Ashton Townsend is the most famous celebutante of Manhattan’s glitterati. The black sheep of his wealthy family, he’s known for his club appearances, Instagram account, and sex tape. Most people can’t imagine him wanting for anything, but Ashton yearns for friendship, respect, and the love of his best friend—amateur boxer Valdrin Leka.
Val’s relationship with Ashton is complicated. As the son of Ashton’s beloved nanny, Val has always bounced between resenting Ashton and regarding him as his best friend. And then there’s the sexual attraction between them that Val tries so hard to ignore.
When Ashton flees his glitzy lifestyle, he finds refuge with Val in the Bronx. Between Val’s training for an upcoming fight and dodging paparazzi, they succumb to their need for each other. But before they can figure out what it all means—and what they want to do about it—the world drags them out of their haven, revealing a secret Val has kept for years. Now, Ashton has to decide whether to once again envelop himself in his party-boy persona, or to trust in the only man who’s ever seen the real him.
I was sitting on the bench in the locker room at Cadet’s with my head in my hands. Lancing pain combined with lack of sleep meant that the sound of someone hitting the bag was pushing me so close to the edge that I was poised to fall off.
Normally, I heard the sound of the speed bag in my sleep. When I hit it at just the right rhythm, it was a staccato tap-tap-tap backed by steady hissing—my lullaby since birthday number seven when I’d first gone to Cadet’s Boxing Club with my father. A few years later he’d taken off, never to be seen again, on the night of my first competitive fight. Without his face in the crowd, I hadn’t cared about winning. The first indicator that I was in it for the wrong reasons.
Wincing, I dug my fingers into my hair and kept my eyes closed. In the gym bag at my feet, my cell phone vibrated. Again.
“Valdrin, what the fuck are you doing?”
My fingers dug grooves in my hair. It was too long, which I hated, but I hadn’t had time to go to the barber. When you didn’t have a lot of time, things like that took a backseat, but—
The phone stopped vibrating.
Relief sang through me for just a second . . . and then the phone started again.
My head snapped up, too fast and sharp for the current state of my back and shoulders, and I squinted. Through the sweat still trickling into my eyes, and the spots dancing before them, I saw Matt Lawrence. He was bigger than me by two weight classes and spent half his gym time training neighborhood kids instead of working on himself, which was partially why I’d gravitated to him in the first place. I’d wanted to know how I could help, before realizing I’d never have the time.
“You taking a nap?”
“I’m fucking dehydrated,” I said. “Can’t even focus and I haven’t done anything yet besides a workout.”
Matt braced his hands at the top of the door-frame, leaning into the locker room, and stared at me like I’d lost my marbles somewhere in the past thirty-six hours of all work and absolutely no sleep.
“When’s the last time you ate? Drank water? Took a vitamin or a nap?”
The questions made my head ache worse than it already did. “Uh. Last Tuesday.”
“You’re an idiot.” Matt exhaled loudly. “I’m ratting you out to Tony.” When I sat up straight, mouth dropping open, ready to unleash a ton of excuses and protests, Matt flipped me off. “If you step in the ring like this, you’re going to get your ass knocked out. I mean, you be doing that shit anyway, but at least it’s when you’re putting in work and not because you’re too stupid to hydrate and sleep before coming in.”
“Don’t tell.” I sounded like a five-year-old. “For real, man. I’ve been slacking, and Tony’s gonna drop me.”
“You spend your days driving a cab and doing handyman shit around your building. That’s not slacking.” Matt frowned as he considered me, genuine worry in his big brown eyes. “Tony would legit never drop you. He’s been your trainer since before you had pubic hair.”
My phone chimed loudly from my gym bag. I ignored it.
“He said my head ain’t in the game lately.”
“It’s not.” Matt jerked his chin at me. “You’re pastier than usual.”
Facts. I’d made the mistake of looking in the mirror as I’d taped up my fists, and I’d nearly cringed at what had looked back at me. My mother’s swarthy complexion was nowhere to be seen and my eyes had stared back like sunken coals. It was then that I’d realized my last two weeks of eating nothing but protein bars and NOS were going to ruin my body, and the three jobs I was juggling were going to shatter my already frayed mind.
Hunching forward, I dropped my head into my hands again. “Fuck.”
“It’s cool, man.” Matt rubbed a hand over his shaved head, shining it with the sweat that had accumulated after sparring with one of the older guys. “Spend tomorrow getting your life together, sleep in, and be ready tomorrow afternoon. I’m telling you—there’s no point in you doing shit in this condition. You’ll just get fucked up and hear a forty-five-minute lecture from Tony.”
My resolve had begun to crumble at the mention of sleeping in. Instead of dark, damp-looking concrete and gray walls, I could see my cramped apartment on 164th and the lumpy bed that was still a comfort despite the springs. How good it would feel to crawl under the sheet after a hot shower and a meal.
To celebrate the release of Concourse, one lucky winner will receive a $25 Riptide credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on May 6, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
About the Author & Links:
Santino was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed grunge kid, then a transient twentysomething, and eventually transformed into a guy who spends his days and nights writing romance with an edge.
Santino is a dedicated gamer, a former fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of LGBT fiction that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.