Gil struggles to hide his loss of status from Jack, but when he finally confesses, Jack turns around and blurts out his own secret. Who can Gil trust now?
Jack knows he screwed up but he believes in honesty above everything else. Well, almost. Running the risk of losing Gil, Jack must learn to lie convincingly or he’ll lose SearchLight, his life, and Gil, as well.
The Founders, the sons of Lady Weinberg, formerly Agent Weinberg, kept their hands largely out of SearchLight’s day-to-day operations. They hadn’t even weighed in when Jack decided to announce and involve all of SearchLight and the heads of most of the magical communities around the world in a discussion of suspicious disappearances.
So, even though he wasn’t a Crown Prince, one miniscule step below ruler of all the world’s basilisks, he and Gil were equals. At least he thought they were.
But this bathroom was spectacular. Extravagant. And Jack felt a little embarrassed about his nudity in such a place. The bed creaked behind him and Gil crossed to him. Jack didn’t want his lover to see the nerves he wasn’t quite sure he could keep out of his expression.
Gil closed his hands on Jack’s shoulders and began to massage. Jack relaxed almost at once as the feeling and scent of his beloved surrounded him.
“Are you all right?” Gil murmured.
“I am now.” Jack glanced over his shoulder, flashed Gil a grin, and pulled away. “Shower or bathtub?”
“Together?” Gil suggested.
“Separately, or we’ll never get out of here.”
“Is that such a bad thing?” But he was teasing because he said at once, “I’ll take the wading pool. I suggest you take the shower stall.”
Jack nodded, padded to the aforementioned, grandiose, glass-walled luxury and busied himself testing the water. There was a towel hung conveniently just outside on a heated rack. He listened to Gil turning on the water in the wading pool. His lover was muttering, “Now, how does she get it to just that right temperature?” That made Jack smile a little. Gil wasn’t used to doing for himself, but he wasn’t a complainer either. He was just a little lost.
As Jack was.
About Emily Carrington…
Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender women’s speculative fiction. 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. And in the contemporary world she’s named “Sticks & Stones,” Emily has vowed to create small towns where prejudice is challenged by a passionate quest for equality. Find her on Facebook at Shapeshifter Central or on her website.
My name is Tigs, and I’m a cat shifter. Don’t get smart, it’s not short for Tigger or anything stupid like that. I don’t fucking bounce or lisp my words, and I’m a gray tabby. I usually work construction and home renovation, me and my crew. We’re all shifters of one type or another, but we get along most of the time.
I’d let the rest of my crew go home early while I coiled up extension cords, locked up the tools, and cleaned up our work site. The old deli used to be the coolest little place when I’d been a kitten, but that’d been years ago. The guys would be waiting for me back at the warehouse we rented for the equipment, six blocks away — it also served as our home. The place was “guarded” by two dogs — a rat terrier and a Rottweiler mix along with three scruffy cats and that didn’t mean anything to the absentee landlord. Long as he got his cash, he didn’t give a shit.
Speaking of shit, we may look scruffy, but we’re good neighbors. We used the litter box or took a walk outside. The dogs “walk” each other, so that’s cool, and they curb themselves like responsible citizens.
Anyway, I smelled the stink of burning wood and rubber first. Figured some homeless guy had lit up the contents of a trashcan to keep warm nearby and didn’t give it another thought. This wasn’t the best neighborhood, but most poor don’t foul their own nest, ya know?
So, I finished coiling up the last extension cord and tossed it into the storage locker. Two seconds to snap the padlock, and I was ready for some of Pete’s Tuna Steaks on the grill back at our place.
No such luck. The smoke from the fire was coming up the stairs when I opened the door, and I bent over coughing my lungs out before I could shut the damn thing. “Who the fuck set a real fire in this stinkin’ joint? It can’t be for the insurance.” Didn’t matter. The entire downstairs — such as it was — was engulfed, and the floor was heating up. Damn near burned me through my boots, which meant I had seconds to get my ass out.
I took the easy road and threw a piece of scrap two-by-four through one of the windows we hadn’t removed yet. Single pane, painted shut, so it shattered easy as pie. Then I shifted, abandoned my clothes to their fate, and leaped for the limb of a scrub pine just in time. I hit the branches, yowling in pissed off feline at the loss of a perfectly good pair of steel toes.
Naturally, that was the moment the fire truck showed up. How convenient. I’d bet the arsonist called in the fire as soon as he got a safe distance away, after ensuring the place would be a pile of ash. So, a professional job. Not my problem, except some asshole owed me some new boots.
What surprised the fuck out of me was the ladder that slammed up against the tree. Tree wasn’t that big, being an inner city volunteer from some bird’s ass that happened on an empty lot. The whole thing shook.
I might have backed up a bit, but it wasn’t fear. I just didn’t want to get grabbed like some wuss who didn’t have sense enough to know how to get down.
The human wearing the standard issue fireman’s hard hat and a million pounds of gear climbed the ladder with casual ease until we were damn near face to whiskers.
“Well, hello bay-bee!” Okay, so it came out as a yowl loud enough to burst eardrums. Any other tom would have recognized my interest in the biggest pair of grass-green eyes in a tanned face I’d seen in a long time. Okay, so they were red-rimmed and tired. If I’d been human, my dick would have lifted my ass so far I’d have fallen out of the tree. I wanted me a piece of that man!
Once handsome Grass Eyes stopped wincing from my loud mouth, he hitched himself up one more rung. “Hey there, you could replace our siren with that set of lungs, dude.” He checked the fire, now close enough to us that I was getting more than a tad warm, ya know? “I really hate to interrupt your serenade, but unless you want to burn down with this tree, we need to go.” He reached for me.
On reflection, I realized Grass Eyes didn’t have a clue that I was a shifter, nor did he mean to insult Da Tigs. At the time, all I cared about was swatting his hand. Encased in the gloves and shit, he wasn’t even hurt, but I’d made my point. I could jump down anytime, if he’d move that fucking ladder.
Grass Eyes shook his head. “Man, I don’t want to leave you, loudmouth. Come on! This tree’s gonna go, shit head.”
Yeah, he had a point. I ignored his hand and jumped on his shoulders. I’d be damned if I’d be carried down like some frou-frou case from Cat Fanciers magazine.
“Okay, if that’s the way you want it.” Grass Eyes had the sense to know when he’d been elected as the vehicle of my ride down and made his way back to the base of the tree. I kept on riding, even while he helped his buds put the ladder away. Clearly, the old deli was a total loss, so they concentrated on keeping the rest of the local trash-pit buildings from coming down. Not all that difficult, and I couldn’t blame them for not working too hard at saving what wasn’t worth the effort.
Grass Eyes stood over to the side, talking on his radio and leaning against the big-ass red fire truck. He’d scrub his face with his hand now and then.
One of his buddies came by, lugging shit back to the truck. “It was arson, Dustin. Betcha the dogs sniff out accelerant.”
Dustin, which was Grass Eyes’ real name I guessed, sighed. “Yeah. This place was being renovated too. I drive by here daily and see the workers. They’ve been putting their backs into cleaning this place out, and they’re clean as a whistle about putting away equipment. I’ll tell the inspector the same when I see him. I doubt it was them being careless.”
Hey, a compliment. Very cool. I purred and rubbed up against Dustin’s ear for that.
“Yeah, I like you too, loudmouth.” He reached up and I let him give the backs of my ears a rub. I closed my eyes and purred louder, just to let him know he was doing a good job.
Someone cursed Lena Austin with “may you have a life so full you’ll have many tales to tell your grandchildren.” Lena’s a “fallen” society wench with a checkered past. She’s been a licensed minister, hairdresser, Realtor, radio DJ, exotic dancer, telephone service tech, live-steel medievalist swordswoman, BDSM Mistress, and investment property manager. Not necessarily in that order. She never finished that degree in marine archaeology, but did learn to scuba — she’s got a lifetime of “Research material!”
Hey, why waste these stories on kids who won’t listen anyway? Writing them down is a nice way to spend her retirement. What? You expected an ex-BDSM Mistress to take up crocheting or something?
As do the hits that knock Keon’s perfectly laid plans into chaos. His no-good brother conducted a hostile takeover of their pack, became Alpha, and got killed in the space of a year. Grief has crippled their father, leaving Beta Weston desperate for Keon’s return, as Simeon’s last act as Alpha was to name Keon his successor.
Leaving his friends is heartbreaking. Arriving home to a hostile pack is unsurprising. But finding a rival pack hovering on the boundaries of his land, vying for blood, could be a problem. With Simeon dead, they don’t seem to care which Alpha bleeds for the crimes.
With no other choice, Keon shoulders the burden of being Alpha. Fighting, bleeding, and sacrificing.
As a new Alpha, he needs to prove himself to get the respect needed for them to accept change…like dragging Vihaan into the 21st century. On the top of the list is finding a mate. But who would want to mate an Alpha whose own pack doesn’t respect him?
He always knew this day would come. Thatcher was too old and selfish to fight his own challenges, but part of Milo had naïvely presumed it would be Usher standing in his place. Or one of his many other brothers, who were better fighters.
But Milo supposed that was the point. This wasn’t about the challenge. This was about punishing Milo, because the Fates had given him a male true mate. This was a reminder of his place in the pack, in the world.
Every challenge was to the death, and if Milo died, he doubted his father, Thatcher, would spare a second thought. The loss of Milo’s gift would be a small price if he could give the pack this important lesson―there would be no gaoj tolerated in Thatcher’s pack or his family.
It didn’t matter that Milo hadn’t asked to be born gaoj―someone attracted to the same sex. The fact he was would be enough of an insult to Thatcher’s opinion on what made a man a man.
Beating each other bloody counted, apparently. With not even the Meskli to preside, as was usually the case.
Alpha Farley was a m’weko, but as the Meskli, he was a neutral party who governed within Vihaan. Settling disputes and resolving problems between packs, villages, and species of foame―those half-human who could call forth a beast form. He wasn’t a man to disobey and held tight to tradition.
No, waiting for the Meskli would mean prying eyes and someone willing to―and with the power to―interfere on Milo’s behalf.
He didn’t recognise his opponent, and Thatcher hadn’t bothered to tell Milo what this challenge was about. What dispute or grievance required the shedding of blood. A secret part of him wondered if the problem had been fabricated purely to punish him. Milo would put nothing past his father.
The moment the challenger stepped forward―a brute of a man, made of muscle―Milo’s nerves shook. He tried to hide it, summoning long buried memories of his most hated brothers, bullying and goading him, from his childhood. The only way he’d survive this was to remember one important thing―he’d rather spend an eternity in reedav than let his father win. An afterlife in Vihaan’s version of hell would be worth the chance to make his father suffer.
As long as Milo remained breathing by the end of the fight, it would be enough. He’d drag himself to his home, with his insides hanging out, if it meant denying Thatcher the satisfaction of seeing him fail.
Milo was down, beaten bloody and could barely feel his legs, but not dead. He could only see out of one eye, but his reflexes remained quick enough to roll away from the foot aimed at his head.
It had been a long, excruciating fight, with his opponent employing every dirty trick possible, and Thatcher didn’t object once.
At some point, Usher had arrived to watch horror-stricken, as Milo fought for his life. At least neither his mother nor his sister, Haley, had been dragged from their beds to witness his humiliation.
After five minutes of struggling to make his legs move, Milo froze at the first sign of rain. Dismay filled his heart, but he fought to stand and dodged through another ten minutes of attacks, too bone-weary to do anything but defend and protect himself. His opponent showed signs of fatigue, and it was satisfying to see bleeding wounds where Milo had left his mark.
Then the opponent backed away to shift into his m’weko form―a giant beast, all fur and fangs, and far scarier than the Dnaran tales of wolf beasts. Something Milo was too weak to do.
Lightning flashed across the sky, and he feared his fate was to die here.
As a massive paw swiped at his head, Milo ducked, rearing back to avoid it gutting his stomach on the way up. Too late to see the other hand lowering over his bent body in time to counter-strike.
He saw the claw descend, knew he had neither the time nor energy to avoid it, and felt the skin tear as it made contact. Milo screamed, a sound he’d never made before, and crumpled to the ground to an angry shout,
In the haze of his vision, he made out Usher shifting to tackle the m’weko challenger, tearing at his throat. Milo lasted long enough for Usher to kill the man, then shift to human.
“I won’t let you kill him,” he snapped at their father, crossing to where Milo lay. Usher lifted his broken body from the ground, and such pain flooded through him that Milo passed into a brief, but peaceful, oblivion.
Elaine White is the author of multi-genre MM romance, celebrating ‘love is love’ and offering diversity in both genre and character within her stories.
Growing up in a small town and fighting cancer in her early teens taught her that life is short and dreams should be pursued. She lives vicariously through her independent, and often hellion characters, exploring all possibilities within the romantic universe.
The Winner of two Watty Awards – Collector’s Dream (An Unpredictable Life) and Hidden Gem (Faithfully) – and an Honourable Mention in 2016’s Rainbow Awards (A Royal Craving) Elaine is a self-professed geek, reading addict, and a romantic at heart.
Brent Riddick has been up to his armpits in work ever since he started his job as the Truman School’s manager. He admits he probably qualifies as a workaholic, although he doesn’t really care. He’s simply more comfortable standing in front of a board meeting than sitting in a cocktail lounge and has no desire to examine his lack of a social life. So it isn’t a big deal to him that he sorta forgets it’s his birthday.
Unfortunately his staff, led by the hotel’s sexiest troublemaker, Guthrie, remembers the occasion and Brent is begrudgingly forced to allow his co-workers to take him out for drinks. However, when all those birthday drinks go to Brent’s head and he ends up going home with an equally drunken Guthrie, things get a little more complicated.
Guthrie Walker is the kind of guy who always knows where the next party is happening. He also has a Plan B Party and a Plan C Party if his original party plans fall through. He’s still young and figures there’ll be plenty of time later to get serious about life. Drinking and dancing with his friends is definitely more fun than dealing with his messed up finances or dwelling on the festering rift with his family. So what if he occasionally drinks a little too much, does a few club drugs, comes in late to work a time or two, and suffers from an almost perpetual hangover? Everyone does it, right? Too bad the judge overseeing his case after Guthrie is arrested for drug possession doesn’t see things that way.
As if things weren’t messy enough, the court-ordered Diversion Plan requires Guthrie to enlist the help of his supervisor at work – who also happens to be one of Guthrie’s many one-night stands – if he wants to stay out of jail, retain his server’s license, and not lose his job. The hotel is already short-staffed and Brent is too much of a softie to say no to his desperate subordinate. Which is how Brent ends up vouching for Guthrie and agreeing to monitor his compliance with the court’s mandates. Now Brent just has to come up with a way to divert the party boy’s attention away from his club-scene past and himself away from lusting after his hot mess employee.
Chapter 1 – Brent
It’s not my fault that I’m so busy I sorta forget my own birthday.
The past six months, ever since I was hired as the manager of the Truman School, have been wild. I’ve been so busy that I rarely even remember what day of the week it is, let alone the actual date. Unless, of course, there’s some critically important work event I need to know the date of; those dates I remember because I’m paid well not to forget them. Personal stuff, though . . . Not so much.
The first three months leading up to the Grand Opening of the hotel were filled with hiring staff, overseeing the remodeling of the building, and working with the PR team to plan the opening. Most of that time I was working fourteen hour days, six or seven days a week. Things only slowed down incrementally following the opening. Being the manager, I end up being the one expected to handle all the problems and, for some reason, those problems always happen at the least opportune times. Primarily weekends and the middle of the night, it seems. I don’t think I’ve really taken a relaxed breath since starting this job.
Not that I really mind. I guess I probably qualify as a ‘work-a-holic’ but that’s fine with me. I’d rather be too busy than not busy enough. Work is good. I’m good at what I do. I like knowing that I’m appreciated. I like hearing the accolades from my bosses at McNally’s. I really like that I’ve already received one merit-based promotion despite being with the company less than a year. Plus, when I’m up to my armpits in work shit, I don’t have time to worry about anything else. So, generally speaking, I don’t complain about being too busy. Life is easier when you’ve got a purpose and, since I don’t have much of a life outside of work right now, that’s really my only purpose.
However, this weekend is proving especially hectic, what with it being Labor Day. The last official weekend of Summer is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year in the hospitality industry and, happily, the hotel is booked to capacity. It doesn’t help matters that our chef up and quit on me last week and the replacement, Easton, is not one hundred percent up to speed yet. Or that I’m immersed in marketing meetings with Ryan Zellers and the McNally’s PR team most of the weekend. Or that Ryan and his boyfriend – our ex-artist, Jayce – invited most of the staff to join them for dinner on Friday night. Or that the plumbing in the north wing backed up on Saturday afternoon. Or that any of the hundreds of other things that I’ve had to worry about this weekend have been taking up any spare brain capacity I might have left over.
Anyway, it’s no wonder I’m far too preoccupied with the daily crises of managing a full hotel to notice that this year September sixth – my birthday – falls on the first Monday of the month. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Logan, my assistant manager, remembers the occasion. I’m afraid that I probably look a little confused, though, when my team surprises me with an impromptu celebration just as soon as I give the okay to the restaurant staff to close up the Courtyard kitchen at nine-thirty that Monday evening.
“For he’s a jolly good fellow . . .” They all sing as Malia emerges from the kitchen with a Jaciva chocolate cake festooned with three largish candles.
The fact that they aren’t singing the traditional birthday song adds to my confusion. “What’s this for?” I ask as the group circles round the table where the cake has been placed and I’m pushed down into a chair facing the confection. “Are you folks angling for promotions or something?”
“I told you he’d forget.” Logan gives a conspiratorial laugh. “Happy birthday, Brent!”
“Happy birthday, Boss!” the crowd echos.
I look around and see the faces of pretty much the entire hotel staff staring at me: Logan, Guthrie, Easton, Wyatt, Keshawn, Perry, Tasha, and all the rest. I note that even Mark has come by this evening, despite working out of corporate headquarters most of the time. I smile around at them lamely and try to look happy at being ambushed, even though I hate being made the center of attention like this. I’ve never been overly comfortable in social situations, especially when I haven’t had time to prepare something to say or figure out how I’m supposed to act. It’s different when I’m standing in a boardroom or in front of a staff meeting. Those I can handle. But random surprise parties where I’m the guest of honor are a whole ‘nother thing.
I can feel my skin heating up and I try to fight back the blush I feel creeping up from under the collar of my shirt. Being a redhead, I can’t control the fact that my ruddy skin usually gives me away any time I’m feeling embarrassed or put on the spot. I try not to let myself get caught out like this too often. I’m the fucking manager after all; I can’t be going around blushing like a school-girl in front of my staff. Apparently my body doesn’t understand the need to maintain a professional demeanor, though, and that stupid blush takes over, no doubt turning my cheeks almost as red as my beard. But I try to smile anyway as I laugh at myself along with the rest.
“Thank you. But you didn’t have to do this.” I gesture at the cake and try to bat away the hands attempting to pull the elastic strap of a paper birthday hat under my chin. “Really. You shouldn’t have . . .”
“Of course we should,” Logan insists, pulling out the chair across from me and smiling in an officious manner as they seat themselves. “Celebrating staff birthdays together is part of the fun of working here – or so it says in the McNally’s Team Policy Manual – but I knew you wouldn’t take the time to celebrate on your own, so I made the executive decision to ensure you at least sat down long enough to eat a piece of cake. And, after the ridiculously busy weekend we all just had, everyone deserves a party. Including you. Now, be a good boss and pretend to enjoy yourself.”
I know they’re only teasing so I try to play along. “Who has time for birthdays?” I respond, causing several of the party to chuckle.
“C’mon, Boss. You’d think someone born on ‘Labor Day’ would at least remember when to celebrate!” Someone in the back – I think it’s probably that smart-ass, Guthrie – calls out.
And, yes, I’m aware of the irony of the fact that the celebration of my birth is happening on ‘Labor Day’ this year. My poor mother, going into labor on ‘Labor Day’ thirty years ago, no doubt also thought it hilarious at the time. However, since my birthday and the holiday coincide about every six or seven years, I’ve definitely heard that joke more than a few times. It wasn’t funny the first four times I heard it, and I’m not really that amused now either. But I can’t be ungracious when they’re all trying to be nice by throwing me this party so I offer an awkward smile and fake a chuckle.
Did I mention how much I hate uncomfortable social situations?
Then another voice from the crowd – Guthrie again, I assume, because nobody else would dare to be that flippant with the boss – urges me to, “make a wish and blow already!” which, of course, leads to more teasing and joking.
What else can I do? I can’t just walk out of my own birthday party, so I play along, blowing out the candles and accepting a piece of cake. Malia pours beers for everyone who’s already off the clock, and maybe a few who are supposed to still be on the clock, but I turn a blind eye to that minor policy infraction since they’re ostensibly only doing it in my honor. The party carries on from there.
I’m not sure exactly when the party gets so out of control.
One minute we’re sitting around in the empty dining room, drinking beer and eating cake, chatting and laughing about work stuff and the crazy weekend we’d just lived through, and the next minute someone suggests we take the party on the road. I hear Guthrie, the eternal party boy, proposing we all go to Scandals. Several other voices concur. I try to demur, using the pile of administrative paperwork waiting on my desk as an excuse to get out of this little field trip, but I’m shouted down. After all, it’s my party, right? I’m the guest of honor. They all want to buy me more drinks. I might still have backed out, though, if Guthrie wasn’t teasing me so relentlessly.
“Come on, Boss!” The tall, bold blond waggles his eyebrows at me from behind those hipster horned-rimmed glasses of his. “Pull the stick out of your ass and live a little for once!”
I want to tell him to fuck off, and maybe even write him up for talking to his superior in such an improper manner, but that would make me look like an ungrateful jerk. This whole celebration is supposedly for my benefit, right? I’m expected to play along. Which is exactly why I hate social interaction. I feel so awkward; I never know how I’m supposed to react when put on the spot like this. So, despite feeling completely out of my element, I allow myself to be talked into relocating the party to one of Portland’s more well-known gay bars. What the hell, right? I suppose I can allow the diversion this once.
The debauchery progresses rapidly from that point.
I suppose it’s obvious fairly early on that I don’t routinely drink very heavily. I’d had a couple beers back at the Truman School, so I’m already feeling a bit loose when we arrive at Scandals. The team immediately insists that I drink something called a ‘Birthday Cake Shot’ to celebrate my special day. That’s followed up by a Jagerbomb. After that I completely lose track of the seemingly endless rounds of drinks that follow as everyone and their brother offers to buy the Birthday Boy a drink.
Although Scandals isn’t a dance club, per se, at some point during the night the entire Truman team ends up in the middle of the floor, jumping, twisting, gyrating, and dancing together in a big group. Surprisingly, I’m right in the middle of the roiling mess of them and, for once, I’m having a pretty good time, despite my introvert tendencies. The bartender cranks up the tunes. The music is decent and quite danceable. None of us are feeling any pain and the party moves into high gear.
I’m more than halfway sloshed by this point. I will readily admit that all the toasts I’ve been the recipient of have me flying pretty high. I’ve had enough to drink that my inhibitions are pretty nonexistent and I’m relaxed enough not to care how I look anymore. I even give up trying to remove the stupid party hat that my staff insists I keep wearing. I’m having a great time dancing, to be honest – something I usually avoid out of fear of looking like a juvenile red-headed moose having a seizure – which is, unfortunately, my go-to dance move. But I’m just tipsy enough tonight to not give a damn and it feels good to let go for a change.
So, when Guthrie comes up behind me at some point and starts grinding against me from behind I don’t sweat it. I merely laugh and wiggle my ass a little provocatively. Then I toss back the rest of the glowing, fruity blue drink that is currently in my hand and twirl around like some kind of drunken ballerina.
“Oh, so he can dance,” Guthrie says, taking advantage of the smooth tempo of the music to pull me back against him even closer.
I can feel his tall, lanky body pressed up against me from behind and then his hips do this swivel thing that causes his crotch to grind into the crack of my ass. I don’t even bother trying to stifle the groan that escapes from my lips at that move. It’s been a hella long time since I had anyone grinding up against me and I’m not about to waste the experience. Especially not when it’s a hot blond like Guthrie.
TAG has been living in Portland, Oregon, so long that it’s almost like being a native. They don’t even mind the rain that much anymore. TAG loves the city and the state with a passion. TAG has been writing for almost a decade, starting out with a hesitant toe in the realm of fanfiction before venturing into the scarier world of self-publishing original works. With an eclectic background as an attorney, microbiologist, all-around nerd, and adventurer, TAG brings to all their writing an off-kilter sense of humor, unbounded curiosity, a love of historical and contemporary details, and astonishing powers of research. If you are looking for a gripping story, with compelling characters that deal with real world issues, then you’re in the right place.
Second Chance — a small town where anything can happen — and it usually does.
Only You: Once upon a time a teenaged Alpha fell in love with a pretty Omega from the wrong side of the tracks. Zachary was everything Alex wanted — sweet, sassy, and sexy as hell. Alex would have married that boy if Zachary hadn’t run. When the secrets they’ve been keeping come to light, will they shatter their bond for keeps, or bring them together in a forever kind of love?
Yes, You Are: Everyone assumed petite Darian would be an Omega, and big, athletic Coby would be an Alpha. When they met as teenagers, they had no reason to doubt that was who they’d be. But everyone was wrong. Opposites attract like lightning and steel rods when they meet again in Second Chance, but do they have what it takes to overcome the unexpected for the long haul?
Come for You: Gabriel, a dreamer and a librarian, is so shy and introverted that he’s still a virgin Omega at twenty-five — but he can’t help wishing for a fairy-tale Prince Charming. Meet captivating quarryman Alpha Wynn. For them, it’s love at first sight. But the happy ending is harder to come by. Who will rescue who?
Take You There: Ethan teaches music at the university. He’s not looking for Mr. Right, just Mr. Right Now. A quick, dirty alley encounter should have satisfied him. But now Ethan can’t get Blue out of his mind. The smoldering musician who caught Blue’s eye and what they did in the alley, should have been enough. Until Ethan finds him. And then, everything changes. Again.
“As much of it as you can fit in a cup. No cream but double the sugar. Please.”
The train attendant shook his head, but with a smile and a finger briefly pressed to his lips as he passed over not one but two Styrofoam cups filled to the brim. He was an Omega too, in his mid-thirties by the look of him, and he wore a black jet widower’s ring instead of a wedding band. Things weren’t much easier for the widowed than the unmated or separated. He understood.
Zach took a grateful gulp, not caring that the coffee was hot enough to scald his throat, and asked, “How far behind schedule are we?” Stretching his legs at the next station would do him good; they ached when he stayed still for too long.
“About half an hour, at this point.”
Wishing wouldn’t make the wheels turn faster, but with nothing to look at outside in the dark, Zach adjusted his position so he could get a better view of the passengers in his car. Like most Omegas, he wasn’t very tall. Some new folks had gotten on and others disembarked while he’d dozed, and he liked wondering what their stories were. Two young Alphas who acted like frat bros; interesting, they weren’t the usual size for Alphas, but small and compact and they weren’t at each other’s throats but laughed and joked like best friends. A couple that had to be recently married from the way they could barely resist climbing all over each other; an Omega with a contented smile, probably on his way back home, and —
Zach’s heart jumped into his throat and wedged stuck there even around the burn of his beverage. Three rows ahead, dark wheat-blond hair and a profile almost as familiar as his own turned to smile at the attendant as he refused their offer of coffee. It couldn’t be, it couldn’t be, he hadn’t seen that profile since he was eighteen, but —
He’d changed — well, he’d grown up, the way everyone did, the bones of his face maturing from soft boyish cuteness to strong, masculine definition. A short beard, trimmed and shaped, that suited his strong, stubborn jaw. The kind of casual suit that would have cost the equivalent of a month’s rent in Manhattan. Elegant hands with sturdy knuckles and deft fingers, and a smile that lit up the train.
He did and didn’t look a thing like the boy Zach remembered but it was, it was, it was him.
Zach would have known him anywhere, even if he’d shaved his head and started scowling instead of smiling. If he closed his eyes, he could feel those hands on the bare skin of memory. After all, you never forgot your first.
“I love you. And I know you love me too.”
He should stop staring. Alex would sense it any second now, and he might look around, and —
His gaze drifted back up, drawn like a moth to a flame.
Alex. Oh, Alex.
Zach’s body twitched with the first pangs of arousal, wanting what he’d had once upon a time. He remembered it all, and he remembered it perfectly. He dreamed about it, when he slept. The taste of Alex’s skin, the softness and hardness of his mouth and how his eagerness had nearly rubbed the insides of Zach’s thighs raw. The fullness, almost too much and too tight, when he slid inside Zach.
“I love you. And I know you love me too.”
Anger slowly took alarm and unhappiness’s place – anger, and frustration with himself. Zach should have sensed this train was to be avoided. Dodged. Something! And Alex, sitting there as if he didn’t have a care in the world – it was everything Zach had wanted for him, the entire reason he’d left Alex in the first place, but seeing it in the flesh opened all those old wounds back up and made them bleed afresh. The pain from that moment of saying no to what Alex had offered with all his big, warm heart cut sharper than any knife – but he’d had to. You didn’t do that to your first boyfriend, did you? Take him up on a marriage proprosal and tie him down to a shitty life based on a few promises made in the afterglow?
He’d done the right thing by saying no, leaving, and giving Alex his freedom. Zach knew that. Was sure of it. Even if none of that had ever made him feel any better about it.
They must have been traveling farther and faster than Zach had realized, or he was more out of it than he’d known. Between one blink and the next the train’s PA system crackled to far-too-loud life again, announcing they’d reach their next station at Second Chance in ten minutes. Second Chance? What kind of name was that for a town?
Alex looked up at the speaker, nodded in an absent sort of way, and stood to open the overhead compartment. He took out a bulging messenger bag and slung it over his shoulder and stuffed a pair of thick gloves and a warm knit hat in the pockets of his coat. This would be his stop.
Zach caught his lip between his teeth, torn between – it was pure foolishness, the idea of going to him — and sanity, staying right where he was.
Let it go.
Zach would have, really he would. But as Alex walked past him – always so eager to do things, that one; he would start heading for the exits before the train had even come to a halt — he only made it two steps past Zach’s seat before he stopped. As Zach’s heart sank down past the pit of his stomach he saw Alex pause, then turn to look back.
He stopped, just like Zach had, blank with surprise. “Do I know you?”
Zach held his breath. Could he lie? Yes, but this new, matured Alex would have the life experience not to believe him, and he hadn’t changed nearly as much as Alex had. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“I do know you. I know your face,” Alex said. His voice had matured with the rest of him as he aged, going from sweet to firm with a raspy vocal fry on the edges. “Zach?”
Will Okati (formerly known as Willa) has lived through a few Interesting Times, but come out the other side a little grayer, a little wiser, and ready to get writing. Still as passionate about coffee, cats, and crafts as ever, but knowing that to your own self you must be true. Also still one of the quiet ones to watch out for, but life — like storytelling — is always a work in progress.
One lucky winner will receive a $10.00 Changeling Press Gift Code!
Anthony Henson doesn’t do people. He prefers to be left alone with his paint, brushes and canvas. A world that allows his mind to be at ease, without the struggle to do what is right by societal dictates. His quiet universe is sent spinning, however, when a string of recent thefts brings a tall Irish detective into his circle.
Detective Liam Rourke has a hard, firm policy on not intermingling work and pleasure. Until now, it’s not been an issue to uphold it. Enter one painter and all he wants to do is spend more time around him. The lines between professional and personal are blurred.
When everything settles, what will happen to the straight-laced detective and the man whose own messy life doesn’t matter to him?
Reader advisory: This book contains instances of bullying, as well as mention of homophobia, adultery, and family/domestic verbal/emotional abuse.
“There’s a Detective Rourke here to see you, Anthony.”
Anthony Henson sighed, instantly agitated, and spun on the stool, away from the current painting he worked on. With a flick of his wrist as he got to his feet, he covered it. No one would see it until the time was right.
The words were the correct ones, even if the last thing he felt like he should be doing was entertaining another prick of a badge. Pressing the heel of his palm into his upper thigh, he sighed as he tried to work out the stiffness. When he finished on that side, he worked out the stiffness in his other leg. A sure sign he’d been immobile far too long without taking a break.
Supposedly this can be a good thing. I am getting up and moving around. This will serve as my break.
Truth was, he didn’t give a fuck if it was a good thing or not. He didn’t care. He had painting to do. The other things were naught but irritating intrusions of his time.
Marshall vanished without another word and in mere seconds, with his suit impeccable. While Anthony himself, on the other hand, looked like a day laborer. Paint staining his fingers, shirt, pants. Even his shoes.
Damnit. I forgot my shoes. Where did I leave them? In the back room? Beneath my stool?
There were two options. Go back and get them, assuming he could remember where he’d discarded them, or continue on like he was to this meeting.
It’s not like I called the cops to come out here. He’s interrupting my day. Why do I care if I’m wearing shoes? Why should I care? He may not even be a he. I suppose women can be detectives.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he should care. That would be the proper thing to do. Quite honestly, he didn’t give a fuck about social niceties. That’s what Marshall was for.
Pushing his hands into his pockets, he walked through the back of the studio to the front. Marshall pointed one finger off to his left and Anthony followed.
The man, and it was a man, stood before one of his favorite pieces. A scene in Italy, a seashore.
“Why are you here?”
Beside him, Marshall cleared his throat, softly. Anthony knew what it was, a reminder to be better behaved. Be polite. Sociable.
The man didn’t start, just slowly turned toward him, expression composed. Sharp green eyes lasered out from angular features. Deep red hair with a smattering of gray at the temples. The clothing was typical detective wear—a suit.
His voice rolled from him like a slow-moving wave, not anything to knock you over but you sure as hell knew it had been there.
“That’s who you asked to see. Why else would I be standing here?”
Marshall stepped between them. “I’m sorry, Detective. Yes, this is Anthony Henson. Anthony, this is Detective Liam Rourke.”
There was a look in Marshall’s gaze. It took him a moment before it clicked. Marshall was reminding him not to be so short.
“How can I help you?”
It grated he had to ask that, but Marshall smiled at him and that made it worth it. Being able to make Marshall smile and relax was something Anthony enjoyed doing. He didn’t have a lot of friends. There were people, acquaintances who pretended to like him because of who he was and his wealth and of course his connections, or at least those they thought would help them. But he wasn’t stupid, no matter what those same people said behind his back. He knew they were trying to use him.
The bottom line was, he didn’t give a fuck about them. But Marshall…he was different. The man had been his friend since they’d first met. He’d taken beatings standing up for Anthony and never got offended when Andrew’s bluntness had things falling from his mouth that should have been withheld.
So, no matter how he didn’t want to do something, if Marshall asked him, he would do it. He hid a smirk and tried to give the visitor his attention. It wasn’t easy. This detective was handsome.
“I’m here with a couple of questions about burglaries that have been going on at some of the local galleries.”
Anthony watched and waited, bare toes curling on the cool floor. The eyes held him. That shade of green wasn’t something he’d seen before.
He wanted to paint it.
I want to paint him.
Detective Rourke gave a small nod and pulled out a flip steno pad. “Has there been any trouble here? Any people in here that may be casing the joint under the pretense of looking at the art?”
With any movement, Anthony waited. As did the detective. The man didn’t speak, just held his gaze.
He figured it was a tactic to get suspects to talk, but personally, he didn’t give a fuck. This man didn’t intimidate him.
Arouse him? Yes, for sure.
A hint of impatience laced the man’s tone, even though it was very faint.
“Are those your only questions?” Anthony blinked, once. “Or do you have others?”
The man flattened his lips and gave a slow nod.
“I couldn’t tell you. You would be better served speaking to Marshall.” He looked away from the detective with the intoxicating green eyes. “Marshall, come answer the detective’s questions. I have better things to do.”
Without another word, he turned and walked back toward his studio.
“Wait a minute.”
He paused outside the room and looked over his shoulder. The man strode toward him, brow furrowed.
“We’re not finished.”
Anthony narrowed his gaze. “You told me you had no more questions. I am not the best equipped to answer this, Marshall is.” He cocked his head to the side as a thought struck him. “Are you good at your job? Because you seem to be having a difficult time digesting what I told you.”
Marshall cleared his throat again.
Anthony shrugged. “What? It is a legitimate question.” He waved his hand in the direction of the sexy detective.
I do not need to think of him as sexy.
“He is having a difficult time grasping my statement.” He faced Liam. “Or did something change and you do have different questions for me?”
Liam Rourke wasn’t sure what to make of the man standing before him. He didn’t shy away from eye contact and seemed absolutely shocked Liam wanted to speak to him again. But the blue eyes holding his called to a deeper part of him. One he’d thought he’d closed down, after—
There was scruff on his face, making his jaw shadowed. Messy dark hair fell haphazardly around his features. He’d noticed a limp while Anthony had moved away from him.
Two blinks and the man he’d come to speak with walked away, leaving him there. Dumbfounded.
“I’m sorry, Detective Rourke. Anthony doesn’t mean to be rude. He just—”
“No need to explain.” He had a feeling he already knew. “Why did he tell me to speak to you?”
“Mr. Henson prefers to keep to the back, doing what he loves. Painting. He isn’t one who comes out to mingle with the patrons.” Marshall stepped back and smoothed a hand down his suit. “I handle all of that for him.”
“Okay, let me ask you.”
Liam talked to Marshall for another couple of minutes before closing up his notepad.
“I’ll be by if I have any more questions. If you do see anything, please let us know. We’re trying to stop this group before someone gets seriously hurt.”
“Will do, Detective.”
He gave him a nod and pivoted to the door. All he wanted to do was go in the back and engage with Anthony once more. He shook his head. It had been a while since he’d had a man affect him like Anthony had, despite the brief time they were together.
At the door to Arm’s Hall Gallery, he slowed, at war with himself about whether to go back and see Anthony once more. Exhaling sharply, he pushed through and stepped out into the hot summer afternoon.
Liam slid on his sunglasses and tipped his head up to the glaring sun. His mind drifted back to the paint-splattered man who hadn’t been the slightest bit impressed with having a detective there, trying to help.
He snorted. No, impressed was definitely not the word to use. Annoyed, irritated, bored. So many other ones he could choose.
There had been something sexy about seeing him there, barefoot and a bit messy, which had kicked his senses, reminding him how long it’d been since he’d had a lover. Eyes on his car, he walked toward it, mind focusing ahead to the next stop on his list for the day.
So far the four places that had been burglarized hadn’t had any injuries. In his gut, he figured it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out with regards to that. What he’d not been able to piece together yet was a connection in the art. Other than the obvious—it was art. Something told him it was deeper than how it appeared on the surface.
Not even old art, at least not all. It was like the thief or thieves weren’t after Rembrandts, probably because they were afraid they couldn’t unload them. And he didn’t get the allure of some of what he’d seen. Some of the pieces that had been stolen he personally wouldn’t wipe his ass with, but he’d never claimed to be an art critic.
Now this most recent studio, he didn’t mind what was up on those walls. Not images he would consider all abstract, for there was a definite eclectic taste to what adorned the walls.
Landscapes. People. Animals. Buildings. Flowers. You name it, Arm’s Hall probably had it, and most of what Liam had seen made sense to his mind.
Snapping his gaze up when his name was hollered, he lifted his chin in greeting to another detective, Larson, who had been at a different gallery.
Larson jogged across the street and put his hands on his hips. “Anything?”
He shook his head and pulled his notebook back out, flipping it open. “Nothing that was worth the time it took me to put it down.”
Arms crossed, Larson grunted. “Same. Although, if I wanted a painted picture of a bikini bottom, it could be mine for a measly ten grand.”
Liam choked. “I’m sorry?”
“Yeah, that’s what it was like at the last place I was at. I either make far too little or I went into the wrong business. I mean, I could paint some ladies’ drawers and would be happy to sell it for half their asking price. Christ, what the hell is the draw for something like that? I couldn’t ever put it up on my wall, not if I wanted my wife to refrain from slitting my throat at night.”
Liam laughed, knowing full well Regina, Larson’s wife, would do exactly that, and find a way to blame him for it. Woman was scary and a freaking amazing attorney. He held up his hands and shook his head.
“That’s all you, man. I’m not buying any portion of women’s clothing on a canvas. Much less for that kind of money. We have the same job. I know I don’t make that kind of money.”
“Let’s get back, see if we can’t find a lead somewhere.”
They fell into step and walked in companionable silence to the waiting sedan.
It was early June when Jake emerged from the three-story building that housed the ADA Coordinator’s office. He’d been moving quickly but the moment he opened the door, the world went white. He stumbled to a halt and covered his eyes partially with his left hand. His right tightened on the handle of the white cane he’d only been half paying attention to. It wasn’t that he didn’t need the cane to get around. He’d learned rather quickly that the white cane could save him from many embarrassing or painful situations. But, inside, he barely noticed its whispering across the floor in constant contact with the rugs or tiles. Now, he wished he could just duck back into the safety of the building’s dimmer interior.
But Tyler, his lover, was waiting for him out in the parking lot and Jake really needed Tyler’s comfort. He hadn’t struggled through a bad day, hadn’t done that in a while, but the glare from the sun that turned everything white made him both sad and timid.
He allowed the door to close behind him, listening to its click of finality. Oh, stop thinking like that, he remonstrated himself.
He needed to get to Tyler. So, closing his eyes, he put the cane out in front of him and swept it right to left, checking for obstacles. And, taking his first tentative step forward, he thought, I guess the ophthalmologist was right. Glare was bound to affect me sooner or later.
He wanted so badly to be able to peek and make sure that he was headed in the right direction that he covered his eyes all the way to not allow himself that opportunity. Even assuming he could see something other than white light, he’d give himself a blinder of a headache by trying to use his vision when his eyes were already streaming with tears of strain and overexposure to light.
He heard a door ahead of him somewhere open and close. Then, Tyler said, “Are you okay?” He was still a good distance away but surely he could see Jake’s hand over his eyes. Jake cursed softly, squeezed his eyes even more tightly shut, and dropped his hand. Even through his eyelids, the world was terribly bright but at least he could walk without opening his eyes.
He started to move faster, needing to get to Tyler and the shelter of the truck. He swept his cane from right to left and left to right, trying to feel everything. But he missed something, maybe a crack in the sidewalk, maybe nothing more than an imagined crack, and tripped. He kept hold of his white cane and managed to right himself before Tyler reached him, but both were near things.
“Are you all right?” Tyler asked, touching his arm and then making a sound Jake thought was frustration. “Obviously you’re not. What happened?”
Jake wondered if that frustration was with him. He doubted it. Tyler was the world’s most patient person. He took a breath, needing to confess because he’d end up blurting it out sooner or later. “The glare is killing me. Dr. Metz was right. It finally showed up. The sun…” He shook his head and turned away slightly. “When I’m not looking directly at it, it hurts less.”
Tyler ran his hand up Jake’s arm to his shoulder. Then he leaned close and kissed Jake’s temple, which was thoroughly distracting in a way that made Jake aware of his cock as he hadn’t been all day.
“Maybe it’s time to meet with the white cane instructor again,” Tyler suggested.
Jake’s orientation and mobility teacher was a busy man. He had most of their part of Pennsylvania to look after. “If he’s ever free.”
“I’ll take you to Philly once a week if that’s what it takes.”
“I love you,” Jake blurted. It wasn’t a new concept, but he felt completely overwhelmed with gratitude and desire.
When Tyler kissed him full on the mouth, making him weak at the knees, he knew Tyler’s answer, in his own way, was, “I love you too.”
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.
The right cut, the right style and a dash of love.
James Mason has everything he could ever want—his salon is the most famous in town, and he’s got his health and his best bud, his dog Doob. But he’s lonely. James has a knack for pairing everyone up, except himself. He’s been interested in Paul, the sweet man who helps at the salon, but will Paul be interested in him, too? Then there’s the elusive JP Henderson, the owner of the salon building. James has created an image in his mind that this man could be the one.
Jonathan Paul Henderson has lusted after James since the moment he met him. James acts unaffected by wealth and seems drawn to character. He’s adorable, funny and welcoming, too. He also doesn’t seem to mind that Paul wears makeup. Paul feels the connection and knows he wants this man, but will James still accept him after he finds out the truth—that Paul’s his landlord?
Two men, one truth and so much attraction they burn up the sheets. Is theirs a love for now or one meant to last?
“Looks like it’s you and me tonight, Doob.” James Mason petted the dog and settled on the floor with him. Dye Hard Style had closed for the evening and he’d locked the doors, but he wasn’t ready to head home—not yet. He’d rather give the dog attention and listen to the silence.
Christ, he was worn out. He spent most of his days packed with appointments for his styling services. Opening to closing, he had someone wanting his attention. He’d worked hard for his reputation for excellence in hair styling, but that didn’t help when he wanted a break.
Other than his job, he had little else to show for his work. He had no social life outside of the salon. No boyfriend and few actual friends. He didn’t even have the energy to try to pair himself with anyone, not like he did with the guys who came in wanting dates.
The one thing he did have was Doob, his black mutt with a heart of gold. From the moment Doob had shown up at the salon, he’d become James’ constant companion. He’d been more loyal than most everyone else in his life. His ex-boyfriends certainly weren’t loyal.
But he wanted a date. James supposed he could leave Doob at home and call a friend to go out, but he wasn’t in the mood for drama. He’d have plenty of drama tomorrow when he met with Jonathan Paul Henderson, the owner of the salon building and the Annex next door. He’d never actually seen Mr. Henderson. When Lester McCann had sold the building and the one next door, he hadn’t asked James his opinion—not that he’d had to—and never bothered to introduce James to the new owner.
But that was Lester. If he could get away with doing nothing, he’d do even less.
At least James didn’t have far to go in his commute home. Having his apartment in the Annex next door meant all he had to do was walk through the door joining the two buildings. Sometimes living next to the salon did have some perks.
He left the floor and checked he’d locked the front doors, then turned off the main lights. The security ones came on, bathing the space in dim yellow glow. Once satisfied, he patted his hip for Doob, then collected the cash from the register.
The dog had been a lumpy, furry godsend. Doob stuck by him when his depression hit and knew how to make him feel better. The dog was the sweetest thing, too. Whoever had been his family had been lucky to have him.
Part of James wondered why no one had ever claimed Doob. He’d put out what seemed like a thousand fliers, letting the public know he’d found the lost dog. Surely, Doob was missed. He had his name on a metal plate on his collar—wouldn’t a family or someone who cared about the dog do something like put his name on an engraved plate on the collar? If Doob had run away, then why hadn’t anyone come looking for him?
What if they hadn’t wanted Doob? The dog was a good boy and so loyal. How could someone not want him?
If they didn’t want him, James did. He checked that the rear doors to the former theater building were indeed locked and secured, then returned to the salon portion of the building.
He clicked the leash onto Doob’s collar. “It’s been almost a year. If you haven’t been claimed by now, then finders keepers. You’re officially my dog.” He’d already bought Doob’s tags and had him to the vet for his shots. Unfortunately there hadn’t been a microchip in Doob then, but there was now.
Doob circled around James’ legs, catching him up in the leash.
“You’ll trip and kill me, you know. If I’m dead, then you won’t get puppy food.” James slipped the memory card from the register into the cash bag, then zipped it shut. He tucked the bag under his arm and allowed Doob to lead him to the door out of the salon. He appreciated being able to go straight from the salon to his apartment building without having to go outside with a cash bag.
He carried the money to his third-floor apartment, then locked the bag in the safe in his bedroom. He’d worry about the numbers later. Right now, he needed to feed Doob. He unfastened the leash, then added kibble to Doob’s bowl. When the dog settled for his evening nap, that was when James would wrangle the numbers on the ledger.
Doob greedily munched on his dog food and James admired his gusto. Doob never seemed lonely. Just happy to be loved. James wanted to be loved by the dog, sure, but a boyfriend would be nice, too.
“We’ll find someone, Doob. Someone we both like and who will like us as a package deal. Think we can manage as a threesome?” Saying it like that sounded odd, but whatever. Doob was good as a companion, but James needed someone human to warm his bed.
Once Doob finished his dinner and got a drink, half of which he seemed to leave on the mat around his water bowl, James clicked the leash on him again. He and Doob left the apartment for their evening walk.
Doob seemed to love the four laps they usually took around Norville town square and James liked the exercise. Some days he and Doob ventured away from the center of town to the park by the school. Although James liked the excitement of the salon, right now, he wanted peace and quiet.
Doob walked proudly in front of him and sniffed at whatever he found. Once he and James encountered other dogs, Doob fell in line beside James, but seemed to pay no attention to the canines. James wondered if he should socialize the dog more. What if he and Doob were becoming too solitary for their own good?
James stopped to let Doob do his business. As he waited, he considered his life. He loved doing hair and making people beautiful. Helping someone find their inner glam made him happy. But he didn’t want to be single forever.
Maybe he could visit Club Jester. He’d helped enough other guys find true love there. Why not try for himself?
He cleaned up after Doob and tossed the baggie into the receptacle for dog waste, then sanitized his hands.
His thoughts turned back to clubbing. Who would he meet at Club Jester? The same old-same old most likely. Those guys were good, but they were either in a relationship or never going to settle down.
He spotted a jogger coming toward them and stepped off the path to give the athlete space. As soon as the man grew closer, James recognized him. Pauly. He’d chatted more than a few times with Pauly at the salon when the man stopped for haircuts or just to hang out. He liked Pauly, but never got the feeling Pauly wanted a boyfriend. He seemed like too much of a free spirit. He was a whiz with makeup and always managed to make himself handsomely beautiful. James wished he had the same skills with foundation and eyeshadow.
Pauly jogged up to him and stopped. He mopped his brow with his shirtsleeve and grinned. How could one man, jogging no less, look so on-point all the time? Even now, he had makeup on, without smearing it much, and a slight beard. Unreal, but gorgeous.
“Hi, you.” Pauly took a swig from a small water bottle he had wrapped around his hand. “How are you?”
“Hi, yourself. You look fantastic.” He held on to Doob’s leash. “I haven’t seen you at Dye Hard Style in forever. Have you been working out to make yourself chiseled and handsome without telling me?”
“That’s partly true. I’ve always jogged, but I’ve been out of town.” Pauly smiled. “I missed seeing you.”
“Likewise.” A tingle ran the length of his spine and James wondered if the glint in Pauly’s dark eyes was because of him. He stared at the man’s lips and wondered what he tasted like…and when did he get such kissable lips?
“Are you planning on going to the Jester tonight?” Pauly asked. “I hear it’s singles night.”
Singles night could be good, but it could also be awful. “Oh?”
“They brought in a new DJ and are having games to get the singles to mingle.” Pauly rolled his eyes. “If you want to go, want to go together? Then we don’t have to play the singles games.”
He hadn’t wanted to go, but he also hadn’t considered going with Pauly until now. “I should take Doob home and change, but I wasn’t planning on going out.”
“No big deal. I need to finish my jog and would have to shower,” Pauly said. “If you want, I can pick you up. It was my idea, so I can drive. You’re in the Annex, aren’t you?”
James blanched. He didn’t tend to tell people where he lived and only a few people referred to the building as the Annex. “Yeah, I am. I didn’t think you knew that.”
“Oh, I’d heard it.” Pauly blushed. “Sorry.”
He wanted to go out tonight and with Pauly, but something about the situation made him want to hold back. “Why don’t we exchange numbers and I’ll text you when I’m free. We can plan a date for another day.”
“I’d like that.” Pauly offered up his phone. “Do you have yours?”
He patted his thigh. Shit. He’d left his phone at home. “I don’t, but I’ll give you my number.” When Pauly handed him the device, he inputted his work number, then offered the phone back to him. “See you around at the salon?”
“Sure.” Pauly slid the phone back into his armband holder. “I’m sorry if I came off too pushy.”
“Don’t take it personally. I get kind of funny when I go out. I don’t do it often. I’m not a clubbing kind of guy.” He wasn’t any longer. He had been when he was younger, but now that he’d been around…clubbing had lost its luster.
“I get it. You’re more of a stay-home-and-chill kind of guy.” Pauly nodded. “Can’t blame me for trying.”
“Nope.” And maybe one day he’d go out with Pauly. Just not today. “See you?”
“I’ll be around the salon here and there. Maybe next week we could try going for coffee.” Pauly tapped his phone and an album cover filled the screen. “See you.”
James waved and headed with Doob back to his apartment. Maybe he should’ve gone with his instincts and gone out. He’d just inwardly complained he spent too much time alone and the chance to be with someone arose, but he’d chickened out. Or maybe he needed to know Pauly a bit better.
Once in the apartment building, he checked that his car was still safe in the warehouse space, then went upstairs.
He herded Doob to their apartment and unleashed him. “I spent too much time with just you, but you’ve never cheated on me.”
Doob sneezed, then trotted off to his dog bed.
“You can ignore me like a champ, though.” Silly dog.
James removed his makeup and showered, then dressed in a pair of sleep shorts. He made himself a snack of yogurt and granola before turning on the radio. Almost everyone he knew listened to playlists. They curated the hell out of those lists, making the selections of music perfect.
Not him. He loved dance radio and the oldies channel. Why not let the spontaneity of the channel come through? He liked not knowing what would be playing next.
He sat on the window seat and watched the evening traffic below while eating and listening to music.
Tomorrow, he’d meet with JP Henderson finally. He’d explain why Doob needed to stay and probably accept his fate when reminded of the no dogs rule. The rule wasn’t subject to change, the landlord would probably say.
James didn’t like the idea of starting a new salon at another location, but he loved Doob. If he had to leave the old theater, then he’d do it for his dog. He loved the publicity Doob brought, too. People recognized the dog, the salon and his unique style.
Maybe the infamous JP Henderson would be willing to work with him. He had to give it a shot if he wanted to keep Doob.
He’d never met JP Henderson and finally learned his last name three weeks ago. Would the man be amiable? Curt? All business or friendly? Would he be an older gentleman or a sexy younger one? Maybe a sexy silver fox. What if he wasn’t gay, though? What if he was? What if he wasn’t interested in James? James’ imagination kicked into overdrive. What if JP Henderson secretly wanted to have a wild, torrid affair with him and was looking for the right moment to make a move?
Romances like that didn’t happen in Norville and they didn’t happen to him. He was a simple guy with simple tastes. Men of mystery didn’t fall for him.
He held on to his yogurt cup and let the Donna Summer song wash over him. Tonight, he had no cares. No worries, either.
Tomorrow was another matter, but first he’d enjoy tonight.
Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and BDSM themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best author, best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com.
When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.
Thank you for inviting me to your blog with my new release MM romance release, Dragon Bridge, from Evernight Publishing
I first started thinking about this story around two years ago when I saw a shadow across the full moon that looked like a dragon. It was a dark gray cloud, but it captured my imagination and for a year, I considered a plot that might work that sight into a story and so the legend of Ponte Drago, (Dragon Bridge) was born.
It still took me a year to write Dragon Bridge, weaving my legend through the love story to provide the background for characters.
I researched Italy, where the bulk of the story takes place, a little, just enough to imagine places that might exist, but not enough to describe existing towns as I wrote that might take away from the mysterious element I wanted in the story. I’d love to visit Italy for the art that exists there … maybe one day.
My lovely hero Key Alder is an ordinary guy, worn down by life as many people are. Naturally, I’m in love with him, as I am with all my characters. We meet him when he’s struggling emotionally with his work. His journey through this love story allows him to find his lost confidence and in the end, huge courage.
Claudio Di Fiore, my other hero, as Key Alder puts it, is gorgeous and enigmatic. I think, right now, he is one of my favorite characters from any of my MM romance stories. His love for Key is steadfast and fierce. He’s fearless until he falls in love with Key and then Claudio’s only fear is losing him.
The story is contemporary, gay, MM romance, fantasy, adventure, and paranormal romance.
I hope readers enjoy the legend and the love story as much as I loved writing it.
Tired from his high stress work fighting cyber-crime, handsome, Key Alder takes a vacation on a beautiful Italian coast. He travels from one gorgeous town to another and after a perilous journey lost in the mountains, he settles into his hotel and relaxes.
In a beachside café, next to a warm pale-blue ocean, a performer hands out fliers for an arts festival in a mountain village. Lured by adventure, Key attends an evening performance of fire juggling acrobats in the legendary village piazza.
Beautiful, enigmatic Claudio Di Fiore, the star of the show, sees Key in the audience and is captured by a wonderful feeling he’s unaccustomed to.
Claudio wants Key.
Key is enchanted by Claudio.
A passionate love grows between the two men.
When Claudio’s mysterious ancient family threaten to tear them apart, will Key risk everything to stay with his loved one?
Read a teaser. Key arrives at his first vacation destination.
As he turned a corner of the high coast road, Key caught his breath as his destination came into sight. The entire hillside of a gorgeous bay housed buildings interspersed with trees and flowering shrubs. Several rooftops sprouted palms in huge pots or tubs of bright flowers. Each building climbed the sheer hillside effortlessly from a beach of white sand toward a wall of crags enclosing the bay. The sun slanted off a jade colored dome and sprinkled glitter on primary colored buildings close by. Key slowed to enter the town, already well below the speed limit in awe of the view, he crawled the car to his hotel. Key had spent hours on the internet making sure he knew where it lay. His newfound fragile lightheartedness wouldn’t stand going around in circles until he was exhausted trying to find the place.
A valet took his car keys to park his rental. A porter picked up his luggage and led him to check in. Relieved by these ministrations, Key smiled at the desk clerk. He gave his name. The young woman on duty returned his smile and keyed something into a computer, then she stood and took a keycard from one of the small rectangular openings in the wall behind the desk. Her near perfect English as she spoke to him was reassuring, but Key decided right then that he’d try to learn some Italian. Then I could at least greet people and say thank you.
Copyright E. D. Parr, Evernight Publishing July 28, 2022
BUY the book on new release special discount price from Evernight Publishing only
Lionel and Lucifer are drawn deeper into a murder case, but they are set on solving it together.
Just when Lionel’s love life has gone back to normal — normal meaning the kinky Devil making his ownership known — Lionel’s murder case gets stranger. Lionel’s birth father seems to have his hands in the mystery, and Lionel finds himself in the sights of Eris, goddess of discord.
Lucifer used to be a prime example of a powerful underworld deity with all the knowledge and skill to take care of a lover in the bedroom. But that was before Lucifer fell properly in love and won over his necromantic boyfriend, who also happens to be a demigod. Lionel’s innate magic, magical skill, and stubborn nature make it exceedingly difficult for Lucifer to be the alpha god he wants to be for Lionel.
Lucifer is set on finding a way to provide for the man he loves and to fulfill Lionel’s every desire. But before he can focus entirely on his necromancer, the two of them must solve the case, prevent primordial deities from being raised and destroying the world, and learn to communicate better. It’s what relationships and crime solving are all about.
The Devil’s body in front of mine, protecting me from a threat I didn’t quite understand, that was a new and uncomfortable feeling, and something I didn’t really care for. I tried getting a decent look at the deity that had teleported into Lucifer’s doorless office, but the Devil his own damn self kept pushing me back. It was so annoying when he was trying to be an alpha god.
“Will you cut it out, Beelzebug?” I grumbled, and Trony, in her pink tartan skirt and with her sword in hand, gave me an admiring look.
Nyx, the deity that had Lucifer so riled, chuckled and turned their milky, unseeing eyes on me. “You are a fierce one. Tiamat has said as much.”
And speak of the dragon mother, she appeared in the office as well, which was fine, apart from the fact that she wasn’t wearing any clothes. Awesome.
“What is going on here? Nyx, do you have to scare the children?” the dragon mother said and crossed her arms under her breasts. Not that I was paying any attention to her breasts, but it was sort of hard not to notice they existed. Why did all gods have trouble with clothing? Buttons and zippers really weren’t all that bad.
“Children?” Lucifer said and straightened before pulling me to his side and circling my waist with his arm in a proud <em>look, this is my boyfriend</em> kind of way. Apparently in his mind, the presence of the dragon mother lessened the threat level in his office.
“No one in this room was scared,” Metatron said and flashed her sword.
“What were you saying about Eris?” I asked the blind god… then realized looking at them wouldn’t be enough to cue them in on the fact I was speaking with them. “I mean, Nyx. You were saying about Eris?”
The sightless god turned to face me. “Eager as any human, aren’t you?” They smiled. “Or as the Devil dispensing deals.”
Tiamat clapped her hands. “If you have something to say about Eris, I am interested. I don’t appreciate her harassing poor, lovesick humans around the corner, but I think we can talk while also eating, can’t we?”
Metatron nodded. “I second that. The necromancer has been turning his nose up at my food since his return from Scotland, and he looks worse for wear.”
“I haven’t!” I said. “And I don’t! It’s just been a busy few days, and there were corpses.”
“Humans are quite frail and need regular nourishment, even those who are only partially so,” Nyx said, and they and the dragon mother nodded knowingly.
Lucifer glowered at the other god. “I know best what my boyfriend needs,” he said, but I could tell I was in for eating my breakfast out of the Devil’s hands while sitting in his lap.
* * *
Lucifer was indeed behaving like a total alpha god, and it reminded me that I should call Persephone and give her an update, but that would mean looking at my phone and seeing whatever social media was now making of the sharkomancer incident. Maybe I should still tell her about the minotaur… but what would I even tell her about that? It was confusing, the way I felt or should feel about Minos, and I was actually glad to be dealing with something else right about now.
The dragon mother, Nyx, and Lucifer and I teleported to the already set dining room table, and I tried to grab a chair, but Lucifer wouldn’t let me go. He pulled me close and tilted my chin up.
“How about I take you to Sephy’s and Hades’ place? It’s almost the weekend anyway, and you trained Marc Deacon well. I am sure he can handle things here while you relax a little,” Lucifer said. He was doing his best at looking charming, dashing, someone you didn’t want to say no to. His kitty-cat hair was catching the light just so.
In one word, he was a transparent, overprotective alpha god, and he was trying to lull me into damseling myself, or whatever you’d call it. “You are not benching me,” I said. “I will raise the minotaur, even if it’s –” If it was what? A way for me to get back at him? To make sure he was very and truly dead? I shook my head. “I’ll raise him. I can do my fucking job, whether you believe that or not, Beelzebug.”
Lucifer’s face soured, but then he kissed my forehead. “I know you can, my love, but you don’t have to.”
“What are you saying about raising the minotaur?” Tiamat said. She had put on a bathrobe, just a thin one that hugged her every curve and still revealed a lot, but it was better than nothing. Which was the alternative.
Lucifer hugged me close. “He was apparently murdered in his cell at the human prison not too long ago. Christine just called with the news.”
“The minotaur,” Nyx said, and I wiggled out of Lucifer’s hold and even managed to sit in my own chair instead of the Devil’s lap. My goals had shifted over the past few months, and today, this was an achievement, and I knew it. “He was a powerful human sorcerer,” the blind god went on. They used their cane to find a chair opposite the dragon mother. Lucifer moved his chair at the head of the table to the left, toward my own, until he was sitting right next to me.
“You knew him?” I asked. “How did you know the minotaur?”
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!