Hi guys! We have Kathryn Sommerlot stopping by today with her new release The Loyal Whispers, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
The Loyal Whispers
The Life Siphon 03
Ravee: a pious Rad-em merchant’s daughter sailing with her family’s goods
Mairi: the Runonian king’s advisor seeing the outside world for the first time
Alesh: an alchemist’s apprentice in Joesar with a past rapidly catching up to her
Three women find themselves caught in the threads of change as the world threatens to fall apart around them. From across the Oldal Sea, the southern kingdom of Dusset has declared war, and if anyone is going to survive it, the alliance between Runon, Chayd, Rad-em, and Joesar must be solidified.
But there are forces at work that could undermine all the progress King Yudai and Tatsu have made. Peace treaty negotiations between the four realms could crumble at any time beneath the building tension.
As the women’s paths converge, they must navigate the true meaning of loyalty to themselves, their countries, and their families, while at the center of it all, a shattered king, hellbent on revenge, threatens the world balance.
Hi peeps, we have K.R. Collins stopping by today with her new release Lighting The Lamp, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway, so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
Lighting The Lamp
(Sophie Fournier 03)
Entering her third season, Sophie Fournier has almost everything she wants. She’s the captain of the Concord Condors, she’s roommates and linemates with Elsa Nyberg, the elite Swedish winger she’s wanted to play alongside since the Zurich U-Tourney.
There are two major things she’s missing, though. She doesn’t have her next contract lined up, and she still hasn’t won the Maple Cup, hockey’s most coveted prize. If she wins the Cup, she’ll have leverage going into her contract negotiations. And, in case she needed more motivation, this is Benoit Delacroix’s final season as a Concord Condor, and she’s determined he won’t retire without lifting the Cup.
Hi guys! We have Mell Eight stopping by today with her new release Ge-Mi: Part Two, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
Ge-Mi: Part Two
(Ge-Mi Part Two)
Taylor Reyes was born to privilege, but despite that has always been considered an abomination. He was the child that should never have been born and has spent his life trying to prove his worth to the world to no avail. As a red wolf Ge-Mi, humans look at his furry ears before his accomplishments, and no matter how hard he continues to work Taylor knows that will never change. Still, he has a grandfather that loves him and a pack of his own to lead. The life he created for himself is not a bad one, until one day a pair of adorable cat ears derails everything.
The thought of finding a mate had never crossed Taylor’s mind, but suddenly he can’t stop thinking about Nevada. There’s no time for the distraction, though, as people are moving to unseat his grandfather from the city’s throne. The fight has just begun, but ending it might mean Taylor will lose Nevada forever.
Hi guys, we have Rick R. Reed popping in today with his new re-release Big Love, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
(Big Love 01)
Rick R. Reed
Teacher Dane Bernard is a gentle giant, loved by all at Summitville High School. He has a beautiful wife, two kids, and an easy rapport with staff and students alike. But Dane has a secret, one he expects to keep hidden for the rest of his life—he’s gay. But when he loses his wife, Dane finally confronts his attraction to men.
A new teacher, Seth Wolcott, immediately catches his eye. Seth is also starting over, licking his wounds from a breakup, and the last thing Seth wants is another relationship—but when he spies Dane on his first day at Summitville High, his attraction is immediate and electric.
As the two men enter into a dance of discovery and new love, they’re called upon to come to the aid of bullied gay student Truman Reid. Truman is out and proud, which not everyone at his small-town high school approves of. As the two men work to help Truman ignore the bullies and love himself without reservation, they all learn life-changing lessons about coming out, coming to terms, acceptance, heartbreak, and falling in love.
Hi guys! We have Lee Colgin stopping by today with her new release Forbidden Love, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
(They Bite 02)
When an esteemed vampire doctor treats an injured young werewolf, desire sparks between them.
Dr. Benjamin Arleth has devoted his life to finding a medical cure for his species’ most devastating weakness—sunlight. Finally, one of his pharmaceuticals shows promise, but sabotage looms large in the lab.
Wolf shifter Nathan Cramer is ready to finish grad school and begin his career when a trip to Center City’s Peace Conference goes awry. Weak and bleeding, Nathan knows his wounds could prove fatal. Dr. Arleth is his only hope.
Can love flourish between enemy species despite a society in turmoil? Could vampires walk in the daylight or will darkness reign? It’s a race to find answers, and Ben will have to put his trust in Nathan if they’re going to make it out alive.
Forbidden Love is a MM urban fantasy/paranormal romance and the second book in the series They Bite but can be enjoyed as a standalone.
Hi guys! We have Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky popping in today with their new release Awakening, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway, so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky
Nathen was recently diagnosed with autism, and he’s a newly created vampire. His maker, a multinational corporation with its finger on the pulse of the technology industry, has recruited him to stop a terrorist plot. In the process, he meets Cameron, a telepath and psychologist, who has a troubled past he keeps locked up in the shadows of his psyche.
Nathen is confused by social cues and Cameron can barely block out the thoughts of others.
Together, they find common ground, and with the help of their friend Syn, they work out the secrets of the terrorist group and learn that the plot is far greater than they could have imagined.
Hi guys! We have M.J. James stopping by today with his release Finding Fisher, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
When Ian Fisher walked away from his life a year ago, he had no plans to ever return to where he grew up. However, after a run-in with the cops, he’s forced to move in with his sister Rachel—in his dead parents’ house.
Back home, Ian can’t stop thinking about his ex, Sam. He still loves him and knows Sam loves him too, and he will stop at nothing to convince Sam to face his true feelings. But Sam has moved on. He has a fiancé, and he rejects Ian’s repeated attempts to fix their relationship. Ian deals with those rejections by getting lost in the bottom of a bottle, refusing to face how messed up his life truly is.
After weeks in the hospital—the victim of a viscous hate crime—and learning of Sam’s upcoming wedding, Ian has no choice but to fix his life to show Sam that he can be the man he needs. But rehab changes Ian, and he just might be ready to say goodbye to Sam forever.
Through addiction, violence, and self-preservation, Ian must learn to accept himself if he hopes to win back the man he loves.
Warning: alcoholism, deceased family members, depression, Drug/alcohol use/addiction, grief, Suicidal ideation, hate crime, depiction of hate crime attack
Hi guys, we have Rick R. Reed popping in today with his new re-release Hungry for Love, we have a great excerpt and a brilliant $10 NineStar GC giveaway so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤️ ~Pixie~
Hungry For Love
Rick R. Reed
Nate Tippie and Brandon Wilde are gay, single, and hoping to meet that special man, even though fate has not yet delivered him to their doorstep.
Nate’s sister, Hannah, and her kooky BFF, Marilyn, are poised to help fate with that task by creating a profile on the gay dating site, OpenHeartOpenMind. They are only exploring, but when a face and body are needed for the created persona, they use Nate as the model.
When Brandon comes across the false profile, he falls for the guy he sees online. Keeping up the charade, Hannah begins corresponding with him, posing as Nate.
However, real complications begin when Brandon wants to meet Nate, who doesn’t know he’s being used in the online dating ruse. Hannah and Marilyn concoct another story and send Nate out to let the guy down gently. But when Nate and Brandon meet, they feel an instant and powerful pull toward each other. Cupid seems to have shot his bow, but how do Nate and Brandon climb out from under a mountain of deceit without letting go of their chance at love?
As the first-born son of a royal duke and cousin to the prince, Cathal has always put his duty to family and country first, even when it conflicts with his own wishes. When Cathal’s father arranges a marriage between him and Velia, cousin to the emperor of Ardunn, without consulting him, he sees no alternative but to go along with his plans for the good of Tournai. But it’s Velia’s companion, Flavia, who fascinates Cathal from the moment he first sets eyes on her. Cathal doesn’t know Flavia is really Flavian, an artist masquerading as a woman to escape Ardunn, a restrictive and repressive place where Flavian’s preference for men is forbidden.
Even when Cathal discovers Flavian’s identity, even as he struggles with his obligations and duty, he cannot fight his attraction to the sharp-tongued artist. Flavian is intrigued by him as well, but Cathal is still betrothed to Velia, and Flavian worries he is more taken with the feminine illusion Flavian presents than the man beneath it. He came to Tournai to start a new life—a safe one—as an artist, and an inconvenient attraction to his friend’s betrothed, a man who happens to be a member of the royal family, is not a part of his plans. While both men battle their longings for each other, spies from Ardunn infiltrate the capital, attempting to uncover Tournai’s weaknesses and secrets. They are also searching for Flavian, who possesses a magical Talent giving him the ability to see the truth of a person just by painting their portrait—something that would be invaluable to Ardunn’s emperor.
Cathal managed to keep his surprise hidden with some difficulty. That blunt statement was not what he’d expected when he received the summons to his father’s office. A discussion of family business, perhaps, or questions about happenings at the palace, even a diatribe about one of his cousin’s choices—since Father seemed to hate every one of them since the prince’s marriage to Amory—was what usually precipitated a call to Father’s presence.
He’d never imagined Father would bring up marriage. Cathal had seen no indication Father was even thinking in such a direction. Father had said plenty as he’d pushed the prince to marry, and plenty more when Philip had married a man of his choosing instead of the woman Father would have chosen, but he’d never said a word about his own sons’ need to marry.
Cathal probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. He was twenty-five years old and his father’s heir, and Father was a royal duke and dynastically minded. Producing an heir for the dukedom was Cathal’s duty, despite the existence of his younger brothers. He’d always known it, and he would never think of shirking that duty.
“Yes, Father.” He wasn’t interested in anyone in particular, but there were plenty of women who would make him a suitable wife in Father’s eyes. He was certain he could find someone who wouldn’t make the duty a chore. “I will begin looking for a wife immediately.”
“No need. It’s all arranged.” Father returned his attention to the papers on his desk, as if what he’d just said was of no particular consequence. As if he hadn’t just told Cathal his entire life was about to change and taken Cathal’s last bit of choice away at the same time.
Cathal snapped his mouth shut when he realized it was hanging open. “It is?”
Of course it was. Cathal should have expected that as well. Father would never leave such an important choice—a family alliance, a mother for future dukes—up to Cathal. He should have done so, or at least he should have asked for Cathal’s opinion. Cathal was of age and had proven himself trustworthy time and again, or he thought he had. It left a sour taste in his mouth to think Father respected him so little.
“May I ask whom I will be marrying?” He immediately regretted his tone as Father arched a single brow.
When Cathal didn’t jump to apologize quickly enough, Father let out a huff that expressed his disappointment more eloquently than a hundred words would have, but he answered anyway. “She’s a cousin of the emperor of Ardunn. Velia is her name. Beautiful, by all accounts, and accomplished, but the connections are the important part.”
Cathal hardly heard anything after Ardunn. Cousin to the emperor of Ardunn? What was Father thinking? And how had he even managed it?
Father looked up again, and this time his huff held more than a little annoyance. “Why are you staring at me that way?”
Cathal didn’t know how he was looking at his father. Usually he had more control, but incredulity seemed to have obliterated it. “Ardunn, Father? I don’t understand. Why—?”
“Don’t be stupid. If your cousin isn’t going to do his duty and marry for the good of this country, then it falls to you to take up where Prince Philip failed.”
And that statement made even less sense. “But, Father, you negotiated a marriage contract with the emperor of Ardunn. Does Philip know?”
His cousin couldn’t know. Cathal had damaged their relationship and weakened the trust Philip had in him—he knew and regretted it—but Philip wasn’t vindictive enough to keep something so big from Cathal, especially considering the prince’s hatred of arranged marriages. Though how a prince came by such a view, Cathal would never know. Nevertheless, Philip would have said something, which meant Father had been negotiating with someone in Ardunn without Philip’s knowledge or consent.
Father scoffed. “He’ll know soon enough.”
“But, Father, negotiating with Ardunn…what did you—?”
“Are you questioning my ability to negotiate a marriage for my son?” Father snapped.
“No, sir.” Just the prudence of doing so with a powerful foreign emperor without the knowledge of their own ruler. “But—”
“This is the marriage your cousin should have negotiated for himself, but since he wouldn’t do his duty, we have to do it for him. For the good of Tournai and this family.”
“No more.” Father slapped a hand down on the wooden surface of the desk. “It’s done, and when she arrives next month, you will marry this woman. We’re finished discussing it.”
Cathal gritted his teeth against further protests and gave a sharp nod.
A few moments later, dismissed by his father, Cathal dragged in a lungful of crisp air. Spring was taking hold, but the mornings were still cool. At the moment, he was thankful for the gulp of bracing air.
That had been unexpected.
He shook his head and strode down the steps into the garden. The home where Cathal had grown up was probably the largest in the city. Constructed generations ago of pale-gray stone, the house had three stories surrounding the inner courtyard and the garden it contained. He’d played in the garden as a child with his brothers and cousin, chasing each other, hiding among the statuary and bushes. As he grew older, he’d come here when he needed a moment of peace. These days, he spent most of his time at the palace, and the garden was the domain of his mother and younger sisters, who often sat on the benches near the central fountain to do their needlework.
He didn’t linger, couldn’t have if he wanted to. Cathal couldn’t even go up to the palace and inform Philip of the betrothal, because he was due at the port to inspect improvements to the harbor defenses. Taking the most direct route from Father’s office to the front of the house, he strode through the garden and ducked inside again and then made for the entrance hall without slowing.
His sister’s melodic laugh and the quiet murmur of his mother’s voice floated back to him. Smiling, he stepped from the corridor into the grand room. His mother and sister stood at the polished table in the center of the large room. At his first step onto the red marble floor, both women looked up from where they were arranging early spring flowers in a large vase. Identical smiles of welcome lit their faces. His youngest sister looked remarkably like Mother, though Meriall was just fourteen. She was the only one of them to inherit Mother’s golden-brown hair and not Father’s much darker locks.
Each time he saw Meriall, he was surprised at how grown up she was becoming. It seemed just yesterday she was trailing after their brother Etan and getting into scrapes and jumping on her brothers whenever she saw them. Now she was a young lady. The oldest of his three younger sisters was married, and his second sister was nearly seventeen. Cathal might have expected, if he’d thought of the subject at all, Father to be negotiating a marriage for Ottilie, not for himself.
Meriall and Mother were still smiling at him, and they left off fussing with the flowers and greenery as he approached. When she was younger, Meriall would have flung herself at him. She’d learned more appropriate behavior since then, but a part of him missed her enthusiasm. Then again, she would probably still throw herself at Etan. They’d always been closer.
“Cathal.” Mother held out her hands to him and tilted her head for his kiss to her cheek. “I didn’t know you were here.”
He brushed a kiss over Meriall’s cheek as well. “Father wanted to meet with me.”
Because he was watching, he saw the flash of concern in Mother’s warm-brown eyes. Did she know her husband’s plans for Cathal? “Is everything all right?”
No, he didn’t think she knew. He doubted Father would have consulted her anyway. He flicked his glance at his sister, wondering if he should speak in front of her, but everyone would know soon enough. “Father wants me to marry.”
Mother blinked, once, twice, the only sign of surprise in a serene face. “I didn’t realize, but you are getting to be of an age to. There are many lovely girls you could meet and consider. Perhaps we can have a party and invite some of them.”
“Actually, Father has it all arranged already.”
“Oh. Well.” Mother fussed with the flowers before dropping her hands to smooth her skirt. “I didn’t realize you and your father had chosen someone. I wish you’d told me.” The statement wasn’t much of a rebuke, not the way she said it, but from his gentle mother, it was still censure.
“I wish he’d told me.” He bit back impatience. His ignorance of Father’s actions wasn’t Mother’s doing. “I only just found out myself, Mother. She arrives in a month. I assume we’ll all meet her then.”
“Arrives? From where? Who is she?”
He didn’t blame Mother for her bewilderment. “Father says her name is Velia. I only know she’s a cousin to the emperor of Ardunn.”
“The emperor? Does His Highness know?” Mother had been the wife of a royal duke for nearly thirty years. She could see the implications as well as he could.
“It doesn’t appear so.” He glanced from Mother, who was admirably controlling her surprise and concern, to Meriall and her avid, undisguised curiosity. Well, he shouldn’t be talking about Philip’s lack of knowledge of Father’s actions anyway. “You’ll have to ask Father for more information. I don’t know anything else.”
Mother frowned. “Will you tell your cousin?”
“I can’t now. I’m due at the port, and I may be tied up there for most of the day.” And he didn’t want to put this information in a note. Still, someone needed to tell Philip, and Cathal wasn’t sure when Father would. “I’ll tell him when I return to the palace later.”
She nodded. “I’ll speak with your father. We’ll see you soon?”
“Of course.” He took his leave of his mother and sister and strode out through the large front doors into the morning sunlight again. A servant appeared immediately with his horse. He mounted up and guided the horse out through the imposing gate, open in anticipation of his departure. He needed to hurry if he was going to be on time for his appointment, and he refused to be late. He would sort out the rest afterward, including informing the prince.
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.
Two years after the end of the world, Cate and Marco have finally found a place for their people to start over. Sustainable and safe from zombies, the island is everything they hoped it would be. It seems the worst may finally be over; they can stop surviving and begin to live again. But the arrival of two new people sets in motion a chain of events that throw the island into unrest, and Cate must fight for her love, her people, and her sense of self. Can the inhabitants of Alcatraz Island find a way to come together when everything around them is falling apart?
Almost two years before their arrival on the island, just after the event that ripped their family apart, Marco began an aimless journey. With his foster family gone—some dead, some vanished—once again, Marco was on his own and sure it was for the best; other people only slowed you down, ended up as liabilities, or worse. Alone was good. It was what he was used to. But on his journey south, he collected other wanderers and began to consider the idea of a cooperative group or, maybe, a found family. There was, after all, safety in numbers.
Finally, together on the island, everyone assumes they are safe. But assumptions in a world run by zombies can be dangerous. Deadly. There is something going on in the city, terrifying and unnatural. Something that will change everything they think they know about zombies. And it’s coming to the island.
The Island is not a stand-alone. It’s advised that book one, The End, be read first.
Those are not people. The way they move, the fact that when we wave, they don’t wave back, and the way they are all shambling toward us down the paths to either side. It all collectively spells zombie.
“Hello,” calls Calvin.
No answer. Damn it.
None of us has the energy to fight any more. We spent the whole night fighting to get to the island. We watched our people get maimed and die; Calvin’s Nana Mae sacrificed herself to save him, my sister Mel, and their new babies. Five other people died too, though I didn’t know any of them well. They were all Marco’s people. Now we’re all one another’s people. What a way to make a family.
Toby is looking pale. His younger brother Jax, though much smaller than Toby, is doing his best to keep him upright. The place where Toby’s hand used to be, before it was clawed by an Abnormal zombie and then cut off by me to prevent infection, is wrapped in a bandage from what I’m guessing is a very limited supply. I think everything is probably limited. There wasn’t much time to pack or prepare after Mel’s labor screams drew in the horde last night. It’s not her fault. Birthing twins with nothing stronger than ibuprofen must be agony. But we had to leave in a hurry. We made it all the way to Alcatraz, barely. And now, apparently, we have to fight again.
I’m too exhausted to cry. We are broken, for the second time since this all started. It’s cold and drizzling. There’s a thick fog rolling in. At least it isn’t dark anymore.
“What do we do?” asks Sylvia, holding her kids close to her body.
“Same thing we’ve been doing,” answers Marco.
When he doesn’t offer anything else, Calvin steps in. “We should get the injured and the kids somewhere safe, right?”
“They’re still far enough we can probably slip by them on that road—” Calvin points to the right. “—and come back out once you’re all safe inside. Shouldn’t take long to clear the island; there don’t seem to be many here.”
“It’s a big island,” says Marco. “There will be a lot more up there than you think.”
“Can’t say I’ll be much use,” says Captain Jacob, stepping forward through the group. He’s cradling his arm. I can guess what comes next: He edges his sleeve up, wincing, to reveal a definite bite near his elbow. The veins around it are black, all the way up and down his arm, peeking over the collar of his shirt.
“Captain,” breathes Amy, our doctor, “why didn’t you say something?”
“Call me Jacob; I told you. I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Happened so fast. Had to get us here either way.”
Amy examines the wound, touches his arm where the veins disappear under his sleeve. “There’s no way this hasn’t reached a main vessel by now,” she says, feeling his face for fever and shaking her head. “I’m so sorry, Jacob.”
“I appreciate it, Amy. But there’s no need. I’ll have to show someone how to drive the ferry. Murray?”
“Of course, Jacob.”
“It has been an honor to know all of you,” Jacob says. “Marco, you take care of these people. You got us this far. Soon you’ll all be safe.”
“I’m sorry, Jacob,” says Marco, who looks on the verge of tears.
“Don’t be. I did my part. I can live with the result. Or, I guess I can’t.” He chuckles at his own dark joke, but it turns into a coughing fit that makes his whole body tremble. “Come on, now, Murray. We haven’t got all day.”
Murray follows Jacob, catching him as he stumbles getting back on the boat. Jacob looks back and lifts a hand in goodbye to all of us. He doesn’t have long. Another family member lost, claimed by the infection.
“We should go,” says Ana, ever the stoic. “They’re getting closer.”
We move up the wider path as quickly as we can, although every one of us is exhausted and several of us are in some way incapacitated, so we’re not as fast as we need to be. The path switches back and forth as it ascends.
“Stay together,” Calvin whispers as the first few zombies notice us.
We do as we did last night, shuffling the less capable into the middle of our huddle as we move. However, now, so many more of us can’t fight than can. When the zombies get to us, we are less efficient than we have ever been. It takes me two hits to take down one zombie, even though I sharpened my axe the other day, and I have to put my boot on its head to get the axe back. I haven’t had to do that in ages. Calvin gets one on the first try, but it takes him a second to pull his knife free. Somehow, we escape. But just up the path, more swarm toward us. Not many, but there are always more.
M. Rose Flores has enjoyed writing since she learned how to string letters together. She grew up in the vast green Pacific Northwest of the United States, which with its dense forests, four seasons, and proximity to the ocean made a perfect setting for The End. When she isn’t writing on her computer or in a notebook (though scraps of paper and the palm of her hand will do in a pinch), she works as a professional dog trainer and loves every part of it, even the copious amounts of drool. She believes everyone should be represented in literature and all other media. The End is her first novel.
Kingston St. Louis and Martin Von Brandt are vampire hunters of the highest caliber. That is until Kingston is made a vampire and they discover too late that the city is being taken over by vampires in a bloody coup.
Branded as outlaws, they’re forced into hiding with an unexpected ally. For their plan to stop the coup to work, Kingston will have to overcome his prejudices and train the very vampires he used to hunt, and Martin must learn magic.
All the while, they struggle with their feelings for each other. Love can be a weakness, and they can’t afford weakness when hiding from a powerful enemy.
Footsteps echoed in the night, signaling the approach of our prey. Martin clung to the alley wall, machete in hand, blue eyes wide behind his glasses. I could see a sheen of sweat on his cheek, and I placed a finger to my lips, reminding him to be silent. He nodded, and I headed to the mouth of the alley. I had a performance to put on. I ruffled my hair, loosened my tie, and did my best to appear inebriated.
Just to add a little extra to the act, I began singing in a slurred voice. I could practically hear the monster’s delight as I walked down the alley. Sometimes I wished I knew what the fuck they were thinking. Nothing but blood and murder.
“Are you lost, little boy?” a voice asked in a sickly sweet tone.
I turned. A white woman stood there with long legs and brown hair. She wore a purple pantsuit like she’d finished a late night at an office nearby. There was something wrong with her eyes, just like the rest of them. No depth; her eyes were empty and still. I palmed the stake up my sleeve, making sure she couldn’t see it.
“’M not little,” I replied, wagging my finger at her. “I’m big where it counts.”
“Of course you are,” she said, grinning at me. God, she couldn’t be this stupid. Then again what did I know? It’s not like I knew of any Mensa vampires.
Martin was in position, but I didn’t dare look at him for fear of tipping her off. No need to take any risks on a hunt. I staggered up to her, playing up the drunk angle. I could practically hear Martin rolling his eyes. “I am. I can show you. Come back to my place, and I’ll prove it.”
“Why would I want to do that?” she asked. Her fangs were sliding down as she grinned; she was ready to pounce. “You can show me right here.”
I smiled back, standing up straight. “Okay.” I shouted, “Now!” And threw myself at her. I grabbed her around the middle and tackled her to the ground. She howled, teeth snapping at my neck. I dodged the fangs and rammed the iron stake into her heart.
She screamed, face contorted in demonic rage. Her fingers had turned into claws, and she was scratching the hell out of my back. I looked up to see Martin standing over us, and he said, “Move.” I tore myself away from the creature, and she let out an unearthly howl before Martin cut off her head.
The body went limp, and I got to my feet and said, “Nice work.”
“You too,” Martin replied. His eyes were still wide, and a tremor went through him. He looked like a kid who was in way over his head. I knew better.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Fine,” he said, his voice squeaking. I raised an eyebrow, and he sighed. “Sorry. I’ve got a bad feeling is all.”
I snorted. “When don’t you have a bad feeling?” I went to where I’d hidden my bag at the alley’s mouth and took out the lighter fluid. I drenched the corpse in it, making sure to use the entire can.
“I’m serious, Kingston. Something’s coming.”
“Well, when it gets here, we’ll deal with it. Just like this one.” I grabbed the book of matches and uttered a quick prayer. Didn’t make a difference; we’d already done our work. The ritual was more for my comfort. Martin hated it but he didn’t begrudge me. I struck the match and tossed it. The body burned hot, bright, and fast, and was gone in seconds.
Martin handed me the machete after he’d cleaned it off with the edge of his shirt. I tossed the blade in the bag along with the can and the matches. I retrieved the stake and slipped it in my pocket. I slung the bag on my back and headed out of the alley with Martin at my side. I threw an arm around him and said, “You worry too much.”
“You should take a break. When’s the last time you went out?” When I gestured to our surroundings, he pursed his lips with annoyance. “I mean besides hunting.”
“I went to the movies Saturday,” I said.
“You tracked a vampire to the movies and killed him after. That doesn’t count as going out,” Martin said, and I sighed. We walked to the parking garage where we’d stashed the car. I was glad to see there was no attendant around, given the sight of us. The fluorescent lights of the garage rendered my brown skin a sickly shade. If I looked sick, Martin appeared unearthly.
He was so white he glowed under the harsh lights. He had strawberry-blond hair and pale-blue eyes like a husky. I loved the way his hair gleamed in the light, and I wanted to run my hands through it. I jammed my hands into my pockets instead, one curling around the stake. Something solid to hang on to. We found the car, and I pulled out the key fob to unlock it.
“Okay, yes, I’ve been hunting a lot. But there’s more of these fuckers popping up by the minute,” I reminded him.
Martin bit his lower lip as I tossed the bag in the trunk, fiddling with one of the beads on his fidget bracelet. It struck me we made an odd pair. He’d opted for jeans, an Ozzy shirt, black thick-framed glasses, and Converse sneakers. I was in one of my old navy suits and brown loafers. Blood soaked our clothes, which was why I was eager to get going before someone spotted us. We got in the car and drove off.
He had curled up in the passenger seat, staring out of the window. Martin still twirling his beads, not saying anything right away. He looked delicate, almost fragile, which was why he was usually the bait. He could lure them in with his boyish charm, and vampires would trip over themselves to get a bite.
They didn’t know he was strong, physically and mentally. Or when he set his mind to something, he would get it done. Or that he’s the smartest person I’d ever met either in my regular life or my hunting life. Not to mention the most compassionate, which was one of the reasons we’d been arguing so much as of late. I admired his tenacious streak. Not so much when he aimed that tenacity at me.
He was thinking, and I tensed for an argument. I entertained the idea of kissing him to shut him up, something I’d dreamed about but wouldn’t do. When we drove onto the 101 loop, Martin said, “We should talk to Tyrone.”
“Fuck no!” I snapped, struggling to keep my eyes on the road.
“He can help. He’s got his own crew, and we’re low on manpower.”
“He’s a fucking vampire. We can’t trust that bloodsucker.”
“Yes, we can.” Martin’s voice strained.
I chanced a look at him and saw Martin clenching his jaw. “Look, just because he switched to donor blood while you two were fucking doesn’t mean he’s trustworthy. For all we know he’s stalking school kids now.”
Martin slammed his fist against the dashboard. “He’s not like that. Not all vampires are evil.”
“Like fuck they aren’t!” I shot back. “Do we gotta go over this again? They killed your family. They killed my brother. How are they not evil?” I regretted it the minute I said it, but I wouldn’t take it back. Martin balled his hands into fists, shoulders tensing up around his ears.
He growled, “Kingston Patrick St. Louis, that is fucking low.”
“It’s the truth.”
I didn’t expect him to understand. Martin had grown up without his family. He didn’t know anything about them except for some pictures in a scrapbook. While their deaths hurt Martin, he had never known them. My brother and I were thick as thieves, and I missed Seph every day.
Alice was born in California in the 80s, which explains so much, really. Before becoming a writer they were in a punk band and also worked as a nurse. In their spare time they enjoy television shows about ghosts and baking as well as a wide spectrum of music. They currently live in Arizona with their collection of Funko Pops and comic book figurines.
On the run from his former allies in 1943, Janos Nagy’s life is turned upside down when he stumbles through a mysterious doorway and finds himself in the hands of the Temporal Research Institute, a covert organization that verifies historical events through time travel.
The year, he is told, is 2041. Wounded, exhausted, and helpless, he’s in a time he doesn’t know and a world that has changed beyond his wildest imagination. Dieter Schmidt, one of the TRI linguists and historians, offers his aid in making sense of this strange new existence.
But Janos’s arrival has broken the TRI’s prime rule of non-interference. It’s not long until someone in the TRI decides that if the rule can be broken once…well, why not break it again?
Chapter One The heavy rain had lightened, which was a small mercy.
The moonlight, thin and sickly, barely broke through the clouds. The trees shone a dull grey in the darkness. Only the rustle of leaves in the wind and the cries of some small creatures out in the darkness broke the silence.
A soldier broke cover from beneath the undergrowth. He stumbled and slithered down a muddy slope towards the track. Grass and dirt tore beneath his boots, and he caught himself against the trunk of a tree to keep from falling, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
In the distance, he was sure he could hear the howl of the dogs, the hunting party. He gulped down a breath before running onward.
He was armed, it was true, but what was one shot against a legion of men? He could turn it on himself, but he had escaped death once. He had no wish to face it again.
Though rough and little used, the narrow track was easier than breaching the undergrowth again. He had to get as far ahead as he could. They wouldn’t continue the hunt much longer, not with the chill of night setting in, but they might follow just long enough.
So he ran.
His legs shook with each step, but terror drove him onward. If he stopped, even to catch his breath, he didn’t think he would be able to start again. If he stopped, he would die. If he rested, he would die. If he did anything but run, he would die.
Something howled in the night, and his heart slammed against his ribs.
It might have been a dog, but it could have been a wolf.
The wind was picking up, whirling around him, the icy rain lashing his face cut through with scalding tears on his cheeks. Running and weeping. No honor. No dignity. All he knew was that he wanted to live.
Ahead of him, the track broadened, which meant it was coming closer to civilization, to people.
He hesitated a moment before plunging off the path and back into the forest, branches whipping at his face and limbs. His foot caught on a root, and he fell, rolling down the slope. He crashed into a stream at the bottom, breaking through a film of ice and plunging into the frigid water below. The cold it cut to the bone, so sharp he couldn’t even draw breath to cry out.
Blindly, he tried to find purchase on the bank. He fell forward heavily onto the ground, a thin keen of pain escaping him as he crushed his left arm beneath him. Warmth spread from the limb. The wound was open again.
“Ángele Dei,” he whispered desperately, “qui custos es mei, me, tib…”
A shout cut him off.
Lights glowed, flickering lanterns visible, like fireflies between the trees.
He pushed himself onto his knees, keening in pain, and grabbed at the low branches of a tree to pull himself upright. Splinters of bark cut into his skin, fresh blood warm on his hands. His legs were numb with cold and pain, but he ran.
The bitter wind cut into his throat and chest. He pushed deeper into the thicker, denser undergrowth—somewhere to hide, somewhere safe, somewhere unseen. Thorns tore at his face and hand, and he tasted blood in his mouth.
He was scrambling over a fallen tree trunk when it gave way beneath him. His ankle folded under him, and he yelped, falling onto his knee. It was only when he fell that he saw the hollow beneath the fallen tree. A hiding place.
Breathing hard, he squirmed through the gap, the tree and ground tearing at him, at his clothing. It was a small space, tight and narrow, but enough to shield him. He pushed dirt up to block the opening, his nose and mouth full of the taste of moss and mud, and lay still and silent as the grave.
C.B. Lewis has been making up nonsense since she was able to talk. Now, she puts it into computers and turns it into books. She is chuffed to bits to officially be yet another one of the collective of authors from Edinburgh.
Ethan Roam has faced a lot of nightmarish challenges—finding out he’s a sandman, falling in love with the man who once hunted him, and thwarting attacks from The Order of Azoth, a secret occult organization set on using his bloodline to conquer the universe by controlling immortality. And the battle is far from over.
To defeat The Order and its leader, Phantom, Ethan must first find the original Sandman and then bring the fight to the Dream World. Saving the universe might be too tall an order for one dream creature, but with the help of his friends and some Celestial beings with questionable motives, Ethan just might be able to weave a trap of surreal proportions.
“Maybe it’s broken.” Ethan Roam, the sandman, shook the orb as though giving the device the magic-eight-ball treatment would bring it pulsing back to life.
“It had better not be. Technical support doesn’t exist for magical artifacts,” Mercury said.
Unsuccessful at reviving the device, Ethan set the orb down on the flattened surface of a nearby stalagmite. “I’m surprised to say it, but I really wish Chris was here. If anyone could fix this, it would probably be him.”
“The Sandman Orb doesn’t need to be fixed. You’re just a bad driver,” Mercury, the former vampire, Dacey, who was now transformed into a celestial entity, chided. Guarded, he turned a one-eighty to view what little he could make out about their dark cavernous surroundings. This wasn’t the first alien planet Ethan had transported them to. But without the Sandman Orb working to give them a proper idea of where they physically were, it was becoming the most foreboding.
“Well, it would help if I had the driver’s manual,” Ethan defended, referring to the Codex, which had been left behind in Grady Hunter’s study during the battle with the Hunters of Azoth, forcing them all to escape to the Dream World. “My driving doesn’t explain why the orb just stopped working all together.”
“Of course, it does. You took a wrong turn into an uncharted dimension. You’re off the grid, darling.”
“Sorry I didn’t pull over to ask for directions,” Ethan snipped.
Before he could add anything else to his sarcastic rebuttal, Mercury grabbed his arm in a protective manner and whispered, “Hide the orb. We’re not alone.”
Ethan scooped the archaic device up and stowed the orb away inside his jacket’s inner lining, thankful Grady had bestowed the hand-me-down to him. His boyfriend’s wardrobe had all sorts of custom pockets and restraints for portable weaponry, which Ethan found to be more and more a necessity.
A cluster of glowing eyes appeared in the darkness, followed by the sound of grunts. Ethan released a pulse of glowing blue dream energy from his palm to light up the space. The alien animal let out an annoyed squawk. Now that Ethan could get a good peek at the creature, he wished he hadn’t.
The alien matched the murky gray sediment of the walls around them and appeared just as bulky. Its long body reminded Ethan of a salamander, only several feet longer and the size of a large crocodile. Once its gaggle of eyes adjusted to the light, the creature used six legs to propel itself rapidly toward them.
“Ball play is over. Back to basics,” Mercury instructed. Mercury had no reason to worry for his own life, seeing as he currently held the title of Death. Instead, he’d be more interested in protecting Ethan’s.
Picking up on his meaning, Ethan opened a portal back to the Dream World. In the blink of an eye, he and Mercury left behind a confused, angry, and hungry alien life-form.
Luckily, Mercury noted, Ethan has mastered the art of landing on his feet and not on his face when traveling between worlds.
Mercury grinned his approval. “You’re improving.”
“Not nearly fast enough,” Ethan reminded him, producing the orb once again. At least now they knew for certain the device wasn’t broken since the orb glowed back to working order with the atmosphere of the Dream World to energize it. “And this thing is basically useless without the Codex.”
“There’s more than one way to navigate foreign waters. Might I refer you to the Age of Exploration?” Mercury patted him on the shoulder in encouragement.
“No need to ask if you had any luck. I see Vincent still isn’t with you.”
They turned to see Marcus von Rottal, the vampire, standing nearby, his hands casually resting in his pockets.
Mercury had reason to be wary of Marcus’s extreme interest. They were all in limbo until they could find Vincent Roam, Ethan’s father—the original Sandman. Unbeknownst to the others, Marcus was the reason for Vincent’s disappearance. He’d pushed Vincent into a portal out of unfounded jealousy. Mercury had guarded their secret in order to protect Marcus. However, the truth seemed destined to come out. Especially if they were successful in finding Vincent alive. Mercury imagined Marcus would want to put all his efforts into doing whatever he could to prevent that from happening.
As long as Mercury had known him, Marcus had put his own interests above everyone else’s. Nothing could stop him or deter him once he set his mind on something. Mercury would have to play his hand very close to keep Marcus from interfering or suspecting he mistrusted his intentions. And as unrealistic as his desire was, a part of him also hoped the others never would know the truth. Regardless of everything which had transpired to drive them apart in the last century, and as much as he’d shed the coil of his past life as Dacey, Mercury still felt protective over him. Or at least responsible for him.
“Marcus, darling! I’m so glad you’re here,” he lied. “Would you be a doll and fetch Grady and perhaps even the portly fellow? What’s his name again?”
“Arthur,” Ethan helped.
Mercury snapped his fingers in confirmation. “Yes! I have an ever-growing list of questions needing answers from those bookish occultist blokes.”
“Hunter wandered into the dream forest,” Marcus informed them. He often referred to Grady by his surname to slight him. “I was quite hoping he’d lose himself in there, but I suppose I’ll go fetch him out if I must. Must I?”
Marcus pursed his lips in response before making his way into the fluorescent-hued woods surrounding them.
Knowing full well Ethan would question the need to interrogate the other men, Mercury went ahead and answered. “Who has read the Mechanics of Sleep Travel more times than anyone else, and even better, who helped write the damned thing?”
Dez Schwartz is a LGBTQ, Dreampunk, & Gothic Romance author and artist based in San Angelo, Texas. She holds a BFA in Studio Art and worked as a graphic artist, and a Director’s Assistant at a fine arts museum, before transitioning to writing full-time.
Her longtime love of Victorian spiritualism, gay literary fiction, and romantic comedies inspired her to begin writing all of the stories she wished existed.
When she’s not passionately crafting tales, she can be found drawing, researching, or traveling with loved ones.
That’s what Duncan Taylor’s sister, Scout, tells him. Scout has everything Duncan wants―a happy life with a wonderful husband. Now that Seattle has made gay marriage legal, Duncan knows he can have the same thing. But when he proposes to his boyfriend Tucker, he doesn’t get the answer he hoped for. Tucker’s refusal is another misstep in a long line of failed romances. Despairing, Duncan thinks of all the loving unions in his life―and how every one of them is straight. Maybe he could be happy, if not sexually compatible, with a woman. When zany, gay-man-loving Marilyn Samples waltzes into his life, he thinks he may have found his answer.
Determined to settle, Duncan forgets his sister’s wisdom about love and begins planning a wedding with Marilyn. But life throws Duncan a curveball. When he meets wedding planner Peter Dalrymple, unexpected sparks ignite. Neither man knows how long he can resist his powerful attraction to the other. For sure, there’s a wedding in the future. But whose?
Same-sex marriage had just become legal in Washington State, and Duncan Taylor didn’t plan on wasting any time. He had been dating Tucker McBride for more than three years, and ever since the possibility of marriage had become more than just a pipe dream, it was all Duncan could think of. He thought of it as he gazed out the windows of his houseboat on Lake Union on days both sunny and gray (since it was late autumn, there were a lot more of the latter); he thought of it as he stood before his classroom of fourth graders at Cascade Elementary School. He thought of it when he woke up in the morning and before he fell asleep at night.
For Duncan, marriage was the peak, the happy ending, the icing on the cake, the culmination of one’s heart’s desire, a commitment of a lifetime, the joining of two souls. For Duncan, it was landing among the stars.
And for Duncan, who would turn thirty-eight on his next birthday, it was also something he had never dared dream would be possible for him.
Now, too excited to sleep, he was thinking about it—hard—once again. It was just past midnight on December 6, 2012, and the local TV news had preempted its regular programming to take viewers live to Seattle City Hall, where couples were forming a serpentine line to be among the first in the state to be issued their marriage licenses—couples who had also for far too long believed this right would be one they would never be afforded. Many clung close together to ward off the chill, but Duncan knew their reasons for canoodling went far deeper than that.
The mood, in spite of the darkness pressing in all around, was festive. There was a group serenading the couples in line, singing “Going to the Chapel.” Champagne corks popped in the background. Laughter.
Duncan couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he watched all the male-male and female-female couples in the line, their moods of jubilation, of love, of triumph, traveling through to him even here on his houseboat only a couple of miles north of downtown. Duncan wiped tears from his eyes as he saw not only the couples but also all the supporters, city workers, and volunteers who had crowded together outside city hall to wish the new couples well, to share in the happiness of the historic moment.
And then Duncan couldn’t help it; he fell into all-out blubbering as the first couple to get their license emerged from city hall. Eighty-five-year-old Pete-e Petersen and her partner and soon-to-be-wife, Jane Abbott Lighty, were all smiles when a reporter asked them how they felt.
“We waited a long time. We’ve been together thirty-five years never thinking we’d get a legal marriage. Now I feel so joyous I can’t hardly stand it,” Pete-e said.
It was such a special moment, and it was all Duncan could do not to pick up the phone and call Tucker and casually say something like, “Hey honey, you want to get married?”
But he knew he had to wait even if patience was a virtue Duncan had in short supply. On Sunday, when the first marriages would take place, he planned on bringing Tucker to their favorite restaurant, an unpretentious little joint on Capitol Hill called Olympia Pizza. There, amid the darkened and—for them—romantic interior with the smells of garlic, basil, and tomato sauce surrounding them, Duncan would propose, saying something clever like:
“I’m thinking about changing my Facebook relationship status to ‘engaged.’ Would you mind?”
In his mind, Tucker would chuckle and then rub at the tuft of blond hair that grew from his chin, regarding Duncan with his dark-blue eyes. Duncan could see the flicker of the candle lighting up his man’s features as he held the silence for a few moments, building the suspense. Then he would say something like, “I think I’ll change mine too.”
That would be one way it could play out—very twenty-first century.
Duncan would then imagine all his friends and family congratulating the newly minted fiancés with “Likes” and words of encouragement and shared happiness. Maybe he could get their waiter to take a picture of them, holding hands over a sausage and mushroom pie, right after the moment when they went from two guys dating to two guys anticipating…marriage.
Duncan found himself wiping yet another tear from his eye. Sunday was going to be perfect.
Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.
It’s been said that if you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were. But what does it mean when they come back into your life—as your sibling’s significant other?
At twenty-five years old, Cal Adams has only ever truly loved one man, the one who broke his heart three years earlier—Andrew Hall. Since then, he has searched for meaningful relationships but cannot smolder the flames of the past his family remains unaware of.
As the holiday season approaches, Cal’s younger sister, Claire, brings her boyfriend home to meet the family. When she arrives, Cal is shocked to meet her boyfriend, who is none other than Andrew. In a darkly humorous tale, Cal decides to show his ex what he missed out on.
Cal Adams sat at his desk and shuffled through some papers as he eyed the clock: 5:47 p.m. A mixture of excitement and anxiety churned uneasily in his stomach as the seconds hand ticked away. In thirteen minutes, he would relinquish his work responsibilities and prepare for what was sure to be a big night. A few days earlier, Cal’s parents had called to invite him to dinner Friday night for a special occasion—his baby sister would be home from college for the weekend.
Claire Adams was a senior in college and only three and a half years younger than Cal, yet he couldn’t help but refer to her as his baby sister; perhaps that was part of being a big brother. As Claire’s older brother and only sibling, Cal was a bit on edge about that night’s family dinner. After all, Claire wasn’t just coming home to visit; she was bringing along her new boyfriend to meet the family.
Cal tuned out the clinking of weight machines and the grunts of fatigued gym patrons as he sat in his office and concentrated on the circumstance at hand. His sister hadn’t had a boyfriend meet their parents since her junior year of high school, which meant this was serious. Cal and Claire had become very close in recent years, but he had not heard much about this boyfriend, including his name. Claire had always been one to maintain a low profile on social media, and only acknowledged she was “in a relationship” a month or so ago—without posting any photos. From what Cal had been able to gather from his phone calls with her, Claire and her boyfriend had only been seeing each other for about six months. So they hadn’t been together that long. Still, this was serious, which worried Cal a bit.
Being the big brother, Cal was somewhat protective of his sister, but he was happy for Claire, and he was sure he’d love her boyfriend. After all, Claire had a good head on her shoulders. However, this whole situation made Cal uneasy since it made him reflect on his own lack of success in the relationship department.
As the eldest sibling, Cal had always anticipated he would be the first to settle down. However, being twenty-five years old and never having been in a serious relationship, he often felt frustrated and unfulfilled—like something was missing in his life.
It wasn’t that Cal was undateable. On the contrary, he was quite attractive, with medium-length, dark-brown hair, piercing gray eyes, sharp features, and a lean build. He was successful, independent, and had an easygoing, fun-loving personality. In fact, he went on plenty of dates, but nothing ever seemed to pan out. Either the chemistry wasn’t there or things just didn’t advance. Cal hadn’t experienced genuine feelings for anyone since—
“Hey,” a friendly voice chimed, which snapped Cal’s attention back to work. A petite young woman with a pretty, freckled face and long, ginger tresses appeared at his office door.
“Hi, Sophie,” Cal greeted. “Getting ready to head out?”
“Yeah, my six o’clock canceled on me,” she informed him.
Sophie was a personal trainer at the gym Cal managed and also one of his closest friends. Sophie was a year his senior, and the two had been friends since childhood. They knew everything about each other’s lives: the good, the not-so-good, and the bad.
Cal glanced at the clock: nearly six now. “I’ll be leaving in a few too.”
“Any fun weekend plans?” Sophie asked.
“Well, I have that family dinner tonight, but I’m not sure if I would call it fun.”
“Ohh, that’s right!” she said. “Claire’s bringing home the boyfriend. What do you know about him?”
“Nothing,” Cal replied. “Honestly, I don’t even think my parents know much about him.”
“So this is a pretty big deal,” Sophie stated. “It sounds serious.”
“Yeah, it does,” he sighed with a lack of enthusiasm before he shut off his computer.
“Uh oh, sounds like someone’s big brother senses are tingling,” she teased.
“It’s not that. I’m sure this guy is great. And I’m happy for Claire, I really am. But I’m twenty-five years old and—”
“Cal, you can’t keep thinking like that. You’re young, and you’ll find someone.”
“That’s what all my friends say, but you guys are all in relationships,” Cal countered. “You and Rich have been together for years.”
“Believe me, you’re gonna find someone. Soon. I’m sure of it,” Sophie reassured him as she gave his arm a squeeze. “By the way, I forgot to ask, how did the date go with that guy last night?”
“Eh, it was fine…at first.”
“At first?” she questioned.
“Yeah, I mean, he was cute. We just grabbed a coffee. And he seemed to have a good personality.”
“So what happened?”
“He started talking about how he loves popping molly.”
“Oh yeah. And then he told me Lana Del Rey’s music makes him horny. Those were his exact words.”
“What!” Sophie gasped in disbelief. “He did not!”
“I’m telling you I can’t make this stuff up,” Cal chuckled as he shook his head in disbelief. “And really, Lana Del Rey? I didn’t know melancholic songs could get someone all hot and bothered.”
“You’re such a normal guy. How come you always find these crazies?”
“I don’t know, I guess they’re drawn to me,” he joked. “But, in all seriousness, I hate these stupid dating apps. I wish I didn’t have to use them, but I don’t know how else to meet someone. Every time I do meet someone from the apps though, they’re crazy or—”
“Or you don’t feel the spark.”
“No. At least not like I had with—”
“Hey”—Sophie interrupted in a soft voice—“it’s been over three years.”
“I know. I know,” Cal stated. He stood from his desk and grabbed his charcoal peacoat. “And I’m over it—believe me—I am. I just get scared that—”
“Don’t be. You’ll have those feelings again. You’ll find that spark.”
“Yeah, I know,” he sighed with a slight shrug before he hit the lights and left his office with Sophie. The two exited the gym in silence and were soon embraced by the crisp air of late November.
Rob Loveless is a corporate communications professional, and currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA. He has been an avid reader and writer from a young age, being influenced by authors like J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown. When he’s not working or writing, Rob enjoys being active, exploring what the Steel City has to offer, and traveling.
Dane, a supernatural consultant, is hired by the FAA to look into a series of reported dragon attacks on their planes. What Dane finds in the wooded area where the attacks took place is not quite the problem he expected: a group of dragon kits and their sick father hiding from the authorities.
When he learns the real reason the family was in the woods, his case grows more dangerous, and though Dane is experienced at both crime solving and watching his own back, taking care of baby dragons and their ill father makes everything else look easy.
The phone started ringing out in the main office just as Dane was finishing up with his last client of the day. He had to suppress an eager smile—Dane could only think of one reason for the phone to ring so late—and refocused his attention on his current client. Dane had been expecting the client on the phone to call a week ago; he could wait ten more minutes.
“Mrs. Hempstead, I assure you the pixies are not the ones harming your prized roses. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the pixies are the only reason your roses are still alive, given the extensive damage in your garden.” Dane tried to speak slowly and calmly so the elderly Mrs. Hempstead would understand and hopefully not get angry. It was probably a lost cause, though. She screamed pretentious and arrogant from the large pearl necklace around her wrinkled neck to the expensive mink coat she was wearing on a warm spring evening. She was used to hearing yes to everything she asked, so Dane telling her she was wrong would probably not go over well.
“If it isn’t those disgusting pixies, then what is destroying my roses?” she snapped, her back regally straight and her eyes flashing with anger. Dane was shivering with fear in his chair…not. “You are supposed to be the premier consultant on everything supernatural. I expect results!”
Dane kept his face pleasant through sheer force of will. He had known this reaction was coming, but that didn’t make it any more fun.
“The teeth marks on the bushes were quite distinctive,” Dane continued gamely. “I would suggest that you keep your dog away from that part of your garden if you want your rosebushes to bloom at all this year.”
She gasped, one silk-gloved hand flying to her chest as if Dane had uttered the most offensive thing she had ever heard. “Diamond would never do something like that!” The Chihuahua in question chose that moment to fart loudly in its carry-purse on the floor next to her chair, an action Mrs. Hempstead completely ignored.
“I have found the pixie family from your garden a new home where their abilities will be properly appreciated. You shouldn’t be bothered by their presence any longer.”
She sniffed in disdain. “Well, at least you’ve done as I asked. I’m sure my rosebushes will recover now that they’re gone. Contact my solicitor for payment.” She got to her feet smoothly, turned, and walked out of his office without a single word of thanks. Her roses would be dead by the end of the week; he’d bet that damned ankle-biter currently destroying her designer purse would ensure that.
Mrs. Hempstead didn’t dawdle on her way out of the office. Barely thirty seconds later, Dane heard the outer door shut with a click. The phone on his desk lit up, and his secretary’s voice sounded through the speaker.
“You have a call on line two. It seems important; he insisted on holding until you were done with your meeting.”
“Thanks, Becky,” Dane replied into the speakerphone. The lights on the phone all vanished as Becky hung up, except for the button blinking for line two. Each line belonged to a different type of client thanks to a nifty spell that made his life so much easier. Mrs. Hempstead would have gone to line three, as an ordinary human. Supernatural creatures lit up line one. Line two was for anything remotely associated with the government.
Dane picked up the phone, hit the button, and held the handset to his ear. He already knew who would be calling and why, but a touch of professionalism never hurt.
“This is Dane, your local supernatural consultant,” Dane said, his voice stiff with formality. “How may I help you today?”
“Why aren’t you already traveling to the mountain in question?” the voice on the other end snapped.
“Why, hello, Jacobson. So nice to hear from you!” If he was going to give Dane flack, Dane would give it right back. Jacobson was the ignorant fool in charge of the local division of the SupFeds, or the Federal Bureau of Supernatural Investigation, the branch of the federal government that oversaw all supernatural issues that had to do with the police or military. Jacobson was a human without the slightest magical ability. He relied on those who had power, like Dane, with far too little foresight. He simply didn’t understand just what he was dealing with whenever he called Dane.
If he did, he would be a whole heck of a lot politer.
“You know exactly why I’m calling. The FAA is talking about calling up the Air Force for a strike.”
“All for a dragon harassing a couple of airplanes?” Dane asked, skeptical that things would be so bad for such a little problem.
“How about multiple dragons? We’ve had sightings of at least one red and one blue dragon in the area.” Now that was an interesting fact that hadn’t made the news. “They’ve attacked three planes and forced an additional dozen to turn back. We’re diverting flights right now, but it’s not sustainable. We need those dragons contained as soon as possible. If you don’t step in, we’re going to have to take drastic action. I’ve sent all the information we’ve been able to gather to your email.”
The phone clicked and Jacobson was gone. He had hung up on Dane. What a bastard. One of these days someone was going to eat him, and Dane would get a nasty phone call from his successor asking Dane to figure out how, who, and why. Dane occasionally wondered how he would explain that Jacobson was an ignorant dick while still maintaining his professionalism. It really wasn’t a phone call he was looking forward to.
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.
Who knew that a summer thunderstorm and a lost little boy would conspire to change single dad Cayce D’Amico’s life in an instant? With Luke missing, Cayce ventures into the woods near their house to find his son, only to have lightning strike a tree near him, sending a branch down on his head. When he awakens the next day in the hospital, he discovers he has been blessed or cursed—he isn’t sure which—with psychic ability. Along with unfathomable glimpses into the lives of those around him, he’s getting visions of a missing teenage girl.
When a second girl disappears soon after the first, Cayce realizes his visions are leading him to their grisly fates. Cayce wants to help, but no one believes him. The police are suspicious. The press wants to exploit him. And the girls’ parents have mixed feelings about the young man with the “third eye.”
Cayce turns to local reporter Dave Newton and, while searching for clues to the string of disappearances and possible murders, a spark ignites between them. Little do they know that nearby, another couple—dark and murderous—are plotting more crimes and wondering how to silence the man who knows too much about them.
She was only thirteen. It wasn’t fair she now lay, bound, waiting for death. Before, there had been struggling: clawing and fighting, scratching their faces, pulling at their hair, batting at whatever part she could reach. Her breath had come in choking spasms, adrenaline pumping, burning, anteing up the hysteria so much she thought her air would be blocked. Then had come the dread that made her lose most of her fight, when her terror-addled brain had begun to accept her fate was to die here, in this tiny, hot room, with the only witness to her demise the sparkling eyes of her killers and the maddening, crooked whirl of a ceiling fan long past its prime and wobbling, doing nothing more than blowing the overheated, moist air around the room. The dread had risen up, a nausea twisting her gut and making her afraid she would vomit. And then had come the numbness, a dull tingling throughout her body that precluded movement, stripping her of coherent thought.
They stood above her. Faces she had trusted, faces she had seen before, around her neighborhood. The man she and her friends had had a crush on. He used to drive by her little house on Ohio Street in his old red Mustang, looking the picture of youth, confidence, masculinity. His hair was dark, cut bristle-brush short, and his face always clean-shaven. Thin lips bordered rows of perfect white teeth, and when he had smiled at her, only hours ago, she had lit up. A tingling had started in her toes and had worked its way up until the color rose to her cheeks. At her young age, the interest of a man in his twenties was inconceivable, although it had been something she had hoped for since the first day she had seen him, back at the onset of summer, when the sun had turned white-hot, burning up the grass and making illusory waves rise from the hot, cracked sidewalks.
He had pulled to the curb and sat there, car idling. She sat in the front yard, sorting through Barbie clothes: ball gowns and swimming suits, miniskirts and stretch pants. He didn’t say anything, not right away. She had looked at him once, then looked away, certain his interest could never be in her. Suddenly she felt ridiculous with her metal trunk, her Barbie dolls, and all the outfits she had once been so proud to collect. Swiftly, she returned the clothes to their case and slammed it shut.
She leaned back, resting on her palms, and lifted her face to the sun. Its heat beat down relentlessly, making the skin on her face feel tight.
She felt his eyes on her still. She opened her own eyes a crack and regarded him peripherally. He really was looking at her! The adorable little smile that caused a dimple to rise in his right cheek deepened in the sun’s play of shadow and light. She leaned back more, left hand reaching out to surreptitiously move the Barbie trunk farther away. In this posture, here on the withered and brown grass, she felt that her breasts, little more than two tiny bumps an unkind boy at school had once referred to as her anthills, looked larger. She could be eighteen, couldn’t she? With the right makeup and her hair pulled up….
But now her long blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, clipped with a pink plastic barrette. She wore a pair of cutoff shorts and an oversized South Park T-shirt belonging to her older brother. He would have killed her had he known she was wearing it. But he was away at the Y’s summer camp and would never know the difference.
The idling of the car was like an animal purring.
And then the sun disappeared, and she sat in darkness. Beneath her closed lids, she sensed someone standing over her.
Why hadn’t she heard the slam of the car door? Her eyelids fluttered, but she did not open them. It would be just like her mother to come outside now and stand above her, hands on hips, and ask her what she thought she was doing.
Finally, she opened her eyes and blinked at the brightness of the August day. He was smiling. So unlike the other guys in Fawcettville, he was dressed in pressed black slacks and a collarless white shirt, buttoned to his neck.
“How did you know my name?”
“Oh, I make it my business to know the names of all the pretty young ladies around here.”
Lucy felt the heat rise to her face once more. She grinned and could not think of a single word to say.
She shoved the case farther away, until it was completely out of her grasp. The case lay in the white heat, glinting, looking, she hoped, as if it had nothing to do with her.
“What? Oh…no, no. These are my little sister’s. She always makes such a mess of things, and I was just organizing for her.”
“What a good sister.”
The two said nothing for a while, and Lucy began to grow uncomfortable under his gaze. She shifted her long, tanned legs in front of her, crossing them at the ankle.
“I was driving by and saw you sitting there, and I had to tell you”—he hunkered down beside her—“what a lovely sight you are. It made me stop just to have a better look.”
She laughed and thought she sounded way too much like the thirteen-year-old she was. “Thank you,” she whispered, wondering where her voice had gone.
“No, thank you, for being here, for making the heat of this day a little more pleasant.”
Oh, stop! she wanted to cry out but whispered again, “Thank you.”
He leaned closer, enough for her to feel his breath near her ear. In spite of the day’s heat, his nearness caused gooseflesh to rise on her arms, her spine to tingle.
“Listen.” He glanced around the empty street with eyes like none she had ever seen: green, ringed with thick black lashes. And in his gaze was a conspiracy that included only the two of them. “My car has air-conditioning. I know this is out of the blue and all, but I wondered if you’d like to go for a ride with me.”
Lucy glanced back at her house. She wished suddenly she lived in a bigger house, in a better neighborhood. Here on this modest residential street close to the river, her small white clapboard house was surrounded by other houses very much like it, some of them covered in rusting aluminum siding. She pictured her mother inside, on a vinyl-covered kitchen chair, watching All My Children on a thirteen-inch portable TV on the Formica-topped kitchen table. Her mother, she knew, would never approve of what was transpiring here, right in her front yard.
He stood suddenly. “Okay, okay. I get the message.”
“Wait.” She sat up straighter. A pickup rumbled by and left in its wake a smell of exhaust and a rush of hot air.
He turned. “What? Need to get your mom’s permission?”
“Of course not!” Her voice came out higher than she would have liked, the whiny protest of a child. She stood. “I’d like to come with you. But I can’t stay out too long.” She was about to say “My mom will be worried” but realized how immature that would sound. “I’ve got some people I have to meet in a little while.”
He smiled. And the smile erased any nervousness she had about going with him. After all, she had seen him around the neighborhood dozens of times. He wasn’t exactly a stranger, not really.
“That’s fine, Lucy. I’ll have you back within an hour. I promise. I certainly wouldn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with you.” He winked, and she followed him to the waiting car.
Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.
After a paranormal encounter in his youth with someone from his future, Collin Frey sets his sights on getting to Marke Staple University. Now eighteen and with a full scholarship to the prestigious university, Collin hopes to find an explanation to that life-changing event. Unfortunately, it only leads to more questions.
Finding out he’s there to study magic is the first surprise. The second is his roommate, Terrence, looks identical to the person who started him on the path to Marke Staple.
Collin’s more than willing to sell his soul to get closer to Terrence and uncover all the secrets hidden there. Can knowing a man will change after making a horrible mistake ease the pain of betrayal? Collin is going to find out.
Chapter One Mom and Dad chatted softly as I gazed out the taxi window. Occasionally, the driver would point out a well-known sight, or something of interest. My parents oohed and aahed, but I barely registered the words. My thoughts focused inward, to the red-eyed man, his desperate pleas for forgiveness, and the total absurdity of the situation. When my mind dwelled on the event from my youth, the rational side wanted to dismiss it as a daydream, or some sort of hallucinated episode. The man had disappeared. That sort of thing didn’t happen in real life.
Yet here I was. Following the clues that could easily turn out to be nothing more than a figment of my imagination.
“And ’ere we are,” the cabbie said, pulling the car to a stop. “Marke Staple University. Very prestigious.” He turned around and smiled at me. “You’re a lucky one to get in.”
Mom leaned forward eagerly. “Not lucky at all! Collin got a full scholarship! He’s very bright.”
I wrinkled my nose and unbuckled my seat belt. “Thanks for the ride.”
I climbed out and gazed upon the school’s gothic spires. They sent ominous shadows stretching across the school grounds. One at the center of the campus stood higher than the rest. I recognized it from the school’s website. And the coin. The familiarity of it made my heart ache. So close.
The driver got out of the car and opened the trunk. He lifted our bags out and set them on the sidewalk. Dad slipped him a few American dollars, which he took with a wink. “Thanks a lot. And good luck in your studies.” He waved before climbing back inside and disappearing the way we came.
“So, here it is,” Dad said, following my gaze to the spires. “Kinda creepy.”
Mom lightly smacked Dad’s shoulder. “Travis! Don’t say things like that. It’s an old school, with old architecture.”
“And old ghosts,” Dad muttered, then shot me a mischievous grin. “I hope you don’t venture out at night.”
I laughed, and the tension filling me lessened. A bit.
Dad threw his arm over my shoulder and pulled me in for a side hug. “Come on, kiddo. Let’s check this place out.”
A man in a butler-type uniform headed our way, a trolley in front of him. He stopped in front of us and gave a formal bow. “Mr. and Mrs. Frey? I’m Stephen, Mr. Helmer’s coordinator. We sent a car to pick you up, but apparently they were stuck in traffic and didn’t make it on time. You’ll be compensated for the fee, of course.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dad said.
Stephen dipped his head, graying hair falling over his eyes, but when he rose, he didn’t look happy with Dad’s dismissal of the taxi fare. “Mr. Helmer will be here shortly, but he sent me ahead to collect your luggage.”
“Thank you,” Mom said as he loaded our bags onto the trolley.
“I’ll get them delivered to your rooms.” Another bow, then he scampered off.
“That’s awful nice,” Mom added. “A car to pick us up—even if we missed it—and a butler to carry our things. What else will they do for us?”
“Well, they’re giving me a full scholarship,” I said, walking forward. “That should be plenty.” The tuition here was enormous. I had been lucky they’d offered me a scholarship, or else I never could have afforded this place. Millionaires sent their children here. Mom and Dad barely made enough to send Mindy—my older sister—to Florida State. This was on the other side of the Atlantic.
Mom and Dad followed my lead. We stepped past the stone gate and onto campus. As soon as my foot touched the ground on the other side, a tingle ran up my spine. I glanced around, wondering if they had a laser or infrared camera pointed at us. Nothing looked out of place. No obvious surveillance. With the next step, the chill vanished, so I dismissed it as a fluke and pushed it from my mind.
The campus was constructed of stone buildings, most sporting tall spires. Nothing in Florida even came close to this. In age or in design. An odd sensation permeated the air, almost like the change in air pressure on an airplane. A hum sounded just a decibel below hearing.
“Which way should we go?” Dad asked.
Mom pointed to a small sign in the grassy area in front of us. “Freshman orientation. That way.” She gestured to the right.
We started in that direction, but an older gentleman jogging toward us slowed our steps. I recognized his face—Patrick Helmer, the dean.
“Mr. and Mrs. Frey,” he called out, waving his hands over his head.
We stopped and allowed him to catch up. When he did, he smiled broadly, adding more wrinkles to his kindly face. “And Collin, of course,” he said to me. “I’m glad you made it in safely. I’m Patrick Helmer, the dean.” He shook all our hands enthusiastically. “I must apologize for the mix-up with the car. We must have copied your flight time incorrectly.”
“It was no problem,” Mom said. “The cab driver got us here quickly.”
“We wanted to do more, Mrs. Frey, to show how excited we are to have Collin here.”
Mom smiled, happy for someone to be singing my praises.
“We were just heading to orientation,” I said, gesturing in the direction we’d been going.
Helmer waved his hand dismissively. “No, that’s for the ordinary students. You don’t need to listen in. If you don’t mind, I’ll give you a tour of the campus.”
“That would be lovely,” Mom said. “Are you sure you’re not too busy?”
“Never too busy to assist our new literature students. We take pride in both our programs, but literature is the jewel in our crown. Collin won’t want for anything while he’s in our care, Mrs. Frey.”
Some of the tension left Mom’s shoulders at his words.
“Now, this way.” He led us deeper onto campus. “Marke Staple is a very old, very selective school.”
“I know,” I said. When we’d returned home from Colorado, I had looked into this place. I had the whole history of it memorized. And when I’d found out they only had two degrees—literature and business—I had applied myself to my studies and set my sights on getting here. “You only select five students a year to be in your literature program.”
The dean grinned. “Correct. And we are very happy you selected our school, Collin. I know you had plenty to choose from.”
I nodded, but it wasn’t true. Oh sure, my grades were so fantastic I could have gone to almost any I chose, but Marke Staple was the only place for me. My encounter with the red-eyed man cemented it.
“This”—Helmer said, lifting his hand toward the closest building—“is Lapris Hall. It’s the administrative building. My office is in there, as well as all the other teachers’. If you have any problems, you can find your solutions there.”
The building was two stories, with a dozen windows on this side. At each corner, elegant spires rose twice the height of the building. Atop each spire was an animal statue. A dog. A cat. A bird. A turtle. Curious. Most ancient buildings like this put statues of people or crosses, or at the very least gargoyles.
Helmer noticed my study of the spires and leaned close to me. “Wards,” he said softly. “They protect us.”
I shivered again, wondering what a university would need protection from.
He continued walking. Mom and Dad followed, but I lingered. Something about the building…wasn’t right. There was a haze that drew the eyes to the top, to the spires.
“Come on, Collin,” Dad called.
I pulled my gaze away and hurried after.
“This,” the dean said at the next building, “is Regalia Hall. All your classes will be in here. Besides the Staple Spire, it has the most original stonework. Only the west wall was affected by an earthquake in 1734.”
This building had one spire over the entrance, although several cats sat atop the buttresses. If four protecting Lapris Hall were enough, why did this building need a dozen?
“English departments are all the same,” Dad said, lifting his chin to study the detailed stonework. “And I bet the teachers all look like Dracula. That’s how it was at my college.”
Helmer laughed. “We don’t have any vampires on staff. A few hybrids, perhaps, but nothing dangerous.” Then he met my eyes and winked.
We continued around the rectangular campus, passing the café, and then the math building, the economics building, and other places the dean said I would have no use for. With only five students in each year, the literature program hosted twenty students total. The business program had four hundred. Naturally, most of the space would be devoted to their courses.
Finally, we reached the dormitories. There were three: lined in a row on the south side of campus. The school’s rock-wall perimeter stood just a few feet from the rear of the buildings.
“The men’s dormitory is on the left,” Dean Helmer said, gesturing. It was two stories, lacked any spires, and was identical to the one on the right. “The women’s dorm is on the right. The staff’s in the center.” The staff’s building was taller, and had two enormous statues peering down at the students’ dorms.
“Let me guess,” I said, nodding up toward the statues. One was a lion, the other a tiger. “They’re meant to keep us in after curfew.”
The dean chuckled and clapped a hand on my shoulder affectionately. “Ah, Collin. I do wish we could set them to that task. Unfortunately, we rely on resident assistants to enforce the curfew. Our statues are simply meant to ward off any danger.”
“Ah,” I said as if that made perfect sense.
“Now, why don’t we leave you to get settled into your room. You’ve got your room assignment?”
I wiggled my phone. “Yeah, it’s in my email.”
Helmer nodded, then turned to my parents. “Mr. and Mrs. Frey? If you’ll join me in my office, I’ll go over the finer points of Collin’s scholarship. Give you our emergency contact information. Get yours in return. That sort of thing.”
Mom looked at me, hesitating. “Will you be okay on your own?”
“I’m fine, Mom. I don’t want you and Dad being overbearing when I meet my roommate.”
Helmer glanced at his watch. “We can meet in an hour at the cafe for dinner? Will that suit you, Mrs. Frey?”
She nibbled her lip, but dipped her head. “All right. We’ll see you in a bit.”
The dean smiled. “Wonderful! Michael is your RA, Collin. Ask him if you have any questions.”
Foster Bridget Cassidy is a rare, native Phoenician who enjoys hot desert air and likes to wear jackets in summer. She has wanted to be a fiction writer since becoming addicted to epic fantasy during high school. Since then, she’s studied the craft academically—at Arizona State University—and as a hobby—attending conventions and workshops around the country. A million ideas float in her head, but it seems like there’s never enough time to get them all down on paper.
For fun, Foster likes to take pictures of her dachshunds, sew costumes for her dachshunds, snuggle her dachshunds, and bake treats for her dachshunds. In exchange for so much love and devotion, they pee vast amounts on the floor, click their nails loudly on the tile, and bark wildly at anything that moves outside. Somehow, this relationship works for all involved.
While not writing, Foster can usually be found playing a video game or watching a movie with her husband. While not doing any of those things, Foster can usually be found in bed, asleep.
In the conservative East Texas town of Black Creek, you’re either old money or you work for them. Redmond Cole is the latter. The long hours he spends fixing fancy cars in the local garage are barely enough to support himself, let alone his sixteen-year-old half-sister, Katie. All he wants is a better life for the both of them, one that’s easy and real, but he has a secret. One that could blow up the meager existence he’s worked so hard to maintain.
Red is gay.
He doesn’t want to lie, especially to Katie, but Black Creek isn’t the most hospitable environment for those who are different. His secrets keep them safe. He’s all but resigned to a life in the closet when he’s propositioned by the dashing, wealthy Victor Itachi. What follows is a secret and intense sexual relationship that challenges everything Red believes about himself. When an unlikely friendship with the only out gay man in town opens Red’s eyes to new possibilities, he must make a choice: submit fully to the relative safety of Victor’s control or risk it all for a chance at real love.
Under the hood of a car, everything makes sense. Gears and wires. Oil and grease. All the parts fit together and just work. Each piece has its own function, a logic. Completely predictable even when damaged. Won’t turn over? Check the battery, the wiring, the alternator. Find the broken piece and the whole thing comes alive again, purring and growling and shrugging itself back into action.
I pulled my head out of the engine compartment of a Nissan Altima and flexed my back with a satisfying crack. The owner brought it in complaining of overheating. The repair was a simple one. Just a few hoses needed replacing. I wiped my grease-coated hands and folded my tall frame into the driver’s seat. I flicked the key, and the engine turned over easily. I tapped the accelerator and the temperature needle climbed before stopping at normal. I smiled and gave the dash an affectionate pat.
“Red!” I jumped at a sharp voice from inside the shop. I shut off the Nissan and stepped out to find my boss, Bo, poking his square head into the garage, gesturing for me to join him. Visible through a bank of windows behind him stood a neatly dressed man with long, ink-black hair and a troubled expression. I’d seen him before. Many times, in fact. He drove a silver BMW 5 series sedan, a fine machine and well-suited to a man like him, and he brought it in monthly for regular maintenance.
I always noticed. Not only the car, but the man. How the air changed with his appearance. How, like now, the gears in my head locked up and stopped moving, and all I could do was stare, mesmerized by the flow of his hair around his shoulders, the bow of his lips, his olive skin. He was nothing like the rednecks here in Black Creek. I struggled for a word to describe him. Pretty was what he was. Not in a feminine sense. More in the way you think of a Ferrari 458 as pretty. Sleek and stylish with a touch of ferocity lurking just beneath the shiny topcoat.
I jumped again, my eyes jerking back to Bo’s irritated face.
“What the hell are you doing? Get in here!”
Face hot, I slammed the car door behind me. I straightened my collar, immediately feeling ridiculous for doing so, and made my way into the shop.
“Mister Itachi,” he announced as I stepped through the door, “this is Redmond Cole. He’s our finest mechanic. I can assure you he’ll have you fixed up in no time.”
I nodded without raising my eyes, dirty hands shoved in my pockets. Mr. Itachi. Victor. I knew his name already, had seen it on intake forms and receipts, but unlike the other countless names I encountered daily this one stuck. He shifted nervously, his shiny leather shoes scraping across the shop floor. I lifted my eyes just enough to see his lips curl downward and lowered my head to hide my flush.
“I have a very important meeting in Longview, tomorrow,” he said, each word crisp and carefully formed. “It is absolutely imperative it’s ready by first thing in the morning.”
“Yessir.” My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, making the words thick.
“Trust me,” Bo assured him, slapping me roughly on the back with a meaty hand. “He’ll have it ready if he has to work all night.”
I frowned and swallowed hard as he gave my shoulder a tight, warning squeeze.
Mr. Itachi clenched and unclenched his hands at his waist, and he released a long sigh. “I guess I’ll leave it to you then.”
My tongue frozen in place, I nodded again. Bo released his grip on my shoulder and ushered the gentleman out in a fog of reassurances, each one laced with a subtle threat pointed at me.
Heart pounding, palms sweating, I retreated into the garage. I leaned heavily against the Nissan I’d just been working on. My coworker, Lawrence, squinted at me from underneath a Mazda 3, and I pulled myself up straight.
Goddammit, Red, get a hold of yourself.
“What is it with that guy?” he said in his three-pack-a-day voice, jabbing his wrench toward the windows.
My stomach clenched. “What do you mean?”
“Bo can’t seem to jump high enough when he comes around.”
I released a nervous laugh and shrugged. “Money talks, I guess.”
Lawrence snorted, disappearing back under the Mazda. Here in Black Creek, there were two classes of people: the obscenely wealthy and everyone else barely scraping by. Like every other East Texas town, we were founded on lumber and natural gas. Those who got in early prospered. Those who didn’t worked for them. Generations of people whose fate was determined by the luck of their great-great-grandfathers, though something told me Mr. Itachi’s story was different. The silver BMW pulled into the bay next to me, and I peered at it over the Nissan’s roof.
Courtney Maguire is a University of Texas graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas. Drawn to Austin by a voracious appetite for music, she spent most of her young adult life in dark, divey venues nursing a love for the sublimely weird. A self-proclaimed fangirl with a press pass, she combined her love of music and writing as the primary contributor for Japanese music and culture blog, Project: Lixx, interviewing Japanese rock and roll icons and providing live event coverage for appearances across the country. Her first novel, Wounded Martyr, is a 2019 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Short Category.
E.M. Hamill has a new queer sci fi book out, book two in the Dalí Tamareia series:
Third-gender operative Dalí Tamareia thought their life as an ambassador ended when they joined a galactic intelligence agency. When they’re yanked out of the field and tapped to negotiate the surrender of deadly bio-engineered warriors who crashed into hostile territory, Dalí is thrust headfirst back into the tumultuous world of galactic diplomacy.
Dalí has faced Shontavians before, but not like these. The stranded mercenaries are highly intelligent and have an agenda of their own. Dalí can’t afford to be distracted from the negotiations by their own demons or the presence of a charming diplomat with a mysterious past.
As a brewing civil war threatens to derail the entire mission, Dalí must use all their skills to bring this dangerous situation to a peaceful end—but the Shontavians may not be the biggest monsters at the table. Someone is determined to see Dalí and their team dead before they discover the brutal truth hiding in the wreckage.
The Music Behind Peacemaker: A Dalí Tamareia Mission
Because I live in a busy house with three other adults and two vocal pets, I often write with noise canceling headphones and some great, atmospheric music playing. I have to write to instrumental music, because words paint such vivid pictures for me they interfere in my creative process.
My son introduced me to trailer music a few years ago: short, intense pieces of music which create a stunning atmosphere and are often used in movie trailers before the actual soundtrack is written. Two Steps from Hell and Audiomachine provided a lot of inspiration for me for the first book; in fact, one particularly heartbreaking scene had a literal soundtrack in Audiomachine’s “Red Sorrow”. While this particular scene didn’t make its way intact into Dalí, there are many other moods and moments which found footing in some great music.
I listen to a lot of Pandora Journey playlists on YouTube, but these books are gritty and violent. Lovely music doesn’t always provide the right kind of inspiration. GRV MegaMix: Hybrid Warwas one of my absolute favorite playlists for writing violent battles and moments of tension in both books.
Last but not least, Gary Numan’sMy Name is Ruinbecame my unofficial theme song for The Dalí Tamareia Missions. I actually paraphrased one of the chorus lyrics in the book because of the feeling it evoked…see if you can figure out which one. It happens in the most intense moment of the book.
My name is ruin, my name is vengeance
My name is no one, no one is calling
My name is ruin, my name is heartbreak
My name is loving, but sorrows and darkness
My name is ruin, my name is evil
My name’s a war song, I sing you a new one
My name is ruin, my name is broken
My name is shameless, I’ll tear you wide open
I hope some of the music helps inspire your own writing!
E.M. is giving away a $15 Amazon gift card with this tour. Enter via Rafflecopter:
I took a quick turn in the cleanser to rid my skin and hair of the tacky residue left by the decon spray. In the warmth and vibration, I shuddered as the last of the physical characteristics I’d adapted to pass as male shifted back into my neutral, sexless state. My crewmates didn’t expect me to assume a gender, something for which I remained grateful. Without hormone stimulation to drive the change, the process was more painful, and my shoulders complained against the grind of bone and muscle.
I tamed my wavy brown mop as best I could, drawing it into a short, braided queue at the back of my neck before putting on the dress black uniform hanging in my quarters. The white starburst of diplomacy blazed in holographic relief on my left shoulder with the multiarmed spiral of the Remoliad’s sigil on the opposite sleeve.
To be back in the uniform of an ambassador felt strange. Transient reflections in the narrow window showed a me I hadn’t acknowledged in over two years. I barely recognized the echo of who I used to be, a transparent ghost against the stars outside.
The reason I had been pulled out of the field began to make sense, though I still didn’t know what the assignment entailed. Time to find out.
At the closed door of Sumner’s ready room, I tugged at the tunic’s high collar, squared my shoulders, and tapped on the panel to request entry.
“Commander. Permission to enter?”
“Granted.” The door slid aside with his verbal acknowledgment. I stepped through.
Silhouetted by the flicker of busy data screens behind the desk, Sumner wore a black uniform with insignias of diplomatic service similar to mine but without the starburst rank of ambassador. Instead, he wore the pips of an officer in the Remoliad Fleet on the high neck of his collar. He stared at the screen of a PDD, his expression dark and troubled.
Sumner glanced up and a crooked grin formed on his lips as he rose. “Ambassador Tamareia. I haven’t seen you in a while.”
His vocal inflections sounded almost normal, but his eyes still held frost. We were never this formal with each other, a sign of the tension between us.
“I haven’t seen me in a long time either. It feels very strange.” I took a deep breath. “I would like to apologize for my insubordination, especially for what I said in med bay, Commander. I was out of line.” Embarrassment burned in my cheeks, and I lowered my gaze. “I owe Melos and Ziggy more than an apology. I was under the influence on a mission, and I put the lives of my teammates in danger. I will accept the consequences of my actions as you deem appropriate.”
“Grab a chair.” He gestured opposite his desk, and I sat. “I think I owe you an apology as well. I’ve gotten used to autonomy. When some bureaucrat tells me to drop whatever I’m doing and pull my operatives in the middle of a potentially productive mission, it pisses me off. The order to recall you came from so far over my head I got vertigo. The rest is just the frost on the comet, and it pushed me over the line.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry for the vendetta remark.”
“No, you were right. I needed to be reminded why I’m here. You promised only that I will be involved when we take them down, not that I would be the instrument.” No matter how badly I wanted the privilege, I had a bigger job to do. “Who told you to recall me?”
His mouth twisted in an ironic smile. “The Remoliad security council.”
My eyebrows threatened to merge with my hairline. “The security council has authority over the Penumbra?”
“Technically. My superior answers to the secretary general, but it’s almost unheard of to receive a direct order from any office.”
“I don’t understand.” I frowned. “Did my mother have anything to do with this?”
“No, Ambassador Urquhart isn’t involved as far as we can tell. We checked since the order was so specific. But I just received more details.” He handed me the data device he’d been scowling at when I came in. “Against all previous declarations of disdain for galactic alliance, the Ursetu recently issued an emergency petition for their planet to become a member of the Remoliad.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and took the PDD. “I saw something about that in my debriefing file. The crown princess is dead?”
“Yes. The queen and her grandson, Prince Razaxha, are still alive.”
“What happened? Was the planet attacked?”
“Yes and no.” He swept his hand and a heads-up display swirled into view between us. “I’ll warn you up front, this is brutal.”
The wreck of some immense ship blighted the forested grounds of a ziggurat-like palace, silhouetted against the backdrop of a sharp black mountain. Columns of smoke and flames traced the outline of warped and twisted debris. The recording lens zoomed in on a section of the disaster where tiny flashes of light sparked and died. As the picture enlarged, I sat forward in shock.
“Enhance this area.” Sumner circled the spot on the heads-up and spread his fingers. The portion of the holovid expanded, grainy, blurred, and blocked by foliage, but I made it out plainly enough. Enormous, gray-skinned figures piled out of the wreckage.
The four-armed beings appeared unstoppable as they swatted aside the Ursetu and their guns, snatched up the soldiers with their sharp-taloned hands and—
A psychic memory of the taste of blood and entrails hit me so hard I fought the urge to vomit.
“Stop the playback!” I drew heavy breaths through my nose until the nausea passed and my heart stopped pounding. Sumner swept his hand over the enlarged holo, reducing details to a safe distance as my mind attempted to process what I’d seen.
A ship hadn’t crashed in the middle of an Ursetu city. It was the orbiting laboratory where Shontavians were engineered and kept isolated until their sale to whomever bought their mercenary services. It crashed into the planet or was deliberately brought down.
The Ursetu faced monsters of their own making—huge, intelligent creatures with the serrated teeth and claws of a predator, created solely for fighting wars. And they had a craving for sentient meat.
Elisabeth “E.M.” Hamill is a nurse by day, unabashed geek, chocoholic, sci fi and fantasy novelist by nights, weekends, and whenever she can steal quality time with her laptop. She lives with her family, a dog, and a cat in the wilds of eastern suburban Kansas, where they fend off flying monkey attacks and prep for the zombie apocalypse.
Her other books include the acclaimed sci fi novel Dalí, the snarky urban fantasy Nectar and Ambrosia, and several short works of fiction. Visit www.elisabethhamill.com for a full list of literary work.
Blurb: Third-gender operative Dalí Tamareia thought their life as an ambassador ended when they joined a galactic intelligence agency. When they’re yanked out of the field and tapped to negotiate the surrender of deadly bio-engineered warriors who crashed into hostile territory, Dalí is thrust headfirst back into the tumultuous world of galactic diplomacy.
Dalí has faced Shontavians before, but not like these. The stranded mercenaries are highly intelligent and have an agenda of their own. Dalí can’t afford to be distracted from the negotiations by their own demons or the presence of a charming diplomat with a mysterious past.
As a brewing civil war threatens to derail the entire mission, Dalí must use all their skills to bring this dangerous situation to a peaceful end—but the Shontavians may not be the biggest monsters at the table. Someone is determined to see Dalí and their team dead before they discover the brutal truth hidden in the wreckage.
Review: Well that ended with a cliff hanger to end all cliff hangers and totally mind blowing!
This is the second Dalí Tamareia and while they should be read in order I never read the first book and I didn’t feel like I’d missed anything that impacted this book, although I’m going to read it now as this story does hint at events in the first book and I want to know more.
Dalí is throwing themself into their work, taking chances and risking their life with a devil may care attitude. Their teammates straighten them out before they are thrown into a dangerous situation where only Dalí may be able to broker a peaceful resolution.
But as Dalí tries to negotiate with the Shontavians someone on the planet wants total control of the dangerous genetically engineered mercenaries and Dalí’s life hangs in the balance.
Well let me tell you I was hooked from the first chapter, the turmoil that Dalí is going through at the beginning of the book draws you in as you see him taking chances that they don’t need to take. Their attitude brings to mind someone who is close to the edge, dancing with death with the secret wish that death will strike them down.
We are drawn into an incredible story where Dalí is drawn back into their true calling of negotiation, and what a situation they are dropped into.
This is a fast paced story that has danger, intrigue, a dash of sex, and a hell of a twist. The world building is wonderful with richly described settings, we are thrown into situations that you can easily image, and with characters that come to life.
Dalí is third gendered so can switch genders, so male or female partners are both to be expected. There isn’t any romance as such, maybe a slight awakening of awareness of feelings.
Now the ending hits you from nowhere, I seriously didn’t see it coming; it was such a huge betrayal and such a slap in the face that I wanted to hunt the betrayer down myself. Many things are discovered during this story with some of them being tied in to what happened to Dalí’s spouses in book 1, another reason to read book 1 😉
All in all I loved this story and was fascinated with how the story unfolded and developed, I can’t wait for book 3 and look forward to what else E.M. Hamill has to entertain us.
I recommend this story to those who love science fiction, great storylines, and intriguing characters.