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Joshua Miles has spent his early twenties spinning his wheels. Working dead-end jobs and living at home has left him exhausted and uninspired, with little energy to pursue his passion for graphic art. Until he meets Gemma Henare, a vivacious out-of-towner from New Zealand. What begins as a one-night stand soon becomes a turning point for Josh. He can’t get Gemma out of his head, even after she has left for home, and finds himself throwing caution to the wind for the first time in his life.

It’s not long before Josh is headed to New Zealand with only a backpack, some cash, and Gemma’s name to go on. But when he finally tracks her down, he finds his adventure is only just beginning. Equally infatuated, Gemma leads him on a whirlwind tour across the beautiful country, opening Josh up to life, lust, love, and all the messy heartache in between. Because, when love drags you somewhere, it might never let go—even when you know you have to say goodbye.


EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Where Sea Meets Sky

Karina Halle

BOOK SERIES: 

Today, I am sharing with you the first two chapters from Where Sea Meets Sky by the super talented Karina Halle. You do remember Josh, Vera’s hot, tatted brother from Love, in English, right? Well, this is his book and it’s a love story that “perfectly captures the existential angst of one’s early twenties with raw wit, fresh insight, and true feeling”. It’s travel-laced, just like Love, in English, only set in New Zealand this time around, and it promises to be an angsty, sexy adventure. And while reading Love, in English and Love, in Spanish beforehand is highly recommended, this book is a spin-off from Vera and Mateo’s story, and as such, it can be read as a standalone.

 

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Excerpt

Chapter One
Vancouver, Canada
Josh

I get an erection the moment I first lay eyes on her. She looks like no one I’ve ever seen before. Tall, curvy, with thick superhero thighs and a round ass, showcased in black Lycra that hugs every slope. Her big, high breasts and small waist are accentuated by her white tank top. Her body has just enough meat for me to grab a good hold of, and I imagine running my hands over her hills and valleys. I want to imagine more than that, but I’m horny as hell as it is and my erection is already inappropriate, considering I’m in public and all.

She finally looks my way, aware that I’ve been staring like an idiot. She catches my gaze, her eyes twinkling a vibrant yellow, her pupils large and wet. She smirks at me, causing a shower of glitter to rain from her cheeks, and brushes her purple hair over her shoulder before she bends over to slide a gun out from the harness strapped to her boot.

I try not to stare into the blinding sun of her tanned cleavage. I try to think of something clever to say to her. Something along the lines of, I think I know who you are, but shouldn’t you have one eyeball instead of two?

But it’s she who comes over to me, gun comfortably in her hand, and stops only a foot away. When she smiles at me, I see fangs.

Now I’m really confused. At least I know what to say now.

“Who are you?” I ask her, happy that my voice is hard and deep. I hope it makes her think of sex.

She raises a perfect brow, and up close I’m struck by how bronzed her skin tone is. I don’t think it’s makeup. Not many people in Vancouver manage to keep their tan into the fall.

“You don’t know?” she asks. She has an accent. I immediately want to say she’s from England but that’s not it. It’s not Australia either.

“I thought I did,” I say. “But your eyes and fangs are throwing me all off.”

“I’m vampire Leela, from Futurama.”

I grin at her, happy that I was half-right. “Shouldn’t you just have one eyeball then?”

She reaches into her other boot and effortlessly pulls out an eye mask. It’s painted white, with a black pupil in the middle. She waves it at me. “I put it on for photos but I can barely see out of it. I walked into a wall, twice.” She raises two fingers for emphasis. “I figured I’ll just be a vampire the rest of the time.”

I can seriously listen to her talk all day. “I don’t remember any episode where Leela turned into a vampire.” Maybe it hinted at my secret nerd-boy status, but I watched the cartoon Futurama religiously.

She wets her lips for a moment and I try my hardest not to adjust my boxer briefs underneath my costume. “I like to think she’ll become a vampire in future episodes. Or maybe she was one once and Matt Groening scrapped the idea. I believe characters have more to their lives than the lives we are shown.”

“Kind of like people,” I say, hoping I come across as somewhat profound.

She gives me a slight nod – indicating I’m not as profound as I thought – and looks me up and down. “I just had to come over here to tell you you’re the best-dressed guy here. I mean, that must have taken some effort.”

I grin at her. “Game of Thrones fan?” I ask.

Another sly nod. “Of course. But who doesn’t love Khal Drogo?”

“Last year I dressed up as George R.R. Martin,” I tell her. “People kept mistaking me for Ernest Hemingway, even though I was carrying a bucket of fried chicken around with me and had a pillow stuffed down my shirt.”

“So you went for something sexier…” she says as she lets her eyes trail over my body, which automatically makes me stand up straighter. I haven’t left much to the imagination. Jesus sandals, weird billowy pants that I think some granola dude dropped off at the thrift store, plus a leather corset over my abs and leather cuffs on my forearms. My upper body is bare and covered with bronzer and streaks of blue paint, and I found a black wig with a long braid down the back. It kind of works. I guess if you don’t know the show, I look like some sparkling warrior who wears too much eye makeup.

“Hey, girls can’t be the only ones to slut it up at Halloween.”

She raises her brow.

And once again, my foot goes in my mouth. “I mean, not that you’re dressed slutty or anything, I just mean–”

She laughs. “Don’t worry about it,” she says with a wave of her hand. “Everyone here is dressed slutty. That’s what the holiday is about, isn’t it? Pretending to be someone else? This is actually my first Halloween, so I’m feeling a little overdressed. Or super nerdy.” She looks around her at the drunk girls—referees and fairies and nurses in wonderfully-indecent outfits—and shrugs.

“I wholeheartedly disagree,” I say, trying not to ogle her all over again. I pause. “Wait, your first Halloween?”

“First proper Halloween. The North American kind. We don’t really celebrate it the way you guys do.”

I cross my arms, insanely curious now. “And who is we?”

“New Zealand,” she says. “I’m from Auckland.”

“Nice,” I say, “I was going to ask if you were from New Zealand.”

Her lips twitch and she gives me a shake of her head. “No you weren’t.”

“Well, I definitely wasn’t going to ask if you were from Australia. I know how you’d feel about that.”

For a moment her features look strained, then it passes. “Kind of like if I asked if you were American.”

“Exactly.”

“So,” she muses and steps closer. She lays her hand on my bicep and I suck in my breath. “Are the tattoos real?” She removes her hand and peers at her palm, which is streaked with bronze shimmer shit. “Because your tan sure isn’t.”

Damn, I hope I’m not blushing. I clear my throat. “The tattoos are real, I assure you. I needed a bit of, um, help to get that Dothraki tan going on.”

“And this?” she reaches for my face and am frozen in place while she gently fingers my goatee and beard. She grabs the end of it, which I had attempted to braid, and gives it a little tug.

“Ouch,” I say, though it doesn’t really hurt. It turns me on instead. Big surprise.

“So it is real,” she says. She sounds impressed.

I shrug. “I had a month to grow it in. I say, it’s all or nothing. But tomorrow everything is getting shaved off.”

She frowns and lets go. “Pity. I love a scruffy guy.”

I can’t help but smile. “Lucky for you, I’m scruffy for at least twelve more hours.”

Her mouth twists into a wry smile. I realize I’m being kind of forward with her, but at the same time she just felt my bicep and fondled my man hair. Then again, I’ve never been very good at reading women. Half of them seem to love my tats and black hair and piercings; the other half seem to think I’m a delinquent from Skid row.

I’m wondering what she thinks about me when I realize I don’t know her name.

“I’m Josh, by the way,” I say to her, holding out my hand.

She gives me a surprisingly firm shake in return. “Gemma.”

“That’s a beautiful name,” I tell her. Even though I’m sincere, I’m aware that it’s very much a pick-up line.

Gemma snorts and it’s absolutely adorable. “Right. Well, in New Zealand, Gemmas are everywhere.”

“But I bet they don’t look like you.” Okay, so now I’m totally swerving into pick-up line territory. I push it further. “Can I buy you drink?”

And there the question sits, floating between us along with the haze of pot smoke that hangs in the air. The rejection might come fast, or if I’m lucky, not at all. But it’s Halloween, I have a three-beer buzz going on, and I’m feeling pretty good.

Still, when she nods and says, “Sure” I feel my whole body lift with relief.

We make our way through the crowd to the makeshift bar set-up in the corner. It’s a house party we’re at, one I try and go to every year. My friend Tobias rents the whole house with three other dudes who go to the University of British Columbia nearby, and every Halloween they go all out with mind-f*ck decorations, elaborate costumes, and a haunted house in the basement. This year they even applied for a liquor license since last year ended with a police raid and all of us running for our lives down the street.

While we get in line behind a guy dressed as a one-night stand (complete with a lampshade head) and a girl dressed as some Disney princess, I ask her, “So, Gemma from New Zealand, how did you hear about the party?”

She fixes her yellow eyes on me and I wish she could take out her contacts so I could see their real color. I’m assuming they’re brown, based on her skin tone, and I feel like I could get lost in them if she’d let me.

“At the backpackers I’m staying at. I made friends with the guy who works the front desk,” she says, and I can’t help but feel my entire back bristle. A guy? Of course she’d be here with a guy. “He invited me and another backpacker but I haven’t seen them all night.” Her eyes sweep the room then come back to me, sparkling knowingly. “Not that I’m surprised; she’s from Holland and has legs up to here.” She makes a slicing motion with her hand across her neck. “He obviously wanted to shag her.”

“Maybe he wanted to shag the both of you,” I say and then try not to wince.

She gives me an exasperated look but still smiles. She has the cutest dimples. “Maybe. But I don’t like to share. My parents never taught me to play very well with my toys.”

“Sup, Drogo,” the bartender says. I swivel my head and eye him, slightly annoyed at being interrupted. He’s dressed as a hot dog.

“Sup, dog,” I say. “Is that costume supposed to be a hint or something?”

He nods, completely deadpan, which only makes it funnier considering there’s just a small cut-out for his face in the wall of wiener. “It’s a complete metaphorical representation of my penis, if that’s what you mean.”

Gemma laughs. “You Canadians talk about your dicks a lot.”

I casually lean one arm against the bar top. “Well, have you seen our dicks? It’s a point of pride for our country.”

“No, actually, I haven’t,” she says and a million clever follow-ups flow through my head. Unfortunately, half of them are serious propositions so I don’t dare say them.

“Oh really,” the hot dog says, beating me to it. “You know, that can be arranged.”

“I’m sure it can,” she says sweetly but her eyes are telling him not to bother. “Could I get a beer please? None of that Molson Canadian stuff, though. Do you have any craft brew?”

The hot dog plucks a bottle of Granville Island Winter Ale from the ice chest and plunks it on the counter. “Seven dollars.”

I sigh and order one for myself, fishing out my money from a small leather satchel around my waist that I thought maybe Khal Drogo would use when he wasn’t slicing people’s arms off. “I thought the point of a house party was to have cheap booze.”

He shrugs, apparently hearing that complaint all night. “Blame government regulation. Still better than being stuck at some bullshit club downtown.”

He has that right.

“Mojo” by Peeping Tom suddenly comes on over the speakers and the rolling beat of one of my favorite songs gives me another boost of confidence. I’m about to suggest to Gemma that we find somewhere to sit, maybe in another room, when she asks if I want to go to the roof deck.

I can’t help but oblige.

“It might be still raining,” I tell her as we squeeze through the crowd of people and up the carpeted stairs to the second floor. “It’s almost winter here, remember.”

“Nah, I love the rain,” she answers.

“Then you should seriously consider moving here.” Suddenly there’s a bit of traffic near the door to the roof and she stops in front of me. I’m pressed up against her ass and it’s like I’ve gone to heaven. It’s so firm and round that I’m starting to think that she’s magic. Of course, I’m also growing harder by the second and I know, I know, she can feel the magician’s wand.

I cringe inwardly. I really don’t want to be one of those guys. In fact, I start thinking that perhaps I need to apologize for my public displays of erection but she actually presses her ass back into me. It was subtle but it was there.

Before I drown in over-analysis of the moment, the foot traffic moves forward again and suddenly there is space and we find ourselves up on the flat roof of the building. The air is sharp, cold, and damp, but I have enough alcohol in me that I don’t mind the chill. It’s stopped raining. There are a few dripping lawn chairs scattered about and scantily-clad girls shivering in their costumes, trying to puff down their cigarettes or joints.

In the distance, you can see the dark mass of English Bay peppered with tankers and the night-skiing lights of Grouse Mountain. The glass high rises of downtown Vancouver twinkle and set the low clouds an electric shade of orange.

Gemma grabs my hand and leads me to the edge of the roof, away from everyone else. Her grip is strong but her hand warm and soft, and before I can give it a squeeze, she lets go. She leans against the railing, not caring if her arms get cold and wet, and stares out at the view.

“I do have to say, I always thought Auckland one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but Vancouver has totally blown it away,” she muses wistfully, her eyes roaming the cityscape.

“How long are you here for?”

She sighs. “Not long enough. Ten days.”

“Did you go to Whistler?”

She smiles. “So I could be surrounded by Aussies and other Kiwis? I was there for a day. Nice place. But we have mountains like that back home.”

I ask her if she was in other parts of Canada and she tells me she originally got a work permit because she wanted to live and work on Prince Edward Island out east.

I laugh. “Really? Why? You a fan of Anne of Green Gables?”

In the dark, it’s hard to tell if she’s blushing. “Actually, yes.”

“That’s cute.”

“Shut up.” But she’s smiling and brushing her hair off her shoulder. “Anyway, work was hard to find there. I guess all the summer jobs were filled, so after a while I had to move on. Went to Nova Scotia, Quebec, Toronto.” I scrunch my nose at the last city and she rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, you guys with your rivalry. Then I went down into the States for a few months. Boston, New York. Flew to New Orleans, drove through the Southwest, then onto California. Disneyland.” Her eyes light up at that one. “San Francisco. Took a backpacker bus up the Oregon coast, spent some time in Seattle, and now I’m here, flying out tomorrow.”

“And you did all of this by yourself?” I ask incredulously.

She purses her lips and nods. “Yeah. Why not?”

“You sound a lot like my sister,” I say.

She frowns. “That’s not exactly what you want to hear from someone you find attractive.”

I stare at her for a few beats, making sure I heard that right. I try not to grin, but I can’t help it.

“Attractive?” I repeat.

“Oh, I’ve gone and given you a big ego, haven’t I?”

“Sweetheart, I already had a big ego,” I admit, still smiling. “And I don’t mean I think you’re just like my sister, Vera. It’s just that she went overseas to Europe last year—Spain, actually—by herself and now she’s living there. It’s just…” I try and think of the word, “brave, that’s all. Everyone else I know goes and travels in groups and pairs.”

She shrugs. “People can be a pain in the ass.”

I nod. “True. But I think it takes some sort of courage to go overseas alone. Don’t you get lonely?”

For a moment, I swear she looks lonely. Then it’s gone and her expression is blasé. “Not really. I like my own company and I meet heaps of people this way, people I probably wouldn’t have met if I were traveling with someone. Sometimes you…wish certain people were around, and sometimes you wish you could share a moment or two with someone else, but f*ck, that’s what Instagram is for.”

I raise my beer at her. “Well, let me just tell you that I think you’re a pretty awesome woman, Gemma.”

She raises her brow and her bottle at the same time. “Woman? Not chick, not girl?”

“You’re all woman to me, as far as I can see,” I say.

She clinks her bottle against mine. “It’s the tits, isn’t it?”

My eyes drift over her. “It’s a lot of things.” The truth is, I’m torn between wanting to tear her clothes off and f*ck her senseless or wanting to sit somewhere quiet and talk to her the whole night. It’s a curious war I’m fighting, but I’d be happy with either victory.

“So, you,” she says, turning around so she’s leaning back on her elbows, one boot kicked up onto the other, “tell me about Josh. All I know is you have a sister called Vera who lives in Spain, you watch Futurama and Game of Thrones, and you have a big ego and a nice dick.”

I choke on my beer and quickly wipe my mouth. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who told you about the dick?”

She takes a polite sip of her drink, her eyes playful. “You did earlier. You said it was a Canadian thing.”

“Right,” I say, quickly recovering. “Well, that’s where the ego comes from.”

“Uh-huh,” she says. “And what do you do? You know, work-wise?”

My smile falters. This part is where I kind of suck at life. A big dick can only get you so far. “Oh, I just kinda work. Jobs.”

“Oh, jobs,” she says. “I’ve heard of those.”

I sigh inwardly. “I’m a line cook at a restaurant.”

She cocks her head. “Oh, so you want to be a chef?”

“Not really,” I say, but what I mean to say is not at all. “It’s just something that pays the bills.” The minute I say that, it’s like I’m lying, because while I do pay rent, I pay it to my mother and it’s nowhere near as much as what most people pay. The dirty truth is, I live at home and there’s no woman alive who finds that sexy.

“So then what do you like to do, if that’s not it?”

Here’s the thing. On the surface, Joshua Miles is a charmer. I’m tall, have a good body, nice tats, and a dick that I know how to use. I can be shameless but funny enough, which usually works to my advantage with the ladies. But aside from the fact that I work as a line cook and I live at home, I’m also an aspiring artist. A graphic artist. I mean, my dream job is to either work for a place like Marvel or DC illustrating their comic books and graphic novels, or to just create my own one day. But the moment you tell a girl that you like to draw comic books, they look at you like you just took a shit in front of them.

But I don’t know Gemma, and since she’s leaving tomorrow I don’t have a lot to lose. Besides, something tells me she’s different from the others, and it’s not just her accent.

“I’m an artist,” I tell her, deciding to cut out the aspiring crap. “Graphic design, graphic art. I sketch, I paint, lots of digital work. I’m in the middle of illustrating my own comic book, though I just have half the rough drawings complete and none of the dialogue. I’ve even applied for art school but I’m still waiting to hear back.”

She’s silent for a moment and I peer at her cautiously, expecting to see her eyes glazed over. Instead, she looks extraordinarily happy. Her smile is breathtakingly wide and it’s such a sharp contrast to her ever-present smirk.

“Really?” she exclaims. “That’s so awesome!”

“It is?” I thought she’d tolerate it, not actually think it was cool. Goddamn it, who just dropped this dream woman into my lap?

“I used to paint,” she says and her smile winds down. A wash of sadness comes across her brow and I have this sudden urge to kiss her and hope it brings that smile back.

I wait for her to elaborate, but she doesn’t. “Hey,” she says, brightening up. “Come on, I’ll buy you another drink.” She quickly downs her beer and I can tell she’s forcing some cheer into her face. I can’t say no to another bottle, though.

She grabs my hand again, but this time she’s in no hurry to let go. Neither am I. Just like that, a beer is the last thing on my mind. This woman seems to be everything I’m looking for and I only have her for one night, if I even have her at all. I want to bring her into a dark corner and let my tongue caress hers before sliding it down her neck. I want to feel her smooth, tight body beneath my hands and make her smart mouth open with a moan. Then I want to glide my fingers down her pants and make her moan louder. I want her eyes to stare at me with lazy lust and beg me to do my worst.

But there are no dark corners on this roof deck, so we make our way through the sweaty mess of people again. I immediately miss the relative privacy and the invigorating chill of the outdoors and make up for it by having a cold beer, and then another.

We find a small living room at the end of the hall where we sit down on a couch and watch a few people play Rock Band in the near dark. I’m buzzed and the room is hypnotizing with the sounds and lights and her warmth beside me. I put my hand on her thigh and try to talk to her, but it’s too loud and the dark is too inviting, too freeing. I go to whisper in her ear, to ask her if she’s having a good time, to ask her what time her flight leaves, to ask her anything at all, and I find my lips grazing her earlobe. I’m losing the war and losing it fast.

She tastes far too good for me to stop. I tease the rim of her ear with my tongue to taste her even better.

She doesn’t shove me away. She doesn’t flinch. She just turns her head so my lips are next to hers, and for one moment I hesitate, my lips brushing lightly against hers, feeling the heady desire build to a breaking point. Her breath hitches in anticipation.

Then I kiss her. It’s sweet and soft and so gentle that all the blood in my body doesn’t know where to go.

Then it hurts.

“Ow,” I say, pulling back slightly and rubbing my fingers over my mouth. What the hell?

“Sorry!” she whispers harshly, flushed from either embarrassment or arousal, and she quickly removes her fangs from her mouth, tossing them over her shoulder. “I forgot they were in there.”

“Good thing we didn’t start off with a blow job,” I joke.

“No,” she says deviously, and her hand goes on top of my erection. My eyes go wide. “That was going to come second.”

“Was?” I repeat, feeling myself get harder under her touch. I can’t even stand it.

She bites her lip coquettishly and once again I am wondering how the f*ck I got so lucky. Must have been the eyeliner and dick comments.

I grab her face in my hands and kiss her, not gentle this time, not slow. It is fast and feverish and her mouth is even sweeter than the rest of her. She’s a good kisser, but then again so am I, and I sink into this dizzy well of lust that I’m not sure how to get out of. So I don’t even try.

We make out like that forever, my tongue exploring her mouth, f*cking it hard and soft all at once, followed by my lips on her neck and her hand stroking my shaft. I think the last time I had a handjob over my clothes was in high school, but now there’s something so f*cking erotic about it that I have a hard time not coming. Maybe it’s the fact that there are five other people in the room, although they’re all concentrating on playing “Helter Skelter.” Still, voyeurism is a total turn-on.

I quickly remember that I had put a condom in my satchel because I figured that pretending to be a ripped, violent warrior might just be walking lady porn. I pull back, both of us breathing hard. “Want to find a room?” I say to her, my eyes glued to her wet, open mouth. Oh god, did I need those lips to finish me off.

She nods and gets up. I do the same, tucking myself up into the waist band of my briefs and making sure I’m not about to poke anyone’s eye out. I take her hand and we leave the room and start exploring the hallway, though I have to press her up against the wall at least once and drive my tongue into her mouth and myself into her hip. I put my hand up her shirt and feel her soft skin through her thin, lacy bra, her nipples intoxicatingly hard. I want nothing more than to pinch them between my teeth and roll my tongue ring over them.

When I’m able to pry myself off of her again, we find a door that’s locked. I’m not one to try and bust doors open, not even for the sake of hot monkey sex, so I take out my credit card and slide it up between the door and the frame. I breath out a sigh of relief as it clicks open and we stumble into a small billiards room that has been stuffed to the walls with furniture and breakables, all put away for the party.

I close the door behind us and lock it.

Chapter Two
Gemma

I love his accent.

It sounds softer than the stereotypical Canadian one, but it’s still foreign to my ears. Though Josh could speak with a Klingon accent and he’d still be every woman’s fantasy because he’s dressed as a big, beefy warrior. Who knew guys with eyeliner could be such a turn-on?

While he locks the door behind us, I lean back against the pool table and stealthily admire him. This billiards room turned storage facility is the most light I’ve seen him in all night and I take advantage. He’s tall, probably six foot two, which is perfect because I’m fairly tall for a girl. He’s nowhere near as thick and muscly as the meatheads I work with at the gym, but his body is toned and sculpted. It looks good – real good. If he’s anything like most people in this city, he’s earned it swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, mountain biking, whatever. But he’s definitely earned it.

And under all the bronzer and the eyeliner and the tribal facial hair, I can tell he’s absolutely gorgeous. Full lips that bear the mark of a lip piercing he’s taken out, soulful blue eyes the color of pale winter skies, and strong cheekbones that have a Nordic or Eastern European quality to them. He manages to look both manly and pretty in his get-up—not an easy feat. His tattoos help. They’re mainly black and white but wonderfully artistic and intricate, covering his arms and shoulders. I wonder where else they are.

I wonder if I’m brave enough to ask.

I’m not normally this forward with men I’ve just met, but Josh is pretty forward himself. He has this ease and sexual confidence that I rarely see in guys my age, like he knows more than he leads on, and I’m falling for it hook, line, and sinker. He’s a bit sexually aggressive too, but in the way that I feel comfortable with. There’s an air of respect coming off him, and I know that if I were to decide I don’t want to do this, he’d totally understand.

But of course, I do want to do this. I wanted to the moment I set eyes on him. His lopsided smile, touched with a bit of arrogance, his eyes that were cheeky and playful – it all drew me in like a lion to the kill. I wanted to play with him. I wanted to have fun.

need to have fun. What a way to say goodbye to North America.

“Do you play pool?” he asks, gesturing to the table.

I shake my head and as he walks over to me it’s impossible to ignore the butterflies that are swirling in my stomach. It feels like they’re escaping, fluttering along my arms, making my nerves dance. I can’t help but smirk to myself. After all this time traveling, it’s my last day that finally makes me feel the most alive.

“What’s so funny?” he asks, his voice lower now. It’s deep and rich and has this way of washing over you. I’m reminded of how incredibly turned-on I am and I momentarily squeeze my thighs together to quell the throbbing there.

“Nothing,” I say. I don’t dare admit anything. He’s still a stranger.

He places his hand on my cheek, cupping my face. I want to close my eyes and lean into his touch but at the same time I’m too afraid to look away. His lips are so perfect, his mouth so inviting. Those beautiful blues are hooded with desire, all for me.

“I don’t believe you,” he whispers, inches away. Underneath the somewhat flowery scent of the bronzer he’s got all over him, he smells fresh and masculine, like he uses some kind of woodsy cologne or shower gel. It’s not Lynx like my ex used to spray all over himself, thank god.

I don’t have time to come up with a witty remark. He kisses me and the world around us slips away. His tongue is smooth but urgent, the tongue ring stimulating, and our kiss builds with desire until my whole body feels like it’s being licked by the sweetest flames. I’m sucked under, in a riptide, into the undertow, and it’s dark and I’m tumbling and I don’t know which way is up but oh god, how I don’t want it to stop. I could drown in his mouth. I could sink into him forever.

I barely know this guy. I’m leaving tomorrow and I’ll never see him again.

But I want to drown in every moment we have.

I want him to f*ck me with all he’s got, until I’m left breathless, washed up on shore and deliriously spent.

It’s at least a promising start.

He gently slides my purple wig off of my head and tosses it behind me onto the pool table. He smiles—no, grins, like he won the lottery—and tousles my long dark hair loose and over my shoulders.

“F*ck, you’re hot,” he says softly, running his fingers through the strands. It feels amazing.

“So I should rethink the purple hair?”

He only smiles and pulls my singlet over my head. I’m glad I’m wearing matching underwear today: intricate peach lace. It’s a bit too flimsy for my breasts—the girls need a lot of support—but that doesn’t matter the minute I can feel the heat of his fingers through them. I lean my head back and close my eyes as he peels down the lace, revealing my nipples, which sharpen, exposed to the air, to his touch.

Josh brushes them lightly with his thumbs, causing me to shiver. I let out a loud moan that sounds deafening in this haphazardly-arranged room. But before I even have a chance to be embarrassed, he places his mouth on my nipples, teasing them with his teeth, running the cool steel of his tongue ring over them. I moan again and I can feel his smile against my skin.

“I’m going to make you come so hard,” he murmurs, cocky as all out.

“Just so you know, I don’t come on command,” I tell him. My voice is husky with desire, it doesn’t even sound like me. “I don’t care what books you read.”

“I won’t be saying a word,” he says before he starts flicking me with his tongue. Jolts of sweet agony shoot through me. Oh, sweet Jesus, this boy is good.

Just when I think I’m going to have an orgasm from him biting and sucking on my breasts alone, he slides a hand down my pants. I know I’m soaked when he finds me and he groans at the discovery. He quickly pulls my pants down toward my boots, the underwear next.

I have a fit body but I work hard for it. I have to. I’m a personal trainer and a bit of a fitness buff. But even so, there’s always been a part of me that blushes and feels insecure when a guy sees me naked. All my insecurities run through my head—my thighs are too muscular, my shoulders too wide, my butt needs its own hemisphere. I could go on.

But tonight, I don’t hear anything in my head. No doubt, no cringing, no bashfulness. I feel like I don’t need to apologize to Josh for being me. He’s too busy making me feel like I am all he’s ever wanted. His desire not only fuels my own but gives me confidence. Halloween is all about pretending to be someone else, yet for once I feel completely comfortable, naked and exposed; there’s nothing to hide.

Not really.

Josh brings me back around by trailing his fingers up the insides of my thighs. My skin shivers in anticipation and I lean back on the pool table, my cheek resting against the soft green surface. I’d had a couple of one-night stands before; one drunken night on the beach in Napier, the other after a night out at a sweaty club in Auckland’s Viaduct. Neither guy went down on me. Hell, neither guy even really knew I was there. They came; I didn’t—end of story. Sometimes it had been that way with my ex, too.

But Josh is different. He lowers his head and kisses down along the ridge of my hipbones. I can’t help but arch them up toward him. There’s a moment of anxiety as I feel his breath over my landing strip, tickling what hair is left there. I wonder if he’s going to like the way I taste, the way I feel.

The moment his steel-laced tongue grazes over my clit though, the worry is gone. He’s good, very good, and soon I’m coming, moaning louder than before. The room fills with the sound but I’m adrift on a bobbing raft, face to the sun, cool water beneath me. The orgasm takes me away somewhere beautiful until his chuckle slowly reels me back in.

I open my eyes and raise my head to look at him. He’s grinning and undoing his pants but keeping the leather corset around his waist. I kind of like that. He’s staying in character, the opposite of me.

“I told you I’d make you come,” he says. He slides his pants off and I’m caught between wanting to look him in the eye and at his large erection. It’s hard to focus on one thing. I think I manage to do both without going cross-eyed but in the end the dick wins. He was right about that, too.

“I never doubted it,” I say. I go to sit up, more than ready to lay my lips on him and give him that blowjob I promised, but he’s bringing a condom out of his bag and tearing it open. He throws the wrapper and the bag to the ground and then slowly rolls the condom onto himself. For some reason, there’s nothing sexier than watching a guy put on a condom; the sight of a man’s hands on his dick is a pure lust-inducer.

And despite just coming, the lust is pouring back into me again, like a dam unleashed.

The side of his mouth quirks up into that crooked smile. “I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I’m dying to be inside you.”

I have a feeling that “presumptuous” is his middle name.

He puts his hands around my waist and pulls me to him. My legs wrap around him while he starts to guide himself inside. It’s intimate, perhaps more so than I’d like. The lights are on and he stares right into my eyes, and for a moment I want to look away, to break the tension, the intrusion. I’m already exposed and he peers into me like he’s uncovering every last rock. The things I keep hidden deep down. It’s mildly terrifying.

But I don’t look away. Instead, I tighten my hold around him, my calves flexing.

He grips the small of my back while he thrusts in, finding purchase. I haven’t had sex for months, and despite how turned on I am, it hurts for that first moment. I close my eyes and he slows.

“Are you all right?” he asks breathlessly. He reaches up and pushes a strand of hair off my face. His tenderness is jarring.

I quickly nod and smile. I am all right. I’m more than that; I’m flying. He kisses me and I relax into him, allowing him in further until I’m so beautifully full. The pain is gone and the pleasure builds with each controlled movement he makes. There is symmetry in our actions, as if we move as one, as if I’m not precariously perched on the edge of a pool table at some party. We don’t move like strangers.

I hold him tight, he holds me tighter, I pull him in deeper, he pushes in further. He thrusts, I rush to meet him. We give and take until I should be close to coming. I move my hand between us, running my finger over the tip of his shaft before helping myself out.

He grins down at my hand and slowly raises his hooded eyes to meet mine. “I’m not sure if I want to watch or if I want to help.” But after a few sweaty moments of near bliss, he moves my hand out of the way and places his thumb on my clit. His lips go to my neck where he bites and sucks his way to the smooth spot behind my ears. He picks up the pace, thrusting harder, faster, and I can barely hang on.

He whispers, grunts, moans things in my ear. He tells me how good I feel, how bad he wants to come inside me, how much he wants me. He wants more. I want more.

Just when I feel like he’s about to come, his breath hitches, he frowns in deep concentration and control, and I let go. His thumb is magic and we come at the same time. His nails dig into my back, the heels of my feet dig into his. My body rides the wave again, rides him over and over until I’m drowning. I’m sweaty and sated and he steals my breath for a few moments before I come back down.

When I do, I realize we’re embracing each other, our foreheads pressed together as we breathe in unison. A drop of sweat rolls off his face and onto mine and he opens his eyes to look at me. They look soft. Delicate. There’s a wound there, something deep and dark and lost inside of him.

Does he even know it’s there?

Then he wipes at his face and laughs. He’s a mess of running eyeliner and smudged bronzer. Somehow it makes him look even more handsome. It makes me forget that I ever saw him vulnerable.

I wish I had more time with him. I wish I could get to know the real Josh.

But New Zealand is waiting for me. Home.

Eventually we pull apart—hot and sticky. I am absolutely covered in his bronzer, and my hair and makeup are a mess. Halloween is officially over now.

“Where are you staying?” he asks me as he carefully pulls the condom off.

“The Hostelling International on Thurlow,” I say as I jump off the pool table. I quickly get dressed, turning my back to him. Now that the haze of sex has worn off, I’m feeling like a wild animal without cover. Exposed.

When I turn around, he’s watching me, smiling. His pants are on and his wig is crooked, and with half his body bronzer wiped off he looks like a tawny zebra.

“What?” I ask, trying not to feel self-conscious.

“I don’t think we’re done with each other.”

I raise my brow. “Okay…”

“What time is your flight?”

“Three in the afternoon.”

“How about I get you a cab home?”

I frown. “I can get my own cab.”

He rubs at the braided goatee on his chin. “How about I take you home. I shave this thing off. We do that,” he gestures to the pool table, “again, in a bed. You stay the night. In the morning, we’ll take it from there.”

I admit, it’s tempting. But slightly irresponsible. “It sounds a bit too risky when I have a thirteen hour flight tomorrow.” I’m thinking it over though and he’s studying me, waiting for me to say yes.

And I do, because I want to. It feels right. He’s right. We aren’t done with each other.

“How about I stay for a while,” I tell him, “then cab home before the sun rises. I’ll feel better. I have a knack for missing planes, trains, and automobiles.”

He bites his lip and nods. “Excellent film, by the way.” He comes over to me and kisses me softly on the lips. “Let’s go.”

We leave the billiards room and step out into the party. There are people milling about in the hallway—a woman dressed as Luigi from Super Mario, a guy dressed as Ferris Bueller—and though we totally look like two people who just shagged themselves silly, everyone’s too drunk to even make a remark about it.

Hand in hand, we weave through the party and into the night.

* * *

It takes us a long time to catch a cab—no surprise since they’re in such high demand tonight. It seems that the province has just as strict drink-driving rules as we do back home.

We walk for blocks through boisterous suburban streets with houses decorated with all things spooky, listening to firecrackers going off and the subdued beat of music pouring from random house parties. In the distance, police sirens wail. In a way, it’s almost romantic. It has to be at least one a.m. and though the world around us swirls with life, it feels like we’re the only two people left alive.

I was smart enough to bring a jacket with me—Halloween in the southern hemisphere happens in the spring, not autumn—but even though the air is damp and chilly, I’m still high from the orgasm and subdued by the beer; it keeps my nerves alive, my blood warm.

Walking beside Josh helps, too. Though he doesn’t have a coat or anything, he still radiates a kind of heat that draws me to him. I want to know more about him, soak him all up. I want to talk to him about his art but I’m afraid doing so will bring me down, and I can’t afford to be that way. Not now. Art used to be everything to me. Now it reminds me of too much loss.

So we talk about travel instead.

“Have you ever wanted to see your sister overseas?” I ask, remembering what he said about her being in Spain.

He nods. “Yeah, for sure.”

“Would you go traveling anywhere else?”

He seems to think about that for a moment. “Probably somewhere else in Europe. It depends what she has in mind.”

“But would you go alone somewhere?” I press. When he doesn’t answer I say, “I think you should. It will open your eyes.”

He looks at me curiously. “Has it opened your eyes?”

The truth is, I’m not sure that it has. Not in the way I wanted it to. So I smile at him and say, “You should come to New Zealand.”

He laughs. He doesn’t realize I’m not saying it to be polite. I’m half-serious. He should go there. Everyone should.

“I’d love to,” he says. “But you know…”

I can hear him finishing his sentence in his head. Work, possibly school. Lack of money. Life. There’s always something. There had always been something for me, some excuse not to go, until suddenly it was really my only choice.

“Well, I’d show you a good time.”

He squints at me. “Am I showing you a good time?”

I shrug. “Sure.”

He reads my bluff. He stops in the middle of the sidewalk and puts his hand behind my head, pulling me to him. “Bullshit,” he whispers before kissing me hard. I almost go dizzy, swirled in desire all over again, like melting soft-serve.

We only pull apart when we hear the sound of an approaching car and the air around us dances in the sharp glare of headlights. It’s a cab and he immediately raises his hand to flag it down. He grabs my arm and gives me a look. “I’m showing you a great time.”

Of course, he’s right.

We get in the cab and make out in the back like horny teenagers, all groping and hungry kisses. It’s not long before he tosses money at the annoyed driver and we stumble out of the cab and into the front yard of his house. It’s tall and narrow and even in the dim streetlights I can tell it’s immaculately kept.

“Wow, you live here?”

He looks away and hesitates. “I live with my mom,” he says.

“Are we going to wake her up?” I ask quietly as he ushers me in first through the front gate.

He shakes his head, getting out his keys. “Don’t worry, my room is far away from hers and she sleeps like a rock.”

I can tell he’s embarrassed. I know he probably feels bad that he lives with his mom but if Vancouver is anything like Auckland, the rent prices are hard to afford. I don’t live with my mom, but I do have a flatmate.

As if he hears my thoughts, he turns to look at me just as he sticks his keys in the front door. “It’s an expensive city,” he explains. His face is shadowed and he probably likes it that way. “I pay my mom what I can but if I want a tiny, shitty studio apartment close to work, I have to shell out at least a thousand bucks a month.”

I briefly put my hand on his shoulder. “Hey, I’d do the same.” Little does he know, if it weren’t for my job and the fact that it pays well, and my roommate, I wouldn’t be able to afford Auckland either. He also doesn’t know that I’m not one hundred percent sure I have a job to return to when I go home.

We go in the house. Josh moves his tall frame through the dark with ease, as if he’s used to coming home in the odd hours. I wonder if he goes out a lot, what places he goes, what girls he sleeps with. The guy has skills and he didn’t get them from practicing on himself.

We go into his bedroom and the door softly clicks shut behind us. He locks it and flicks on a small lamp that barely illuminates the darkness. He’s got a few framed Melvins and Tomahawk posters on the walls, a messy stack of vinyl beside an aging record player. There’s an empty beer and coffee mug on the window sill and a small bookcase overstuffed with what look like second-hand paperbacks. I see some titles—Asimov, Goodkind, Gaiman, alongside Chandler and Hammett. Sci-Fi and detective novels. Interesting.

In one corner are an empty easel and a paint-splattered toolbox. Against the wall, a tower of graphic novels and comic books flank battered sketchbooks and canvas still in their plastic wrapping. He has a small work desk and a large Mac monitor that looks like it’s about to topple over at any minute. A few photos and magazine tear-outs are pinned to the wall behind it.

Aside from the fact that his queen-sized bed is unmade, it’s not too messy. It’s comfortable and has a bit of controlled chaos going on.

“It’s not much,” he says in a low voice. “But it’s home.”

Home. Tomorrow I’ll be heading home. After so long, the concept seems strange. It makes me both wistful and anxious. I want to go but I also want to stay. If only I could be in two places at once. If only I could be two people at once.

“You okay?” he asks. He takes a step toward me and puts his hand at the back of my neck. It’s a possessive move but his hand only massages me as he stares at me intently. “Sorry it’s such a mess,” he says, misreading me.

I give him a quick smile. “It’s all good. Sorry. Just…” I don’t want to get into it. I’m here to have some more fun with him, to prolong the last night, not to get into the sordid details of my life. “I was just tired for a second. Too much beer, I guess.”

He looks a bit disappointed but says, “Well, let’s get you to bed then. No harm in sleeping for a few hours. I’ll set an alarm.”

I grab his arm before he can turn around. “Sleep is for pussies,” I tell him. He’s taken aback but he likes it. Before he can say anything else, I drop to my knees and tell him to take off his pants.

He wastes no time, and neither do I.

There is no sleep to be had this night. After a blow-job and a couple of sweaty rounds of sex on the bed and off, when we finally crawl under the covers for good, we stay up talking until the sun comes up.

I tell him about where I work in Auckland, where I live, what my favorite activities are. We have a similar taste in music—90s grunge, experimental rock—so I tell him about some up-and-coming Kiwi bands. I tell him a bit about my mother and aunt, who run a winery outside of Napier together, and when it comes up that my dad died when I was a teenager, he doesn’t press or ask questions. I’m glad for that. My bad hand starts to tremor at the memory and I have to quell it before he notices.

Josh doesn’t talk as much, which surprises me at first. He’s so easy-going that I figured he’d be just as open. Instead he listens. I mean, really listens. It’s both good and bad. Sometimes I don’t want people to listen that closely. But when you’ll never see the person again, I suppose it shouldn’t matter.

He tells me about the art school he wants to get into, hoping that he can get a loan from either the government or his father to pay it off (his parents are divorced). He figures he has to keep working as a line-cook but I encourage him to try getting another job, in a field he likes, if he’s going to cut down his hours anyway. It’s easy for me to say—it’s not my rent, not my bills—but he doesn’t discount it either.

Just before dawn cracks open the sky, he goes into the bathroom. When he emerges, his face is clean-shaven, his makeup thoroughly washed off. In his tight grey T-shirt and loose, black pajama pants, he’s both hot and adorable and extraordinarily pretty. It’s sexy as all out, and I find myself wishing he lived in Auckland. Oh, the fun we could have.

But it’s time to go.

“I wish you could stay another day,” he says as I slip on my gross clothes, all smelling like pot and beer. “I’d take you out for dinner tonight.”

I shoot him a sly smile. “Like, a date?”

He returns the smile easily. “Definitely a date. Bit of food, bit of sex.”

“I do like both those things.”

“At the very least, I could take you out for breakfast,” he suggests and he’s hopeful.

I want to say yes, I really do. But this is what it is: a one-night stand. We had our fun—it was essentially the best sex of my life, multiple times—and that’s all it was going to be. That’s all it could be.

“Thanks,” I say, quickly braiding my hair back, “but I’ve got packing to do. I may even have a nap since we didn’t sleep much.”

“We didn’t sleep at all.”

“No, we sure didn’t.”

We stare at each other for a few moments and the space between us seems to fill with the unknown. We’re both waiting to say something but I don’t know what it is.

“Let me call you a cab,” he says eventually, plucking his cell from the desk. I thank him and in minutes the cab calls back to tell us it’s on its way.

He walks me out of his room and down the hall. I can hear someone in the house stirring but he doesn’t try and hurry me out or hide me.

Outside, the air is sharp, bitingly cold, and a layer of mist hangs over the half-bare trees, their branches dark from the damp and reaching into the grey like skeleton hands.

I’m shivering and Josh has his arms around me to keep me warm. I lean back into his chest and close my eyes for a moment, just enjoying his embrace, the feel of his hard body behind me. It makes me feel safe and protected. I could stay like this forever.

But the cab crawls down the road and stops beside us, and Josh is letting go. I shove my hands in my jacket pockets as he leans down and kisses me, soft and sweet.

“Thank you for the best Halloween ever,” he says.

“Thank you for the sex,” I tell him and he laughs.

“You’re welcome. Anytime.”

I reluctantly walk to the cab but he’s suddenly ahead of me and opening the door. He’s got good manners, too.

I slide on in and he hesitates at the door. “Have a safe flight.”

I nearly laugh. Why do people always say that? It’s not like I have any control over the plane. “I will try my best.”

He grins and nods then shuts the door. I wave my fingers at him and he lifts his hand in goodbye. I try and commit his beautiful face to memory but I know I won’t forget him anyway.

I tell the driver where I’m going. To the hostel.

Then I’m going home.

Home.

Home.

* * *

Home comes faster than I think. I go through the rest of the day in a daze, too afraid to nap in case I miss my flight, which turns out to be uneventful. I even manage to doze off for a few hours despite being cramped between the window and a fidgeting child. The copious glasses of cab sauv that Air New Zealand serves like candy certainly helped.

When I arrive in Auckland, it’s like I’ve gone back in time instead of going forward. I can’t explain it except that everything feels old. I feel like I don’t belong here in my own country.

But the feeling doesn’t last long. After I get my ratty backpack and duffel bag and go through customs, my old life comes crashing toward me. In the arrivals area I see him among a sea of people, the man I had wished I’d shared every sunset with. He’s holding a single red rose, his dark blonde hair even shorter than before, his skin deeper than ever. He’s waiting for me.

All of a sudden I realize that the last four months did nothing to change me. I am still the same as I was before I left.

I had gone overseas in hopes of finding myself. In this moment, I know I hadn’t been looking for anything.

I had been running away.

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Love in English - Recommended Reading Order

(apart from the first two books in the series which are a duet, these are all standalone stories with interconnected characters)

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