Memorial Day is all about remembrance and respect for those who have died in service. I have always taken these things very seriously and I have nothing but absolute admiration for those in the military who have served, and continue to serve, the US faithfully. These are some of the most awesome people on the planet, men and women. I also get a lot of e-mails from readers in the military and I’d like to post this free excerpt of an upcoming book as a show of thanks. And for those who don’t know, “Cherry Soda Cowboy” is still being offered for free on Allromanceebooks.com.
Have a safe and wonderful Memorial Day!!
This book is a little different from other books I’ve written because there’s a mystery suspense angle where the main character winds up being stalked. The MC is a tech billioniare who built his empire on a social media web site called lovermetender.com. And the interesting thing is he’s never actually met anyone socially on his own web site. The excerpt is from the beginning of Chapter Two. It’s the raw version, before I sumbitted it to the publisher, and I haven’t even proofed it yet.
To create a relatively honest social media web site where everyone used real names and there were no sockpuppets or fakes wasn’t always realistic. Most of the time it seemed impossible. One way Shannon tried to do this was by only allowing users of lovemetender.com to sign up with one e-mail address and one password. In other words, the e-mail address used to sign up could only be used with one specific password, and users were not allowed to create multiple accounts with that e-mail address. He also stated in the terms of service that multiple accounts with fake names were not allowed and that anyone who did this was in violation of the terms of service and could atomically be banned from the site forever.
Unfortunately, most people who know how to navigate the Interwebs have more than one e-mail address. And there was no way to battle the corruption one hundred per cent. The best they could do at lovemetender.com was to handle each complaint and do an investigation as they came in. Shannon had a department in one wing of the building that only focused on this kind of corruption. Each complaint was taken seriously, by trained professionals. Each person who lodged a complaint was treated with respect and they always received a prompt reply from someone at lovemetender.com. And each time a user with multiple fake accounts was spotted he or she would be banned from the web site forever. Or at least until they figured out a way to change their IP addresses.
For the most part, even though Shannon could not figure out a safe way to keep the sockpuppets and online criminals completely away from lovemetender.com, customers were never taken for granted. And in turn lovemetender.com had managed to garner a splendid reputation based on the fact that they cared about people. And Shannon knew this. He would have posted a basket of kittens on the logo it he thought it would bring him more users and advertisers.
The basic premise behind lovemetender.com was for people to set up an account to meet and fall in love with other people. It wasn’t like so many social media web sites where family and friends and co-workers met up to socialize online. Lovemetender.com was strictly for romantic relationships, and it focused on the emotional aspects of romance and love. There was an open area, but no adult only area. Lovemetender.com had taken criticism as being a company that censored because there wasn’t an adult only area. But Shannon figured there were already so many other web sites for adults only, and so many other places that focused on sex and porn and explicit images, he wanted lovemetender.com to be a place where people looking for emotional relationships could go. There were no religious affiliations; people of all denominations could join. There was no discrimination. And, most of all it wasn’t a place for people to go to promote themselves in any way for profit. Although the site was free to use and all their profits came from advertising, users were not allowed to promote their businesses or their hobbies. Amateur authors and small start-up publishers of the e-age were not allowed to promote unless they paid to advertise. It was strictly a place for friendly social interaction between people over the age eighteen. And if a user was caught promoting something for profit and he or she wasn’t a paid advertiser, he or she was banned.
One other thing unique about lovemetender.com was that nothing was segregated according to sexual preference. Shannon had thought long and hard about this when he’d first started the web site. He’d ultimately decided not to put labels on people. If they wanted to state they were gay, straight, or bi-sexual in their profiles they were allowed to do that. But if they didn’t want to state anything, that was fine, too. Of course they had their fair share of issues in this department, too. A gay guy would try to start a relationship with a straight guy and the straight guy would e-mail a complaint about it. In some cases, there were women who tried to start relationships with gay guys and the gay guys would e-mail complaints. In almost every single case where anything of this nature happened, it only took a few short, polite e-mails to calm everyone down. No one was banned for this kind of behavior unless they at least received a warning first. If there was one thing Shannon had learned, most people actually were good-natured and they did have good intentions…even if those intentions were misguided at times.
Though Shannon did not actually have his own legitimate account at lovemetender.com with his own name and profile, he did have several accounts with fake names so he could check things out as a customer and see how the site worked from a customer’s point of view. Of course he had to break one of the golden rules of his own web site in order to do this. But he had rationalized this by claiming it was the only real way to see how the web site was working. He also kept this to himself and no one else at the company knew it. And, he never did anything harmful to anyone. The last thing he needed was for something like this to leak into the mainstream. It would have undermined all the things lovemetender.com claimed to be against.
After Justin left his office the morning they’d had sex on Shannon’s desk, Shannon made a cup of black coffee and sat down at his computer and logged into the web site with one of his fake names. He never grew too involved with other users; he wasn’t doing this to meet people on an emotional level…or any other level. His motives weren’t to lie and lure people into relationships with bad intentions. But sometimes he came across a user that made him stop and think twice.
On that particular morning, he logged in with the name Jarred Stern and found another private message from a user named, Terry Hughes. He clicked the private message box and read: “Hey, man. Just checking in to see how you’re doing today. Haven’t talked to you in a while and I miss you. Hope everything’s cool with you. Terry.”
This was one of those times when Shannon had to stop and think. He’d met this particular user about six months ago and he’s been attracted by the tone in his writing voice. It sounded strong and deep and unpretentious. And Terry had posted a few photos of himself standing around a group of other guys in a gym. All the men were shirtless, and Terry was the best looking one. He had a can of juice in his hand and he looked directly into the camera with a half-smile. To see him at a glance it was impossible to know his sexual preference. He had short light brown hair, strong patrician features, a well-built body, and two dimples when he smiled. He also seemed to live an interesting life. His hobbies included football, baseball, rowing, and swimming. He said his age was twenty-seven and claimed he worked for one of the large tech companies in Cupertino. If Shannon had ever dreamed about the perfect man, Terry would have been the man he’d always imagined.
So he clicked again and wrote him a reply: “Everything’s good here, man. Just hangin out. Thanks for asking. Jarred.” He’d used his middle name, Jarred, with this fake account. The last name, Stern, had been his mom’s maiden name. It made it easier to remember. The extent of their conversations had never gone beyond these simple pleasantries. He’d only replied to be polite.
Then Shannon dismissed Terry and he went directly to his main page to see what was going on. Unless users wanted to talk in private, all discussions were public. Someone named Becky was having a friendly conversation with a guy named Paul. He’d been following them for a few weeks. They seemed to be getting to know each other better each time they connected. That day they were talking about finally meeting up and getting together face to face for the first time. Shannon smiled and wished all the users were as sane and decent as they were. He’d had them both checked out thoroughly and neither of them had multiple accounts, fake identities, or played any games.
About a half hour after he replied to Terry, he glanced up at the top of the screen and noticed he had another private message. He didn’t interact with anyone else, so he figured it had to be from Terry again. Sure enough, he clicked and read this: “Was wondering if you’d like to get together sometime, buddy. We’ve been connecting for a while. We could meet up and just get to know each other. No pressure. Just asking. Terry.”
Shannon noticed he’d changed his profile photo. He clicked the photo to enlarge it and gaped at Terry standing on a dock, in bare feet and baggy swim trunks, holding a fishing rod. Everything about him was perfect, from his big toe to the top of his thick brown hair. In that photo he could have been posing for a fashion magazine branding outdoor lifestyles.
For a moment, Shannon stared at the photo and wondered what Terry would be like in person. The one thing Shannon had never done was meet a user of lovemetender.com in person. But that’s also because none of the users he’d come across had ever piqued his curiosity in quite this way. He thought about what would happen if he actually wound up meeting a man and falling in love with him on lovemetender.com. As far as publicity went, he couldn’t think of a better way to promote the web site. And if nothing actually did work out between them, no harm done. He glanced at the photo of shirtless Terry and pursed his lips. He figured it was in the best interest of his company to find out what it was actually like meeting someone you met at lovemetender.com.
So Shannon clicked and wrote him a reply. “Let’s meet at Harridan’s at six tonight. We can get a drink. It’s never usually crowded at that time. If you don’t know where it is, let me know and I’ll give you directions. Jarred.”
Less than five minutes later, Terry replied. “I know where it is. See you at six, buddy. Terry.”