Hunter Easton decided there was definitely something to be said about casually dating a man who loved showers, not to mention shower sex. The stall in Ryan’s bathroom was large enough to clean a truck in and the water pressure was oh-just-so-right. While Ryan dozed in the other room, Hunter positioned himself in the sweet spot that all those nozzles targeted and moved a bit to get his sorest areas massaged. Those between his shoulders. Not the other ones.
Over the sound of the water, he couldn’t hear a thing. Not Ryan’s soft snores, and certainly not Hunter’s phone. That little tyrant was still in the bedroom, and on purpose. His voice mail was rapidly filling up with messages from all the people who really wanted book eight because it meant another large deposit in their various bank accounts.
Ryan’s shower was damn near orgasmic, which was nice when his body had run out of the other kinds of orgasms. Hunter stretched under the water, then leaned forward against the lapis lazuli tiles to enjoy the massage jet hitting his spine. Nothing else existed. Only hot water, steam, his body, and a mind that was very slowly waking up. Yesterday he’d been stressed out, but Ryan had fixed that with a couple of hours in the gym, a steak at a friendly grill, and then lots of sex. Also, Ryan didn’t read fiction. He wasn’t dumb, just a bit of a meathead. If he cracked a cover at all, it was a fitness manual or a nutrition book. No time for paranormal thrillers.
Hunter’s brain was kicking into gear and with that came his to-do list. Get coffee. Drive home. Finish chapter ten. Probably return a few calls lest somebody leak to a reporter that he’d gone “missing.” His agent Leanne kept joking that he was the type of author who’d just vanish midseries to join a Buddhist temple in Lhasa. Preemptive mind control via guilt-trip. But it kept him somewhat on the straight (ha) and narrow.
He fully expected several voice mails from Leanne. More from her than anyone else. After all, she was the only one who’d caught on thus far that there might not be an eighth book because . . . because he had no idea what needed to happen next. He’d been beating his head against the wall for months, and he’d reached the point of avoiding his entire office for hours, even days at a time because he couldn’t stare down the barrel of that book anymore. Wolf’s Landing had pretty much poured out of his brain for seven and a half volumes, but now he didn’t know where to go with it. He hadn’t told Leanne what was happening—or not happening, as it were—but she’d caught on regardless. And he just couldn’t deal with her today. He couldn’t deal with anything. All the pressure and obligation was seriously getting old.
The water started to get cold, so Hunter shut it off and stepped out. He dried himself and dressed in the bathroom so he wouldn’t wake Ryan, but as he crept back into the bedroom, Ryan stirred.
“Yeah.” Hunter slid his phone into his back pocket without daring to look at the screen. “It’s pushing noon.”
Ryan stiffened. He scrubbed a big hand over his face and glared at the clock beside the bed. “I’ll be damned. This is what happens when you keep me up until four.”
Hunter laughed as he leaned down to kiss Ryan’s scruffy cheek. “Well, it was worth it. I’ll see you on Thursday?”
“Mm-hmm. Mind putting the coffee on before you go?”
Shoes and jacket in hand, Hunter left the bedroom. He slipped into them out in the hallway, then swung by the kitchen to put on the coffee for Ryan. He’d have stayed for a cup himself but Ryan had the most horrendous taste in coffee. And even if he didn’t, it would just be an excuse for Hunter to hang around here until Ryan was awake and presentable, which would lead to breakfast, which would lead to sex all fucking afternoon. And then he’d still be here tomorrow morning, avoiding his cell phone all over again.
He’d get coffee down at the ferry.
He made his way through Victoria to the dock, where the ferry would take him across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles so he could drive home to Bluewater Bay. He parked in line, and ordered coffee from one of the espresso carts. They knew his face by now, and practically had his order rung up before he’d even reached the cart—maybe he was spending a little too much time on this side of the water if even the baristas knew who he was. Well, they knew he was “Grande mocha with nonfat milk.” They didn’t know he was Hunter Easton. Thank fuck.
While he waited, he pulled out his phone, ignored the voice mails and text messages, and opened his personal email. At least that one wouldn’t be exploding with “Hunter, where the fuck is your book?” messages.
As soon as his inbox loaded, his gaze went straight to a message from Lone Wolf. The subject line brought a huge grin to Hunter’s face: Finally finished it.
About damned time, kid.
Lone Wolf had been working on The World Tree, a Wolf’s Landing fanfic, for months. Technically, Hunter wasn’t allowed to read fan fiction or anything unpublished—in case of unintentional plagiarism—but Wolf Hunter, his alter ego, could read whatever the fuck he wanted. He generally didn’t, just to be safe, but contracts be damned, Wolf Hunter had been itching to read Lone Wolf’s magnum opus forever.
“Huh?” Hunter looked up. The barista held out his mocha. Shit, one glance at that email, and he’d almost forgotten about his seven-dollar cup of life-giving nectar. “Right. Thanks.”
He took the coffee and damn near sprinted back to his car so he could read the new story.
Lone Wolf was an administrator on Fandom Landing, the site where they’d met and also one of the top five Wolf’s Landing fan sites. It was Hunter’s favorite because it loaded fast, there were no purple-on-black font choices, the mods were serious about using the ban hammer, and it didn’t contain any stolen kitschy artwork. Also, the erotica was behind a PG wall. Everything about the site was controlled and vetted, and while the rest of the fandom called it elitist, Hunter liked it there. Quite a few of the fans on Fandom Landing were serious artists—painters, illustrators, and more than a few very accomplished writers.
Though he didn’t read the stories as a rule, he couldn’t help browsing through the artwork because, damn it, he really enjoyed how offbeat and weird some people treated his characters.
And after reading hundreds of Lone Wolf’s posts, and enjoying their eloquent style and subtle humor, Hunter hadn’t been able to resist, and he’d finally read a short fanfic piece. From that point on, Lone Wolf’s written work had him hooked. His take on Wolf’s Landing was unashamedly queer—and he really got the whole werewolf mythology. If anything, he ramped up the mysticism and spiritual side of it. All things that Hunter had been forced to play down. He’d given in to pressures of the market, hadn’t trusted the potential, and rewrote the whole thing with the old publishing paradigm in mind—what sells goes. That was way before he’d understood that “anything goes if you have fans.”
He settled in his seat, cup in the holder, and scrolled past the beginning, which Lone Wolf had already posted as a teaser. The World Tree was huge. Almost a quarter of a million words—the labor of eight months’ very hard work. Two thick paperbacks’ worth of writing, and not a word wasted from what Hunter had read so far.
The best part was that Lone Wolf had his own voice. It wobbled in places, probably when he was fighting a bout of insecurity, but otherwise it was so clear that Hunter could hear it in his head when he closed his eyes, which was rare. He imagined that was how the guy behind Lone Wolf actually spoke. Fairly confident, full of heart and authenticity. This was the kind of writer he could go totally fanboy over. One who took him away into a world that was like his own but seen through a different pair of eyes, written by somebody who loved the characters (some much more than Hunter thought was warranted, but whatever), and told a story because it wanted to be told. Lone Wolf was irresistible, like a half-grown puppy playing in the snow, and Hunter envied him that carefree attitude in grappling with the monster that he himself had created.
The loudspeaker came to life, startling Hunter and announcing that the ferry was now boarding. He grudgingly put the phone in the second cup holder beside the coffee he hadn’t even touched. Normally, he was patient with the tedious loading process, but today, he came up with a thousand more efficient ways that would let him get on the goddamned boat and start reading again.
The cars in front of him crawled forward, inching toward the ferry, and he followed, muttering “come on, come on, come on!” the whole way. Did it always take this long? He was sure it didn’t. It couldn’t possibly. Someone would have gone on a rampage by now from the sheer slowness of Jesus Christ can we get on the motherfucking boat?
At last, a dockworker in an orange vest directed him to a spot behind another car—near the front, thank God, so he’d be one of the first to unload—and he could finally park. As soon as the engine was off, he dug around in his glove compartment for that pack of Dramamine he always kept handy. He was prone to seasickness when he tried to read, and he planned to spend this entire ninety-minute voyage doing exactly that.
He washed down the tablets with his coffee, and then picked up his phone and reopened the file.
It was strange how the mind perceived time. Boarding the ferry had probably taken fifteen minutes at most, and yet it had felt like he’d done a stint in stop-and-go purgatory. The ferry ride from Victoria to Port Angeles was an hour and a half, but Hunter swore he had just pulled up The World Tree again when that damned announcement came over the loudspeaker.
“Arriving in Port Angeles. Please return to your vehicles.”
More like return to reality after an all-too-short visit to Lone Wolf’s vision of Hunter’s fictional world. Grumbling, he put the phone in the cup holder again. As he waited for the boat to dock and the workers to direct him off the ramp, his mind kept wandering back to the story. He was maybe eight chapters in, and already white-knuckling the wheel because he needed to know what happened next.
Lone Wolf didn’t just love the characters of Wolf’s Landing. He understood them. He was perfectly comfortable in the driver’s seat of Detective Gabriel Hanford’s brain, and damn if he didn’t have a flawless handle on Max Fuhrman’s tics and general weirdness. None of the other fanfic writers could get Max quite right. Even Hunter himself struggled with that dude sometimes.
Someone tapped on the hood of his car. Hunter shook his head and looked up. Behind him, someone blared their horn, and the dockworker who’d tapped the hood gestured impatiently for him to move.
Christ, Lone Wolf. You’ve got me so wrapped up in my own damned characters, I turned into That Guy on the fucking ferry.
He waved an apology at the worker and the driver behind him, and got the hell off the boat. By the time he was past the border patrol and on the road, he’d all but forgotten his momentary embarrassment. Normally, it would’ve left him feeling mortified all the way home, but not today. Not when he really, really, really needed to know right fucking now what was going to happen to Gabriel after that multiverse portal had opened.
A multiverse portal. In Wolf’s Landing. How the hell had he never thought of that? It made perfect sense, and now he felt like an idiot for beating his head against the eighth book all this time when clearly this was how he should have written it. No wonder his contract forbade him from reading unpublished works—a less scrupulous author would steal Lone Wolf’s book and pretend he’d never seen it before. Any resemblance to other work is entirely coincidental, etc., etc., etc.
Hunter would never do that, of course, but he was definitely screwed now because this story was the missing link. It was the thing he’d been searching for and couldn’t put his finger on, and now he couldn’t imagine any other possible direction for the story. Shit.
But he’d deal with that later. Now, as he accelerated down the highway at a good fifteen over the posted speed limit, he had to know what happened to Gabriel.
Just a few more chapters when he got home. Then he’d email Lone Wolf back, and finally return those calls, texts, emails, smoke signals, SOSs, certified letters, and telegrams that had no doubt piled up during his twenty-four hours of training and fucking in Canada. Once he knew what was on other side of that portal, then he could put The World Tree down for a little while.
He didn’t even bother getting out of the car. Seat belt still on, keys still in the ignition, he closed the garage door behind him and picked up his phone again.
Seven chapters later, he made it into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
Five more chapters, and his coffee had gone cold on the end table beside the couch where he’d sat down to read.
A couple of text messages came through. He ignored them. The phone rang a few times, and he swore aloud every time it jarred him out of the current scene.
Then a message came through in bright red letters that he couldn’t ignore:
Phone Battery - 20%.
What the hell? He’d just charged it in the car. It should have been good for at least seven or eight hours. It was only—
It was dark outside.
Hunter rubbed his eyes. He looked around. It had been early afternoon when he’d sat down here. Now it was dark?
Oh. Right. Because it was almost ten o’clock.
His back ached and his stomach grumbled. His throbbing head assured him that yes, it really had been hours since he’d sat down to read “a few more chapters.” Damn this nonsense of being over forty and feeling every day of it.
Grimacing and creaking, he stood and went back into the kitchen to plug in his phone. While it charged, he poured himself a cup of reheated half-day-old coffee, and as he drank it, he stared at his darkened phone. The World Tree was amazing. No two ways about it. He wondered what Lone Wolf would think if he knew who he’d sent it to. He was probably shy and socially awkward—what writer wasn’t?—and thought he was sending this book to some other fan of Wolf’s Landing. Not the author himself.
I need to know the face behind this book.
Hunter Easton is screwed. Fans, producers, and his agent are all chomping at the bit for the next book in his wildly popular Wolf’s Landing series, but he’s got epic writer’s block and is way behind deadline. Then he reads The World Tree, a fanfic novel by his online friend “Lone Wolf.” It isn’t just a great story—it’s exactly what the series needs.
Kevin Hussain is thrilled when “Wolf Hunter” wants to meet up after reading The World Tree. When Wolf Hunter turns out to be Hunter Easton himself, Kevin is starstruck. When Hunter tells him he wants to add The World Tree to Wolf’s Landing, Kevin is sure he’s being pranked. And when their online chemistry carries over—big time—into real life, Kevin is convinced it’s all too good to be true.
The problem is . . . it might be. The book deal, the sex, the money—everything is amazing. But fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Kevin is left wondering if Hunter really loves him, or just loves his book.
(Bluewater Bay stories can be read in any order—jump in wherever you'd like!)