In a time of rapid technological change which challenges the roots of the empire, Elizabeth witnesses the impossible. The arrival of her late husband’s doppelganger takes Elizabeth Hunter-Payne to the brink of insanity.
Captain Nathanial Royston, late of the disgraced East India Company, claims he is innocent of the murder on the Great Northern Express.
With the coolly professional Miss Clayton at her side, our feisty heroine investigates three nasty suspects to get to the bottom of the mystery. While doing so, Elizabeth is faced with a cruel reality and comes to a decision that threatens her future happiness.
Another thrilling steampunk adventure with steam trains, miniature automatons, as well as guns, knives, and a handy half-brick in the reticule.
Deny its existence? Scoff at one’s own senses? Doubt one’s sanity? Or should one investigate, interrogate, and hopefully understand? Or as a last resort, threaten stupidly to shoot it dead?
A ghost stood in my library. Not just any ghost. But the ghost of my beloved Jonathan. I could not deny its existence. My senses told me the impossible with undeniable certitude, and I could not discount what I saw. It could not be — yet there he stood. Investigating the phenomenon hopefully leading to an understanding would seem the tried and true method. There, unfortunately, I was at a worrisome disadvantage.
A scant few moments before, I had been in the drawing room confiding my fears for my very sanity to my good friend the general after concluding, for the time being at least, the conspiracy of fear had been perpetrated by a Russian mesmerist known only as Vladimir. My exposure to the fiend had me questioning everything I thought, felt, and experienced. I feared being confined in Bedlam, the destiny of hapless wretches like myself, who believed their ability to tell reality from fantasy had been compromised. Was this ghost the proof that Vladimir had indeed sent me mad?
Before she fainted away, my trusted servant, Marianne, had interrupted us in a state of distress saying there was a visitor in the library. To affect her stolid character in such a fashion the visitor must have been most singular. I sensed then that something evil had invaded my home. I had rushed to my late husband’s library, and what I saw as I entered that formerly safe and comfortable room stopped me in my tracks. The sight unhinged me, stole the breath from my lungs, and chilled the blood in my heart so quickly that it seemed time itself had stopped.
A ghost. How else to explain what I saw? The alternative was to accept that I was indeed mad.
Unfortunately the cold fear had not frozen the multitude of panicked, confused thoughts which, like a crazed mob, ran free through the streets and alleyways of my mind, breaking and looting everything that was once solid and dependable. An image came to me… the creeping terror invading my mind was like the first winter ice on a country pond, which spread inexorably over my body and threatened to engulf my very soul. I knew with dread certainty that if the brittle ice cracked, I would slip into the murky depths of insanity.
There, illuminated by the firelight, I recognised in his impossible countenance all the familiar features: his strong well-defined jaw, his generous lips, the piercing gaze, and the close-cut hair. The room revolved around me. My head swam, the floor tilted beneath my feet. In my shock I had staggered backward against the doorjamb.
The impossible man spoke. “Elizabeth?”
I heard myself mutter a single word. My first step onto that ice-covered pond. “Jonathan?”
Was I to crash through that thinly spread ice and drown in a madness of my own making? One last rebellious kernel of logical thought remained at the centre of my brain. It boiled and bubbled in a frantic struggle to fight the impossible and keep me sane. That hot thought spilled over and inflamed every cell it touched until, like a volcano, it exploded. I became incandescent with rage and jumped back from the edge of that insane pond, determined the ice would not claim me.
In the moment before the impossible man said another word I pulled out my Adams revolver, and pointed it at his heart. “You may have Jonathan’s face,” I challenged, “But you are not he! Identify yourself, sir, or God help me, I will shoot you dead!”
ABOUT MIKALA ASH
Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.
There’s a bloody serial killer on the loose in foggy London, and music hall singer, The Songbird of Surrey, fears her best friend has fallen victim to the fiend. When her own fiancé, who she sent out to find her friend, goes missing as well, she seeks the professional help of the EHP Investigation Bureau to solve the mystery.
Intrepid crime fighter Elizabeth Hunter-Payne ventures into the dangerous streets of London’s East End and explores the seamy side of adult entertainment to confront the Collector, the terror of Whitechapel. His elusive puppet master, Vladimir the Mesmerist, is pulling the strings of conspiracy, and threatens the very foundations of the empire.
Elizabeth meets the ultimate automaton, Hercules, but what service can a metal man of cogs and gears perform? Guns, knives, and half-bricks come into play as Elizabeth fights for survival, and her sanity, in another thrilling steampunk adventure.
Author’s Note: Cliffhanger ending. Elizabeth’s story continues in Elizabeth Hunter-Payne Steampunk Adventures 4!
After my adventure on the airship Imperative, I decided to chronicle my now numerous adventures on behalf of her Majesty’s government. Due to the sensitivity of my activities I have instructed my solicitors to withhold them from publication until a century after my death. I suspect it is a form of vanity, an act of self-aggrandisement, another of my personal failings. I do intend to give an honest account, and because memory is at best an untrustworthy source and at worst an outright liar, I take copious notes at every opportunity to ensure my recollections of events are as accurate as possible. This tedious habit became particularly important to me given the strange case on which I was about to embark.
Following the deadly conclusion of the Torbernite Imperative my small household had undergone a substantial upheaval. I’d taken a monstrous risk to my reputation by installing the unmarried Felix Rider in the bedroom next to mine. On the surface my act is clearly one of charity, for Felix is an operative of my investigation bureau, and he had been wounded in the line of duty aboard the airship Imperative. During a life-and-death struggle he sustained a gunshot wound, a concussion, two broken ribs, a twisted knee, as well as cut and swollen knuckles.
It was a risk I was honour bound to take, for he had saved my life.
However there was another co-placating factor at play. In addition to his investigative duties Felix had agreed to be my tutor in matters pertaining to erotic satisfaction, a step I’d taken to reawaken my sensuality following many years of celibacy after the death of my dear husband, Jonathan. Felix was an able and inventive teacher. The palpable risk I took was that my physical attraction to Felix coupled with his proximity, would be my undoing, and that I would do something indiscreet, and be exposed as the laughable wanton widow so popular on the music hall stage. Embarrassed and ashamed, I would inevitably become an outcast of society, a fate, if I am to be honest, that was losing its power over me every day.
I placed him under the round the clock charge of two nurses, a cheerful buxom young blonde named Bramble, and the senior of the two, the authoritative and statuesque Hazleton. They were supervised by my family physician, the reputable Dr. Horace Wamburton.
As I have related elsewhere, Archie, my late husband’s batman, also shared my house. I considered him the son Jonathan and I were destined never to have. I’d unofficially adopted him after he had been seriously wounded in the Crimean battle that had killed Jonathan. Since the Torbernite affair he had been laid up in bed with a serious chill he’d earned while carrying out surveillance work in torrential rain. That left the responsibility of running the EHP Investigation Bureau to me. Every day after breakfast spent with Felix, chatting about anything and everything, and resisting the powerful urge to climb into bed with him, I’d go to the office feeling highly aroused and frustrated.
My body’s propensity to lust, or libido as my old Latin dictionary calls it, had never been higher in my life, and inevitably I succumbed to it. It was the eighth morning after returning from Edinburgh that I went to Felix’s room to wish him a good morning that my resistance fell. I entered as Nurse Bramble, the pretty young blonde was leaving the sick room, and we bumped into each other. As we performed a little dance to get out of each other’s way without disarranging my crinolines too badly I noted her creamy complexion was flushed, and though she wore her habitual smile, she uncharacteristically avoided my gaze.
Nurse Hazleton, the older and more sensible of the two, bade me good morning.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, indicating with my gaze the departing back of Nurse Bramble.
“It’s nothing, Mrs. Hunter-Payne. We nurses have seen it all. We don’t embarrass easy.”
“What do you mean?”
In turn I followed her gaze to Felix’s bed. He was still asleep. His handsome face, despite the bandages that covered the minor cuts on the left side of his head, appeared relaxed and untroubled. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, I noted that lower down the sheet was tented with a morning erection. I couldn’t help but put my hand to my mouth.
About Mikala Ash
Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.
Vicious warlord Vicktor destroys and dominates every land he conquers and every slave he captures. When he offers his brother and commanding general Valerian a rare gift, a defiant slave of surpassing beauty, neither man dreams Vicktor’s gift will reshape their kingdom.
Pitch black. Then candlelight. One lonely flame lit the face of a plump-faced man in a robe.
“How did I get here?” I asked.
“That’s not important right now,” the monk replied. “It’s where you’re going.” He reached for a journal, which sat on the stool to his right, and set the candle in its place. He flipped several pages and held it to the flame. “Are you fond of voyages?”
I shook like nervous prey. “I really need to know how I got here.”
“You’re a troubled man in need of rest and recreation. And a healthy dose of self-reflection.”
“I wish you’d stop asking questions. You’ve never bothered listening to those who’ve responded.”
Harmonious chants filled the silence. These men’s voices calmed me, even though a dozen questions still needed answering.
Another light appeared coming from a round window. I shuffled toward it. There I was in the dark on the other side. I lay sleeping.
Kevin lives with his husband, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina), in Australia’s own ‘Emerald City,’ Sydney.
His tall tales explore unrequited love in the theatre district of the Afterlife, romance between a dreamer and a realist, and a dystopian city addicted to social media.
His first novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, spawned a secondary character named Guy. Many readers argue that Guy, the insecure gay angel, is the star of the Actors and Angels book series. His popularity surprised the author. The third in this series, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, scored a Rainbow Award (judged by fans of queer fiction) for Best Gay Alternative Universe/Reality novel.
So, with his fictional guardian angel guiding him, Kevin hopes to bring more whimsical tales of love, life and friendship to his readers.
Ren has always wanted to leave, to escape his quiet village life. He wakes up from gold-tinged dreams with his heart pounding and a yearning for something he can’t name, can’t hold. He longs to experience something magical just once in his life.
Nico’s monsters don’t lurk under the bed. They walk in daylight. They haunt him every day of his life. He’s possibly the strongest magician of his time, yet he’s trapped. All he wants is an out.
At a magical carnival in the middle of a forest, Ren and Nico collide. They’ve been on this collision course their entire lives, always hurtling toward each other. For both men, escape is now. They have no choice but to flee together. Monsters and betrayal hunt them across strange lands. They find themselves on a journey to save each other—and possibly the world. All they have is one another, Nico’s magic, and a lifetime of half-remembered dreams. But finding each other, finally having someone to rely on, might be the strongest magic of all.
The lake was on fire. Ren dipped his oars into the water and swept himself closer to the blaze, each stroke an exultation. He’d been waiting months for this, counting down the hot summer weeks to autumn and rain and flames.
He was ready to throw himself into the burn.
The fire came on time, as it did every year. The first rainstorm of autumn brought them down from the sky. Or so the story was told. Ren couldn’t quite bring himself to believe they rode through the skies on storm clouds and dropped to the ground between thunderclaps, stealing their impossible power from the lightning.
Then again, they were magicians. Anything was possible.
Ren’s village, Klein, lay huddled in the dark at his back. On the opposite shore, half the forest flickered red. The low clouds caught and held the glowing light from below. The spectacle could be seen from every village in the surrounding valley, a beacon: come, step into the heat, play with us, burn with us.
For the first time in his life, he was going to see it up close. From the quiet safety of Klein, the spectacle always gave the impression of a town set aflame. So near to it, it wasn’t like that at all. More like the whole world had ignited. His fingers around the wood paddles twitched with anticipation. This was it. Finally. Finally.
By the time Ren reached the middle of the lake, half of it alight, a bright crimson flared across the surface and leaped like waves in wind. Reflections set the rest of the lake ablaze so that it seemed to Ren he was sitting in the very middle of the conflagration. So far, he had avoided the areas of the lake that had caught flame.
Magic. God, yes. He could practically taste it in the air, and he wanted more of it. He’d dreamed of magic for years, a gold thread of it always in his mind’s eye. Since childhood, magic remained a ball of yearning lodged in his chest. Ren had to see it for himself. Touch it. Experience it. He wanted to drink it, have it sear his throat.
For years, he’d heard whispers of this from people in nearby villages, those who had gotten close to it over the years.
Those who’d walked through it—and come out on the other side.
Ren paused in the middle of the lake to take it all in. He would be seeing fire in his dreams that night.
His turn had come to walk into this wild world.
He dug his oars into the lake, his reflection rippling away from the boat with each stroke. Ren pushed himself closer to the ruby burn, a moth drawn to the dangerous lure of light.
Emme C. Taylor can be found wandering stormy beaches with a pen and notebook in hand, waiting for inspiration or lightning to strike. She believes the atmospheric environment helps her to write the grittiest parts of her stories. Crochet and dark chocolate ease her mind when her characters aren’t cooperating. Emme will happily talk about almost anything to avoid having to talk about herself. How about this weather, huh?
After combat news cameraman Adam Parker covers a Times Square attack by blue-skinned aliens that costs hundreds of lives, the invaders try to kidnap him. Fortunately, the attempt is foiled by a sword-swinging Knight of the Round Table and his witch partner. But when the vampire knight removes his helmet, Adam realizes Sir Baldulf is the father who abandoned him and his mother when he was ten.
Ulf swears he and Opal Cassidy are Adam’s only hope of survival. Otherwise the aliens will keep coming after him. Furious, Adam wants nothing to do with either of them — especially after Opal uses her magic to force him to run from the aliens instead of doing his job.
Opal has been ordered to seduce Adam and transform him into a vampire. Still grieving for a previous partner after more than a decade, the witch wants nothing to do with the handsome, cynical mortal. But orders are orders, so seduction it is.
Despite Adam’s bitterness and her grief, the two discover they have red-hot sexual chemistry. As the stakes climb and passion turns to love, Opal and Adam realize that if they don’t take a chance on each other, humanity will pay the price.
Warm, muscled arms wrapped around her waist, and a big body slid against her from behind, snuggling close. The scent of him made Opal’s heart skip in sheer joy.
“Joaquin?” She rolled over to face him, eyes widening. It was him. “Joaquin!”
His wide, white grin flashed in the dim light as he rose to one elbow above her. “Hello, love.”
She caught his handsome face in her hands. Treasuring the warmth of his skin between her palms, she fell into the love shining in the rich, velvet dark of his eyes. With a needy gasp, she pulled him into a ravenous kiss. He felt so solid and strong as she pressed against him, all long, lean muscle. Her world had become as hollow as a drum without him, empty with yearning. “Oh God, I’ve missed you,” she moaned against his mouth. “I’m so sorry I failed…”
“Opal, no one could have done more.” His long fingers stroked her red curls. There was such sadness in his gaze, her chest hurt. “And I know how much you miss me. I’ve missed you, too. But darling, it’s time you let me go.” He lowered his head until his forehead touched hers. “Because, my love, I’m gone.” He began to fade from her arms like mist in the morning sun.
“No!” She screamed, clutching for him, but her hands raked through empty air.
* * *
Opal came awake crying. She sat up and swung her legs out of bed, burying her face in her hands. “I should have Truebonded with you when I had the chance,” she groaned to the man who’d been dead more than a decade.
Her cell phone vibrated on the oak nightstand with Alys Hawkewood’s ringtone. The atonal thumping notes made Opal long for the noxious metallic brrrrriiiing of the twentieth century. She scooped up her phone. “Hello, Alys,” she said, wiping her face with the back of her free hand. “What did you See this time?”
There was a pause. “Are you all right? You sound a little choked.”
“I’m fine.” Briskly, she added, “So what fresh hell is it now?”
Alys snorted. “‘Fresh hell’ is right. You need to meet us at the Great Hall. Arthur and Morgana want to brief you on an assignment I Saw.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound good.” Not if the job was bad enough to trigger one of her friend’s visions.
“It’s not. And you’re not going to like it.”
Terrific. She forced a light tone. “Is it my turn to get captured by Fomos?” Which was what had happened to Alys the week before. From what she’d said, it had been ugly.
“No, someone else is in the bull’s-eye this time. And I’m afraid you’ll have your hands full keeping this one alive. He’s not going to want to cooperate.”
Merlin’s beard. “I’ll be right over.”
With a sigh, Opal reached for her magic and sent it rolling down her body. When the wave of sparks dispersed, she was dressed in black slacks, boots and an emerald silk blouse. Beat the hell out of whalebone and a bustle.
Boot heels clicking on polished red tile, Opal strode through the hacienda she’d built for Joaquin a hundred years before. She could have gated directly to the great hall, of course, but it was a nice night and she liked to walk whenever she could. Laziness was not a survival characteristic for Magekind agents.
The night was cool and pleasant, a quarter moon floating in the star-flecked Mageverse sky as she headed down the stone walkway to the cobblestone street. Avalon was at its most active at night when the vampires were out. The crowd was thick with agents kicking back between missions. Men and women strolled among fifteen centuries’ worth of architecture — everything from Roman villas to Frank Lloyd Wright. Stained-glass windows shone with rainbow light, giving Avalon a fairytale quality that prosaic mortal cities lacked.
Looking around at the laughing, chatting couples, Opal remembered the dream, and her heart ached. Eleven years ago she’d walked at Joaquin’s side like that, enjoying private jokes, arguing over mission strategies, anticipating a stolen hour or two in bed.
Now all she had was the job.
Ten minutes later, she reached the Great Hall that served as the Magekind’s headquarters. A massive gothic cathedral of a building, it towered against the night sky, huge stained-glass windows blazing into the night. Arched doors, each fifteen feet in height, swung silently wide at her approach, then closed behind her with a resonant thunk.
Time to find out just how bad this was going to be.
New York Times best-selling author Angela Knight’s first book was written in pencil and illustrated in crayon; she was nine years old at the time. A few years later, she read The Wolf and the Dove and fell in love with romance. In addition to her fiction work, Angela’s publishing career includes a stint as a comic book writer and ten years as a newspaper reporter. Several of her stories have won South Carolina Press Association awards. Angela lives in South Carolina with her husband, Michael, a detective with the Spartanburg PD.
Six months ago, Lucas met the woman of his dreams, but after a night of amazing sex he woke up to find himself alone. Sent to rescue the daughter of a billionaire from her own folly, he discovers her to be the same woman, and this time he intends to make sure she stays put.
When Olivia discovers a herd of live dinosaurs existing on a small island in the South Pacific, she’s ecstatic. This discovery could crown her career as a paleontologist and put to rest the rumors that her daddy bought her position for her! Of course, when her father sends someone to drag her home, she’s not willing to comply and the couple must find a way to deal with the sizzling attraction between them while running from a herd of angry prehistoric beasts.
“I really enjoyed this story – how it turned the tables on the usual “love ‘em and leave ‘em” style of man. I really enjoyed both Lucas’ and Olivia’s characters. A quick and steamy read, this was a fun short story.”
The voyage had been rougher than Lucas had expected. The fishing trawler he’d rented to get himself from the mainland over to the small island where the target was located had bucked and heaved on the choppy waters, at times threatening to turn itself upside down. Not an ideal ride, but it did the job. He was on the island. Now all he needed to do was locate his employer’s daughter and convince her to leave with him. Grabbing his backpack of supplies, he set out to find her.
Good thing the island was so small. As it was, it was past noon before he caught sight of a battered old canvas tent on the east side of a grassy meadow at the foot of a small hill. He made his way down to the bottom of the hill, cursing the lack of any kind of trail to follow. The low scrub bush that blanketed the area made foot travel slow going. Once he made it to the edge of the flat meadow, he paused to scout out the lay of the land. He wasn’t sure of the best way to approach the woman. She had no idea who he was, and she just might be armed. She would be perfectly justified in defending herself against an unknown male who suddenly showed up unannounced. The last thing he wanted was to engage in a shootout with his employer’s daughter.
Lucas pulled his field glasses out of his backpack and studied the base camp. Two facts immediately slammed into his disbelieving brain. Hard to tell which was more astounding. Firstly, those four-legged creatures stretching up to munch on the tops of the trees definitely did look like dinosaurs.
And secondly, Mr. Billionaire’s daughter was none other than the woman he’d spent one unbelievably fabulous night with almost half a year ago. The woman who’d seduced him, fucked him gloriously senseless and then disappeared before he managed to regain consciousness the following morning.
Hell, he’d started to think he’d dreamed the whole thing. No woman could be that gorgeously curvy, that amazingly good in bed, and then just leave without expecting anything at all from him. He hadn’t even taken her out for dinner. Or breakfast. Not that he was cynical or anything but women were expensive. They didn’t do anything without expecting some kind of payback, and they sure as hell didn’t do all the things she’d done for him and with him and to him without very high expectations.
So when she’d disappeared without a trace, he’d been speechless. Speechless and, if he were honest with himself, just a tiny bit bereft.
He’d wanted more. More of her. More of them together. Taking a deep breath, he strode across the field toward the woman who’d starred in all of his X-rated dreams for the past six months.
He could tell the exact moment she became aware of his presence. Her head came up like a deer who’d suddenly scented a predator. She turned in his direction, and her lips formed a surprised “o.”
Yeah. She remembered him all right. It was in her eyes, in the way the pink tip of her tongue darted out to wet her lips, in the way her nostrils flared as if breathing itself had become an issue.
Her lips curved upward in that slow, sexy smile he remembered so well, and it sent a bolt of heat straight to his groin. Instant hard-on. Yeah. That was her, all right. Olivia. New-age hippie. The first woman to ever love him all night and leave him wanting more the next morning.
He was close enough now to look right into her eyes, to see the warmth there, the genuine happiness at seeing him again. He didn’t get it. She looked thrilled to see him now, so why had she left that morning without so much as a fleeting message, or a goodbye kiss?
Anne is a gorgeous supermodel who writes romance in her spare time while jetting around Europe with a string of boy-toys in tow.
Hmmm… no one is going to believe that. How about this?
Anne is an undercover agent for a super secret government agency and when not saving the world for democracy and all the good people, she writes romance one-handed on a special mini computer designed by a mad scientist just for her.
Yeah, that sounds way better. So, ignore the people who tell you she’s just an ordinary person with an extraordinary imagination. They’re just jealous because she gets to play with James Bond and vacation in exotic locations.
When she’s not busy saving the world or writing the next great novel, she likes to kayak, hike, ride motorcycles, swim, skate, practice karate, play her guitar, sing and of course, read.
One night, after a particularly frustrating loss at her favorite game, SexScape, Grace finds herself whooshed away into a cottage belonging to one of SexScape’s most infuriating characters — King Trickster. Only in the flesh, the king isn’t a squat little guy zipping around the game board on a toy motorcycle. He’s full-sized and eager to show her all the delights SexScape has to offer. He even drives a great big hog of a bike. Now she has to figure out how to get past League rules so she can stick around.
Trickster can feel in his bones that Grace is meant to be his partner, but first he has to convince her that everything here — including the delicious sex — is real. Then, she’ll have to prove herself worthy of entry into The League. Will they live sexily ever after?
Grace pounded her fist onto the tabletop hard enough to make her electronic tablet dance. Only one more move, and she could have gained entrance into the Seraglio of Studs — a place where she could review an entire room of hot guys, all ready and eager to fuck her. In her imagination, of course. This was a game, after all.
She’d used her last move, damn it. She needed two more green tiles to finish, and a triangle of three of them sat right in the corner of the screen. Blinking at her. Trolling her, the little bastards.
She glanced at the clock. It read eleven twenty-three. She had work tomorrow and should have been in bed an hour ago if she wanted eight full hours of sleep. But she’d come so close in the game. She’d spent weeks on this level, 1023, and it was going to drive her fucking nuts if she didn’t win it. At least, she only had one life left before SexScape shut her down. Then, she’d have to go to bed, frustrated as all hell. She probably wouldn’t doze off for another hour.
She started up the level again, selected all the weapons she had — a Screaming-O bomb, a vibrator, and a Tube-O-Lube that could slide tiles around without using a move. Then, she hit “play.”
As the tiles dropped down, she scanned the landscape and found lots and lots of green. She ought to get enough of them to win the level easily. To be sure of success, she sat and stared at the screen to spot the best moves.
Whoever had invented SexScape might have spied on her nighttime fantasy life. The artwork included lots of phallic images against a colorful background. Seriously, lots of them. Some were symbolic, requiring a bit of imagination to interpret. Others directly resembled… well… penises, and very nicely shaped ones. All arranged around soft, green grass where one could presumably lie comfortably to enjoy the sweet ministrations of said rigid cocks. Too bad you didn’t find that in the real world. She sighed. Maybe inside the Seraglio of Studs, all that satisfaction really existed, if she ever got there. Or maybe the game would get more graphic so she could at least witness an animated woman enjoying herself.
She mentally calculated where the most green tiles lurked, set her Screaming-O bomb off right in the middle of the cluster, and blasted away. The little suckers vaporized, getting her a third of the way toward her goal. Yes, she’d get it this time, and then she’d be able to sleep. Maybe one of those beautiful cocks would visit her in a dream.
With her fingertip, she slid tiles around, and the green ones fell like snowflakes. She’d found her rhythm, success zinging through her. This was why she’d downloaded SexScape — the feeling she could conquer the world. That and the phallic symbols. Really, who had put this out on the Internet where kids could find it? From time to time, she glanced at the scoreboard to check on how many moves she had left. Ten, then seven, then five, then two. She hit the Tube-O-Lube so she could down another four tiles without the move counting.
Then, she’d hit the last move. She still had the vibrator and only two green tiles to go. Sweet. Those things were toast. After aiming carefully, she fired.
Then, he showed up. The little bastard on his motorcycle — a squat guy with a cape and crown. The game called him King Trickster. She called him King Chaos because he’d ruined more levels for her than she could count. Sure enough, he zipped around the screen, scattering the green tiles to the corners where she’d never get them. At times like this, she could swear she heard him laugh. And he’d ruined everything… again!
“Gah,” she shouted as she gave the tabletop more punishment. “I don’t believe it.”
“You take this too seriously, don’t you think?” a male voice said.
She jumped nearly a foot. “Who are you?”
Only, no one was there. She glanced all around but found nothing but her apartment. The voice had come from right next to her. Or rather, above her. No, more like all around her, as if it lived in the air.
“Okay, now I’m really going nuts,” she said. “Making up voices.”
“You didn’t make me up. You heard me with your own ears,” the voice said.
Still no one there. She sat without moving for several seconds. Total silence answered. No footsteps. No one else even breathing. She could ask the guy to show himself, but did she really want to see him? Or did she want to grab her phone and call the police.
“Here, I’ll do it for you,” he said.
Her tablet lit up, more brightly than usual. And pieces started moving without her touching the board. The green tiles all disappeared from the display, and her score totaled up at the top. She’d not only finished the level, but she’d scored three stars. Or someone had.
“There,” the voice said. “SexScape is all yours.”
Suddenly, darkness swamped her. But she didn’t only lose her vision. She also couldn’t feel anything. She was just floating, as though she’d fallen into one of those sensory deprivation tanks, or at least the way she’d always imagined them. Too fucking weird. Was this the entrance to the Seraglio? Surely, she wasn’t supposed to go through it for real. It was supposed to live in her tablet.
“Don’t worry,” the voice said. “I have you.”
That was supposed to be reassuring? Some disembodied voice shows up in her living room, throws her into nothingness, and then tells her not to worry.
“Who in hell are you?” she asked. “And where am I?”
“As you guessed, this is the tunnel, the entrance to my world. We’re almost there.”
USA Today bestselling author Alice Gaines has published several sensuous and erotic works. She prefers stories that stretch the imagination, highlighting the power of love and sex. Alice has a Ph.D. in psychology from U. C. Berkeley and lives in Oakland, California, with her collection of orchids and her pet corn snake, Casper.
Blossom has struggled all her life, never able to claw her way out of the worst neighborhood in Los Angeles. Her loser ex-boyfriend isn’t who she thought he was, and now she’s in deep trouble — but Christmas is the time for miracles, and Blossom needs one now more than ever. She just doesn’t expect her miracle to arrive in such a sexy, purple package. When the notorious alien actor Brexton knocks on her door, she does what any rational woman would do — she slams it in his face. Wishing for a miracle is one thing, but having the heartthrob of Hollywood on her doorstep isn’t what she had in mind.
Brexton has always wanted a mate and family, though he’s never been blessed with either. When he hears about a single mom who’s in trouble, he knows he can’t leave her to face her fate. Having a door slammed in his face hadn’t factored into his plans, but that one glimpse is enough for Brexton. He’d do anything to get another look at the sexy female with blue hair, and a body that would feature in all his future dreams.
Despite danger lurking around every corner, Brexton is determined to give Blossom and her children a Christmas they’ll always remember. Now that he has the family he’s always wanted, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe, and hopefully share the first of many holidays with his new mate and kids.
Brexton left the studio and climbed into the SUV he’d bought after his first movie contract. He’d been assured it was a good quality vehicle, but truthfully, humans had too many brands and names for things. Other than price, he didn’t understand the difference in a BMW and a Ford. They all had four wheels and could take you where you needed to be. Yes, some seemed nicer inside than others, and he’d learned that some had more buttons and options inside, but it seemed the name on the car often made them cost more, which made little sense to him. His manager had helped him select this vehicle with the blue and white emblem on the front. It was roomy enough for his large frame and the seats were comfortable. Nothing else mattered to Brexton.
He drove straight to the Terran station, hoping to find someone to help them. He might have been a warrior, once, but those days were behind him. Others would be better qualified to protect a woman and her children. There would be guards at the station with current warrior status, those who still practiced hand-to-hand combat, and had learned about the weapons on this world. Brexton had decided to focus his attention elsewhere, but he hadn’t taken into account the way humans were always hurting one another. He might need to schedule some training time, re-hone the kills he’d probably lost over the last ten years, in case he ever needed to defend a female or children.
He’d never been one of the elite, and he’d often wonder if it had to do with his DNA. While both his parents were Zelthranites, there was a faint trace of something else in his blood. It wouldn’t have been noticeable except Zelthranite males didn’t grow facial hair other than eyebrows, and Brexton had a full beard. He’d asked the doctors on his world about it, and they’d assured him that he had Zelthranite blood, but it seemed he was a throwback to hundreds of years ago. It had made him different, and on his world, different wasn’t always a good thing. Here he was accepted, which was why he’d left his home world at the age of nineteen. By that time, he’d been a warrior for three years and known he wasn’t right for that life.
As he entered the station, the human female at the front desk got a dreamy expression on her face. He’d seen that look before and braced himself for whatever she might say or do. He knew without the human fans, he wouldn’t have a lucrative career as an actor, but this was the part of his job he hated. Since his people were already celebrities of a sort on Earth, he hadn’t seen the harm in following this particular path. He hadn’t counted on being ten times more famous than he’d already been, and there were times it was a right pain.
“Brexton!” the human said, smiling and giving him a wave, like they were old friends. “How can I help you today? Is the new movie going well?”
He forced himself to smile. “It’s going well. Everything is on schedule.”
“I can’t wait to see it,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Maybe you could give me a tour of the studio sometime?”
“The studio does offer tours. I would be happy to put your name on the list.”
Her enthusiasm died a little when she realized he wasn’t going to personally take her around. Money and fame mattered entirely too much to the human species. It seemed to be how they determined who was worth their time and who wasn’t. He had yet to meet a genuine person, but he’d been told it had a lot to do with being part of the Hollywood elite. Apparently, he attracted the wrong type of person.
“I need to speak to the guards,” he said. “Who is on duty right now?”
She tapped at her computer a moment, then gave him a list of names and where to find them. Out of the names mentioned, he knew that Ranvik had the highest warrior ranking, and would be his best bet for saving that little family. He made his way through the station until he found the warrior surveying the departure area for the latest shuttle sending potential brides to his home world.
“Ranvik,” he said as he approached.
“If it isn’t Mr. Famous,” Ranvik said. His expression didn’t change. “To what do we owe the honor? It’s not often you grace us with your presence.”
“I see you’ve picked up human sarcasm rather well.”
Ranvik shrugged. “Have to do something to pass the time. Policing human females gets boring.”
“I need your help, or rather a human family does.”
Now he had the warrior’s attention. “What type of help?”
“I was informed there is a human female and her children who are in danger.” Brexton told the warrior what little he knew of the situation and showed him the address the human had put into his phone.
Ranvik rubbed a hand against his jaw. “I don’t have anyone to spare right now. Things are always dull at the station, but we still have to make sure all points are covered in case there’s ever trouble.”
“But this woman…”
“You were a warrior once, Brexton. I know you were young when you were training, and it’s been a long time, but those skills will still be there when you need them. You have to trust in yourself, in your abilities. You may be an actor here on Earth, but never forget who you truly are.”
He snorted. He knew who he was, and it wasn’t a proud warrior. That had never been a title he could claim. Even when he’d trained daily, he’d been average at best. Not like the warrior standing in front of him. Ranvik had a reputation back home, and the nearly forty-year-old warrior would be much better suited to rescuing the woman and her kids. What if Brexton fucked it all up? Being in the spotlight meant his every move was criticized. If the female’s boyfriend attacked and Brexton had to defend himself, someone was bound to make it sound like Brexton was at fault. He’d learned that humans tended to blame those in a position of power, whether they were responsible or not.
“I’m sorry, truly. I just can’t spare anyone right now,” Ranvik said. “And it doesn’t sound like this female and her children can afford to wait until I have time to look into it.”
Brexton ran a hand through his hair. “If I get shot, I’m going to come back and kick your ass.”
Ranvik smirked. “You could try.”
“Fine. I’ll go check on the female. But what the hell am I supposed to do with her? I figured the station would have the resources necessary to get her somewhere safely, or give her a temporary place to stay.”
“Don’t you have some massive house with like fifteen bedrooms?” Ranvik asked.
“It’s eight, not fifteen, asshole.”
Ranvik raised a brow. “Right. One male and eight bedrooms. I can’t imagine where you could possibly put one small human and her kids.”
“Take them home with me?” It was true that he had a lot of security at his home, and it would be difficult for the male to attack the small family, or kidnap them. He just hadn’t considered keeping them after he removed them from the situation.
“You’ll figure it out, superstar,” Ranvik said. “Now get the hell out of here. All the potential brides are eyeing you like a piece of candy and seem hesitant to get onto the shuttle.”
He glanced at the women and realized Ranvik spoke the truth. They were all giving him that look he’d come to think of as the be my sugar daddy simper. It never worked on him, and irritated the hell out of him, but it didn’t stop them from trying. He really did need a mate, if for no other reason than to keep the vultures away, but Zelthranites mated for life and he had yet to find a sweet, kind, genuine female he could spend his days with, and not worry that she was after his money.
Brexton left the Terran station and went back out to his car. He sighed when he saw two women lurking next to the vehicle. With some luck, they’d just want an autograph, but he was seldom that fortunate. At least, not with single females. He’d even had a few married ones hit on him, right in front of their spouses. It was shocking, and disgusting. Where he came from, mates were faithful to one another and completely devoted to each other. The lack of integrity he’d witnessed in the humans he dealt with didn’t inspire great confidence that he would ever find a mate. Not here anyway. There were other worlds that had compatible females for his kind, but the small humans had always been appealing to Brexton.
Compared to a human male, he was rather large. He’d met a few human males who were his size, but most were quite a bit shorter and not as broad. More than one human female had told him that he was intimidating, especially with his beard and longer hair. Brexton wasn’t going to try to change his appearance though. He hadn’t conformed when he’d been on his world, and he wasn’t about to start now. Besides, his size and overall looks were a sort of trademark at this point in his career.
As he neared the address on his phone, he realized the neighborhood was worse than he’d thought. Most buildings and homes had their windows boarded, and graffiti covered their walls. The fences he saw had barbed wire topping them, and every single male seemed to be armed. What he didn’t see were any law enforcement vehicles. No wonder this part of town was so out of control. No one seemed to care what happened to the people who lived here.
Brexton pulled to a stop outside of an apartment building that looked like it might fall down in a stiff breeze. He got out of his SUV and set the alarm before approaching the five-story brick structure. Movement caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, but it was just a pack of rats scurrying into the drain. The vermin didn’t bother him like they did some people, but he knew he had to get the little family out of this place.
The door swung open easily enough, which made him frown. There was absolutely no security for a female and her children. He doubted that she would live here if she had other options, although not many humans he’d met acted in a way that made sense to him. He didn’t know what to expect when he met her. He’d seen some females on corners as he’d gotten near the address, and they’d looked hard and far too thin. The makeup caked on their faces had made them seem harsh, and he hated they’d fallen so far. Assuming they’d ever known anything other than this poverty.
Brexton found the apartment number the female at the studio had entered into his phone and he knocked, the door shaking under the force of his fist. One hard blow, and he could probably break the damn thing. He heard whispers on the other side of the door, then it opened a crack. A chain ran across the inside not quite six feet up, but even that looked incredibly weak. The small female who peered through the opening didn’t stand a chance if someone was determined to break into her home.
“I was told you need assistance,” he said, and watched as her eyes went wide.
The door slammed shut and he wondered if maybe he should have gone about this a different way. After a moment, it slowly opened, this time without the chain in place, and the dainty female looking up at him nearly took his breath away. The way his heart was racing, he started to think maybe he was the one who needed help. His body had an instant reaction to the petite blue-haired pixie, and he hoped she didn’t notice. In all his years on Earth, he’d never once had a female affect him so strongly. Something inside of him was screaming mine.
Things had definitely taken an unexpected turn.
Award-winning author Jessica Coulter Smith has been in love with the written word since she was a child writing her first stories in crayon. Today she’s a multi-published author of over seventy-five novellas and novels. Romance is an integral part of her world and she firmly believes that love will find you at the right time, even if Mr. Right is literally out of this world.
Melena has power to wield, but is she woman enough to guide Valerian into betraying Vicktor?
Publisher: Changeling Press
Cover Artist: Angela Knight
Genres: Dark Fantasy, BDSM, Alternate Universe, Men and Women in Uniform
Valerian sat staring out his window. In his hand he held a missive from the Eastern Plains, where the Moglu rebels were stirring up more unrest. It was hard to subjugate a people when their heroes continued to elude capture. People were looking to the rebels’ leader, Grulon Ni Coro, to free them from tyranny. But in a twist of fate, a stunning unintentional victory, Grulon Ni Coro’s blood sister was now in Valerian’s harem.
He wondered what Grulon would do if he knew his sister Melena was shisha to Valerian — if he knew she was becoming willing and compliant for him. If he knew Valerian was going to strive to make her love him one day. He was unlike his brother in that way. Vicktor felt fear led to ultimate control. Valerian desired domination as well, but on a completely different level. He preferred loyalty to fear.
Valerian folded the missive and snapped his fingers sharply. A servant appeared at his elbow. “Take this and place it on my table, directly in front of my chair.”
“Yes, Sir,” the small female said softly before taking the letter and hurrying to do as instructed.
It did him no good to sit here and mull over things he could not control. Vicktor was not one of those things. Valerian had learned to manage his brother. It took a certain skill to do so. It took a man willing to spend all his time and energy balancing on the precipice between doing enough and going too far.
Valerian sighed and pushed to his feet. His mind would not rest. Why could he not just be satisfied with his life the way it was? What was it he was searching for, anyway? He was afraid one day he would get sick of his brother’s warmongering — or he would get sick of his brother, period.
And do what? What would or could he do? Turn against his brother? Try to become emperor himself? No. He did not want that mantle. It was too heavy. He was his brother’s general, a cunning tactician who had yet to be bested in any undertaking. One day a better tactician, a better soldier, would be brought to bear against Valerian. Oh, what a worthy battle that would be. He longed for that. A worthy battle. What he did now, for his brother, was not so worthy. He invaded the lands of innocent people, killed their men, and enslaved their people. All under his brother’s commands. Were it up to him…
But it wasn’t up to him. What he needed was a worthy diversion.
He needed something fresh and exciting. Something new.
He whistled sharply, and another servant popped up beside him.
“Yes, Sir?” he asked softly.
“Tell Anajou to prepare Melena for my pleasure tonight.”
“Yes, Sir.” The servant hastened off to do as instructed.
Valerian crossed the room to his bed and eyed the room critically for a moment. He wanted to make certain he had everything he needed. He wanted to know he could take his time with his new shisha, the latest lady to join his harem.
He had his favorites. His top three were the harem mothers, the women who cared for and guided all the other shishas — Anajou, Daria, and Hassa, the original three who had begun his harem. The three of them had been a gift from his brother on the day Vicktor’s first child, a daughter, was born. Valerian had not been allowed to keep a harem until that birth five years ago. Even though he had a harem now, none of his women was allowed to get pregnant and give birth until one of Vicktor’s shishas finally gave birth to a son, thus securing the succession of his empire.
Valerian pulled open his top dresser drawer, withdrew a key, and unlocked the chest at the foot of the bed. Unlocked, but did not open it. He knew what was in there. He would access the contents a little later, after Melena had been brought to him.
He smiled to himself when he thought of Melena. She was full of fire and defiance. But now, after spending a day and a night in his company, she was softening. She was confused. She didn’t know what to make of the situation she found herself in. He needed to gain her trust. In order to do that he needed to keep the promise he had made to her to find her sisters and bring them to her in safety… provided they were still alive and could be found. That was his next task. He could tell just how special she was. She could be very important to him. Yet trust was needed on both sides. It would take a lot for him to come to trust her… if she could be trusted. He didn’t know her well enough yet. But she showed incredible promise.
First he must break her down. Not break her will. He wouldn’t want that. Her will was one of the most beautiful things about her. He must break down the walls that stood between them. Walls like her hatred for his people. Her inherent mistrust of men… something she might not even realize she had. He wasn’t sure yet. He needed to break through this idea she had that giving in to him would be the same as losing herself. That was going to be the tricky part.
Jacquelyn lives in the Western North Carolina mountain area around Asheville. After a lifetime of striving to be good enough to be published, she has enjoyed the many blessings her fans have rained on her with their loyalty over the years. With four sisters and other family scattered up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and a history of living all across the USA herself, she still always finds ways to give a nod to her native New York in her work.
Jacquelyn lives with her three “children,” a trio of domestic shorthaired cats whose personalities have often inspired aspects of her characters. A former sign language interpreter and substitute teacher, she is a powerful advocate of reading and writing. She is known for her persistent gifts of books to her nieces and nephews, as well as all the other children in her life, in an effort to see them love both as much as she does. She believes there is nothing more rewarding than the imagination and all it inspires, and nothing more tragic than illiteracy.