it. “What kind of music do you like?” I asked.
“Jazz. Swing. Real music. Three notes by Coltrane and this crap would back off in shame.”
His answer gave me an idea that was too good to pass up. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
The look he gave me was almost like panic, and I smiled. “I don’t mean, ‘your place or mine?’ I just mean, let’s go someplace better.”
He immediately relaxed. “Where?”
I took a minute to pull out my phone and send a text to Tara. Leaving. Be safe.
Her WTF? came back to me in record time—I’d never left the club with anybody before—but I ignored it.
I led him out of the hot, loud club into the cool night air. The sidewalks were still wet, but the rain had stopped. The only part of the music we could hear from outside was the thumping bass. My ears were ringing. “You mind walking?” I felt like my voice was way too loud.
“I don’t mind.”
We rounded the corner and went a few blocks. “You know where you’re going?” he asked as we walked.
“Of course. I’ve never been in this club before, but I’ve heard about it.”
We reached our destination. No thumping bass here. I opened the door, and smooth jazz flowed out around us, wrapping us up, drawing us in.
Inside, the lights were low—no bright lights or flashing strobes. A few couples were dancing. A lone black man sat on a stool in the corner, playing a sax. The music was sultry, loud enough to be heard, but not so loud you couldn’t hear the person four inches away from you.
I glanced over at Vinnie, and he smiled. His smile was cute. Sort of smartass and self-deprecating at the same time—like he was daring the world to take him seriously. It made him seem years younger.
“Better,” he said.
We found a table near the dance floor, and the waiter didn’t bat an eye when I only ordered a Coke. Vinnie ordered a vodka tonic, and then we sat there, not knowing what to say. When I realized he would wait until doomsday before breaking the ice, I fished around until I found something that felt safe to talk about. “Sorry about the idiots in the restaurant the other day. I made them tip Marcie well.”
It was a little astounding how much this subject relaxed him, and I can’t say I minded the look of approval I got either. “They didn’t seem like your usual’s.” His tone hinted heavily that I generally had more taste.
“Group project,” I explained.
He made a face and shook his head. “They’re still doing that shit? I figured they’d quit once they saw what a mess it was.”
“Are you kidding? A week’s worth of group project is that much less shit for professors to grade. Plus they get to say they’re teaching us team building and crap like that.”
Vinnie rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Well, you have my condolences.”
He tipped his glass toward mine, and I met him in a toast. We drank, our gazes tangled in a moment of camaraderie. I didn’t want it to end, so I gave him another conversation prompt. “What is it you do? I know you don’t work for the restaurant anymore, because they’re always carrying on about how ‘If Vinnie was here, this wouldn’t have happened.’”
He raised a dubious eyebrow into his hairline. “That I didn’t know. This recent, this carrying on?”
I tried to think. “Yeah, I think so. Last week was the last time it came up.”
He grimaced. “They’re likely getting ready to gang up on me again to come back. Thanks for the intel.”
“But what is it you do now?”
“Plumbing.” He took a drink. “I work for my uncle up in Northbrook. Parino Brothers Plumbing.” I tried not to be shocked, but I must have failed because he laughed and waggled both eyebrows. “Hey, somebody’s got to unclog the toilets.”
“But do you like that?” I pressed. It was a little rude, but I knew he’d gone to not just college but graduate school, that he had an MBA and used to do accounting for his family’s restaurants. Now he fished out drains?
He shrugged. “It’s okay. Pay’s good, and I get out and about.” He gave me a sideways smile that made my stomach turn over. “Haven’t you heard my family gossiping about how I’m the one who can’t settle down on anything?”
I had. Vince always had a new job, and he’d been married three times, unless I’d missed an ex-wife in there. “Whatever makes you happy, I guess.”
This comment made his smile die, and he became focused on turning his drink casually in his hand. “Not sure about that. Do my best, though.” Clearing his throat, he set his glass down. “What about you? You’re in school, right? What for?”
“English major. I originally wanted to be pre-law, but at the rate I’m having to go, I’ll be ninety when I get out. I thought about getting an education endorsement, though my advisor is trying to talk me into political science.” I shrugged and twirled the straw in my Coke. “Right now I’ll be happy to get far enough into a degree to be able to graduate. I’m tired of school.”
Vinnie frowned at me. “How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Twenty-five. And yes, I know it’s a long time to be in school.”
To my surprise, Vinnie only nodded. “You’re taking care of your grandmother and mother, though, and you work full-time, right?”
“More than. I have two jobs. Barista at Full Moon, the coffee shop up on Racine just north of the interstate, and waiter at The Rose.” I was ready for the look of disdain he gave me for working at his competitor, and I had to bite back a smile. “Hey, we can’t all be born into the Fierro clan.”
“Have you ever applied at Emilio’s, though?”
“When I was looking, there wasn’t an opening. Plus, I hate to be rude, but the tips are higher at The Rose. All those lovely tourists coming out of the Loop, grateful to get a table.”
“The food’s terrible. They only survive because that bastard has city councilors in his pocket.” He ironed out his scowl and held up a hand in surrender. “But you’re right. The tips have to be killer.”
“If it helps, the chef’s an ass. Mostly because I won’t blow him in the back room, I’m pretty sure.” Too late I realized I’d accidentally shined a spotlight on the elephant in the middle of our table. I winced. Vinnie slouched and took a heavy hit from his drink. He wouldn’t look me in the eye anymore, and it made me sad.
This time, though, it was Vinnie who brought us back into conversation. “So you come up here a lot?”
“To Boystown? Not often if I can help it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great neighborhood, but mostly I see the bars, which I could do without.” This got me the eyebrow again, and another one of those sexy little smiles. “What?” I demanded, trying to tamp down the butterflies that smile unleashed in my belly.
“You’re young. You’re cute. Yet you could do without going to bars full of guys wanting to hook up with you?”
He thought I was cute? My butterflies went crazy, and I focused all my attention on my drink. “I feel like I should tell you something.” I concentrated on spearing my thin red cocktail straw through one of the round ice cubes in my Coke, debating how to tell him I was a virgin. “I don’t have sex.”
“What? Not ever?”
I glanced up at him, trying not to be bothered by the amused disbelief in his eyes. “I just mean, I don’t sleep with guys on the first date.”
His laughter died fast. “This isn’t a date.”
He said it like a threat, as if he had to set the record straight—and I do mean straight—and I laughed. His protests actually took a great deal of pressure off me. “All the more reason I won’t sleep with you tonight.”
I was glad when he smiled again. “Deal,” he said.
It was strange how freeing that word was.
I’d learned over the years to be so careful about my interactions with men, lest they misunderstand my intentions, but it wasn’t as if I was opposed to sex or to fooling around. I wasn’t immune to the calling of my own hormones. I woke up horny like any healthy male. The problem was that with most guys, the line between flirting and fucking was razor thin. But Vince wasn’t most guys. He wasn’t some stranger I’d barely met. I’d known him for most of my life. I knew I could trust him.
Suddenly, I felt I could throw caution to the wind. Having the boundaries firmly in place and a partner I trusted opened up the playing field considerably.
I reached over and put my hand on his thigh, and he raised one eyebrow questioningly at me. “No sex,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t flirt, right?”
He stared hard at me for a long second, like I was some bridge he couldn’t decide if he wanted to jump off of. Eventually he said, his voice low and rough, “I guess not.”
My heart went into overdrive. It made me bold. It was a new feeling for me, and I embraced it. I had nothing to lose.
I moved into his lap, straddling his thighs so I could face him. His hands were on my legs, but it wasn’t as if he was touching me on purpose. It was more like that was the safest place he could find to put them. His guards were back up in full. “This doesn’t feel like flirting.”
“Then what does it feel like?”
“Like you’re coming on to me.” He said the words like an accusation.
“Aren’t they the same thing?” He didn’t move as I undid the top button on his shirt. “We already said no sex.” I undid the next one. “Relax.” There wasn’t much hair on his chest. Just smooth, dark skin, and I caressed it with my fingertips. I traced his collarbone. I put my arms around his neck and leaned closer to kiss his cheek, which was stubbly, and then the side of his neck. “God, you smell good.” It was a spicy scent—some kind of aftershave—mixed with the clean, soapy smell of his hair. I kissed him again, below his ear, and I heard his breath catch in his throat.
He clenched his hands. His fingers dug into my thighs. “Trey—”
I knew he was going to tell me to stop, and I cut him off, leaning back a bit so I could look in his eyes. “Dance with me.”
3 of 5 Stars with an **
** I don’t normally publish 3 star reviews on my posts, but I really did like the love story in the book and you may not have the issues I did so I included it.
I’m pretty torn on this book. I’m a fan of both authors so I was excited to read it but I had a few issues with it while I loved parts of it.
Let me first start with some of the topics tackled in the story. Vinnie is closeted still at almost 40 and he is really struggling to come out in his big Italian catholic family. Trey has major mom issues which include alcoholism and neglect/borderline abuse…both of which were very well written. One or both of the authors either have experience with these issues or did really good research. There are a handful of church/religious stereotype references that were not overwhelming but noticeable.
Now before I get to what bothered me about the story, let me tell you what I loved. I loved Vince and Trey’s friendship and eventual love story. This is clearly a May/December story…there is a 14 year age gap…but that wasn’t an issue for anyone and really was barely mentioned. Vinnie comes from a big, loud, super involved Italian family where Trey comes from a very small very dysfunctional family. Trey is out and proud, Vinnie is, as I mentioned, still in the closet and has dead bolted the door. Their 2nd non-date is pretty perfect. Their patience with each other is endearing. The way Vinnie and his family take care of Trey and his small family is amazing. The way they just naturally fell in love was heart melting and the last scene was absolutely perfect. If you could strip away my issues listed below, this would be a 5 star read.
However, those issues remain. I don’t ever read reviews prior to reading a book – partially because I don’t want a prejudiced opinion going into it and mostly because I’ve found that not everyone is honest in their reviews so the public opinion is pretty skewed. Because of that, I didn’t know about the POV issue until I was about 20% in and had to go back a couple of chapters to make sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing. And I was…conflicting/dueling points of view. Vinnie’s POV was in the 3rd person and Trey’s was in the 1st person. That this was published by a fairly big publisher – twice – with that on the pages is mind boggling to me. Were two different editors used? Did anyone read it entirely before it was published? If so, how was it decided to keep it as is? If the love story hadn’t been so great, I would have abandoned this book right then and there. I’m usually not a huge fan of co-authored books because 1) I can usually tell which author has written certain parts of the story and it doesn’t feel like collaboration or 2) the entire book feels like only one person wrote it which means it wasn’t truly collaboration. I’ve never experienced the dual points of view and I’m just confused.
Another big issue for me is the reference to one of the guys ‘being the girl’ in the relationship. This was mentioned in conversation 3 times. This is a book about 2 men becoming lovers/partners. There is no girl in the relationship. That statement is absurd and pisses me off. At one point, Vinnie mentions being more worried about being thought of as a lesser man because of his positional preference than about losing his family when coming out. Neither of those is OK with me.
A minor issue for me involved Trey’s 3 friends – Tara and Dillon and Josh. We meet them at 56% when Trey mentions them being his family. How are they so close he considers them family and we didn’t meet them for half the book? Not a huge deal I guess, but it threw me for a loop and I was already a bit of a mess because of the POV issue so I’m including it here.
A second minor issue is we never see Trey deal with his overwhelming issues with his mom. It took him a really long time in the story to even admit those issues and to finally shed a tear over. He cannot ignore them…so I’m going to assume they happened off page.
Honestly, this book is worth the time because of the love story. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have even finished. Some of you may not have the issues I do and may love it. Some of you might not like the love story enough to get past the issues. I’ll leave that up to you.
About the Authors
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.