Read Off the Page Online

Authors: Ryan Loveless

Off the Page

Off the Page

 

 

S
KIRMISHING
winds battered the shutters against the manor house’s windows and emitted an awful caterwaul, but in his room the dashing ne’er-do-well and rogue Lord John Loring stared at the single red rose that had been left on his bed. He lifted it with thumb and forefinger, his touch gentle for a man of his strength, history, and supposed character. He paused to reflect on this as he examined its petals with callused fingers. He did not expect, after murdering his enemies by the dozens, that he still had that quality in him that would allow him to caress a flower without doing it damage.

Christian stopped typing and reread what he’d written. He deleted ‘dashing ne’er-do-well and rogue.’ This was his third book featuring Lord John, so if the readers didn’t know he was a handsome devil by now, he’d been doing something wrong.

“Might as well include his birth certificate and resume.”
He glanced around to make sure no one had heard him muttering to himself. The motion was done out of habit. His wife had packed up her suitcase and driven away a month before. She’d sent a letter, not an email, to give him the news. “It’s not you,” it said. “It’s Lord Loring. How am I supposed to compete with him? When you’re ready to be with someone real, let me know.”

The sorry thing of it was, he couldn’t tell Cindy she was wrong. Christian had created Loring using a mixture of all the traits he desired in a lover. He was stalwart, strong, and passionate; he had a good, if hidden, sense of humor. He never hesitated to jump into battle, be it on the field or in a pub, and he was loyal to the death to those he loved, just as he commanded loyalty in others. And yes, maybe Christian was a little in love with him, but he didn’t see anything wrong with that. Wasn’t an author supposed to love his characters?

In the first book, Loring had gone on a spree of revenge following the murder of his wife and child, riding his steed Razorback across the Cotswolds, sword in hand, hacking down the nobles responsible. In his second book, Loring was almost hanged for his activities in the first book, but at the last moment reprieve came in the form of a masked man. At the start of book three, Loring was at home brooding because Christian hadn’t decided what adventure to send him on yet.

When he told his agent this, she’d rolled her eyes (not that he could see her, but the tone of her e-mail heavily implied it) and said, “Love is the greatest adventure of all.”

What she meant was, “Get him laid.”

But Loring deserved more than a quick tumble. Christian wanted to give Loring someone who would pursue him to slowly and painstakingly win him over. Christian needed a heroine.

He anticipated her background would involve a long and complicated lineage, a mislaid will, and a firm moral center that she would maintain even while sucking Loring’s cock, or in the parlance of his genre, “tasting the sweet nectar of her stalwart lover’s noble manhood.” He called her Christina. It didn’t occur to him until he wrote her first scene that he was self-inserting. However, once he reread it, the fact stood out like a flashing sign. He toyed with changing it, but something stopped him. It felt honest in a way his writing never had before. He wrote under a pseudonym, so it wouldn’t be obvious to his readers. For his friends and family, though, there would be no question. When he thought about it that way, it looked like in addition to this being the book in which Loring finally got some, it would also be Christian’s coming out. He was almost thirty years old. He figured it was about time.

“Fuck!” His new roommate’s voice burst through the barricade of the door.

Christian jerked backward at the shout. Getting up, he sprinted downstairs to see John glaring at the stove and rubbing his hand.

"I thought you were still at work," Christian said. Hoping John hadn’t heard him talking to himself, he hurried to the burners and turned them off.

“Got off early. It burned me,” John said, using his abused finger to further incriminate the stove.

Christian headed for the sink. “Yeah, I’m sorry.” He wondered if John was the type to sue. That would be his luck. “I should have warned you it’s pretty touchy.” He gave John a wet towel, which John wrapped around his hand. “Are you all right?”

John nodded, but he still looked perturbed. “I was trying to make coffee. We got a new flavor in at the shop today. Roasted hazelnut with a hint of raspberry. It sounds gross, but it tastes great.”

Christian relaxed. No grudges. Good. “That sounds good. We do have a pot. You don’t need to boil anything.” Christian dug into the back of the cabinet until he found the old standard coffeemaker that had been shoved out of sight upon the espresso machine’s entrance. Cindy had taken that, too. Not that he could begrudge her that since it was
hers
, but he did think it was unfair that she got it
and
the dog.

“Well, now I feel stupid.” John slumped into a chair and propped his elbow on the table, looking morose.

“Don’t. You want me to get it?” Christian asked.

“I was going to bring you a cup so you didn’t have to stop writing, and now I’ve gone and interrupted you, and you probably won’t be able to get your concentration back and—”

“My concentration will be fine.” John's rambling was endearing. It made Christian feel fond of him.

John raised his head from his hand and ventured a smile. “Seriously, Christian, go back upstairs. I’ll stop whining in a second and bring you a cup.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.” John’s eyes looked wet, so Christian guessed he was putting on a brave front. The stove had burned Christian a few times too, and it hurt like hell.

“All right. Two sugars, no milk.”

“I know.” This time, there was a spark behind the smile. It made Christian smile right back.

“Thanks.” Turning to the door, Christian went back upstairs, his mind full of new thoughts. Maybe Christina could make breakfast for Loring but mess it up somehow. Burn herself on the cast iron stove and call upon Loring for help. He would tenderly wrap her wrist and then….

Loring’s fingers, rough-hewn from years hefting a sword and drawing back a bow, scratched across the fine skin of her inner wrists, sending a message to her ready loins that there was promise here, and she parted herself unconsciously, offering herself to him even though he could not see through the folds of her skirts that she was his for the taking.

He finished wrapping the gauze around her wrist. She could not restrain herself from breathing, heavy with desire, as he raised her petite hand to his unexpectedly soft lips and kissed her fingers. “Good as new, milady.”

 

C
HRISTIAN
had advertised for a roommate after Cindy moved out because it was a big house and he had a mortgage. Plus, it made
noises,
and he didn’t like being alone. But the ad didn’t say, “Famous Author of Lord John Loring Series Seeks Roommate.” It said, “Wanted: Roommate to share 3 BR ocean-side home with owner. Quiet types appreciated.”

He got more responses than he’d expected, but none seemed right. And then John came along, looking exactly like Christian’s imagined hero, every six-foot two-inch dashing bit of him. When he came close enough to shake hands, though, Christian saw that his dark hair was dyed. Judging from his light freckles, he was a natural strawberry blond. His nails were painted in black polish, which had started to chip. A bit of a Goth punk, Christian guessed. Not completely like Loring, then. But his handshake was firm and his smile—
holy shit
—Christian could melt right into that. They exchanged first names, and Christian showed him the available bedroom, which was on the first floor with an adjoining bathroom. John checked the taps, asked if he could redecorate, and upon receiving Christian's affirmative answer, pulled out a checkbook.

Christian made him show his ID the second he saw the name on the check.
John Loring.
The last thing he needed was to have
Misery
reenacted in his own home. John produced it, though, and rocked on his heels while Christian peered from the tiny picture of a light-haired, awkwardly smiling twenty-one year old man to the dark-haired confident twenty-six year old god standing in front of him. "This is actually you?" he asked, staring.

"Mom always said I was her little butterfly." John grinned and held his hand out for the ID. "So, since you got as far as carding me, does that mean I get the room?"

When Christian told him why he’d asked to see ID, John thought it was hilarious. "I’m a barista, and I sing in a band. Literary impersonation isn’t really my thing."

"Just an amazing coincidence, I guess." Christian wondered if his continued staring made John uncomfortable, but he couldn’t stop.

“Fuck coincidence. This is fate,”
John said. He looked delighted.

Christian didn’t find out until after John moved in that he’d read the books and loved them, which made him a great roommate because he kept quiet as a result.

“If my being quiet means you write faster, that’s fine by me. You need to get that guy laid.”

“You’ve been talking to my agent,” Christian said, and John laughed.

 

C
HRISTIAN
stared at the folded pile of fluffy towels sitting on the bathroom shelf. He touched them as if to check their existence. They were
warm
.

“Oh yeah, I did the laundry,” John said, coming up behind him.

Turning, Christian’s eyes flicked down John’s bare chest as he realized that John had one of the towels wrapped around his waist. He wondered why John had decided to come upstairs after his shower instead of getting dressed in his room, which was right next to his bathroom. Stopping in to say he’d done the laundry didn’t seem enough of a reason. Christian snapped his gaze back up to John’s eyes. It
almost
looked like John was laughing at him.

“Uh, wow.” He hoped John would interpret his speechlessness as shock about the laundry being done and not as having anything to do with being inches away from John’s chest, which was still glistening wet. John's distribution of water-darkened strawberry blond chest hair made a futile attempt to hide the freckles that washed across his skin.

John slipped past him into the bathroom. Opening the medicine cabinet, he took out the sunscreen. “Yeah, I thought after I fucked up dinner last night, I should do something.” He stepped back into the hall and stretched the arm that held the bottle over his head to rest it there, shifting his hip so the towel dropped a fraction of an inch.

Christian’s mouth went dry as a drop of water traveled from John’s armpit down his side to settle in the curve of his hip, pale skin stretched taut from John’s position. He sucked his lips into his mouth, trying to work up saliva so he could speak. “It’s not your fault. Who knew that french fries were so flammable when applied directly to fire?” Christian asked.

John’s mouth quirked up into a half-smile. “Yeah, and clumsiness is inherited. I’ve been using that one my whole life.” He dropped his arm. Christian watched with regret as the sliver of exposed hip disappeared beneath the fluffy yellow towel. “I’m off to the beach. You want to come?”

Christian glanced toward his office. He infused as much regret as he could into his response. “Deadlines.”

John shrugged like
yeah, been there
. Even though, as far as Christian knew, he hadn’t. “After you’re done, we’ll go out and celebrate. If you want, I mean.”

“Oh, sure,” Christian said, surprised. “Yes.”

John smiled. Christian stared after him as he walked away. Broad shoulders stretched atop an expanse of back that looked like it carried the strength needed to swing a sword and cut down villains while his thighs squeezed around his galloping mount. Christian swallowed, mouth dry again. How would he feel if he could lave his tongue up the indented line running from the crevice of John’s ass to the nape of his neck, to catch sweat and remnants of ocean water, to find an unfreckled spot and test its taste against its darker counterpart…? Christian shook his head and backed into the bathroom. Good time for a shower. Definitely.

 

L
ORING
leaned against the kitchen’s doorjamb, not bothering to hide his amused smile as Christina rushed around the table slapping down flames with the edge of a towel. Noticing him for the first time, she looked up in exasperation. “This never happened at home with the servants.”

“Milady, I have never seen one set a meal on fire with such aplomb,” he said, coming away from the door to catch her by the apron strings and tug her back into his arms. Holding her by the waist with one hand, he unhooked the tankard of water from the wall and flung it at the table.

“That was for the washing,” she said mournfully and then, with more dejection, looked upon the table and added, “The duck is ruined.”

He turned them together, placing her back against the wall. “I do not have duck in mind.” He tasted her mouth, thrusting his tongue inside when she opened for him. Her arms went around his neck. He crouched, caught her round the back of her smooth thighs, and lifted her up.

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