Dutch

Title: Dutch
Author: Madhuri Pavamani
Genre: Fantasy/Romance

Blurb: I’ve spent years holed up in the deepest, darkest parts of the city, fighting to keep Death and her Poochas from crossing the dead back to the living. My skill with a blade is bested only by my menace, my despair, my anguish – the strongest weapons I yield.

Then I meet Juma Landry and it all goes to hell.

She is beauty and love and sex and light, everything I am not. And she makes me want things I haven’t desired in years. But the monsters of my life, the evil lurking in the dark corners of my soul, those places craven and vile, bind me to a past I cannot shake free. As the most skilled Keeper for The Gate, nothing and no one can prevent me from excelling at a job I never wanted. I do it because it is my legacy, a fate I cannot outrun, but when Juma becomes my next assignment, each of her nine lives to be ended by my hand, I must decide: the legacy I never wanted or the love I don’t deserve.

Excerpt: Just then I saw it, a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye, a swish of black, so like the New York City uniform of the chic and sophisticated but of a different realm altogether. However, more than what I saw was what I felt. The cold that crept into my bones, settled in my blood, and soothed me with its familiarity.

I knew her essence anywhere had known it since I was a little girl dying on an emergency room gurney as she promised me all kinds of things, love, power, life. Knowing I wanted all of them more than I could say, craved them even as a tiny human, would obsess over them as a grown woman.

Death knew all the right words to whisper in my ear and bring me to her bosom for all eternity, forever beholden to her and her whims, willing to do whatever she asked of me just to see her smile. And what did I receive in return?

Her love which was precious and given out too few.
Review: I’m giving this book four stars. It was; not quite what I expected, it was more romance based then fantasy based and there a lot of swearing and sex. The author uses these devices to get across the characterization of Dutch.

He’s full of prickles, bad language, and rules he’s invented to keep himself sane. Being an heir to the Keepers and having m;urdered against his will. His father is trying to break him to his own will and thusly makese his sons as difficult as possible.

Then comes Juma, with her sweetness and open personality. The absolute need to touch and to help people. Thee two characters are a lot like Romeo and Juliet. The main difference I that there are more extreme opposites. I’ve never read a book were the characters change so much and change the way they see the world.

Each time Juma and Dutch meet they come away with a little bit of each other’s souls, and Juma is the only thing keeping Dutch from going completely into the darkness, never to be seen again.

In the background there is something building between the Gate and Death. We Are given only small hints and I’ll have to read the next book in the series to see what exactly will happen.

Except today.

Today she was pissed—the chill of her glare said as much.

“Get up.” She breezed through the doors as they opened at 14th Street.

I followed, obedient and cowed. It was coming, had been coming for months now.

Reproof.

Admonition.

Punishment.

As we reached a more deserted section of the platform, she spun on me, her dark pixie perfectly coiffed, her red lips caught in a sneer, and I prepared, my body tense and ready for whatever she was about to unload. But then her eyes flashed to the right, something caught her attention, and whatever anger and irritation had been directed at me dissipated.

“Stay here, Juma,” she ordered. I stopped, and for once I didn’t say a word, I simply obeyed her command. Her tone demanded it.

Death flew across the subway station, her eyes full of fire and fury, directed somewhere distant and removed. I followed her trajectory and that’s when I saw.

Him.

Tall, lean, solitary.

Calm, confident, beautiful.

And dark. So very dark. As if light long ago stopped seeking refuge in the corners of his body, the cracks of his being. My body heated in places it should not, my blood pulsed a little stronger as I watched him, unable to look away, knowing I should lest he burn a hole straight through my core.

Anyone else would have stepped away from her but he did not, unmoved by her oncoming fury, unafraid of her wrath. Death slammed into him and together they fell into the wall, tiles above his head cracking from the impact. Minutes passed as she harangued him with her words and gestures and her power to bring the pain.

And still he remained.

Until she had enough, said enough, did enough, and sent him on his way, watching as he disappeared into the dark of the subway tunnel, his shadowy self-becoming one with the dank environs. Long seconds later, Death remained rooted to the spot and watching the tunnel, as if she expected the beautiful stranger to reappear, but he was gone, lost in the ether.

She finally turned my way and started, the movement slight but noticeable to my discerning eye, as if surprised by my presence, my rare acquiescence to one of her demands.

“Juma,” she as she neared, her ire piqued and ill-contained, “what are you doing?”

“You told me to wait here,” I replied, “so I waited.”

She raised a brow and sneered. “Fine time to start listening to a word I say,” she groused as she breezed past, her chill a balm to the strange heat inspired by the dark stranger, one that touched the tips of my fingers and kissed the depths of my soul.

“Who was that man?” I could not help but ask.

Death spun back around, stopping so suddenly I crashed into her, our bodies pressed against one another, a position quite familiar and yet today, when she was so angry and full of unease, utterly foreign.

“Forget you ever saw him, Juma,” she insisted as she grasped my chin in her hand and searched my eyes, probing for something I could not did not would not know, for she was in no mood to elaborate or educate further.

“He’s from The Gate,” I replied, certain only those rotten souls could inspire such a reaction from her.

She stilled and it was as if all movement stilled with her and only she and I existed, the air sucked from the moment by the words falling from my lips.

Finally, she spoke, low and deadly, her tone serious, her words a warning. “He is someone far more dangerous than The Gate—he is a beautiful, tortured soul seeking absolution. Forget him

.

*Madhuri Pavamani will be awarding a $50 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via raffle copter during the tour.

Raffle Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/28e4345f2421
Enter to win a $50 Amazon/BN GC – a Raffleocpter giveaway

Author Madhuri Pavamani writes twisted love stories and dark poetry. She loves whiskey, tattoos, Bukowski, and yoga. She laughs constantly, says f*ck a lot, and dances anywhere. She is the author of the paranormal romance trilogy, THE SANCTUM, and the fantasy trilogy, THE KEEPER SERIES, published this year by St. Martin’s Press. She’s currently working on something evil and delicious.

You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @madhuriwrites
https://www.amazon.com/Dutch-Keeper-Madhuri-Pavamani-ebook/dp/B01MZI3C0A
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25781343-dutch
thor Bio:

No Holly For Christmas

Title: No Holly for Christmas
Author: Julie N. Ford
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Romance/Suspense

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE

Julie N. Ford will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

RAFFLECOPTER LINK:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/28e4345f2439″

Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

Excerpt:

Some things were inevitable. Sitting in his hybrid sedan outside the Jefferson County courthouse, Brian closed his sleep-deprived eyes. Images of his frail father took advantage of his limited vision to once again flood his brain.

Declan McAlister had never looked so weak as when he lay in his hospital bed, sensors monitoring every heartbeat, oxygen hissing through the tube taped to his gaunt face and hovering just beneath his nostrils.

“I really need you to do this for me, son.” Declan had used his stern voice. “You’re the only one I can trust to help me see it through.”

From the head of the bed, his mother, Georgian, had pleaded with her eyes for Brian to accept. Imploring him to do this one favor for his father, for her. Brian could disappoint his father, he’d been doing so quite proficiently his entire life, but disappointing his mother was a behavior he’d never grown accustomed to.

If only what his father wanted didn’t go against every ounce of moral integrity Brian had left. Working for the district attorney’s office, even on a temporary basis, was not a job Brian had ever aspired to. In the DA’s office, guilt or innocence was relative to whether or not the case could be won. The guilty went free for lack of resources to investigate, while the innocent spent years in jail, victims of ignorance, poverty, and public and prosecutorial apathy. Putting folks in jail whether they were guilty or not just so the rest of society could enjoy a false sense of security was nothing short of criminal, in Brian’s mind. No, he’d never wanted to be a part of that world—his father’s world.

Review:
After being jilted not once, but twice by the only woman he’s ever truly loved, Brian McAlister has all but given up on relationships. Then, on special assignment for the DA’s office, he steps into the middle of a politically sensitive murder case where he crosses paths with a beautiful ex-socialite-turned-social-worker, Holly Cavanaugh Winter.

Widowed, practically penniless, and reduced to shopping at Walmart, Holly is dreading the approaching holiday season. However, her angst isn’t due to her husband’s untimely death the previous December 25th, but to a secret that could reveal itself unless she can find a way to avoid the coming Christmas. To make matters worse, she unwittingly stumbles into the throes of Brian’s case and the manhunt for a killer who now has his sights set on her.

His case unraveling, Brian finds himself tasked with keeping Holly and her two daughters safe while bringing an assassin and the powerful man who hired him to justice.

I’m giving this wonderful story an enthusiastic five (5) stars.

This book is the second in the series, but you do NOT have to read the first to love the second. It’s action-packed and both plot and emotionally driven. I was afraid, given the materialistic introduction to the female protagonist, Holly Winter, that I wasn’t going to like half of the starring couple. But soon, it became clear that Holly had many conflicting reasons for carrying herself off as a snob, and that she also had scores of heartwarming qualities.

The third point of view isn’t given to the real bad guy, but to a supporting character. I was a little unsure about this choice—until I saw how well developed this tertiary person was treated, both inside his own head and by other members of the cast. This story could have been carried off without this third person, but not half so well.

Without giving the plot away, there isn’t too much more I can say except: READ THIS BOOK! As a special incentive, during the tour, it’s available for only $0.99. Such a deal!

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

A graduate from San Diego State University with a BA in Political Science, Julie N. Ford also earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Alabama, which has only made her better able to recognize the unhealthy, codependent relationship she has with writing. Professionally, she has worked in teaching and as a marriage and family counselor. She is the author of six women’s fiction novels, including Count Down to Love, a 2011 Whitney Award finalist. After twenty-five years of residing below the Mason-Dixon line, she now calls the chaparral of Southern Utah her home, where she lives with her husband, the one daughter who has yet to flee the nest, and the cutest Scottish fold cat you’ve ever seen.

Website/Blog:

Home

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/JulieNFord.Author/

Twitter:

Amazon Buy Link:
https://www.amazon.com/Holly-Christmas-Magic-City-Book-ebook/dp/B01MRJVAVW

The Berghoff Betrayal

Title: The Berghoff Betrayal
Authors: Michael McMenamin & Patrick McMenamin

Excerpt
The Tiergarten
Berlin
Monday, 30 January 1933
THIS HAD BLOODY WELL BETTER BE WORTH IT, Mattie McGary thought as she stood in the center of an uncharacteristically deserted Tiergarten, shivering from the icy evening air. Even in winter, Berliners would stroll in the early evening through the spacious grounds of Europe’s largest metropolitan park. Tonight was different, unbelievably so. The park was in the center of Berlin, but its size—2.5 square kilometers—made it seem isolated from the city. Yet, the sound of the cheering crowds still reached her ears as torch-bearing Nazi SA Storm Troopers marched past the Brandenburg Gate on their way to the Chancellery Building where their leader and the newly appointed Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, waited at an open window to receive their accolades. It was nearly 8:30 p.m. and the Storm Troopers and crowds had been at it since 7 p.m. when Mattie had left the Hotel Adlon and joined the happy hordes mobbing the sidewalks as the SA marched down the streets. It had taken her twice as long as usual to reach the Tiergarten.

In early 1933, the Nazis plan a fake assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, the new German Chancellor. This fake attempt will allow the Nazis to declare martial law and liquidate their political opponents. Churchill learns of the fake plot and persuades Mattie McGary, his adventure-seeking Scottish god-daughter and William Randolph Hearst’s top photojournalist, to investigate. The plot turns perilous for Mattie when she is kidnapped by Hitler’s enemies within the Nazi party who are conspiring with renegade elements of his own SS to turn the fake assassination attempt into a real one.

I am giving this book 4 and a half stars. It’s a fast paced, drama filled historical fiction. A fake plot to murder Hitler is discovered by Winston Churchill and he sends his goddaughter Mattie McGayry, a top journalist for William Hurst, to investigate.
There are a lot of different points of view, and that part can be a little challenging to follow, along with all the plot twists that happen. The characters were fully developed, the heroine is what every woman wants to be: strong-willed, with the ability to take care of herself, and who doesn’t take any crap from anyone.
It can be a little difficult to follow the different strings the authors are weaving but like I said each character is developed into someone I would love to meet. Even the bad guys get their own points of view. The difference between the SS and the SA is thoroughly explained. The book also shows a different view into Hitler’s commanders. According to the book, Hitler was not the one that was really in charge, it was the officers around him.
*Michael McMenamin & Patrick McMenamin will be awarding a free Audible code for The Parsifal Pursuit and The Gemini Agenda (2nd and 3rd books in the series) and Becoming Winston Churchill, the Untold Story of Young Winston and His American Mentor to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
Click the link below to register for the raffle and follow the tour every Thursday to enter more then once.
http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/28e4345f2404

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Michael McMenamin and Patrick McMenamin are the co-authors of the award winning 1930s era “Winston Churchill Thriller” series. The first three novels in the series—The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, and The Gemini Agenda—received a total of 14 literary awards. The Berghof Betrayal is their fourth Winston Churchill Thriller and they are currently at work on their fifth, The Silver Mosaic. Both Michael and Patrick have travelled extensively in Europe, South America, Central America and Asia while Patrick has also travelled in the Middle East and Africa.
Michael is the author of the critically acclaimed Becoming Winston Churchill, The Untold Story of Young Winston and His American Mentor [Hardcover, Greenwood 2007; Paperback, Enigma 2009] and co-author of Milking the Public, Political Scandals of the Dairy Lobby from LBJ to Jimmy Carter [Nelson Hall, 1980]. He is an editorial board member of Finest Hour, the quarterly journal of the Churchill Centre and Museum in London and a contributing editor for the libertarian magazine Reason. His work has also appeared in The Churchills in Ireland, 1660-1965, Corrections and Controversies [Irish Academic Press, 2012] as well as two Reason anthologies, Free Minds & Free Markets, Twenty Five Years of Reason [Pacific Research Institute, 1993] and Choice, the Best of Reason [BenBella Books, 2004]. He was formerly a first amendment and media defense lawyer and a U.S. Army counter-intelligence agent.
Patrick, the other half of the father-son writing team, is an award-winning journalist who has produced stories for HuffPost Live, ABC News, and Fox News He is a Phi Beta Kappa cum laude graduate of the University of Rochester with Departmental Honors in both 20th Century European history and Film Studies.

Buy links:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/289295.Michael_McMenamin
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3519005.Patrick_McMenamin
https://www.amazon.com/Michael-McMenamin/e/B001JP3N9K

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cushion by Tamela Miles–HOT STUFF

A thousand apologies for spelling your name wrong in the post title, Tamela!

Cushion by Tamela Miles

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE:

Tamela Miles will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Leave a comment at www.goddessfish .com or on this website.

Enter to win a $10 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Excerpt:
Natalie shook her head slowly. “I don’t think so. You recognize you have a problem, and that’s a great start for our work together, but your mistake lies in thinking you can, and should, conquer this on your own. If you think I’m wrong, prove it to me.”

He gave her an assessing look. “Prove it? How?”

She placed her hands on her hips, tilting her head slightly. “Empty your pockets.”

Billy had a sinking feeling and closed his eyes for a moment. “What? Why?” Her expression never changed, and he knew she had him beat. For the moment, anyway. He slowly reached into his shorts pocket, pulling out his wallet and cell phone.

She showed him no mercy, as he had fully expected. “Now, the other pocket, please.”

He reached into his other pocket and slowly pulled out a silver flask full of vodka that he kept on him most of the day. Before he could say a word in his defense, she snatched the small, silver container and emptied the liquor onto the sand.

“Hey! What the hell—”

Natalie turned and handed the flask back to him. “You won’t be needing that while we’re working together, and if I do my job, you won’t need it after. This has to be a collaboration between the two of us, and keeping you from drinking is the first step to making sure you’re totally on board.”

Review of Cushion by Tamela Miles

Natalie Kliebert finally has the perfect life she spent years dreaming of. She’s on the fast track to her fantasy-come-true career as a therapist. If she can help pop star Billy Chambers, it will be her greatest achievement and even sweeter than earning an “A” grade.

The last thing Billy Chambers wants is anyone’s help, especially when he doesn’t see a single thing wrong with his life. When bossy Natalie becomes his court-appointed personal therapist, sparks fly from day one. Annoyance was never so arousing. Hooking up should be easy, but an undercurrent of evil is coming for Natalie, which may force her to reveal her deepest secret.

The problems of their pasts are no match for today’s demons. Natalie and Billy must come together and be the allies they were meant to be in a supernatural fight that may cost them their lives.

I was a little thrown right at the beginning of this book when Natalie (formerly known as Carin in her past life) is visible to the cops that respond to the fiery crash of her BMW, but soon I’m fully engrossed in the rules Tamera Miles sets up for her world. She makes clear rules and never deviates from them, the first key to a great paranormal romance.

From the description of the afterlife in all its forms to the characterization, this is an excellent book. I love especially the give-and-take between Natalie and Billy as they both struggle against their attraction (Natalie somewhat more than Billy). The single problem I have with the plot—and it’s a minor one—is the lack of a reason why it has to be a mortal who fights the main demon. This is never fully explained, and I think the book could only be made richer by this.

It’s ingenious how the author incorporates the supernatural into the characters’ “normal” lives, giving them open minds and reasons to believe. I really enjoyed the lack of incredulity and the firm grounding for faith. I also really like how this book talks about heaven and hell, God and the Devil, without being preachy.

I give this book a full five (5) stars and look forward to reading more from this author.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Tamela Miles is a California State University San Bernardino School Psychologist graduate student with a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development and a former flight attendant. She grew up in Altadena, California in that tumultuous time known as the 1980s. She now resides with her family in the Inland Empire, CA. She’s a horror/paranormal romance writer mainly because it feels so good having her characters do bad things and, later, pondering what makes them so bad and why they can never seem to change their wicked ways. 

She enjoy emails from people who like her work. In fact, she loves emails. She can be contacted at tamelamiles@yahoo.com or her Facebook page, Tamela Miles Books. She also welcomes reader reviews and enjoys the feedback from people who love to read as much as she does. 

”Cushion”, a spooky and steamy paranormal romance novella, is coming late summer 2017 from Ms. Miles and The Wild Rose Press. 

She is the author of the popular paranormal romance thrillers, the Hell On Heels series from the Wild Rose Press. For those who are already fans of the series (yippee!), please feel free to check out the author’s soundtrack playlist for Hell On Heels on YouTube.com, listed as Hell On Heels: Songs from the Edge by Tamela Miles. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLc8TSkx6d_Hu_IVh0lfqHWNcWRZ_yquRV

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/sassysleepingbeauties/
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/jackiebrown20
Buy Links:
Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073XYX1M6/
The Wild Rose Press: https://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/all-titles/5224-cushion.html

Temptation Trials II a HOT read

Like this post? Have a comment? The more you comment, the higher your chances of winning the author-given prize: a $15 Amazon/B&N Gift Card (GC). Comment here: https://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2017/09/book-blast-temptation-trials-ii-by-b.html

Blurb: Lust Is the Epitome of Damnation

Lust, one of the seven deadly sins, was sweeping through the nation like wildfire. In its true essence, lust was leading mankind down the path to damnation. In this dystopian society, Cali and Stefani had to comply by the Regime’s strict rule of arranged marriage. But Eminence, the world dictator, doesn’t play fair.

Against all odds, they both decide to put their relationships through the ultimate test on The Temptation Trials—a reality TV show where every temptation of the flesh was set before them.

As participants on the show, they soon learn that losing may cost them more than the men they love. Cali’s torn, unsure of what her future holds with Cade. Stefani worries whether her relationship with Tobias can be salvaged.

Love can be blind. The betrayal they face from the Trials burden them. Will love be their redemption, or will it destroy them?

A million questions torment their minds.

Can you love two people at once? If a person is chosen for you, can those feelings be real?

Cali and Stefani must overcome heartbreak and pull together with their loved ones before it’s too late. The abominable truth is unveiled, which sends them on a journey that will jeopardize their lives.

The will of the weak is his for the taking. Can love save their souls?

EXCERPT

Glazed, cryptic eyes pierced through me, reminding me of a strung-out junky. His face seemed vaguely familiar, right down to his golden curls. Just couldn’t put my finger on where I’d seen him before. An eerie thrill rippled my spine. The way he was staring creeped me out. I quickly skirted past him, only to have Blondie clasp my arm. Okay, now I was officially freaked.

“Let go of me!” I seethed.

“The time has come,” he blurted.

“What are you talking about?”

“The decision is made … binding.”

This dude was clearly psycho. He spoke in riddles, none of which I understood. “You’ve got me confused with someone else.”

“No, you’re the one.”

My purse, where I normally kept my Taser, was nowhere to be found. He’d better be glad or I’d light his ass up. This whole scene was turning more bizarre by the second. I couldn’t figure out where I was. My surroundings were dim and heat began to consume me. Blondie leaned closer to me. Being nearer, I got a better look at his dilated eyes. His pupils were diamond-shaped, not the usual round. His grip tightened.

“Asshole. Take your hands off me!”

“You’re chosen, and you’re coming with me.”

Though I struggled against him, it didn’t do any damn good. Bright light blazed up ahead, mixed with smoldering heat. I soon realized the light and scalding warmth was coming from giant flames. Doubling my efforts, I fought harder, to no avail. Blondie’s face became a blur, and darkness encompassed me—the scalding heat grew stronger. Time seemed to stand still—my mind swirled in a haze. The only thought that became clear, which seemed to chisel into my mind, was that I had to make the right choice.

The more you comment, the higher your chances of winning the author-given prize: a $15 Amazon/B&N Gift Card (GC). Comment here: https://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2017/09/book-blast-temptation-trials-ii-by-b.html

(go here to enter to win the the author-given prize: a $15 Amazon/B&N GC) http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/28e4345f2435

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

B. Truly has wanted to be an author since she was fifteen years old and is grateful to have accomplished this dream. She has very vivid dreams and a wild imagination. She likes to read, watch tons of TV shows, and movies. She’s addicted to romance and gets a thrill out of action and sci-fi. She writes New Adult and Adult, Romance. Sci-fi, Dystopian, and Paranormal genres.

B. Truly likes to explore different elements of sci-fi romance, and create various realms of reality. She also loves creating impossible situations for her characters to grow from and try to overcome.

B. Truly has three wonderful children and a husband who defines the person that she is today. She works full-time as an Ultrasound technologist in Houston, Texas.


https://www.facebook.com/BTrulysFantasies/
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35802806-temptation-trials-part-ii

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Temptation-Trials-Part-II-Truly-ebook/dp/B075BLH6M7/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504483493&sr=8-1&keywords=temptation+trials+part+ii

“All For Her Pleasure” Yum…

It’s First Chapter Friday again. Here’s a great first chapter from Leela Lou Dahlin’s erotic novel, All For Her Pleasure.

Chapter 1

“Go for the eyes, throw some elbows, and knee him in the dick if you can. If you can get him incapacitated for even a few seconds…scream ‘fire!’ and run like hell.”
Angelia Anson stood outside the recreation room of the exclusive Westwind Acres Community Center, watching the action inside. That deep, gruff voice made it out of the room, skittered along her nerves, and sprang right into all of her erogenous zones. How can he do that with just his voice?
What had started out as a stroll a few months ago, when she’d stumbled across these self-defense classes featuring the beautiful and muscular instructor, had turned into bi-weekly stalking sessions. The man intrigued her with his powerful build, shoulder length honey red hair, startlingly bright sapphire eyes and gentle guidance with his students. Although he appeared to be a lot younger than she was, her fascination with him hadn’t waned; in fact, it seemed to be growing stronger. She wondered about him—what does a man like that do for a living? What takes up his free time? When she had found the flyer saying the class was run every Tuesday and Thursday night, she’d also found out his name. Dillon Blackmore.
As much as Angelia wanted to participate in the class, she hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to do so, though she continued to watch. She wasn’t exactly hiding behind the tinted glass wall where she stood, but she knew the instructor of the defense class and his students couldn’t see her—she had snuck into the room when it was empty to check. It was in a perfect spot.
“Good class tonight, ladies.” He clapped his hands together as though applauding the class and they joined in to clap as well. “Keep working on your techniques, and I’ll see you next week.”
The women gathered their things and some left the room talking, laughing and wiping their faces, but others seemed to linger like they wanted to talk to Dillon. Angelia couldn’t blame them—she’d love to be in the same room alone with him. Not that she’d know what to say. She talked to people all the time, but for some reason, when she’d had the chance to talk to him, she’d totally blown it. It seemed the few remaining women in the room had the same affliction she did, because they looked at their instructor longingly before walking away without saying anything.
“Stay safe.” Dillon called out to no one in particular, as he gathered his things and checked his phone while waiting for the last of the ladies to leave. After the last woman left he hiked a large bag over his shoulder, turned off the lights and locked the door.
This is where it typically ended, but Angelia wasn’t ready for it to be over just yet. She didn’t have anything else to do tonight and she wanted to see where he went after his Thursday class. As luck would have it, they happened to live in the same apartment building, and she knew he didn’t go home. He walked outside and she watched as the crisp breeze blew the long strands of hair that had escaped his bun as she followed at a good distance behind him. Dillon stopped by a bench, put his bag down, and took a leisurely look around as he removed the band that secured his locks and let his long, curly hair blow in the wind. The deep breath he took into his lungs made her jealous of that whiff of air. She’d love to be that close to him. He stood there for a couple of minutes as though enjoying the air whipping around him before gathering his wild hair and securing it at his nape again.
Angelia stayed in the shadows, thinking of what she’d say if he actually caught her acting like a weirdo. He finished fixing his hair and returned his bag to his shoulder, then looked in her general direction, though not directly at her. She held her breath, even though she knew the wind was too loud for him to hear her breathing. Turning toward the street, his casual strides were deceptive as he was moving pretty fast, and she knew she had to keep space between them but didn’t want to jog to keep up. That might make too much noise. He turned the corner and Angelia hurried to make up some ground.
Should my heart be pounding like this? Is following someone illegal?
The wind was strong and she was grateful for it, because between the excitement of doing something naughty pumping up the adrenalin running through her veins, and the short bursts of walking so fast she was practically jogging, she was hot. She was also thankful for the long pause he took at each corner. Being only five feet two inches and trying to keep up with a man who is at least six feet was another reason she wished she had left a few layers of clothing at home.
Dillon paused and turned his head a little before turning the corner, and Angelia tucked herself into the closest alley to make sure he didn’t see her. The heart-beat in her ears sounded like a bongo drum. It was nice to take a moment to catch her breath and recover from almost being caught, but she knew if she didn’t get a move on she would lose him. Taking one last fortifying breath, she pushed off the wall and started walking toward where she had seen him last, all the while berating herself for not working harder during her weak attempts at cardio, as her body clearly wasn’t quite ready for this kind of workout.
When she got to the corner her heart sank as she looked left and right. He was gone. What am I doing? The thought struck that she may have taken this secret interest in her hot neighbor a bit too far, but then she caught sight of him turning another corner and waved the thought away.
She’d watched him leave the apartment building, with his duffle bag and smooth strides, a few times during the week. He seemed to leave around 7 o’clock, but she’d been asleep when he returned. Although it was abso-freaking-lutely none of her damn business, Angelia wanted to know where he was going. Maybe she’d learn something unappealing about him that would make her interest in him wane. Maybe he had a regular rendezvous with a bunch of different women, or possibly even the same woman over and over—that would suck—or maybe it was nothing like that at all. He was wearing loose grey sweat pants and a blue shirt with some sports team Angelia wasn’t familiar with on the front. A tame outfit to be sure, but the beautiful black ink designs that covered both of his arms conjured a much wilder picture.
Picking up speed she reached the corner and peeked in the direction he’d just taken. “Shit,” she murmured to herself. How the hell did I lose him?
She looked the other way and didn’t see him there either, but the bright flashing lights drew her attention away from the disappointment. Club Kink. Here was the other thing she’d been trying to work up the nerve to do. How did I end up here? She turned toward the building and wondered if it was fate that had brought her here. Angelia had been looking for an adventure of sorts and, although it wasn’t the one she’d had in mind, it was something she’d been very interested in exploring. Considering her options, she ran through what her next move should be. Should she ask for an application to join? She owned a successful laundry service and her business, The Crisp Cleaner, was growing by leaps and bounds, but she’d heard whispers about the price to be a part of the exclusive club and the cost was terrifying. She wondered if it was way too much money for her budget, but she wouldn’t know for sure unless she asked.
“If it isn’t A. Anson from apartment 3-B.”
Angelia startled. You’re all right, she told herself, taking a few deep breaths to calm down, no need to panic. He had never spoken directly to her, but she’d know that voice anywhere. Her initial feeling of fear had now been taken over by thorough embarrassment at being caught staring lustfully at a sex club, but there was no way she wanted him to see that. Turning slowly, she was rewarded with the sight of the glorious man she thought she’d lost as she weaved in and out of the foot traffic on the street.
“If it isn’t the man who lives in my building,” Angelia countered, clearing her throat as the deception seemed to clog her throat up a bit. Hoping he didn’t know she’d followed him, she added, “Nice night for a walk.”
She tried to think of something witty to say as his bright eyes assessed her, trying to make herself seem normal, and not at all like a crazy stalker or just a plain ole lunatic. It was a difficult job coming up with something, though, seeing as…well… stalking him is exactly what she’d been doing. With the chemistry she’d felt whenever she had seen him in passing, Angelia could only hope he wouldn’t call her bluff about what she had been doing. She gave a little wave and hoped it might save her from having to say anything else, but he took a step toward her and crowded her space.
“It’s not safe to walk around these streets following some man you barely know. Unless you’re going to say you weren’t following me?” His sexy voice was low and he leaned in as though telling her a secret, giving her the opportunity to smell the heady scent of his skin mixed with the fresh zing of laundry detergent. She may or may not have noticed what kind he used when he’d left his clothes unattended in the laundry room one time, and she tried hard not to lean into him now to breath it all in.
“Ummm…” Angelia stalled and waited for something to come to her. His left eyebrow arched, though he didn’t appear impatient. She had nothing. Her only hope was that he had somewhere to be and didn’t have time to wait for an answer. Unfortunately, he didn’t look like he was planning on leaving any time soon.
“A beautiful woman like you is hard to miss, especially when you hide behind things that don’t shield you, or come out into the night wearing a hot pink hoodie.” He tugged on the strings of said garment as he called her attention to it. “It also doesn’t help that you are the most dedicated student who doesn’t actually participate in class.”
Angelia could feel her cheeks starting to flame, and she looked down at her attire, swearing silently. She could have sworn he hadn’t seen her each time she’d been at his class. That was embarrassing, and her choice of clothing was definitely a rookie move; she should have worn darker clothes. Stealth wasn’t her first, middle or last name, but she was thankful the smile on his face was amused. She’d take that over offended or angry any day.
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to follow me here. What is it you want?”
“Club Kink?” Angie wanted to sound worldly and sophisticated but her voice squeaked. “Is this where you go every night?”
He raised his brows and she realized she’d given herself away. Too bad, she didn’t care anymore. It was too much to contemplate that this man had anything to do with the place of her fantasies. Overload. Fantasy overload.
Dillon backed away from her and stood like he always did, with his legs spread apart and his hands behind his back.
“So, you work here?”
“Yes. I do.” He watched her like she was about to do a trick, with expectation and amusement. She turned away to look at the building and tried to take it all in. Angelia had made a resolution to follow adventure wherever it led her, though she’d actually been referring to taking up a hobby, or trying one of those recipes that came up on her Facebook timeline.
“You work at Club Kink?” She knew he’d pretty much answered this question, but she was finding it hard to pull herself together, and stalling was her go to move.
“Yes. I work at Club Kink…the place that had you so transfixed you abandoned your cloak and dagger mission of following me.”
She looked up at Dillon and decided not to negate that fact, since he obviously knew what she had been up to, and it would be even more embarrassing for her to stand there and lie about it. Angelia shrugged and took the opportunity to enjoy the visual feast that was this man’s beauty. There were still tendrils of hair that had escaped his hair tie and blew around in the breeze. She wanted to touch him more than anything, just to see if he were real, but as she lifted her hand, to touch him but the look on his face stopped her. His bright blue eyes were so expressive. She didn’t know much about him, but she’d never seen the word Stop so clearly in someone’s expression before. “Can you show me around the place?”
“What do you know about the Club?” His face had lost the sudden fierceness and was back to normal, but she wondered what that look had been about.
“I’ve heard you can only get in by invitation, that it’s very expensive, and that it’s a place that fulfills your every dream.” Waiting to see what he’d say to that was almost painful. She could tell he was thinking about it, but in the end he had nothing to say.
He walked away from Angelia and, looking both ways before crossing the street, made his way to the entrance of the building. He stopped and looked back at her. “Now you need permission to follow me?” His amused tone made her chuckle a little to herself.
“Well, apparently I’m not very good at tailing people.”
He put up his hand and summoned her with a few bends of his fore and middle fingers, and she felt it like a physical caress. Was he trying to be sexual, or was it all in her mind? Either way, she was already across the street and standing next to him, waiting for what was next.
Dillon walked to the large door and held it open for her. All thoughts left her mind as she took in the opulence of the foyer. The fabric on the walls was a rich black and gold brocade of some type and she wanted to rub her hand across the pattern. She didn’t though, instead she took in the silence of the area.
“So, do I get a tour?”
He moved closer to her and for the first time in a long time she didn’t feel fear; the trapped feeling that grew in her chest if a man got too close to her when she was unaccustomed to her surroundings.
“You were right about a few things. This place is only open by invitation, and it is very expensive, in both money and in the time and personal investment.” He looked around the large room before turning back to her. “It can help you facilitate your dreams, but you have to make them come true all on your own.”
She nodded so hard she probably looked like a bobble head doll attached to the dash of a four-wheeler, but the time for cool sophistication was not now. The opportunity to get into this club was so exciting she could barely speak, let alone say something worthwhile. She’d gone from wanting to know where her most recent fantasy was going at night to standing inside the exclusive invitation-only lounge of her wildest fantasies. She had tried numerous times to get information about the place, but it was like Las Vegas—what happens in Club Kink, stays in Club Kink. Everything she had discovered was pure speculation—nothing was known for sure because the members just don’t talk about it. There was no way in the world she was going to say no to any of this.
“I’m going to get one of the guys to take you home.”
“What? Wait!” The cold water of his words effectively took the dreamy ideas from her mind. She had thought she was going to get invited into the club to play with her dream man, but all he was doing was keeping her off the street.
“I’ll walk you down one of the public hallways and you can get an eye full that way, but that’s more than I should be doing in terms of a tour.” He unzipped her cotton jersey jacket and helped her take it off. She had on a gray t-shirt under it so her look was still not dressy, but at least she wasn’t so bright.
“Thank you.” She let him help her wiggle out of the garment before she stood in front of him and waited. While she was waiting she couldn’t help but notice how much more amazing he looked in this light compared to how he had outside. His windblown face had a healthy glow and his reddish gold, thick curly hair was complimentary to his complexion. He couldn’t have been drawn better. She wasn’t sure how long she stood there looking at him but she startled when she realized that he had just stood and waited patiently while she scrutinized him. “Ummm, I’m ready.”
He started for the large door that lead into what she assumed would be the actual club, and she followed along hoping she could contain her excitement, and not embarrass either of them. After taking a few steps toward their apparent destination, feeling what could only be described as unadulterated glee, a sudden thought made her nervous.
“What do you do in there?” She pulled his arm back to her as he was opening the door and he turned to study her.
“If I tell you I’m the accountant or the janitor would you still want to go in?”
“No, that’s not what I mean.” Stepping into her own custom-made fantasy was great, but she was wary. It was as if her slow, boring life had suddenly morphed into warp speed and she couldn’t keep up. “I just don’t know what I’m walking in to, so I’d at least like to know who I’m walking in with.”
“I’m an instructor of sorts.” He looked at her face like he was trying to figure her out—perhaps he was judging whether she was trustworthy or not—and she’d be damned if she didn’t like all of his attention on her. Just when she thought he may have changed his mind about the offer, his pursed lips softened. “Do you want to go in?”
“Of course, I do. It’s the hottest ticket in town and most people don’t know how to get invited in.”
“Are you speaking of yourself? Do you not know how to get an invitation?” Did his eyes soften? He’d better not feel sorry for her—she had her own business which she ran like clockwork, and she was strong and independent.
Angelia stood up to her full height and tried to put on an air of aloof casualness to match that of the man in front of her. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get started, or what I would need to do if I did.”
“Club Kink is not for the faint of heart, but if you followed me here you must be very interested.”
“No, I—” She started to correct him but stopped herself when she realized she didn’t want to remind him that she hadn’t followed him to Club Kink specifically. Angelia had just wanted to find out where he went, and it had just happened to be here.
He brought his hand to her cheek and stroked it with his thumb. There is no way it should have been as arousing as it was, but she found herself leaning toward him. He smiled, and it was a game changer. Dillon had a beautiful smile and it made her heart jump. He pulled back and she took a deep breath; she’d been aroused since the beginning of his self-defense class and the slow build of anticipation was making her more aware of the pull she felt toward him. Damn her for not using her best vibrator that morning. She was going to come in front of him with practically no provocation.
“What part of kink interests you the most?” He had a way of asking a question that made her want to answer. Although she really wanted to come up with a good solid reply, she just couldn’t find the right words. This should be an easy question to answer, but her embarrassment just wouldn’t allow the words to slip out of her mouth, even though her mouth was open as if she were going to try.
“Looks like I did a good job of making you clam up. Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.”
Hearing him tell her he was going to figure out what kink she wanted added more fuel to her orgasmic fire. This night was getting better and better. On the other side of the huge doors were two large men who were built like MACK trucks but with Armani suits.
“Dillon.” The two men broke into smile upon seeing the man Angelia was following. They stopped and looked at her and she cursed herself again for following after him in such casual clothing, but how was she supposed to know he was going to be heading to an exclusive club where the guests dressed to the nines? “She’s with you?”
He turned to look at her and gave her a little wink. Dillon looked like he could give her a lot of things—a firm slap on the ass, directions to be followed and even a deep firm kiss—but she’d not taken him for a winking man.
“She is,” he answered in a deep voice that promised satisfaction. What was she thinking? The man said he’d get her a ride home and show her a few things. In her mind, she already had his pants around his ankles and his cock in her mouth.
The guards looked at each other and Angie wished she could tell what the look was about, but it was definitely an inside conversation between the two, maybe even the three of them. One of the men turned to lift the red rope so they could enter. “Welcome. May you find every delicious kink you seek.”
It was a dim hallway they walked down before coming upon a door marked Voyeur’s Delight.
She wanted to follow him down the hall, she really did, but if ever there was a time to let the adventure lead her, this was it. The sign was just too much for her to pass by. Angelia ducked into the room and stood still as her eyes adjusted to the near darkness. As the door closed the light became brighter, and she saw at least ten large windows with electronically retracted shades, leaving the picture windows open for observation. Angelia walked over to the first window and saw a couple who seemed to be just getting started, if she was going by woman’s still pale ass cheeks. The woman was in the middle of the room in a black lacy thong and matching heels, bent over what looked like a spanking bench. The man was fully clothed and held what Angie knew to be a flogger. He walked around, looking for the perfect place to begin.
The door behind her opened but Angelia was riveted to the window like a television screen. She didn’t want to look away, but she was curious as to what was behind the other windows.
“You’re not very good at following directions,” Dillon said with his sexy voice, standing so close behind her she could feel his heat, and sounding even more alluring now that she was watching a random couple preparing to perform a sex act.
“I wasn’t given any to follow.”
“‘Follow me’ was implied.”
Angelia bit her lip. She wanted to say something flippant but one—she knew she was in the wrong. Two—she was much too aroused to use her words.
Dillon reached around her and pushed a button before dropping his hand back to his side. The button was the audio component and just like that, they heard the first swing of the flogger. All of it. The whirl through the air, the sound of leather hitting skin and the gasp that resulted from the sweet sting of pain. Whether the gasp was from the woman enjoying all the personalized attention or from herself, Angie wasn’t sure.
Dillon closed the distance between them and put his hand on her stomach.
The view was amazing but the simple touch of his hand around her midsection reminded her of how long it had been since she’d been touched. It was amazing.
“Looks like you found something you like,” he whispered into her ear through her hair.
The man behind the window continued to slowly dole out swats to the woman, taking turns striking each cheek before rubbing the area with the palm of his hand.
Angelia couldn’t stop the moan that left her throat any more than she could stop her hand from touching the outside of her pants. With this scene before her and Dillon behind her, she was overwhelmed with sensations, and she was finding it hard to catch her breath.
“Shhh,” Dillon’s voice was huskier than it had been previously and that wasn’t helping Angelia gain any control. “Let me help you.”
She turned her head to look at him and he returned her gaze. Angelia didn’t know what she’d expected, but she was surprised because it hadn’t been this. He seemed like a nice guy, but she’d seen nice men turn into groping animals with no thought for anything but their own pleasure, and that was when she wasn’t standing in a darkened room falling apart from her own arousal. She nodded and dropped her hand.
“Keep watching the scene,” he told her as he slowly lifted her shirt and slid his hand into her panties. It was a good thing he was a strong man because she leaned on him heavily.
“Please.” She wanted to say so many things like… ‘Your touch feels so good’ or ‘I need to get off now’, but that one word was all that escaped.
Two thick fingers separated the lips of her pussy and Dillon slid their length across her hard clit and down to her very lubricated opening. She grabbed his wrist and he stopped immediately. Her emotions were all over the place. She wanted him to slow it down and make it last, but she also wanted him to go fast, and the steady sound of leather slapping skin had overawed her.
“Trust me.” The timbre of his voice mixed with the command of his words comforted her. He moved his head to look at her face and she turned slightly and nodded.
The glide across her clit was maddening. It was firm enough that she shuddered with each pass, but not quite enough to satisfy.
“When you look at the woman bent over the horse do you want to take her place?”
Her breath hitched and she hoped he wasn’t really looking for an answer.
“Does the thought of being displayed ass up, waiting for the sweet sting of pleasure to kiss your ass appeal to you? I like toys, but I’d want to use my hand first, then I could return to this hot pussy that weeps with want.”
Dillon brought his other hand up to cup her breast and found her nipple through her clothing. The slaps were coming faster now and the woman on the bench had tensed up. Dillon chose that moment to sink his two thick fingers into her, fucking her at a tempo that wasn’t fast but made her grab on to his arm for leverage.
“You want to come with her? You’re both so ready.”
“Yes.”
Dillon pulled Angelia’s nipple and rolled it around between his thumb and index finger with one hand as he fucked her pussy with two fingers and ground his thumb against her clit with the other. The result was incredible, her body was ratcheted tight and high and all her nerves were wound tight. Her breath came in harsh pants that she couldn’t control.
“Don’t come until I tell you.”
“Please,” she panted, “I’m going to come.”
“You’d better not.”
Angelia tried to calm herself but it wasn’t working. She was going to fail whatever test this was.
“Come now, baby. Come all over my hand.”
The noise that left her throat was alien to her and, damn, it was loud. There was no way to control it. He’d brought her too high and she felt like she was free falling into a pleasure that was way too strong. Her body writhed and shuddered as the contractions took over.
Dillon moved his arm down to her waist to support her as he helped her work her way through the orgasm of a lifetime. When her body settled down and the wild convulsions eased to mild shakes and tremors, she could hear that he was murmuring something to her as he pet her pussy like he was trying to console it.
“Damn, that was hot. I love a woman who comes hard.” He removed his hand from her panties and grabbed a few wet wipes from a hidden cupboard on the wall.
He offered her a few and then wiped his hands. Angelia stood there, waiting for her brain to catch up with what had just happened.
“Although that was lovely, Dillon, I’m going to need you and your guest to visit my office.” The voice on the intercom was deep and, while whoever it was didn’t sound angry, there was a firmness in his voice that was a bit off-putting.
“Who is that?” Angelia whispered.
“It’s your lucky day, Ms. Anson. You’re about to meet the Wizard.”

Blurb

Angelia has settled for the mundane all her life…first to survive, then because she was grateful. For the first time in her life she’s free to be her own person, to explore her secreted desires and to follow adventure wherever it leads… The hottie with the body is way out of her league but something about him calls to her. The days of settling are over… despite her anxiety, she’ll do what it takes to answer that inquiry.

Dillon is a professional in erotic education and a master at Club Kink. Teaching women to listen to their bodies as he encourages them to try things they never would on their own. He recognizes the woman from his apartment complex, but he knows a picket fence chaser when he sees one. He sees a forever kind of woman and he is a committed here and now kind of man. Dillon loves a good, hard, long screw as much, if not more than the next man, but he is honest to a fault, so all parties have to be on the same page. He is willing to give all to please a woman..all but his heart.

These two people are like magnets…opposite but drawn to each other with the force of nature that puts at risk things they both cherish. Whatever the final answer turns out to be in the world of Club Kink everything is all For Her Pleasure.

All For Her Pleasure
Amazon – http://tinyurl.com/y82wfgx6
Nook – http://tinyurl.com/ycm5pelc
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1271912070

Love on the Boil–a HOT read

Love on the Boil by Neil Plakcy
Chapter 1: Screwed the Pooch
The last time I saw Darren Carter, we had just finished a marathon fuck session to celebrate our college graduation. We’d been boyfriends for most of senior year, after meeting at a GLBT dance party, but we had both been avoiding the conversation about what would happen after commencement. I had already accepted a job on Wall Street, but I hadn’t told Darren I’d be moving to New York.
I knew that he’d been interviewing for jobs and internships in his field, East Asian Studies, but he hadn’t shared any results with me.
* * * *
“I’m leaving for Japan tomorrow,” he said, as I pulled out of his ass.
“That’s what you were thinking about while we were fucking?” I asked. I peeled the condom off my dick and tossed it toward the trash can beside the bed. I missed, but I was too irritated to care. “The whole time we’re doing it you’re thinking about leaving me?”
“I wanted to tell you,” he protested, as I stood up. He looked so sexy there, his skinny, hairless body covered with a sheen of sweat, a flop of brown hair over his forehead. “I could never figure out the right time.”
“And this is the right time? While I’ve got your jizz all over my chest?”
Darren had come on me while I was making my final thrusts up his ass, and I could already feel a cold, clammy mess congealing among my chest hairs.
“Don’t be such a drama queen,” Darren said.
“Me!” I heard myself screech and made a conscious effort to dial it back. I was the stud, after all. The butch one nobody suspected was gay. I worked out and tended bar in the evenings. Darren was the queen who made a big deal out of everything.
“You’re moving to New York anyway,” Darren said. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
“Have you been reading my e-mails?”
“When you accessed your mail on my laptop the other day, you never logged out of your Gmail account. It popped up without my doing anything.”
I pulled on my shorts and T-shirt without bothering to clean myself up. “So this is it? Thanks for the fuck; see you around?”
“You’re the one who’s always saying you don’t want to get wrapped up in some heteronormative relationship,” Darren said, sitting up against the pillows. “That we’re just having fun together. What, did you think I was going to come to New York with you? We’d get an apartment in Brooklyn together? That I’d be your little woman, make you dinner every night?”
His words stung because I had been thinking that. Yeah, I didn’t want to get wrapped up in anything too serious with Darren, wanted a chance to sow some wild oats and all that crap. God knew I’d fucked a lot of guys before him and figured there would be a lot more after him. But I always thought I’d be the one to end things, not Darren.
I stuck my feet into my deck shoes. “Have a good life,” I said and I walked out the door.
* * * *
I admit I’d stalked him once or twice on social media over the last five years. Saw that he’d loved his postgrad year in Japan, how he’d moved to Portland for a job at a museum of Asian history. I’d gotten busy with my startup and had no time for anything that wasn’t work related or didn’t lead to a quick fuck.
So I was stunned to see him in the reception area of Phil Sweet’s office. Sweet was a venture capitalist I’d been courting for months, trying to get him to invest in my business. He’d asked me here for a face-to-face that I was sure was going to lead to a much-needed cash infusion.
A year before, I’d cashed out all my retirement savings and moved to Miami to start Cockteals, a business selling tea-based cocktail mixers to bars and restaurants. I wanted to start selling to the public too, but for that I needed cash to ramp up production and make distribution and advertising deals. I’d met Sweet at a venture hive event and intrigued him enough that we’d come this far together.
Seeing Darren in Sweet’s lobby threw me for a loop. “Darren. What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
He looked good. In the five years since graduation, he’d filled out a bit. His normally pale skin was tan, and I liked the way he’d cut his hair—very short on the sides, high and puffy on the top.
I noticed a tattoo on his right wrist—a teacup. And then it clicked. “You have a tea business too?” I asked.
“What do you mean, too?”
Sweet’s secretary opened the door behind the receptionist. “Mr. Sweet will see you both now.”
Darren stood, and we followed the secretary to a conference room overlooking Lincoln Road, the pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of Miami Beach. I’d spent a lot of time on that street over the past six months, talking to every restaurant and bar manager who’d meet with me. I was proud of the connections I’d made. I hoped Sweet was too.
Phil Sweet had been born under a lucky star. He’d majored in physics in college and moved to Silicon Valley as the tech boom was beginning. He’d founded an Internet startup, which had eventually been acquired by one of the big players in online marketing. At that point, he’d cashed out and become a venture capitalist.
He was a tall, rangy guy with a perpetual tan that came from spending a lot of time on his hundred-foot yacht. He’d invested in a Miami company that taught coding to inner-city kids, and fallen in love with the weather and a gorgeous Cuban woman, so he’d relocated his business to Lincoln Road a year before.
He shook my hand and Darren’s. “Darren Carter, meet Eddie Gonzalez,” Sweet said.
“We’ve met,” Darren said. “We went to college together.”
“Oh yeah,” Sweet said. “I knew that. But yours was a big class, wasn’t it?”
“Two thousand. But Darren and I had some interests in common.” I was feeling generous, so I added, “Darren’s the one who introduced me to tea in the first place.”
“Great. So you know about each other’s businesses?”
“Nothing at all. We haven’t been in touch since graduation,” I said.
“Let’s get reacquainted. Darren, you want to give your elevator pitch?”
I saw Darren gulp. He was an effusive guy, or at least he had been when I’d known him, but he was never comfortable giving presentations.
“Tea is one of the oldest beverages known to man, and one of the most versatile,” he said. “But Americans have been slow to realize that. My company, DiversiTea, provides custom blends for upscale restaurants that complement the entrées and the desserts, as well as training wait staff on what to recommend.”
Interesting. Darren and I were in the same market, though coming at it from different angles.
“Eddie?” Sweet asked.
“Like Darren, my company, Cockteals, aims at the higher-end restaurant market with custom tea blends used as the basis for high-end cocktails. I want to take my product line and introduce it to the consumer market.”
“I want to do that too,” Darren added.
“And that’s why you’re both here,” Sweet said. “I’ll be honest with you. There isn’t room in my portfolio for two companies based in the same product. I love both your ideas and your enthusiasm, but I can’t invest in both of you. And honestly, on your own, neither of you is strong enough. But if you work together—”
“No,” Darren said.
“Absolutely not,” I said, before I had the chance to think it through. There was no way I was going to be able to work with Darren.
Sweet shrugged. “Then our time here is done. I wish you both good luck.”
And that was it. All that time struggling to make a connection with him, and Darren Carter had screwed the pooch in less than a minute.

First Chapter Fridays–a touch late

This is the first chapter from an amazing Ariel Atwell book. Check it out:
Chapter One
“If women governed the world, ‘la relations sexuelles’ would no longer be forbidden or scandalous. Men are so vehemently against the thing they love so well for fear of giving too much liberty to the women who might otherwise challenge them.”
—Twenty-One Lessons from the School of Aphrodite by Madame X
Translated from the French Vingt et Un Leçons de l’École d’Aphrodite.
Published in London, England, in 1792 by Anonymous.

February 28, 1831
Penelope Cavanaugh, Marchioness of Huntley, had heard it said more than once that William Lindsay, Viscount Weymouth, was not the sort of man a respectable woman should ever consider marrying.
“He is handsome. I will grant you that,” the Duchess of Haverhill had observed years ago as they’d watched Weymouth flirting and charming his way through a bevy of ladies at a grand ball hosted by Lord and Lady Francis, his dark-brown hair gleaming in the illumination provided by more than five hundred candles.
“And he is reputed to be quite the swordsman, if you know what I mean.” Penelope had known what the duchess meant and blushed accordingly. “But the lad has a reckless streak a mile wide and will come to no good, mark my words.”
Penelope had nodded dutifully as the duchess continued. “If you are foolish enough to marry a scoundrel like Weymouth, he will fritter away all your money on horses and drink and gambling, and then where will you be? Much better to have an affaire de cœur with men like that. After you have given your husband an heir, of course.”
Penelope had been pregnant with the third of her six children at the time, all of whom would turn out to be girls, and thus disqualified as heirs, and so had never had an opportunity to test the duchess’s theory. Not that she would have anyway, as she had been devoted to her late husband, Henry Cavanaugh, the sixth Marquess of Huntley.
But on this chilly February day, as she observed Viscount Weymouth walking—staggering, really—toward her in the early morning mist, she realized the late duchess had known what she was talking about.
Weymouth was as drunk as a wheelbarrow, his bloodshot eyes and unsteady gait serving as the two primary giveaways, the pungent smell of spirits on his breath providing further confirmation as he drew closer to where she stood on the bottom step of the stone staircase leading up to Huntley House.
“Why, Lady Huntley,” he drawled, a noticeable slur in his voice. “Fancy finding you on the streets of London at this late hour.”
“Hardly the streets, Lord Weymouth,” she said, tipping up her head to look at him, for even when she stood on the stairs, he was at least three quarters of a foot taller than she. “And the hour is more early than late. Are you typically foxed at this time of the day, or is this a special occasion?”
“Paragons of virtue such as yourself would say it is early, I suppose.” He leaned against the iron stair rail and squinted at the rays of sun just beginning to kiss London’s rooftops. “Individuals with more open minds and forgiving spirits might regard it as very late. It all depends on your perspective.”
“I cannot speak for others, but here at Huntley House we are steadfast in our belief that eight o’clock is morning, probably because it is an hour when many of us are rising from our beds.” She gave him a critical glance. “Bed being a place where you have yet to find yourself from the looks of it.”
Now that he was standing close, she could see he was not only intoxicated, but also worse for wear. He wore no overcoat despite the chill in the air, and the blue velvet jacket that stretched over his broad shoulders had seen better days. If he’d been wearing a cravat, it was not in evidence as his white shirt was unbuttoned at the collar, providing a glimpse of dark chest hair. His leather boots were a total disgrace, scuffed and splattered with mud. A gentle breeze was riffling through the curling locks of hair that framed his face, while a layer of stubble covered the pale skin of his jaw. Fatigue was etched into circles beneath sapphire eyes. He was beautiful nonetheless, the very picture of what she imagined a fallen angel might look like. Although there was no indication that William Lindsay had ever been anything even close to angelic.
“My goodness, when was the last time you slept, Weymouth? Or spent time with your valet?”
“Those are rather personal questions, don’t you think, Lady Huntley?” he replied affably. “Now where is my sister Catherine? I have come to see her on her birthday.”
“Catherine and James departed for Everton with the children three days ago. And her birthday was last week, so you are late.”
“That is inconsiderate of her, considering the lovely tribute I have brought.” He held up a small bouquet of flowers for Penelope’s inspection. It was a haphazard collection of asters, periwinkles, and daisies of various sizes and shapes, some missing their blossoms, others lacking their leaves or suffering from stems that were bent or broken. In short, not the sort of bouquet anyone over the age of seven would have ever dreamed of bringing to the current Marchioness of Huntley for her birthday. But then it was well understood that Weymouth’s chronological age had long since diverged from his maturity level.
“I know what you are thinking,” he declared with a drunkard’s slurred conviction. His stance was now so unsteady that if he had not been holding on to the rail, she feared he would have tumbled over into the hedges.
“Oh, I sincerely doubt that. It might be best if you came inside the house.”
“Why, Lady Huntley, what did you have in mind?” he asked, a suggestive note in his voice. “I am a bit in my cups as you may have noticed, but give me a few minutes, and I might be able to come up to snuff.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know it will be difficult, Weymouth, but try not to behave like a complete arse,” she said crisply.
A grin spread across his face, softening his haggard features. “Did you just call me an arse?”
“I feel bloody well certain that I did not,” she replied primly.
“Will wonders never cease? Lady Perfect has a gutter mouth.” He gave her a considering look. “Do your children know their mother curses?”
“My children would be the reason I curse. If I cursed.” She gave him her most beneficent smile. “Which I do not.”
“Yes, I imagine they would. You have, what, a dozen or so brats by now?”
“A mere half dozen. Do you intend to stand out here in the cold, or will you come inside for breakfast? Cook doesn’t seem to realize that most of the household has gone away to the country, and it would be a shame for so much delicious food to go to waste.”
“As much as your kind offer warms the cockles of my heart, I fear I must be going.” He tried to bow and would have fallen over had she not grabbed his arm.
She sighed. It was tempting to allow him to go on his merry way, but anything might happen to him in this sorry state. He was family, after all, albeit by marriage.
“I think you are coming inside,” Penelope said, tugging his arm and pulling him up the stairs toward the front door. She expected him to protest, but he proved unexpectedly compliant, following her almost obediently in the house and into the warmth of the library, where a fire had been lit.
“Now try and behave while I go to see if breakfast is ready,” she ordered sternly. Weymouth nodded, and she strode down the hallway to find the butler, with whom she placed an order for porridge, eggs, kidneys, sausage, and toast.
She was gone only a few minutes, but that wasn’t fast enough. Returning to the library, she found him dead asleep, his long legs stretching almost the length of the leather sofa where he was sprawled. With help from the footman, Weymouth’s boots were removed, and he was covered with a blanket. He did not stir, so sound was his slumber.
The servant departed the room, leaving Penelope to stare pensively at the viscount. He was tall, his body lean but muscular, with no sign of a drunkard’s paunch despite a life largely spent in idleness and debauchery. When sleeping, he appeared much younger and more vulnerable, and she could easily picture the boy he had once been.
A dark lock of hair had fallen against his forehead, and Penelope felt something inside her stir at the sight of him lying there, looking so vulnerable. Without thinking, she leaned over to push the hair back off his face, stopping herself only at the last moment. He was not a boy, but a grown man, and she had no business touching him, no business at all. She forced herself to step back out of temptation’s way.
The duchess had been right. As he had demonstrated this very morning, Viscount Weymouth was not the sort of man a respectable woman should ever consider marrying. As for what else the duchess had believed him to be good for—well, that was something she simply wasn’t going to contemplate.

Morning, April 3, 1831
It was the incessant pounding that finally awakened him. At first, he had thought it was only the throbbing in his head. But when it did not stop, he realized someone was seeking entrance to his bedchamber.
Bang, bang, bang.
Quite insistently at that. He opened his eyes and closed them just as quickly, the pain vibrating with sharp ferocity from his scalp down through his eyeballs. He had not reached his bed until dawn, and his throat and mouth were both damnably dry, as if the whiskey bottle had sucked all the spit out of him.
He shifted and became aware that he was still fully dressed—never a good sign—and that he was not sleeping in his bed, but lying on something far less comfortable. Something downright uncomfortable in fact.
Where was he, then? Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and winced as memories far more painful than any hangover came flooding back. Weymouth House emptied almost entirely by creditors. The house and land at Rossendale Hills near foreclosure. The people who were counting on him. His solicitor’s ominous words ringing in his head like the voice of doom.
“You must sign over the estate, my lord, or you will be sent to Marshalsea prison until the debts are settled.”
The debts would never be settled, for there was no money with which to settle them, and as the bitter taste of his failure swept over him, he closed his eyes in search of sleep’s sweet oblivion. But it was not to be, at least not this morning.
Bang, bang, bang. Whoever was knocking upon his door seemed determined to deprive him of even the comfort of his slumbers.
“Haven’t you vultures already picked my bones clean?” he growled, his breath visible in the cold air, for the small fire in the hearth had long since burned out.
Bang, bang, bang.
Pulling himself to a sitting position, he then swung his legs over the side of the narrow couch where he had been sleeping. The motion was almost more than his throbbing head could endure, and dizziness passed over him in waves.
“Steady now, old man,” he muttered, forcing himself to rise. “One step in front of the other.” He made his way across the vast sitting room, now empty of the fine furnishings and paintings that had decorated the space for his entire life, and out into the once grand hallway before at last reaching the massive front door. Feeling as if he had traversed the Sahara Desert, he unfastened the latch and pulled open the door. Standing on his doorstep was a well-appointed gentleman dressed in a dark overcoat and beaver hat, a gloved fist raised apparently in preparation for another cruel round of knocking.
“For the love of God, stop that infernal racket, for I am trying to sleep,” William snarled.
“My apologies for disturbing you, sir.” Through William’s bleary eyes, the man did not appear to be the least bit sorry. “I am seeking Viscount Weymouth.”
“Sadly for me, you have found him.” William pinched the bridge of his nose, desperately seeking some relief from the stabbing pain in his skull.
“Good morning, sir,” said the man with a respectful bow. “Laurence Heath at your service. I am here to discuss a matter that I believe will be of great interest to you.”
“If you are a bill collector, you have come too late, for anything of value is long gone. Now go away and leave me in peace.” William moved to shut the door in the man’s face, but a well-polished boot placed in the doorway frustrated his attempts.
“Quite the other way around, sir. I am a solicitor,” the older man said earnestly. He looked around the street meaningfully. “Might we talk in a more private setting?”
“I doubt there is anyone within earshot who will give a tinker’s damn about whatever it is you have to say,” William said wearily.
The solicitor gave him a beseeching look. “This is a matter of great…delicacy, sir. It really would be best if we went inside.”
It seemed the man was not going to give up without gaining a private audience. “Come in if you must,” William said, ushering Laurence Heath through the door with a grand sweep of his hand as if he were welcoming him into St. James’s Palace instead of a mansion that had been stripped of nearly every comfort and ornament by his creditors. He saw the place the way Heath must be seeing it, the once grand room now containing only a few scattered pieces of furniture, including the settee where he had passed a most uncomfortable night. It was better than sleeping on the floor, but only just.
“Do not keep me waiting, man, for I have a busy day of social engagements ahead of me,” William quipped.
Heath responded with a pained smile. “This will not take long, sir.” The solicitor removed his hat to reveal a mane of silver hair held back in a black ribbon. From his coat pocket, he withdrew a rolled sheet of vellum and handed it to William. “As I said, I do believe you may find this to be of interest.”
William unfurled the sheet and began to read. “In exchange for services, a sum of…shall be paid to Viscount Weymouth…agreement to commence…and continue until…both parties agree to keep the terms entirely confidential.” William looked up. “Is this some sort of jest?”
“Not at all. It is a legitimate offer from a benefactor who wishes to provide you with the opportunity to, shall we say, recover from your current financial difficulties,” Heath replied.
“Who is this benefactor?” William demanded, feeling his temper rise. “If it is Huntley, you will see me dead before I will be found hanging on his sleeve.”
“If you are referring to your brother-in-law, the Marquess of Huntley, rest assured that neither he nor your sister, Lady Huntley, are involved in any way,” said Heath, his firm manner convincing William that he was not dissembling.
William scanned the document again, searching for clues to the mystery unexpectedly confronting him. “Who is it, then? And what sort of service am I expected to provide?”
“I could not say, sir.” Heath’s expression was inscrutable. “That would be a private matter between you and the other party.”
William gave a snort of disgust and flung the document back at Heath. “Times are difficult, but I am not so loose in the haft to sell myself to some old man—” he began, but the solicitor interrupted him.
“Not a man, my lord, but a woman. A lady,” said Heath, carefully rolling up the contract and setting it down on the room’s one remaining table. “Quite a fine lady, in fact.”
“A lady?” William was momentary flummoxed by that. “Which lady?”
“I am not at liberty to reveal her identity,” Heath said. His tone was almost prim, and William gained the distinct sense that the solicitor did not approve of the mystery lady’s proposal—whatever it might be.
William swiped an impatient hand across his brow to keep the hair out of his eyes. He desperately needed to get it cut, but his valet had resigned two months ago to take a job “where the gentleman can pay me, sir.” He couldn’t blame the man, but it had been damned inconvenient to be left without anyone to assist him with his toilet. “Will I be expected to commit a crime? Knock off an inconvenient husband, or have a go at stealing the crown jewels?”
The solicitor compressed his lips into a terse line. “You will not be asked to do anything of a criminal nature. Beyond that, I cannot be more informative, as the lady herself wishes to explain the particulars. I will leave the contract here for your consideration. If you are interested in pursuing this opportunity, you need only contact me, and I will arrange a meeting between you and the lady in question. But do not tarry long, as an answer is required by the end of the week.”
William did some rapid calculations in his head. The funds on offer were damned tempting. Enough to pay off his largest creditors and get his estate back on its feet. For the first time in months—nay, years—he felt a faint spark of hope.
“That’s a fair amount of blunt—enough to stake me for at least a month or two of faro,” William said carelessly and was rewarded with the solicitor’s look of dismay.
“It is none of my business, sir, but you might be wise to consider putting aside some of the funds so that you can assure the future of your patrimony.”
William gave the solicitor a haughty look. “You’d be wise to refrain from giving unsolicited advice to your betters, Heath,” he said coldly, sounding a right jackass, even to his own ears. From the pained look on Heath’s face, the man obviously thought William a pompous fool.
But the solicitor was far too circumspect to betray his personal thoughts. “My apologies, sir,” he said, handing William a card. “Send word to me at this address when you have made your decision.”
William pictured the families who would lose their homes when Rossendale was divided and sold off. Was there anything that this lady could want from him, short of murder, which he was not prepared to do?
Unbidden, he heard his dead father’s voice whispering to him.
What sort of man sells himself for money? Are you a tradesman now? Where is your pride, boy?
Go back to hell where you belong, you old bastard.
“I will meet with this mysterious lady,” William said to the solicitor. “But it must be today, for I am expected at Crockford’s at midnight and will want the cash in hand by then.”
Heath nodded, looking not at all surprised. Maybe the man made these sorts of arrangements all the time. “I shall let her know to expect you.”

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Gimme Shelter
Chapter One

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Gimme SHelter
Chapter One

Proximity sensors blared and red warning lights flashed madly, disrupting the everyday routine on the bridge of the starship Brizo. Captain Zen Ahbramez looked up from the comm screen he’d been perusing. “Report, Mengs.”
Already in action, his Gulrian navigator’s long, agile fingers flew over the command keys at his station. “There’s a slow moving ship crossing our projected course. Unless we change speed or course we’re going to collide.”
Familiar tension readied Zen’s mind and body for action. He took a deep breath of recycled air. The customary hints of metal and machinery registered against his sensitive palate, a barely there but recognizable taste. “Distance?” he asked, redirecting his gaze to the forward view screen.
“Half a parsec, more or less.”
“As usual, Mengs, your pinpoint accuracy is underwhelming.”
The intricately carved wood beads in Mengs’ short braids clacked as his chair swiveled. He fixed his orange-eyed gaze on the captain. “Yeah well, you get the good stuff when it counts. You know me, I don’t like to show off, and it’s not like you have to make an instant decision.”
Chuckles accompanied the navigator’s observation. Zen rolled his eyes and returned the grins directed at him by two of the other three crew members present on the bridge.
“Serk,” Zen said, his gaze turning toward his second in command, “Run a scan on that ship.”
“Already in progress.” As usual, the Adarian had anticipated Zen’s order. His fingers — retractable claws currently hidden — were finessing the control keys for every bit of information as his almond-shaped, emerald-green eyes remained glued to the monitor that scrolled info at its operator’s command. “It seems we have a… Captain, that ship is a Dukati shuttle craft.”
With the ship’s identity revealed, the jovial mood on the bridge vanished and every person present went from relaxed to battle ready. The Dukati were a warrior race known for their random and ruthless raids against anyone not strong enough to defend themselves. Zen was hit by a sting of anticipation laced with hostility. He was more than willing to engage in conflict should the Dukati choose to initiate it, but caution warred with aggression to keep his hatred for them in check. For the sake of his crew it would be better to avoid trouble.
“Shields up. Scanners at max. Harren, report any subspace chatter,” Zen ordered his communications specialist. “Serk, any other ships in the area and how many on the shuttle?”
“No other ships currently in range of our scanners. One life sign on the shuttle and they don’t appear to be doing too well.”
“Explain.”
“Life signs are weak. The life-support system is failing.”
“Give me a thorough scan on the shuttle right down to the last nut and bolt. On the passenger too. If there’s so much as a hair out of place I want to know about it. As fast as you can, Serk.”
“On it, Captain.”
“Mengs, take us out of warp. Clay, I want everyone armed. We’re on red alert, people.”
“Aye, Captain.” Clay Delgato, in charge of ship’s security, turned to a panel near his station and keyed in the code which opened it. A whisper of sound accompanied the slide of the door as it revealed sleek black scorch pistols and the sturdy, woven belts that would carry them. He went quickly from crew member to crew member passing one set each to Zen and the others.
Serk, who was still engaged with his scans, held his arms out, giving Clay, his mate, room to fasten the belt at his waist. Green eyes met brown and a quick smile was exchanged before Serk made his report. “Captain, the scanners are finding no anomalies. The shuttle and its passenger appear to be clean and from what the biosensors are telling me, the passenger is not Dukati.”
“That’s fortunate. A Dukati I’d just as soon launch out an airlock no matter what shape he’s in. All right gentlemen, it seems we have a rescue to enact. Mengs, I want a tractor beam on that ship. Haul it into the hangar bay. Clay, you’re with me. Harren, tell Doc and Jacks to meet us in the hangar bay. Serk, you have the bridge and keep an eye on the long range scanners. I don’t want any unexpected guests crashing our party.”
Various voices called out, “Aye, Captain,” as Zen prepared to leave the bridge.
With Clay at his side he strode to a set of double doors that slid open to reveal a small chamber. As soon as the men entered the brightly lit cubicle, the doors slid shut behind them and they were scanned by the internal sensors of the bioporter.
“Hangar bay,” Zen called out.
“Hangar bay,” repeated a digitally synthesized yet lyrical voice.
Absolute darkness engulfed them and for a split second Zen wrestled with the surge of adrenaline that sometimes spilled through his veins and made his heart beat faster when being transported. The sensation of being struck blind was disconcerting until tiny whirling streams of light twinkled, blazed, then gradually faded. With only the tiniest sensation of having been moved, Zen’s vision returned unimpeded. He and Clay stepped out of the bioport chamber and into the safety zone sealed behind a set of thick, metal-framed glass doors.
The hangar bay held two six-passenger shuttles neatly parked in their designated places beside four hover cycles. Other than a small work area for the ship’s engineer, the rest was open space. Caution lights flashed as the hangar bay doors slowly opened.
A rainbow swirl of colors indicated the presence of the atmospheric membrane which prevented everything in the hangar bay from being sucked out into space. As the Dukati shuttlecraft moved forward, the membrane yielded to the pressure, but rather than break, it melded itself to the small ship and clung to its every contour. The ship eased through and was brought to a halt, settling in its new berth near one of the Brizo’s shuttlecraft.
When the hangar bay doors were again secure, the safety zone doors automatically opened and Zen and Clay headed toward the shuttle. A chime informed them of an incoming transport. Both men paused and looked back as the bioport’s interior doors slid open. A tall man and a slim woman stepped out. Without a word, Clay handed each of them a holstered scorch pistol.
“Dukati shuttlecraft. Latest design too. We salvaging this baby?” Meral Jackson, ship’s engineer, asked as she belted on her weapon. Her hazel eyes twinkled with good-natured avarice. “I’d love to get my hands on her.”
“Why does something so innocuous sound so lewd coming out of your mouth?” Doc’s thin lips were pinched in a grimace as one eyebrow rose.
Jackson grinned. “Can I help it if I admire a shapely hull?”
“Shouldn’t you concentrate on getting the hatch open? Serk’s last report gives the passenger approximately seventeen minutes before the oxygen runs out.”
“Seventeen minutes? Piece of cake. I’ll have it open in less than two.”
Doc’s snort of disbelief brought a speculative gleam to Jackson’s eyes. “Wanna bet?”
“Bet what?”
“Five greens at the next poker game.”
“A hundred and twenty-five credits?”
“You in or out?”
Doc aimed a squinty-eyed scowl at Jackson. “In.”
“Time me.” Jackson turned her attention to the shuttle and dug into her tool pouch, which was perpetually attached to her by a cross-body strap.
Directing a look of sympathy toward the ship’s main medical practitioner, Zen shook his head. “I’m pretty sure you’ve been suckered, Doc.”
“We’ll see.”
As Zen watched, Jackson found whatever she’d been looking for and set to work. Muscles flexed under the smooth tanned skin of her bare arms as she punched a series of keys on the flat, rectangular unit she held in her hand. A slight turn of her head brought her profile into relief and set a few glimmers of light chasing through the strands of her blonde pixie-cut.
Having learned at her father’s knee from the time she was old enough to pick up a sonic wrench, Jackson knew her way around a multitude of ship types and systems. Zen had little doubt the shuttlecraft door would give her any trouble.
From the small unit she held in her hand, a continual series of chirps issued as a cycle of colored light beams played over the closed shuttle hatch. As the seconds passed, one by one each beam turned green.
“Twenty seconds,” Doc warned.
“No worries. It’s… done!” Jackson’s announcement was triumphant as the hatch slowly lifted. Stepping back, she made way as the steps began to lower.
“Damn,” Doc cursed softly. “Don’t you have anything better to do than practice breaking and entering?”
“For your information, nothing broke and no, I don’t. As ship’s engineer I see to it the Brizo performs like a Xanasian courtesan being paid double. Smooth and compliant.”
“You’d know.”
“A girl’s gotta have her fun.” Jackson’s unabashed wink brought a quick grin to Zen’s lips and snort of amusement from Clay.
All four of them quickly sobered as the now fully opened hatch ceased all movement. Zen motioned Jackson and Doc back. Weapons drawn, he and Clay approached the yawning hatch. Touching the small, round and flat metal disc attached to his collar, Zen voiced a soft question. “Serk, any change in the scans?”
“None, Captain. All readings remain within normal parameters. The passenger hasn’t moved. Nothing on long range scanners.”
The shuttle’s inner lights were dim, the interior shadowed, with no sign of the passenger. About to take a step forward, a quick negative motion from Clay stopped Zen in his tracks. Zen gave way and allowed his security officer to precede him. Clay went aft where the last scan placed the shuttle’s passenger. As soon as Clay stepped within the murky interior of the shuttle, Zen lost sight of him.
His own foray into the ship was accomplished without incident and he turned to the fore and the ship’s controls. Each space along the way was examined, between and under seats in case something had remained undetected. Every unoccupied space was clear and the shuttle quiet as a tomb.
Reaching the ship’s control’s Zen gave them a quick once over. Except for the blinking lights indicating the failing life support system, everything else seemed in order.
“Captain?”
Zen touched his communications disc. “You find our guest?”
“Yeah. Can you bring up the lights? We need Doc in here on the double and he’s gonna need ‘em.”
“Right away.”
Zen called Doc and Jackson in and adjusted the lighting while waiting for Jackson to join him at the controls. “Do a thorough exam on all systems, Jacks,” Zen ordered when she appeared. “Make sure this thing can’t be traced. Something doesn’t seem right here. Why would the life support fail? This shuttle’s so new the paint’s barely dried.”
“I’m on it, Zen.” Jackson seated herself at the controls and began running ship diagnostics.
Leaving Jackson to her work, Zen made his way back to Clay and Doc. The closer he came, the more pungent the scent. The coppery tang assaulting his heightened sense of smell weighed heavy on the still air. Doc was squatting near a body, his med scanner beeping and flashing in a way Zen could tell bode ill. Side-stepping Clay, Zen was able to take in the full picture. He drew in a sharp breath. What once had been a vision was now covered in blood and lay still as death on the deck.
The shuttle’s passenger was male. In contrast to the obsidian darkness of his softly curling hair, his skin was bone white. Sweat dampened bangs adhered to forehead and stuck there. His full lips were slightly parted and his finely chiseled, androgynous features were slack. His almost too-delicate-to-be-male appearance was emphasized by his current condition.
He wore a pair of near-diaphanous pants that hugged his body from the waist down like a second skin. Other than a pair of wide, embossed silver bracelets that encircled his wrists, his upper body was nude. The man lay on his stomach, his back clearly visible, the damage done to it horrendous. Thin strips of skin had been peeled away leaving raw open wounds that had bled profusely before clotting. Rusty spatters of blood had soaked into his pants, as well as the matted curls that touched the back of his neck.
Shock, fury and the raw reminder of a familial tragedy pummeled Zen in equal measure at the sight of such torture being visited on someone who appeared to be little more than a helpless captive. His hatred of the Dukati — something that was branded into his very soul — twisted within him.
“Son of a Bactrian bitch.” Zen cursed not only the savage act so blatantly displayed on the young man’s back, but also at the reminder of what that selfsame act had cost him. “They used a fucking flayer on him. Doc?”
“He’s hanging on, but we need to get him to the med bay now. Not that I think he’d wake up, but just in case I’ve attached a nerve blocker, so let’s hurry. I can’t leave it in place very long without causing nerve damage, but it’s that or nothing.” Doc indicated the flat, square metal chip now sealed to a patch of uninjured skin on the man’s shoulder. “I can’t administer any drugs until I get this mess cleaned up and have a better idea of what I’m dealing with. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, be damn careful how you handle him. If you can avoid it, don’t touch his back.”
“We need a stretcher,” Clay said.
“No time. Grab a blanket from the supply locker. We’ll slide him on it and carry him to the bioporter,” Zen answered. He touched his communications disc. “Serk, send Kyle to med bay and have him transport down here on the double with a gurney, then resume course and get us the hell out of here. The Dukati may come looking for their missing shuttle.”
“Right away, Captain.”
When Clay returned with the blanket, Zen helped him lay it out and as carefully as possible the two of them maneuvered the injured man onto it. With each of them grabbing two corners of their makeshift stretcher, they shuffled out of the shuttle in time to hear the bioporter’s alert chime sound. The door slid open.
Zen noted with approval Kyle’s prompt arrival and the way he hurried to meet them. Kyle helped Doc settle their patient on the gurney and took charge of wheeling him back into the bioporter.
“You two wait here,” Doc ordered as he followed Kyle and the gurney into the bioport chamber. “I’m taking him up lift mode. The last thing he needs right now is to have his innards scrambled.”
Taking a last glance at the injured young man’s pale, still face, Zen stepped back. “All right, Doc. Go.”
* * *
An hour later Zen was seated at the conference table in an area just off the bridge that served as everything from meeting room to casino when the weekly poker game was in session. He listened attentively as Jackson filled him in on the shuttle situation.
“It had the expected tracking beacon that could be activated by any Dukati vessel looking for it,” Jacks said, “but there was also a backup designed to kick in and send out an immediate signal if the regular beacon was tampered with. Both are now disabled. We don’t have to worry about the Dukati on our tail with absolute proof we’ve got their shuttle. Not to mention that poor kid in the med bay. How’s he doin’?”
“Doc’s got him stabilized,” Zen answered. “He’s still working on him.”
“You okay?”
Zen’s eyes met Jack’s and noted the concern in hers. “I’m fine. Why do you –”
“You know perfectly well why I’m asking. Don’t be an ass, Zen.”
“I may be the captain of this ship, but I have just as much right to be an ass as anyone else on board.” Zen tried a smile, but gave it up under the pressure of Jack’s unwavering stare. He sobered and sighed. “It stirred the bad memories, but like I said, I’m fine. Thanks for asking. Now what else did you find? I can see there’s something you’re just dying to tell me. Spill it.”
“It’s the reason the life support failed. There was a clever little bug inserted into the ship’s system. It initiated the failure and began to erase itself at the same rate the life support degraded. Once the life support died, all traces of the bug would disappear. Damn clever piece of programming. Anyone finding the shuttle after total life support failure would never be able to figure out what went wrong.”
“They’d put it down to some sort of pilot error.”
“Exactly.”
“So someone tortures our passenger not quite enough to have him die outright, throws him in a rigged shuttle and sets him loose where life support failure would finish the job. Why would they do that?”
“Maybe they didn’t dare kill him outright. They wanted to make it look like he escaped, but needed to make sure he didn’t survive. If I had to guess, I’d say he was under someone’s protection and that person got careless. You know it’s said the Dukati sometimes make pets of some of their captives.”
Zen nodded. Those stories had already given him hope and nightmares in equal measure. The very idea that his little brother and sister might yet be alive, but under those conditions, rattled him to the core. A thousand times it came to mind that they’d be better off dead. Yet Zen couldn’t bring himself to wish it, and each time he wondered if it was selfishness for wanting them to be alive or cowardice for being afraid to let them go.
He pushed those thoughts away. “Rumor has it only high level Dukati are allowed the privilege of claiming pets. Whoever did this wanted to be able to say he didn’t die by their hand, but rather by the shuttle’s malfunctioning life support. Of course we won’t know for certain until we can talk to our unexpected passenger, holies heal him.”
“Actually, that’s my job, and getting answers out of him won’t be happening for a while,” Doc said as he entered the room and took a seat. “I have an update on my patient.”
Zen acknowledged Doc with a nod then returned his attention to Jackson. “We need to dispose of that shuttle in a way it can’t be traced to us. Any ideas?”
Jack’s smile was beatific. “I know a guy who’ll make her disappear like she never existed. No questions asked, and the parts’ll be scattered to half a dozen systems before we hit Ilsan for our cargo drop.”
“The drop off won’t take us off course?”
“Nope. He runs a mobile shop, if you get my drift.”
“Make it happen. I’ll leave the financial negotiations up to you. Equal shares for everyone, including our passenger.”
“Yes!” Jacks bounced up out of her chair and practically skipped out of the room.
“You’ve made her day. There were stacks of credits dancing in her eyes.”
Zen chuckled. “What have you got for me?”
“He’s stable. His physiology is similar enough to ours that he can accept transfusions with no problem. I’m pushing fluids and antibiotics. He’s developed a fever, but that’s not unexpected. The injuries to his back… they’ll heal. Sluget gel will alleviate most of the scarring, but not all if it. Some of the wounds were pretty deep. Whoever did this is a vicious son of a bitch.”
“Agreed. Anything else?”
Doc’s expression confirmed what Zen had already assumed. “Previous scarring on his back and buttocks. Not recent and very thin stripes. Not from a flayer. Some sort of switch if I had to guess. There’s been sexual abuse. Again, some older scarring. I’ve taken steps to minimize all damage, recent and old, as much as possible. His body will be fine. No lack of feeling or hindrance of function. As to his emotional and mental state, I can’t speak. He hasn’t woken at all.”
Zen nodded. “All right, Doc. Keep me informed.”
With Doc’s departure Zen was left with his thoughts. He found them bouncing between his missing siblings and the young man now recovering in med bay.

Thursday Teaser

‘Tangled Up In You’, sounds inviting, yes?

Please enjoy this Thursday Teaser…. No cover yet. There will be one soon. 🙂

Tangled Up in You

Prologue

“Rey. Now.”
What could he have possibly done to deserve this fate? Bowing his head in obeisance, he left his master’s side to follow the victim.
It was a young victim, barely more than a child, and he hated his master anew for making him deal death to one with so many possibilities.
Defiance was unthinkable and so he approached the victim on rubbery legs. And smiled to make the victim’s last minutes pleasant. “Are you Shawn?” he asked, pluking the victim’s name from the other’s mind without difficulty. This one was an innocent in truth, hiding nothing from those around him.
His victim extended a stubby-fingered hand. “I am. Are you Mr. Reynard?”
So, this is why my master chose this victim. Or at least partially why. Grasping the offered hand, he smiled more broadly “I am. And I can already tell you’re going to be right for this job. Punctuality and friendliness are key.” He took half a step closer in the small office, releasing the victim’s hand.
Shawn. His name is Shawn Michael O’Reilly. Called Mick by his friends, of which he has many. Remember. Never forget.
“Really?” Shawn’s eyes squinted as his smile threatened to overrun his face. “You don’t know how glad I am to hear that.”
Forgive me. Never knowing to whom he prayed, or if there was even someone out there, Reynard stepped forward swiftly and snapped the young man’s neck with a quick twist so that Shawn Michael “Mick” O’Reilly died with a smile on his face.
When the human’s breath was stopped and Reynard was sure the soul inside the body had time to escape, he lowered the corpse to the floor and unsheathed his knife. With delicate precision he cut Shawn’s sandy blond ponytail from his head. Then he pressed the hair to the end of his own braid and murmured “Yours to you and yours to mine. Death to you and some essence to me.”
The hair fused seamlessly with Reynard’s locks, showing its bland color briefly before merging with the off-blond of the strands surrounding it. If his hair had been unbraided, it would have trailed after him along the floor like a bridal train.
He’d killed many in the last ten years.
“Stop mooning over him and feed me.”
Standing, he bowed to his master and then opened his mouth. When his master’s tongue invaded his mouth, drinking the sensation of Shawn Michael O’Reilly’s death, Reynard suppressed a wince.
Please, oh please let this end. But no one and nothing answered his begging and the kiss went on until it was finished.
“Now I can sleep a bit.” The psychic vampire chuckled and turned away, pulling Reynard by one wrist. “Take me home.”
Linked together, they walked from the silent office and toward the stairs. If they were quick no one would realize they’d been here at all. Together they passed between chattering employees.
They were felt; humans shivered with sudden cold. But because of Reynard’s gifts they were not seen.
Invisible to all, they passed out into the sunlight.
* * * *
Jason Campbell stared at the pink slip. Printed on real pink paper. Nothing but the most authentic for a traditionalist tracker like me.
Flipping over the pink slip with some idea of writing a rude response to alleviate his frustration a little, Jason saw this:
–You still get your full retirement package but you must step out.
Step out. His boss, Agent Weinberg’s, way of saying Jason had stayed too long. That he’d overstepped his boundaries one to many times.
Or maybe she wasn’t saying that at all. Overstepping his restrictions was how Jason had often gotten the job done. Maybe Agent Weinberg was simply saying he was too damn old.
Forty-eight isn’t old.
Except, when talking about he tracker profession, forty-eight was out to pasture for at least ten years. A tracker’s career was often measured in years rather than decades. I’m a damned baseball player. Or a figure skating star. Too old for the job and too bull headed to be trusted with a position behind a desk.
Just the thought of an office post made Jason’s stomach knot and he admitted he would never take such a job even if one was offered with triple pay and benefits equal to those he’d enjoyed as a tracker.
I’m already starting to think of my job as in the past. He supposed that meant he was ready for retirement. Or at least ready to accept the pink slip as fact rather than something negotiable.
“Jay. Jay? You in there?”
Oh God help him. Everyone else called him Agent Campbell. Even that upstart, Pierce, managed to use his last name. But this one… This devilish elemental…
Easy, Jason, he counseled himself. There’s one good thing about pink slip retirement already. You won’t have to deal with Bergdorf. Smiling just a little as this idea grew roots, Jason tucked the pink slip into his back pocket and opened his office door. “What?” he demanded, schooling his features automatically before the irritating gnome.
“I’m in your corner if you need anything. The Chief’s being to hard on you if she gave you any sort of reprimand for that Warner business. I’ll stand right up next to you and tell her so. Just watch me.”
And he probably would, the loyal fool. That was one of the biggest reasons Bergdorf hadn’t risen higher in the ranks during his five years as a tracker. He was still too trusting, too protective of those he considered friends, and too devoted, if such a thing could be, the SearchLight’s tenets.
“It’s nothing like that,” Jason told him. “I’m being let go. That’s all”
“Fired?” Bergdorf all but squeaked.
Jason considered the pink slip and nodded. “Yes.” Bergdorf’s fearful expression compelled him to add, “But with full retirement benefits.”
The younger agent’s face cleared and then clouded over like a bright blue sky hidden by the District of Colombia’s most pervasive smog. “Then you’re not really being fired?”
The pink slip’s duplicity had been chewing at the back of Jason’s mind as well and he said, “I suppose I’ll find out the truth when I speak with Agent Weinberg.” He plastered a pleasant expression on his face when Bergdorf continued to look uncertain and troubled. “Don’t worry. This will straighten itself out.”

Chapter One

As commanded, Jason Campbell skipped through the wild flowers that divided his sister’s wheat filed from the dirt lane.
No.
He walked. Neither shambling nor plodding, he walked. And although he had been ordered to “go skip in the daises” by his sister he was only obeying because he wanted to be out of the house. He’d been in Kansas less than three hours and he already wanted to run back to DC.
But nothing awaited him in Washington. The nation’s capital held nothing for him now that he’d been let go.
Jason stopped, head tilting as he caught the ringing, mournful sound of an acoustic guitar being strummed. He discounted it and kept walking. Any idiot could make the guitar sound beautiful. It was a welcoming instrument, almost as easy as a child’s recorder and much more pleasant.
He stopped again, and a slow smile warmed his broad features. The guitarist was plucking the instrument and making music. True and compelling runs of notes like water over a fall. Jason nodded to the melody carried on the galloping accompaniment. He knew this one and he began to sing softly.
“Papa, Papa, build me a boat
“That I might on the ocean float.
“To hail all ships as they pass by
“And to enquire for my darling boy.”
It was a griever’s song full of loss and no promise of comfort. Jason loved it and would have, he told himself, even if he hadn’t been smarting from forced retirement.
He left the band of wildflowers and walked beside the dirt lane where only the occasional tractor passed. He would be trespassing in the neighbor’s field by following the music but he had a hope that trespassing wasn’t as strictly watched and enforced here as in DC.
The melody rang over the broken chords and the second verse flitted through Jason’s mind. He didn’t sing. It seemed blasphemous to cover the guitar’s voice with his own.
As we were out on the Eastern Isle
We lost four men
And your darling boy.
As we were out on the Eastern Isle
We lost four men…
And your darling boy.
He entered another field of wheat, passing between the rows like a ghost, unseen and leaving little to no trace of his passing. Children of the corn. He smirked briefly before letting it fall away. Child of the wheat is more to the point but who ever heard of a horror story with that title? There were things that lived in corn fields. And wheat fields. Hungry things that called for human blood and were often sustained on birds and bugs while waiting for weary travelers.
Jason had killed some of them.
He shrugged the memories away and fixed his gaze on the single grain silo that lifted its head above the drowsy August world. There was a farmhouse beyond the grain silo but a good distance off, leaving the gray and circular exclamation point all but alone.
The music seemed to be coming from the grain silo’s top. And impossible as that surely was—grain silos were places of storage, not sitting—Jason shielded his eyes and squinted, looking up for the first glimpse of the player.
“I’m too far away,” he whispered as the music left off “The Sailor Lad” and went into a skipping tangle of notes that he didn’t recognize. “I can’t possibly see him. Or her.”
Still he peered and much sooner than he would have thought he’d reached the base of the grain silo. There was a broken ladder on its side, a rusted thing that hung in defiance of the silo’s otherwise well-tended look.
He began circling the silo, searching for another way up. Because the music was definitely coming from above him and he needed to find the guitarist. He needed to.
And while he sought, the laughing melody went on.
* * * *
Reynard sensed the gnat far below and his heart ached. He fell into a faster rhythm in an attempt to relieve the pain. Go away, he thought at the gnat who was really an innocent of some kind. A human innocent of some kind. Go away. Save yourself. Not that he was dangerous on his own but he was bound to a ravenous beast.
“Go away, go away,” he chanted against the plucking of his right hand. “Go away, go,” he muttered as his left hand found chord after chord and changed the song without Reynard’s conscious desire to another sad song. This one was without words and Reynard hated the silence left when he quit speaking.
He purposely changed the song and, unable to keep away from sad songs, began making up one of his own.
“Fly, little, fly, little,
“Fly, little bird.
“Far away from me,
“Far away from him,
“Far from your own desires.”
That wasn’t half bad and Reynard went on:
“Run, little, run, little
“Run, little bear.
“Dangerous parents you have
“Dangerous you will become,
“But dangerous I am.
“Run. Run. Run.”
But the gnat—the man—was now prodding at the ladder below. If he kept doing that he would discover the silo’s secret. Then there would be little Reynard could do to keep him away. To keep him safe.
He bent a touch more magic into the song, hoping it would affect the man as his first attempt with small magic had not. And he sang.
“Creep, little, creep, little,
“Creep, little gnat
“Far from me.
“Far from here.
“Far from your death.”
For an instant this seemed to work. The man hesitated with his hands not quite resting on the invisible rungs of the ladder that only looked rusted.
Then he began to climb.
He did it fast, as if he was afraid he’d rethink his actions. Or maybe, Reynard decided when he caught a glimpse of the man’s briefly upturned face, as if he had climbed invisible ladders before. The act might be completely commonplace.
What sort of man is this? Reynard stepped back from his window as the stranger neared. Why isn’t he affected by my music, by my magic? A frisson of excitement rushed to the ends of all his fingers and curled his toes. There had never been a mere mortal able to resist him. Who was this man?
Maybe he isn’t a mere mortal human. But when Reynard had sent out his magic to stop the stranger he had felt no answering magic. The immune newcomer was as mundane as sliced bread
He allowed himself a brief smile as the memory of his childhood, years without sliced bread, years of loaves never precut, flitted through his mind. He’d lived long enough to see something that had once seemed ostentatious become common. This man, to, might become the accepted thing.
But not now, he thought as the stranger climbed through the window and stood in the same room with Reynard in spite of the ‘go away melody. Now he is a miracle. Reynard bowed, not wondering at his sudden desire to be formal. “Welcome.” That sounded as if he’d expected the man. “You are a surprise. That sounded rude. Quit analyzing your words and say something that is truly you. “You are welcome here, miraculous stranger.” That at least seemed like him even if it remained overly meditated and formal.
The average-looking man returned his bow. “Thank you. I am Jason Campbell.
Weren’t names a thing of power? Yes, but this man seemed unafraid of that. And he may not have given his full name. Or even his true one.”Rey.” He paused. “Reynard.” Let the man make of that truth what he would. Many of those Reynard introduced himself to ended up dead at his feet.
A lock of sandy brown hair dropped over the man’s forehead and he brushed it away with what looked to be an impatient gesture. As if he wasn’t used to having even a little bit of hair out of place.
Or I’m reading too much into a simple movement. Ah but I haven’t been this off kilter in my responses and assumptions for years. Of course, he also hadn’t met anyone unexpectedly in years. Not since the beginning of his slavery.
“Do you claim to be the fox god or something akin?” Jason Campbell asked.
Reynard grinned. And transformed into his fox form, his clothes fading into nothingness as he shifted. Peering up at the man through his fox eyes, he wondered why he’d thought his guest ordinary He smelled of years upon years of close contact with magic even though he had none of his own. He also smelled of a woman, another man, and children. At least a dozen.
And chickens. He smelled of chickens.
The scents were threatening to overwhelm him and Reynard changed swiftly back to his human shape, clothes reappearing around him. Such distractibility was the cause of his enslavement. And in any case he had no desire to stop talking with this stranger Particularly when there was little danger of his master discovering them and hurting what was quickly becoming the most interesting person Reynard had known in decades
“That proves only your shapeshifting ability.” Yet Jason Campbell had taken a step back. “Leave it for now. I have no desire to become entangled with another magical creature. I came because of the music you played
Came because of it rather than being driven away? Curiouser and curiouser, thought Alice. He didn’t allow his mouth to twitch with this quote. He wanted something from Jason Campbell and he might even get it if the man was as unaffected as he seemed. “You enjoy depressing ballads?”
“There’s nothing depressing in the contemplation of death as part of life’s dangers,” Jason answered.
Reynard retreated to his guitar and picked it up. “Do you play?”
“A little. I’ve never had the time that I’d…” He frowned thunderously “If that was an example of your magic, getting me to say more than I intended, it is unwelcome.”
“I do not use my magic to get others to talk.” Only to listen. “There is little mortals can teach me.” He held out the guitar, gripping it casually by the neck.
Jason took it with both hands and with a reverent ease that reminded Reynard of a priest he’d met once. The man had handled chalice, bread, and other holy implements of his faith with a comfort borne of long use and an ingrained sense of responsibility.
Jason tucked the guitar against his body, holding it in place with his right arm as his left had found a chord on the neck. He strummed on open fifth and then a seventh chord. Then he was singing the first verse of “The Golden Vanity” about the boy who’d been tricked into giving his life for an ungrateful captain.
Reynard joined him on the second verse even as he strode to the far wall and took down his fiddle. He settled into the easy chord structure Jason played—I, IV, V, I—and found the countermelody by the fourth verse.
They finished together:
“Oh there is a lofty ship and she sails on the sea.
“But she sails without a cabin boy the age of twelve and three.
“And she fears she will be taken by a Turkish enemy…”
Here Jason dropped out, although he continued to play the chords Reynard halted in the middle of the first word of the last line and asked, dropping the countermelody and matching Jason chord for chord, “Why did you stop?”
“Because I love the…” Jason coughed and his fingers stuttered on the strings. He fumbled the guitar and the music died. “Don’t do that. I am not your toy.”
Reynard held the fiddle at his side and the bow in his opposite hand. He tried to look innocent, knew it was a lost cause because of the foxy—pun definitely intended—slant of his features. “My magic doesn’t work that way.” This was closer to a lie than his first statement. His magic could be used any way he chose. Or nearly. “In any case, I meant nothing by it if I did release a little magic.” That was more honest He did not want to frighten this man away now that he was here.
Jason raised sandy colored eyebrows at hi and his mouth turned down for a moment, revealing wrinkles that spread all over his face before disappearing. He was older than he’d first appeared.
So perhaps I am not the only one who is more than he seems. Reynard discovered he liked the idea of an older human. It was as if the burden of years carried with it a promise of experience. And he liked his men experienced.
There went his libido. Dormant while doing his master’s bidding. Even asleep when the young man or woman they approached held every characteristic of conventional beauty. Now his cock was half erect and he took a step closer to the object of his desire. “How old are you?”
Jason snorted and some of the tension went out of his posture “Does it matter when you have all but claimed to be older than the hills?”
“Not older than they.” He smiled, hoping to entice an answer, a true answer, out of Jason without magic. “Humor me?”
“I’m forty-eight.”
For some reason that age seemed to bother him “You are handsome no matter your age, Reynard blurted, surprising himself into a blush. He knew it would show like a beacon against his pale and freckled Irish skin.
Jason snorted again; There was little to no humor in it. “I am a retired SearchLight agent if that means anything to you.”
Reynard tensed, but tried to speak casually. “I know of SearchLight. They can do little to help my present situation but I know of them.”
“What help do you speak of?” It was Jason’s turn to take a step forward.
“More than you can give,” Reynard answered quickly, retreating from the concern in the man’s softening gaze. “Let’s play more.” He lifted his fiddle to his shoulder. And relased more than a touch of magic to encourage even though his magic had done little so far.
This time Jason was taken in. He tucked the guitar as before under one arm. “What shall we play?”
Reynard was disappointed. His miracle man hadn’t survived much more than a drop of magic. Apparently, he wasn’t as special as Reynard had first thought. “‘Mary Hamilton,’” he said in response to Jason’s question. This was a more modern ballad but it fulfilled Jason’s stated desire for songs about death that he somehow didn’t find depressing.
“I don’t know that one.” Jason sounded disappointed. Even a little sulky. Then he brightened. “But my sister says I can play anything if I hear it once. Play the melody.”
Hating the effect his magic had wrought and yet unable to take it back without casting more magic on the half-puppet, Reynard began to play.
And, true to his word, Jason picked it up almost at once. If not for the slightly lost cast to his eyes having someone to play with would have been bliss.

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