Seaworthy

by K.L. Noone

An epic motion picture! A gay Napoleonic War-era love story! Ballrooms and battles at sea! Romantic happy endings on the silver screen! And a film that’ll change everything for its stars ...

Jason Mirelli can’t play adrenaline-fueled action heroes forever. He’s getting older, plus the action star parts have grown a little thinner since he came out as bisexual. This role could finally let him be seen as a serious dramatic actor, and he needs it to go well -- for his career, and because he’s fallen in love with the story and the chance to tell it.

The first problem? He’ll be playing a ship’s captain ... and he hasn’t exactly mentioned his fear of water. The second problem? His co-star: award-winning, overly talkative, annoyingly adorable -- and openly gay -- box office idol Colby Kent.

Colby’s always loved the novel this film’s based on, and he leapt at the chance to adapt it, now that he has the money and reputation to make it happen. But scars and secrets from his past make filming a love story difficult ... until Jason takes his hand and wakes up all his buried desires. Jason could be everything Colby’s ever wanted: generous and kind, a fantastic partner on set, not to mention those heroic muscles. But Colby just can’t take that chance ... or can he?

As their characters fall in love and fight a war, Colby and Jason find themselves falling, too ... and facing the return of their own past demons. But together they just might win ... and write their own love story.

Excerpt:

Jason stood on the fake deck of a fake ship, under soundstage lights, and watched Colby Kent from a distance. Colby, in full Regency aristocrat costume -- and oh that was doing things to Jason’s equilibrium, those long legs in tight breeches, the shape of that slimness defined by creamy brocade in waistcoat form -- wasn’t facing him. Gazing away, the way he ought to be when the scene began. William Crawford, Viscount Easterly, caught and enchanted by this new unpredictable world of ropes and decks and sea-terms. For a moment entranced not by Stephen but by a far-off horizon.

God, Colby was good. Even standing in place he embodied Will’s depth of longing.

Jason admired him and ached for him and wanted him with a sort of angry inadvertent want. Colby, not turning, put a hand up to bat loose hair out of his eyes. The wind machine was being overly enthusiastic.

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Anger was and wasn’t the right emotion. Jason’d thought they’d talk over lunch. He’d been mentally preparing.

Colby had arrived with Jillian, who’d kept him occupied with questions: everything from debates over the exact year chocolate had arrived in England to wickedly funny commentary on a script Jill had just received, which apparently Colby had read; they’d found it well-intentioned but incomprehensible, and Colby’s playful suggestion of incorporating time travel spun dramatically off into a whole new subplot involving dinosaurs.

Colby had smiled at Jason, but had hidden behind Jill and conversation. Jason was very sure of that. Jillian knew it as well. Jason had noticed her physical positioning, that subtle arrangement of herself as Colby’s defender. He’d caught a look or two from her, thrown his way.

He didn’t know what to think. Colby wasn’t unfriendly, and they obviously had chemistry together. He’d guess that he’d done something wrong, offended those blue eyes somehow -- which of course he had -- but that wasn’t quite the sense either. Not with that strange protectiveness.

Colby, with an unfathomable flicker of a glance in Jason’s direction, had collected and then taken a large bite of a grilled chicken sandwich. He’d also picked up two chocolate-chip cookies, because Colby Kent lived on sugar. At least he was eating, though. Jason hadn’t said anything.

He didn’t know how to say anything. Too precarious. Here because they’d chosen him. Needing to be likable. Needing to be someone they could work with. Jillian had already taken him aside and kindly suggested he relax a bit. This suggestion had had the opposite effect.

He looked at Colby again. Flawless under lights. Pretty, if one liked long-legged wood-elf endless chatter. Jason was starting to think he personally might. That pert backside caught his attention.

Colby Kent, he thought -- not just because of the backside -- was far more complex than most people saw. Quick-witted enough to verbally rewrite a script on the spot and make it more ridiculous fun. Enough of a martyr to pretend not to want a pastry. Kind enough to bring pastries for everyone on the first morning. Multifaceted, a puzzle.

Colby’s hair fluttered again, courtesy of that artificial wind. He swiped at it, gave up, shook his head. Even his fingers were elegant.

“Jason,” Jill called over, “you good? Okay, good, great, we’re rolling!”

And they were. A clap. Action. Cameras on him, on Colby. Jason took a deep breath, straightened shoulders, let Stephen Lanyon emerge from the doorway that on a real ship would’ve led to his cabin. He had to duck his head a fraction to fit under the beam.

Because he was so focused on Colby, he walked right past his first mark: the spot where Stephen should pause and recognize exactly what visitor had come aboard.

Jill yelled, “Cut!”

Jason stopped. Swore. “Sorry, sorry, shit!”

“No worries, we’re fine, just remember to stop this time! Let’s start again!”

The extras, the seamen and deckhands, got back to business with ropes and deck-swabbing. Jason went back to the doorway. His cheeks burned. Colby hadn’t turned.

He took a breath. Let it go. He could do this. He could feel this.

He stopped thinking about how much he had to do this. He thought about Stephen, instead. The snarled knot of war and worry and love and patriotism and protectiveness tangled itself in his chest. It felt poignant and difficult and true.

On cue, he stepped out of the doorway, a captain thinking about orders and preparations and departure in three hours; he’d been told he had an aristocratic visitor, and his mind was spinning, trying to balance under-rationed supplies, trying to think of a message to send to Will, trying to figure out who that visitor might be -- one of the Lords of the Admiralty, or --

Jason, as Stephen, saw Will.

That unguarded shock of happiness stabbed through his ribs like a spear. The bewildering torrent of emotion left him speechless: thrilled that Will had come, afraid that Will had come, concerned for Will’s weak lungs and tempestuous relationship with a terrible father, delighted by the way Will gazed around this ship as if the H.M.S. Steadfast were the loveliest lady he’d ever seen, and of course she was, she was ...

He strode over there. Colby -- Will -- turned. Aglow with conspiratorial pleasure. “I love your boat.”

“She’s a ship.” He put a hand on the rail, a caress. “Even you must know that.”

“I’ve never been on a ship before. Not even a yacht on the Thames. She feels as if she could fly.” Colby’s eyes danced. “Tell me everything about her.”

Jason raised eyebrows. “Everything might take some time. My lord.”

“Everything,” Colby repeated. “Captain.” Fearless, glorious, pale from exertion and the slow grind of consumption, he was artwork. Jason couldn’t look away, enthralled.

He leaned closer. “We have our orders. We sail this afternoon.”

“I know.” Colby rested a hand on the rail beside his. Jason did not have gloves, because Stephen would not bother on board his own ship; Colby did not have gloves, because Will had forgotten them in haste to reach the docks before departure. Their fingers did not quite touch; Jason’s skin prickled and sang like a thousand symphonies.

Colby went on softly, “If I could come with you ... if I could run this far, far enough to stay here, like this, with you ...”

“You can’t.” Too harsh, but Stephen would be harsh: choking on the image, smothered by possibilities. Will shattered by cannon fire, ruined by a musket-ball, ravaged by fever ... coughing blood in the middle of an ocean, away from London and physicians ... “You have your world. I have mine.”

“My world ...” Colby, as Will, trailed a fingertip along the railing. Seasoned wood offered sympathy under the petting. “You know what my world is. My life. If I have a life.”

Ballrooms and supper-parties and a father’s strict disapproval and an endless parade of doctors and medicines. Ever-present, that specter with bone-white wings. Jason, as Stephen, breathed, “You’ll live. You must.”

“Stephen --”

“I’ll think of you,” Jason said. “I’ll think of you, wherever we are, and that will keep you alive. We sail for the West Indies to intercept the French. I’ll bring you a flower. For one of your scientific studies.”

“Then I’ll be here waiting for it.” Colby’s smile was magnificent: broken and hopeful, a kiss that Will could not give to Stephen in public, on a ship’s deck, under the sun. “And I’ll think of you. Sailing someplace full of tropical light, warm and bright.”

“And so you’ll keep me alive.” His hand slid over; his little finger brushed Colby’s. “It’s a bargain.”

“Accepted,” Colby whispered. “Agreed.” His eyes were very wide; he turned just enough to gaze up at Jason. His breaths were coming faster, though whether that was Will’s emotion or Colby’s, Jason couldn’t tell.

Hell, his own breaths were coming faster. Heart pounding. Confused about the need to bend Colby over the railing on the spot and also to wrap him up in protective fluff and never let go.

“So.” Colby’s smile -- Will’s smile, the teasing joy of an earl’s son who’d never known joy until now -- lit up the set. Raced down Jason’s spine. Painted the universe brighter. “Tell me everything. Starting now.”

COLLAPSE

About the Author

K.L. Noone employs her academic research for writing romance, frequently LGBTQIA, often paranormal, fantasy, or historical. Her full-length romance novels include the Character Bleed trilogy (Seaworthy, Stalwart, Steadfast), Cadence and the Pearl, and A Demon for Midwinter, available from JMS Books, and A Prophecy for Two, available from Inkshares, and she’s also the author of multiple romance short stories with JMS Books, and previously with Less Than Three Press, Circlet Press, and Ellora's Cave. Her non-romance fantasy fiction has appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress and the magazine Aoife's Kiss.

With the Professor Hat on, she’s published scholarly work on romance, fantasy, and folklore, including a book on Welsh mythology in popular culture and a book on ethics in Terry Pratchett’s fantasy. She is happily bisexual, married to the marvelous Awesome Husband, and currently owned by a long-legged black cat named Merlyn.


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