Below you’ll find the complete first chapter from my upcoming Contemporary MM Romance novel Final Stretch, available on Amazon Friday, September 15th!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This chapter is unedited and subject to change before the final release.
Chapter 1: Travis
Meeting fans is my favorite thing in the world.
Not so much the fans who root for the Storm because they’re from Portland. Definitely not the fans who abandon us as soon as we drop our winning record. I know those fans make up the majority and they’re the ones that keep me in uniform week after week, but they’re not the people I roll out of bed for at five in the morning. They’re not the people I’d fly countless hours just to meet for a few measly minutes apiece.
It’s the superfans that remind me why I do what I do. The men, women, and kids who’ve never missed a single game I’ve played. The people who donated thousands to a charity auction just so they could meet me. They genuinely seem to appreciate what I do, and they’re not afraid to tell me.
“We’ve been following your career since you played for Eastshore,” one woman says, a teenage boy by her side. “You’re singlehandedly responsible for my son’s education.”
My brows lift and I let out a soft, surprised laugh. “I think you’re giving me way too much credit.”
She shakes her head vehemently. “It’s true! Josh loves football, but he was flunking out of all his classes. That talk you gave on the importance of having an education and a backup plan for after football… it changed his life.”
I turn my attention to the boy. He seems about sixteen, tall and a little lanky, but with some definition in his arms like he’s no stranger to the weight room. He looks a lot like I did at that age.
“Josh, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret here,” I tell him, motioning for him to come closer. He does. “You’re the one who changed your life. Don’t forget that, okay?”
I take a picture with Josh and his mom, sign some stuff for them, and even shoot a short video for my Instagram on the promise that it would make Josh’s teammates really jealous.
All my social media accounts are filled with stuff like that. It’s part of the Travis Morrison brand. The good-natured boy next door who always has time for his fans.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m really standing in front of Travis Morrison,” the next person to meet me says.
My agent set this up so it would almost feel like a mixer. We’re in a hotel conference room with an open bar and there’s no table between me and the fans. Still, he must be enforcing some kind of order from the shadows. Otherwise it would just turn into chaos.
“You’re making me feel like a unicorn or something,” I say with a laugh, taking a sip of the cocktail that was conveniently brought to me after the minor left.
“Not a unicorn. More like a merman. A big, sexy merman.” He gives me a once-over, then laughs nervously, clapping a hand over his mouth. “Oh God, ignore me. Just pretend I never said that.”
A little heat rises in my cheeks. This is definitely the first time I’ve been compared to a mythical sea creature, and I take it like it was meant: As a compliment.
“Just how big and sexy are we talking here? Have I reached Jason Momoa levels, or do I still have a ways to go?”
I would ride Momoa into the sunset, and I know I’m not the only one.
The man talking to me turns beet red, all the way to the tips of his ears. “That is so going into the vlog.”
I grin at that, lifting my glass in cheers. “YouTube?”
“Yeah. I have a channel where I talk about queer celebrities. You come up probably once a month. Sometimes more than that,” he says, seeming to find his confidence now that he’s talking about something he loves.
“Good things, I hope?”
“No, yeah! All good things.” He looks flustered again, and I smile to try and set him at ease. “I don’t think I have to tell you that football’s a pretty straight sport. You’ve done a lot to make it more approachable to queer fans.”
These are the things that always stick with me. The fact that I’ve made a difference in peoples’ lives just blows my mind.
“That means a lot to me. I’m sorry, what was your name?”
“Matt,” he says, extending his hand. “Matt Sanders.”
I give it a firm shake. “Really good to meet you, Matt. My agent said a YouTuber would be here. He also said you were wanting an exclusive interview, is that right?”
It was part of the deal. The fans who gave enough–or raised enough–for charity got to submit a request for something above and beyond the typical autograph and selfie.
“Yeah,” he says as he pulls a small camera from the bag at his hip. “We can do it now, if you’re ready?”
I give him the go-ahead, and we move over to a couch that’s been set up specifically for stuff like this. Matt sets the camera up on a tripod and fires off some questions I’ve already answered before. I try to give him a little extra–his viewers gave a lot of money to True Colors on his request–but it isn’t until his last question that I have the chance to really give him his exclusive.
“So I know this is probably going to crush a lot of hopes and dreams,” he says, “but is there anybody special in your life right now?”
I get asked that question a lot. My agent always tells me to leave it open-ended; keep hope alive. It’s part of my brand. Part of my appeal.
But I’ve been sitting on this news for a while, and I feel like a queer YouTube channel is the perfect place to break it.
“Actually, you wanted an exclusive, right?” I reach into the pocket of my blazer and pull out a small, velvet box. “I’m proposing to my boyfriend tonight. Wish me luck?”
He freaks out over that, and his excitement and enthusiasm just wash over me, putting me at ease for the first time since I bought the damn thing.
I know my agent’s not going to be happy. I haven’t even told the press that Jeremy and I are officially dating. They snapped one picture of us at a restaurant and that’s all they’ve been able to get out of me. But this feels right, and if my agent wants to ride me about it, it’ll still be worth it.
“Hey, Trav. Sorry to interrupt, but can I steal you for a sec?”
As if on cue my agent, Russ, comes walking up to me. It’s on the tip of my tongue to tease him about his timing, but there’s something in his eyes and the tightness of his smile that stops me.
“That give you enough to work with, Matt?” I ask.
“More than enough,” he says, all smiles. “Thank you so much. This was so worth it.”
He goes for the handshake, but I pull him in for the quick hug. Even Russ’ bleak expression can’t ruin my good mood, and as I follow him to an empty conference room down the hall, I’m feeling pretty confident that I can deal with whatever he’s about to tell me.
“You’re gonna want to sit down for this,” he says, closing the door behind us and gesturing to a table.
Okay. That’s a little unsettling. But I’m pretty sure I already know what it’s about. I’m a free agent this year, and so far the Storm haven’t made a competitive offer to re-up my contract. But it’s not the end of the world. Jeremy and I can live anywhere.
Russ pulls out a tablet and folds the case back to prop it up in front of me. When I look at the screen, I’m not looking at graphs or numbers.
I’m looking at a man’s bare ass.
That’s the first thing that catches my eye anyway. The rest of him is bare, too, and while I’m not one to turn down free porn, something about this guy is really familiar.
When I realize why, I blush.
“Wow. Pretty good body double this time. Wonder where they found this guy.”
There’s a lot of “porn” out there featuring celebrities. Usually it’s just a celebrity’s head Photoshopped onto a porn star’s body. I guess whoever made this decided to really sell it and find somebody who was built like me.
Russ doesn’t say a word, though. He hits play, and the second the sound starts, a cold chill snakes its way down my spine.
“Get on your knees. I wanna see that dirty mouth take every inch of my cock,” a voice commands.
And that little whimpered moan that comes in response is Jeremy’s. Suddenly that cold chill lights into an inferno as anger takes hold of me.
“Who the fuck filmed us?” I growl.
Russ stops that video and pulls up a web page. I can’t even read the headline before he picks up the tablet, sighing. “I really wish there was another way to do this, Trav, but I wanted you to know before somebody in that room starts asking you questions about it.”
Russ and his wife have been like family to me since my dad passed away. I know he cares about me, but right now, I just want the truth.
“Show me,” I tell him.
He sets the tablet back down and I immediately catch sight of a picture of me, right below a headline that reads:
Seduced By the All-American Boy Next Door: How My Fantasy Turned Into a Nightmare
“There isn’t a shred of truth in that editorial, but it’s already been shared over forty thousand times. Picked up by the New York Times, Washington Post, and a ton of local papers. I already sent a takedown notice to Pornhub, but I’m sure the video will just get re-uploaded the second it’s taken down.”
I can barely hear him. Everything in this room, everything in my present moment seems distant, like I’m sitting behind a thick pane of glass in a huge tank of water. The world is distorted, Russ’ voice fading in and out. The only thing I can focus on is the text of that article.
A numbness comes over me, and somewhere deep inside my own mind, I’m trying to puzzle out what’s happening. Jeremy Hanes, my boyfriend–the man I was planning to marry–video-taped us having sex. He uploaded it to a porn site and then wrote an article about it. Not about the fact that we have a safe, healthy, loving sex life. No. Instead, he’s told the world that the NFL’s most approachable Golden Boy preys on his fans for a quick, kinky fuck.
“This is it, isn’t it?” I ask, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I know I’m interrupting whatever Russ was saying. I’m just too numb to care. “Nobody’s going to offer for me now that this story’s gone national.”
Russ’ expression is pained and I already know the answer. I turn away from him and stagger to my feet. I need to get out of here. I need to be… somewhere else. Anywhere but here.
“I know you’ll want to fight this, but I think the best thing to do right now is give a simple statement to the press and then lie low for a while.”
I should fight, but right now I don’t have a whole lot of fight in me. I’ve always been open with my sexuality. I’ve never, ever tried to hide it. I wouldn’t even be that upset if a sex tape leaked, despite knowing it would stir up a controversy just for existing. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I love sex.
But I am ashamed that I let myself fall for someone who could do something like this. Someone who could cut me so deeply for… what? His fifteen minutes of fame?
I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to. I just want to get away.
“Set up the press conference,” I say, my voice barely sounding like me. “I need to make a call.”
Russ lets me go, and I retreat into the stairwell, shutting the door behind me. I sit there on the top step, wanting to break down. Wanting to wrap my arms around my knees and just sob until the pain is gone.
But I don’t let myself do it. Instead, I call the one person I know I can count on, despite the distance between us.
“Hey, Jake. Listen, I know this is sudden and kinda out of the blue… but can I stay with you for a while?”
Jake was always the sensible one. He worked hard in school. He got a sensible job as a high school teacher. He moved to a sensible small town, far away from the limelight.
I have no idea how to explain this scandal to him in a way that won’t make him look at me with pity. But for right now, I don’t have to. His answer comes without hesitation.
“I’ll get the guest room ready.”