Stealing Serenity Banner, title in the center, raised, arms of a white man bound in white rope on the left, cherry blossoms on the right

Welcome to Stealing Serenity, a stand alone, erot­ic con­tem­po­rary M/M roman­tic sus­pense. This novel­la is releas­ing one scene/day (week­days) on the blog ahead of pub­li­ca­tion. All chap­ters will be avail­able for free until the book is pub­lished, then they’ll be removed. If you sim­ply can’t wait, the com­plete ebook is avail­able now on the web­store. Paperback and Subtle Cover alter­nate com­ing soon. Expected pub­li­ca­tion: July 5th

July 13, Wednesday—7:00 a.m.

Gerard Photography, San Diego

Daniel strolled into the office just as the clock read sev­en. He caught Kathy at the cof­fee mak­er and wait­ed his turn for a full cup. “Boss is in a mood today,” Kathy said, pour­ing a new set of grounds into the machine.

Daniel would just bet he was. “Oh?” he said, casu­al­ly glanc­ing in the direc­tion of Kearin’s closed door. Was he still look­ing at porn in there? Was he enjoy­ing him­self? Daniel felt his skin heat under the collar.

Yeah, keeps smil­ing. It’s kin­da… I don’t know. Looks dan­ger­ous.” She flashed a grin at him over her shoul­der, and her short bangs switched from right to left. “Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”

No, I get it. Happy like a mad sci­en­tist.” Because of the pho­tos? Or some­thing else? Daniel resist­ed the urge to check his phone and tap into Kearin’s com­put­er right then.

That’s it exact­ly.” She laughed and poured the hot water, then served cof­fee for them both.

Daniel greet­ed Justin as he sat as his desk, and turned on his computer.

Morning,” Justin replied. “You get all those pho­tos up last night?”

Yes, you should check them out. They’re excellent.”

Kearin always does good work. I’ve been for­mat­ting the investor port­fo­lio this morn­ing. Your sun­flow­ers are in it.”

Daniel walked around their divider to peek over his shoul­der. “I thought we were run off of donations?”

We are. Kearin con­sid­ers them invest­ments. He takes the port­fo­lio with him to big par­ties where all the rich pho­tog­ra­phy gurus min­gle. Usually comes back with big donations.”

I see—”

Kearin opened his door, and the entire office paused under his—Kathy was right—dangerous grin. He spot­ted Daniel and waved him over. “Daniel, can I see you, please?” He didn’t wait for an answer.

Justin said qui­et­ly, “Have you noticed he says please, but it’s not real­ly a request?”

Daniel laughed under his breath and went where beck­oned. Kearin waved at him to close the door and take a seat. He did. A mani­la fold­er came to rest in front of him. Clipped to the front: a pho­to of a bright-green dragonfly.

This is what I have of my project so far.”

The per­son­al project he had men­tioned last night on his way out. Daniel reached for the paperwork.

Kearin put a broad hand on the fold­er, pre­vent­ing Daniel from open­ing it. “If this offends you in any way, tell me and you can go. Nothing about this is going to be held against you.” Daniel met his eyes, and Kearin said with all seri­ous­ness, “The con­tents are sexual.”

Daniel ruth­less­ly sup­pressed his reac­tion of sur­prise. He kept his eyes locked on Kearin’s and his breath­ing even. Kearin wasn’t col­lect­ing porn; he was mak­ing it. That mod­el from this morn­ing had­n’t turned in a port­fo­lio for Kearin to con­sid­er; Kearin had been the one to take those pho­tos. The new under­stand­ing set a strange tilt to Daniel’s world.

When he opened the fold­er, he knew exact­ly what to expect. Rope, restraint, gor­geous male bod­ies pulled tight and aroused. Unlike the blond on Kearin’s com­put­er this morn­ing, these were all grayscale pho­tos, play­ing with light over angles and edges. Daniel flipped one of the pho­tos over. Coyote, in Kearin’s ele­gant script; a small man, all long limbs and grace, restrained with his arms behind in a sym­met­ri­cal bind­ing. His head tilt­ed back a bit, a sub­mis­sive show of throat. Where the blond’s stare had been angry, Coyote’s eyes remained calm. Totally calm.

Stallion, a thick black man of mus­cle and poise. Light ropes crossed his chest, framed his erect cock and tan­gled down his legs. Like Coyote, Stallion’s per­fect expres­sion of peace over­whelmed the erot­ic nature of the photo.

Daniel didn’t know what to make of it. He went through the pho­tos slow­ly. Each one was erot­i­cal­ly ele­gant, but Daniel want­ed to know about their eyes. Crane, Tiger, Mantis; each pose a dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tion of knots and restraint, each one an image of arousal, and all of them utter­ly calm.

What did it take? Daniel stared at Viper for a long moment, imag­in­ing ropes on his own skin. He looked up at Kearin and found the grin wiped away. Did he tie them up him­self? Did he touch them?

These are the pho­tos from my lat­est pho­to shoot.” Kearin turned the com­put­er screen to face him. The blond. Color pho­tos. His expres­sion too much for the rest of the portfolio.

Kearin’s voice was low. “You can see it, can’t you?”

Was he… angry?”

He expect­ed some­thing I nev­er had any inten­tion of giv­ing him.”

Kearin didn’t sleep with his mod­els. Daniel felt his chest loosen a bit and won­dered if he was thank­ful for that or dis­ap­point­ed. If he didn’t sleep around, Daniel couldn’t use that tac­tic to get his infor­ma­tion as he sus­pect­ed was the case. On the oth­er hand, if hogtied and sub­mis­sive didn’t do it for Kearin… what did?

The model’s eyes hung heavy, as if he could fall asleep in the ropes, so com­plete­ly at ease naked before the cam­era. In more than one shot his jaw clenched so hard the ten­dons of his neck stood out in relief. “His expec­ta­tion ruined the entire shoot.” That’s why their eyes caught his atten­tion so strong­ly. Being tied up and con­trolled put these men at peace as much as it turned them on.

I was afraid of that.” Kearin seemed resigned to the loss of his time and attention.

Reluctantly, Daniel sat back in his chair. Kearin made an irri­tat­ed face at the com­put­er as he filed away the pho­tos. Daniel turned pages in the port­fo­lio before him and want­ed to know every­thing. “Will all your sub­jects for this col­lec­tion be male?”

Yes.” Kearin leaned back in his chair. “Breasts allow for some dif­fer­ent knot­work, but I don’t have any inter­est in see­ing a woman naked.” This said with­out any inflec­tion, just a state­ment of fact.

Daniel reached the end of the pho­tos and flipped back to the cov­er of the port­fo­lio to look at the drag­on­fly. “How many more do you need?”

Two. Maybe only one mod­el if his reac­tions are strong enough. There are three pos­es left for the set.”

He found him­self won­der­ing if Kearin could drag such a reac­tion out of him. He won­dered if he was gut­sy enough to try.

I’m sor­ry your last mod­el didn’t work out,” Daniel said, clos­ing the portfolio.

Me too.” Kearin gave him a heavy look he couldn’t read. “But I have high hopes for my next one.”

Daniel was sur­prised to find his chest clench again with dis­ap­point­ment. “You already have some­one in mind then?”

He hasn’t agreed yet. But I think he’ll come around.”

Yes, that was def­i­nite­ly dis­ap­point­ment. And a bite of jeal­ousy too. Daniel kept it all hid­den. “Good luck then.”

Kearin nod­ded. “Thank you for your help. It’s good to know my gut was on the right track.”

Despite the strict eye con­tact, Daniel knew a dis­missal when he heard one. He exit­ed, clos­ing the door behind him with a click. Out of Kearin’s pow­er­ful prox­im­i­ty, Daniel took a refresh­ing breath and shook him­self. Talking with his boss often felt like danc­ing around mines, and some­thing about the taste of dan­ger made it addict­ing. Kearin was, in short, bad for the thiev­ing business.

Daniel pulled his thoughts back to the job at hand and stood before the wall of black and white pho­tos. He need­ed to select a new phil­an­thropy project to lead; some­thing at least mild­ly inter­est­ing had to be in this mess of images. Abandoned cats pop­u­lat­ed an ally of trash and dump­sters. A neglect­ed swing set in an over­grown pub­lic park. Here was a his­tor­i­cal home left to fall into disrepair.

Daniel reached for the dilap­i­dat­ed Victorian when Kearin popped out of his office. “Ladies, Gents. I’d like an all hands meet­ing in the break room in five min­utes. I’ll be brief.” He flashed Daniel a sharp smile and was gone again with­out even the cour­tesy of a please.

Daniel grabbed the pho­tos of the Victorian and the cats to choose between lat­er. He returned to his desk. “Meeting?” he asked Justin. “What for?”

Dunno. What was your chat about? You were in there for a while.”

He want­ed my opin­ion on a set of pho­tos for a per­son­al project. They didn’t real­ly match the theme he was going for.”

Oh, look at you, the teacher’s pet.” Justin leaned back in his chair to look around the divider. “How’d you get that gig?”

Daniel scoffed. “I just have an eye for that kind of stuff. I met Kearin at a gallery show­ing he put togeth­er. He said he could use some­one with that kind of… I believe his exact words were dis­cern­ing taste.” Daniel put fin­ger quotes around it.

Justin chuck­led. “Sounds like him. So he just talked you into work­ing for him?”

Something like that. I was look­ing for a change, you know?”

Kathy poked her head into their space. “Hey, chat­ty chalu­pas, its meet­ing time.”

Ooh, you going out for lunch today? I could do with Mexican,” Justin asked.

Kathy waved her hand dis­mis­sive­ly. “There’s only TexMex around here. You’ll want to try the place down Imperial and Tessera for the real deal.”

They fol­lowed her to the break room. Guene perched at their table and leaned into Kathy, her bronze hair falling over one shoul­der. “How’s Snowball?”

Such a pri­ma don­na.” Kathy rolled her eyes and whis­pered back, “He thinks I’m pun­ish­ing him. I need to get that sad­dle fixed up, or he’ll for­get how to jump.”

Thank you for your atten­tion,” Kearin said from the front of the room, and he had it in an instant. “I have some good news. I have been invit­ed to attend a gala host­ed by Yevonne DeLaine. She has been a heavy donor in the past and is very like­ly to make anoth­er con­tri­bu­tion at this event. She col­lects sculp­ture and is extreme­ly active in the char­i­ta­ble space. Her wealth is inher­it­ed,” Kearin said. “In the past I’ve attend­ed this event alone, but Gerard is grow­ing, and this year I intend to bring along an associate.”

Kearin point­ed. “Justin, you’ve done some excel­lent social work in your projects and know quite a bit about the com­pa­ny as a whole. You’ve been here for sev­er­al years and you deserve some stronger recog­ni­tion for that.”

Hey, look­it you,” Kathy said, bump­ing Justin’s shoul­der. Justin blushed.

I’ll bring you some paper­work,” Kearin said. “And that’s all, thank you.”

Back at their desks, Justin received a fold­er, but Kearin put his hand on Daniel’s shoul­der as he spoke. “I need you to be Gerard’s face at this event. I won’t have time to speak with every­one per­son­al­ly. We are there, pri­mar­i­ly, to solic­it dona­tions.” When Justin nod­ded he asked, ”How is that port­fo­lio com­ing along?”

Good. Almost done.”

I’d like to see it this after­noon. You will be using it as a sam­ple of what you do here. Some of the names in your fold­er have a his­to­ry of donation.”

He squeezed Daniel’s shoul­der and the heat of it seeped into his body. Was this sup­posed to be a sign of some kind? A mes­sage he did­n’t know how to trans­late? Daniel had come to real­ize Kearin nev­er did any­thing by acci­dent, so this delib­er­ate and sus­tained con­tact meant some­thing. He just did­n’t know what.

When Kearin walked away, the heat of his hand remained.

Justin hummed across the divider. “I don’t have a page on Yevonne.”

Daniel could­n’t resist the urge to lean back in his chair so he could see around the wall. Maybe Justin would let him look at the list. “Kearin must want to talk to her himself.”

Justin said, “I’ve got Cathy Sanders, Dray Well. I don’t think I rec­og­nize any of these names.” The sound of paper flip­ping. “Hey, here in the back there’s a guest list: Jessica Saunders, Phillip Bonnet…”

Daniel’s heart shud­dered, and he coughed to cov­er the face he made. Phillip had attend­ed Kearin’s show­ing at Vault Seventeen, and even the air around him tast­ed bit­ter. There had clear­ly been some to-do sur­round­ing the man but he’d only been in the room for a few min­utes when Phillip left and Daniel nev­er fig­ured out what it was all about.

Justin asked, “Have you heard of any of these people?”

He leaned back to show Daniel the guest list. Daniel lied. “No, maybe you can make a copy? I can help you research some of them.”

Justin let out a breath. “That’s exact­ly what I was think­ing. These peo­ple are just so far above me.”

Daniel paged through the rest of the fold­er, but noth­ing crit­i­cal jumped out at him. “You’ll have to act like you belong there if you want them to take you seriously.”

Justin groaned. “I’m going to need a new suit, aren’t I?”

Picturing Justin’s sag­gy, gray, every-day wear, Daniel put a hand on his brow to sti­fle shak­ing his head. Justin wasn’t a skilled chameleon like him­self, of course he wouldn’t know any bet­ter. “Yeah.” Daniel restrained him­self to the one word.

Darn. I thought so.”

Don’t have a pen­guin suit?” Daniel smiled.

No, but I can rent one.”

The thought made Daniel wince. He smoothed his expres­sion. “I know a good tai­lor. You should get fit­ted for some­thing yourself.”

Heh. The work doesn’t pay that well.”

The man had a point. “Talk to Kearin about it. Since it’s PR work, the com­pa­ny should cov­er it, right?”

Yeah…” Justin didn’t sound convinced.


You’re right, he’s just… intimidating.”

Daniel couldn’t dis­agree with that. “Sooner start­ed, soon­er done,” he said, forc­ing a bit of cheer into his voice.

Justin gave him a wan smile.