Thank you for featuring the Cutting Cords series today. As some of you are aware, these novels have generated polarized reviews. By staying true to my characters, I broke several rules of the m/m genre (or, romance genres in general) and created quite the shitstorm when Vessel (#2) released in 2011. Regardless of your current position on cheating and breakups, I’m certain you’ll form your own opinion on my MC’s decisions, once you’ve caught up with the series. In anticipation of the upcoming release of book #4, I’m offering an exclusive excerpt and a chance to win a copy of Cutting Out when it releases at the end of October. A signed paperback is always an option, as is the standard e-book for those who like instant gratification. No restrictions on foreign mail if that’s your choice. TNA will choose the winner and let me know so I can set this up in advance.
THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED
Blurb: When Sloan Driscoll and Cole Fujiwara become reluctant roommates, neither man is willing to share too much. Sloan is instantly attracted to Cole but knows it’s a hopeless cause; Cole has a steady girlfriend. But one night they share a joint, and Cole opens a window neither anticipated.
A relationship may be impossible—both men are living with heart-breaking secrets. While Sloan is smart, sassy, and a brilliant graphic artist, he’s also a pothead with severe body image problems. Cole, a former major league pitcher, has his own personal crisis: he’s going blind. Sloan and Cole are suffering on so many levels, they might not realize that the ultimate salvation could be within each other’s arms.
Excerpt: The subway was crowded due to the rush hour; everyone was trying to get home at the same time. There was a small group of people gathered around a body sprawled in the walkway, just before the stairs, and a few cops were close by talking to witnesses and writing down information. I was about to go around the crowd when I happened to look down, and I saw Cole on the ground. He was moaning and holding his head, attempting to sit up.
I knelt instinctively, took his hand, and pulled him up gently. “Cole, are you okay?”
He opened his eyes and looked at my face, trying to focus. He seemed to have trouble seeing me, because he was squinting and blinking his eyes repeatedly. “Sloan?”
“Yeah, it’s me. What happened?”
“I’m not sure. I think someone pushed me.”
“Here, let me help you up. Can you stand?”
He sat up and put his hands up to his face. His hair fell in a black sheet across his forehead, and there was a slight gash on his right cheek where he must have scraped it. His hands were trembling slightly, and I could tell he was about ready to lose it. His lips quivered and he gnawed on them, doing his best not to break down. There was something terribly tragic about this scene, and it touched the part of me that wanted to comfort and nurture at the same time. I moved to put my arms around him, disregarding my earlier vow to stay away. I held him tightly against my body, whispering words of comfort and little by little, I felt the trembling ease up.
“Can you walk?” I asked in a voice that only he could hear.
“I think so.”
“Let’s see, okay?”
I pulled him up slowly, waiting to see if he could stand on his own. He wavered a little, but eventually righted himself. His cheeks were pink with the exertion, but he looked determined to get the hell out of there. He waved the cops away, telling them he was fine.
“Sloan, take me home.”
I picked up his backpack and hefted it over my left shoulder. I put my right arm around him and held him close. “Can you walk okay?”
“Yes. Let’s fucking go.”
We walked down the dank hallway and climbed the stairs out to street level. It was dark, probably close to seven o’clock when we finally got to the apartment building. I nodded at the doorman and pushed Cole into the elevator. When we got inside our apartment, I put down the backpack and led Cole toward the bathroom. He didn’t resist at all, following meekly like a child. I made him sit on the toilet seat before I took a washcloth and rinsed it out with hot water. I began to clean his face, wiping away the blood as well as the grime that had stuck to him when he slid on the concrete floor.
I was as gentle as possible, but he must have been in pain because he started to cry. Big tears rolled down his cheeks, and I stopped what I was doing, wondering how the warm washcloth could possibly be causing this.
“Cole, am I hurting you?”
He shook his head and put his arms around my waist and began to sob, making horrible, despairing sounds that filled the small room with his anguish. I had never heard anything like it, and it tore at my gut. I wanted to scream and punch a hole in the wall, anything to make this stop. Instead, I pulled him up and pressed his entire length against me. I held him for what seemed like hours but in reality was only a few minutes. He continued to weep, and I decided to move him to his room, so he could lie down to try and sleep.
Blurb: Five years into their relationship, Sloan Driscoll’s peaceful existence is suddenly upended. His lover, Cole Fujiwara, gives him an ultimatum: agree to a surrogate birth or break up. Noriko Evans, a beautiful woman of Japanese/American descent, is handpicked by Cole’s father to be the surrogate. At the same time, Trent Hamilton, model and established Dominant, sets his eyes on Sloan, offering him another life choice.
Sloan is thrown off balance by this series of events he can neither understand nor control. He’d thought the topic of children had been laid to rest years ago, but with the advent of a new form of genetic testing, Cole’s fear of passing on retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that leads to blindness, has been greatly reduced. Noriko’s abrupt appearance threatens Sloan, as does Sloan’s attraction to Trent and a side of the BDSM world he’d never thought to explore.
Will Sloan be able to muster the inner strength he’ll need to deal with one shocking revelation after another, or will he succumb to a dangerous coping mechanism? His decisions will either lead to salvation… or hasten the end of the relationship that literally saved his life.
Excerpt: I MOVED like I was sleepwalking and slowly backed away from the table. Cole knew the instant I got up and stood quickly. “Sloan, wait up.”
Ignoring him, I grabbed my jacket out of the coat closet, my keys from the table where I’d tossed them earlier, and left the apartment to the raised voices of Ken and Eileen begging me to come back. I’m sure Cole was a part of the chorus, but I tuned everything out. I was appalled by their casual solution. The hurt was allconsuming, but the fury was fast eclipsing the pain. I wanted to hit Cole. For the first time in years I wanted to knock him on his ass and draw blood. How dare he play me for a fucking fool! He knew that marriage to Noriko was a part of the plan, knew it even as he stood there and lied to me about having no idea she was coming over tonight. Ken would never presume to foist this scenario on his independent son without his permission. All the good feelings that had washed over me after our talk felt like puke in my mouth. My initial instincts had been correct. Noriko was trouble, and she would change our lives, no matter what Cole said to the contrary.
The worst part was I’d hoped that this year we would make it official. We hadn’t been ready for the big commitment yet and wanted to hold off, seeing if what we had would last. I was only twenty-three when we first hooked up, and he, at twenty-six, had just come out of the closet. The odds were not in our favor. We were dealing with new jobs, learning how to cope with his impending blindness, a Seeing Eye dog, and most importantly, discovering and trusting each other. My issues with cutting were too recent, and Cole wanted to be certain that I was stable and on the road to recovery. In addition, his venture from straight to gay was an altered state of mind that would take some adjusting to, and I needed to know that I was what he wanted and, more importantly, what he expected. Even his parents were skeptical, so it stood to reason that I had my doubts.
Yet, despite it all, we’d worked through the differences and the daily challenges that would have stymied most married couples. We were friends, had a great sexual chemistry, and, last but not least, there was mutual respect. Or so I thought. Apparently he thought much less of me than I realized, considering he’d just made a major fucking decision without bothering to run it by me.
Blurb: On New Year’s Eve, Cole Fujiwara stands vigil at his father’s deathbed while his surrogate wife, Noriko, gives birth to twins. As Cole contemplates his future, he acknowledges that he’s living his father’s dream… and that he’s probably destroyed his chance at happiness with Sloan, the love of his life.
Finding harmony in an emerging D/s relationship has not been without issue for Sloan Driscoll and his Master, Trent Hamilton. Their journey has been littered with mishaps, but their powerful love and sexual connection continue to bind them together—until Sloan comes face to face with Cole for the first time in nine months.
The meeting means different things to each of them. To Cole, it’s the first step on the path to a reunion. To Sloan, it’s a terrible mistake, one he confesses immediately. As for Trent, the bitter realization that a connection between the former lovers still exists forces him to issue an ultimatum. Is Sloan willing to do anything to prove their relationship is worth saving, including becoming Trent’s 24/7 slave? And if Sloan stays with Trent, how can Cole ever hope to find happiness again?
Excerpt: THE lobby of the Walter B. Cook Funeral Home was appropriately somber and made me think of my mother. It had been over ten years since her death from cancer, but the smell of the flowers and the funereal organ music wafting through the speakers brought back a lot of memories and disturbed me more than I cared to admit. I supposed I would carry these feelings to my grave, and now Cole would be able to relate to the terrible void left by the passing of a parent. I was certain he was reeling from the multiple events of the last forty-eight hours. A father’s death and the birth of one’s children were momentous enough, and if Noriko’s attitude toward their contract had in fact changed, it would add a new element to Cole’s stress.
I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I’d receive from Cole’s family members. It had been nine months since our acrimonious breakup, and we’d had absolutely no contact. Our split had shocked everyone, yet no one in Cole’s family had bothered to pick up the phone to get my side of the story. God only knew what lies Cole or Noriko had perpetuated, but I was about to find out if I was welcome or not.
The small room assigned to Ken was packed with mourners, and the Fujiwara women were easily recognizable in their appropriate black designer outfits. Cole’s three sisters, their daughters, and spouses surrounded Eileen in a protective huddle. The death of her husband had elevated her status to matriarch, and the retinue of family was appropriately deferential. I was relieved when she greeted me warmly.
“Thank you for coming, Sloan.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” I said automatically. She embraced me and hung on for a few moments before moving on to the next visitor. I looked around, hoping to spot Cole, but I was interrupted by my father, who appeared in front of me like a genie. He and Ken had been teammates with the San Francisco Giants and lifelong friends ever since. He crushed me against his chest and thumped me on the back.
“Dad, when did you get here?” I exclaimed. “I could have met you at the airport.”
“No worries, kid. How’re you holding up?”
“I’m fine. It’s Cole we need to worry about.”
“He looks awful,” Dad commented. “What in hell happened to him?”
“I haven’t seen him in months.”
“That’s probably why he looks like shit. I still can’t believe you guys broke up.”
“Don’t start, Dad. It’s over.”
“I don’t know, Sloan. He looks miserable.”
“Ken was his best friend.”
“I thought you were.”
“So did I, but that’s another story for another day.”
“Well, come on,” he said, taking me by the hand. “Let’s get this over with.”
We headed toward the cluster of people near the open casket. I averted my eyes because I had no desire to look at Ken in death. I was still angry at him for manipulating Cole and destroying our relationship. Now it was too late to call him a conniving son of a bitch, and I refused to give him more than a passing glance. I was here for only one reason. Cole was facing his dad but turned toward me the instant he felt my presence.
“I’m here,” I said, reaching for his hand. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Cole’s stoic façade fell apart as soon as he heard my voice. He could barely croak out the words of acknowledgment. It broke my heart to see him in such pain, and every protective instinct was immediately resurrected. I enfolded him in my arms and held him tightly against my chest.
“There’s a small room over there,” Dad said, motioning toward a door marked “Private.” “Why don’t you guys see if it’s unoccupied?”
I held Cole’s hand and gave Freddie, his guide dog, the signal to stay. Fortunately, Freddie still recognized me and obeyed. We headed toward the room, and when we stepped into the privacy of the small office, Cole broke down completely. I knew how strong the bond was between him and his father, and there was nothing I could say to make this any easier. All I could do was support him and let him grieve. My tears fell in sympathy as I listened to him sob. Finally, he broke away and apologized for falling apart. I noticed a few new streaks of silver weaving through his dark hair and a frown line that hadn’t been there before. He was only thirty-four, but today, he looked closer to forty.
“I’m sorry,” Cole mumbled, wiping tears away with the back of his hand. The gesture was so childlike it resonated, tugging on my inherent need to protect him. I drew him back into my arms and held the trembling body that felt much thinner than I remembered. Everything about Cole seemed different today except for my feelings, which arose like a phoenix.
“You’ll be okay,” I said, whispering words of encouragement.
“I didn’t want you to see me like this,” Cole said, sniffling against my shirt, “but I’ve missed you so much. You have no idea.”
“Shogun….” The old nickname snuck out before I realized it, and it struck a chord like nothing else.
CUTTING OUT – SEQUEL TO CLEAVE (#4)
Blurb: Hours after stepping off the yacht where they had their mock wedding, real life intrudes, and arguments arise between Sloan Driscoll and Trent Hamilton. Seeking relief at his BDSM club, Trent bumps into an old army buddy who tells him things are different now that DADT has been repealed. Meanwhile, Sloan receives a frantic call from ex-lover, Cole Fujiwara, who tells him that his twins and ex-wife have been kidnapped. Cole asks Sloan for help but makes him promise not to include Trent in the rescue attempt.
Trent considers the opportunity to resume a career cut short, and despite Sloan’s threat to postpone the wedding, he leaves for the Middle East as an independent mercenary while Sloan rushes to aid Cole.
In Tokyo, disturbing revelations draw the former couple together, and old feelings are rekindled. Despite this new understanding, neither man makes a move. Sloan is focused on rescuing Cole’s family without jeopardizing his relationship with Trent, while Cole must prepare himself to survive disappointment if Sloan chooses to segue into married life as a military spouse.
**FYI – This unedited excerpt is lifted from Chapter 7. Cole and Sloan are on their way to Tokyo to try and find the twins. Please excuse any typos.
Would you mind asking the people at the info desk if there’s a pet relief area at O’Hare?” Cole asked. “Freddie’s okay for now, but he’ll need to go when we get to Chicago. He’s not a pup anymore and can’t hold his bladder like he used to.”
Freddie lifted his head and rewarded us with a soft woof when he heard his name. His tail wagged back and forth like a metronome. “Did you hear him, buddy? Your daddy just called you an old man.”
Freddie slobbered all over my hand, blissfully unaware that he was fast approaching his ninth birthday. He’d had a long and useful run as Cole’s Seeing Eye dog, but he’d have to be retired soon, spending the rest of his days playing with the twins or sleeping in the sun. A younger dog was needed to keep up with the grueling task of being Cole’s eyes and ears. This was a conversation neither Cole nor I could deal with right now. Training a new service dog was a long and tedious business, and Cole would need a clear mind and some time off to find the right pup. It was almost as hard as finding the perfect husband. I ruffled Freddie’s fur and bent down to give him a hug. He was the one constant in our long and convoluted relationship, and Cole knew I loved his dog as fiercely as he did. I stood, welcoming the chance to walk around a bit. “I’ll be back in a sec,” I said, heading toward the airline counter.
It turned out there were two pet relief areas at O’Hare airport, aside from the one at the Hilton Hotel I was familiar with. One outside Terminal 1, and one at Terminal 5 where we were taking off. They were both on the lower level near the baggage claim areas, which meant I’d have to exit security, but it would be worth it. Freddie could do his business before the long ass flight to Tokyo without a problem.
“Would you make sure we have some sort of transport between terminals when we land?” I asked the woman behind the Japan Airlines counter who’d been helping us with out paperwork. “I have a service dog that’ll need to pee, and his blind master could really use the extra help finding Terminal 5 while I’m occupied with the dog.”
“We’ll have everything ready when you arrive.”
“I want a golf cart,” I continued. “Professor Fujiwara won’t use a wheelchair.” I’d be lucky if Cole used anything at all. He hated calling attention to his blindness but sometimes it was inevitable.
“The cart and attendant will be at the gate when you land. They can drop you and the dog off at the baggage claim exit before they head over to the Admiral Lounge with the Professor.”
I looked over at Cole and Freddie and noted how easily I’d slipped back into my role as caretaker. I’d done it for six years before our breakup, and I suppose it was like any other learned skill. You didn’t forget; you only had to jog a few memories.
Cole had stubbornly tried to hide his impending blindness when we’d first met. It took a while for me to figure out what in hell was going on, but after I realized he was on the verge of losing his eyesight, I studied up on his disease, learned Braille, worked with his psychologist, John Butterman, and familiarized myself with every necessary way to make Cole’s life easier without treating him like an invalid. I’d walked around our apartment blindfolded, noting whenever I’d bump into something to make sure the object in question was either repositioned or discarded. Everything was done behind Cole’s back so he wouldn’t feel diminished in any way. I’d made it my mission to treat him as normally as possible, and he appreciated my attitude without actually coming out and saying it. It galled him to ask for favors, but he’d become comfortable again with me by his side; we were falling back into our old routine. Like this business of Freddie’s needs. Cole would have never allowed anyone else to make arrangements for his dog, but he was clearly comfortable having me do it.
“Everything is set,” I said when I sat down beside him.
“Thank you,” he replied, rewarding me with one of his rare smiles. The change in his appearance was dramatic. The stormy cloud that had hovered over him for so long moved away, brightening the landscape of his striking face. I hadn’t seen that smile in a long time, and it felt good to know I’d put it there.
When Cole asked me to go to Tokyo, I was sure we’d have some weird moments. We hadn’t been together as a couple in over two years, and a lot of horrid shit had gone down during that time. I’d been a little concerned that we wouldn’t stop bickering the entire way, but he’d either mellowed out, or I’d grown up, or both. In any case, it was a huge relief that it was easy between us, and I had no intention of rocking the boat by asking him what was different.
My comfort zone was jarred the moment the plane leveled at thirty-six thousand feet. I was sipping on a kick-ass Bloody Mary when Cole asked about Trent. “How’d you manage to get away without telling Trent about the kidnapping?”
I almost choked on the spicy drink. “I didn’t.”
“He has no idea I’m here.”
“Dammit, Sloan. I don’t want to piss him off.”
“Don’t worry. He’ll never find out cause he’s on his way to fucking Afghanistan.”
“Yeah, you heard right. He’s on a six-week mission with some old army buddy. Trent hasn’t a clue that I’m helping you play The Rescuers.”
“Is that why you postponed your wedding?”
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“You asked me not to.”
“I’m surprised you listened.”
“I do know how to keep a secret, although I was severely tempted to break my promise if it meant he’d change his mind about going off on his useless mission.”
“What in hell are you talking about, Sloan?”
I told him, leaving out the part where Trent talked about re-enlisting. Cole didn’t need to hear that or add his two cents to my personal dilemma. I really hadn’t meant to share anything at all, but he caught me by surprise, and, as usual, I forgot to filter. “Look, it’s just as well that he’s not around. He’d go all ninja on us and take over. Pretty sure you didn’t need the additional stress.”
“Thank you for not telling him.”
“Whatever, Cole. Since we’re being so honest, can I ask you something?”
“Why did you break up with Bryce?”
His face shuttered again and he was hiding behind that stony mask I’d come to hate. Whenever he put on his Shogun persona I knew there was no chance in hell of changing his mind. “It wasn’t working out.”
“From what I understand, you didn’t give him much of a chance. Was the sex so lousy?”
“It was good, but it wasn’t perfect.”
“Perfect? Come on, Cole. Nobody’s perfect in bed. It takes time to wind your way through the maze of what works and what doesn’t.”
“Not with you,” he said, surprisingly candid. “It was amazing from day one.”
I had no idea how to respond, and didn’t really want to go there. We were both a little vulnerable at the moment, and didn’t need any kind of sexual tension. Hell. No.
I raised my hand to get the attention of the flight attendant.
“Yes, sir?” she asked, giving me a toothy smile that must have been a job requirement.
“What kind of snacks do you have?”
She rattled off some choices and I settled for the fruit and cheese platter. “Bring enough for both us,” I added.
Cole slid his hand over mine. “Thank you,” he whispered.
I’d like to thank my publicist, Joleen, from Parenthetical Author Services for making my beautiful banner and setting up my blog tour. Self-promotion is a daunting business for those of us who rarely stick their noses outside of the writing cave. Having someone do all the leg work is a blessing and gives me more time to concentrate on the creative side of my job. For anyone out there who suffers from my affliction, I’d recommend a publicist to spare you needless anxiety. It’s been a joy to have Joleen in my corner. Here’s her contact info: email@example.com.
Bio: Mickie B. Ashling is the alter-ego of a multifaceted woman raised by a single mother who preferred reading over other forms of entertainment. She found a kindred spirit in her oldest child and encouraged her with a steady supply of dog-eared paperbacks. Romance was the preferred genre, and historical romances topped her favorites list.
By the time Mickie discovered her own talent for writing, real life had intruded, and the business of earning a living and raising four sons took priority. With the advent of e-publishing and the inevitable emptying nest, dreams were resurrected, and the storyteller was reborn.
She stumbled into the world of men who love men in 2002 and continues to draw inspiration from their ongoing struggle to find equality and happiness in this oftentimes skewed and intolerant world. Her award-winning novels have been called “gut wrenching, daring, and thought provoking.” She admits to being an angst queen and making her men work damn hard for their happy endings.
Mickie loves to travel and has lived in the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East but currently resides in a suburb outside Chicago.