Teaser: Better Than Love
People regularly ask me if I’m working on the sequel to Special Delivery and Double Blind. I am, I really am. And right now I’m bouncing hard between it and Etsey Book 3. But to prove to you that I truly am and to give you a tiny preview of where it’s going, I will post a scene.
Right now I think this is the third scene, and I think this is pretty nailed down. But never say never with me and story until it’s gone to press, especially with the beginning bits.
Better Than Love, coming eventually to a book near you.
Randy Jansen was bored, and that worried him.
It wasn’t the boredom exactly—it wasn’t the first time he’d been bored after all. Hell, it used to happen on a regular basis. He’d get bored, at which point he’d go out and find himself a cure. He lived in fucking Las Vegas. You had to close your eyes and bury your head in the sand to be bored for too long, and even then eventually the sunburn on the non-buried part of you would give you something to think about pretty damn quick. Bored he could cure.
The real problem was that all the cures he most steadily had relied on in the past suddenly seemed out of reach.
He told himself he was being an idiot. He told himself he was crazy. He tried to keep himself busy with cooking and poker and even hanging around Herod’s bothering people. He surprised Ethan with random acts of sex at work: strip-teases and nooners and on a few occasions X-rated voyeurism from via the surveillance cams. And all that was fun. Very, very fun.
But he was still bored.
It was not, absolutely not that he was unhappy with Slick. He loved Ethan like he never would have thought he could love anyone. It wasn’t just that Ethan had filled a hole inside him; he’d pried off the decades-hardened clay Randy had sealed under a million coats of glaze and exposed and healed him all in one go. Ethan was the heart home a wise-assed bastard like him didn’t deserve in a million years but got anyway. And he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
But he was bored, bored, bored, bored.
He was acutely bored one morning in October, a cooking show chattering in the background as he absent-mindedly surfed porn on the Internet when the phone rang. He couldn’t reach it before it went to voicemail because he had two cats on his lap and couldn’t edge his way to the end table in time without disturbing them. Glancing at the ID for the missed call, his eyebrows went up as he hurriedly pushed redial. Mitch answered before the second ring.
“Skeet,” he said, before Randy could even toss out a cheeky greeting. “Skeet, it’s a fucking mess. A fucking mess.”
Dislodging the cats gently, Randy swung his feet to the floor, heart pounding. “What is it? Did something happen to Sam?”
“Randy, my goddamn stepmother called, and Sam answered the phone. And now he’s insisting we go to Texas.”
Randy blinked. “You have a stepmother?”
Mitch made an irritated noise. “Apparently so. You remember Carmelita?”
“Your dad married Carmelita?”
“Yep. From what I can gather, he married her a year after you and I skipped town.”
Randy sank back into the couch, petting Salomé absently as she walked across his lap. “I’ll be damned.”
“Yeah, well, it gets better. She says my dad had a stroke. Says it damaged his brain and that he needs to go into a home for care or get some at the house. She makes the money in the family, so she can’t do it, but she can’t get him to agree to anything but her helping him. Apparently this is part of the damage—his happened in the part of the brain that makes him deny the stroke even occurred. She could get a court order and declare him unfit to make his own decisions, but it’s breaking her heart.” He swore again. “And I’d tell her that’s what she deserved for being fool enough to marry that old bastard, but Sam’s heard the story now. And he says we’re going. As soon as he finishes up his temp job at the end of the month, he says we’re going to McAllen. To help my stepmother and my goddamn dad.” There was a pause, and then he added, as if the words were being yanked from his mouth, “and my stepbrother.”
Randy stared out across the living room. Salomé had jumped off his lap to join Daisy in stalking a wadded up piece of paper Salomé had dug out of the office garbage can, and Randy watched them, thinking furiously for something to say, but in the end he had nothing better than, “Fucking hell, Old Man.”
Mitch’s sigh cut a swath across Randy’s heart. “Skeet, I can’t go back. But I can’t explain that to Sam, because he’ll never understand. I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”
Randy stared at the cats a little longer, watching Daisy’s deft paw-volley send the paper wad back to Salomé, who pounced on it triumphantly until she was bored and walked away, at which point Daisy would bat it again. He lifted his eyes to the bookshelf near the door, where on the third shelf photos of himself and Sam and Sam and Mitch flanked the center photo, which was of Randy in a suit, dazed and stunned but happily putting his arm around a tall, elegant, patient man in an even better suit. As Randy’s right hand pressed his phone tighter against his ear, his left thumb reached back to turn the gold band absently against his ring finger.
Well, he could say one thing. He wasn’t bored right now.
“Did you try to explain?” Randy asked. “Did you tell Sam about your dad?”
“Hell yes, I did, but you know Sam.”
Randy did, and he could well imagine how Sam had responded to even the worst Cooper Tedsoe anecdotes. And that there was a mother in there now would only make the need to go help firmer in his mind.
But a brother. Mitch having a brother was too weird to contemplate.
“How old is the kid?” Randy asked.
“Fuck. He’s fucking nineteen.”
That made Randy sit up straight. “Are you shitting me? You mean you had a goddamned brother—when we were living there?”
“That’s fucking right. I don’t know how it went down, because I didn’t feel like I could ask that over the phone, and Sam doesn’t speak enough Spanish. I got an earful about the kid, though. Carmelita thinks he’s in trouble. He’s got some friend who’s a piece of shit, always got some scheme. She found a gun in his room with the numbers rubbed off.”
Oh, that wasn’t good. “What’s she want you to do?”
“Fuck if I know. According to Sam, we’re going to come sailing in like the fucking calvary.”
God, Randy could just see it. Sam bursting into Mitch’s old man’s house, full of righteous twink indignation, handling the rogue young man and Mitch’s dad in between beatific smiles at Carmelita.
Damn. That he’d love to see.
He cleared his throat and pushed the mental images away. “Doesn’t Sam have to work? What about you—can you get a long distance job lined up quick?”
“That’d only buy me time. And Sam’s between jobs. And having a hard time finding another temp gig around here.”
Randy did mental backtracking for a minute and then gave up. “Where the hell are you guys right now, anyway?”
“Which is where the fuck, Tedsoe?”
“Iowa. Far east on the river. Sam wants to pull everything up and head to McAllen.”
Holy shit. “He wants to live there?”
Live in McAllen, Texas. Talk about boredom. Randy’d have to shoot himself in the head just to find something to do. “Jesus Fucking Christ. Show him some Google images. That ought to cure him.”
“I did. He says it looks nice.”
“Was he drunk at the time? Try a scorpion instead.”
“I did. He’s not moving on this. I’m either going to fucking McAllen or I’m going to have a very unhappy husband.”
Which meant that Mitch was going to McAllen. “Shit.”
There was a heavy pause. And then, “Come with us, Skeet.”
Randy fell back into the couch.
“Come with you? To McAllen?” He tried to laugh. “Yeah, because I’m so on the way in Vegas.”
Though he could go to them. Road trip with Mitch and Sam. His palms ached just thinking about it.
“I’m serious. You know what hell this is going to be. You know how I get. What if I fuck it up, Randy?” There was another pause, and Mitch went on, slowly and painfully, “What if I fuck it up with Sam?”
“You won’t fuck it up with Sam,” Randy replied, trying to gentle him. “You’d have to try really hard for a really long time.”
“I just want you there. I know it sounds stupid, but I feel like if you were there, it might be okay. To talk shit when things get too heavy. To tease Sam when I get stupid. To explain to him when I don’t have the words. Just for a while, Skeet. Just for a while.” There was a pause, and then Mitch added, his voice gruff and quiet, “Like old times.”
The words hit Randy right in the solar plexus. “You trying to turn me on, Old Man?” He tried to make it a joke, but it came out more serious than he should have let it.
“If that’ll get you to come along,” Mitch replied, and damn if Randy could tell if that was a joke or not either.
He didn’t know what to say. He knew what he wanted to say: fuck yeah, be right over, let’s do this. But like a bad melodrama, his eyes kept drifting to that picture of him and Slick.
Obviously he should ask first. Obviously. And he would. Ethan would probably say yes. That was how Ethan was. He’d give Randy one of those funny looks that seemed to question his sanity and delight in his neuroses all at once. And then he’d say go ahead and go. He’d say, “Take video.”
And this would solve the boredom too. He was never bored with Sam and Mitch.
He wasn’t bored with Ethan either!
But…he wasn’t really with Ethan, not when Slick was working. And the casino kept him busier and busier all the time. And in the meantime Randy felt like a fucking housewife. And he didn’t want to be a housewife.
Jesus, Jansen, you are fucking stupid. Get the fuck over yourself.
“Randy?” Mitch’s voice yanked him out of his rumination.
Randy shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Tell him you’ll call him back. Tell him you can probably do it, but you just want to check with Ethan first.
Except that’s when it hit Randy. When he realized what it was bothering him, and it wasn’t having to ask Ethan, wasn’t even that he was bored. He knew, too, what he wanted to do, and knew that unlike Ethan’s answer to Randy’s going, he didn’t know how Ethan would take this one, which made him a little nervous.
Randy opened his eyes, smiled, and said, “Give me four days, Old Man, and we’ll be at your door.” His stomach danced with butterflies as he added, “Both of us.”