Today I am so pleased to welcome Max Walker to Joyfully Jay. Max has come as part of the Coastal Magic Convention Blog Tour to talk to us about his release, Love and Monsters. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
Hiya Joyfully Jay Readers!
I’m so excited to be featured on the blog today! I’m Max, a gay romance author who’s been writing stories since I was a little kid and my grandmother bought me a rainbow-colored ink pen. Little did we know, that rainbow would be a prettttty big motif for me going on through life. All my stories feature gay leads and most of them have a mystery twist.
My newest series, The Book Club Boys, is a series of three books that I’m so incredibly proud of. It follows a queer book club that gets together to read mysteries and thrillers and sometimes solve them too! The first book, LOVE AND MONSTERS, is a friends-to-lovers romance following Noah and Jake, co-workers who promise to keep things friendly between each other…
That doesn’t last too long. But their ride to a HEA is made complicated by a stalker that sets their sights on Noah (and Jake). The boys will have to come together to figure out whose behind the threats before things escalate to the point of no return.
Check out this exclusive excerpt of Noah and Jake’s first date, and make sure to pick up the book on Amazon! A special illustrated paperback edition is set to be released November 15th.
Can’t wait to see everyone at the Coastal Magic Convention!Coastal Magic Convention is a casual reader weekend in Daytona Beach and takes place February 23-26, 2023. You can check out the website at http://CoastalMagicConvention.com if you want to learn a little more about the event. And if you are interested in signing up and joining us a the beach, you can register here.
A squirrel skittered up a tree, leaping onto a branch and bringing up the nut it had in its tiny hands, stuffing it into its cheek as it eyed everyone that walked underneath his home.
Piedmont Park was packed with people. Families were gathered on blankets, kids ran around the emerald-green grass, there was a game of flag football going on, joggers were doing their laps, and friends celebrating Sunday Funday were riding around on scooters. The skyline was framed by towering office and apartment buildings, their metallic and stone peaks reaching up to a cloudless sky, as if even they wanted to emphasize just how nice the day was.
It was exactly the kind of environment I wanted to be in after the shitshow of a morning Noah and I had. My knuckles were still sore, and disbelief at what happened still filtered through me, but the more we walked and joked around with each other, the more normal I began to feel. There were very few people I’d throw a punch for in this world, one of them being the man currently sipping on iced coffee and telling me a story about his first time out of the country.
“It was pretty wild,” he said as we moved aside while a bachelorette party zoomed past us on their scooters, the bride wearing a white-and-pink sash around her chest. “Thankfully, I learned pretty quickly how to drive on the other side of the road. But drinking water without ice? Now, that’s where I had to draw the line.”
I chuckled, drinking some of my hazelnut-infused coffee. The sweetness swirled down my throat. “Was London a dream trip for you?”
He nodded. I couldn’t help but notice the tiny beat of a pulse in his neck, right where I’d had my lips pressed against the night before. “It was,” he answered. “I definitely want to go back, but I think my next big trip is going to be to Australia. How about you?”
“Spain,” I said. “Australia seems fun, but there’s too many animals that can kill you over there. I’d rather go eat some tapas and hang out on the beach. Plus, Spanish architecture is just unbeatable.”
“I’d just be nervous since I don’t know much Spanish. I can say hi and ‘como esta,’ but that’s about it.”
“I can translate for you,” I said before realizing what that statement sounded like.
“So you’re stuffing me in your suitcase for the trip?” He winked at me, straw sitting in the corner of his mouth, bright white teeth gently pressing down on the tip as he smiled.
“I’d rather have you sitting next to me on the plane. It’s a long flight.”
“I can practice my Spanish on the way, then.”
I shrugged, looking ahead at the curling gates leading into the Botanical Gardens. “Or we can keep ourselves busy some other way.”
Noah nearly tripped. He took a big sip of his drink, gulping it down. I watched his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed. Another target for my lips, tongue, teeth to graze against. “Are you talking about joining a certain club measured in miles?”
“That’s the one. Do you already have a membership card?”
Noah shook his head. His cheeks took on a flush that I was seriously becoming obsessed with. I loved teasing this guy, making him all flustered and rosy pink. And it wasn’t very hard to do either. I could give him a wink and a lick of my lips and he’d be morphing into a strawberry with legs.
“Well,” I said, “we can become first-time members together, then.”
“I can’t even imagine how that happens. Those bathrooms are sooo tiny.”
I scoffed, taking a sip of my coffee. “Oh, I can definitely imagine. All you have to do is push me up against the wall and have your way with me.”
Noah’s eyes went wide, cheeks catching fire. See? Easy.
“Oh, look, the Botanical Gardens is having a glass-blowing exhibit. Wanna check it out?” I asked, as if I didn’t just tell Noah to fuck me inside of an airplane bathroom.
“Uh, yeah, yeah, that sounds good.” He blinked a couple of times, as if trying to clear away the surprise from my statement. I laughed and bumped a shoulder into him. His gaze rose to meet me, catching some of the sunlight and making his eyes glitter like two emerald-green jewels. The bright green shirt he had on helped enhance the colors, hypnotizing me. I wanted to lean in and kiss him, right there and then.
But he turned away from me, walking toward the entrance to the gardens, his perky bubble butt bouncing around in his tight khaki shorts. Suddenly, I wanted to do so much more than kiss him. I wanted to explore him with my tongue, burying my face in that juicy ass.
We’re going to need to talk about this friend thing between us.
I decided to file away that thought for later. A discussion about what we were to each other could be extremely beneficial or extremely detrimental. What if he decided to keep things as just friends? What if he didn’t want to make anything awkward at work between us?
What if, what if, what if…
What if I’m spending the day with my better half? What if this is just the beginning?
We walked up to the ticket counter and got our tickets, along with a map of the gardens. It was deceptively large for being located in the center of a bustling city. An entire afternoon could be spent just lazily strolling through the azalea walk, wandering across the canopy walk and admiring all the blooming roses in the rose garden. I loved spending time here with friends who came to visit from out of state, impressing them with all the natural beauty found tucked inside of our concrete jungle.
I also enjoyed bringing dates here in the past, which was exactly what this was beginning to feel like.
Before we got started on our mini-adventure, we were interrupted by a surprised ‘hey!’. We turned to see Mason holding a map in his hands, a camera dangling from his neck along with the multitude of necklaces. “Fancy seeing you two here.”
“Mason, hey there,” Noah said, offering a wide grin. Atlanta was a big city but still had the magic coincidences of a small town, making surprise meetings like these more common than somewhere like the labryinths that were New York or LA.
“I’ve been meaning to stop by,” he said, putting the map into his back pocket. I noticed his eyes wandered all over Noah, from head to toe, as if looking to make sure he was still all in one piece. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you since that night. Everything ok?”
“As OK as it can be,” Noah said. He glanced at me, smile flickering a little wider. “There’s been a silver-lining to all of this mess.”
“Good, I’m glad. I just can’t imagine—Not that I can’t imagine anyone stalking you. You’re clearly an incredible handsome man with a very charming smile and now I’m sounding very weird. Jeez, I need to learn to filter myself sometimes.” Mason’s papery thin skin took on a flush of rose red, his cheeks turning into bloody spotlights.
“That’s fine, I’m never one to turn down a couple of compliments.” Noah chuckled. “Or baked goods. Wink wink.”
“I’ll be around later today with exactly that. The baked goods. Not compliments, unless you still want them. Ok, I’m done. You two go off on your romantic date. I was just heading home.”
“Oh we aren’t—“ Noah didn’t finish his sentence and I didn’t bother to complete it for him, either. We waved goodbye to Mason and turned, the air between us crackling with a different kind of energy.
“Ooook. Where do you want to go first?” Noah asked, looking at the map, which gave me a chance to look at him, devouring him from head to toe, noticing that his bubble butt wasn’t the only thing bulging in those khaki shorts.
I brought my thoughts back down to earth. “Want to check out the Cascade Gardens? Then we can make our way over to the orchid center?”
He nodded, smiling at me as he tucked the map into his back pocket. I was surprised there was still room there.
We took a right and started down a path flanked by bushy ferns and perfectly trimmed hedges. Even though it was a random spring Sunday, the gardens were pretty packed, with families pushing strollers and dates walking hand in hand, admiring all the colorful flowers and foliage. The path curved and rose over a tiny hill, opening up onto the Cascade Gardens, which the Earth Goddess called home. She was a living sculpture, massive in scale and covered with hundreds—if not thousands—of flowers that flowed down her long tendrils of hair. Her moss-covered hand was outstretched over a large pool, water falling down from between her fingers like a magical waterfall. It was serene and tranquil, a peacefulness that settled into your chest and made most conversations drift off as everyone stood around in silence to appreciate the beautiful living art.
“This is one of my favorite spots in the garden,” I said to Noah, my voice low. He snapped a couple of pictures before lifting his phone in the air and flipping the camera. He leaned into me and smiled. I rested my head against his, matching the grin, both of our eyes gleaming as he took the picture.
“Send that to me,” I said, already deciding that would be one of my favorite photos of all time.
“I will,” he promised, pocketing his phone and turning back to the Earth Goddess. We soaked in the beauty for a couple more minutes before deciding to move on, walking down toward the azalea walk, which had one of the most stunning blown-glass sculptures I’d ever seen. It rose up at least twenty feet into the air, made of sunny yellow spikes that grew out of an ocean-blue center. It almost seemed like a real plant, belonging somewhere on an alien planet.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” Noah said, craning his head and shielding his eyes from the sun so he could see the entirety of the towering structure. “How can anyone make that?”
“Lots of dedication and lung strength,” I said. “I took a glass-blowing course in college, actually. Thought it would be an easy A. Turned out to be the one class I almost failed.”
Noah chuckled at that. He shook his empty coffee cup, the ice clanking around inside. “Where did you go to college?” he asked.
“University of Miami. It was close enough to home but far enough for me to be able to stretch my wings and figure things out on my own. It helped that I had a full-ride scholarship.”
Noah nodded, impressed. “Yeah, I crossed that one off my list because of the tuition. And my grades weren’t anywhere near good enough to get a scholarship.”
“Where’d you go?” I asked.
“Stayed local. I went to the University of Georgia over in Athens. It was a good time, and I went with Eric and Tristan, so it felt like home from the start.”
I smiled at that, happy his experience was so positive. “Eric and Tristan seem like really good guys.”
“They are. They really, really are. Both of them have hearts of gold, and all three of us have each other’s backs until the end. They’re like my brothers at this point. How about you? What’s your friend group like?”
I pursed my lips, shoulders dropping a bit. “Well, most of my closest friends were from UM, and we all kind of dispersed after college. When I moved back to Atlanta, I started dating, and my friends were mostly my partner’s friends, which never really works out after a split. My closest friend here, oddly enough, is probably Ashley, my ex-girlfriend. I turned into her gay guru after she came out to me seconds after I proposed to her. It wasn’t great, but it’s exactly what needed to happen. I was feeling pressure to pop a question I really didn’t want to ask and she was being pressured into staying with me.
After that day, we worked things out. I think I feel closer to her now than when we were dating. Is that weird?”
“Nah, I don’t think it is. Sometimes people are just more compatible as friends than as lovers.” His voice drifted off toward the end, as if he realized what he was saying could apply to us.
That made my heart skip a beat. Was he trying to insinuate something? Could this be his way of saying that we were better off as friends than as anything else?
Before I could ask him to elaborate, his phone pinged in his pocket. He took it out and read the message, sending back a quick reply before looking to me with a question in his gaze.
“What happened?” I asked, slowing down in front of a series of glass roses.
“I told Tristan we were around. He’s at Blakes with his brother and wants us to join. You down?”
Blakes was the local gay watering hole, where people went for strong drinks and good music. I hadn’t been in a while but definitely didn’t mind showing up with Noah at my side. Hell, he could have asked me if I wanted to walk into the center of an active volcano with him and I likely would have said yes.
“Let’s do it,” I said, excited to spend the day with the intriguing and smiley man who was quickly capturing more than just my time and attention.
A trip to the grocery store changed my life.
That’s where I bumped into my ‘straight’ co-worker and good friend, Jake Perez.
I decided to invite him to my book club night, not realizing the chain of events that invite would kick off.
Immediately our chemistry became too explosive to contain, making our friendship and work relationship complicated. That same night, a bloody package addressed to me lands on my doorstep.
Falling for Jake was never in the plans—then again neither was being targeted by a dangerous stalker.
This was going to be interesting.
We were supposed to stay just friends—but how was that going to happen when all I wanted to do was kiss the guy?
Joining his book club sounded like a perfect way to spend more time with him. I wasn’t counting on liking him more and more with every passing second.
Then came the targeted threats, throwing a wrench in our budding ‘friendship’
One thing was certain, though. Well, maybe two.
I was going to help Noah figure out who was behind making his life a living hell and I was going to do it while staying as just friends.
Friends who liked to hold hands and kiss and…
Yeah. This was going to be harder than I thought.
Max Walker is the author of the popular romantic suspense series, Stonewall Investigations, which is currently being published and translated in Italian and has three successful spin-off series. He’s self-published over twenty books, many of which are in audio.
Max has been a featured author at the Apollycon book signing event and is scheduled to appear at RARE-Florence in Italy next September. His books have over 15,000 reviews on Goodreads and have garnered a passionate fan base. You can find him on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook @maxwalkerwrites