If you were losing your humanity, how hard would you fight to hold on to it? What would you be willing to do, to give up, to make sure you remained the human you were, rather than the demon you seemed to be turning into? Hope McKinley, former advertising student turned newly undead, finds herself wrestling with these questions and so much more.
Blood Harvest delves into the depths of the human psyche and grapples with the struggle between light and dark in all of us as seen through the eyes of one forced out of the human race and fighting to return.
“Shh.” He trailed the finger down my chin and rested it in the crook of my neck. I suppressed a shudder. He leaned in, too close for comfort, hands gripping my hips tighter and guiding my pelvis toward his while his lips grazed my neck. My stomach flipped. My insides felt like they were on fire.
Did he just sniff me?
“Ian, what’re you—”
“Quiet.” He kissed me once, twice, his lips caressing, teasing, the heat in me rising, then turning into a sharp, stabbing pain. A pain that shot through my shoulder, up my neck, and exploded into the back of my head. My eyes widened and then closed tight, mouth open in a silent scream as I tried to breathe. I forced myself forward, trying to push against him, but he was heavier than me, and all it seemed to do was aggravate him. Ian slammed his weight against me, and I yelped as the bricks dug into my back. The way he had me pinned, I couldn’t even shift enough to get a knee in his groin.
Shit, now what?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had people bite me in a kinky sort of way, but this was so much more. He was drawing blood, my blood, his mouth hot and wet on my neck. The gentle motion of his lips sent waves of electric heat through me, cascading down, the pain giving way to a pleasurable numbness, and I thrust my hips against him hungrily as his teeth sank deeper. I groaned, my body slumping against his as my legs started to give out. It hurt like hell, but it felt so good. I just didn’t want to fight anymore.
Everything began to blur and melt away as I succumbed to the bliss. It felt like falling; you know the end is coming but you just don’t know when. Is this what it’s like to die? What a way to go.
Before I was able to let myself completely go, something hot and sticky pressed against my lips. It smelled of old pennies and leather and cologne. Smelled like Ian. Without warning, a hand fisted into my hair, forcing my mouth on the warm liquid. I had no desire to taste it, but something inside compelled me, drew me to it. It smelled so good.
The liquid burned the whole way down, igniting my throat and stomach. I was torn between wanting to throw up and wanting to drink more. This was insane. What was I doing?
The mingling of pleasure and pain was almost too much, and soon I was seeing white. Still, I refused to let go.
Wait. Let go? What am I holding?
I finally blinked bleary eyes open to find myself sucking on Ian’s bleeding arm, my fingers clutching him like a vise. I still refused to let go. In fact, I started sucking harder, drawing more of his blood into my mouth, throat convulsing, burning, as I gulped it down.
After what seemed like several excruciating hours, he pulled away, and I whimpered like a kicked puppy. He knelt and kissed me gently, licking the excess blood from my mouth.
“I’ll be back, Hope. Until then, take care of yourself.”
I felt him run his hand through my hair and then the cold cement as I hit it hard.
I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t your typical vampire love story. In fact, love is a laughable concept for me, especially after the shit I’m about to get dragged through.
But you can see for yourself. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Meghan Schubert, born in 1985 in the greater city of Philadelphia, has always been a nerd at heart. Dubbing herself an “elder millennial,” Meghan grew up with a love of video games, horror, and Goosebumps books. In high school, she wrote short stories for the school newspaper before working her way up to editor. That love turned into a passion when she took up Video Game Design in college, where the premise of her first novel came to light. Her pursuit of game design was short-lived, however, when Meghan realized that programming was not her forte; the stories behind the games were. Thus, a writer was born.
A knocking. A ringing. A steady drip-drip-drip. These are the sounds that haunt us. Drive us mad. Draw us in like the songs of sirens, hypnotic and deadly. And we must either give in, or resist with everything we have…and hope it’s enough.
Listen: The Sound of Fear offers ten stories written exclusively by trans and nonbinary authors that explore the chilling, perplexing, terrifying nature of sound.
Kill Your Darlings. When two shop workers in 1894 New York discover a haunted phonograph, they must race to solve the mystery of its tragic past before it’s too late to save their budding romance—and their lives.
Exhibition. A performance artist inspired by the inhumane treatment of refugees finds her gallery transformed into an equally inhospitable environment. Trapped inside the confines of her Plexiglas box, she struggles to piece together what is happening—and how to keep herself alive.
On the Other Side of Sound. A ringing in the ears; a coded message from beyond explanation. It will only ruin your life if you let it.
Her Little Joke. When Mave Kitten is asked to investigate a creepy phenomenon, little does she know to what depths the trail will lead: Ghosts, a haunted well, ignorance, a flapping bird. What of the woman in green?
M/other. I am alone. I do not know exactly how long I have been alone. My husband and child are…gone. Aren’t they? As a storm rages outside my decaying house, I begin to hear and see things that cannot possibly be there. Or can they?
Holy Water. Adolescence can be hell. Adolescence in an all-girl’s Catholic school as a trans teen surrounded by mean girls is a special kind of hell—especially when your school is haunted.
Snipper-Snapper. Cats make the best pets—loving, thoughtful, and loyal. Amour even brings home his own takeaway meals. Except for the stains, and damage to the shag pile, Mummy couldn’t be happier. Everyone needs a playmate.
The Knocking Bird. Knock three times to keep yourself safe. Follow your love across the sea. Obsession threads through nearly every aspect of Steffi’s life. But what happens when it drives her to do the unthinkable?
Bride of Brine. Sylvie hasn’t heard the song of the siren in years. But when she’s called home to help her estranged father find her brother, she’s faced with an impossible choice: save him, or save herself.
Haunt. When Kevin inherits his family home and decides to fix it up with his partner, he quickly discovers that the past can haunt you in more than one way—and he must choose, once and for all, exactly who he is.
Alex McKenna & Death Is Not The Beginning Vicki-Ann Bush
(Alex McKenna, #4)
Published by: Parliament House
Publication date: September 20th 2022
Genres: LGBTQ+, Paranormal, Suspense, Young Adult
In the fourth and final installment for the series, Alex faces his most difficult case yet—the school bully.
For two years Kyle tried to make Alex’s life even more complicated than it already is. Choosing to single him out for his psychic abilities and other life events, the angry teen took every chance he could to challenge Alex’s well-being.
Despite the constant insults, when the bully is murdered and comes to him for help, Alex sets aside the past to help a soul in need. Searching for the killer, Alex uncovers a truth that answers the question why he was the victim of Kyle negative attention, and the answers that will set them both free.
Alex glanced up to the hovering apparition and raised his chin slightly left toward the door. He hoped the spirit would follow, but instead, it quickly vanished, so he took the cue and let it go. Clasping Margaret’s hand, he ushered them from the store.
Outside, the fragrance of freshly cut grass and blossoming tulips tickled his nostrils. A perfect Spring day. The young couple had strolled the fifteen-minute walk into the small village at the center of Floral Park, taking advantage of the warmer climate.
“It’s super nice out.” Alex smiled.
“It is. I love Spring. Hey, what happened in there?” Margaret asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you spotted something.”
“I did. But they didn’t want my help.”
“Huh. Did you get a good look at what it was?”
“I didn’t know them, but it was definitely an older man. I’d say somewhere around my gram’s age.” Alex glanced over his shoulder back at the store.
“How come?” Alex raised a brow.
“He’s in a drug store for eternity? Why? What keeps him there? Why doesn’t he cross over?”
“You sound like me.” Alex chuckled.
“Well, it was bound to rub off some time.” She lay her head on his shoulder.
“I’m just glad that’s over with.”
“I know.” Margaret gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
Rounding the corner at the end of the block stood a structure Alex struggled with for most of his seventeen years. Coming from a lineage of witches whose roots were planted in Italy, the paradoxical blend of spells and Catholicism baffled him. He chose to believe in spirituality, embracing his ancestors and calling on them in times of need.
Alex let Margaret’s hand slip through his fingers. Across the street, directly in front of the church, was a small park with a handful of benches. His gaze focused on the ornate stained glass adorning the round window above the sturdy oak doors. What the hell? Without care, he stepped into the road and in front of an oncoming car. Luckily, Margaret’s scream freed him from his trance in time for him to jump out of the way. A loud screech from the tires of the irate driver didn’t completely mask the language he yelled from the window.
Margaret rushed to his side and pulled Alex to a bench facing the building that had captivated his attention a few moments ago.
“What the hell?” Margaret slapped his arm.
“Sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” Alex glared at the church. “That’s not true.”
“Okay, spill.” Margaret scooted back and crossed her legs.
“Wait, where’s my bag?” Alex nervously looked around.
“Crap. It’s over there.” Margaret pointed to the asphalt.
“I’ll get it.” Alex motioned to stand.
“Oh, no you don’t. One near-death today is enough. I’ll get it. Stay here.”
Normally he’d argue the issue, but he didn’t trust himself either. The range of emotions creeping along his veins and occupying dread in his gut burned a volcano of doubt in his psyche.
Margaret halted at the sidewalk’s edge and turned her head from side to side before venturing into the middle of the road. She snatched up the bag and scurried back to the bench.
She stretched out her arm to hand the bag to Alex, “Thanks.”
“I’m just that kind of girlfriend. Risking life and limb for the guy I love.”
Alex rolled his eyes.
“Now, where were we? Oh, I remember, you were gonna tell me why you froze in the middle of the goddamn street.” Margaret knitted her brows.
“Once again—sorry. When I saw the church, I had a vision. The building was destroyed like a bomb or something had incinerated it. The darkness crept along the walls. It was like…a living thing.” Alex shuddered.
“Yup, just another day in the world of you.”
Originally from New York, Vicki-Ann currently resides in Nevada. Writing Young Adult paranormal, she finds inspiration from events that have been in her life for as long as she can remember. Inheriting her sensitivity to the supernatural from her family, they continue to be an endless source of vision.
In a dark futuristic Earth, the Triad must take a mate. But their pet has other ideas…
Mating the Triad (The Outcasts 1): Exiled to the Outlands, Mia’s sheer viciousness in defending herself catches the notice of one of the most powerful triads in the Outlands. Not one to simply be taken care of, Mia refuses to be treated as anything other than an equal — even in times of battle. How can she prove to three powerful warriors she’s not only the one for them, but an asset in every aspect of their lives?
The Triad’s Pet (The Outcasts 2): The only reason Arryn’s allowed to continue to live in the village is because of her exceptional talents in both healing and engineering. When danger is deliberately brought into their midst, it’s up to Arryn to direct her men. But how can a pet convince three stubborn warriors to trust in her unique abilities?
Publisher’s Note: The Outcasts Duet contains the previously published novels Mating the Triad and The Triad’s Pet.
“Mia Cook. For the crime of theft from a noble house, your punishment is banishment to the Outlands.” The pious judge looked down at me from his throne. With a sneer, I spat in his general direction, expecting to get backhanded by one of several guards surrounding the dais. When nothing happened, I did it again for good measure. The judges always looked at us lowborns with contempt and superiority. I wanted to do some <em>real</em> lawbreaking. Like ripping off the guy’s nuts. With my teeth.
I didn’t resist when two guards dragged me to the center of the great room where court was held daily. Once an accused had been judged guilty, he or she stood in the ceremonial circle for all to see. Maybe it was me, but it seemed like they were just looking for reasons to banish any lowborns in the city. My crime? I’d stolen a bowl of bread. Granted, it wasn’t just any bowl of bread — it was spoonbread. A Kentucky Outback delight. At least it had been back in the day. Earth hadn’t always been so medieval. There had been a time when whole festivals were dedicated to Kentucky spoonbread. Now, a dish like that was a delicacy, available only to the wealthy. Nobles. It was also my very favorite thing in the whole goddamned city.
Spoonbread is a “wet” bread dish made of cornmeal. You bake it, serve it with real butter, and eat it with a spoon. Like a pudding or custard, only not hardly as moist. In my opinion, the punishment was worth getting to eat the entire bowl — which I had, fighting for the last spoonful after I’d been caught. Especially since it had been a couple of days since I’d had anything to eat. I knew when I stole it what my punishment would be if I were caught. But, honestly, you should try this shit. It’s worth the ordeal.
Which means the damned guards got to parade me through the whole of the middle- and low-born sections. Naked. After my little “spat” with the judge, I doubted I could conjure enough sympathy to get one of them to cover me with a cape until we got to the gate.
“You will be sent forth into the wildness beyond the walls of our hallowed city. Such is the way of all heathens. May the Heavenly Father in all his wisdom give you what you deserve in the Outland where He punishes all heathens.”
As the bastard spoke, the guards stripped the clothing from my body. When my outfit proved too difficult to remove easily, they simply cut the material, throwing everything into a great fire pit next to the circle. There was no way I could simply snag something on the way out to cover myself.
Just to be contrary, I stood proud, refusing to cover myself with my arms. Lifting my chin, I looked into the eyes of the man who’d passed judgment on me. He was old. Like <em>really</em> old. Thin hanks of long gray hair hung all over his head. His look was kind of comical since he was balding in places. If he’d been intelligent, he’d have cut it neatly, or simply shaved the shit off. What hair he had did little to cover the age-spotted skin. I knew my fucking with him was working when a most unbecoming blush splotched his already splotchy skin. Am I a bitch for loving the fact that he was old, ugly, and probably couldn’t get it up long enough to enjoy a woman? Probably a good thing. He was the kind of man to take advantage of his position.
As if he’d heard my thoughts, the judge leaned forward in his chair behind his desk. “The little bitch still has no respect for her betters. Why not show the little thief what she’s in for? Show her what happens to thieves who don’t learn their place.” An evil smile should have graced his less-than-perfect features, but, of course, the little bastard kept his pious expression firmly intact. How he managed that when he’d just ordered his guards to rape me was beyond my understanding.
“I will kill you,” I bit out.
He sat back, a small smile on his face. “I imagine you will. At least, in your dreams, between bouts of torture.”
One of the guards sneered, looking as if he’d been hoping for this development. A second guard muscled his way around the first one, growling a little. He was the clear Alpha there. No one challenged him as he took his place next to me, gripping my upper arm tightly. Obviously, he intended to be the one to carry out my extra punishment.
He was thickly muscled and stood over a head taller than me. His battle-scarred face seemed to match his body, if his heavily muscled arms were any indications. Scars crisscrossed his skin as if he had taken many blows. By not covering them as most men did, he signaled he was proud of his badges of honor. None in the guard challenged him. At present anyway.
As the guy pulled me closer to him, he whispered, “I’ll make this pleasurable for you if you’ll not fight. If you do, one of the others will challenge me. If they manage to take you, they won’t even try to be gentle, let alone give you pleasure.”
“So it’s either fight and get hurt or submit and not get hurt. Either way, I’m fucked. Literally.”
He fisted my hair, tilting my head back so I had to look up at him, then whispered for my ears alone even as he bared his teeth menacingly. His actions and expressions seemed more for the surrounding crowd — and the judge — than anything else. Despite the rough handling, he didn’t really hurt me. “You’re strong. You fought well when they took you. If I hadn’t been there, you might even have escaped.”
Erotic romance author by night, emergency room tech/clerk by day, Marteeka Karland works really hard to drive everyone in her life completely and totally nuts. She has been creating stories from her warped imagination since she was in the third grade. Her love of writing blossomed throughout her teenage years until it developed into the totally unorthodox and irreverent style her English teachers tried so hard to rid her of.
Genre: Erotica, Action Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Erotic Shorts, Suspense, Urban Fantasy, Dark Desire, Gay, Vampires, Voyeurism and Exhibitionism
Kamose, undead before he was pharaoh, has lived on fringes of the vampire realm for thousands of years. He feels no kinship to the bloody bastards. Against vampire laws, Kam kills his master, the only man who loved him. He pays for that atrocity every day. Allowing Kam’s sarcophagus to be desecrated and tossed into a pile of trash as if he were truly dead, even God deserts Kamose. Until Matthias, the thirteenth apostle, crosses his path.
Saint Matthias should have been one of the twelve apostles. Instead, he gains the position after Jesus’ death. By then he’s a monster subsisting on human blood. Every bite, every draw of sustenance fills him with guilt he can’t assuage. The only time he experiences peace is in the arms of a much older creature. A vampire so vile and sacrilegious, Matthias fears he’ll cause both their souls to burn in Hell!
As he peered across the room, watching Matthias flip through pages of the bible, Kamose swept his thumb over the amulet he always worn around his neck — a polished amber ball held in the claws of the beetle, a symbol of immortality, resurrection, transformation and protection.
Fingering the amulet had once given Kamose comfort. The immoral acts he’d committed before and during his reign as a seventeenth dynasty pharaoh had left him in his current predicament, though.
Aware he was being observed, Matthias casually pushed a few stray strands of blond hair behind his ear as he continued reading. The apostle had the supple body of a dancer — a trim, agile build that enticed Kam every time he moved. Loathe to employ what he termed sorcery or tricks, Matty walked most places, at least those he could reach on foot. The habit kept his muscles limber, his body fit. Even without employing magic, when Matthias crossed a room, it was as if he floated on air.
The composure Kam sensed Matty feigned became annoying. “You belong to me.” They’d argued the point for days. Kam had never before vacillated in regard to his needs or wants, yet nearly a month after commandeering the apostle from the king’s home, Kam was aware that forcing sex would only exacerbate an already impossible condition.
“Never, you irreverent beast,” Matty responded yet again.
Kam had shared an infinitesimal amount of blood with the younger vampire the first time they fucked, but he needed to fully claim Matty to alleviate the present situation. He’d given the godly fanatic a way to creep into the corners of his mind he sometimes failed to secure. That access had served to ramp Matty’s aggravation to a level beyond Kam’s control.
A prime example — Matthias had used that one drop of Kam’s blood to locate Joshua, with the idea of destroying his former lover. Damn apostle will be the death of me. “For as much as I’m living, I might as well meet true death.” Kam had experienced no day-to-day joy, no physical release. “I haven’t been with a man in weeks.” That was a first for Kam. Sexual desire raged every time Matthias entered a room, each time Kam caught his scent when traversing his domain. “If you don’t succumb, I’ll pursue another.” Strong shields had been set but if he left Matthias unattended, he might find a way around them. Matthias was the wiliest of bastards.
“Why harangue me?” Matthias looked up. “I’ll never be yours.” His scowl contained abhorrence. “My life, too, has been grossly unfair and you, Kamose, are a corrupt degenerate I should have left to die.”
“But you didn’t.” Crossing the floor, he leaned in until his cool breath brushed Matty’s face. “My patience wears thin, Matty. Whether you believe you’re mine or not will soon no longer concern me.” Snatching the holy book and tossing it to the floor, he pulled the vampire from the chair and grasped his ass. “This is mine. Don’t ever forget that.”
“Well, well. Do I detect passion?” Matthias’ stoicism had slipped. “Nice to hear you have that in you, though I prefer it the other way around. Anyway, Jesus might mind you wiggling your dick in my ass.”
“God have mercy on your soul!”
“He did. Gave you to me, didn’t he?”
“Whatever. I’m hungry.”
“I’m not cooking for you.”
“We’re going out. I’ll show you places in town I’m sure you haven’t seen.”
“I’m not diving into any bars.”
“Christ’s sake, how have you managed to survive? It’s dive bar. So called for their seediness. And I’m talking about fancy eateries.” Kam drew Matthias into an embrace. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I only seek satisfaction in bars. You should see some of the waiters in these places.”
Matty flinched at Kam’s use of the Lord’s name. “You, you’re a nasty prick.”
“That spark of fire looks good on you.” Kam kissed him hard, sending his tongue into corners he couldn’t banish from his mind — corners he remembered had once received him without complaint. Filling his fist with hair, Kam held the man close, gave no quarter for escape. It took only seconds to realize Matty was kissing him back. Matty’s hands swept Kam’s sides and shoulders before clutching in desperation. Tables turned as the young vamp’s mouth captured and held Kam’s. Deliciously, tongues touched, tasted. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Matthias was as near to Heaven as Kam would get.
Drawing away, Kam stared into gunmetal eyes that showed little blue. Thunderous gray glared back. Fuck it. “No human, nor God or his son, certainly not a vampire alive can have you. No one takes what’s mine.”
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
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!
This book is two short stories with one thing in common—the stars in space shine brightly, whether you’re on planet or soaring on a ship.
Cole’s star is rising like a rocket as his band tours the galaxies to sing to their adoring fans. Except, Cole’s real job isn’t lead vocals—it’s espionage.
Tarle’s star fell long ago after a horrific accident during a mecha showcase event for his new robot. Then he meets Aster, a porn star on the run. Hiding away together is far more appealing than being alone, but no one can hide forever.
“They’re definitely building something dangerous,” J said to begin the meeting as he walked into the spacious, albeit bland, room. There weren’t any windows, and the only ornamentation on the white walls was from the holoprojector across the room. He faced a long table with six chairs around it. All six were filled with stone-faced men and women who turned toward J when he stopped walking at the head of the table.
J touched the control panel for the holoscreen to turn the machine on and pointed out the building construction clearly visible from the spy satellite holograph that appeared seconds later.
“Planets have new construction all the time,” P cut in as she pushed her glasses higher up her nose. “With growing populations it’s inevitable, and planet 501b is certainly growing.”
“Look here,” J said as he pointed to the upper right-hand corner of the three-dimensional picture. The projector obligingly zoomed in to the location.
“Ah,” P murmured as she sank back into her seat. “Building a crono-generator is another thing entirely. But what could it be for? They’ve never been a particularly peaceful people,” she said, referencing 501b’s penchant for starting wars over the merest of slights, “but they’ve never been crazy enough to build a crono-bomb before. That could create a black hole large enough to engulf an entire galaxy!”
“How long have you had this picture?” Y asked slowly while he carefully studied the crono-generator.
J sighed. “Long enough that officials on 501b have already captured and executed six of our spies during their investigations of this issue. That’s why this task force was called to meet today. We need to find a way to infiltrate 501b to figure out if they have any plans to attack.”
“They did threaten the galaxy president two months ago in response to the president’s comments against their most recent war,” P mused.
“It’s more dire than just that,” Y said in his slow and contemplative voice. “As you all know, 501b is not actually a planet. Planet 501 was uninhabitable; only its second moon, known by the locals as Kamura, could sustain human life.”
“Moon settlements are always in desperate need of water resources.” P gasped as the full picture finally came clear for her.
“Exactly,” J cut in. “Our planet, 214, also known as Lacustrine, is almost entirely comprised of freshwater lakes, which 501b dearly needs, and our intelligence says they’re interested in acquiring. I’m afraid they don’t have any qualms about what methods they use either. So, the question remains: How do we infiltrate Kamura in order to find more information and, if necessary, destroy their crono-generator before they’re capable of building the bomb?”
P’s phone went off, a pop song currently topping the charts sounding into the worried and contemplative silence left after that final statement. One frequency was all that could reach through the protections built into the meeting room, and P’s phone only went off in an emergency anyway, so no one begrudged her the time she took to walk into the corner and answer her phone.
She didn’t turn on the holograph card to speak face-to-face, which was no surprise considering the nature of her clients, and everyone in the room tried not to listen in when she murmured into the phone. They all had something much more important to think about anyway: the answer to J’s question.
After a few seconds, P returned to her seat. J looked around at the assemblage, waiting for someone to finally say something.
L slowly tapped her finger on the table, and everyone’s attention turned to the elderly woman. L didn’t speak often, but when she did, they listened. This time was no different.
“We must use an unconventional means to sneak our spy in, and I do believe P’s impromptu phone call has given me an interesting idea. Popular music stars are welcomed across all galaxies. Often, they are begged to hold a performance on various worlds. We should put together a band, make them famous, and arrange for them to travel to 501b.”
J joined the others in giving L perplexed looks, but a smile slowly began to grow across his face. The idea was extremely farfetched, yet the very thought of how crazy a plan L had come up with decided him. If he didn’t think the idea viable, then how could anyone on 501b have plans to prevent it?
“That…” He paused to savor the idea a little further. “That is the most perfect plan I have ever heard.” He turned to the other members of the council. “What do we need to do to accomplish this?”
“A band, first of all,” P murmured. “That means at the very least a singer, a guitar player, a bass player, and a drummer if we want something conventional.”
“They’ll need a hit song,” Y added. “And a full album.”
“And good publicity,” P agreed. “I can get them a spot on the Morning Mumble, which will put them into the limelight, but the band has to be capable of proving their abilities, or they’ll go nowhere afterward.”
“So first we need a band,” J stated. “Any suggestions on who we could hire? We need people with musical talent, so we may have to go outside our regular recruits for this one.”
P nodded immediately. “The Star Slashers recently broke up and their drummer is pretty good. He also played for the Black-Hole Surfers,” she added when she received only blank looks. The Star Slashers had never been destined for greatness, but the Black-Hole Surfers had been legendary up until their singer and lead guitarist had overdosed on poorly cut and excessively laced Star Shine and the band dissolved. “His name is Kingsley,” she finished with a smile, “and he’s from this galaxy, so he’d probably be willing to work with us.”
J hummed thoughtfully. “We’ll start background checks on this Kingsley. Any other suggestions?”
L leaned forward with a groan. “I have a grandchild who promised me he would become a rock god by the time he turns thirty,” she said with quite a bit of exasperation in her voice. Her son worked for the agency, and she evidently expected her grandchild to do so as well. That didn’t seem to be in her grandson’s plans. “Solomon plays guitar and his mother tells me he’s quite good. I suppose if the ambition is present, we could give him this opportunity.”
“We have guitar and drums,” J said. “Any suggestions for the other roles? Can you think of any trained recruits we could call in to take the major roles in this operation?”
“It’s not a suggestion,” P cut in, “but we have to find a singer who is pitch-perfect without modifications or he won’t make it. We can’t just pull anyone from our basic training program and implant electronic vocal cords.”
“This is going to be an interesting search, then,” J said with a sigh. Not only did they need a band, but they also needed to find someone who could infiltrate the secret facilities on 501b without getting caught. It wasn’t going to be easy.
The meeting broke up soon afterward. P was the first person to rush out, her phone in hand. Whatever emergency she’d been called about must have been important. Considering P’s clients…well, J hoped there wasn’t a galaxy about to implode somewhere.
Z was J’s colleague from the same agency. He hadn’t spoken during the meeting, but Z was notorious for pulling J aside later to voice his thoughts. J wasn’t surprised when Z joined him in his walk down the empty hallways of the building.
“I might have an idea for a bass player,” Z murmured in his usual half-audible tone. “She’s a spitfire though. Barely passed her basic training before she quit, so I’ve no idea if the girl would like the idea, or if she’s what we want for this mission.”
“Submit her name and have a background check run,” J replied. “We’ll find some way to convince her and…” He paused, his head cocked to the side. One hand flashed upward to grip Z’s arm. “Do you hear that?” he asked excitedly.
Z tilted his head to listen and slowly nodded. “It’s probably a radio someone left on.” He sighed. “But it won’t hurt to go see.”
They both turned the corner, following the sound of someone singing. The door to the men’s locker room was left partially ajar, and J pushed it open the rest of the way so he and Z could walk into the space. J expected to see a holodisk left on inside one of the recruits’ lockers, so he was surprised when a young man, fresh from the showers with his back to J and Z, had his head tilted back and his mouth wide open as he sang.
His tone was pure and clean—perfect.
He was drying his brown hair with a towel, his eyelids closed. His naked back was thin but well sculpted, although the loose pants he wore hid his lower body from J’s perusal. A pair of old-fashioned Coke-bottle glasses sat on the bench next to him.
There were two gyms attached to the locker room, one for the regular staff and one for the special recruits. This far into after-hours, only the special recruits had access. Whoever the man was, he piqued J’s interest.
J glanced over at Z and saw that Z was just as mesmerized by the beautiful singing. Z finally glanced back over and nodded. Whoever the recruit was, he was about to be given a new mission.
The singing stopped as the young man finally finished drying his hair. He put his towel down and patted his hand across the bench until he found his glasses. Then he turned around to find his shirt and jumped when he caught sight of J and Z.
“Sorry,” the young man said, his face rapidly going red as he ducked his head. He got to his feet in a hurry, finding parade rest with his feet even though he was staring at the ground instead of facing straight forward.
“Not at all,” J replied. He stepped closer to the recruit, studying him closely for a long moment, which only made his face grow even redder. “What are your vitals, recruit?” J finally asked.
“Name: Cole! Just finished basic training two days ago, sir!” Cole said sharply, even though he still wouldn’t look J directly in the face. He had been trained well, if not perfectly. “I haven’t been assigned to a vector yet, sir.”
J glanced over at Z after that admission. Normally recruits knew their vector location a good few months before the end of their training. He was also still using his full name rather than a code name, which he would have been given as part of his first vector assignment. Z nodded discreetly. He would start a background check on Cole to figure out what had prevented normal procedure in his case.
“Thank you, Cole,” J said with a dismissive nod. “We’ll be in touch.”
J and Z walked off, leaving behind the man who was to become their lead singer.
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.
Celebrated concert pianist Nüwa Zhou had it all. Until she didn’t. Forced out of the closet while testifying at the kidnapping and murder trial of her obsessive former assistant turned stalker, she retires from the high-pressure world of performing to recover at her parents’ estate.
Stone mason, and frustrated sculptor Julia Johnson, spends her days stone building walls and patios while dreaming of quitting her day job.
After a chance encounter with Julia leads to more, Nüwa imagines a life with Julia. When her stalker returns, determined to kidnap Nüwa and end anyone who stands in his way, Nüwa will do whatever it takes to keep Julia safe, but will it be enough?
“Who is Father talking to?” Nüwa Zhou stared out of the sliding door at the woman standing on the terrace, her short auburn hair a mass of curls that brushed the tops of her broad shoulders. Her stance was confident. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt tight enough it drew Nüwa’s attention, she rested her hands on her hips across from Gerald Zhou. Her wide shoulders and sculpted arms tested the limits of the fabric of her shirt. Afforded the opportunity to stare openly, Nüwa savored the view, admiring the curves the woman’s loose jeans failed to conceal. Slightly taller than Nüwa’s father in her thick-soled work boots, the woman glanced back at the house. Nüwa held steady, confident the reflective window coating would hide her gawking.
“Former student. Inquiring about the cottage,” her mother called from the kitchen bar.
Nüwa tugged the belt of her robe tighter. “Early for a meeting.”
The not-so-subtle sound of her mother’s scoff drifted across the kitchen. Nüwa rested her chin on her chest. The unspoken scolding for sleeping late pricked Nüwa’s heart. A night owl born to a family of larks. Her sleep patterns had been her curse since childhood.
She lifted her gaze back to the scene outside.
Gerald Zhou stood close to the woman, occasionally gesturing to the yard and the firethorn maze covering the lower half of their estate. Wind pushed dark heavy clouds across the sky and a gust rattled the sliding door in its dull aluminum frame. He turned and pointed to the house. Nüwa stepped back and away from the glass into the shadows of the living room. She walked to the counter dividing the kitchen from the rest of the house.
“Have you eaten?” Her mother glanced up from her laptop screen.
Nüwa took a breath and blew it out. “Not hungry.”
A frown creased her mother’s sculpted eyebrows. “Don’t forget to eat.” Her gaze shifted to the window. “Your father needs to wrap it up. I don’t like the color of the sky.”
Nüwa perched on one of the stools at the counter and glanced at the sky. A green hue tinged the dark clouds. “It’s ugly.”
Fat drops of rain hit the glass as the peal of a weather warning spit out of her mother’s ever-present phone. Nüwa’s stomach twisted as adrenaline surged in her body. Storms were the worst. Lightning flashed. Nüwa placed her hands flat on the counter and started counting silently.
“Four. Not far away.”
The click of the computer keys increased. “I need to get these figures to Rowan.” Her mother continued to pound the keyboard as another flash of lightning lit up the kitchen with a sick yellow glare.
The skin on Nüwa’s arms prickled. The grate of the sliding door in its tracks sounded in the room a second before a crash of thunder rattled the house.
“Three.” Nüwa turned to the sliding door. “It’s moving toward us.”
“It’s crazy out there. Wait it out with us.” Gerald touched the arm of the woman from the terrace. “You remember my wife, Lian Tan? I don’t think you’ve met my daughter. Nüwa, this is Julia.”
“Hi Ms. Tan, nice to see you again. Nice to meet you, Nüwa.” Julia inclined her head to greet Nüwa’s mother before she turned and met Nüwa’s gaze.
Nüwa stared at Julia, the thin wet fabric of the T-shirt even more distracting now Julia was standing in front of her. “You’re wet.” Her face burned as soon as the words were out of her mouth. “I mean—” She scrambled around the end of the counter, snatched a clean dish towel from the basket next to the sink. “Here.” Nüwa held the towel out with both hands.
The tips of Julia’s fingers brushed the back of Nüwa’s hand as she took the towel from her. “Thank you.” She held Nüwa’s gaze for a moment, the hint of a smile twisting her lips before she dried her face.
Nüwa studied the tops of her house shoes and knotted her hands together as an awkward silence sucked the ease out of the moment. She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself, knowing she was acting weird, helpless to stop it.
The faint sound of a tornado siren spared Nüwa further torment.
“Basement.” Lian stood, tucked her laptop and a thick folder under her arm, before she walked to the end of the counter. She pressed the series of buttons under the countertop. The end of the cabinet slid aside revealing a stairwell. Gerald followed Lian.
Nüwa slid off the stool and followed her parents down the stairs leading to the storm cellar. She ducked her head as she entered the stairway. “Watch your head,” Nüwa called over her shoulder.
Heavy tread on the stairs behind her and the faint scent of lavender and sunscreen tickled Nüwa’s nose as Julia followed her to the safe room. Halfway down the steps, the lights flickered out, plunging the stairwell and room below into blackness.
“Damn it. Gerald, where did you put the lantern?”
“Use your phone.”
“Left it on the counter, and didn’t we talk about this? Use your phone.”
Her parents shifted their bickering to Mandarin. Nüwa prayed Julia didn’t understand as they devolved into one of their ongoing arguments.
Nüwa extended her hand behind her, and her fingers bushed the soft denim of Julia’s jean. “Take my hand. Stay close. The stairs turn here.”
Julia clasped her hand. Her broad callused palm rested against Nüwa’s hand. Nüwa led Julia down the stairs and toward the sound of her parents arguing. As they reached the bottom of the stairs the harsh light of an electric lantern flared to life, throwing twisted shadows over the walls.
Gerald closed off the door leading to the rest of the basement, sealing them in the long narrow windowless room. “There. Nüwa, lock the door behind you.”
Nüwa threw the deadbolt and sealed the door leading up to the kitchen.
Lian stood at the far end of the room, the glower on her face matching the ferocity of the storm. Arms crossed, she lifted her chin as she observed Nüwa and Julia. Her gaze landed squarely on their clasped hands.
Julia squeezed Nüwa’s hand once, then released it. “Thank you.”
Lian turned away from Nüwa, picked up a yellow wireless radio, and shoved it into Gerald’s hands. “Get the weather radio working.”
The echo of hail pelting the house increased in volume and drowned out Gerald’s reply. A roaring sound filled Nüwa’s ears, a steady hum. The hairs on her arm stood on end. Pressure in her ears increased to the point of pain and she swallowed, trying to clear them.
The ceiling over their head creaked and groaned as the vibration intensified. The house shook, rattling the shelves holding the food and water they kept stored in the small room. Nüwa wrapped her arms around herself to stop her trembling. Cans of food vibrated off the shelves and crashed to the floor, wrenching a cry from her, and she covered her eyes.
A warm hand settled on the middle of her back. Nüwa jerked away from the touch and bit down on her lip to stifle her yelp. The roaring increased, as if a train was bearing down on them. Nüwa dropped to her knees, covered her head with her arms, and folded herself into the smallest ball possible. The thin carpet over the concrete did nothing to ease her knees and sharp pain lanced through her. Her breathing was rough in her ears as her fear turned in on itself and drove every other thought from her mind. In the space of seconds, the patter of the hail softened, and the roaring stopped, leaving a heavy silence behind.
Brenda Murphy (she/her) writes erotic romance. Her most recent novel, Double Six, is the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society winner for Erotic Novels, and Knotted Legacy, the third book in the Rowan House series, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. You can catch her musings on writing, books, and living with wicked ADHD on her blog Writing While Distracted. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library, she wrangles twins, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot
I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Lionel is in love with the Devil. It has taken the necromancer and police consultant a while to acknowledge it, and the impatient and overeager Lucifer didn’t always make it easy for Lionel to come to terms with his emotions, but Lionel is finally in a place where he wants to open up to his boyfriend.
After some well-deserved vacation time, Lionel finds himself back at work, and he is welcomed by a potential murder case that quickly turns into a mystery he is determined to solve. Lucifer has been having his own thoughts on intimacy and sharing things, and there are small details about himself he has yet to tell his necromancer.
In-between an unusual case of corpses at the beach, Lucifer reveals his secret to the man he loves. As a result, the Devil will have to learn that a secret once revealed cannot be unmade by any deal. And Lionel will have to find a way to make his peace with the fact that loving a god and letting that god love him is just not as easy as he thought.
The Devil on top of me, filling my mouth with his woodfire and spices scent while he kissed me senseless — that was not something I’d thought I’d get used to. And yet here I was, Lionel Hawkes, professional necromancer and newly minted demigod, on my back in Lucifer’s bed, and somehow pleasantly used to what he was doing do me. Craving it, even. His bedroom was warm although the January light filtering in through the curtains, half covering the floor-to-ceiling windows, was bleary and cool, and of course, so close to him, there was no chance of me getting cold.
“Babe, turn on your stomach,” he said, barely even breaking the kiss as he caged me in with his arms, with his body.
“I need to get up and get to work,” I said. “The Holiday break is over.” And it had been a long one, because Christine, my boss, had either been bribed by Lucifer or she’d wanted to be rid of me for a little while. The outcome had been the same: Lucifer, capitalizing heavily on my time and attention from around mid-December to New Year’s just a few days ago. And me, secretly loving it. A lot.
Lucifer grumbled. “It’s still early, and you won’t be late. You are also not leaving this bed before I’ve had you. So, on your stomach.”
I shivered at his words, but I knew this was not a discussion I was likely to win, and so I slowly turned. Of course, with him being all over me, I felt his hard cock brush up against my own, and that made me give him a small, needy noise that I couldn’t quite contain. Which I just knew he’d love.
“Mmh, you’re so hot, babe,” he said and commenced kissing and nipping at my neck when I was finally where he wanted me.
I dug my fingers into the sheets, idly wondering when I’d gotten used to his large, circular bed and the high-thread-count gray sheets, but when he was starting to rub his cock in my crack, all idle thoughts went overboard.
“Babe, I’m doing magic to you,” he said. “Still your own.”
“You do not need to tell me every fucking time, Lucy,” I said, but he just growled and bit my newly pierced earlobe, pulling the stud with his teeth so hard I gasped… with the pure pleasure the pain brought me.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “Now still your magic, while I make you slick for me.”
Well, okay, maybe he did. But honestly, I’d not been able to use my demigod magic since that one time on Midwinter where we’d had a run in with Michael, who’d just been an angel dick all over again. I was beginning to think that my Awesome Demigod Sled Dog Magic ™ was more of a hit or miss kind of deal than anything I’d ever really get the hang of. Not that that was bad. I’d always been a necromancer, and while I didn’t care for the smell of decay, I wasn’t skittish, and I loved the work.
As Lucifer’s magic touched me, I couldn’t quite smother the gasp that escaped me. His sex magic was just so incredibly intimate, more intimate than every single time he’d lubed me up with his skilled and teasing fingers. I could feel him clean me and leave me slick — much slicker than I needed to be, but I’d come to learn he liked it that way, and when the Devil liked something, there was very little I could do to change that, even less to keep him from getting it.
Since he was still rubbing his cock between my cheeks, he was very soon spreading that slickness, and pretty soon after that, I was squirming under him, just trying to get some friction of my own.
Lucifer chuckled. “Ah, babe. Do you want me?”
“Yes. Or do you need a written invitation?” I said, knowing perfectly well that this would get me — something. I just didn’t know what.
“Mmh. So mouthy again. You were far tamer when I had you tied up and fed you my cock back in Scotland.”
“Well, I didn’t have to be anywhere when you did that, did I? I have to go to the station at some point this year.” I wanted to add I had another necromancer to train, but that would really get Lucifer angry. He definitely did not appreciate me talking about other men while I was in his bed, and if I did, he might not let me come. And I wanted to come. Sometime this year.
“Ah, sweet. How you test me. I have to remember to do something about that mouth of yours in the mornings.”
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!
It’s 1947, and New York City is awaiting the construction of the new United Nations building, the FBI is actively pursuing Communists and Soviet spies as the Cold War begins to build, and homosexual men have even more reasons to hide who they are.
Uptight FBI Agent Arthur Mason is so deep in the closet he doesn’t even realize he’s in one. Clueless about his own sexuality, he’s surprised at his reaction to both Hans Schmidt and his twin sister, Ada. Under pressure from work, Mason investigates Hans and his boarders, including the highly suspicious Hank Mannix, a known member of the Communist Party. Though Mason can’t seem to locate Ada, he can’t stop thinking about Hans and keeps going back to visit.
Hans Schmidt is a cross-dressing German immigrant running a boarding house for “a certain type of man,” and he wants nothing to do with Agent Mason and his ill-fitting suits and bad haircut. Until he begins to see Mason more as a man and less as a government official.
Hans enjoys dressing as a woman from time to time, and once his feelings for Arthur begin to change, he realizes he needs to share his Ada persona if they are to have a future together.
Secrets on both sides must be revealed and cherished beliefs challenged if these two men are to find the love and happiness they deserve.
This story can be read on its own; however, characters from book one, Dublin Bay, play a prominent role as secondary characters, so it’s recommended to read that first.
Even after five years in America, Hans still startled every time the telephone rang—an abrupt, clanging sound insisting on attention. Why couldn’t a country capable of producing an atomic bomb be able to create a more discreet way of letting a person know about an incoming call? He vaguely remembered the phones in Ireland giving a soft chime first, before beginning to ring in earnest, but his time there had been short and chaotic, always one step ahead of capture, so he couldn’t be sure.
He didn’t remember the sound of telephones in Germany at all, even though he knew one hung on the wall in the university’s administration office. He pictured it there next to the corkboard but couldn’t reconstruct its sound.
He hoped the new dial telephone would have a more melodious tone. Assuming the phone company ever got around to swapping out his candlestick model for something more modern as they had been promising for months.
The telephone sat atop the counter in the small reception hallway. Hans swiveled his stool and picked up the entire device, bringing the mouthpiece forward and lifting the receiver close to his ear. He was surprised a call had even come through; most of the operators had gone out on strike.
“Schmidt’s Boarding House, Hans Schmidt speaking.”
“Hans, old boy! It’s Wally, up in Albany.”
“Oh, Wally, so good to hear from you. Is this business or pleasure?”
“Business, I’m afraid. I have a live one for you. And don’t forget I’m still on a party line here.”
That was code for anyone could be listening. Hans appreciated the reminder. The boarding house had its own private line, and he sometimes forgot most people outside the city still used party lines. As if to prove the point, Hans heard muffled soft breathing in the background.
He sighed and glanced at the wall clock, mentally rearranging his calendar for the afternoon. “Hold on.” He placed the transmitter back on the desk, switched the receiver to his left hand, and pulled a pad and pencil out of the drawer. He leaned closer to the mouthpiece so he could still be heard. “A day or two’s notice would make a nice change. But go on.”
“Sorry, there was no advance notice this time. He came right up to the counter and said, ‘One-way ticket to New York City, please, next available bus.’ You’ve got two more hours. I’m certain of this one, Hans. We served together.”
“Oh, were you…?”
“No. Nothing like that,” Wally responded. “But I knew, of course.”
“I understand. Greyhound?” Hans asked.
“Yes, arrives at three thirty.”
That was good news at least. The Greyhound terminal was next to Penn Station, which was only a half-hour walk if he hurried.
“Would you recommend Ada or Hans?”
“Oh, Ada for sure, dear boy. This one seems quite skittish. A direct approach won’t do. He needs to see what’s possible,” Wally replied. “He’s a good kid, Hans. Don’t let him get swallowed up by the Y.”
“Understood, and thanks for the tip. What will he be wearing?”
Wally laughed, and the connection broke up a bit. “Oh, not to worry. You can’t miss him.” Hans heard a click as someone hung up, or perhaps someone else picked up to check if the line was available.
“Will you be coming down yourself anytime soon?” Hans asked. “You absolutely must see David Brooks in Brigadoon. He’s in a kilt most of the time. We could make a weekend of it.”
“That sounds grand! Maybe next month.”
They exchanged a few additional pleasantries and ended the call.
Hans needed at least an hour to get Ada ready, and he was thankful he hadn’t yet put on cologne. He’d planned a shopping trip this afternoon to resupply a few staples—coffee, tea, and biscuits for the ladies’ reception parlor—but that could be rescheduled. But he couldn’t put it off for too long; the ladies did not like to run out of biscuits during their social hour.
As he descended the stairs to Ada’s room on the garden level—a New York euphemism for below ground—he was reminded how much easier things were for men. He wore a simple gray suit with a narrow navy tie, appropriate for all seasons and conservatively bland. Why, a fellow could disappear into any crowd wearing such an outfit.
Ada, though—she had a much tougher go of it. It was spring, technically, but still quite chilly. She’d need something…delightful. Yes, Hans thought, that was the right word. Not too frivolous, but sufficiently feminine to show the world there was still joy in beauty. But she’d also need to wear an outercoat and sensible enough shoes for a bit of a walk. She wouldn’t want to invite scrutiny, but she’d want people to see her and appreciate the effort she’d made.
Hans stepped into Ada’s room and opened the closet. He considered his options. He’d have to use last spring’s coat; he hadn’t had the time or funds to completely reoutfit this season. But it would do the job. It was robin’s-egg blue with a fitted waist rather than a belt. Five oversized white buttons ran down its length. Sadly, American fashion houses continued to insist on outrageously padded shoulders even now, nearly two years after the war’s end.
A thrill ran through Hans as he stood in front of Ada’s closet. It always did, right before the transformation.
He eyed the spring dress he’d bought two weeks ago and knew it would be perfect. He took it out of the closet and laid it flat on the bed. It was a creamy off-white cotton, with a hint of pink. It dropped to midcalf and had a layer of tulle underneath the skirt—an extravagant use of material that would have been unthinkable only a year ago, when rationing and scarcity were just starting to give way. Large red cherries created a pattern, and a back zipper allowed for a smooth, uninterrupted front.
Hans removed his suit and his baggy, shapeless boxers, making a mental note to remember to take the clothes back to his own room, behind the kitchen. He spent the next half hour on underclothing and shapewear, then makeup, and finally a softly curling blonde wig that matched his natural hair color.
Hans was more comfortable dressed as a woman than he was dressed as a man. He always had been; it’s what got him in trouble back in Germany.
Dressed as a woman, Hans absolutely sparkled. His slight frame and delicate features fit Ada better than they fit Hans, and more than once he wondered what it would have been like to have been born as Ada. He’d met men who claimed to actually be women, deep inside, but he didn’t fully grasp that. At the heart of it, Hans liked being a man and being attracted to other men. He just liked dressing and acting like a woman sometimes.
It was enough for him.
The dress itself—the item everyone saw—was the easiest part but for the back zipper, which he managed eventually.
He slipped on square-heeled navy shoes, tied a gauzy pink scarf around his hair as protection against the breeze, and then headed out the door.
Author John Patrick is a Lambda Literary Award finalist living in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, where he is supported in his writing by his husband and their terrier, who is convinced he could do battle with the bears that come through the woods on occasion (the terrier, that is, not the husband). An introvert, John can often be found doing introverted things like reading or writing, cooking, and thinking deep, contemplative thoughts (his husband might call this napping). He loves to spend time in nature—“forest bathing” is the Japanese term for it—feeling connected with the universe. But he also loathes heat and humidity, bugs of any sort, and unsteady footing in the form of rocks, mud, tree roots, snow, or ice. So his love of nature is tempered—he’s complicated that way.
John and his husband enjoy traveling and have visited over a dozen countries, meeting new people, exploring new cultures, and—most importantly—discovering new foods.