Authors: Megan Erickson,Santino Hassell
Cyberlove, Book 2
Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.
Copyedited by Edie Danford
Cover design by Natasha Snow
Cover art from Stocksy
Interior layout by Daniel W.
First edition July 2016
To everyone who has ever had to find a new normal…
The smell of bagels permeated the entire shop.
Even in the back room, I caught whiff after whiff of a mixture of onions and poppy seeds baked onto a yolky dough and the four pots of sludge my pops kept brewing all day long. You’d think he’d stop making fresh coffee after the morning rush, but nope. The man stayed on his feet grinding beans all day long. Maybe he liked it. Maybe he even liked this bagel smell after twenty-seven years. Me? I was one thousand and fifty percent over it.
It was sort of a funny thing. After two enlistments in the army and eight years of either living on the base in Jersey or going on a tour overseas, the smell of the shop had been a fond memory. Now I was back home and working at Hot Bagels & More six days a week. If I never saw another bagel in my life, I’d die a happy man. Even happier if I could get some dick.
I tapped at my phone to send an urgent text.
Dominic: Bro. this is important. You got infoz that I need, my man.
Garrett: I’m at work.
Dominic: me too, motherfucker! I’m taking a break.
“Nicky! Where the hell are you?”
Scowling, I hunched as if that would keep my father from busting into the narrow office. My shoulders barely fit in the space unless I shifted sideways. No ideas on how the old man functioned back here long enough to run reports and make the numbers work. I had nothing to do with that end, and stayed away from the growing stack of bills he never seemed to touch. Since returning from Afghanistan, I’d become the deli-counter bitch whose payment was free rent.
Garrett: Where are you working?
Dominic: A catering company.
Technically, Hot Bagels
cater to the type of Staten Islanders who wanted Boar’s Head deli meat at their events instead of the imported shit from the fancy salumerias dotting Richmond Avenue. But ain’t nobody had time for that in the Costigan family. We were here to function as the corner store with everything ranging from hot food to Pop-Tarts and dry cereal. Basically not making as much bank as we could be since my father had zero imagination. Not that Garrett Reid needed to know that now that he had himself a real job in the real world making good money.
Garrett: Who would want you to serve them food?
Dominic: Shut the fuck up. I didn’t text you for examples of your stunning sarcasm and subzero personality.
Garrett: Right. You asked me how to use Grindr. While you’re apparently handling food.
Dominic: Your point being…?
Garrett: Just tell me exactly what you want.
Dominic: School me on Grindr, fool. Worth the app subscription?
Garrett: You’re hesitant to spend $3.99 a month.
Dominic: You suck at being my gay friend, my man
Garrett: It’s worth the download. I assume you’re not out yet, so use a picture of your abs on the profile. Give face pics after messaging someone if you’re serious about meeting them. You look like Chris Evans, so they’ll respond with thirst. Don’t meet a murderer.
Dominic: That it?
A few seconds ticked by without an answer. Safe to assume Reid was finished with me. He was the type of guy who hated extended text conversations and never picked up an actual call. I’d expected him to rebuff my attempts at post-deployment bonding, but it still kind of stung. I’d been fond of that tall, dark and glaring mofo, and it was impossible to tell if he hated me less than other people despite the number of times we’d gotten each other off while overseas.
Ah well. The fact that he had expended the energy needed to reply was probably a sign of friendship in his world.
The door burst open and slammed into my side. “Fuck!” Cringing, I scooted out of the way. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
My father barreled in, nearly colliding with me. Duffy Costigan took up all the space in a normal-sized room so he was the size of a colossus in here. I’d thankfully grown enough to be eye-level with him, but the guy still had an MMA heavyweight build, whereas I was having trouble keeping my muscle mass up now that I wasn’t strength training on the base several hours a day.
The thought sent me right back down the hook-a-dude path, and I glanced at my phone again, considering Garrett’s advice regarding ab pics. Damn. I didn’t know what guys liked. Big? Rangy? I was somewhere in the middle, but my abs were cut like diamonds so that ideally made up for lack of bulk.
“Me?” Duffy demanded, cutting into my internal struggle. “What the hell are you doing hiding in here? You playing with yourself?”
I might have been had he not nearly broken my arm with the side of the door.
“I’m trying to make a phone call,” I said. “There’s no customers right now. You don’t need me manning the meat slicer 24/7.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Nicky.” My entire family called me Nicky despite my name being Dominic. Never mind that it made me sound like a twelve-year-old with an attitude problem. “Running the store isn’t just about knowing the difference between capicola and prosciutto, or—”
“Bran and pumpernickel?”
Duffy mashed his lips together and exhaled through his nose. “You think you’re being funny?”
“I think I’m being
“You know what, Nicky?” He loved repeating my name. It was like an incantation. He was trying to summon a better son. “Go home.”
My eyes probably lit up. “Really?”
“Yeah.” His Staten Island accent grew thicker the madder he got. “Get the fuck home before I lose my fucking temper and ream you in front of a customer.”
Some of my sass upgraded to actual irritation, but instead of rising to the bait, I brushed by him and breezed out of the room. I dropped my apron on the counter. As soon as the door slammed, I heard him bellowing at whoever else would listen. Probably my poor mother. She usually had the patience of a saint, but had recently resorted to long cigarette breaks on what should have been the back patio but was now a storage unit for broken junk my father wouldn’t throw away. I didn’t know how she put up with him.
Coming back to Staten Island wasn’t turning out to be the amazing homecoming I’d pictured for the past eight years. After working on the base between tours and only returning to Port Richmond on the holidays, I’d changed a lot. In some ways I was still the big, brash blond with the smart mouth and quick temper, but in other ways I’d matured. I wasn’t Nicky anymore. I was barely Dominic. I was Staff Sergeant Costigan, who’d survived countless patrols, several ambushes, and a couple of exploded IEDs.
I’d tried for years to cling to my sense of humor despite the grimness of so many situations. In a sense, it’d worked. I was still me. Still smiling. But my smile wasn’t as quick for some people.
I couldn’t go out drinking with my boys anymore because they were still spending every weekend at Legends Bar or Flanagan’s while driving Mommy’s or Daddy’s car. Meanwhile, I struggled with the reality of working in my parents’ bagel shop like I was a teenager again. The army had sold me on all of these big dreams about what I could do with my experience running patrols in the desert, but in real life I wasn’t qualified for shit but a job doing loss prevention in a department store unless I wanted to become a cop. Which was a big fat motherfucking no.
But the job was only half of it. The worst part was I was once again residing in the basement of the Costigan homestead. I had a little over twenty grand in my bank account—money that had accrued while I was overseas—but I couldn’t use it. Not until I had a decent job. Those savings would be spent on the first and last month’s rent and security deposit for my first real apartment. Since I owned nothing, I would also have to drop a ton of money on furniture. Sometimes twenty Gs didn’t even seem like enough considering how much rent rose every year on the island.
Mood sunk and morale low, I slowly walked home. It was only a few blocks, but I tried to soak in as much deep golden sunlight and crisp autumn air as possible. Staten Island was beautiful in the fall.
I glanced up to see one of the teenagers from the neighborhood and waved half-heartedly. Working at the corner store sucked. Living in the same neighborhood I’d grown up in? That sucked too. Everyone knew me.
Correction—everyone knew I was twenty-seven, still living in the basement, and once again getting screamed at to take out the garbage or walk the dog at six o’clock in the morning. What a catch.
My parents’ house was a railroad-style clapboard wedged between two larger homes. Instead of the American flag waving in the wind near the porch, there was an Irish flag for my father and an Italian flag for my mother—the ethnic NYC way. The place looked much smaller than it had in the past. And more rundown. But I ignored that, choosing instead to survey the seriously epic foliage surrounding the yard, and walked to the side door that led to the basement. I heard my dog barking as soon as I stepped foot inside, but I left her upstairs with my sister and went down to my basement kingdom. It had once been a pretty ballin’ bedroom for a teenage boy, but now I was a grown-ass man and it was just sort of depressing.
I plopped down on the bed. Family drama aside, I had serious shit to attend to.
Garrett had advised me to use a picture of my abs to set up a Grindr account, but while my torso
a thing of working-out-seven-days-a-week beauty, I had a hard time believing it was a bad move to go with a face pic on my profile. Meeting the eyes of a pretty girl had never steered me wrong, and I couldn’t see how it would fail with men. Although… it was also true that a face pic would put me in the predicament of outing myself to any random dude on this side of the island. Even though my hookups with Garrett had left me hungry to explore every angle of my newfound bisexuality, I’d only ever been with women in the past. I had no idea what a jaunt down Grindr lane would bring me, and I was hesitant to put my face on blast before I knew who I was talking to.
Ab pic it was.
I whipped off my shirt and stood facing the mirror. It took a few minutes to get a good angle with the right lighting, and ten minutes later I had a pretty fly profile picture that showed sculpted muscle, tanned skin, and the tattoo of my dog tags. My actual profile was another story, and I doubted anyone using a hookup app read the biographies. I’d basically lived on Tinder when on the base in Jersey, and the witty text under a picture had never been a deciding factor in whether I swiped left or right.
After naming myself “Staff Sgt”, selecting that I was interested in dates and right-now hookups, and typing “Criteria for chatting: look good and know how to spell” in the About section, I flicked over to the dashboard. The options were pretty incredible. It was a wall of torsos.
How did anyone make a choice when the profiles all looked exactly the same? Huh. This would be interesting.
* * *
Before I had kids I’d never realized how much attitude could be packed into a single goddamn word. But one “Dad” out of my teenage daughter’s mouth, and I could instantly tell whether she wanted money, wanted me to say yes, or wanted me to go to hell.
This wasn’t quite a go-to-hell, but she was irritated.
I checked my watch. They’d be out of the house in less than thirty. I could hold out until then. Hopefully. I glanced up at Chelle. “No.”
She popped a hip out and braced her hand on it in a move that was so her mother, I half expected Nadia’s voice to sass me instead of my daughter’s. “Just come. Mrs. Amspacher will be there.”
That would be a big
Chelle’s dance team was having a car-wash fundraiser in the school parking lot. I’d donated sponges and soap and thought that would be my only required participation. But my daughter had a bug up her ass that her friend’s mom was interested in me, so convincing me to supervise teenagers scrubbing cars was Chelle’s latest mission.
I dropped my forearms on the kitchen table and eyed my daughter where she stood in the doorway. “Do you have enough volunteers?”
Chelle bit her lip. “Um.”
I shot her a stern glare.
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, so we do, but that’s not the point.”
I rubbed my temple. My ex-wife dated. I did not. Obviously, our kids noticed the difference, and lately Chelle had been on a crusade to get me remarried. It was exhausting. For the last decade, I’d kept my sex life separate from my job and family and that was the way I intended to keep it. They did not mix. The last time the lines had blurred, I’d lost my livelihood. So me dating the mother of Chelle’s friend?
“The point is that you’re trying to set me up with Diane, who is a nice woman, but I’m not interested.”