Joshua’s spending more and more time at club Sub Rosa. It’s time he emerges from the shadows to take a more active role. Pursuit of the aloof nightclub owner obsessed with voyeurism carries him over the edge. The stranger’s scent awakens a desire Joshua has not felt in centuries. He vows to have the man. If it means bleeding dry everyone close to either of them, so be it.
Mason Kildare, owner of Sub Rosa, doesn’t play in his own backyard. Instead he frequents other night spots in search of fulfillment. A reserved disposition coupled with gray hair keeps most of the young men he finds attractive at arm’s length, but not Joshua. Joshua storms Mason’s defenses, breaking them down one by one. By the time he discovers Joshua’s bloody secret, Mason has lost more than his body — he’s given away his soul.
Two groups of patrons had already been discouraged from reaching the corner table, but from previous visits, Joshua knew the spot would soon be occupied. His quarry was later than usual, so he keep his long legs stretched across the aisle. Used to wearing button down shirts, tonight his collar strangled him. He tugged at the neck before undoing another button.
Three youthful revelers snatched attention as they noisily closed in on the table. “Excuse us, dude.” Guy didn’t even look twenty-one.
Largest of the gathering took control. “We want that table. Move your legs. We can get by.”
“Please find another table.” Instinct told Joshua this would get messy. “You passed two.” All this effort to crawl in bed with a man for one night. Sensation sliding down his spine belied that thought. One night my ass. Normally dead calm, Joshua’s annoyance toughened his words. “Stand against the wall for all I care.”
When the one closest to the big man stepped near and bumped his legs, Joshua stood. At least two inches taller, he leaned in and quietly warned, “Touch me once more, and I’ll break every finger on both of your hands. Then how will you play with your tiny dick?”
Stepping back, one of the followers informed his friend, “I don’t mind another table.”
“I mind, and since you’re up, we’ll slip by.”
Spying the man he came to see enter and stroll to the end of the long bar, Joshua decided not to waste more time. He grasped the man’s hand and bent it at the wrist, intending to cause a sprain. “Take. Another. Table.”
“Jesus Christ! You son of a bitch!”
“I’m struggling not to break your hand.” Joshua opted for wrapping his fingers around the cretin’s thick neck. Allowing one fingernail to puncture skin, he effortlessly lifted the idiot an inch off the floor — not enough for customers to notice, but sufficient for the bastard to know he was out matched. “I asked nicely, but you had to take the Lord’s name in vain.”
His friends shuffled backward. “They’re deserting you.” Letting the man’s feet touch the floor, Joshua smiled before licking blood from his finger. “Ah, it’s your lover’s birthday. Fucking him later should make keeping your balls attached a prime concern. Turn and move on.”
“Holy shit, you’re nuts!” The man’s eyes popped wide in their sockets.
That rattle him more.
“Hopefully he never discovers you’re screwing his best friend.”
“I… how… Hold on a minute.”
The waiter picked that moment to make rounds. “Can I get you anything else?” The waiter noticed the intruder and shoved a napkin into his hand. “You’re bleeding.”
“I — I’m good.” He rubbed his neck. “Sorry.”
“I’ll have a lager.” Joshua sat back in his chair. “Send a bottle of your best champagne to this young man’s table.” His boyfriend deserved a decent night out. The blood Joshua had accessed allowed him to deliver a mental prod. Go.
“Uh, thanks, man.”
“Enjoy your partner’s birthday.”
“That was severe.” Sten Majković, Joshua’s best friend, the vampire king, and a royal pain in the ass, sat across the table.
Joshua swiveled in his seat to face Sten. “Who invited you?”
He’d die for this man. Damn near had on two or three occasions. But Sten picked the worst of times to surface. More disturbing was the fact Joshua hadn’t sensed his presence. Not a single drop of his blood pulsed in alert. Joshua was one of less than a handful of vampires who had the pleasure of Sten’s lifeforce, so his manifestation without prior warning should have been impossible, and elicited concern. Scrutinizing his guest, Joshua realized Stan was fingering a coin Joshua had bequeathed him. That provided some explanation. The talisman gave his king insight into Joshua’s life that no one else experienced.
The handsome man Joshua had in his crosshairs was wearing an impeccable navy suit. He strode toward the table Joshua had taken such pains to keep available. His heralding scent and the way his lean body moved had undoubtedly helped distract Joshua, enabling Sten to gain residence at his table unnoticed.
His leader’s intense brown eyes wouldn’t miss Joshua’s interest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J. Hali Steele wishes she could grow fur, wings, or fangs, so she can stay warm, fly, or just plain bite the crap out of… Well, she can’t do those things but she wishes she could!
Multi-published and Amazon bestselling author of Romance in Paranormal, Fantasy, and Contemporary worlds which include ReligErotica and LGBTQ stories where humans, vampyres, shapeshifters and angels collide-they collide a lot! When J. Hali’s not writing or reading, she can be found snuggled in front of the TV with a cat in her lap, and a cup of coffee.
Growl and roar — it’s okay to let the beast out. — J. Hali Steele
Will is a witch wolf, a werewolf who can do magic, but his life so far has been anything but magical. He was sold by his own pack and for four years, Will suffered as a slave to his captors — who used him any way they wanted. Now, after a leap of courage has brought him to Colin’s doorstep, Will’s past should be just that, his past.
Colin can see the new apprentice he’s supposed to teach magic has been hurt. Colin wants to comfort the young werewolf who takes to magic much more easily than he takes to human contact. Their attraction seems mutual, but how can Colin be certain Will even knows what he wants?
As slow affection grows between Colin and Will, Will’s magic does as well, and he allows himself a sliver of happiness. Except the dark past Will thought he escaped from is not quite done with him, and now, it’s not just Will’s life on the line, but also Colin’s, the witch Will’s heart is beating for.
WARNING: Witch Wolf contains references to past sexual assault (with none of it happening on the page), which may be triggering for some readers.
Available TODAY at Changeling Press or Preorder for June 10th at online booksellers
Once upon a time, Will had sent wishes to the full moon with his howls, but what had come true for him were the slick slaps of skin against skin, stinking breath against his face, the taste of his own blood and other, unspeakable things. Will, instead of meeting a prince under the full moon, had been sold to beasts.
Will carefully turned away from the large form next to him in the bed. Everything seemed so loud in the darkness, the other man’s deep breathing, Will’s own, panicked heartbeat which had not slowed while he had waited for the small hours of the morning, refusing sleep. Will moved, inch by inch, away from the other man. Will refused to think what the other man — Ed — would do if he found Will sneaking out. What Ed had done was already more than Will wanted to think about.
Will had considered packing a small bag, but that would have been too dangerous. All he had dared was leave clothes under the bed, in such a way it looked incidental, forgotten laundry.
The floor was cold against Will’s naked feet. Carefully, he stood. He could say he’d just wanted to go to the bathroom if Ed woke now, but Ed was still sleeping, and so Will got his clothes, slowly pulling them up and onto his arms. He could not make too much noise. He had to get this right.
Will didn’t dare put the clothes on in the bedroom — loup-garou hearing was sensitive. He walked through the dark house and to the kitchen, grabbing his shoes on the way. There were shards of a glass on the floor. Ed had thrown it in fury when Will had been too slow in getting Ed his beer. Will walked around the broken thing and quickly cleaned himself with a wipe. He gave one last look to the dirty dishes in the sink, then pulled on his clothes, more concerned with doing it as quietly as he could than about doing it neatly.
Before he turned the knob, he listened to the house, but it was quiet. Ed was still sleeping, and so was his pack of three, all of them loup-garous, all of them vicious. They might still hear the door, but if Will was ever going to run, then this was it.
He opened the door and crossed the threshold. Now, if they found him, they would know without a doubt that he had tried to run, and they would punish him.
Will closed the door as carefully as he could, but the mechanism made a small sound. Behind the house, the alley was dirty. Trash bags rustled in the wind, soda cans rusted and collected dirt. Will had to watch where he stepped so he didn’t make any more noise. His heart was thundering in his chest.
Out on the street, Will quickly broke into a run. He knew he had to put as much distance between himself and them, because they could shift and just hunt him down, and he couldn’t without the moon being full.
Winchester Boulevard, on foot, was quite a walk. It took Will an hour, and he ran most of the time, so when he finally got there, he was sweaty from running and trembling with the cold whenever he slowed down to catch his breath. The house he wanted had a large planter by the front door with a red and white plastic windmill in it. Ella had said the windmill would be there. It was such a silly thing, and there wasn’t even any wind to move its spokes, but Will nearly broke out in sobs with relief.
Will was scared to knock, but at this point, it was this or wait for Ed and his pack to hunt him down. And Will knew they wouldn’t just kill him. If it had been that — if he’d known that would have been the worst he’d have to fear — he might have given up at any point over the past four years, might have just accepted death. Everything else the loup-garous would enjoy doing to him — that was what Will feared.
He was huffing when he stood in front of the door, but he didn’t hesitate to knock.
Will looked over his shoulder as he waited to be let in. This neighborhood was one of the nicer ones for New Elvenswood. The whole city tended to be largely clean and touristy, even if Will had never been allowed to see all that much of the place. The dilapidated house Ed and his pack had rented was the exception more than the rule as far as Will could tell.
Across the street, there was a light on in an upstairs room. Will imagined whoever was up was awake at this hour because of their own choosing. He imagined they were working late or maybe just reading. Just living their life. Will hadn’t lived in such a long time. All he’d been doing since he’d met Ed had been surviving.
The door opened, and Will flinched.
“Yes?” the vampire asked.
Will had known it would be a vampire, but still. This one, his sheer presence absolutely spoke to Will’s wolf nature, and the vampire’s demeanor made Will want to show his belly and submit. He was stunning to behold too, but in a sharp way: almost white-blond hair, icy eyes that had a hard darkness to them, a thin mouth set in a pale face.
With a last shallow breath, Will forced the words he’d prepared in his head out of his mouth. “Ella said you can help people in trouble. I… there’s a pack of loup-garous, and I need to get away from them. I can’t pay you, but I’ll do what you want. I’ll work for you.”
Will’s voice nearly gave out on the last part, because he started shaking violently. It occurred to Will that the vampire looked like a Viking, and his cold eyes were growing only more glacial in their regard. Will doubted the man had laughed for more than a minute in the last hundred years. And he wore nice clothes, really nice clothes. Will knew the vampire was a lawyer, but he felt silly now for asking for help. He expected the vampire to tell him to go and fuck off, just with nicer words.
“Come inside,” the vampire said instead and opened the door wider.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexa Piper writes steamy romance that ranges from light to dark, from straight to queer. She’s also a coffee addict. Alexa loves writing stories that make her readers laugh and fall in love with the characters in them. Connect with Alexa on Facebook or Instagram, follow her on Twitter or TikTok, and subscribe to her newsletter!
Pro wrestling rivals TK and Jackson have a secret — one fans and colleagues would never believe. After their latest fight, they meet for a private, no holds barred match, but who will submit first?
Warning: This is a Razor’s Edge Contemporary Gay Erotica Short. Expect limited plot and character development, and lots of paranormal heat. If you’re looking for a lengthy plot driven erotic romance, this is not it!
TK stood, his legs braced apart and his arms straining against Jackson’s weight. Jackson’s muscular legs draped over TK’s shoulders. His face buried in Jackson’s crotch, TK thought how much he loved the powerbomb. It was one of the best throws in the greatest sport ever — wrestling. How many other sports allowed a man to nuzzle another guy’s crotch without any questions asked?
Seconds later, he dropped to his ass on the mat, slamming Jackson onto his back. He almost snickered at Jackson’s groans and moans. Just like TK, he was fucking awesome at his job.
The ref called the match in TK’s favor and the crowd roared. TK stood and raised his arms triumphantly overhead while Jackson pushed himself to his hands and knees.
They’d been professional adversaries for the past three years, wowing fans with their outrageous battles and verbal sparring. Their rivalry had made them rich and famous. Jackson was the guy fans loved to hate and TK was the hero. They’d had more rematches than TK could count. Tonight he’d won back his title, but he knew it wouldn’t be long before Jackson challenged him again.
Most likely they’d keep fighting each other until the fans got tired of them. Then new icons would take their place, but tonight they enjoyed the spotlight again.
Jackson, now fully recovered, jumped to his feet and shouted insults at TK. His blue eyes flashed and his powerful torso glistened with sweat. Like TK, he was well over six feet and all rock-hard muscle. Fuck, he was sexy as hell. TK considered throwing him down and claiming his ass right there, but it couldn’t happen. After all, this was, for many, a family event. Besides, he and Jackson were supposed to hate each other’s guts.
TK turned toward the crowd on the other side of the ring and Jackson slammed into him from behind. It felt like he’d been struck by a furious bull.
Considering the size of Jackson’s cock, a bull was a pretty accurate description.
Screams and boos filled the stadium. TK twisted in Jackson’s arms, pinned him face down on the mat and whispered close to his ear, “Your ass is mine.”
Jackson growled and strained to glance at TK over his shoulder. Only when the ref approached to break them up did TK release him.
While the ref shouted at Jackson for his unsportsmanlike attack, TK pointed at him and repeated, “Mine.”
Jackson snarled and stormed out of the ring, shoving aside several “fans” who had been planted in the crowd just for the purpose of making Jackson look nasty.
Match nights were always exciting. Now that the fight was over, the real fun would begin.
Always a fan of romance and the paranormal, I started writing over twenty years ago. My first story was accepted for publication in 1996. Since then I’ve written over one hundred short stories, novellas and novels. I love to blend genres. I also love horror and a happily ever after, so if you’re looking for romance with witches, aliens, vampires, angels, demons, shapeshifters and more, there’s a good chance you’ll find something to your taste here.
When I’m not writing, I enjoy reading, watching horror and action movies, working out and spending time with my family and pets.
Rob’s current goal in life? Do not eat people. That’s easier said than done when you’re a kelpie in the service industry. While Rob pursues his goals from behind the bar, a stranger walks in, and Rob catches the man’s scent. Yet, patrons are not for eating, and it should have ended there… except when Rob smells that delicious scent again, the beautiful stranger needs help.
Bertrand wants to fit in, but because he’s part Fae, part Elf, and grew up human, he’s not really at home in either human or supernatural society. Still, he likes being a reporter and following a story all the way to its conclusion. The story he’s pursuing when he walks into Rob’s bar one night is one of supernaturals going missing, and Bertrand seems to be the only one who cares.
Meeting Bertrand might just shift Rob’s life goals. Coming face-to-face with a kelpie stallion might be enough to help Bertrand see where he fits in perfectly. Except Bertrand doesn’t really know what to make of Rob, and also, Bertrand’s missing persons story is bigger than even he envisioned. It’s turning into a case of abduction and trafficking he needs to unravel before he can even think about Rob’s advances. The story will lead Bertrand to some dark places before the year is out.
The daytime drinkers with the incipient beer bellies were getting louder. Rob was just about to get back to gutting his lime in order to suppress thoughts of gutting those three when the door opened once more.
The icy air tickled Rob’s nose with the smell of the season turning, of snowdrops shaking off the weight of frozen water to sing of longer days and sun returning to the world.
But the man walking into the Ragdoll wasn’t a sprite. He was — glamoured.
Rob, who knew how to use a glamour even if he turned into a carnivorous horse who could break hearts without prettying himself up with magic, could tell. The glamour wasn’t exceedingly strong on this man.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rob saw the mage look up briefly, noticing the same thing, but then dismissing it. She’d have been able to see through it easily enough, and since she didn’t react further, Rob could be sure the man who smelled of snowdrops didn’t have any openly nefarious intentions.
But the man… Rob’s mouth was watering, and he watched as the new patron pulled his fur-trimmed hood back from his golden locks and pried his snug gloves off his long fingers. He had to be part Fae. Rob was pretty sure just from his looks, but with a glamour that hid what he was, Rob couldn’t tell precisely.
The man looked shifty, though. Rob had misspent his youth lingering in pools, ponds, and really any body of water that didn’t have a kappa infestation. He’d done it in order to lure humans and whoever wanted to be lured, so he knew what shifty looked like quite intimately.
The glamoured patron wasn’t the let’s-drown-them-and-eat-their liver type of person, not that Rob would ever admit to anyone that he himself had ever been that person. The man wore glasses. They misted up in the warmth of the Ragdoll, and he had to pull them off, revealing a set of hazel eyes that brimmed with intelligence. Without the glasses, he wasn’t too blind to find one of the quiet corner tables, where he deposited his large frame in a chair that looked flimsy under him.
Because yes, the man looked like the kind of person Western directors with a bottomless budget would cast for the role of a Greek hero or an intergalactic hero. Rob liked a man who could hold his own in a fight, and he shivered at the thought of this one’s thighs pressing into Rob’s sides when he was in his horse form. He shivered at the thought of this man riding him.
Kyle grabbed a menu and made his way to the man while Rob watched.
The new patron was interested in the soon-to-be beer-bellied. He glanced past Kyle and seemed too distracted to properly examine the menu, but Kyle nodded and scribbled something on his notepad.
“Hey, boss.” Carla, Rob’s strawberry blonde half-succubus bartender, had snuck up on him and was clapping him on the shoulder.
“Please don’t startle me,” he told her. “And also, hello. You are early.”
“Well, I figured you might need the extra pair of hands,” she said and gave his still unharmed lime a pointed look.
“I was getting to that,” he told her, frowning.
Carla sighed. “Can I say something?”
“Can I stop you?”
She crossed her arms in front of her beautiful succubus chest. “What do you think?”
“Well, let’s have it.”
“You, boss, need to get laid. It might be, I don’t know, a shifter thing. I swear it’s like you guys molt or something.”
Rob sliced the lime in half neatly and let it bleed its acidic last on his cutting board. “Carla, dear. I turn into a horse. I do not molt.”
She raised her finger to forestall a lecture. “Changes nothing. You need to bang someone.” She tapped her nose with a finger, the nail painted fire-engine red. “I can tell.”
“I’m stressed because I’m tending bar when I shouldn’t be tending bar,” Rob said.
She waved that off. “Pfft. You’re happy for Ilya, admit it. Maybe ask that witch if he has a brother?” she asked and wiggled her eyebrows.
“He’s the sole Fey heir, and you know that as well as I do,” Rob said. “Also, I do not need to urgently bang a witch.” Rob kept his voice down, because he was not easily shaken, certainly not by the suggestion that he was in need of sex. Rob was accomplished. He had the occasional one-night stand, because (just like Ilya) he looked good behind the bar, almost as good as he did as a horse with his hooves in a lake, his mane dangling in the water, and the moon hitting his shiny coat just so.
Yes, if Rob wanted to find a warm body to put his cock in, he could do just that, but the succubus was overreacting. It was a thing with ‘cubi, assuming that one needed to have sex all the time or else one’s health — mental or otherwise — was in danger.
“Did you just daydream about fucking Aaron?” Carla asked.
Rob made quick work of the lime. “I did not, and I reject the idea.” Although the witch was a big strong man under that coat he wore all the time. But no. Going there was no good — even if from the looks of it, Aaron had very nice shoulders.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexa Piper writes steamy romance that ranges from light to dark, from straight to queer. She’s also a coffee addict. Alexa loves writing stories that make her readers laugh and fall in love with the characters in them. Connect with Alexa on Facebook or Instagram, follow her on Twitter or TikTok, and subscribe to her newsletter!
The Kingdom of Moorcondia and the Marshlands have been warring for years. Now a treaty has been negotiated, but it needs to be sealed by a marriage between the ruling families. But the bride has bolted, leaving her brother, Taryn, to fill the role. There is nothing in the law of either country that says a bride has to be female.
Forced to dress in his sister’s gown and marry Soren, Taryn faces his fate with anger, resolve and frightening anticipation. While the Moorcondians are flexible in their sexuality, the Marshers are more prudish, plus Taryn has learned the hard lesson that an attraction to men is unnatural and wrong. His desire for Soren frightens him.
As a prince, Soren knows his duty and executes it without hesitation. As a widower, he looks forward to a new marriage, and his unexpected bride is very fetching. If only he can convince Taryn to put aside his fears and accept the pleasures of the marriage bed.
Taryn struggles to fill the role of a wife in the royal family, even as everyone else tries to adjust to the notion of a male bride. As the days pass, Soren comes to appreciate his bride more, and Taryn tries embrace his new role with enthusiasm instead of resignation. But politics is a treacherous place to navigate, putting their blossoming love in jeopardy.
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of dubious consent, homophobia and attempted suicide.
“I won’t do it!”
The slap was delivered with less force than typical. Taryn didn’t even try to avoid it. He’d learned long ago that any show of fear only fed his brother’s cruel streak. Nor did he back away as Hobart leaned into his face.
“You will do as you are told.” Flecks of spit flew from Hobart’s mouth, the smell of beer wafting on his breath. Fury showed in his expression, testament to how desperate he must be.
Taryn tried to maintain his resolve over this order being suddenly thrust upon him, even as he knew he had no control over his own fate. “I can’t marry that man.” It was hard to believe he had to even say those words.
“You can and you will. It’s the only way the treaty can go forward. If our sister hadn’t run away to the nunnery, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.” Hobart’s gaze shifted to a spot somewhere in the distance, and his lip curled in a sneer. “She’d already taken her vows by the time I’d caught up to her.” He refocused his attention on Taryn. “A child of the chieftain has been promised to the Moorcondian prince. With Alissa gone, it’s down to you, as you are well past being a child.”
Taryn balled his hands in frustration. “My age is not the issue. He was promised a bride, not another man.”
Hobart huffed. “You do yourself too much credit. Truth be told, you’re more of a girl than Alissa ever was. Prettier, too.” His brother didn’t mean those words to be a compliment, and after years of such taunting, Taryn let them roll off his back.
“Tell that to the prince. You can’t hide my sex from him. He’ll see me for what I am even before he takes that frock off me.” He flung his arm in the direction of the maid who stood awkwardly with what should have been his sister’s wedding gown.
“Those fucking Moorcondians are a decadent lot. Men lie with each other all the time, I hear. The fuckers probably bed their horses, for all I know. And the wiseman has looked at their laws and ours. There is nothing that says a bride has to be female. I imagine the stupid princeling will find plowing your ass just as sweet as Alissa’s dried-up cunt—more so, likely. And I’m sure it’s a dream come true for you,” he added with a look of disgust.
Taryn again ignored the baiting and struggled to contain the tears that threatened to leak out. He was angry and scared in equal measure. The whole idea of his marrying the age-old enemy of his people was intolerable. He couldn’t blame his sister for seeking sanctuary from her fate. He was merely the unlucky victim of her self-preservation. She couldn’t have known what it would mean for him and probably wouldn’t have cared if she had. Their father hadn’t raised them to be generous with each other.
Taryn also had to admit that his brother was probably right about the Moorcondian prince. It was a very different society than his own—decadent, as Hobart had aptly put it. Their prince had ridden in with a colorful retinue and much fanfare. They were nothing like the earthier and frankly poor people of the Marshlands. Taryn couldn’t imagine how he was supposed to fit into such a world. Being the child of a Marsher chieftain mostly meant he had cleaner clothes and more to eat. His presence among the Moorcondians would be like a reed finch flitting around peacocks. If he’d been reviled by his own people, the Moorcondians would undoubtedly treat him with even more contempt.
This is so unfair! Railing against his fate out loud was worse than useless. If he put up any more of a fight, he’d be going to his own wedding with a black eye and split lip. Hobart was being restrained at the moment, likely so that Taryn would be as appealing to his groom as possible. Testing his brother’s patience would only end one way, however. He knew he was powerless in this, as with all other things. He’d learned to survive his family’s brutality, and he could cope with anything these foreigners threw at him. Besides, he’d heard that the opulent Moorcondian palace contained a vast library. If he were lucky, his new husband would give him the freedom to explore it.
That’s more like it. Finding some silver lining in any situation was what kept him sane. He would survive this misery as he had so many others. There was also some deep part of him that dared to be intrigued by the idea of being bedded by the prince, lending credence to Hobart’s taunt, though Taryn had snuffed that spark as soon as he’d become aware of it. Those kinds of thoughts weren’t to be tolerated. He didn’t want sex of any kind. Before Alissa had beat him to it, he’d been considering taking his own vows and living his life at the monastery. Anything would have been more appealing than living under the harsh judgment of his father and brother, plus he would have had time for scholarly pursuits. Now his future would be held by another powerful man—and one he knew nothing about.
There was no hope for it. Squaring his shoulders, he stared his brother down. “Very well. I will don that gown and greet my groom to be. If he rejects me, it won’t be my fault.”
Hobart’s expression turned as nasty as it got. “You’d better hope he doesn’t. The ceremony has already been delayed because you were off wasting the day away. If this treaty fails, I’ll stake you to the execution hill myself and revel in your slow death.”
His brother strode out of the tiny room Taryn had managed to call his own. Then he turned to the poor maid, who obviously wished she were anywhere else. He recognized the woman as the one who had served his sister. No doubt she was already frightened that she would be punished for her mistress’ escape. Certainly the guard who’d let her flee must have known tremendous regret the moment before Hobart had severed the man’s head from his neck. Taryn wouldn’t be the cause of trouble for her.
“Will that even fit me?” The pale green dress was trimmed with lace, luxurious for his people. But Anissa was a voluptuous woman. He lacked the essential shape to wear such a thing.
The maid gave him a shy smile. “I took it in this afternoon.”
So, others in our tribe knew my fate before I did. No surprise there. His father and brother treated him like a piece of furniture—and a useless one at that. It must have enraged them to realize that they needed him to seal the treaty, and bringing him into the discussion would never have occurred to them. He pushed back the hurt and took what little control he could. “I’ll need a quick bath.” He’d spent the day riding, mostly to stay clear of the Moorcondians, but he couldn’t go to his groom smelling like horse.
“Of course, sir. Leave it all to me.”
With his heart still lodged in his throat, and his stomach churning, he was happy for someone else to take command of the situation. The story of my life. I should never have been born to a powerful family.
Samantha Cayto is a Boston-area native who practices as a business lawyer by day while writing erotic romance at night—the steamier the better. She likes to push the envelope when it comes to writing about passion and is delighted other women agree that guy-on-guy sex is the hottest ever.
She lives a typical suburban life with her husband, three kids and four dogs. Her children don’t understand why they can’t read what she writes, but her husband is always willing to lend her a hand—and anything else—when she needs to choreograph a scene.
Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card! Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.
Maxxed Out: Max is in college and ready to show his family and friends he’s grown up and able to make mature choices — and to tell them he’s gay. He could use a little help, though. With his big brother gone forever, Max turns to Daniel, who was his brother’s best friend. Daniel seems solid and reliable — the opposite of Max. But for some reason, he seems terrified of what Max might do next.
Inside Daniel: Max finally has the summer to actually live with Daniel instead of visiting on weekends. But while Daniel loves Max desperately, he knows he’s no good for Max — he has way too much baggage. Max needs to get inside Daniel and heal him from the inside out.
Instead of obeying the voice screaming in my head, I ran my hand through my hair. The still-damp tips of it clung to my fingers. The shower had helped. The coffee had helped. I still felt like shit, but I was hoping — God, I was hoping really hard — that this visit would help the most.
I went through names on the apartment mailboxes — Andrews, Wilson, Sullivan… Rocco. Funny that I didn’t know exactly where Daniel lived nowadays. I suppose it was funny that I thought I should.
It wasn’t like we hung out all the time. I hadn’t seen him for years, except sometimes at the tail end of Christmas, when he’d show up to see Mom and Dad. After all, he wasn’t my friend. Well, not exactly. I hesitated before I pressed on the buzzer. Should I forget it?
Go, Max. Go on.
All that didn’t matter. Daniel would help if I needed it. And fuck. I needed him to help. I pressed down hard on the button, telling myself I was ready to take the first step. Anything had to be better than what I’d been doing — not doing — for years.
“Daniel? It’s Max. Max Richards.”
“Yeah?” There was a slight pause. He had to remember me, right? I shuffled my feet, trying to think of how to identify myself to my brother’s best friend. It had never occurred to me that he might not know who I was. Damn it, there was a good reason why I never planned ahead. Things never worked according to plan.
“Well, hell. Come on up.”
My breath whooshed out. If Daniel really hadn’t remembered me, I’d — I don’t know what I’d have done or felt, because it hadn’t happened, thank God — but it wouldn’t have been good.
My legs were shaking as I headed up the stairs to 2C. There he was — one arm curled over the door, one on the door frame — big, wide, with a scowl on his face. He looked even larger than I remembered, which was weird. Didn’t you usually discover people and places were smaller in real life than in your memory?
Just my luck that Daniel was even more imposing now than he’d been when I was twelve and first really noticed him. I would have laughed but kept it in since it would have come out as more of a terrified giggle. In a way, this visit was all Daniel’s fault for being larger-than-life.
Then I realized something strange had happened. The adrenaline that usually buzzed in my body slowed down at the sight of him. I think I stopped breathing when reality finally met up with my plan.
Here I go. This is it. The moment stretched out, stilled, froze. All I could see was Daniel looming over me. For once in my life everything was settled and calm. Perfect.
Then I took a deep breath, and time hummed back to normal speed.
Go, go, go.
“Can I come in?”
* * *
Jesus. So this was Max.
Before the time I’d gotten my hand off the door, he was inside. He was here, all right, but I still hadn’t gotten used to the idea.
The kid was… well, not really a kid anymore. He sat on my sagging old sofa, sprawling out his long legs to brace himself. He needed a shave. Wasn’t that a kick? Little Max needing to shave.
I could remember back to when he was born. Matt and I had already met at grade school, and Matt had decided we were friends. I stayed over for the first time to keep Matt company while his parents were at the hospital.
That was a long time ago. I tried to see Matt’s baby brother with new eyes. After all, this Max wasn’t a baby. He was tall, a little awkward and geeky, but growing into his frame. He was still pretty. We’d teased him about that when he was at the age when it was hard to tell boys from girls — they were all high voices and long legs. But he was definitely masculine now.
And he looked hungover. No surprise there. Drinking was what college kids did, right? Kids not in college too, for that matter. His brother and I used to sneak booze when we were younger than he was.
He tapped the arm of the sofa, stopped himself, and then tapped again.
Yeah. He also looked wired. Scared wired. I wondered if he was abusing more than booze, but decided that wasn’t it.
Max had something eating at him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Treva Harte has always been an overachiever. She also collects things. First it was degrees. First a B.A. in English, then she decided to go back for a Master’s degree. Not content with that, she added a J.D. Since then she’s added a husband, also an attorney, and two children to her collection. She’s continuing her ways as an overachiever, writing her wonderfully offbeat tales of passion and possibilities — in her spare time.
Aaron has escaped his past with scars and strength. But when he is targeted again for his looks and his talent, his belief in the goodness of the world and the power of love are challenged.
Jason knows there’s something wrong with his husband, but Aaron won’t talk about it. Will Aaron’s refusal tear them apart? Can Jason keep his temper or will his need to protect Aaron destroy their love?
Warning: Jason and Aaron’s story deals with issues of PTSD, M/M rape, hate crimes, stalking, kidnapping, and torture. Jason and Aaron’s stories may be triggers for some readers.
Aaron stirred the soup and hummed, aware he was a little off key but not caring. No one was home, and his husband, Jason, said he liked Aaron’s not-quite-on-pitch humming because, according to Jason, it was “resonant and heartfelt.”
He was humming a song from the musical they’d seen about three months ago. It had been Jason’s birthday present for Aaron, and even though his birthday was in December, this musical was the one they both wanted to see.
Aaron’s last five presents for Jason had all been paintings. The walls of their bedroom were almost full. The last painting had been of Jason’s entire family, from his oldest brother, Christopher, all the way down to his youngest sibling.
Anniversaries got paintings. Birthdays got paintings. Aaron would have felt guilty about not being able to give more than his art except Jason honestly seemed to love each one. His delight was infectious, and Aaron was already planning what to paint him for their ten-year anniversary, which was coming up at the end of this year.
The kitchen was full of the smell of baking bread and bean soup. Aaron’s mouth watered as he idly stirred the soup to keep the beans near the bottom of the pot from burning. Jason should be home in a few minutes and then they could eat.
The front door to their little apartment they shared with another couple burst open, and Jason literally waltzed in, turning and holding his hands out as if he was dancing with an invisible partner. He was singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” at close to full volume. Unlike Aaron’s humming, Jason was always perfectly on pitch.
Having Jason come in singing was slightly unusual, but dancing was another level of strange. Aaron found himself grinning in anticipation of something wonderful. He didn’t interrupt Jason’s song to ask and when Jason caught him by the waist and pulled him into the dance, he fell into easy step. They waltzed around the small kitchen, Jason leading.
When his husband stopped singing, they continued to dance. Aaron started to ask what had put such a spring in Jason’s step, but Jason kissed him, and Aaron went weak at the knees. He opened his mouth to Jason’s tongue, letting his lover explore. Jason tasted of coffee and something sweet, not quite chocolate.
There was a bubbling sound and Aaron turned toward the stove to stir the soup, having to let go of his lover to do so. He stirred and then tasted the concoction. It was excellent, if he did say so himself. He’d settled into cooking for the four of them: himself, Jason, and the couple they lived with. He’d been doing it for over nine years and his skills had improved.
Jason stepped up behind him and hugged him, resting his chin on Aaron’s shoulder. He smelled incredibly good, like summer heat and subtle cologne almost overshadowed by his shampoo. He smelled like Jason.
“So?” Aaron asked as he turned off the burner under the pot. “What’s happened?”
“I got offered a job.”
Aaron frowned in confusion. He twisted in the circle of Jason’s arms and lifted his head slightly so he could meet Jason’s hazel eyed gaze. “But you love your middle school students. That’s not something every teacher can say.”
“Don’t you even want to hear where the job is?”
Still frowning, Aaron nodded.
“I’ve been offered a job in Colton, Pennsylvania.”
Aaron’s heartbeat picked up. Colton was the college town nearest to Marisburg. But then his excitement died. “You can’t take a lower paying job just to make me happy.”
“Who said it’s a lower paying job? I’m being offered the position as head of the math department at Colton University.”
Aaron gaped. “When did you apply?”
“I didn’t. Nearest I can figure is someone here works in Pennsylvania, or vice versa. Someone I know, maybe, or someone who’s…” He shrugged and a little of his enthusiasm faded. “Does it matter?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender erotica. Seeking a world made of equality, she created SearchLight to live out her dreams. But even SearchLight has its problems, and Emily is looking forward to working all of these out with a host of characters from dragons and genies to psychic vampires.
Fantasy creatures not your thing? Emily has also created a contemporary romance world, called Sticks and Stones, where she explores being “different” in a small town.
Life is good. A few years ago, I met someone special, came out as bi, fell head over heels, and married the love of my life. A man. But not just any man.
Aaron is a confident, unapologetically fabulous diva who isn’t afraid to take chances. I love that about him. New state, new career path…no problem.
Except things don’t always go according to plan. That’s okay. It might be the perfect time to get back to basics and check off a few items on our original list…like buy a house and start a family. Whoa! House first.
However, house hunting isn’t glamorous at all, and with my partnership at the law firm in the balance, it’s kind of stressful. Everything we’ve dreamed of is within reach—if we can just find a place that feels like home, we’ll be better than good.
Better Than Home is a sweet and sexy novella featuring Matt and Aaron from my International Bestselling book, Better Than Good. The lawyer, the diva, and the happy ever after of a lifetime. For readers who know the real love story happens after the first “I love you.”
Chandler went quiet for a moment in what I was sure was a calculated sales technique. When he spoke again, his voice was gentle and sincere.
“Let me show you one more older home next weekend. It’s outside of Bethesda. Great property, lots of land, very private, but in a great neighborhood. It’s not even on the market yet. The listing is supposed to be up by next week. However, I can give you an early pass at it. If you hate it, we’ll go back to the drawing board. Thoughts?”
Aaron shot a quick sideways glance my way. “It’s a date.”
“Not a real date,” I qualified like a real dumbass. “I mean…yes. That sounds good.”
Chandler grinned, then led us through the green-carpeted maze of the house. We said another round of good-byes before heading to our car.
I pulled away from the curb and scowled. “A date?”
“Hmm?” Aaron scrolled the playlist on his cell before fastening his seat belt. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to date Chandler,” I groused.
“A house-hunting date.” He snickered.
I tore my gaze from the road for a second and did a double take. “Are you smiling?”
“Yep. What’s wrong with smiling?”
I slowed at the stop sign on the corner. “Theoretically, nothing. But you look amused.”
“And what’s wrong with being amused?” Aaron countered, more amused and smiley than ever.
“Hmph. I’m getting sick of Chandler. And now…you’re really smiling.”
Aaron pursed his lips as if in an effort to keep his grin from spreading like wildfire across his face. He captured my hand and kissed my knuckles.
“I am. You’re cute when you’re pretend jealous.”
“I’m not pretend jealous or real jealous,” I protested.
“Maybe a smidge?” he teased, biting my thumb.
I yanked my hand away and fixed him with a mock glare that had him howling as I shifted gears and pulled into traffic again. “Okay, fine. Chandler has a crush on you and I don’t like it.”
“No, he doesn’t. But I suppose this is a good time to remind you that you are quite literally the best thing that ever happened to me,” he hummed dreamily.
I stole a peek at him. “Uh…thanks. What does that have to do with our infatuated real estate agent?”
“Chandler is straight. His ex-girlfriend is an editorial assistant at the magazine. And he isn’t the problem anyway. You’re not having fun.”
“No, I’m not. I don’t enjoy spending every Saturday with a hunky agent who drools over my husband like he’s the last brownie at a family picnic.”
Aaron chortled merrily. “I’m saving myself for you. Corner and middle pieces…all yours.”
I chuckled along with him. “So…what are we gonna do about this house dilemma? There’s no way we’re moving into a fixer-upper. We are not those people.”
“But…what if we learned to be those people?” he asked in a careful tone.
“Huh? How? When?” I shot another sideways glance in his direction before turning down an idyllic road with green fields dotted with massive trees, wild flowers, and horses in the distance.
He circled his wrist in that way he did when he was excited about an idea. “Hear me out. I’m just thinking aloud…what if we were the general contractors?”
“If we were the contractors, the house would fall around our ears,” I snarked.
“I’m serious, Matty. Listen, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I’m not suggesting doing anything crazy ourselves, but we can certainly piece a few minor repairs and updates together to make a tired old house into a fabulous new home.”
“No, we can’t. We work. The last thing we’re going to want to do is sand floors or paint. We’ve done the painting thing before and—”
“And it was great! Our walls are perfection. Every color was chosen with love and applied with care. We can do it again.”
Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, 2018-2019, and 2020-2021 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.
Ghost wards are failing. Mediums are vanishing. Someone—or something—is stirringup the ghosts of Toronto. It’s up to psychic medium Harlan Brand to find out why.
After defeating a serial killer who could control ghosts, psychic medium Harlan Brand is feeling much more confident in his abilities working for the Toronto Police Service with his partner, Hamilton, as they protect the city from dangerous spirits.
He is expanding his social circle, however reluctantly, to include the other police mediums and Morgan Vermeer, another graduate from the Centre—a school for training psychic children.
Harlan and his boyfriend, Charles Moore, are continuing to explore BDSM, their relationship and Charles’ strange ability to shield people from ghosts.
Hoping to find answers about Charles’ power and the serial killer, Harlan returns to the Centre only to find that one of its ghost wards—magical symbols that spirits can’t cross—is broken, and it’s a mystery as to how and why.
The calm and order that Harlan has been building up in his life are shattered when wards start failing across the city and mediums begin to disappear, including one of his new friends and a student from the Centre.
Someone—or something—is stirring up the ghosts of Toronto.
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and murder. It is best read as part of a series.
Hamilton sighed as he lowered himself into the driver’s seat of their police cruiser, settling in much more heavily than usual. “Matthew wants to meet you.”
Harlan was relieved that he was already struggling with his seatbelt. It gave him a moment to think about what Hamilton had just said.
Matthew? Do I know a Matthew? Hamilton’s—and, by extension, Harlan’s—sergeant was named Matthews, but Harlan had already met her.
The seatbelt clicked into place. He was out of time.
Hamilton sighed again, this time with an edge of laughter. “Matthew is my…” He mumbled something Harlan couldn’t make out. “You haven’t met him,” he added in his regular speaking voice.
Harlan waited, hoping Hamilton would elaborate, repeat himself or that the words would finally click into place as he ran them over and over in his mind.
Silence. Silence that he had to break if he was going to get anything else.
“Sorry… I didn’t quite—”
“Boyfriend!” Too loud this time, loud and sudden enough that it startled Harlan. “Matthew is my boyfriend. He wants to meet you.” Hamilton slid his gaze over to Harlan, a sly smile on his thin lips. “You can say no,” he added, making it clear he would prefer that.
Harlan would prefer that as well, so it worked out nicely.
Before Harlan could assure him that he was, of course, in complete agreement, Hamilton shook his head and sighed for a third time that morning. “Nah, I think we’re past that. At this point, it would just be a delaying tactic. He’s made up his mind.”
Harlan glanced sideways at Hamilton. Is Hamilton actually blushing? He hadn’t thought Hamilton was physically capable of doing that, never mind imagined that it might actually happen.
“And I’ve met your boyfriend,” Hamilton shot back, even though Harlan hadn’t spoken.
Technically true, but they hadn’t exactly met over dinner or another social event. Did life-and-death situations count more or less than sitting down for a meal together?
“And, by the way”—the blush Harlan had probably imagined was gone, and Hamilton was definitely smirking now—”I knew I recognized him from somewhere.”
Shit. Harlan had been dreading this conversation, hoping it wouldn’t happen. He’d hoped that Hamilton wouldn’t connect Charles, Harlan’s ghost-repelling boyfriend, to Mr. Moore, owner of Rattling Chains, a formerly haunted BDSM club. Apparently, that had been too much to ask for.
Hamilton opened his mouth, started to say something then seemed to reconsider when he saw Harlan’s pained expression. “I’m glad you’ve got someone,” he said, just as gruffly as usual, but with a hint of genuine fondness and even warmth. “You don’t have a lot of people.” He looked away while he took a left-hand turn, then laughed. “Of course you’d meet someone on the job.”
Harlan looked down at his lap. Yeah. It was pretty pathetic. Sure, he’d started going to the occasional police-medium group—basically a coffee klatch, not everyone sitting in a circle sharing their feelings the way he’d been dreading—but that was still connected to the police. He hadn’t even realized that Charles had the same connection. Fuck. Somehow, without realizing it, he’d become one of those adults who only lived for his job.
He blinked. Maybe it isn’t just me.
“What does Matthew do?” he asked, fully expecting he already knew the answer.
He was wrong.
“He’s an advertising consultant.” Hamilton shrugged. “I don’t know what that means, either.” He paused, then added, as though he’d read Harlan’s mind—more likely his expression—“I did meet him through a case, though.”
Harlan wasn’t sure if that made him feel better or worse. He didn’t know exactly how old Hamilton was, but he guessed his police partner was at least a few years older than he was. Was that what he had to look forward to—all his personal connections coming from his work for the rest of his life? He wasn’t sure why it bothered him, but it did. Maybe it was like that for everyone, and he just didn’t know—not that there was anyone he could ask.
Maybe Charles… He’d met a few of Charles’ friends, more or less in passing. He certainly hadn’t sat down and had dinner with any of them, the way Hamilton seemed to be proposing that he do with Matthew. He’d always assumed it was because he and Charles were still fairly new as a couple and—knowing Harlan—Charles hadn’t wanted to overwhelm him with a bunch of people all at once—but maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe he just didn’t want to introduce Harlan to anyone else in his life.
Knowing he was starting to spiral, he was relieved when Hamilton continued.
“I told him you don’t do phone calls and you wouldn’t want to text someone you don’t know”—Wow, Hamilton really will make a great detective one day—“so you can just let me know when you decide. Here.” He fished a piece of paper out of his breast pocket and handed it to Harlan. “This is Matthew’s number so you can give it to Charles. He’s invited too, if he’d like.” His smirk was back. “I think he still has a choice, unlike you.”
“Where are we going today?” Normally Hamilton didn’t tell him, and he didn’t ask, but it was the only change of topic Harlan could think of. “Is it another one of Samuel’s ghosts?” Killing the warped medium and serial killer Samuel Harkness had released most of the spirits under his control, but even eight months later they were still finding stragglers, like the ones that had led Harlan to their killer in the first place.
Interestingly, Harlan and Hamilton had found—and freed—almost three times as many wanderers as the other three medium pairs put together. It was as if even though he’d never met them, these spirits felt a connection to him for killing the man who had been controlling them.
This part of the job was a lot less glamorous when the ghosts they worked with weren’t leading him to a serial killer.
“Kid,” Hamilton had laughed after a sweaty, dusty and frustrated Harlan had snapped something along those lines after a very long, hot day crammed in the crawlspace of an old house, trying to coax an especially nervous ghost close enough for him to either grab or calm it down enough for it to cross over on its own, “that’s the job. It’s not bringing down bad guys and epic showdowns. It’s…this. Hey, you’ve got a cobweb on your face.”
Harlan couldn’t help feeling that he’d peaked too soon, experienced more police-medium excitement than most of his colleagues got in a lifetime.
Crucially, he’d survived. Most police mediums didn’t live long enough to retire.
He still liked his job and found it fulfilling, rewarding and blah blah, but he couldn’t help feeling a little…let down. Restless, maybe. Not that he wanted to face anything like Samuel ever again! But…something. Something more than finding ghost, freeing ghost, next. Day in, day out, week after week. Just a little.
“Nah. Well—not as far as I know,” Hamilton amended. “Though apparently this is kinda a weird one.”
Harlan couldn’t help brightening, sitting forward in his seat a little. In light of what he’d been thinking, ‘weird’ was good. “Really?”
“Yeah, yeah, keep it in your pants.” Hamilton laughed.
“You gonna tell me or is it gonna be a surprise?” Even a few months ago Harlan wouldn’t have dared ask for information about the scene they were going to, and he certainly wouldn’t have expected an answer.
Now, it was almost like a game between the two of them—if Harlan really wanted to know, Hamilton would tell him, and if Hamilton really wanted to keep him in the dark until they got there—and Harlan was beginning to think that, sometimes at least, walking in without any preconceptions was helpful—he wouldn’t. And, occasionally, Hamilton himself knew very little or nothing about the haunting situation. Harlan was starting to suspect that was one of the reasons Hamilton hadn’t filled Harlan in ahead of time in the past. Hamilton didn’t like admitting when he didn’t know something.
“Mmm, this time I think I’ll let you see for yourself. Besides, we’re almost there.” Hamilton pulled up beside a record store, one of those hipster places that had been popping up in the most gentrified parts of the city. He got out, coming around the other side of the car and opening Harlan’s door when he didn’t get out immediately.
Harlan stepped onto the sidewalk to take a better look around. Hauntings—the ones not related to violent crime, which he doubted was the case here—tended to be in residential buildings. People died where they lived, not where they bought vinyl.
He glanced across the street—more shops, and they didn’t look like they had apartments over them. Neither did the record store or the others around it.
“There’s a haunting here?”
“I can double-check the address if you’d like,” Hamilton offered, smirking a little.
“No. That’s fine.” As far as Harlan knew, Hamilton had never got an address wrong.
Maybe the dispatcher had been wrong?
A young white man stepped out of the shop, waving at them. “Are you with the Graveyard Crew?”
It was a nickname for Toronto police mediums that Harlan didn’t really like—and, by the look on Hamilton’s face, he didn’t care for it either.
Hamilton pointedly glanced down at his uniform and badge. “We’re with the police.”
“Oh, good! C’mon in. We’ve been expecting you.” He turned and disappeared into the shop.
Harlan shot Hamilton a questioning glance.
Hamilton shrugged one shoulder, extending a hand to say after you.
He was suddenly hit by a barrage of noise—apparently the door was surprisingly soundproof. Harlan always thought the music in these types of places sounded bad, but this was bad.
Hamilton, never one to fuck around, headed straight to the man who’d welcomed them. “Can you turn the music down? Or off, maybe?” He had to raise his voice to be heard over the din.
The man shook his head. “No! That’s the problem.” He didn’t have Hamilton’s loud ‘cop voice’ and he was practically screaming.
T. Strange didn’t want to learn how to read, but literacy prevailed and she hasn’t stopped reading—or writing—since. She’s been published since 2013, and she writes M/M romance in multiple genres, including paranormal and BDSM. T.’s other interests include cross stitching, gardening, watching terrible horror movies, playing video games, and finding injured pigeons to rescue. Originally from White Rock, BC, she lives on the Canadian prairies, where she shares her home with her wife, cats, guinea pigs and other creatures of all shapes and sizes. She’s very easy to bribe with free food and drinks—especially wine.
When Galvin Cloud, a shy young journalist, is unexpectedly offered a chance to interview his favorite author, he ought to be delighted. Instead, he’s terrified. Galvin has always idolized Spike Radcliff, but the idea of actually meeting him face-to-face is overwhelming. Furthermore, despite the sensitivity of his prose, Spike has a reputation for being a surly, reclusive misanthrope. Still, Galvin knows he can’t pass up this rare chance.
After the disastrous interview, Spike surprises Galvin by offering him a job as his assistant. As they spend more time together, Galvin discovers that beneath the harsh exterior is a complex, broken man… one with whom he’s quickly falling in love.
These days, the pills did little more than blur his thoughts. He’d spent far too many nights staring at the vaguely dragon-shaped water stain on his ceiling.
Rain trickled down the window, a steady drone mingled with the occasional rumble of thunder which his MP3 player couldn’t quite drown out.
It had been raining that night, too. His gaze strayed to the calendar on his wall, lingering on the date of November 13. Just a day. But somehow, it never got any easier.
He pulled out his earbuds and sighed. He had work tomorrow. He needed sleep. But reminding himself of all the reasons he should be asleep inevitably just made it harder.
Finally giving in, he rolled onto his side and reached for the book on his nightstand. Its edges were worn, its spine was faded and creased from being read and reread countless times.
Smoke. Spike Radcliff’s first novel.
On nights like this, when the hours stretched into a lifetime and the loneliness became unbearable, he often found himself reaching for that tattered paperback, the same copy he’d found in a used bookstore five years ago. By now, reading it was like slipping into an old, comfy sweater. Kind of a strange way to think about a book that dealt with such dark subject matter, but then, all Spike’s books were like that. They were harsh. Ugly, sometimes. But despite all the blood and mud and dirty needles, there was always a shining thread of hope running through them, the promise that someone could go through hell and come out again, wounded but alive.
Galvin stretched out on his bed and opened the book. The opening lines were already branded into his memory, but he read them anyway: Sammy stepped off the bus and breathed in the hot, moist night air. In his pocket, he had two hundred dollars and an address scribbled on a folded piece of paper, worn and damp from the caresses of his sweaty fingers. It had been almost a full day since he’d eaten or slept, but he was filled with a crazy, burning excitement. He was free.
He fell easily into the familiar rhythm of the sentences and devoured page after page.
Galvin had always identified with Sammy — with his desperate hunger for a place to belong, for the arms of someone who would make him feel safe and wanted. When the story started, he’d just fled his abusive home to live with a friend in New Orleans, but the address turned out to be an empty building. And then he was alone, nearly penniless, and stranded in a place he knew nothing about. Before long, he was sleeping in alleys and doorways.
Galvin felt a pang of recognition at the stark descriptions of loneliness, of being the outsider — doors slamming, people turning away and hurrying past — and the longing for someone, anyone, to stretch out a hand and offer some simple kindness. When someone finally did, he was too relieved to feel the jaws of a trap closing around him. Sammy fell in with a bad crowd and got addicted to heroin, which kept pulling him back to that crowd, even when he tried to break free. He started doing desperate things for money.
Galvin found himself skimming ahead to his favorite scene, the one where Sammy finally found a true friend; a quiet, stammering, tender-hearted poet who literally found him in the gutter and took him in.
The idea of rescue had always been seductive to Galvin. His psychologist, back when he could afford one, kept reminding him that it was merely a fantasy. He needed to stay focused on the things he could control. He knew she was right. Hope could be a dangerous drug. But even so, a part of him still dreamed that someday, when he most needed it, there would be a pair of strong and loving arms waiting to enfold him. And then, finally, he could relax — he could surrender to this soul-deep exhaustion and just breathe.
Galvin kept reading.
Sammy fell in love with his rescuer, of course. But happy endings were never that easy. There followed a cycle of rehab, relapses, grim, determined struggles, and finally light at the end of the tunnel. Sammy got clean and stayed with the man who, by that point, had become his lover and his best friend.
It was like a fucked-up fairy tale, complete with happily ever after. Or at least, as close to happily ever after as real life ever got.
Galvin closed his eyes and held the book against his chest.
The first time he’d read it, he’d stayed up all night, too — dry-mouthed, gulping, turning pages, almost wanting to stop reading because he was certain it would end in despair and darkness. The next day, he’d gone out and bought the sequels, Dust and Blur.
He turned the book over and stared at the black and white author’s photo on the back cover. Spike was standing outside, clad in a long black coat, dark hair windblown, a cigarette clasped between two fingers. He was looking off to the side, as if unaware of the cameraman. The picture was small and grainy, but still, something about it always made Galvin stare. From reading articles about Spike Radcliff, he knew that he had an almost superstitious aversion to cameras. This was probably one of the few photos of him in existence.
And Galvin liked looking at it… probably more than he should. He reached out and lightly ran a fingertip over it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AJ Graham has a passion for cold weather, unusual beers, and anything otherworldly. Dragons, demons, shapeshifters and psychics have always populated their imagination, but sometimes the real world can be just as fascinating and mysterious. And no matter the genre, AJ has always loved stories about soulmates connecting. Whether it’s instant, explosive passion or a slow burn, the power of two (or more) minds and bodies coming together to form a greater whole is always a story worth telling. AJ lives in the Chicago suburbs with their husband.