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The King’s Mate

Sam's Cafe Romances, Book 1

by Ashavan Doyon

Russell Pine goes to the café every morning to enjoy his  time chatting with Sam Tesh, the café  owner, a friend made over the past twenty years. So when Sam asks a favor, Russ reluctantly agrees to play in a chess tournament. But the contest isn’t the real challenge: Russ finds himself the focus of a secret courtship in words and pictures left for him to discover each morning, leading him to the question: In a café full of young and beautiful minds, who is looking at the graying chessmaster?

The first edition of this novella was published in June 2013 as part of Make a Play, the Daily Dose anthology at Dreamspinner Press. This is the expanded second edition.

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RUSSELL SAT at the counter at Sam’s Café. The coffee was excellent, the pastries divine, but the people watching…? Every quasi-intellectual cute preppy boy wannabe at the four surrounding colleges and universities came to this café to hang out, drink cappuccino, and generally pretend to be pretentious. Most of them weren’t really. Many of them were sweet. But they all wanted that other uppity, cute prep with the turned-up collar and belt made from an old tie. They were new, the ties, and far more expensive than any tie Russell might consider using for the purpose.


A local, Russell had been coming to the café for coffee and a pastry every morning since before high school—long before cappuccino became popular. He was in his midthirties now, a touch of silver in his neatly trimmed beard betraying his age. His face was otherwise youthful, and even his lack of a fancy haircut only made him seem a touch conservative, not old. But the silver in his beard, and that hint, just a hint, of gray in the deep black of the hair at his temple… that had every boy in the place looking away. In a culture where twenty-three was over the hill, the silver marked Russell as old.

Russell glanced at Sam Tesh, the barista, who dipped his head in understanding and refreshed his coffee. Russell smiled. “Thanks,” he said simply, pouring sugar in from the dispenser on the counter and stirring it lightly. He sipped tentatively, then smiled before setting the giant mug back on its saucer. He knew anyone else would be paying for a refresh. He nodded at Sam. “Appreciate it.”

“Hey, if they come for near on twenty years, I’ll give them free refills too,” Sam said with a smirk. He grabbed a wet cloth and started wiping down the counter. “So how’s work?”

“The same,” Russell said softly. “Nothing ever changes around here except them.” He nodded toward the swarms of young men.

“I was going to do a promotion,” Sam said hesitantly. “But I’d need your help.”

Russell raised an eyebrow. “I owe you, man, after last time.”

“He was a jerk, just took you a while to realize it,” Sam said. “Kid left that.” He nodded toward a table in the corner. A chessboard was set up properly, waiting. “I know you—”

Russell shook his head. “No way, Sam.”

“Now listen,” Sam said, “I was going to set up a row of them. Six tables. You make your move in the morning before we even open. You’re always here that early. They can play theirs whenever. First one to beat you gets free coffee for a year.”

Russell laughed. “So do I get the free coffee if I win?”

Sam laughed. “Maybe.”

Russell looked over to the table. None of the pretentious boys had been willing to try moving a chess piece yet. He closed his eyes for a moment and let his breath out in a whoosh. He owed this man. He owed him so much. Slowly, he opened his eyes and glanced at Sam. “They’ll be pissed if they find out.”

“One of them might beat you.”

Russell chuckled, though he didn’t doubt Sam could tell it was forced. “They can play white. I’ll make my moves in the morning.”

Sam’s grin was huge. “Thanks, man.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, trying to still his stomach from the flips it was already undergoing. “I want my coffee free for the month.”

Sam nodded. “The coffee. I still expect you to pay for that.” He pointed at the croissant.

“Deal,” Russell said, standing up and sliding a five across the counter. “Put the change in the tip jar for your starving junior barista.” He glanced at the quiet young man at the far side of the giant square bar in the center of the café. “He looks like he needs it.”

Sam swatted him playfully with the rag from the counter. “I pay enough.”

Russell just smiled, took a final long drink from his coffee, and wiped his upper lip with a napkin, wadding it up into the coffee mug. “See you tomorrow, Sam.”

Sam grinned again. “I really appreciate it, Russ,” he said as he lifted the mug and saucer, dumped them under the counter into a plastic bin there for just that purpose, and then wiped the counter again. “Looking forward to it.”


About the Author

Ashavan Doyon may have been a yeti in a prior life or possibly part giant. Either that or Texan air seriously messes up child development. During the day he’s a quiet and unassuming assistant at a liberal arts college in New England. At lunch, in the evenings, and when he can escape the grasp of his husband on weekends, Ashavan writes—with keyboard sounds on, because typing should make noise, beautiful clicky-clacky noise. He grew up reading fantasy classics and science fiction stories, but loves most speculative fiction. Growing up there was no such thing as a happy gay love story, and Ashavan writes to put those stories, full of fragility, beauty, even terror sometimes, into the world.

Consumed outside of his writing by a life with his husband and their ancient pug, Ashavan lives in Massachusetts and frequently complains about the snow that he never saw growing up in Texas. He went to school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and holds a degree in Russian and East European Studies with a focus in language and literature. Ashavan continues to adore speculative fiction and can often be found rereading the classics he grew up with in his spare time.

Ashavan loves to hear from readers.