I’ve never done anything like that before, have I? I have to make it very clear: this book is different from my previous books and it’s not going where you’re expecting. But, it’s still me so it’s going to be beautiful and feel like real love. Promise. It might feel like the realest, deepest love story I’ve ever written, by the time you reach the epilogue.
I’ve been vague and weird since I began writing Beautiful Animal because I didn’t want to have to explain or defend it. But I did want to warn or prepare my readers that this wasn’t going to be remotely like a Lake Cliff or an Alfie and that there are some heavy moments in store for us. It’s so lovely and worth it, though. Carys Channing is, to me, a dream of a romance hero and possibly the best I’ve ever written. Darby Randolph is also a dream in that he’s so much like many of us in his head and his heart that he easily becomes our passport to follow Channing on an adventure we can all learn and grow from. Here’s an excerpt from Beautiful Animal that gives us a revealing peek at our heroes:
She did it slowly. She took her time, tracing the edges and the dip in a bright shade of coral that glowed against the warm brown of her skin. It was a bright shade of coral and Carys marveled that there could be thousands and thousands of names for something he’d never give a damn about. He’d never felt even the slightest temptation to kiss one, but lipstick on a woman never failed to arouse him. It was just the lipstick, turning Carys on as he pretended to browse perfumes so he could watch the young woman at the MAC counter. She knew he was watching and her pout grew fuller as her eyes held his and she became even more deliberate as she traced her lips, taunting him.
It was the flash of color, so vulgar and distracting in the dusty dim of his father’s waiting room. Carys was small then and she didn’t see him with his knees pulled to his chest, sitting in the corner, by the water cooler. He peeked over his book as she came in, smelling of jasmine and cigarettes, a siren in bright red with her purse tucked under her arm. Carys was entranced as she took out a mirror and meticulously lined her lips in ruby red lipstick then inspected her neatly styled hair. He felt a tickle as she rubbed her lips together and wondered why. Why did they do it? Why did it tickle?
The door opened and Carys ducked behind his book as his father greeted his patient then invited her into his office. A low murmur and a soft laugh and Carys stayed still until the door shut and the lock clicked. He turned and slid out of the chair and tiptoed to the door and into the hall. He quietly eased open the door to the storage room and slipped inside. He pushed aside the box next to the vent and crouched so he could see into the office.
“That’s it!” His father whispered encouragingly as he made a mess of her hair and held her face against the front of his trousers. Carys couldn’t see everything but he knew what they were doing. He knew why she was gagging and he knew what his father was doing when he bent her over the tufted arm of the leather sofa and Carys knew what her keening moans and the rough grunts meant. He also knew that his father was done when he gave her ass a gentle pat and stepped back so Carys quietly slid the box in front of the vent and returned to the waiting room. He was hiding behind his book again when his father opened the office door and murmured dryly about her next visit before sending her on her way. Carys wondered why she didn’t care that her lipstick was smeared all over her face or her hair was a mess as her driver helped her into the car and drove her home to her husband. Why did they do it? Why did it tickle?
“I’ll take it,” Carys told the girl at the MAC counter. Her name was Aja, according to the tag on her white blouse. She set one hand on her hip and her neck pulled to the side, inviting him to study her name tag closer but his eyes followed the little black tube of lipstick in her other hand.
“This?” She asked coyly and raised it so she could chew on the cap. Carys’s grin was wicked and laced with lust as he enjoyed the phallic shape of the tube with her lush coral lips. He didn’t care about her tongue or her teeth as she nibbled suggestively. “Is there anything else…you want?” Her voice dropped so it was low and husky and her pupils were wide as she leaned over the counter. Carys clicked his teeth as he pulled his wallet from inside his coat.
“Just the lipstick, please,” he said and her face fell and her shoulders drooped. “Not because you aren’t stunning!” He reassured her quickly and set his elbow on the counter as he held up his card. “I’m very gay,” he whispered and her eyes widened as her jaw hung.
“Oh…! Ok!” She nodded quickly and was flustered as she spun and rang him up. “Do you want me to help you match your foundation or…?”
“I don’t wear makeup. I just like lipstick,” he explained simply then thanked her and went to find Darby.
There was an extra kick of arousal as Carys wandered out of the department store and through the crowded mall. Carys could fuck just about anyone and enjoy it because he generally got off on what happened inside of a man, instead of his body or his face. Arousal for Carys lay in the bliss and relief he found in his partner’s eyes, in the knowledge that he was in the presence of something deeper and far more sensual than just physical sex. It was the quenching and the rebalancing that did it for him. For the times Carys didn’t care about his clients and couldn’t touch that higher plane, he turned to lipstick.
Oh, but he wanted Darby Randolph. Carys wouldn’t need the lipstick with Darby in the limo but he was a creature of habit and he was already at the mall. He was relaxed as he strolled but warmth swirled in his groin and Carys hummed softly to himself as he recalled his surprise when Darby opened the door. It was rare for Carys to be starstruck or nervous, and certainly not with a client, but he audibly gasped when Fawn called and told him Randolph had made an appointment for the evening. Art and photography were one of Carys’s passions and he had a few of Randolph’s photographs in his homes and followed his work for magazines like Time and Shout.
Carys thought he’d be older, eccentric, unkempt…have a paunch. He wasn’t expecting Darby to be tall and broad shouldered or have big brown eyes and that wild, dirty blond hair. It fell around his jaw and Carys became warmer as he remembered Darby’s tattooed hands sweeping through his hair as he became panicked or when he laughed. His arms were covered with tattoos and Carys was still distracted by a glimpse of ink under Darby’s shirt as he bent over.
He did his homework and studied Darby as he would any new client, despite already being a fan, and Carys wanted him before he even opened the door. It was rare for him to be starstruck or nervous but it was even rarer for him to feel immediate physical attraction so Carys was momentarily stunned and legitimately swooned over Darby’s doe-like eyes, tattoos and bashful smirk. Carys’s delight and anticipation turned to concern when he saw the state of Darby’s life and he was sincerely disappointed when he realized there’d been a misunderstanding. He wanted to taste and touch and fuck Darby in every possible way but Carys was even more determined to save him. There was a starving, lonely soul trapped in there and Carys wanted to help him find his way back. Carys found Darby where he told him to wait, by the merry-go-round. He was taking pictures of an elderly couple sitting in a small coach, pulled by a team of pastel-colored horses.
“What’s their secret?” Carys asked quietly as he stepped behind Darby. He froze as he watched the couple through his camera. The older man teased his wife with an ice cream cone and Darby smiled as she laughed.
“They’re still on their first date,” Darby murmured and went back to shooting.
“Isn’t that beautiful? Fifty, sixty, maybe as much as seventy years of happiness,” Carys noted. Darby mumbled something in agreement as he drifted to his right and Carys was fascinated as he followed him around the merry-go-round.
“Now, it’s a different story, with the kids in line, waiting to get on the ride,” Darby explained when he finally lowered the camera and stepped back. He nodded at where they started, on the other side, then waved at the crowd. “It was just them before and we could tell they’d gone back in time. They didn’t change or move but we did and our perspective changed so now there’s a line of kids, waiting to get on the ride of a lifetime,” he said, dazzling Carys. Who broke you, you brilliant, brilliant boy? Carys wondered and vowed he’d make Darby whole. Darby shrugged and turned away from the merry-go-round and raised his brows at Carys. “So, what’s the plan? Are we shopping for a client?” He guessed, shaking Carys from his thoughts and he sighed as he checked his watch.
“I have what I need and Newt should be along soon,” he said then waved at the exit. He pushed his hands into his pockets and idly toyed with the lipstick as he fell in step next to Darby. “You should put in a fresh roll and be ready to go. You’ll be shooting inside a limo and you’ll have to work fast,” he warned as they stepped out into the crisp coolness of an early fall evening. The sky was full of oranges, purples and pinks and Darby took a few fast shots before his hands swiftly wound and flicked at buttons, levers and caps. “Here we are,” Carys said as a black limousine came around the corner and cruised along the sidewalk. “Ready?” He asked and Darby nodded and his neck stretched curiously as the car parked and a driver jumped out to get the door for them. Carys stifled a weary sigh then dove through the door and fell into the seat next to Newt and waited as Darby stuck his head in to make sure it was safe. Darby gave Newt a quick nod, acknowledging the smaller, much older man’s pinched indifference before he slid onto the seat across from them. The door shut and Carys cleared his throat as he unbuttoned his coat and got comfortable as the car pulled away from the curb.