Farewell from the Bookshelf!
Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.
All Gay Romance will remain online till the end of 2016 in order to give contributors every opportunity to recover materials uploaded here.
Many thanks to all who contributed over the years, and good luck to everyone in your future works!
Lynx Woods by P.A. Brown
Dark Diva says: "there's the drunken sex, the brawling, and the coward's way out, by both men. The story should be irredeemable... She let her characters find their own way. She let them make mistakes, show their very human flaws, and, here's the kicker, learn..."
Charlie Reid is a world-class wildlife artist who captures the heart of his subjects, revealing them to the world. But he is also desperate to keep his deeply hidden sexual desires secret from everyone, including himself. He never counts on meeting a man like Tyler McKay, however, an environmental engineer who transforms wastelands into viable bio communities that are not only beautiful but functional. Tyler is also the only man who might be able to penetrate Charlie's solid wall of denial and make him admit to yearnings to which he has never surrendered. Can the men build a bond strong enough to withstand everything the world throws at them? But how far, and to what lengths, will Tyler push Charlie to make him admit who he truly is? When two stubborn alpha males put their desires and needs to the test, will they discover that "surrender" isn't necessarily a bad thing and that, in the game of love, there are sometimes no losers, but only winners?
The whole area looked like it had been ravaged by a dirty bomb. I stood on the running board of my ancient Land Rover and squinted toward the distant line of the river, visible through a screen of beech and Manitoba maple trees. This entire section of what should have been prime Ontario forest was a wasteland. What little grew, looked pathetic even by weed standards.
Make that two bombs. Small nuclear ones.
The ground was mostly hard pack. A few sunken pits and depressions had collected oily puddles of water, and I'd already jarred my teeth on a few driving into the site. I was surrounded by piles of garbage bags, a broken bed frame, and a haphazard pile of tires. This was far worse than I'd expected.
I knew there was a lot more I hadn't seen yet.
Nearer the river, a few trees struggled to take hold, their thin, bent trunks competing with thick clusters of pig's weed and purple loosestrife. The only decent-looking thing on the entire site was a massive weeping willow tree that stood near the curved banks of the river on the right-hand corner of the fifty-acre lot. How it had managed to survive this long was a total mystery. I was surprised Thurlow's grandfather hadn't whacked it down when he put his first paper mill on the property back in the late 1800s. Of course, it had been a tiny sapling back then. Maybe he'd overlooked it in his zeal to rape the bigger stuff.
I knew I shouldn't have been so cynical. Industry built Canada. Back then, no one had had any real concept of the impact humans made on the planet. Even today, some people seemed to miss the point of global warming. I could hardly fault Bartholomew Thurlow's grandfather for his lack of foresight. Indeed, he had known enough to make his family wealthy for generations to come. Now, that wealth was going to fix what it had screwed up so long ago.
Bringing back this piece of land to its pre-industrial state was going to be a major job…a major job that was now sitting squarely on my not-so-broad shoulders.
From inside my Land Rover came the sound of an impatient throat clearing. "Are you done yet, Tyler? I thought we were going to lunch?"
I glanced at Michael. The angle afforded me a view of my lover's tight, jean-clad crotch and delectable bottom. Normally an arresting site -- even a stirring one -- today it did nothing for me. In fact, it was fast reaching the point where Michael, himself, did nothing for me. I tried to remember what had moved me to bring the boy along this morning. The desire for company on the ninety-minute trip? Whatever had triggered the gesture, I was now regretting my impetuousness.
What had I been thinking?
"I heard you the first time, Michael." I hopped off the running board. Acrid dust puffed up under my Merrell Explorers. "I'll be back in five."
I shut the door over Michael's startled complaints and stomped across a blasted peak of clay and brutalized soil to something I had spotted just before Michael's initial whine.
A tiny dribble of water confirmed my suspicion. A spring. Weak, and probably from a polluted ground source, but running water all the same. A few waist-high milkweed plants and vetch grew around it. I felt buoyed by the sight of a monarch butterfly sniffing out the milkweed as a potential nursery. A shadow crossed my path, and I looked up to see a Red-tailed Hawk soar over the river, hunting for game.
Feeling remarkably upbeat, I doubled back to the Land Rover and popped open the door. Michael started in even before I got my butt planted on the duct-taped seat covers.
I zoned him out while tapping my fingers on the wheel for several seconds, then cranked on the engine. It growled, and the Land Rover shook and shuddered before it roared to life. Then I spotted the shack. It was tucked out of the way, maybe a hundred yards from the gorgeous willow, hemmed in by a heavy cloak of sumac and a few sickly looking white cedars.
I didn't remember seeing the structure listed as an asset. And from where it sat, it most definitely was on the property. I'd have to go back and double-check the papers since I did not want to be responsible for tearing down old Aunt Becky's birthplace by mistake. That would be a public relations gaffe I could do without. And if it wasn't listed, I'd have to contact Thurlow to find out what it was.
"Are we going, or what?" Michael was in full I-can-be-such-a-bitch mode. "First I miss my luncheon at Azure, and now it's like you can't tear yourself away from this Godforsaken place. I don't understand what's going on."
"Michael," I said with as much as patience as I could muster, which at this point in time, wasn't much. "Shut up."
"Tyler!" Michael flounced his pretty butt on the worn seat under him. "Well, I never -- "
"Man, if I thought that was true, I'd buy you a diamond ring and marry you."
I dropped off a fuming Michael at Domo's on Yorkville in the heart of Toronto, wincing at the thought of the damage he'd inflict on my credit card. I was really going to have to do something about Michael soon. His mercurial temper and gift for spending money -- especially my money -- were rapidly outweighing his talents in bed.
I drove out to Mississauga and pulled into Thurlow Industries around four. I parked in a spot marked for visitors and approached the towering blue, steel-and-glass structure. A 767, coming in for a landing at Pearson International Airport across the 401, roared overhead, runner lights blinking.
Ears numb, I entered the cool lobby and hooked a right toward the elevators.
The sound of running water worked through my overwrought senses. I paused to study the fountain cascading down the living wall that stretched across the entire north rampart. It soared three stories to where the first of a set of hidden pipes fed a perpetual stream. The plants I had personally selected and attached to the wall were growing nicely, several looking like they had tripled in size.
The air was filled with the fresh scent of clean water and the rich oxygen given off by the wall of plants after filtering the crap that the building had produced. This had been my first major success as an ecological engineer, and one I was proud of to this day. Companies still sent representatives from all over the world to study what I had accomplished in the hope of reproducing it. I'd won some fat contracts as a result of those visits.
When Thurlow had first approached me with his "little" problem nearly three years before, I hadn't been sure what the industrialist wanted. He'd told me he had a sick building and was losing hundreds of man-hours each year as employees called in sick. He needed someone to fix the problem immediately. He'd heard about my company, Emerald Biolife, and suspected I could help.
I hadn't had to spend more than half a day in the stale, trapped air of the hermetically sealed box to know what the problem was. It had taken nearly two months of research, working with a top-notch botanist at Toronto's U of T, to come up with a solution. Which had been a real pain in the butt to implement, including a very steep learning curve and even some new technologies picked up on the run. But we had unveiled the project eighteen months before. The living wall, in particular, had been an instant hit.
Bioengineering the interior of a structure is always an ever-evolving process. So the system within Thurlow's building worked even better now than it had when it had gone online. And I envisioned it would grow increasingly more efficient with time.
Thurlow had paid me well for that job, and had helped me launch a new phase of my career. Now, he wanted another miracle.
I announced my arrival to Jeannie, Thurlow's long-suffering secretary, then I strolled over to the nearest window and looked out. I couldn't see much. An industrial fog obscured the distant shoreline of Lake Ontario, and several other buildings on the same scale as Thurlow's hid whatever the smog didn't.
Finally, Jeannie told me I could go in.
I passed through the double oak doors into Thurlow's inner sanctum. His office was the size of some middling banana republic country; his desk was as big as the third-floor bedroom I shared with the volatile Michael. In sharp contrast, Thurlow, himself, was a small, rotund man of indeterminate years who occupied a chair two sizes too large for him.
He indicated one of two padded leather chairs facing his desk. "Sit, Tyler. What brings you out here? I thought you had planned to survey the site today."
"Did." I dropped into the chair across from him. "Something came up -- "
Only then did I notice the other man in the room.
He stood with his back to the desk, looking out at the view through the polarized glass. His hands were held behind his back, and I noted their size and obvious roughness. This guy was no desk jockey, not with calluses like that. I couldn't see his face, only the pitch black hair that had been drawn into a ponytail and hung past his shoulder blades. He had broad shoulders and a tight ass not quite covered by a black leather bomber jacket.
"Ah, yes," Thurlow said. "I'm actually glad you did come up, Tyler. I'd like you meet someone. He's going to be working on the site, too, but in a different capacity."
The figure by the window turned, and I found myself holding my breath. Would this stranger measure up to what I had already seen of his impressive back?
I wouldn't have described the man as drop-dead gorgeous. His face was too unusual for that. It was obvious he had First Nation's blood running through his veins. His high cheekbones looked sculptured in his tight, dark face, and his eyes were two black orbs staring into mine as Thurlow introduced us.
"Tyler, I'd like you to meet Charlie Reid. Charlie, this is Tyler McKay, our ecological engineer."
Charlie Reid. That sounded familiar.
Thurlow continued, "I've commissioned Charlie to create a piece of art commemorating this project and all it will mean for the world."
Thurlow had a pretty high opinion of himself and his place in the scheme of things. I guess when you have the kind of money he had, you could afford to.
I realized why I had heard Reid's name. The man was a rising talent in the art world. His paintings of animals in their natural habitat were giving Robert Bateman a run for his money. I said to him, "I've seen your pieces. I remember one, in particular. Some kind of bird on the deck of a boat in the Arctic?"
"An Arctic Skua on the deck of an oil rig in the North Atlantic, but you're close." Charlie smiled and some of the tension in his dark face dissolved. "That was my first sale."
"It was good. What were you doing in the North Atlantic?"
"Working. I was one of the onboard rig technicians."
"And you spent your spare time painting? Strange hobby for a roughneck."
"I ran out of chewing tobacco, and my guns fell overboard." He shrugged his broad shoulders, and his eyes hardened into ice chips. "You stereotype everybody that way?"
I felt heat flood my face. I fingered my goatee and tried to figure out a way to word my apology. "Sorry, bad choice of words. I am puzzled, though. Have you seen the site, yet…where I'm going to be working?"
"Yes, I was up there yesterday. Why?"
"What exactly do you intend to paint?"
If Charlie was taken aback by my words, he didn't show it. Instead, he rolled his big shoulders in a shrug and said, "I intend to paint what once was and what will be again."
Oh great, a mystic.
I tried to place his accent, which wasn't strong, but was definitely present. American South…but where, exactly?
Charlie added, "Unless, of course, you don't think you can do what you claim you can, and you are unable to restore Lynx Woods."
"Lynx Woods?" That was a new one. "Is that what your people used to call it?"
"My people? Nah, my great-grandfather was a North Carolina Cherokee. Don't think he ever got north of Richmond."
Feeling like I'd been had, I raised one eyebrow at the taller man. "I assure you, I can and will do what I've said. This isn't the first time I've reconstructed a damaged wetland site."
Thurlow choose that moment to interject. "Good, good. Now, I'm sure you both have lots to do." He stood -- all five-foot, four-inches of him -- and ushered us toward the door. "Unless there was something else, Tyler? Charlie?"
"As a matter of fact, there was, Mr. Thurlow," I said. "There's a building on the property that wasn't listed in my original specs."
"Not much more than a shack, but I need to have formal dispensation to take it down, if that's your intention. Or we'll have to put a keep-away order on it so it's left alone during the work."
"Could it be used for anything? Storage? Tools? While you're working there, that is?"
"I didn't examine it too closely, but from my first impression, I would say no. Do I have your leave to raze it?"
"Yes, by all means. If that's what you think best."
Thurlow seemed very distracted now. Busy man. All those billions to occupy the mind. I persisted, though. I didn't want to have to come back later to take care of this. "I'll need that in writing."
I couldn't help but notice Charlie smirking at the exchange. Did he think I was a sniveling coward trying to cover his ass? Let him. His opinions meant squat to me. The man knew how to fill out a pair of jeans, though. I couldn't help it, my gaze kept dropping down below Charlie's waist.
"Fine," Thurlow said, completely oblivious. "I'll fax that to you by end of business day today."
"Very good, sir."
I followed Charlie to the door. He held it open and swept his arm in a half circle to indicate I should go through first. He sauntered after me.
We waited for the elevator in silence. When it arrived, I couldn't resist asking, "How'd you hook up with Thurlow, anyway?"
"Mutual acquaintance. Another client."
"And you think you'll actually find something to paint out there?"
"I'll find something. Just don't know what it is right now. That's why I need to spend time at the site."
His face closed. Had I touched a nerve of some kind?
"You might say that. At this point, all I know is that I will be creating a panel of four paintings in acrylic. Probably featuring some concurring theme." He shrugged, his broad shoulders rolling loosely under his dark leather jacket. I could see the muscles of his chest flex and wished I could see more. "Maybe that willow."
"You noticed that, too? Quite an impressive tree."
"And strong. It's survived a lot of abuse."
"On that site? How could it not?" Suddenly Charlie seemed bored with the topic. "I'll be heading out first thing in the morning. To catch the early light and see what it inspires. What exactly is involved at your end? Will you be spending a lot of time out there?" He smiled dryly. "I don't believe I've ever met an ecological engineer before."
"That's me. One of a kind." I stroked my goatee while I thought of what to say. "My job is to understand what the land can sustain and try to take it to that place. It involves a lot of complex issues related to hydrology, geology, and the like. First thing I have to do is a detailed study of the entire site."
"All fifty acres? How detailed?" Charlie seemed interested, despite his pretense at boredom.
"My crew and I will be taking core samples from at least a dozen key locations within the site. We'll determine basalt structure and identify the watershed…basically try to figure out how water is going to move within those fifty acres."
"Move. What do you mean? Water moves the same everywhere. It's water. It doesn't suddenly start flowing uphill just because the ground underneath it is different."
"But water on porous, sandy ground moves much differently than water on solid clay or granite. Subtle variations in the way the land, itself, is structured can make a big difference in where the water goes and how fast it gets there. You have to plant accordingly, to get the most out of the terrain. Nature will do it automatically, if given the chance. My role is to give it that chance once more."
Charlie suddenly laughed. It changed his harsh face completely, leaving me mesmerized. "Okay, you got me. I think I'll stick to painting. Those kinds of subtleties I can understand."
I grinned. "It's less complicated than it sounds."
"Oh, I doubt that. I doubt that very much."
The elevator door opened, releasing us into the cool, air-fresh lobby.
Charlie waited until I followed him out, then extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, Tyler. Maybe I'll see you out there sometime."
"Pleasure, Charlie. What did you call it? Lynx Woods?" I felt his larger hand swallow up mine, his rough skin caressing mine. His flesh felt warm and dry. "I like it. Encourage Mr. Thurlow to keep the name."
"It'll be listed in the catalog with the panel once it's completed. Does that make it official enough?"
"That ought to do it."
I reluctantly dropped his hand. Charlie saluted me and sauntered out into the bright sun. Slipping on a pair of Ray Bans, he walked across the patch of lawn that had been given over to benches and a picnic table for employees. He was a vision in black, his narrow hips swinging from side to side.
I remained mesmerized.
Now the question was: which way did sexy Charlie swing?