November 15

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The Enlightenment of Daniel

Published by Dreamspinner Press Dec 18, 2013

Order from Dreamspinner here

Desktop post with images that inspired this book and more info on the story.

Business tycoon Daniel Derenzo lives for his work until his dying father reminds him life is short. When Daniel starts to reevaluate his world he experiences a startling revelation—he’s attracted to his business partner and best friend, Nick, even though Daniel always believed himself to be straight. In typical type A fashion, Daniel dissects his newfound desires with the help of the experts at the Expanded Horizons sex clinic. He goes after Nick with the fierce determination that’s won him many a business deal.

Nick Ross was in love with Daniel years ago, when they were roommates in college. But Daniel was straight and Nick patched his broken heart by marrying Marcia. Two kids and fourteen years later, they go through the motions of their marriage like ships passing in the night. But Nick’s kids mean the world to him, and he’s afraid he’d never get joint custody if they divorced. If he can trust his heart to an awakening Daniel, they all might find their way to a happily ever after.

Series:

This is the second book in my “Sex in Seattle” series, featuring a sex clinic in Seattle.  This story is about a new couple, however, and can be enjoyed without having read the first book.  The first book is “The Trouble with Tony“.

Press & Reviews:

A list — Gay List Book Reviews — “…book will get you with it’s humor, fun and sweetness.  You will be reading along and be having a great time and then it will grab you by the heart and it will keep becoming more and more. ”

5 stars The Romance Reviews — “A love story between friends with true complications in their lives that was both touching and beautifully written.”

4.25 stars from Hearts On Fire — “If you like best friends to lovers, second chances or actually in this case maybe it was a first chance at love, some pretty cool kids, a man discovering his sexuality and his priorities in life and an absolutely awesome happy sweet perfect sigh worthy epilogue for everyone, this might be the book for you.”

5 stars multitaskingmomma blog – “I like reading a book where once I reached the end I just felt good, satisfied, happy and giggly all over. ”

5 stars RJ Scott’s blog — “Beautiful. A must read. I read this in one sitting and could not put it down.”

Rainbow Book Reviews — “This was a wonderful addition to the series and even though it’s more dramatic than the first book, it’s well worth the read. I highly recommend the entire series.”

4 stars The Book Vixen — “This is an enjoyable read with great leads, strong romance and a believable ending.”

4.25 stars Pants Off Reviews — “Eli Easton was a great discovery and I was looking forward to this new book of hers and I was not disappointed!”

 4.5 kisses from Top 2 Bottom Reviews — “If you like your friends-to-lovers romance realistic, sensual and poignant, you’ll love this.”

4.5 stars The Novel Approach — “Eli Easton has a brand of humor all her own and never fails to add a touch of hilarity even when writing about the most serious subject matters.”

5 stars Kindle Romance Reviews — “A love story between friends with true complications in their lives that was both touching and beautifully written.”

4 stars Prism Book Alliance — “It is a bit more serious than many Eli Easton fans will be used to, but she does an admirable job with Daniel and Nick’s story. ”

5 stars Paddylast Inc — “There’s something really beautiful about a book that makes you root for its main characters with intensity.”

5 stars Crystal’s Many Reviews — “A Definite 5 stars and I can hardly wait to jump into the third in the series, The Mating of Michael.”

4.5 stars It’s About the Book Blog — “A satisfying read on every level with a great HEA. Highly recommended as a read and on audio.”

 

Excerpt:

~1~

Seattle, June 2014

Daniel parked his Lexus at the hospital and surveyed the entrance with fear and loathing. Going inside was the last thing he wanted to do—well, maybe with the exception of getting his testicles waxed. By a three-hundred-pound woman named Helga. But Daniel’s father was in there, in room 605, and no excuse in the world would get him out of a visit this time.

He pushed down the soft leather visor to look in the mirror. As always, his short, trimmed beard was as neat as an obsessive hand with a Zafiro Iridium razor could get it, his skin was clear and moisturized, and his dark eyes were sharp. They were also the color of a cheap bottle of rosé. Sleep was one luxury Daniel couldn’t buy. He nudged at his short dark hair with his fingers, neatened his Dolce & Gabbana tie, and got out of the car. He opened the back passenger door and took out his suit jacket—it was hung on a felt-topped wooden hanger as always—and put it on.

Inside, the tide of nurses and visitors in the hallways parted before his willful stride like the Red Sea for Abraham. Usually having that effect on people was a good thing, but now it only meant he was in front of the door marked 605 in an unfortunately short amount of time. He took a deep breath, telling himself he had faced hostile boards of directors and raving lawyers—he could face this. He opened the door.

Daniel’s father was sitting up in bed when Daniel walked in. Frank Derenzo had been a striking and imposing man as little as six months ago, with his iron-stung black hair, piercing dark eyes, and impeccable tailoring. But the illness had taken him and wrung him out like a dishcloth. He looked half what he once was—his body wasted and his face pale.

Damn. Daniel abhorred seeing the Iron Man like this. It was just… wrong. And disturbing.

He forced a smile despite the fact his stomach had dropped down to the vicinity of his knees. “Hello, Father.” He went to the bed and reached out for a manly handshake. His father took his hand and held on to it, looking Daniel up and down and shaking his head in that disappointed way of his. Zap. Daniel felt a sting in his healthy ego. He hated that he could still feel bothered by his father’s disregard. He pulled his hand away.

“So you decided to finally appear,” Frank said. “Glad to know there’s a filial streak left in you somewhere.”

“Of course I came, Father. How are you?”

Frank grimaced. “How do you think I am? I’ve got a couple of months of breathing left in me. Or so they say. The pain isn’t so bad—yet. I’m putting my affairs in order. That doesn’t mean I’m not pissed as hell. I never did like it when someone told me to get off the pony ride, and this is the biggest pony ride of them all.”

“I’m truly sorry, Father,” Daniel said. And he was. His father was only sixty years old. He’d always been so strong. He didn’t deserve to have his legs cut out from under him like this. Life was a fickle bitch.

Frank made a “what can you do?” face. “I know you’re watching the clock, so let’s get to it. You. You’re one of the things I need to get in order, Daniel.”

Daniel blinked in surprise. “I’m in excellent shape, Father. There’s nothing I need.”

“Yeah, Dan, there is. Sit down.”

Daniel hated it when anyone called him “Dan.” It was so… TV sitcom. But there was no point arguing with his father. The man gave orders; he didn’t take requests.

Daniel moved the bedside chair back a foot, then a tad more, and debated removing his suit jacket. He didn’t usually sit in it; didn’t want to get it wrinkled. But that might make it seem like he planned on staying awhile. Wrinkles were the lesser evil. Weren’t they? Then again, he had an important meeting in two hours. Didn’t want to look—

“Jesus, you’re wound tighter than a hummingbird on speed! Just fucking sit already,” Frank complained.

“That’s what you called me here to say? That I’m uptight?” Daniel asked tersely. He left his jacket on and placed his ass in the chair.

“Of course not. I could have said that much over the phone.” Frank’s eyes twinkled a little.

Was he trying to crack a joke? Now? Daniel cleared his throat and compulsively checked his watch, not even registering the time. “So what is it, Father?”

Frank took a deep breath. His face softened. “Right. No point in beating around the bush. This is what I have to say to you, Daniel, and I want you to really hear it: You need to get off this track you’re on, son. Don’t live the life I led.”

“Pardon?”

“I’m telling you, Daniel. I look at you and it’s like looking in a goddamn mirror. And from where I’m standing—or rather, lying—that is not a place you want to be.”

Daniel huffed a laugh. “What are you talking about? Do they have you hopped up on meds?”

“Listen to me, goddamn it!” Frank raised his voice. Daniel was a grown man, thirty-four years old, but his father using that tone could still make the five-year-old inside him whimper like a little girl. “I’m not high and I’m not crazy. Do you know who I am right now, Daniel Meyer Derenzo?”

Daniel looked at him.

“I’m fucking Marley’s ghost, that’s who I am to you.”

“I don’t—”

“I’m you in twenty-five years and, I’m telling you Daniel, you don’t want to be me at the end of your life.”

Daniel opened his mouth to say something about the state of medicine, how careful he was with what he ate, his routine at the gym. But all of that felt like a rather rude boast to a man dying of cancer. And anyway, possibly not the point his father was getting at.

“Okay,” he said instead, as if soothing an angry dog. “Just take it easy.”

“Lisa walked out on you what, three years ago? And why?”

Zap. Another small sting to Daniel’s ego. His spine stiffened. “We grew apart.”

Frank shook his head impatiently. “That’s bull pizzle. She walked out on you for the same reason your mother walked out on me— I paid zero fucking attention to her and she decided she wanted a husband who was more than a signature on the bills. I did that, Daniel. I put her on a shelf and lived for my work, and then I was fool enough to blame her when she left me. And before I could get my head out of my ass, she was dead and gone.”

Daniel didn’t like to be reminded of it, not of any of it. He was a teen when they divorced, and Frank had always been so absent, Daniel never blamed his mother for leaving. But he didn’t want to go there, because he’d never gotten over the guilt that if he had only been better, more perfect, his father would have spent more time with them. He would have, right?

Still, Daniel didn’t see how that had anything to do with his own divorce. “I’m sorry you never got to reconcile with Mother. That’s the difference between you and me, Father. I don’t blame Lisa. She’s a good person. The divorce was a mutual decision. I’m just, you know, not the relationship type.”

“And that, Dan, is the problem,” Frank sighed. “Believe me, I’m not saying this because it’s my idea of a fun time to poke and prod at my grown son. I’m saying it because I wish to hell someone had sat me down and told me this when I was your age.”

Daniel wiped his upper lip, relieved to find that he wasn’t sweating yet. But he could feel the storm clouds of stress rolling in, and his heart rate was speeding up. “I’m sorry you’re so disappointed in me. But I’m fine. Better than fine. I’m doing extremely well.”

“Uh-huh. Are you seeing anyone? Have you even been on a date since Lisa left you?”

“Yes. I… that’s… it’s none of your business.” And now Daniel felt a giant “L” flashing on his forehead.

“Right. You’re too busy working to date. When was the last time you took a vacation? Walked on the beach? Played poker with friends? Sat in a goddamn hammock?”

“A hammock? Really? What is this, Gilligan’s Island?”

“Shut up, Daniel! I’m trying to impart some goddamn pearls of wisdom!”

“The tone” was back. Daniel, breathing hard, made himself calm down. He started his breathing exercises, silently, and willed his face to relax into don’t-give-a-fuckdom. If he let his dad get to him, he’d be down with a five-alarm headache for the rest of the day and he couldn’t. He had to review the paperwork on Mojambo, then he had three important calls related to Liptec and—

“Just look at what I did to us.” Frank’s brow was creased in frustration, his voice rough. “You’re my only son. Yet we’ve seen each other, what, once a year for the past ten years? I wasn’t even part of your childhood. Did I ever go to a single one of your ball games?”

A laugh burst from Daniel’s lips. “Yeah, well, that would have been a trick since I never played sports.”

Frank waved a hand. “See what I mean? I was a terrible father. I should have taken you camping or over to the islands. We should have spent more time together.”

Daniel was at a loss for a reply. As a boy, he’d wanted that more than anything. But he’d stopped craving his father’s attention long ago. Now he really wanted to get out of this room and forget—forget that his father was dying of cancer, forget this entire conversation. He struggled for something positive to say. “I, uh, always looked up to you. You were a success. You were a big shot. You were an inspiration to me.”

“A success!” Frank shook his head. “I have a lot of money. So what? It didn’t stop me from getting cancer. And even if I can buy the best room at the hospital, it’s empty. It’s empty, Daniel.”

“I’m sorry, Father. I tried to get here sooner but—”

“It’s not your fault. You don’t ignore people all your life and then expect them to give a shit at the end. I know this. No, you listen to me. Here I am at the final curtain call of my one and only lifetime, and what do I have? I have a huge bank account I can’t take with me. You’re my only legacy, Daniel, my legacy in genetic material. And you’re miserable. So tell me: What was it all for?”

“God… you…. I am not miserable!” Daniel was getting pissed off by his father’s refusal to recognize how successful he was. Would it kill him to be proud just fucking once?

Frank eyed him up and down for a long moment. His face softened. “No, I get it. You look good.”

It’s about time. “Thank you.”

“Nice tie,” Frank pointed at Daniel’s neckwear. “And those shoes! What are those, John Lobb’s?”

Daniel looked down and felt a wave of pleasure at the sight of his shoes. “Yeah, the new line. I got them at—”

“They’re beautiful. Let me see one.”

“What?”

“Come on.” His father held out an impatient hand.

Frowning a little, Daniel slipped off one of his side buckle Oxfords and handed it to his father. Frank studied it. “Nice.” Then he threw it out the open window.

Hey!”

Daniel ran over to the window. His shoe was lodged elegantly on the first-floor rooftop down below. “Are you insane?” he sputtered. “What did you do that for?”

“Because it’s ridiculous! You’re working your ass off, day and night—I know you, Daniel—and what do you get out of it? A fifteen-hundred-dollar pair of shoes? Daniel, that’s not living.”

Daniel glared at him.

His father gave a deep sigh. “Look. I know you think you have all the time in the world, but that’s a false assumption. You blink your eyes and you’re forty, blink again and you’re fifty, and then—then you’re lying on your death bed realizing that the business deals you once thought were so important—shipping this and buying that—they’re vaporware, Dan. No one remembers, no one cares, any more than they care about your fancy shoes. They don’t mean shit. I just—I want so much more for you than that.”

Frank sounded so sincere. For a moment, the curtains of resistance in Daniel’s mind parted and he got a glimpse of what his father was saying. He felt a sharp burning in his gut, an emotion he couldn’t define but one bad enough to steal his breath away. But he stubbornly pushed it aside and shook his head. “There is nothing wrong with my life. I’m fulfilled. I’m… happy.” Daniel’s voice broke. He pressed his lips together, angry at the betrayal of his vocal cords.

His father smiled sadly. “It’s enough, Daniel. The money you already have, it’s enough. Love someone. Have great sex. Travel. Sit on a porch in the fucking woods and read a book. But don’t let time slip away from you. Because time, Daniel, time beats to hell anything they sell on the stock exchange. Take it from a man who’s nearly out. Live your life, Daniel.”

Daniel stood at the window, an impeccably dressed man in one shoe, and stared at his father. Daniel could see that the old man meant it, that he was dealing with some end-of-life crisis of faith in the Church of the Almighty Dollar. And who could blame him? As weird as it was to see one of the most ruthless businessmen Daniel had ever known talking about marriage and children and time, Daniel could concede his father had a point. He had been thinking that he should slow down a bit. He’d been thinking that for a few years now, in fact, even if he hadn’t acted on it. Wasn’t Nick always telling him that?

But it wasn’t in Daniel’s nature to appreciate being told to get off the pony ride either.

He took a deep, calming breath and forced a fake smile. “I’ll, uh, I’ll think about it. Will that do, Father? Now I have to find a maintenance man to get my goddamn shoe.”

~2~

Hong Kong, two weeks later

“Two sakes, please.” Daniel removed his suit jacket and draped it over a bar stool, sliding onto the stool next to it.

Nick took the seat on the other side, doing Daniel one better by tossing his jacket over a stool, loosening up his tie, and unbuttoning the top few buttons of his shirt. This was their standard operating procedure. Daniel wasn’t comfortable unwinding until he was back in his room. You never knew when someone you happened to know might walk into the bar and, well, while he admired the fact Nick didn’t care about looking perfect, Daniel did.

They’d been in Hong Kong for two weeks working round-the-clock to close the Mojambo acquisition. And now, at nearly midnight on a Friday, it was finished and Daniel was exhausted. All he wanted was an hour or so to relax with his best friend before he took a run through email and voicemail to answer the urgent ones—he really ought to call his secretary Gwen back in Seattle—brushed off his shoes for the morning, did his evening sit-ups and pushups, and then had a hot meal and bed.

God. He suppressed what would have been a very undignified yawn.

“It won’t take long to turn this one,” Nick said. “We can move Nakamura over from TechMod. The new policies we implemented over there should work great on Mojambo. That’ll save a lot of time and….”

Nick continued talking, but Daniel got distracted. A beautiful Chinese woman sank onto a barstool on the other side of Nick’s coat. She saw Daniel watching her and smiled a sultry come-hither.

Shit. Prostitute. Daniel looked away, playing it cool. Even though he wasn’t looking at her anymore, that single glance had burned into his retinas like an approaching car wreck. She was wearing a slinky black dress and her interest in them flashed on her face like a neon sign. Two well-dressed American businessmen, a swanky hotel bar…. Daniel glanced around. The place was reasonably occupied but no one was paying any attention to them. He knew he was being paranoid, but he didn’t want to be seen by any of their business associates. You could always claim it was nothing, but the sharks he swam with ate scandal with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. Any little edge in a deal.

“…. What do you think about approaching Jameson early?” Nick was saying. “Just to hedge our bets in case—oh.”

Daniel turned to look at Nick. The prostitute had her arm around his shoulders. One pert breast pressed against his arm, and she was leaning in so her lips almost touched his ear. “Would you like to buy me a drink?” she purred coquettishly.

Daniel almost laughed aloud. He hadn’t seen that look on Nick’s face since the time they went to a Mexican dive in college and Nick dumped a lot of what looked like ketchup on his burrito only to realize it was hot sauce. He was bright red with a glazed look of panic in his eyes.

“Uh… n-no. No thank you,” Nick stammered.

Pouting with disappointment, the lady moved away.

Daniel chuckled. “Hey, Nick. If you’re into that, don’t say no on my account.”

He was teasing, but Nick didn’t laugh. His eyes were studying his cup of sake as if the meaning of life had suddenly appeared on the liquid’s surface, Nostradamus-style. Nick licked his lips nervously and slid his jacket off the stool next to him and onto his lap. But just before he did, Daniel glanced down and saw it—Nick had an erection. No, Nick had the Mount Everest of erections poking up in his impeccable gray suit slacks.

Daniel was hit by a wave of some emotion he couldn’t identify—embarrassment? His mouth went dry as all the moisture in his body mysteriously evaporated.

Nick’s eyes met his. Daniel lifted an eyebrow. Nick’s blush deepened.

“God, I… I’m way overdue,” Nick said, with a self-deprecating little laugh. He took a sip of his sake.

Daniel took a drink, trying to get his tongue working again. “How overdue, Nick?” he asked quietly.

Nick wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Marcia hasn’t let me touch her for three years.”

Daniel felt his jaw drop open. “You haven’t had sex in three years?” He overspoke, and it sounded ridiculously loud in the bar. He glanced around, but no one was giving a shit, so he leaned forward to repeat the question in a whisper. “You haven’t had sex in three years? Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Sex? I seem to vaguely recall something like that,” Nick said in a shaky voice. “No, Daniel. I mean not even a hug, not holding my hand, not a peck on the cheek. That’s what I mean.”

“Why haven’t you ever said anything to me before?”

“Why would I? It’s humiliating. And pointless.”

“Goddamn, Nick. You need to leave Marcia. That’s not right.” There were a dozen reasons why Daniel thought Nick needed to leave Marcia, and there had been for years. But this…. Suddenly, Daniel was incredibly angry.

Nick was such a good guy. He was the best person Daniel had ever known. He was smart and loyal and big-hearted. That’s why they’d always worked so well as business partners in DRE—Derenzo & Ross Enterprises. Nick was the “nice” to Daniel’s “mercenary.” He was the one who went into the companies after Daniel took them over. He made friends, set up worker-friendly policies, soothed jagged nerves and made people happy, made the company healthy enough to sell. They even fought over it sometimes, when Daniel thought Nick went too far on benefits or when Nick pressed to keep jobs Daniel didn’t agree with. But Daniel had to admit Nick was usually right. And besides all that, he was still a young man and damn fine-looking with his rusty brown hair and his matching eyes. Those eyes had always sort of fascinated Daniel. They were the exact same “fall leaves” shade as Nick’s hair, as if genetics had been stingy with paint. No, it was one thing for Daniel to decide not to bother with dating. It was another for Nick to have a wife at home—a beautiful wife—who deliberately froze him out. Fucking Marcia.

“What the hell is her problem?” Daniel demanded.

Nick shook his head and sighed. “I dunno. She’s never really been into sex. She likes to be admired from afar but she doesn’t like to be touched. I tried to get her to go to counseling or talk to her doctor. But, you know, she always has some excuse. At this point, I’m over it.”

“Christ, Nick.”

Nick was usually good at noticing when Daniel was getting overwrought, and finding a way of distracting him. But now he only looked more embarrassed at Daniel’s anger. “Come on, Daniel. Jenny just started eighth grade and Sylvan’s only eight. I just… I can’t. I shouldn’t have said anything. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Nick downed his sake in a gulp and then sat there, face shuttered.

Daniel glanced at him, then glanced away again. He wanted to say something supportive or, better yet, something funny and topic-diverting, but his mind was a vast blank. It was so blank, it was like an apocryphal blackboard that stretched across the breadth and width of the sky, ominously empty.

Then he thought about what his father had said. Live your life, Daniel. He’d been obsessing about that conversation lately, more than was healthy. There was something inside him, a kind of black hole, which had been growing ever since that conversation with his father, even if Daniel hadn’t yet put a name on it. Now here was proof he wasn’t the only one not living. Nick was in no better shape. Then too, how fucking oblivious had Daniel been all these years not to see that his best friend was miserable? Maybe Daniel didn’t care that much about his own lack of a balanced life, but Nick—Nick deserved to be happy.

He thought about encouraging Nick, more seriously this time, to take up the opportunity sitting across the bar in a black silk dress. For real. He could say something witty like What happens in Hong Kong stays in Hong Kong. Or something actually witty instead of a hackneyed cliché.

But Daniel didn’t say anything about the prostitute because that was when it happened. There was a strong wave of heat and nausea in his stomach and for a moment he wondered if he’d accidently gotten some shrimp in something—shrimp always made him hurl. And then he recognized the feeling was emotional. It was… jealousy. He didn’t want that woman on Nick, touching him, kissing him.

He looked at Nick sharply. Time seemed to slow down and Daniel was hyperaware of the feeling of the smooth bar under his hand, the exact quality of the dim light in the room. He stared at his best friend, trying to get a handle on what was going on in his body. Nick looked so… appealing, so… sexy? And then it slammed into him like a high-speed train: he wanted Nick. He didn’t want the prostitute touching Nick because he wanted to do it. He wanted to take Nick by the hand, right now. He wanted to lead him up to his room, push him gently back on the bed, undo his belt, and… and take that erection into his mouth, and suck him off. He wanted to be close to Nick, as close as possible. Make him feel good. Make them both feel good.

Oh my fucking God.

An involuntary muscle spasm of Daniel’s hand sent his sake cup flying through the air. It shattered on the back of the bar.

“Daniel?” Nick placed a concerned hand on his arm.

“I….” Daniel was frozen with shock. He realized he was hard himself, hard as a Boccieri iron-shafted putter. He popped off the bar stool, grabbed his suit jacket, and put it on, his back to Nick. “I forgot I, um, have to make this thing… a call… I have to call someone,” he said in a strangled voice. “I’ll see you later.”

 

 

Upstairs in his hotel room, Daniel locked the door, adding the safety chain for good measure, and he paced, his fingers rummaging through his hair as if he could massage his brain into sanity.

What the fuck? What the hell was that?

He had never, never felt that way about Nick or any other man. In fact, he hadn’t felt true lust like that since well before his divorce. Hell, if he was honest, not since the very early days with Lisa, if then. But that back there in the bar had been… that had been crazy strong. And he still wanted it. He itched to pick up the phone and buzz Nick, maybe casually invite him over to the room, make some excuse about work and—

No.

Still achingly hard, Daniel dragged his laptop out of his bag and booted it up. He googled around for a while and found some posts on forums, but it was all junk. A bunch of uninformed people talking about their “feelings” or pulling advice out of their asses. That was for losers. No, when Daniel Derenzo wanted to know something he consulted experts. He hired the best. He changed his search strategy—and found it.

Expanded Horizons. It was the most highly rated sex clinic in the Northwest, and it was in Seattle, not all that far from their office. Digging a little further into the issues they treated on their website and into the bio pages for their therapists, he grunted with satisfaction. There. That was what he needed. He checked his watch. It was Friday morning in Seattle. He used his phone to dial internationally.

“Expanded Horizons. This is Loretta. How may I help you?”

“Hi, Loretta, my name is Daniel Derenzo. I’m flying in on Sunday and I need the first appointment you have available Monday morning. No, I want to see Halloran. Dr. Jack Halloran.”