Illusion of Life
Cover Art: Winterheart Design
Release Date: November 3, 2016
NOTE: This is an expanded, revised version of a previously published work. The title and publisher have changed.
Newly single Tyler Williams ought to be out partying every night, sampling the buffet of gay men Toronto has to offer. Carefree and casual has never been his style, even less so now that he’s a tenure track history professor approaching thirty, but he has a better chance of finding Mr. Right in a club than on an app.
Distraction from his dismal love life comes in the form of a housewarming gift – a life sized portrait of a gorgeous naked man, complete with a mystery.
Maxwell Friedland, a Depression-era artist, went missing shortly after posing for the portrait, presumably murdered by his lover. Finding out more about Maxwell and his disappearance plays right into Tyler’s love of both history and murder mysteries, but before long, Tyler finds himself obsessed with the man in the painting. It’s not long before he starts treating Max like a silent companion and sounding board. Max doesn’t judge or tell him he’s a failure at dating or cheat on him. Everything he learns about Max makes him yearn for a man long dead.
Trapped in the painting by a curse, Max has spent decades longing for oblivion. Until Tyler. Tyler is everything Max would have wanted for himself, and it doesn’t take many of Tyler’s one-sided conversations for Max to start caring more than he should. For all that Tyler has friends and family, there’s a deep-seated loneliness in him, one that Max wants to erase. But the thickness of canvas trapping him might as well be miles of stone for all that Max could be with Tyler for real.
Falling in love might be the worst curse of all.
Excerpt -- WARNING: Content may be explicit, sexual or offensive. Read at your own risk, and only if you are over 18
Mandy’s glossy black hair was normally tamed, but the humidity had it swirling about her head in reckless waves, much like Ty’s own did on a daily basis. Most people thought they were twins, but Mandy was three years older than his almost thirty.
“Hi guys.” Mandy swiped Ty’s beer from his hand and took a swig.
“Hey!” Ty tried to take the bottle back but Mandy danced out of the way. “There’s more beer in the fridge.”
“Then go get one.” Mandy stuck her tongue out at him.
“So help me, sis, you do that again and I’ll grab that tongue,” Ty threatened as he walked the short distance to his new kitchen. This apartment suited him much better than his previous modern suburban atrocity. In spite of the weird dimensions from cutting one old house into six apartments, he loved his new place. For a change, he could now walk to work or the subway, and he’d never have to drive in the winter again. The place was perfect.
“Ooh. I’m so scared.”
“Bring me another one, Ty,” Craig called out.
Ty smirked and handed bottles around, having anticipated the request. Craig, a big, sexy Italian cop, had been his best friend since grade school, and Ty knew what he wanted. If the man weren’t straight, he’d be perfect.
Mandy leaned down and kissed Craig on the cheek. “How are ya, big boy?”
Craig shrugged. “Same old, same old.”
“Okay, Tyler, show me around, quick-quick, because I got you the best housewarming present. Although this house doesn’t exactly need any more warming. Did you get a break on the rent because your apartment’s in hell?”
Craig snorted from his corner of Ty’s brand-new couch. “Air-conditioning, my ass. June’s too fucking hot to move.”
“I just turned on the A/C a few minutes ago. And I wasn’t going to break my lease just for you, Craig.” Ty turned a mock glare on both of them. The truth was, sticking it out until the end of his lease had been monstrously difficult. Preston had fucked him in every room and on every surface, before finally fucking him over. By Christmas, everything had gone to shit, and he’d wanted to run. He was no longer in love with Preston, if he ever had been, but the memories of his foolishness were hard to handle.
“Can you pop down to my car and bring up Tyler’s housewarming present?” Mandy dangled her car keys at Craig.
Warmth spread in Ty’s chest. They might torment each other like any other siblings, but he and Mandy had always been close. She’d stuck by him when his parents hadn’t, but he still hadn’t expected a housewarming gift.
“What does it look like?” Craig asked.
“You won’t be able to miss it.” Mandy pasted on her version of a mysterious smile. Ty reminded himself to avoid that one—it made her look like a demented imp, and might look similar on him.
This better not be a setup. His sister had super-shitty taste in gay men. ‘Course, so did he, as evidenced by Preston. They probably shared a genetic defect.
“So, show me the place. I want to see the den of loving.” Mandy waved her hands imperiously.
“The what?” Ty knew he shouldn’t ask, but if he didn’t, Craig would as soon as he stopped choking on his beer.
“Hey, when you signed the lease on this place, the master bedroom was all you could talk about. I figured you were planning on hosting crazy orgies or buying a sex slave or something.”
Blood rushed to his cheeks. Mandy was the crazy one, judging from her extremely uncensored stories, which had gotten even more graphic after she married Craig’s partner on the force. Jake would have been helping with the move too, but he’d dislocated his shoulder a week ago in a tussle with a suspect and couldn’t do any heavy lifting.
“A sex slave?” Craig finally caught his breath. “Yeah, that sounds like our Tyler.” The sarcastic tone was a bit insulting.
Were they saying he was repressed? He’d had a boyfriend and his share of one-night stands. So what if his share could be counted on one hand? He was single, one hundred percent out of the closet, and ready for lots of sex—as soon as he got up the courage to go out and get some.
“Why are you both picking on me?”
“Mmm, just because you’re you, little bro. C’mon. Show me the sex cave.”
Ty let loose a chuckle. Sex cave. That had a nice ring to it.
After a quick tour, they stood in the master bedroom.
“Oh my God, Ty, this place is awesome! I thought it was weird you weren’t making the second bedroom into an office, but you’ve got tons of room here. And when you mentioned a whirlpool tub, I thought you were talking about a bathtub with jets. You could swim laps in that damn thing. I’m insanely jealous. Put a fridge in here, and you won’t have to let your sex slave out of this room for days.”
“Shut up about the sex slave!” Embarrassment colored his laugh because it was true. Find the right man, and they wouldn’t have to leave for anything except to eat. Stupidly, the romantic idea that the apartment was designed for a couple had been the deciding factor for taking the apartment. But how could he trust another man after Preston? Love ’em and leave ’em—that was safer for his heart.
“This is perfect. I can’t believe how awesome my gift will look in here.”
“I can take a hint.” Craig left, jingling Mandy’s car keys.
“Modest much, Mandy?” Inside, Ty was quaking. She hadn’t gotten him a prostitute, had she? Was that what all the sex-slave talk was about? Shit. He wasn’t ready. Not for the one-night stands he hoped to have, not for a paid date. Nothing. He hadn’t had sex since…well…since weeks before his breakup with that cheating bastard.
“Hey, when you’re as good as I am, modesty is just a ridiculous lie.” Mandy grinned at him.
“Uh-huh. Let’s see it. It better be good.” It also better not be a man, or he was going to kill his sister. He was sweaty and hot, and his hair was plastered to his head. None of which did a thing for his self-confidence.
Ty flopped down on his bare mattress and thought about looking for sheets. Nah, he didn’t have the energy right now.
“Seriously, how are you doing?” Mandy perched on the edge of the mattress next to him.
“I’m okay. Great apartment, great job.”
She inspected his face as though searching for a lie. He wasn’t lying, much. But it had been over six months since his life fell apart, and he was getting tired of reassuring people.
Craig’s heavy tread alerted them to his return, and Ty wanted to see what Mandy had gotten him, if only to keep her from looking at him with that pitying expression.
Ty sat up as Craig wrestled an enormous rectangular package wrapped in brown paper into the bedroom.
“Holy shit, sis. It’s bigger than Craig.” No exaggeration—it had to be six and a half feet long, and Craig was only six foot one. Nor was it some random man his sister thought he should hook up with. “What is it?”
Mandy ignored him as she peered at the wall beside the bed. “Here. Right here.” She pointed, talking to Craig.
“Here, what?” they both asked in unison.
“Hang it here. It’s perfect.”
Craig propped the package against the wall and retreated, presumably to locate Ty’s toolbox.
“Let me see.” Anticipation was making Ty twitchy. Mandy slapped his hand as he reached for the paper covering.
“Just wait. It’ll be like one of those fancy unveilings.”
“Uh-huh. Right.” Ty fell back on the bed while Craig began measuring and hammering. “So, you got me a painting? What is it? Paint by numbers? Black velvet? One that only shows its best features under black light?”
“Shut up, Tyler. Just wait a few more minutes, okay?”
Ty shut up. As long as it wasn’t a picture of a six-foot-tall clown, it didn’t matter much what it was.
Finally the painting was hung to Mandy’s satisfaction. Craig sat down beside him on the bed while Mandy reached dramatically for the brown paper cover.
“I give you Maxwell Friedland.” She ripped the paper away, leaving Ty speechless.
“Holy shit,” Craig muttered beside him.
The man in the painting was breathtaking. Ty didn’t know a lot about painting, but he didn’t think he’d seen one as lifelike, almost like a photograph. The mop of blond hair, highlighted with honey and gold, looked soft and real enough to run his fingers through. The bright blue eyes glowed like star sapphires. Tyler’s cock flexed slightly, and his face flushed between the conflicts of lust and embarrassment. Lust whispered in his ear that the “painting” was hung to Tyler’s satisfaction and then some. He wasn’t aware artists painted life-sized portraits of naked men who were…blatantly aroused.
Ty found his voice. “Mandy, what the hell?”
“Isn’t he gorgeous? What better way to celebrate your new life?”
Ty bit his lip. He understood Mandy’s motivation. He was finally out—to everyone—and it was a relief not to hide anymore. But the process of coming out had been painful and humiliating. Hell, this way he’d never have to announce it again. Anyone who saw this painting would know.
(c) KC Burn 2011 & 2016