Welcome, friends, to the final chapter in the Absinthe of Malice blog tour, with the boys from Crossroads Gin. Belly up to the bar, take a load off, and enjoy a final round with Miki, Damie, Forest and Rafe! And don’t forget to check out the Rafflecopter giveaway below.
Thank you all for following the Absinthe of Malice blog tour! This is the fifth novel in the series and well, is a different kind of book. This is a beginning of sorts, a resurrection for most of the band members and the first step in a journey they will take together. Miki, Damie, Forest and Rafe in a van. Together. Cross-country and playing their hearts and souls out.
With a bit of trouble and love along the way.
I hope you enjoy it and like Applejack Shots and Beer, the story I’ll be telling across the blog tour.
OH! And the giveaway! Because we always need a giveaway. And there will be ONE winner for EVERY blog tour stop (see details below)!
Applejack Shots and Beer: Part Ten
I walked onto the Delta, hoping to make myself a man,
Cocky as shit, with my guitar in my hand.
Walked past the Crossroads, paid the Devil no mind.
He didn’t reach for me, saying I was already his kind.
— Delta Spawn Blues
Miki’s most treasured memory was the moment he’d fallen in love with music.
San Francisco’s summers were a swaddle of heat and anger, bristling with a barely contained rage and Vega’s fists were thick balls of fury and hurt, finding every aching, bruised spot on Miki’s body with an uncanny accuracy. He’d have questioned how the man could have remembered where he’d struck before but as he drowned in the sheets of pain, their edge sharp enough to slice through his bones, Miki’d been more focused on surviving the beating.
And praying he had enough strength in him to find someplace to lick his wounds.
Despite the muggy heat, he’d buried himself under an oversized sweatshirt, pulling its hoodie down over his nose. It’d been hard to see through the slit of his left eye but he did his best. The right was swollen, tight and aching until Miki was sure it would burst if he touched it one more time. His city bus pass got him down to the pier without much trouble but he kept his head down, nursing his left elbow still crackling ominously after the vicious twist Vega gave his arm after one of the neighbours asked about the marks on Miki’s face.
He was a dot of silence in a world of noise. Invisible, unheard and dead inside. Nothing but an echo of flesh and bone, waiting for the next sour bite of pain only because it was the only way he knew he was still alive.
It was too early for tourists but there were a few stalwart souls were out on the sidewalks. An old garrulous woman snarled at him when he shuffled past her, her knotted, skinny hands clenching a battered broom tightly, making quick work of the sidewalk debris in front of an Irish pub. The bar-slash-eatery’s doors were open and the scent of rich, strong coffee tickled Miki’s nose.
He jangled the coins in his pocket, wondering if he could beg some off of her for a few dimes when she stomped through the pub’s doors, letting them swing behind him. Ducking a particularly aggressive seagull, he swatted at the bird for a moment, preparing to sprint down the sidewalk if only to keep his eyeballs in his head when the old woman returned holding a grease-dappled paper bag and an enormous cup of coffee.
“Now, get out of here,” she grumbled, her voice creaky and accented. “Got work to do. Don’t need some young pup underfoot.”
The bag ended up holding a couple of crullers, their twisted, yeasty masses uneven but still warm. A sip of the coffee sent his maybe twelve-year-old nerves into a fierce buzz but Miki didn’t care. The day was still cool enough to be enjoyed, he had handfuls of sugar, bread and caffeine and the best part of it, he was miles away from the man who tore him apart and the woman who never saw him.
It was in his moment of peace—in the quiet zen of water slapping against the pier—in the cool shadows he’d tucked himself into, hidden from the crowds in a slice of space between a crab seller and a two-story cluster of shops and bars that Miki heard the woman’s voice cut through the morning’s low rattle.
At the time he didn’t know what made her voice scratchy but the tones were pure, deep and husky and as satisfying to his gut as the sugar-thickened black coffee he’d sipped at like it was liquid gold. She sang of jumping fish and cotton growing high with a raspy siren of a voice rolled in glass and pain. The vinyl record popped and crackled as the needle ran lovingly through the song but her words—her voice— cradled Miki, promising him he would one day rise up singing and spread his wings.
The music, the words, her pain and the sultry scream of her singing soothed away the bruises and aches. It filled him, stretching Miki’s skin and lungs until he wasn’t sure he catch his breath. The recording continued, stroking at his soul and lighting a fire in the cold depths of his will. His broken angel coaxed him to try a little bit harder then coaxed him to love.
And by the end of the morning, his cup as empty as his soul was full, Miki’s heart beat in time to the songs pouring out of the upstairs bar’s window and the world’s noises turned into music in his ears.
And then there were moments when he fell hard and learned to fly.
He’d already lost his heart to one blue-eyed devil and Miki wasn’t looking to fall for another one. And unlike Damien, the smoky ocean-eyed wasn’t looking for a brother. No, the cop banging at the steel walls he’d put up around his heart wanted in and Miki didn’t think he could hold out much longer.
There was already too much pain, too much loss and the last thing Miki wanted was another crack in his already fractured soul. There was nothing left in him to burn. The semi and its driver took everything he’d built, doused it in gasoline and set it alight with a match fueled by arrogance and booze.
“Fuck you, Morgan,” Miki growled.
But no one was listening.
The damned dog was scampering off behind the tall Irish man who’d made himself at home in Miki’s kitchen. Within five minutes of being in Miki’s house, the cop’d taken offense at Miki’s food, the state of Miki’s unmade bed and the towers of worn, inked over notebooks he’d piled on the cargo crates scattered through the warehouse’s living space.
Someone was trying to fuck with Miki’s mind and the only thing the damned cop was concerned about was if there was a fruit or vegetable somewhere near Miki’s plate at least once a day.
“Pop-tarts have fruit!” He called out towards the kitchen. “Lots of fucking fruit. And vitamins. Asshole.”
“The only Pop-tarts you’re having in this brick pile you call a house are brown sugar cinnamon ones,” Kane said, padding into the living space. The dog—Dude—was hot on his trail, sniffing at the air. “Last time I looked at that blasted food pyramid, neither sugar nor cinnamon were considered fruit.
“Here,” Kane thrust a plate under Miki’s nose. “Some actual food. It’s called a carne asada quesadilla. And shit, I forgot the forks.”
“Your mom’s not here. We’ll use our fingers.”
Waiting until Kane wasn’t looking, Miki sniffed at the food. The cop was too quick or maybe the Universe simply had a perverse sense of humour because Kane caught him with his nostrils flared and inhaling the steam rising up from the stuffed folded tortilla.
Kane grinned at him, a silly, open grin warm enough to do stupid things to Miki’s guts.
“What are you doing there, Miki boy?” Kane leaned over and sniffed at the food. Meeting Miki’s stare over the plate, his smile gentled. “You okay?”
“I do…weird things,” he whispered. “And I don’t even know I’m doing them… don’t even know it’s kind of nuts until… someone tells me. Or looks at me funny.”
“I’ve never done this before, sniffing at my food,” his lover remarked. “You can smell everything in it. Like you’re tasting it before you eat. It’s not a bad thing, babe. Not a bad thing at all.”
Trust Kane to know the right thing to say when Miki hurt the most inside.
He wasn’t…right. Miki knew that. Had known that since before he could form a coherent thought. There was something off in his brain. He could have come that way or maybe something happened to him along the way but whatever it was, he just wasn’t right. Not like Kane.
Everything was right about Kane. He was handsome, smart and sure of where he fit into the world. Miki thought the man’s cocky, sure-footed confidence came from wearing a badge and a gun every day then he met the whole Morgan family and Miki’s self-doubts slunk back out to pick him apart. They were loud and affectionate, a mess of strong willed, vibrant personalities too bright to be around for more than half an hour. Any longer was like standing on the sun and the threat of being burnt to cinders was a real one. He’d found a bit of shelter in Donal’s cool shadow but time and time again, Miki found himself reaching out for Kane’s strength to shield him.
“I don’t want to be saved,” Miki whispered. “I can’t be.”
“What’re you going on about there, Mick?” Kane took the plate from him, setting it on the crate. “I’m going to be telling you not to worry about what’s going on but you’ll fret anyway. We’ll catch this guy. The whole department’s gunning for him. And if that’s not bad enough, they’ve pissed off my mum and you know how fond she is of you. Come here. You’re as white as a ghost.”
He trembled when Kane reached for him and pulled Miki into his arms.
Overwrought from the world falling to pieces around him, Miki couldn’t stand to be touched, couldn’t stand to have the gentle rub of Kane on his skin. A kiss would shatter him, a too hot piece of glass touched by the cooling comfort of the cop he’d found trying to break down his front door with a clenched fist.
“I’ve got you, babe,” Kane murmured into Miki’s hair, rubbing at Miki’s back with slow, circular strokes. “Always, Mick. I’m never going away.”
“That’s what I’m scared of.” Miki choked on his tears, laughing into Kane’s chest. “It’s easier not to feel. And you make it so fucking hard to not feel, I want to punch you in the fucking face.”
“You’re insane, Mick.” His laugh was deep, rumbling through him and its dark golden sound resonated through Miki, threading a baseline through the sharp, tightness of his thoughts. “God, I love you for it.”
Words lingered on his tongue, pressed into the roof of his mouth because Miki wasn’t ready for the truth of them. They slithered out anyway, subdued and unheard and Miki was unprepared for the swell of emotion pouring out from his heart. It filled him, scaring him with its sweet happiness and he swallowed, trying to clear the choke in his throat.
It was too early, too soon..too scary in case it wasn’t real..but the words came anyway, insisting on being spoken because his soul demanded them. Softly, much too softly for Kane to hear, Miki said into the beat of Kane’s heart and the song of his laughter, “Yeah, I love you too.”
It was the night before they were to leave, one final hurrah and then, once the morning sun broke through the night’s clench over the city, Crossroads Gin would begin its journey. The last case was locked into the back of the van and Miki stepped back, wondering when lightning was going to strike him down dead for leaving everything—everyone—he’d fought to break his heart open for.
Not everyone, his mind whispered, there were the three brothers he’d found and were now stepping onto the dusty road besides him.
The city sparkled, its clear skies bright with the energy of the streets below. Parked behind the Sound, the band spent the afternoon choosing gear and listening to Damien talk about the route they’d be taking. Donal threatened to contact every chief of police along the way to escort them to every town while Brigid said she’d just take matters into her own hands and stowaway. Miki was more than a little bit worried she was serious, especially when her deep green eyes went damp and she reached for Donal’s strong, broad hand.
Around him, the parking lot looked like an impromptu party as the Morgans and their lovers were gathering near the van, a last bit of teasing and jocular pushing before they parted for the night. Sionn and Damie had reservations at a restaurant where slivers of artistically arranged food was served with aromatic foams and they’d need to stop at an In-N-Out on the way home for something to fill their bellies. Connor and Forest were going to go home and if Miki knew them like he thought he did, they were going to refinish some piece of furniture they got at a swap meet then have sex among the shavings and pints of wood stain but Rafe and Quinn were quiet, touching one another in brief passes but their eyes lingered on one another, hearts rubbing against the other’s, waiting for a good time to slip off away from the family and simply be in the quiet of their love.
Then there was Kane. Kane who make Miki ache in places he’d thought were dead and celebrated the re-appearance of Miki’s soul-twin. He didn’t deserve Kane. And there were times when he was pretty certain he didn’t deserve whatever fuckery God rained down on them because of Damien but mostly he questioned the unmistakable love he got from the man who held Miki’s heart in his hands.
“Ten minutes, love,” Kane bent his head and whispered into Miki’s ear. “Then make a break for the GTO. I’ll be right behind you. We plan this right and Con’ll be the one stuck with Mum. Last one left has to have dinner with them.”
“Then we should be the last ones,” Miki replied softly, curling his lip up at Kane’s surprised huff. “I’m not going to have…this… for months. Why wouldn’t I want to be the last one?”
Kane shot Miki a rueful grin then nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll give you that. Let me go tell Mum and Da we’re having dinner with them at the house but afterwards, Mick, you and I are going to head home so I can remind you what you’ve got waiting for you when this is all done.”
The pat on his ass when Kane walked away was unnecessary, a little bit of dominance and ownership Miki hated. Stupidly, it made him smile and he hid his face, growling a threat at his retreating lover.
Then an all too familiar weight leaned on him and Miki’s shoulder was burdened by a long arm built up with muscle from slinging a guitar. Damien’s breath was sharp and clean, his mouth working at a piece of gum infused with enough mint oil to peel Miki’s sinuses from his face. Grinning down at Miki, Damien bumped their hips together then steadied them with a quick shuffle of his feet, probably to avoid straining Miki’s sometimes sketchy knee.
“We’re going to head out soon.” D winked at him. “’Cause you know, there’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light moments we need to work through before morning.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” Miki scoffed. “Who’s taking the van back to the warehouse now that we’ve loaded everything Brigid wanted us to take?”
“I will. Sionn’s going to follow me then we’ll head out,” Damien replied, cocking his head. “You sure you want to do this, Sinjun? You ready to follow me out onto the road again? I can promise you shitty food, no sleep and broke-ass sound systems along the way but there’s going to be music, man. All the music you can imagine.”
“I dunno,” Miki quipped. “I can imagine quite a lot.”
“Heh,” Damien grunted. “Seriously, you okay? Because if you aren’t…”
“I’m ready,” Miki murmured, hooking his arm around his brother’s waist and squeezing him tightly. “It’s time to dance in the black and show people how to sin.”
About the Book
We’re getting the band back together.
Those five words send a chill down Miki St. John’s spine, especially when they’re spoken with a nearly religious fervor by his brother-in-all-but-blood, Damien Mitchell. However, those words were nothing compared to what Damien says next.
And we’re going on tour.
When Crossroads Gin hits the road, Damien hopes it will draw them closer together. There’s something magical about being on tour, especially when traveling in a van with no roadies, managers, or lovers to act as a buffer. The band is already close, but Damien knows they can be more—brothers of sorts, bound not only by familial ties but by their intense love for music.
As they travel from gig to gig, the band is haunted by past mistakes and personal demons, but they forge on. For Miki, Damie, Forest, and Rafe, the stage is where they all truly come alive, and the music they play is as important to them as the air they breathe.
But those demons and troubles won’t leave them alone, and with every mile under their belts, the band faces its greatest challenge—overcoming their deepest flaws and not killing one another along the way.
About the Author
Rhys Ford was born and raised in Hawai’i then wandered off to see the world. After chewing through a pile of books, a lot of odd food, and a stray boyfriend or two, Rhys eventually landed in San Diego, which is a very nice place but seriously needs more rain.
Rhys admits to sharing the house with three cats of varying degrees of black fur and a ginger cairn terrorist. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, a Toshiba laptop, and an overworked red coffee maker.
Follow the Tour
13 June: Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews
14 June: MM Good Book Reviews
15 June: Prism Book Alliance
16 June: It’s About the Book
17 June: Under the Covers Book Blog
18 June: The Blogger Girls
19 June: Rainbow Gold Reviews
20 June: Boy Meets Boy
21 June: Joyfully Jay
22 June: The Novel Approach