Romance Novels in Color is participating in Queer Romance Month by featuring authors who write queer romance that features people of color. Queer Romance Month runs throughout October, celebrating love stories in all shades of the rainbow in all shades of romance. Join them, and over a hundred LGBTQ+ authors and allies, for essays, flash-fiction and much, much more.
Today’s featured author is Cole McCade and he has an excerpt from The Lost Crow: A City Novel. Let’s get to know him.
Who would play you in the movie about your life and why?
Jaye Davidson. Partially because he’s a mixed-race prettyboy like me; partially because he was amazing as Ra in Stargate; and partially because I really respect his decision to withdraw from acting despite the adulation he received. Which…is a Catch 22 considering he couldn’t play me if he’s retired, but…well…we’re talking hypotheticals.
What are your pet peeves?
Jazz hands. I swear to god they make my skin crawl like teeth on unglazed ceramic. Just the sight of them makes me close my eyes and recoil. Also, the word “should.” The fastest way to get me to dig my heels in is to tell me “I think you should…” and then follow it by anything, even if it’s “I think you should stop resting your hand on that rangetop before I turn it on.” An even more twitchworthy variant is “Don’t you think you/we should…?” as it tends to imply “I think so, and I think you should think so too—and if you don’t, I want an explanation.” I admit, the “should” thing is me being a stubborn arse who needs to do things his own way. But the “Don’t you think” bit is kind of an example of how people don’t think about the connotations of language, the nuances that influence the tone of a conversation and the balance of power in the dialogue.
What type of music do you listen to?
Everything. I’m a music omnivore, and such an audiophile that sometimes I can’t function on an emotional level without music. You can find anything from dubstep to country to opera in my playlist. Last week I listened to nothing but Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” on repeat for three days straight. Right now I’m on The Glitch Mob’s entire Drink the Sea album, with T-Pain’s “Church” and the ever-infamous “Uptown Funk” mixed in on shuffle. I’m about to swap to a mixed-bag playlist made up of Stateless, Ling Tosite Sigure, Massive Attack, Meg Myers, Melanie Martinez, Marilyn Manson, Jay Chou, Hyuna, Andrea Bocelli, Enrique Iglesias, and Keith Urban. I don’t care who made the music or what genre it is as long as it makes me feel something deep and visceral, pulling emotions out of me that I try to capture in stories and characters.
What types of books are on your bookshelf at home?
Science and mathematics textbooks. Romance novels. Manga. Science fiction and fantasy, both adult and young adult. Urban fantasy. Horror. Historicals. Books on Chinese mythology. Books on world mythology. A broad selection of books by notable twentieth-century black authors. Examinations of modern political and religious ideology. Second-wave and third-wave feminist lit. Programming manuals and references. Technical manuals on electrical wiring and woodworking. Crocheting instruction manuals. A book of topographical maps of the planets of the solar system (and Pluto is still in there, dammit). I’m as much of a book omnivore as a music omnivore—an information sponge and a data whore. I like learning, in any form.
Name some of your favorite authors who do not write romance.
Richard Adams. Charles de Lint. Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Greg Bear. William Gibson. Toni Morrison. Diane Duane. C.S. Friedman. Haruki Murakami. Koji Suzuki. Justin Cronin.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
The Vadhoo shores in the Maldives. I’d love to be able to see the bioluminescent plankton every day.
Are you a good girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband? Explain why or why not.
Well if you ask my ex, I’m a terrible husband. I can’t wholly disagree. I’m introverted and standoffish, often emotionally unavailable, territorial about my physical space, usually inside my own head with a massive to-do list and a single-minded focus that sometimes forgets to include my significant other. I’m working on being a better boyfriend right now, though. I’m finding that I’m less withdrawn with another introvert who likes to just…be with me, sometimes, without needing to say a word.
Short answer favorites: Dessert. City. Season. Type of hero. Type of heroine. Actor. Actress. Band/solo singer. Color. Cuisine.
Red velvet anything. Kyouto. Winter. Morally gray antihero. Badarse antiheroine who doesn’t have to be vixenized and oversexualized to have mass appeal. Lee Pace. Gabrielle Union. OLIVIA. Gray. Thai.
What is your favorite body part on a man or woman?
Their scars. There’s something about scars that appeals to me, that draws me and makes me want to know every story marked into their skin; makes me want to touch, gently trace each line or mark and follow the map they make. (Well…assuming touching is not triggering for them in any way, or painful. And assuming talking about them isn’t upsetting. Y’know. Respecting boundaries and such, and knowing the difference between appreciating someone and fetishizing someone.)
Short answer choices: Leather or lace? Long or short hair? Fruity drink or strong liquor? Heels or flats? Jeans or skirt? Coffee or tea? Glamorous girl or girl next door? Picky eater or adventurous? Glamorous makeup or au naturale? Sexy bed-head or sophisticated coif?
Leather. Long. Strong. Clunky flat boots now, but during my more gender-fluid high school years I could rock a pair of heels. Jeans. Both. Boy next door. Adventurous eater. Au naturale but not averse to eyeliner (really, does it have to be called guyliner to protect the masculine ego?). Sexy bed-head.
There’s something wrong with Leigh.
She’s known it her whole life. She knows it every time she spreads her legs. Every time she begs for the pain, the pleasure, the heat of a hard man driving deep inside. She’s a slave to her own twisted lusts–and it’s eating her alive. She loves it. She craves it. Sex is her drug, and she’s always chasing her next fix. But nothing can satisfy her addiction, not even the nameless men she uses and tosses aside. No one’s ever given her what she truly needs.
Until Gabriel Hart.
Cold. Controlled. Impenetrable. Ex-Marine Gabriel Hart isn’t the kind of man to come running when Leigh crooks her pretty little finger. She loathes him. She hungers for him. He’s the only one who understands how broken she is, and just what it takes to satisfy the emptiness inside. But Gabriel won’t settle for just one night. He wants to claim her, keep her, make her forever his. Together they are the lost, the ruined, the darkness at the heart of Crow City.
But Leigh has a darkness of her own. A predator stalking through her past–one she’ll do anything to escape.
Even if it means running from the one man who could love her…and leaving behind something more precious to her than life itself.
“State your name.”
Cold, clipped words, blending into the noise of the police station. Leigh lifted her head from a fixed study of her clenched fingers. Colors whirled around her in a lurid carnival nightmare, too bright, too blurry. On a bench on the far side of the room, a wasted and broken scarecrow woman picked at a scab on her wrist with a certain habitual listlessness, oozing diseased red-brown blood over liver spots. Her tendons were rails under her skin, and the dull gleam of cuffs chained her to the bench. She raised her head and stared at Leigh with yellowed eyes that captured her with a sort of empty, terrifying promise.
Across the desk a policewoman waited, with that compassionate impatience only a half-step from pity and shoulder-to-shoulder with disgust. Her flat blue eyes said she’d been trained to care, but couldn’t be bothered anymore. Leigh swallowed and tugged her hoodie close against the tinny air-conditioned chill. Her mouth had dried to a tacky, sticky mess, gummy pills of lipstick beading on her lips, and her tongue was a bloated and useless organ, this swollen pink thing pushing pointlessly against her teeth.
“Leigh,” she ground out. “Clarissa Leigh…” Her married name scratched sandpaper syllables against her throat. “…van Zandt.”
“And Miss van Zandt, do you know why you’re here?”
She nodded, her neck a creaking wooden puppet-hinge. “I do.”
“Your family’s been worried about you.”
She knew what she should do here. Bow her head in shame and contrition, maybe even sniffle. But she looked for the emotions and they weren’t there; just scraps and tatters, clinging to the empty place where they belonged. She had no feeling left, hollowed out and lost and wondering how she’d ended up here. This didn’t feel real. Instead it was a dream where everyone leered in fisheye close-up, their smiles all teeth and stretched red lips and manic glee. She wanted to run, but somehow she’d gone too numb to do anything but sit here surrounded by the stink of fear-sweat, stale beer, and that particular police-station smell of urine soaked into concrete for decades on end.
“What happened to you?” the officer asked. Leigh didn’t answer, and the officer’s pen tapped against the forms on her desk, rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat, Morse code for I’d rather be anywhere but here with this spoiled little runaway princess. “It’s been four years. You were declared legally dead.”
“That’s all right.” She closed her eyes with a laugh that ripped her guts up into her mouth, and buried her face in her hands. Dead. Dead.
Yeah, that was about right.
“Miss van Zandt?”
Stop calling me that.
“Miss van Zandt. I need you to focus on my voice.”
Stop calling me that!
Leigh took a measured breath and opened her eyes. Her shoulders squared. The bolts on the back of the hard, ass-biting chair dug into her shoulder blades. “I am focused. I can hear you just fine.”
“Eyes are dilated.” The officer—her nametag read Maroni, could there be a more clichéd name for a Crow City cop—leaned across the desk, peering at her face. Then she beckoned to the aide hovering over them like a mannequin. “I’ve seen this too many times. Drugs and prostitution.” She talked about Leigh like she wasn’t even there. “We’ll have to clean her up before her husband gets here.”
“I’m not on drugs. I’ve never been on drugs.”
Maroni’s pen-clicking stopped. Her disbelief was a heavy thing, push-push-pushing until Leigh nearly laughed.
“You’re not on drugs.”
“Then what happened?”
There it was. The first hint of exasperation. Of frustration, stitched into knitted brows and the purse of lips in just the right shade of I can’t be a woman, I’m a cop mauve. Because like anyone normal, anyone who wasn’t fucking broken to pieces and liked being that way, Maroni needed to make sense of this. Needed to quantify it in a world where the rules worked as normal and everyone wanted to chase that dream of happiness that wasn’t anything but desperation painted over of a frantic tally of things. Things of plastic, things with value created by people whose upper lips curled when they looked down at little girls like Leigh, and demanded she account for herself in sane, rational ways that made proper sense.
Sorry, Officer Maroni.
I’m not the kind of thing that makes much sense.
Maroni pushed a harsh sound through her teeth. “You had a job, a husband, a newborn son. You had a life other people would kill for, and we find you here on the streets. Were you pressured? Kidnapped?”
“No. None of that.” Leigh shook her head.
“You’ll have to explain, then.”
“I left.” She trailed off, lips parted; no words came for long seconds, until she managed, “I…I was afraid.”
“Of what?” Maroni tried to catch her eye, but Leigh looked down at her hands, at her chipped pink fingernails dipped in the sparkles of shooting stars. “Miss van Zandt. If someone was hurting you, you need to tell us now so we can take appropriate steps to protect you.”
“No. No one hurt me. Not like that.”
“I’m afraid you’ll need to be more clear. What were you afraid of?”
She struggled for an answer. Struggled for something this woman would accept, something that would make her sigh with sympathy and pity and relieved disdain that said there, but for the Grace of God…
But again, she found nothing. Nothing but the truth, and Leigh shrugged as she looked up at the policewoman and wondered if she had daughters who might one day be like Leigh, daughters who would cut stark red lines of fingernails in the walls of flesh that caged her in the shape of pop culture’s perfect woman.
“Of the inevitable monotony of it all,” she said.
About the author
Corporate consultant by day, contemporary romance author by night.
Mid-thirties. Coffee addict. Cat lover. Bibliophile. Technophile. Definite sapiophile. Native Southerner without the Southern accent. Runner. Multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual mess. Country boy turned city suit. Shameless collector of guitar picks, vinyl records, and incense holders. Aficionado of late-night conversations over live music in seedy bars. Browncoat who can’t decide if he has a bigger crush on Kaylee or Zoe, or Simon or Cap’n Tightpants.
Fascinated by human sociology, and particularly by the psychology of sex and gender – and their effect on relationship expectations, the culture of dating, and what it means to fall in love.