When your lover becomes a stranger, trust is the weakest link of all.
Bartender Tony Gemetti has it all: a rich, hot boyfriend, a McMansion in the 'burbs and unlimited sex in an expectation-free zone. He thought that was all he ever wanted out of any relationship--until Jack begins making excuses for frequent disappearances. Realizing he has more than his libido and enough drawers for his T-shirt collection riding on this relationship, Tony figures it's time to find out what's going on.
Jack Noble has spent his life hiding his real self behind a carefully created image. With Tony, he finally knows real freedom, real happiness. Now a past of buried secrets and lies is closing in, and no matter how hard he tries to stop it, the truth is tearing through. Once Tony learns what kind of man Jack really is, he won't stay. Jack's sure of it.
Suddenly the past shows up in a completely unexpected way, testing the boundaries of their old, coasting-along-on-fun relationship. Tony indeed finds that Jack isn't the man he went looking for, but it's too late. There's too much at stake to just walk away. First, though, he has to make sure there are no lies left for Jack to hide behind.
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December 07, 2010
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Excerpt from Not Knowing Jack by K. A. Mitchell
Tony Gemetti had a rich fantasy life. No, not like that--except when it was like that--but give him an ordinary circumstance, and he could imagine some pretty weird stuff behind it. Like now.
He and his boyfriend, Jack, had just walked into Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up something that Jack needed because Jack always needed something to make the house look more like a picture right out of Architectural Digest. Tony couldn't remember what the thing they were getting was, but he knew after they found it, Jack would let Tony drag him through all the kitchen stuff. Jack the chef would explain what some of the freaky-looking equipment was for, and Tony would suggest a much kinkier use for it. Then they'd go home and screw like something on Animal Planet. Or sometimes they wouldn't make it home. Sometimes they only made it to the car, which was fine with Tony, although they couldn't get up to much today since they'd taken Tony's ancient Rabbit instead of Jack's BMW X3.
But this trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond wasn't going like that. This was Tony standing alone in the seasonal display area near the front--a weird mix of fans for summer and stuff for kids to put in their dorm rooms and seashell string lights. Jack had said something like "I'm going to get the thing," or maybe he went to the can. Tony wasn't paying attention because there had been this tiny little box that looked like it was made out of twisty ties, and he had to touch it. But now Jack wasn't there. And he didn't come back.
Tony checked out all of the fans, poked at the lap desks--which didn't look to be nearly as interesting as a lap dance--and switched on every one of the snake-necked desk lamps, and Jack still didn't come back. The fantasy thing didn't start right away, because there were still the super fuzzy pillows to touch and candles to smell and a bowl of rocks--people paid money for rocks?--to make fun of. When he put the rocks back into the glass bowl, his elbow caught in a rack of shower caddies and by the time he'd picked them up he knew he'd been waiting at least twenty minutes.
Jack had disappeared.
An alien abduction was too easy. It would have to be something really weird. Tony banked on some kind of government conspiracy. Like he'd go up to the checkout and say, "Have you seen that guy I came in with?" and they would say, "Sir, you came in alone" because Jack was really a deep undercover agent, and some guys in black would erase the surveillance tapes of the store.
Tony would go home, but Jack's house wouldn't be Jack's house, and the pictures of them on Tony's phone would be gone, and their friends Sean and Kyle would act like they'd never heard of Jack. So Tony would have to find him, rescue him from some evil military boss, because Tony was the only one who believed that there had ever been a Jack.
"Hey." Jack appeared at his side, and Tony knocked over the caddies again. He wasn't a klutz. Jack had scared the hell out of him, popping up like that when Tony was halfway convinced he was the only person on the planet left with a memory of Jack.
"Did you get the covers for the mop?"
"The what?" Okay. Tony had heard Jack the first time. But it took a little time to get back from fantasyland, especially when the return destination was a Bed, Bath & Beyond in Canton, Ohio. So, Jack hadn't been erased. He'd still disappeared for a long-ass time.
"I thought you went to get them."
"I told you I wanted to look at a new duvet. I've been all over the store looking for you."
There might have been a few more acres of towels, shower curtains and bedspreads than the entire state of Ohio required in this one store, but it didn't take twenty minutes to do a lap around it. Not even two laps.
"Confess." Tony jerked his thumb at the ladder which provided them both with a view of the better part of a store employee's anatomy as he leaned toward a shelf near the ceiling. "You took bubble butt here into the break room for a little action with the melon ballers."
Jack's eyes were wide, his mouth hanging open. Tony was so gone on the guy even busted and stupid looked hot. Who wouldn't fall for that wide mouth and those full lips? Tony knew damned well how smooth and hot and tight they were when they slid down a dick.
The expression Jack was sporting right now was kind of guilty, but Tony didn't want to come off as jealous. They hadn't actually talked about whether or not blowing a hot twenty-year-old store clerk would be a problem between them. Because they hadn't talked about much of anything. A year and a couple months ago, Jack had asked Tony to move in. Tony had been packed in ten minutes. Discussion over.
"I mean. If you wanted to suck him off--or anyone else--hey, all I'm asking is you video it on your phone so I can watch it later."
That worked. Jack laughed, ending it in that smile that showed off perfect teeth and made his green eyes sparkle in that way that Tony swore had to have been genetically engineered in some lab to sell shoes to a snake. Jack should have been a model instead of a chef.
"Crazy asshole." Jack's hand landed on the back of Tony's neck for a second.
"That's why you love me."
You do love me, right?
Jack had said it before. In kind of an offhand way, and at least once when he wasn't coming. Tony had said it too, but that had been after the first time Jack had cooked him dinner. Tony had been completely sincere. It had been a hell of a dinner. Jack's restaurant was the best in town.
"C'mon. Let's get the shower-curtain liner."
"The mop covers." Tony's checkered past might have left him with a few crispy neural pathways, but he still had some short-term memory.
On Sunday, Tony found himself in a situation that felt hard to explain even with evil-government-conspiracy fantasies. He dragged his ass downstairs at ten in the morning to find Jack not only showered, shaved and dressed, but dressed up. Not in a tux or anything, which would have stirred up that whole James Bond, secret-agent thing again, but still. Slacks and a collared shirt and a sweater were pretty fancy for a day when they usually didn't get out of bed. Jack hated being dragged out early on Sundays. Sundays were the newspaper and coffee kisses that turned into blow jobs from superheated mouths.
"I'm going into the restaurant." Jack turned away and rinsed out the mug he'd been holding when Tony got into the kitchen.
"Did something happen?" Tony pictured a fire, a flood, a rat infestation and then a power failure that left a hundred cheesecakes thawing in the freezer. The restaurant where Jack worked didn't open until six on Sunday except for their Mother's Day brunch. And Mother's Day wasn't until next weekend. Tony always remembered to take his mom flowers.
Jack didn't turn, just loaded his mug and spoon in the dishwasher, then wiped down the already immaculate granite countertop. "No. Everything's fine. But I need to check some things out for next week. I think I'm going to take the curried chicken off the menu. I keep telling Russ we don't sell enough to make it worth it."
Yeah, Jack had been saying that. But it seemed kind of a weird thing to tackle on a Sunday instead of Monday. Tony was just about to bring that up when Jack straightened and turned around. The smile on his face looked as fake as lipstick on a WNBA coach. If Jack had been some kind of secret agent, Tony could see why they had to erase him. Jack was terrible at undercover stuff.
Jack stepped forward and kissed him, something quick that barely landed on the corner of Tony's mouth. "I don't know how long it's going to take."
"No problem." Tony hoped he didn't sound as fake as Jack's lie. "See you when you get home. Bring some of whatever wine you love this week."
"You've got it." Jack scooped his keys from the hook by the door and headed into the garage.
Tony headed over to Sean and Kyle's.
Tony didn't exactly have a lot of models in his life for what a relationship was supposed to look like. Neither his nor his half-sister's dads had stayed around long enough to make much of an impression. And he hadn't been all that thrilled when his best buddy Sean had started talking about Kyle in that whole sappy cue-the-swelling-music-and-run-across-a-field-of-flowers-in-the-sunshine kind of way. It had been enough to turn Tony's stomach. But after seven years, Kyle had kind of grown on Tony. So much so that when Sean and Kyle's happy little love nest exploded last year--reason enough what with Sean taking a bullet during a school shooting--Tony had missed knowing there was a couple out there who got it right.
Then Sean had pulled his head out of his ass and gotten Kyle back, so Tony decided the two of them would be pretty useful at figuring out if he should start packing his stuff up before Jack had to tell him to get out. Besides, they'd introduced him to Jack, so it was their fault if Tony was about to get his heart stomped on.
Tony tried not to let his tongue hang out in desperation when he went into a kitchen full of the smell of coffee and cinnamon and messy with the Sunday papers. Sean fed him at the counter, and Kyle only raised an eyebrow when Tony opted for a beer instead of a cup of coffee. A year ago, Tony would have gotten an eye roll and a sarcastic remark with his beer. Yeah, he and Kyle had grown on each other.
Tony popped the cap and took a swig. There wasn't much point in beating around the bush. His friends weren't so stupid they wouldn't figure out something was going on. "How long have you guys known Jack?"
He couldn't decide who started it, but Sean and Kyle passed this look between them. Back when Kyle first moved in, that was exactly the kind of thing that had twisted Tony's nuts till he could puke. But now that he'd spent all that time wondering if they'd ever patch things up, he didn't mind it so much. He and Jack didn't talk with just a look. Hell, they couldn't even seem to manage it with words. Just bodies. And food.
After the look went on for a few seconds, Kyle answered. "I met him when Russell Brown hired us to design the expansion on the restaurant."
"How long had he been working there?"
Kyle shrugged. "Never came up."
"You going to tell us what's going on? Or are you going to sit there being all cryptic while you mix Michelob with French toast?" Sean's hands landed on the kitchen island, framing Tony's beer.
"You saying it's not the breakfast of champions?"
"C'mon," Sean urged.
The thing was, when it came to it, Tony didn't have much beyond a little weirdness to go on. And who hadn't acted weird once or twice? He'd almost made a career out of it.
"Nothing. Did you guys know that Julia Childs was a spy during World War II?"
For some reason, Kyle was much quicker to follow Tony's bizarre jump of logic. "You think Jack is a spy?"
"No. I mean, it's just weird. He never talks about anything from before we met. Like he didn't have a life before then. He knows everything about me."
"So, he's a good listener," Sean said.
"Or you're a good talker," Kyle added.
"Get me drunk again and we'll see." Kyle batted his long lashes in Tony's direction.
"Too easy. Dude, your boyfriend's a slut. Hey." Tony lunged after the most nutritious part of his balanced breakfast, but Sean wouldn't give him his beer back.
Sean looked at the bottle in his hand. "I have an experiment in mind. I'm trying to decide which is harder: the gel in your hair or the glass of this bottle."
"Okay, okay." Tony put a precautionary hand over his head. "He's just been a little weird. I wondered if something was bothering him."
"Wow. Here's an idea." Sean put the bottle back on the counter. "Ask him."
"Thanks. Your time on Oprah's couch give you that brilliant psychoanalysis skill, dude? It's not like he's been howling at the moon or anything. Just--forget it." Tony pushed away from the counter and headed for the door.
"Tony, I'm sorry. Wait." Kyle came after him. "No crap this time. What's really going on?"
He tried to think of how to say it. How could you say that after living with a guy for a year, he'd suddenly become a stranger? "You know how you were saying with all the crap that happened this past year that Sean had changed?"
"You're saying Jack's changed?"
"No. I'm saying I wouldn't know if he had because I don't even know who he is." Tony waved a hand in frustration.
"What does that mean?" Kyle spread his hands out.
With them both being Italian, someone could get poked in the eye if they really got a heated conversation going. Tony resolved to keep his hands in his pockets. "I don't know. I'm sorry I brought it up."
"I know what you were saying when all the crap happened this past year: talk to him."
The gate opened in front of him, and Jack drove down the drive of the house up on Marblehead. This end of the Lake Erie peninsula was so high-end he was surprised they hadn't gated the whole block of land. As the drive split at the front of the house, he wondered if Barbara and Phil expected him to go around to the back entrance, the one reserved for "deliveries", the lovely uber-rich euphemism for servants' entrance.
Screw their expectations, he was going in the front door. He knew why he'd been summoned to an audience, knew for the first time since meeting the Howards that he had something they wanted badly enough to leave him holding all the power when they sat down for one of their little discussions. Another euphemism, the discussions were negotiations executed with the ruthlessness one would expect from a Harvard MBA and a corporate lawyer. Not that Barbara or Phil needed to work for a living. Their degrees were just extra weapons in the bristling Howard family arsenal.
Barbara herself let Jack in, the big house empty to the point of echoes. They'd probably just come to the Marblehead house for this meeting, down from--what month was it, May?--the family compound out on Mackinaw Island. When Barbara led him to the room that overlooked the lake and Tony saw the big launch sitting at the private marina, he knew he was right. The trip to Marblehead was all about this meeting.
Phil got to his feet as Jack came in. He had to hand it to his former father-in-law. There was only the slightest hint of disgust as Phil shook Jack's hand and waved him toward a seat on the couch. Two heavy legal files dominated the surface of the coffee table. Barbara arranged herself crisply in one of the club chairs across from the couch, and Phil took the other. With his ex in-laws seated, Jack perched on the edge of the cushion and waited.
Phil pushed one of the legal files in front of him. "We've got some things we'd like you to sign. Nothing we haven't talked about before. We just think it's time, don't you?"
From the moment Phil's call had dragged Jack out of Bed, Bath & Beyond and sent him pacing around the parking lot, Jack knew. He locked his back teeth together to prevent any kind of reaction before he flipped open the file. But the words on that blue-backed legal document still wavered and shifted under his gaze. Not unexpected. Just permanent. And more painful than he'd imagined. Locked teeth weren't enough so he bit down on his tongue.
"The financial details are in section four."
Because to the Howards, it was always about money.
"I'm still going to need to run this past my own lawyer."
"Of course." Though Phil's tone suggested he wasn't exactly pleased with that course of action. Not that there was any chance of a fair fight. The Howards had an army of lawyers. Jack had an overworked guy and his two paralegals working out of a Queen Anne on McKinley Street. "Though we'd like to see this all wrapped up by the summer."
"Why the sudden rush?"
"It's not sudden at all," Phil said. "We've discussed this in the past. Is there any reason to think you've changed your mind?"
"No. I haven't changed my mind." Not changed, but still his mind shied away from thinking about it too carefully, about what signing and initialing his way through that file would mean. He'd buried the words and the meanings so deep he could almost forget about the failure of his first life. But there it was in black-and-white legalese. Constituting an agreement between Phillip Lawrence Howard and John Anderson Noble in the matter of--
Jack shut the file and thought instead of Tony's grin. Of what would happen to that grin if he really knew where Jack had gone today. But still... "I want to see them before I sign off on it."
"I'm not sure that's possible." Barbara's thin smile was cold enough to make Jack glad he'd worn a sweater.
"Oh, I'm sure it is." Especially if they were in a hurry. Barbara and Phil might win in a lawyer-to-lawyer slugfest, but the only way to get what they wanted now was for Jack to give it to them. "So you'll call when you've set it up?"
"It would have to be on a Saturday. Provided we can have your signature by next week."
"It will have to be on a Sunday." Jack put his hands on the files. "And on that Sunday, you'll have these. Signed and notarized."
"Fine." Phil stood up, and it was clear his distaste at being in the same room with Jack had finally stripped away the veneer of civility. There was no handshake this time. No showing him to the door. Jack picked up the files that would sever the connection to the last part of the life he'd tried so hard to make real and left the house.