Series Spotlight: Neighborly Affection by M.Q. Barber


An Exclusive Interview with Henry Webb, Jay Kress, and Alice Colvin
I’ve asked Henry, Alice, and Jay here to find out what makes their odd romance work. Three people, one relationship: It shouldn’t work at all, but it does. I dive in by giving the trio a chance to talk about the development of their relationship. “What was your first impression of one another and has that first impression proven to be true or false?”
Jay jumps to his feet, the interview couch no longer enough to contain his inexhaustible energy. Who knows where it comes from—he didn’t even sip the coffee my assistant brought for them. “Can I take this one? I’ve got this. Wait—” 

He spins and faces Henry and Alice, neither of whom have moved an inch from their seats beside each other, though both have gained gentle smiles.

“Did you guys want to go first? I can wait.” 

Alice drops her head as she snickers. “You’ll bounce out of your skin if you wait.”

Brushing Alice’s hair aside, Henry strokes the back of her neck. “Go ahead, Jay. I trust you to speak with enough heartfelt honesty for all of us.” 

I’ve decided: The key to their relationship is the way Henry looks at them both. With his deep, green-eyed stare, he pours out love and confidence, and Alice and Jay fill their souls with his support. 

“So, the first time I met Alice.” Jay flexes on his toes. His bio says he’s thirty, but I’d swear he’s a high school track star. “I thought she was super-hot, obviously. I mean, look at her.”

The “her” in question is rolling her eyes and flashing her tongue at her lover. She’s younger than him by a year or so, with blond hair falling in waves across her shoulders and a narrow build though she’s not petite. Five-seven, I’d say, and not in heels. She’s a well-put-together woman, but no more or less attractive than most. The way she smiles at him, though—yeah, love transforms us all into bombshells. 

“And all tough and, umm, what’s the word?”

“Feisty.” Henry’s eyes sparkle as he slips an answer into Jay’s pause. He’s a touch older than either of his lovers, and he carries himself with a quiet calm they lack. 

Grinning, Jay ticks off qualities on his fingers. “Oh, and stubborn, and super-guarded, and a woman who’d take forever to admit she was in love.” 

“You got all of that from the first time we met, did you?” Alice leans out of Henry’s encircling arm and shoots both men a brows-down, pursed-lips librarian shush stare. “Because what I got was that Jay has a tight ass and he smells good when he’s sweaty and Henry had insanely formal manners and a voice I could listen to all day long.” 

Henry kisses her temple and whispers something too soft for me to pick up. 

Dammit. I’ll have to prompt if I want any answers out of that canny fellow. “Mr. Webb, is there anything you’d care to add? Something in particular that struck you on first meeting?”

Henry blinks like a cat indifferent to entreaties to come and play. But then he hums a few low notes. “I had the distinct sense that I should quite enjoy seeing them every day for the rest of my life, and I endeavored to bring about that result.”

Jay ceases his wanderings and sinks to the carpet in front of Henry. He leans his head on Henry’s knee, and Henry lays his hand in Jay’s hair as if he’d only been waiting for the opportunity. Alice, her eyes closed, rests against Henry’s opposite shoulder.

I suspect I’ve gotten all the answer I’m going to get from them on that subject. But their posture reminds me of another question I meant to ask. “How do you reassure one another that the relationship you share is on equal footing and that your feelings for one are not greater than your feelings for the other?”

“We talk. A lot.” Alice answers without bothering to move. She seems cozy curled against Henry, and I can’t say I blame her. “Communication, right? Everybody says it’s great for relationships, but hardly anybody takes the time to do it. God knows I fucked it up a ton in the beginning. But that’s what it is. Trusting in each other’s best intentions and being willing to speak up even when you think what you have to say is going to make you look petty and small, or weak and needy—”

“Or honest and understood for who you are.” Henry cuts her off so deftly that it’s like a pair of expert performers changing leads in a dance. “In a safe environment, with the ones you love and who love you in return, revealing an insecurity is met with boundless reassurance. Being in a relationship is not always a matter of equal footing or equal attention. The balance comes when each member is receiving what they need. Jealousy is not a matter of one person receiving a larger portion but of you feeling your own to be insufficient.”

Jay nods along as he taps his palms on his thighs. Even sitting still, he’s always in motion. “It’s figuring out what you need. I don’t need Henry to love me the way he loves Alice, and Alice doesn’t need him to love her the way he loves me. We’re different people. So it’s knowing yourself, and telling your lovers what you need from them, and trusting them to get that.” He tips his head back and gazes up at Henry and Alice, his face open and beaming. “You don’t see Alice sitting on the floor, but it’s not because she’s better than me or Henry loves her more. She’s where she wants to be, and I’m where I want to be.”

Alice bends forward. Her hair sweeps down in a curtain as she kisses Jay’s forehead. “Got it in one, stud.” 

The love is so thick in the air I’ll need a fan to clean out the place. I’ll switch it up, pepper them with some quick-hit questions before they go all lost in each other’s eyes. If I’m not too late for that. “So, rapid-fire question round. Who among you would be most likely to streak naked in a public place?”

“Jay.” Henry and Alice answer in one amused voice. 

“Definitely me.” Jay grabs the collar of his shirt. “Was that a dare?”

Alice grabs his hand. “Wait ’til we get home.”

I almost protest that home wouldn’t count as a public place, but Henry’s even stare propels me to the next question. “Uh, to take home a stray dog or cat?”

“Henry.” Alice smirks.

“Alice.” Jay squirms and bobs.

“Jay.” Henry pushes Jay’s hair off his forehead.

Sheesh, and I thought these three were supposed to be good at consensus. “Right, okay, how about to start a conversation with a stranger?”

Silence. Henry wears the thoughtful, blank aspect he seems to land on by default, and Alice has disappeared somewhere inside her head, if the way her eyes have shifted upward are any measure.

Jay shrugs. “What’s hard about that?”

“I believe our questioner is asking which of us is the most extroverted.” Henry watches Jay with fond, rapt attention and the hint of a smile. “Though introverts have been known to develop social camouflage that serves the same purpose.” 

“It’s a situational question.” Alice leans forward, elbows on her knees. “To tell a joke or amuse a kid? Jay, for sure. To reassure someone who looks down or help someone who’s lost? Henry, without a doubt. To gather information and assess status? Me.”

They’re really having trouble with the “rapid-fire” part of this round. Okay, I’ll toss out an easy one, because they can all pick themselves. Piece of cake. “Which of you is most likely to be the favorite among Neighborly Affection fans?” 

Nope, not a rapid-fire answerer among them. Even Jay puts on his quizzical expression at that one.

“Can I pick two?” He points at both of his lovers. As if there’d been some doubt. “Who wouldn’t want Henry and Alice?” He scrambles up taller, his slouch turning into a straight-backed challenge. “But they’re taken. So don’t be getting any ideas.”

From the gaze Henry’s bestowing on Alice and Jay in turns, I don’t even need to ask what he thinks. “Alice? Did you want to weigh in?”

“Well.” She frowns. “It’s not a very specific question, is it? I don’t have any data on who these fans are or what they enjoy. You don’t happen to have some aggregated survey data from them, do you? A spreadsheet would help. Or just one question: ‘Do you want to be dominated?’” She’s nodding, though I’m not certain she’s noticing. “Yeah, that would do it. Henry and Jay are very different men—I mean, they’re both loving and have a strong sense of integrity, and courage, and some God-given gorgeous genetics—what was I saying?” 

Henry clasps her hand and rubs her knuckles. “I believe you were about to express a belief that one’s favorite is an individual choice that changes as one’s needs change, and that making an estimation based upon such scant evidence would be useless.”

“Right.” She watches him, and her stare seems the catalyst for him to bring her hand to his mouth for a kiss. “I’m sure that’s what I was thinking.”

I’m going to revise these rapid-fire questions for the next batch of interviewees. Or find some more cooperative characters. “Okay, so you don’t know what the fans think of you. What about your creator? Which of you is most likely to be M.Q. Barber’s favorite?”

“Whichever of us she happens to be channeling at any given moment.” Henry nudges Jay with his knee, and the dark-haired sub stops fiddling with Alice’s shoe. “I’ve heard her say so on multiple occasions. There is a bond between creator and character felt most profoundly when one occupies the same mind. On a perfect day, that keen kinship admits no other love until the mood has passed.”

Way to weasel out of the question. “So you’re all her favorite?” 

“For different reasons, at different moments, yes.” Henry offers a neutral, level stare. For him, the matter is settled. “What is life, and love, if not a series of moments given weight and meaning by the power we bestow upon them?”

I have no idea what he means, but he seems to. We’ll just move along. “Power. Great topic. What if you had the power to trade places? If you could spend the day in the other person’s shoes, who would it be and why?”

“Nope. I’d never take that deal.” Jay presses back against the sofa, squeezing his shoulders between his lovers’ legs. “I don’t want to spend all day in an office like Alice does or have to figure out all the little details Henry does to make everything perfect. I love them for who they are, but I don’t want to be them. I just want to be me. They can keep their shoes.”

Henry lays a hand on Jay’s shoulder. Stiff limbs relax in slow waves.

Alice clears her throat. “My shoes are their shoes.”

Jay pats the top of her foot. “You’d slide right out of my shoes. And I know I couldn’t fit my feet in yours.”

Watching him try on her narrow black flats would be a hoot. I’m almost tempted to encourage him.

Alice drags her hand through his hair and holds on tight for a brief second. “I mean I get to experience both sides. I’m in charge, sometimes. And sometimes I’m not. And both of those are amazing, awesome places. I wouldn’t want to give up either of them.”

“And you, Mr. Webb?” I bet his elementary school teachers called him that, too. An impenetrable fortress of formality. Softness only shows through the cracks when he’s looking at his lovers. “Are there days when you’d like to give up the power, sprawl on the floor, and be lazy?”

Alice winces. For no reason at all, except—Henry’s glaring at me. Shit. This might be one of those times when the pleasant, cajoling interviewer tactic is the exact wrong choice. 

“Submission isn’t laziness.” His sharp tone quickens his speech. “Submission is trust, and courage, and a strength far beyond most people. When you are naked and vulnerable, not only physically but emotionally, would you hope to be in the hands of someone who wishes to be somewhere else?” He smiles with brittle kindness, the unspoken reprimand for a social faux pas. “No, I do not have any desire to be other than what I am. And should Alice or Jay choose to rescind their consent at any time, what power I have would evaporate in their breath. Until that moment, they are mine, and I will fulfill that responsibility and privilege with great joy.”

“Great.” I echo him without meaning to, and a nervous laugh escapes. “That’s great. Let’s, umm—you know, I have just one more question for you. A lighter note to end on.” Please, if there’s a god in heaven, he’ll let me end this interview without pissing off an overprotective dominant and his do-anything-for-him lovers. “So, Alice.” She seems the safest to ask, given that Henry’s less than impressed and Jay isn’t even paying attention anymore. I have no idea why he’s re-lacing his shoes, but I’m not going to ask. “If we asked M.Q. Barber who she would marry, hook up with, and keep in the friend zone, who do you think she would choose and why?”

I know the instant I ask that she’s going to refuse to answer on not-enough-evidence grounds. I should’ve—

“She’ll marry Henry, fuck Jay, and keep me as a friend.” 

“I’m sorry?” Holy shit, she answered the question.

“Don’t be sorry.” Alice shrugs. “She’s good best friend material, and I’m not interested in fucking her anyway. We are how we’re written, right? I’m the logical overthinker. We only need one of those in the relationship. Henry and Jay are both hot as fuck—” She claps her hand over Jay’s mouth. “Hush, you. But Henry’s the steady guy who’ll notice you’re having a hellish day and run you a hot bath before he fucks you, and Jay’s the one who’ll go three times a night and make a food run when you’re starving after.”

Not what I meant, but I think I’ll thank them for their time and get while the gettin’s good.

--------------------

Note: A very special thank you to Henry Webb, Jay Kress, and Alice Colvin for generously granting the interview and for staying still (well, still enough for Jay) long enough to answer my questions, and to the unbelievably amazing M.Q. Barber for going above and beyond and for being and giving so much more than I expected.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

About the Neighborly Affection series
About Playing the Game (book one) – July 1, 2013
She expects dinner with neighbors, but gets sex with a side of safewords.

Mechanical engineer Alice still drools over her sexy neighbors a year after she’s moved in. She can’t decide whether they’re roommates or partners, but either way, they spark a wanton desire in her that has her imagination--and vibrator--working overtime.

Henry, director of everything around him, studies human nature and applies philosophies to his paintings as well as his relationships. Quirky, polite to a fault, and formal, he follows his own code of honor even when it means denying himself.

Flirtatious and playful, Jay needs stability, guidance, and to please others. His antics counterbalance Henry’s stuffy ways while he brings a level of vulnerability and fun to everything the trio does.

BDSM play with the enigmatic artist and flirtatious joker across the hall allows Alice to put aside the linear thought processes which have kept her unsatisfied and distant with other lovers. She must dismiss her preconception of love, sacrificing her independence, if she’s to find a permanent place in their beds and hearts.

Read my five-starred review of Playing the Game.

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About Crossing the Lines (book two) – March 3, 2014
A safeword won't save her from love.

After six months of cavorting in her neighbors' bed, Alice admits signing the contract to be Henry's sexual submissive is the best decision she's ever made. He delivers on his promise to give her sexual satisfaction. But submitting to his dominance alongside his long-term lover shows her the sharp line between sex and love. Henry loves goofy, eager-to-please Jay. Neither man has promised to love her.

Hiding her feelings grows harder every night she spends with them. As they struggle with wounds old and new, her emotional turmoil threatens to shred their arrangement. Is it time to bow out before they show her the door? Or can a triangle be the shape of true love?

Read my five-starred review of Crossing the Lines.

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About Healing the Wounds (book three) – June 2, 2014
There are no safe words. There is only surrender.

When Alice leapt into sexual games with her neighbors Henry and Jay, she didn’t plan to fall in love. She sure didn’t expect she’d be the switch between Henry’s commanding mastery and Jay’s submissive playfulness. But now she’s moving in with them, and she’d better figure it all out – fast. Trouble is, she’s never been a live-in girlfriend. The day after a traumatic first night at a BDSM club might not be the best time to start. Struggling to find her place within the lifestyle, Alice seeks equality in a relationship built on surrender. Learning to lean on Henry challenges the foundation of her self-worth. He’ll have to lean on her in return for their triad to find stability. But can her stoic dominant lover accept her as a confidante as well as a submissive? And will their love be enough to silence Jay’s emotional ghosts?

Read my five-starred review of Healing the Wounds.

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About Three-Way Tie (book 3.5) – May 27, 2014
Strong knots hold love fast.

Henry gives his submissive lovers a day filled with the best kind of tension.

Set just over a year after the start of Alice's arrangement with her neighbors in Playing the Game, Three-Way Tie explores a day in the life of Henry, Alice, and Jay. The story is told in three chapters, one from each character's point of view.

Three-Way Tie, a Neighborly Affection short story, was originally included in the First Frost anthology from Lyrical Press. It's now available as a standalone story on Amazon.

Read my five-starred review of Three-Way Tie.

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About Becoming His Master (book four) – March 17, 2015
From rescue to romance…

Teach a wounded submissive the value of his service. The task ought to be an easy one for an experienced dominant like Henry Webb.

But novice Jay Kress challenges his teacher like no other. Still bearing the bruises of an encounter outside the bounds of safe consensual play, Jay is desperate to submit to the man who saved him—and shamed by his desires.

Henry recognizes the dangers of a relationship built on hero worship. He’ll teach Jay how to stay safe, that’s all. He won’t take advantage of the younger man’s trust. He won’t share his fantasies about his dark-haired, athletic student. He’ll never claim this submissive for his own...

Read my five-plus-starred review of Becoming His Master.

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About Finding Their Balance (book five) – March 1, 2016
Three’s the naughtiest kind of crowd.

Getting to the one-year mark is hard enough in a relationship between two lovers. For three, just getting through the day can be half the battle. Between Alice’s headstrong insistence on pushing her sexual limits and Jay’s need to confront an abusive former lover, Henry has his hands full keeping both his partners safe and happy. But despite all the challenges—and unexpected dangers that lurk in their hedonistic world—the three have formed a union that brings each of them to the edge of something new—something they may not be able to hold onto . . .

Read my five-plus-starred review of Finding Their Balance.

Add Finding Their Balance on Goodreads.

Purchase Links
Amazon | B&N | Google Play | iBooks | Kobo

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About M.Q. Barber
M.Q. Barber likes to get lost in thought. She writes things down so she can find herself again.

Often found staring off into space or frantically scratching words on sticky notes, M.Q. lives with one very tolerant, easily amused husband and one very tolerant, easily amused puppy.

She has a soft spot for romances that explore the inner workings of the heart and mind alongside all that steamy physical exertion. She loves memorable characters, witty banter, and heartfelt emotion in any genre.

Her advice? Get a solid grounding in how language works, and then just write. Write every idea that comes along, even if it’s just a single line. You never know which line is the start of a thread that leads to a novel.

The former Midwestern gal is the author of the Neighborly Affection contemporary romance series. Pick a safeword, grab a partner or two, and jump in.

Connect with M.Q. Barber

Comments

  1. Great interview! I loved it. :) This series is one of my all time favorites and I read them over and over. And I'm with the author - Marry Henry, Fuck Jay and be Alice's best friend. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for stopping by!

      I wholeheartedly agree! I must say that it's the best character interview I've ever had the pleasure of reading. :) And yes to marrying Henry, fucking Jay, and being besties with Alice!

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