When Michael Knapp brings his lover Dan Biggs home to meet his parents, he doesn't expect things to go smoothly. His mother's been trying to marry him off for years, and sometimes he isn't even sure his father knows he exists. He has always felt like the shadow son, competing with his terminally stupid older brother and smart-mouthed little sister for his parents' attention. Coming out to them over dinner seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally get noticed.
But an unexpected phone call interrupts his announcement -- Aunt Evie, the family matriarch, is dead. With Dan in tow, Michael follows his family to Sugar Creek, where he spent his summers growing up, to prepare for the funeral.
Amid an overabundance of memories and relatives, Michael's world begins to slip. His dysfunctional family, Evie's death, and an old friend's confession all threaten to smother him. Worse, in his grief and confusion he seems determined to inadvertently push everyone away, including his lover. Can he and Dan move beyond his family and his past to a new life together, before Michael's insecurities tear them apart?
177,188 words | 380 pages | BUY AT JMS BOOKS :: AMAZON
Dan wakes before my parents or Ray -- it's the military in him. He can't sleep in even if he doesn't have to be on base before dawn. When I hear him in the kitchen, I give Caitlin a quick grin and hurry in to kiss him good morning. "Hey," I sigh, coming up behind him and wrapping my arms around his waist. He stands at the sink, pouring himself a glass of orange juice, and he looks something close to amazing in his gray ARMY t-shirt and PT shorts. They're tight around his ass and hang loose on his thighs -- whoever designed those things knew just how to show off a soldier's best assets. I'm glad the t-shirt hangs low enough to hide what Dan's packing from Caitlin's young eyes and sarcastic mouth.
He half-turns in my embrace and kisses me in greeting. "Did you sleep well?" he asks. I nod in reply. With him beside me, I slept like a baby.
"I can make you breakfast," I tell him, just because that's what I do in the mornings, I cook for him. Mostly eggs, though I saw some pancake mix in the cabinet, if he's up for that. Since we're alone in the kitchen, I run my hands up beneath the bottom of his t-shirt and rub his taut stomach. Kissing his shoulder, I murmur, "I love you."
He sets the orange juice aside and turns to hug me close. His hands smooth the bangs away from my forehead, tuck the wavy hair behind my ears, but the strands fall back into place on their own accord as he cradles my chin to kiss me again. "Love you," he purrs, and between us I feel faint stirrings of interest at his groin. "We can head back to bed, if you want," he suggests. "Breakfast can wait."
"My eyes!" I frown at Caitlin as she stumbles into the kitchen, eyes closed, cereal bowl in one hand and the other thrown out in front of herself dramatically to feel her way. "Jeez, boys. Take it upstairs, why don't you? What will the neighbors think?"
I kick out at her as she passes, but she's quick -- she dodges my foot and still manages to sock me in the arm with one small fist. I slap her shoulder and she hits me again. Damn, she has good reflexes. When I'm about to try a third time, though, Dan catches my hand and folds my arm between us as he holds me tight. "Don't," he admonishes. "No fighting."
I'm well aware that I'm suddenly Caitlin's age again, picking with her the way I am, but she doesn't seem to mind. "You're just jealous," I tell her. I stick out my tongue and marvel at how I can go from twenty-five to two in one minute flat. "I've got a hot boy to freak and you don't."
Caitlin flips her hair over her shoulder and gives me a look that simply says, puh-leaze. "You don't know my hot boy," she says. "I ain't jealous of yours, trust me."
Intrigued in spite of myself, I let Dan slip free and lean against the sink. "You have a boyfriend?" I ask as Dan pours himself a bowl of cereal.
"Of course," Caitlin snorts. As if she might not. "I'm not Ray, Michael. I date."