Refraction – A Collaborations Novel

Series: Collaborations #1
Contributors: Jodi Payne, B.A. Tortuga

Texas artist Tucker Williams arrives in New York City for a gallery showing of his work and finds the city blanketed in snow. He meets free-spirited underwear model Calvin McIntire on the steps of the Midtown library and is captivated by a wild beauty that manages to compete with the demons that occupy his soul and fuel his work with their lust for blood and erotic imagery.

Unable to deny a new inspiration, Tucker sublets a studio and finds the city’s energy almost as addictive as Calvin. Tucker is obsessive, barely holding on to sanity as his art consumes him, and Calvin is dealing with demons of his own, trying desperately to protect his soul in a business where only his appearance has value.

They each prove to be the perfect remedy for the other’s personal brand of crazy until, in the midst of stress and exhaustion, they discover that a promise Calvin needs is the one thing Tucker can’t give him, and their heaven turns to purgatory.

Can both men find a path toward wholeness in Tucker’s beautiful but chaotic Texas home? In order for them—and their passionate relationship—to thrive, they’ll need to adapt, share their psychoses, and find a true balance between New York City and rural Texas.

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

 

Tucker Williams leaned against the steps of the library beside the big stone lion and watched the white stuff fall out of the sky. Colder than he’d ever been in his whole life, he shivered, trying to figure out what the fuck a guy like him was doing all the way up here.

The logical part of his brain, the part not frozen solid, reminded him that he had a gallery opening tomorrow. A major opening. Right.

So he was up here touristing all by himself and freezing his nuts and his toes off and waiting to show up in his best jeans and jacket tomorrow night.

Go him.

Christ on a sparkly pink crutch, everyone here wore black, and no one smiled a bit. Surely there had to be somewhere here with friendly folks and heat.

Right on cue, one of those black-clad Yankees—this one in a black knee-length coat, black earmuffs, and chunky black boots—came trotting down the steps right past him. Like every other guy on the busy street, he was on the phone.

“That spread is mine, Michael. I want it. You make it happen. I’ve got the best ass of the bunch, and you know it.”

The man stopped two steps below Tucker. “I’m easier to work with too. You tell them, okay? I need to get out of the weather. Who ordered this shit? Later.”

Huh. Earmuffs were a thing. Go figure. Tucker had to admit, the whole pseudo-duster thing was pretty hot.

“’Scuse me, sir, but is there a decent place to get a cup of joe around here?” Tucker asked.

The guy turned his head, but Tucker couldn’t get a good look at him behind the collar he’d pulled up against the weather. He was squinting against the snow, and his hair was mostly hidden under a knit hat, but it looked like it might be blond.

“There’s no such thing as a bad cup of coffee in New York. You look like you’re freezing your ass off, man. Come on, I’ll show you.” The guy just took off down the steps, and Tucker didn’t have much choice but to follow.

Good Lord and butter, these folks walked like huge flocks of birds. Great big old flocks of ravens. Oh. Oh, he could—he could paint that, right now.

“Calvin.” He was offered a gloved hand. Black leather, of course.

“Williams. Tucker Williams. Pleased.” He pulled his hand out of his pocket and shook.

“Not from around here, I take it?” Calvin gave him wink and a grin.

Cool. This one smiled. “No, sir. I’m a bit from home, but that’s obvious, I reckon.”

“I’ll say. In here.” Calvin opened a door, and Tucker was hit with the smell of baking bread and a beautiful blast of warm air. “We’re expecting a pretty good hit. How long are you in town?”

“Until Monday.” Then he’d go explore somewhere else for a few days. Although, he loved that bird image….

“Well, if you haven’t been in the city in a snowstorm before, and it looks to me like you haven’t….” Calvin laughed. “You should know that you can’t get a cab in the snow. Ever. Don’t even bother trying. Get some boots and take the subway. Just coffee? I’m gonna hang out for a bit and eat something.” Calvin pulled off his earmuffs and squinted at the menu. “Large almond-milk latte with an extra shot and the vegetarian chili… and…?” He looked at Tucker.

“Triple espresso and whatever y’all have that’s the darkest chocolate.” No way he was going underground to get on a train. No way on earth.

“Mmm, chocolate. That’s one way to warm up.” Calvin pulled off his gloves and then fished a credit card out of his pocket. “On me. Well, on my agent. It’s a work day.” He held his card up to the reader until it beeped, and the card disappeared into his pocket again. “I’m gonna grab a seat. You headed back out there?”

“I think I’ll just sit a minute. Defrost.” Eventually he’d figure out how to get back to his hotel.

“Do that.” Calvin glanced over his shoulder as he headed for a table, and this time Tucker saw a flash of bright green eyes as they caught the light. “Tell me why you’re up here in this shitty weather?”

“I have a thing I have to be at Saturday evening. Everyone told me to come up a few days early and explore. What kind of agent?” He had one too. Her name was Marge. She was something else.

“Oh, Michael. He’s a talent guy.” Calvin stuffed his gloves into his pockets. “So you came out in this weather just to visit the library? Did you get a picture with the lions, because that’s a thing. Patience and Fortitude.”

“No, sir.” It was a cool library, though, and he’d spent a couple of happy hours in the 750s, just looking. Sort of like he was just looking at Mr. Pretty here. “Are you from here?”

Their order arrived, and Calvin waited to answer. “I grew up in Vermont. But I’m from here now. Got here when I was seventeen.”

“Wow. I wasn’t ready for something like this at seventeen.” He wasn’t ready for it now, he didn’t think. Although that motion…. Tucker wondered if a guy could rent a studio space for, like, a week. Just to paint.

Calvin looked at him. “Oh. Did I say I was ready?” He laughed and picked up his latte. “No, I had a job, but I wasn’t anything close to ready for this town. I adapted pretty quick, though. It’s home now.” He sipped his latte and then spooned up some “chili.” Didn’t seem like a great combination.

Shit, he was fairly sure that vegetarian chili was a crime against nature, but he was a stranger in a strange fucking land, so he didn’t remark none on it.

“Where are you staying? Oh—that’s nosy, right? You don’t have to answer that. Sorry. I was just making small talk.” Calvin giggled.

Yeah, Tucker was pretty sure that qualified as a giggle.

“How’s your chocolate?”

“Dark.” He licked his fork and hummed, the bitter and sweet exploding over his tongue. “Possibly the best piece of whatever-the-fuck fancy-assed piece of cake I’ve ever had.”

Calvin put his spoon down. “You’re good at that.”

“At eating?” He’d hope so. Lord knew, he’d done it for years.

“No, the tongue thing. With your fork. Licking.” Calvin braced his elbow on the table and his chin in his palm, eyes narrow and a wicked smile on his lips. “Do that again.”

“Listen to you.” Lord have mercy. That was hotter than the hinges of hell. Damn, how did that… how did something like that even happen?

“Yes, listen to me.” Calvin sounded playful, and he shifted, picked up his latte, and took a sip. “Do it again, Mr. Williams? Please?”

“Well, since you asked so pretty.” Lord, please don’t let me get my ass kicked here. He took another bite, his cheeks lit on fucking fire. He licked his lips clean, then managed to meet Calvin’s eyes. “Ta-da?”

Calvin laughed and applauded, the sound pure happy. “Oh. That was lovely! So hot. You’re a riot, Tucker. I’m glad I pulled you out of the snow.” Didn’t seem like he was too worried about people overhearing, but then he leaned in closer. “Also, I think your cheeks are warm enough to melt that shit right off the sidewalk.”

“Y’think? Shit marthy. I can’t believe this mess.” That he was flirting like he knew this guy, like this feller knew him from Job.

“Wait until tomorrow morning. Might be eight or nine inches.” Calvin leaned back again and dug into his chili. “Might even be a foot. Hard to get around in this weather. Personally, I like to stay in bed all day.”

“Eight or nine inches, huh?” He couldn’t have stopped his expression if he’d tried.

“Mmm. Last I checked.” Calvin’s look was absolutely deadpan. “The weatherman doesn’t always get it right, though. Sometimes it’s a better idea to check out the radar for yourself, you know?” He took another bite and winked. “That might be carrying the metaphor a bit too far.”

He had to laugh, had to, because not only was that true, but he hadn’t expected to meet someone to flirt with shamelessly while on one of his wanders.

Calvin laughed with him. He got up to put his bowl in a rack by the garbage cans, and when he came back, still giggling, he shrugged off his coat and hung it over the back of his chair. “Warm finally.” He had on a tight green sweater that left almost nothing to the imagination. Every ridge and line of his chest was plainly obvious, and the fabric stretched across broad shoulders.

Pretty, pretty. Tucker liked that Calvin wore a color. The green suited him to the bone.

He could eat that fine son of a bitch up, yessir.

“In all seriousness, shit’s gonna close tomorrow. But the Empire State will be open and the World Trade Center, if you’re looking for a view and some local history. I’ve never been up to catch the view in the snow. I bet it’s pretty cool. You won’t have the same pictures as everyone else, anyway.”

Calvin’s phone started ringing. “Excuse me a sec?” He pulled the phone out of his coat pocket. “A-yo. Hey. No, I want the—well, you know my angle, whoever will pay me more. Oh, I’ve never heard that joke before, Michael. Ever. Yes, go with Calvin. Thanks, man.” He hung up. “Sorry.”

“No worries. I don’t mean to be keeping you from anything. Honest.” A man had to work.

“You’re keeping me from going insane in this snow. Keep up the good work.” Calvin sipped his latte again. “My agent thinks Calvin Klein jokes are funny. You can keep me from that any day.”

“Calvin Klein jokes? Like the drawers?” Those were still a thing? Lord have mercy. “Or don’t they do perfume too?”

Calvin laughed. “Cologne. And yes, they do that too, but you don’t get paid as well as you do for the underwear ads. Is that what you mean by drawers? They do jeans too, if that’s what drawers are.”

“Yessir. I mean tighty-whities. Is that what you do? Model?”

“Yeah. Sorry I didn’t say that earlier. Sometimes people get… sometimes they forget they’re talking to a real person when you tell them, so I like to hold off a bit.” Calvin winked.

“No worries. I work with models, every now and again.” For the most part, he found them patient as fuck.

“Yeah?” Calvin was flirting again. “What did you not say you do again?”

“I’m a painter—not houses.”

“Okay, not houses. What do you paint? Landscapes? People? Abstract stuff? I love art that you have to look at and think about.”

“Uh. It’s sorta… it’s a little weird.” He didn’t tell a soul at home about the paintings that he was showing here. Not a soul.

“This is New York, my friend. We make weird an art form all the time. But it’s cool. You don’t have to tell me. I’m nosy. I just ask questions.”

“I sorta make a living painting about horror, sex. Right now, birds. I’m very into birds.” He didn’t know why he did either, but he did, and he was, apparently, damn good at it.

“Horror and sex and birds.” Calvin nodded, looking thoughtful. “Can’t quite picture it. But birds are probably great subjects. They’re so aloof and knowing.”

“Yeah? Cool.” Okay, so Calvin didn’t run screaming or tell him he was going to hell; that was a plus.

“You have a pic on your phone? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

“Fair enough.” Did he? Lord, yes. His phone was his goddamn life. He scrolled through, finding the album of his paintings.

“Deal.” It took Calvin about three seconds to pull up a picture of himself on a rooftop wearing a pair of blue boxer-briefs with DIESEL printed on the wide black waistband and a white tank top that he was lifting up around his ribs with one hand. City office buildings were blurred in the background. “No laughing.”

“Well, look at that. You have a nice heinie.” He could tap that, no question. “Was it hot up there?”

“Fuck, yeah. It was like working in a frying pan. They would spray the roof with a hose to cool it off, and it would dry in three seconds, and then they had about fifteen seconds before I started screaming.” Calvin laughed.

“Lord. You got some balls, I swear. I got nothing but respect for the work y’all do.” He personally thought posing was hell. He didn’t do still. Ever.

“Well, thank you.” Calvin beamed at him. “I had ice cream that day as a reward, so it wasn’t that bad. Okay, your turn.”

He pulled up one of his demon series—a fierce horned beast appearing from between white feathers, the mouth promising pure decadence.

“Oh. Oh my.” Calvin reached out and took the phone from him to get a closer look. “Fuck, man. This is way hotter than ‘horror and sex and birds’ sounded. I mean, Jesus. Look at him. You do this? You look way more… I mean, not like this. I would never have guessed. Wow.”

“No one does. That’s probably good, hmm?”

Calvin flicked his eyes from the phone to Tucker’s face. “Yes and no. I mean, you should look how you want to look, but man, the artist that does this work? With a body like yours? You could seriously rock something… way darker.”

“I tend to work buck naked. Saves clothes.” Wait. Did he say that? Out loud?

Calvin’s eyes popped open wide, and he started to laugh. Hard. Loud enough that people looked over at them, and he had to wave his hand to apologize because he seemed to be having trouble breathing.

He managed to just drink his coffee, keeping a mostly straight face. This guy let folks take his pictures in his skivvies; working naked was nothing.

Calvin silently handed Tucker back the phone, fanning himself with his other hand. He finally got a deep breath and puffed it out, grinning. “Jesus Christ. I don’t know what I was expecting you to say, but it wasn’t that. But that’s cool; I do some of my best work naked too. I just don’t get paid for that.” He winked and picked up his coffee. “Shit, my sides hurt.”

“When you get it from laughing, that’s okay, I think.” He pocketed his phone and finished up his sweet. So rich and good.

Calvin blushed. “I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you. Honest, I’m not. I’m laughing at how stupid I am for looking at a fairly clean-cut, good-looking Texan, and… I don’t know. I got it all wrong, obviously, and for some reason that makes me absurdly happy.” The blush and a little humility made Calvin look younger, sweeter.

He grinned, that smile charming the hell out of him. “Shit, honey. I’m just tickled you didn’t ask if I was an axe murderer.”

Calvin’s eyebrows twitched. “I figured that would be rude since you hadn’t asked me that question yet.” He finished off the last of his coffee, tipping the cup up high to get the last drop.

“Rumor is you folks have all the axe murderers you need.”

“More muggers and thieves than axe murderers, actually. I don’t think I know anyone that hasn’t been robbed at some point. Especially people who look like tourists.” Calvin laughed. “You better watch your wallet.”

He arched one eyebrow. He didn’t think he’d take real kindly to that. Of course, who the fuck did? Seriously. No one just threw themselves in front of someone and said, “Fuck with me!” right? Right.

“I do, but thank you. I appreciate that warning.”

“For what it’s worth, crime usually goes way down in the snow.” Calvin slid his empty cup a couple of inches away. “I am all out of coffee.”

He leaned around the table and checked out Tucker’s boots. “Are those waterproof?”

“They do okay, yeah.” More waterproof than cold proof, for sure.

“Good. Come on.” Calvin stood up, looking more like a model now that Tucker knew he was one, and pulled on his coat. “Sorry. Unless you have plans, of course.”

“Plans? I have to be at the gallery Saturday night. That’s my plan.”

“That’s it? God, the things I could do with you for two days.” Calvin brushed a little too close as he stepped around Tucker and didn’t even pretend it was an accident.

They headed back out into the snow and retraced their steps to the library. The white stuff was starting to pile up, maybe three or four inches now.

Calvin didn’t say much on the short trip, but as he got close to the library, he poked Tucker with an elbow. “You’re gonna love this.”

He heard voices and laughter as they rounded the corner of the big building and headed into the little park next to it, where a small crowd of people was having one big snowball fight.

“You ready?” Calvin took a few steps backward and then started to run.

It took Tucker a second, but he figured what the hell? He hadn’t wanted to play so bad in a long damn time.

            Tucker gave chase, a redneck yell filling the air.

Pages: 260
Title: Refraction
Published by: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: June 12, 2018
ASIN: B07DCMH3KJ
ISBN13: 978-1-64080-488-3

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Be sure to visit BA Tortuga online at batortuga.com