Please help us welcome author Keira Andrews today, on the Valor on the Move blog tour. Enjoy Keira’s guest post, then be sure to click on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter for the chance to win an e-book from her BACKLIST (**Excl. Valor on the Move**)
Thanks so much to The Novel Approach for having me today to talk about my new m/m contemporary romance: Valor on the Move.
For this tale of a Secret Service agent falling for the president’s son, I did a lot of research on the Secret Service, the White House, and first families. One of the most interesting aspects of the Secret Service’s operations is the use of Belgian Malinois dogs.
These dogs are fiercely loyal and smart, and have a gentle nature. But when they’re working, watch out! They can run 30 miles per hour and take down any intruders. Malinois look similar to German shepherds, but are smaller and have shorter hair and a 270-degree field of vision—very handy when hunting down intruders on the White House lawn!
This is Jordan and Hurricane, who stopped a White House fence jumper in 2014:
This video on how the dogs are trained is quite very interesting. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely going to stay on the right side of the fence next time I visit the White House! 😉
Growing up gay in the White House hasn’t been easy for Rafael Castillo. Codenamed “Valor” by the Secret Service, Rafa feels anything but brave as he hides in the closet and tries to stay below the radar in his last year of college. His father’s presidency is almost over, and he just needs to stick to his carefully crafted plan. Once his family’s out of the spotlight, he can be honest with his conservative parents about his sexuality and his dream of being a chef.
It’s definitely not part of Rafa’s plan to get a new Secret Service agent who’s a walking wet dream, but he’s made it this long keeping his desires to himself. Besides, it’s not like Shane Kendrick would even look at him twice if it wasn’t his job.
Shane’s worked his way up through the Secret Service ranks, and while protecting the president’s shy, boring son isn’t his dream White House assignment, it’s an easy enough task since no one pays Rafa much attention. He discovers there’s a vibrant young man beneath the timid public shell, and while he knows Rafa has a crush on him, he assures himself it’s harmless. Shane’s never had room for romance in his life, and he’d certainly never cross that line with a protectee. Keeping Rafa safe at any cost is Shane’s mission.
But as Rafa gets under his skin, will they both put their hearts on the line?
Read an excerpt: “Valor on the move.”
As the new agent—Shane, the walking wet dream—murmured into his wrist radio, Rafa resisted the urge to snort. He climbed into the back of the Suburban as the name echoed through his mind.
If ever there was a codename that didn’t fit, it was his. Courage and bravery were not exactly the first, or second (or third or fourth or fifth) attributes anyone would give him. Each family being protected by the service had codenames starting with the same letter, and he wondered what other names they’d considered for him. Vegan. Vomit. Vagina.
Squirming in the backseat as they drove away from downtown, Rafa ran a hand over his hair and tried to banish the nervous energy jangling through him. He detested public speaking, a fact of which his mother was naturally well aware. His stomach roiled with acid. He knew she thought it was good for him to get over his fear—that it would help his future career. But in a kitchen, he wouldn’t have to give speeches. He exhaled slowly and reminded himself that either way, it would be over in an hour. Even if he blew it and made a fool of himself, it would be done.
He’d scribbled notes on old-fashioned note cards, and now he pulled them out of the pocket of his navy sport coat. He repeated the words in his head, not really hearing them. His mind ping-ponged from subject to subject, and he tapped his foot on the rubber mat as he whipped through the cards one by one. He wished Ashleigh was there to tell him to chill the fuck out, as she’d surely put it. He had to focus. Healthy kids. Community support. Leading by example.
With a sigh, he stared out the window. Shit, he was horny. Should have jerked off this morning in the shower. He watched the back of Shane’s head as the agents quietly discussed the advance security report for the park. Shane was scrolling through the document on his agent phone—black, of course—as Alan drove. They were both handsome, but Rafa wondered what it would feel like to run his hand over Shane’s nearly shaved head. Wondered if Shane had hair on his chest and powerful body.
Rafa had fantasized about hairy men—not too hairy, but not too smooth either—since about the time he’d moved into the White House. Even in high school, he’d never paid much attention to the other guys. Why look at boys when he had all those men in suits around?
As they neared the site of the future playground, Rafa forced his mind back on his speech. He scanned the fake-sounding words one last time, cringing already without even having said them. Adriana and Matthew had never had to do much of this since Christian had been so good at it. Rafa had almost made it through two terms without having to do much more than smile and wave behind his parents at events. Now he was suddenly expected to give speeches on his own? Of course he’d tried to argue with his mother, but that never got anyone anywhere, and he was no exception.
“Um, can I ask what you guys think about this?”
The agents went silent in the front of the vehicle. Alan glanced at him in the rearview. “Of course. About what in particular?”
“Oh.” Rafa’s cheeks got hot. “The speech. It’s, um…hold on.” He cleared his throat and gave his little spiel about the importance of community spaces in helping promote active lifestyles. “Does that last part sound too…I don’t know. Lame?”
“No, I think it sounds good,” Alan answered. “You’re getting the message across clearly.”
“It’s not fake sounding?”
“Of course not,” Alan said.
Shane opened his mouth to speak, and Rafa’s heart skipped. It was dumb to care more about what Shane thought because he was hot. But Shane only directed Alan to take a right turn. They quietly began discussing tactics again, and Rafa didn’t want to interrupt.
Although he was used to the agents and their constant presence, it was always weird with new people. They weren’t supposed to talk to him about anything not related to protection, and they weren’t allowed to ever comment on anything they overheard from their protectees. Naturally they heard a million conversations when they were driving his family around or flying with his father, but they were only supposed to respond if the protectee initiated the conversation. But even then, he didn’t think they would ever actually tell him what they thought if it was negative.
When he’d first started college, some of the other kids thought the agents would narc on them for underage drinking, but the Secret Service genuinely didn’t care about that. It had taken a while before his dorm mates had realized the agents weren’t there to tell Rafa what to do, or to be his parents. They only cared about keeping him safe. Stuart had helped Rafa haul Ashleigh up three flights before Christmas break when she’d had one—or five—too many spiked eggnogs, and had been so nice about it.
Rafa tried to focus on his notes, but his mind wandered. He wondered how Stuart and Joanna liked the Livingstons. He wished he could at least text them to say thanks for everything they’d done to take care of him, but of course he didn’t have their numbers. Not that anyone would try to kidnap him of all the presidential children, and he knew the agents were just doing their jobs. It didn’t mean they liked him. They weren’t friends.
He pulled out his phone, making sure his panic button that sent an alarm to his detail and Secret Service headquarters was still safely tucked in his pocket. He’d never had to use the little black rectangle yet, but his parents had drilled into him the importance of never leaving home without it. Rafa quickly typed out a message to Ashleigh, hoping he’d get a comforting response before his speech. But the message remained stubbornly delivered and not read.
Then they were arriving, and he had to put on his best smile and shake hands as the foundation director, Marissa, met him by the Suburban and shepherded him to the makeshift stage set up in the corner of the new park. Marissa was a tiny redhead with a bob cut and black rectangular glasses. She was barely thirty, but ran his mother’s foundation and handled her demands, so Rafa reflected that Marissa must be a marvel of both effectiveness and patience.
The grass was still seeding in cordoned-off areas, and young trees dotted the space. A jungle gym gleamed by swing sets and a teeter-totter. He smiled and thought of a humid August day years ago when he and Matthew had tried to break the world record and failed miserably, giving up after only an hour that had felt like ten.
When he went up to make his little speech, the gathered community applauded like they were genuinely excited to have him there, which was sweet. Of course he’d done absolutely nothing to assist with funding for the park or building it, but he smiled and waved as he took the microphone. Oh God, I’m so bad at this. Why isn’t Chris here? Why does he have to live in New York? Why couldn’t Mom do this damn speech herself? Why is this my life?
As the people waited, he blinked against the glare of the morning sun, and sweat dripped down his spine. He spotted Shane at the edge of the crowd, looking every inch the stereotypical Secret Service agent with his dark suit, ear piece, and sunglasses. Alan was likely positioned somewhere behind Rafa.
He cleared his throat, and the mic buzzed with static. “Hello. I’m Rafael Castillo, and it’s my honor to be here today to celebrate the opening of this beautiful park.” His note cards were in his pocket, and he realized he should have taken them out before he started talking. Heart pounding, he smiled awkwardly as he reached for them. “Um, I…” He fumbled the cards, spilling them at his feet.
Shoot me now. Well, not literally.
He scooped them up as a murmur went through the couple hundred people gathered. “Um, sorry. As I was saying…” He gripped the cards, which of course were now out of order. His eyes scanned the words, but nothing penetrated the buzzing in his head. “I…this park is great. Obviously.” Nervous laughter tittered from the audience. “I know you’ve all worked hard, and…to make kids healthy a park helps, because they can do things here. Health things.”
Oh my God. Abort, abort, abort!
His head spun, and his breath came short. “And I…uh…” Rafa blew out a long exhalation. “I am really bad at public speaking, but you already know that.”
Genuine laughter rang out, and when he focused on people in the crowd, they were smiling at him. Then everyone applauded encouragingly, and his tongue became a little looser. Screw it. “Um, when I arrived and I saw that awesome new playground over there, I remembered this time my brother Matthew and I tried to break the world record for teeter-tottering. Now, the world record is completely insane. Seventy-five hours.” The crowd murmured. “Yeah, crazy, huh? But Matty and I were convinced we could do it. Our dad gave us a little pep talk that morning about reaching for our dreams, and I’m sure you know he gives pretty good pep talks. I was seven, and my brother was nine, and our sister Adriana came with us to supervise—which meant texting her friends and working on her tan.”
The crowd laughed again, and Rafa barreled on. “Well, I’d love to tell you that we made a good run at the record, but we didn’t even come close. That hour felt like forever, especially since I already had to pee.” I’m talking about urination. Mom is going to kill me. But the crowd laughed harder. Bring it back to the point. Get the message out. “Even though we didn’t break a record that day, we still had fun and got active. That park near our house was like our second backyard, and I know this wonderful new space will be home to countless activities and memories for your community. Hey, maybe two of you can take a run at that teeter-totter record.”
Then Marissa was at his elbow, taking the mic with a smile. “What a great idea! How about it, kids?”
The rest of the event was a blur of more hand shaking and picture taking, with people lining up for their turn as Alan and Shane kept a close watch and asked people to take their hands out of their pockets. Rafa’s cheeks hurt from smiling, and he was just glad it was over without too much humiliation.
“Usted ha crecido mucho,” a tiny gray-haired woman exclaimed as she shook his hand.
“Gracias.” He smiled and nodded. She’d said something about him being bigger or taller, but the truth was that Rafa and his siblings were the whitest Hispanics ever and could barely speak a word of Spanish. His father was born in Miami to Puerto Rican immigrant parents, and his mother in Mexico before her parents moved to Chicago, so they were both fluent. But they’d been hell bent on assimilation and filing off their accents the way a criminal would a serial number on a gun. It had only ever been English at home.
His throat was dry by the time Marissa walked him back to the Suburban with Shane and Alan close by. She pressed a bottle of water into Rafa’s hand.
“Good work. You had me worried there, but you saved it. People like genuine. It worked well. Just go with it straight away next time. As long as you still get in the talking points. Okay?”
“Next time?” Rafa’s heart sank.
Marissa smiled sympathetically. “Your mother’s idea. I’ll try to convince her she still needs to be the primary spokesperson. It is her foundation, after all.”
“Thanks.” Rafa took a gulp of water.
As he suddenly smacked the concrete of the sidewalk, he registered the bang that filled the air. He choked, spitting water, the plastic bottle spinning out of his grasp as someone heavy landed on top of him, further pushing the air from his lungs. Hot breath hit the back of his neck, and Shane’s low command filled his ear. “Stay down!” His hand pressed Rafa’s head to the sidewalk, and pebbles dug into Rafa’s cheek. Adrenaline and terror roared through him. Oh my fucking God. Is this actually happening?
Shouts and a buzz of exclamations filled the air, and Rafa heard someone—Alan—call, “Clear!”
Then there were more shouts, and Shane was hauling him into the back of the Suburban, crawling on top of him as the door slammed and they zoomed away. Rafa couldn’t breathe. His head was jammed into the side door, and now there was leather beneath his cheek. His long legs were scrunched up and tangled with Shane’s, and Shane’s hand was still palming Rafa’s skull. His heart was close to exploding.
Alan was saying something, and Shane answered. But they sounded like the grownups on old Charlie Brown cartoons, their voices making noise with no discernible words. Rafa tried to speak. “Wha…” His throat was like sandpaper.
The vehicle slowed and came to a stop. The engine was still running. For a moment, no one moved or said a word.
Then Shane was gently pulling Rafa up to sitting. Their legs were still tangled, but Shane was focused on Rafa’s face, peering at him intently. “Are you all right?” He squeezed Rafa’s shoulders.
“Uh…uh-huh.” Rafa blinked. It was dark now, and he looked out the windows at what seemed to be an underground parking garage. Alan was on his phone, speaking quietly. Rafa focused on Shane, who was sitting so close to him and seemed to take up most of the room in the backseat. His eyes look like they might be blue up close, and when he sighed, his breath ghosted across Rafa’s face. Rafa’s pulse thundered.
“Backfire?” he asked.
“Huh?” Rafa blinked.
But Alan answered. “I think so. They’re on their way to the scene now to make sure.”
Then Shane was letting go of Rafa, and their legs were untangled. Shane leaned back against the seat, his cheeks puffing out. “Jesus. First day too.”
Alan shrugged in the driver’s seat. “Better safe than sorry. We followed protocol. It was a good dry run. Escape route was effective.” He turned around and smiled crookedly at Rafa. “Sorry about that, kid. Can’t be too cautious.”
“It’s okay. I…thank you. I’m glad no one was shooting at me.”
Alan chuckled. “That makes three of us.” He turned and put the vehicle in drive. “Let’s head back to Castle.”
As they returned to the White House, Rafa stared at his left palm, poking the new cuts there. He didn’t remember feeling it, but he must have scraped his hand when Shane pushed him to the sidewalk.
“Did I hurt you?”
Rafa looked up to find Shane frowning beside him. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
But Shane was sliding closer and reaching for his hand, taking it in his own. As he lightly brushed his fingertips over the scrapes, dislodging a few little pebbles, Rafa shivered. Shane’s hands were callused and thick, but he examined Rafa’s hand as if it was made of glass. As the Suburban bumped over something, their knees touched.
The adrenaline rushing through him made an abrupt left turn into arousal, and Rafa yanked his hand back. “I’m fine. Thank you.” His voice was little more than a squeak, and his face blazed. His clothes had been disheveled, and he prayed the sport coat was covering his crotch. His groin was tight, and he knew an erection wasn’t far behind. He didn’t dare look down to check.
“Sorry if I was overzealous.”
Rafa forced himself to meet Shane’s gaze with a smile. “Don’t be. I really appreciate everything you guys do. Honestly.”
Shane nodded, and then they were at the gates, and Rafa turned to look out the window. He thought of seeing his mother any minute. There was nothing better to kill a potential hard-on.
Will Shane and Rafa’s secret attraction bloom into love?
About the Author:
After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”
Where you can find Keira:
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/keiraandrews
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