We are so excited to bring you chapter one of Fast Connection, the second book in the fabulous Cyberlove series from Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell… which is due for release 11th July! Go check out the first chapter then pre-order your copy now!
Megan Erikson & Santino Hassell
Due for Release ~ 11th July 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
After a decade of serving in the Army, everyone still expects me to be Dominic 'Nicky' Costigan--the skirt-chasing player. They don't know I've been spending my days trying to figure out my post-military life. Including how to pick up guys.
When I meet Luke on a hookup app, he makes it clear it's for one-night only. That's fine with me, because I'm down to see what this silver fox can do. But after I arrive at his doorstep, it doesn't take long to realize we have serious chemistry, and we end up meeting again.
He's got more walls around his heart than a military base, but I think he's as addicted to me as I am to him. He can't resist me for long. I mean, who can? Except Luke's rules exist for a reason, and when I test his limits, things get complicated. Maybe too complicated.
*FAST CONNECTION is a standalone, full-length romance novel with no cliffhanger*
The smell of bagels permeated the entire shop.
Even in the back room, I caught whiff after whiff of a mixture of onions and poppy seeds baked onto a yolky dough and the four pots of sludge my pops kept brewing all day long. You’d think he’d stop making fresh coffee after the morning rush, but nope. The man stayed on his feet grinding beans all day long. Maybe he liked it. Maybe he even liked this bagel smell after twenty-seven years. Me? I was one thousand and fifty percent over it.
It was sort of a funny thing. After two enlistments in the army and eight years of either living on the base in Jersey or going on a tour overseas, the smell of the shop had been a fond memory. Now I was back home and working at Hot Bagels & More six days a week. If I never saw another bagel in my life, I’d die a happy man. Even happier if I could get some dick.
I tapped at my phone to send an urgent text.
Dominic: Bro. this is important. You got infoz that I need, my man.
Garrett: I’m at work.
Dominic: me too, motherfucker! I’m taking a break.
“Nicky! Where the hell are you?”
Scowling, I hunched as if that would keep my father from busting into the narrow office. My shoulders barely fit in the space unless I shifted sideways. No ideas on how the old man functioned back here long enough to run reports and make the numbers work. I had nothing to do with that end, and stayed away from the growing stack of bills he never seemed to touch. Since returning from Afghanistan, I’d become the deli-counter bitch whose payment was free rent.
Garrett: Where are you working?
Dominic: A catering company.
Technically, Hot Bagels did cater to the type of Staten Islanders who wanted Boar’s Head deli meat at their events instead of the imported shit from the fancy salumerias dotting Richmond Avenue. But ain’t nobody had time for that in the Costigan family. We were here to function as the corner store with everything ranging from hot food to PopTarts and dry cereal. Basically not making as much bank as we could be since my father had zero imagination. Not that Garrett Reid needed to know that now that he had himself a real job in the real world making good money.
Garrett: Who would want you to serve them food?
Dominic: Shut the fuck up. I didn’t text you for examples of your stunning sarcasm and subzero personality.
Garrett: Right. You asked me how to use Grindr. While you’re apparently handling food.
Dominic: Your point being…?
Garrett: Just tell me exactly what you want.
Dominic: School me on Grindr, fool. Worth the app subscription?
Garrett: You’re hesitant to spend $3.99 a month.
Dominic: You suck at being my gay friend, my man
Garrett: It’s worth the download. I assume you’re not out yet, so use a picture of your abs on the profile. Give face pics after messaging someone if you’re serious about meeting them. You look like Chris Evans, so they’ll respond with thirst. Don’t meet a murderer.
Dominic: That it?
A few seconds ticked by without an answer. Safe to assume Reid was finished with me. He was the type of guy who hated extended text conversations no matter how hard I tried and never picked up an actual call. I’d expected him to rebuff my attempts at post-deployment bonding, but it still kind of stung. I’d been fond of that tall, dark and glaring mofo, and it was impossible to tell if he hated me less than other people despite the number of times we’d gotten each other off while overseas.
Ah well. The fact that he had expended the energy needed to reply was probably a sign of friendship in his world.
The door burst open and slammed into my side. “Fuck!” Cringing, I scooted out of the way. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
My father barreled in, nearly colliding with me. Duffy Costigan took up all the space in a normal-sized room so he was the size of a colossus in here. I’d thankfully grown enough to be eye-level with him, but the guy still had an MMA heavyweight build, whereas I was having trouble keeping my muscle mass up now that I wasn’t strength training on the base several hours a day.
The thought sent me right back down the hook-a-dude path, and I glanced at my phone again, considering Garrett’s advice regarding ab pics. Damn. I didn’t know what guys liked. Big? Rangy? I was somewhere in the middle, but my abs were cut like diamonds so that ideally made up for lack of bulk.
“Me?” Duffy demanded, cutting into my internal struggle. “What the hell are you doing hiding in here? You playing with yourself?”
I might have been had he not nearly broken my arm with the side of the door.
“I’m trying to make a phone call,” I said. “There’s no customers right now. You don’t need me manning the meat slicer 24/7.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Nicky.” My entire family called me Nicky despite my name being Dominic. Never mind that it made me sound like a twelve-year-old with an attitude problem. “Running the store isn’t just about knowing the difference between capicola and prosciutto, or—”
“Bran and pumpernickel?”
Duffy mashed his lips together and exhaled through his nose. “You think you’re being funny?”
“I think I’m being hilarious.”
“You know what, Nicky?” He loved repeating my name. It was like an incantation. He was trying to summon a better son. “Go home.”
My eyes probably lit up. “Really?”
“Yeah.” His Staten Island accent grew thicker the madder he got. “Get the fuck home before I lose my fucking temper and ream you in front of a customer.”
Some of my sass upgraded to actual irritation, but instead of rising to the bait, I brushed by him and breezed out of the room. I dropped my apron on the counter. As soon as the door slammed, I heard him bellowing at whoever else would listen. Probably my poor mother. She usually had the patience of a saint, but had recently resorted to long cigarette breaks on what should have been the back patio but was now a storage unit for broken junk my father wouldn’t throw away. I didn’t know how she put up with him.
Coming back to Staten Island wasn’t turning out to be the amazing homecoming I’d pictured for the past eight years. After working on the base between tours and only returning to Port Richmond on the holidays, I’d changed a lot. In some ways I was still the big, brash blond with the smart mouth and quick temper, but in other ways I’d matured. I wasn’t Nicky anymore. I was barely Dominic. I was Staff Sergeant Costigan, who’d survived countless patrols, several ambushes, and a couple of exploded IEDs.
I’d tried for years to cling to my sense of humor despite the grimness of so many situations. In a sense, it’d worked. I was still me. Still smiling. But my smile wasn’t as quick for some people.
I couldn’t go out drinking with my boys anymore because they were still spending every weekend at Legends Bar or Flanagan’s while driving Mommy’s or Daddy’s car. Meanwhile, I struggled with the reality of working in my parents’ bagel shop like I was a teenager again. The army had sold me on all of these big dreams about what I could do with my experience running patrols in the desert, but in real life I wasn’t qualified for shit but a job doing loss prevention in a department store unless I wanted to become a cop. Which was a big fat motherfucking no.
But the job was only half of it. The worst part was that I was once again residing in the basement of the Costigan homestead. I had a little over twenty grand in my bank account—savings and money that had accrued while I was overseas—but I couldn’t use it. Not until I had a decent job. That money was my ticket to a nice apartment and the first and last month’s rent and security deposit needed to make it my own. Not to mention the fact that I owned nothing and would have to completely furnish it. Sometimes twenty Gs didn’t even seem like enough.
Mood sunk and morale low, I slowly walked home. It was only a few blocks, but I tried to soak in as much deep golden sunlight and crisp autumn air as possible. Staten Island was beautiful in the fall.
I glanced up to see one of the teenagers from the neighborhood and waved halfheartedly. Working at the corner store sucked. Living in the same neighborhood I’d grown up in? That sucked too. Everyone knew me.
Correction—everyone knew I was twenty-seven, still living in the basement, and once again getting screamed at to take out the garbage or walk the dog at six o’clock in the morning. What a catch.
My parents’ house was a railroad-style clapboard wedged between two larger homes. Instead of the American flag waving in the wind near the porch, there was an Irish flag for my father and an Italian flag for my mother—the ethnic NYC way. The place looked much smaller than it had in the past. And more rundown. But I ignored that, choosing instead to survey the seriously epic foliage surrounding the yard, and walked to the side door that led to the basement. I heard my dog barking as soon as I stepped foot inside, but I left her upstairs with my sister and went down to my basement kingdom. It had once been a pretty ballin’ bedroom for a teenage boy, but now I was a grown-ass man and it was just sort of depressing.
I plopped down on the bed. Family drama aside, I had serious shit to attend to.
Garrett had advised me to use a picture of my abs to set up a Grindr account, but while my torso was a thing of working-out-seven-days-a-week beauty, I had a hard time believing it was a bad move to go with a face pic on my profile. Meeting the eyes of a pretty girl had never steered me wrong, and I couldn’t see how it would fail with men. Although...it was also true that a face pic would put me in the predicament of outing myself to any random dude on this side of the island. Even though my hookups with Garrett had left me hungry to explore every angle of my newfound bisexuality, I’d only ever been with women in the past. I had no idea what a jaunt down Grindr lane would bring me, and I was hesitant to put my face on blast before I knew who I was talking to.
Ab pic it was.
I whipped off my shirt and stood facing the mirror. It took a few minutes to get a good angle with the right lighting, and ten minutes later I had a pretty fly profile picture that showed sculpted muscle, tanned skin, and the tattoo of my dog tags. My actual profile was another story, and I doubted anyone using a hookup app read the biographies. I’d basically lived on Tinder when on the base in Jersey, and the witty text under a picture had never been a deciding factor in whether I swiped left or right.
After naming myself “Staff Sgt”, selecting that I was interested in dates and right-now hookups, and typing “Criteria for chatting: look good and know how to spell” in the About section, I flicked over to the dashboard. The options were pretty incredible. It was a wall of torsos.
How did anyone make a choice when the profiles all looked exactly the same? Huh. This would be interesting.
Before I had kids I’d never realized how much attitude could be packed into a single goddamn word. But one “Dad” out of my teenage daughter’s mouth, and I could instantly tell whether she wanted money, wanted me to say yes, or wanted me to go to hell.
This wasn’t quite a go-to-hell, but she was irritated.
I checked my watch. They’d be out of the house in less than thirty. I could hold out until then. Hopefully. I glanced up at Chelle. “No.”
She popped a hip out and braced her hand on it in a move that was so her mother, I half expected Nadia’s voice to sass me instead of my daughter’s. “Just come. Mrs. Amspacher will be there.”
That would be a big hell no. Chelle’s dance team was having a car-wash fundraiser in the school parking lot. I’d donated sponges and soap and thought that would be my only required participation. But my daughter had a bug up her ass that her friend’s mom was interested in me, so convincing me to supervise teenagers scrubbing cars was Chelle’s latest mission.
I shifted in my chair at the kitchen table and eyed my daughter where she stood in the doorway. “Do you have enough volunteers?”
Chelle bit her lip. “Um.”
I shot her a stern glare.
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, so we do, but that’s not the point.”
I rubbed my temple. My ex-wife dated. I did not. Obviously, our kids noticed the difference, and lately Chelle had been on a crusade to get me remarried. It was exhausting. For the last decade, I’d kept my sex life separate from my job and family and that was the way I intended to keep it. They did not mix. The last time the lines had blurred, I’d lost my livelihood. So me dating the mother of Chelle’s friend? Hell no. “The point is that you’re trying to set me up with Diane, who is a nice woman, but I’m not interested.”
Her lips twitched as her eyes narrowed, and I braced for the trigger-hair temper she’d inherited from me. Instead she sighed and leaned against the wall with her hands shoved in her hoodie. “Doing something socially isn’t going to kill you, Dad.”
“I realize it won’t kill me, but I’m fine, really.”
Micah touched her shoulder. “He’s fine, Michelle. I told you he’d say no.”
She turned, her long, curly black hair blanketing her shoulders. “It was worth a shot.”
“I’m sure he likes the quiet while we’re gone,” Micah said knowingly.
Thank God they didn’t know what I actually did while they were gone at their mom’s.
Chelle was hotheaded, but Micah had a way of calming her down. Maybe it was a twin thing. Her expression softened to contrite, and she dropped her eyes. “That’s true.”
I sent Micah my best silent thanks, but he was already grabbing his overnight bag from the floor at his feet. “I can hear Mom’s car.”
“Oh shit, I’m not done packing.” She ran out of the kitchen as I yelled after her, “Don’t fucking swear!”
Her reply as she ran up the stairs to her bedroom was unintelligible. Micah stood facing me with his bag in hand.
I stood and clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks for backing me up.”
“She just doesn’t want you to be lonely.”
The front door opened and my ex-wife’s voice sounded down the hallway. “Micah! Chelle!”
Before Nadia had left Staten Island to move to Hoboken, the kids had lived with her most of the time. However, we’d been loath to relocate them to Jersey since they’d been attending Frances Perkins Academy—a highly rated K-12 school with amazing STEM and Arts programs. It was a public school, but there was a lottery system to get in, and the kids had been devastated about the idea of leaving after so many years. We’d altered our custody arrangement so they wouldn’t have to change schools. Now they were with me during the week and with their mom on weekends. I didn’t mind more time with my kids, but I sure as hell appreciated the time they spent with their mom.
I steered Micah toward the door, marveling again how fast he’d grown in the last year. At six feet, he was almost as tall as me and solid with lean muscle. He’d been working out now that I’d showed him how to strength train with the weights in our basement.
Nadia stood in the hallway, phone in one hand, thumb a blur as she swiped this way and that. She looked great as always—lean and fit in designer clothes and high heels, a complete contrast to my regular uniform of jeans and work boots. The kids had inherited traits from both of us. Looks-wise they had her deep brown skin and curly hair, and shared my light eyes. Personality-wise they’d inherited my stubborn streak and her smarts.
She glanced up as we came to a stop in front of her. “Chelle?”
“Still packing,” I said.
Nadia grinned at Micah and jerked her head toward the door. “You can go on out. Want to drive?”
Micah’s expression brightened. They’d just gotten their learner’s permits. “Hell yeah. Chelle’ll be pissed.”
Nadia shrugged, her hoop earrings swaying. “She should have been packed then.”
Micah nudged me. “Have a good weekend, Dad.”
He walked out and left me standing with Nadia. Her brown eyes coasted down my body and back again, then winked. “I see you have on your Pounding-Twink-Ass uniform of jeans and a tight black T-shirt.”
Few things made me laugh out loud, but this made me smile. “You’re ridiculous.”
“You look good.” She plucked at the shoulder seam of my shirt before gesturing to my hair. “No additional grays since I last saw you.”
“And no wrinkles! You know, that’s been your plan all along, huh? Never laugh so you don’t get laugh lines.”
“Are you finished?”
She was cracking herself up, clutching her stomach like she was the funniest thing ever. I glared.
“Oh shut up, you’re hot and you know it. Like you’ve ever had a problem finding someone to call you Daddy.”
Nadia had no filter, and it was awkward to talk about my current sex life with my ex-wife. Also, no way did I want someone calling me Daddy. “This conversation is ending now.”
She wrapped an arm around my waist in a quick hug. “Okay, fine, sorry.”
I patted her back with a flat palm. “I, uh, appreciate your support.”
She pulled back, perfectly arched eyebrows lifting. “Oh! I read this hot book the other day about a construction worker and this shy elementary school teacher. And the teacher was the top! And they did this thing on his desk—”
Nadia liked reading gay romance and enjoyed reciting the sex scenes to me in painful detail. Sure they sounded hot, but I preferred the real thing. Without the happy ending. Well, I liked happy endings but the kind where I got off, not the kind where I had to be in a fucking relationship.
I’d done that. With her. And it had ended. I wasn’t up for trying again.
I’d known I was bisexual since I was a preteen, and had fallen in love with Nadia in high school. We’d married young, had kids right away, and it wasn’t until after their birth that we’d realized we’d been better as friends than husband and wife. Maybe my career in the army had changed me, but the older I got, the closer I kept my feelings to the vest, until I’d nearly shut out Nadia. As a friend, she could handle my impassiveness, but she’d had no patience with it when I’d been her husband. That was another reason I didn’t date—there was no one to disappoint with my defective interpersonal skills.
Chelle came down the stairs, her bag dragging behind her. “Hey, Mom!”
“Hey, baby.” Nadia hugged her, then shoved her toward the door. “Your brother is already in the car. Let’s go.”
“Wait, does he get to drive?” Chelle’s voice was a screech as she hurried out.
Nadia rolled her eyes then turned to me when Chelle was out of earshot. “So, I’d like to talk to you about meeting Anderson.” She watched my face closely, but I kept it blank. “It’s getting serious between us now. He has his own children, and he’s a great father. I trust him. And I want you to trust him too.”
The flare of heat burning through my blood had nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with overprotection. Apparently I didn’t hide it well, because Nadia sighed.
“He’s not like Jake.”
The name still made me flinch a decade later.
Him on his knees. My hand palming his head. Blue eyes looking up at me.
The sound of my office door opening.
She patted my chest. “Luke.”
Nadia rarely introduced guys she dated to the kids, mostly because she knew how antsy it made me, but that changed if she got serious with someone. Even so, meeting her boyfriend sounded worse than pulling out my fingernails. “Yeah. Sure.”
“Really? You’re not going to protest?”
“Let’s just get it over with.”
“Gee, you sound thrilled.” She gave me the dreaded Look. “You ever going to introduce anyone to me? Or the kids?”
She did that thing where she bit the inside of her cheek, which she always did when she was upset. “Luke, you’re not active anymore, you can be with whoever—”
“It’s not about that. It’s about the fact that other than you, I have shit taste in people, okay?”
“That is not true. You’re acting like everyone will do what Jake did—”
I shuddered. I hadn’t thought about my ex-boyfriend in a long time, which was odd considering our disastrous breakup was a big reason I lived my life the way it was now. “This has been working for a decade. I have a sex life, not a dating life, and that’s completely separate from you and the kids and my job.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Great. Now she looked upset. I tried to soften my voice. “I realize that, but I’m getting older, Nadia. I like my life. It’s simple. Okay?”
“Don’t call yourself old. We’re the same age.”
I snorted. “I said I was getting older.”
She still looked sad but not on the verge of tears. “I just worry about you.”
“I appreciate it, but I’m fine.”
Her smile was strained. “All right, if you’re sure.”
After another brief hug and wave, she headed to the car. I closed the door, sagging against it. Shoving her conversation out of my head was step one in unwinding. I didn’t want to think about her or Jake or anything. Because I was alone. For an entire weekend.
Despite Nadia’s teasing about pounding twink ass, she was not wrong. I scheduled it like clockwork, which was how I kept each part of my life in separate boxes. Every weekend when my kids were gone, I hooked up. I was already a little turned on knowing what was to come, my pulse beating faster, my jeans tightening in the crotch.
That was one thing about Staten Island—there was no shortage of beautiful men who liked a thick cock up their ass. And thankfully a lot of them weren’t looking for anything but a quick fuck.
I grabbed my phone and opened up the Grindr app. My dashboard was a smorgasbord of torsos in various sizes, shapes, and colors. I bypassed some guys I’d met before because repeat hookups and forming attachments was not my thing. A couple messages came in, but I ignored them. I liked initiating the conversations.
My eyes caught on a guy named Staff Sgt, and I paused. Once upon a time I’d been a Staff Sergeant too. Long ago. In a life that didn’t even feel like mine anymore. I shook off the thought and focused on the task at hand. A task that would result in me getting my dick sucked.
Staff Sgt’s pic was of his torso, and even though this entire borough was full of gym rats, his washboard abs and dog tag tattoo stood out like a beacon. He probably had a dozen messages in his inbox right now.
His profile indicated he was interested in “right now”, so meeting was a possibility. I glanced at his interests. Look good and know how to spell.
When I found my lips forming something like a smile, I messaged him.
Luke: Hey, nice pic.
I paused. Normally I’d say, got a face pic? But Prince Abs probably expected full sentences.
Luke: Do you have one of your face and ass?
I sent it and waited.
StaffSgt: In the same pic? Dude that’s hard. I don’t do yoga.
A sound filled my kitchen and it took me a minute to realize I’d laughed. I’d fucking laughed. I quickly schooled my face. No laugh lines.
Luke: No, not the same pic.
StaffSgt: Oh, okay. Give me a minute.
Ten seconds later, another message came through.
StaffSgt: Wait, can I see a face pic? I mean, I’m hard just from your profile pic so I’m hoping the face matches.
My profile pic was my torso. I regularly worked out and wasn’t ashamed of my chest hair that was more gray than brown. I’d started graying early and now, at thirty-nine, all the hair on my body was shot through with silver. I sent the face pic I always used, one I’d taken at the beach with my kids. Aviator glasses hid my eyes in the picture, but Nadia said it made me look fuckable.
StaffSgt: Damn. You’re hot. Okay, hold on.
The picture came ten minutes later, and I nearly swallowed my tongue. Staff Sgt was fucking Captain America.
He was lying on a pillow, probably on his bed. His blond hair was messy, and his blue eyes were gorgeous. His full lips were turned up in a smirk that I ached to wreck. I wanted him. My mission was to get him in front of me—at my feet, on his hands and knees. I didn’t give a damn. I crossed my fingers, eyes, and everything that he wanted to bottom. He didn’t send a pic of his ass, but with that face I didn’t need one.
Luke: Nice pic. What are you into?
He didn’t reply for a minute, and I got antsy.
StaffSgt: I like to run. Trying to do a half-marathon soon.
I stared at my phone in disbelief. I wasn’t asking about his hobbies. I wanted to know if I could fuck him. Either this guy was punking me or…
Luke: You’re over eighteen, right?
StaffSgt: Wtf? Of course. Do you not see the tat of my tags? I served eight years, bruh.
I sagged in relief and skipped giving mental energy to the fact that he’d served during the time when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had ended.
StaffSgt: So, what are you into?
Normally I’d say “top” and move on to the specifics of how fast I could get his pants around his ankles, but he wanted to chit-chat.
Luke: I like to cook.
As soon as I sent it, I cringed. Everyone liked to cook. This was fucking New York.
Luke: And take care of my yard.
After the message sent, I banged my head on my table. Now I sounded like I was two steps away from a retirement community. Christ. I was a landscaper by trade, but I didn’t have to share about my goddamn yard.
StaffSgt: I guess food and plants are cool.
This was unsexy as hell.
Luke: You wanna meet?
StaffSgt: For a drink?
I warred with myself. Say yes and hope for the best or let him know upfront what I wanted? I went with honesty.
Luke: Sure we can get a drink but then I want to fuck you.
An entire minute passed before he responded. I knew because I counted every second.
StaffSgt: Sounds good. Tell me where to be and when, and I’ll be ready.
This time, my smile was so big it hurt. Game on.
Meet Megan Erickson
Megan Erickson worked as a journalist covering real-life dramas before she decided she liked writing her own endings better and switched to fiction. She's a multi-published author with Avon, Berkley, and Entangled. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids and two cats.
Meet Santino Hassell
Santino Hassell is a writer of queer romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.