Some think him a devoted son, a ruthless killer, a vicious monster. The heir of the infamous Valentino family, Nico is a man with blood-stained hands and a heart of ice.
To Gabriel Delatto, Nico is more than that: a childhood friend, a passionate lover, a misunderstood soul, a man whose cold, calculated outward exterior protects the broken man inside. Nico is his best friend, his lover, his other half—his better half.
But how much of that is true? And how much is just lies whispered between bloody lips?
New York to Tokyo—Gabriel is willing to follow his lover to the ends of the earth to find out what Nico is running from.
Or, maybe, what is Nico running to?
Nico was beautiful in his fear.
Nico’s hair was mussed, sweat dripping down from his hairline to the collar of his shirt, his pendant standing stark against his throat. There was blood splattered across his cheeks like macabre freckles, a dribble just below his nose making its way down his bottom lip.
Gabriel didn’t know if it was his or someone else’s, but it looked exquisite against his skin.
What would Nico’s blood have tasted like? What would Nico’s fear have tasted like?
It didn’t matter. Gabriel would have kissed it away if he could.
If he could, Gabriel would have done many things differently.
If he could.
If he could…
This was all wrong.
The air in the house was like an oven, nary a breeze to give either of them comfort. Despite the distance between them, a chasm that only seemed to grow wider, Gabriel could all but feel the heat from Nico’s mouth against his.
Nico was fire and Gabriel…
Gabriel was just the kindling.
They were so close—all Gabriel had to do was reach out. All it would take was a hand around Nico’s collar and he could crush his lips against Nico’s. They could fall into each other’s arms as they always had, always would.
That would have been right.
That would have been good.
But there was something pink and gelatinous smeared across the front of Nico’s shirt, something that Gabriel knew intrinsically belonged in someone’s head, not spread across Nico’s white button-up.
Nico’s hands shook like leaves on trees just before the hurricane ripped them off and scattered them across the sea.
When their eyes met, Gabriel turned away his head as though someone struck him.
Nico’s unbridled fear staring back at him through piercing dark blue eyes made his stomach churn.
That wasn’t how Nico was supposed to stare at him. That wasn’t what they had, that wasn’t who they were supposed to be.
Why was Nico so scared?
Why was Nico scared of him?
Gabriel could hear the words, feel the cold metal in his hand. He knew that there was something wrong with this scene, knew that this wasn’t how any of this was supposed to go. He could feel the heaviness of the gun, the cloying smell of blood and shit, the sweat on his brow, the panic clawing through his stomach—
“Gabriel—please. Please, listen to me. You don’t have to do this. I know you, Gabriel. I know you. This isn’t you. This isn’t you.”
“Get out of the way, Nico.”
It was his voice.
He could feel the hum of the words leaving his throat, how his lungs exhaled with every syllable. He could feel the way his lips touched, how they formed words, how his tongue clinked against his teeth.
He could feel it, feel all of it, just as he could feel the metal, hard and cold, gripped in his hand.
“You can’t do this. you have to stop—” Nico reached out for his arm, but it met nothing but air.
Gabriel tried to lower his hand, tried to loosen his grip on the gun, but he couldn’t.
“Don’t make me hurt you.”
“Gabriel—you’re better than this. You’re more than this!”
“My hands are bloodier than yours.”
Gabriel wanted his hand to shake, but it was steady.
It was too steady.
“Baby. Please. If you do this… you can’t come back from this.”
He wanted to let go, wanted to scream, wanted to say something—anything.
Why couldn’t he stop himself? Why couldn’t he let go? Why did it feel as though he were a marionette, a puppet with someone else pulling his strings?
I don’t want this. I don’t want to do this. Please. Please. Nico—please—
“Gabriel… I love you.”
It was a whisper between bloody lips.
“I love you. Please don’t do thi—”
Gabriel pulled the trigger.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
About the Author
Sai Fox was born and raised in New York City, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that there’s an ever-present coffee cup on her desk as she writes well into the night. A chronic insomniac, some of her best ideas come to her right before heading off to bed.
Currently residing in Tokyo, Sai finds most of her time spent writing, reading, and wandering the strange and intoxicating streets that tell thousands of stories… with a cup of coffee. There is always a cup of coffee.
Sai has been writing fiction for well over a decade, enjoying the ability to push boundaries of society and sexuality through her work.
Luke Ryan’s life is too chaotic for romance, what with running his business and being the legal guardian to his ten-year-old niece, but he’s hopeful he’ll find the right man.
Trauma surgeon Finn Thomason recently relocated from Chicago to Boston, where his focus on medicine leaves him little space for a personal life. Making a commitment to find a better work-life balance, Finn hopes he’ll also find a relationship.
Caught in an evening rainstorm, Luke shelters under a sidewalk awning…and encounters a handsome stranger. The two strike up a conversation and Finn offers to walk Luke under his oversized umbrella. Charmed, Luke accepts and asks Finn out for coffee in thanks.
Luke and Finn quickly grow close, but, as the summer draws to an end, Luke struggles to keep his connection with Finn while Finn tries to come to terms with caring for a man whose attention is pulled in many directions. Both men are scrambling to get it right, but only time will tell if they’ll learn there is more than enough room in their hearts to go around.
“Hey, Luke, I’m going to Starbucks to buy coffee for everyone. You want?”
Luke Ryan stared at the code on his computer monitors and nodded absently. “Sure.”
“Okay. Grab your stuff and come with me.”
Luke blinked. “What do you need me for?” He turned away from the monitors and faced his best friend and business partner, Simon Martin.
Simon stood and eyed Luke across their shared office. “To help me schlep back the orders.”
“Ugh.” It was nearly two p.m. and Luke’s concentration was flagging. As much as he wanted to keep working, fresh coffee sounded wonderful. The idea of going to fetch it, however, not so much. He stood and picked up his wallet and phone from his desk. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you’d let me buy a new coffeemaker.”
“I said I’d buy it, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you said that two weeks ago. And here we are, making the trek to Starbucks once again.”
Simon sighed at Luke’s grumbling. “Oh, goodness. I’ll buy one this weekend, I promise. In the meantime, you could stand to go outside for a few minutes. Your ass has been bolted to that chair all day. You didn’t even break for lunch.”
“Yes, I did.”
“You ate a plastic squeeze tube filled with something green.”
“It was yogurt,” Luke said. “I bought a box of mixed flavor tubes but Ella doesn’t like lime, so they’re all mine.”
Simon grimaced. “That sounds appalling. Serves you right for feeding that girl junk.”
Luke chuckled as they started for the door. His niece, Ella, was ten years old and particular about what she ate. Luke had been stuck eating food she’d rejected before, but he didn’t mind—weird foods came with the territory of raising children. Or helping to raise them, anyway, as Luke had been helping his brother, Peter, do for the past several years, ever since Peter’s wife had walked out on her family and Peter had moved Ella from the Marine base in Virginia back to Boston and into Luke’s Back Bay apartment.
Once outside, Luke and Simon walked a block and a half to Winter Street, navigating around shoppers and tourists. The line at Starbucks stretched nearly out of the door, and they stepped up to its end while Luke read over the orders his coworkers had scribbled on a scrap of paper.
“I don’t know what this says.” He pointed at one messy line. “This looks like Klingon.”
Simon squinted. “You would know, I suppose. I’m fairly sure everyone ordered cold brew, by the way. That’s all those hipster punks drink anyway.”
Luke laughed. “Good point. Gillian wants an almond milk Macchiato, though.” Gillian Vasquez was the third partner in their software development business. Petite, red-haired and whip-smart, her easygoing personality provided an excellent foil for Simon’s brashness and Luke’s hyperfocus. Gillian kept Simon and Luke in line and they knew it.
“Is she still doing the dairy-free thing?” Simon asked.
“I’m not sure. I think she just likes almond milk, to be honest. Ella’s the same.”
“That doesn’t make those bowls of sugar cereal you feed her any healthier, you know.”
Luke rolled his eyes. He’d never understood why kids’ cereals got such a bad rap. Beyond the high sugar content and their dubious nutritional value, that was.
“I found a recipe for Cap’n Crunch cookies,” he said. “I was thinking Ella and I could make them over the weekend.” He snorted with laughter at Simon’s obvious disgust.
“Where on earth would you find such a thing?”
“Pinterest. It’s loaded with all kinds of questionable recipes.”
“Oh, Pickle.” Simon made a sympathetic noise. “This only underscores what I’ve been telling you for months—you need to get out more.”
Luke winced. “Please don’t call me Pickle in public.” He glanced around, hoping no one had overheard the ridiculous nickname, and met the gaze of a dark-haired guy standing behind them.
Well, hello there.
Luke flashed a grin and the guy blinked, clearly surprised. He offered Luke a shy half-smile of his own just before the line shifted.
Luke faced forward. “You know I don’t have time to go out,” he said to Simon. “Even if I did, the men I’d meet would take one look at Ella and run for the hills.”
“Surely not every man you meet is averse to the idea of family.” Simon frowned. “I like children. Or Ella, at least.”
“Yes, but you and I are not dating.”
“Not since I kicked you to the curb a decade ago, true.” He smiled at Luke’s laughter. “Still, I can’t imagine anyone you meet not being charmed by Ella. She’s loveable even when she’s being difficult.”
They stepped forward as the line moved again. Luke hazarded another glance back and felt a pang of disappointment to find the cute guy talking on his phone. He met Luke’s eyes again, however, and Luke smothered a curse when Simon nudged him with his elbow.
“Ella likes you, so of course you think she’s fun,” Luke said. “Not everyone thinks the way you do or wants to stick around while I fill in for her dad, though.”
“Are you so sure?” Simon asked.
“I’m still single, am I not?”
“Yes, though I confess I don’t know why. It’s not because you’re lacking in looks and your personality is certainly adequate.”
“Nice.” Luke shrugged off both the compliment and the tease. He knew he was easy to look at. He was tall and fit with a heart-shaped face and gray-green eyes, and his friends joked he couldn’t take a bad photo. Luke didn’t suffer for lack of attention from men. Keeping a man’s interest presented the real challenge these days, and that had a lot to do with the fact that he was taking care of a young child.
“I’m thirty-two years old,” he said. “The men I meet who want children are either already parents or in committed relationships and headed in that direction.”
“This is why you need to meet new men,” Simon replied. “Ella isn’t your daughter, Luke. Pete’ll be back from deployment in a couple of months and that’ll take some of the pressure off you. There’s no reason for you to be celibate until then, either.”
“I’m hardly celibate,” Luke muttered, his cheeks hot. “And please keep your voice down.”
He paused as they approached the counter. Simon placed the order and Luke glanced at the guy behind them again. Thankfully, he was still on his phone instead of being forced to eavesdrop on the saga of Luke’s sad single life.
“I know I haven’t had a boyfriend since Ella moved in with me,” Luke continued while Simon paid for the order. “Taking care of her complicates my life, but it’s nothing compared to Pete’s wife taking off on them. And I do go out on occasion, Simon. I date.”
Simon cocked a well-groomed eyebrow at him. “Okay, and when exactly? Because we both know you don’t have time to yourself anymore.”
Despite Simon’s gentle tone, Luke winced. Even with help from his parents and his babysitter, Melissa, he rarely had a minute to himself outside his own bathroom. Even then, odds were Ella would knock on the door and blithely ask questions while Luke showered or shaved.
“In all seriousness, when did you last go out with a man?” Simon asked. They moved aside so the baristas could mix up their magic, and he patted Luke’s arm. “Hell, when did you last pick someone up?”
“I met someone while I was grocery shopping last week, believe it or not,” Luke replied. “We emailed a couple of times, but he dropped off the map. I picked someone up a couple of months ago, the last time Pete came home on leave.” He grinned at Simon. “You and I went out for dinner and drinks, then over to that bar in Back Bay named after Oscar Wilde. Remember?”
“That’s the bar with the boozy milkshakes?”
“Yes! I met Jeremy that night.”
Realization flashed in Simon’s eyes. “I’d forgotten that’s where you met. Where was I?”
“Sucking face with some bartender, I think.” Luke smirked at Simon’s raucous laughter.
“Oh, God, that’s right. Those milkshakes are lethal!”
“Believe me, I remember.” Luke reached up and ruffled Simon’s hair. “Anyway, I didn’t take Jeremy home that night, but we exchanged numbers and spent time together for a couple of weeks.”
“What happened between you two, anyway? I don’t think you ever said.”
“There was nothing to tell. Pete’s leave ended and I canceled a couple of dates because Melissa was busy and I couldn’t find a sitter. Jeremy just faded out.” Despite his careless tone, Luke’s heart twinged a little. He’d enjoyed spending time with Jeremy and watching him withdraw had stung.
Simon clasped Luke’s shoulder with one strong hand. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t have to be that way all the time, you know. I can watch Ella for you if Melissa is busy—I just need some notice. Gillian will, too. Hell, ask around the office if you need someone for a couple of hours. I’m sure at least one of the kids on staff is the babysitting type.”
“I know, and thanks. It doesn’t matter, though. The reality is I’m with Ella a lot because I want to be and guys usually bolt after they figure that out.”
Simon’s gentle scowl warmed Luke’s heart. He loved that his friend cared enough to listen. Then Luke saw the cute guy with the dark hair pay for his single coffee and leave. Damn. Once upon a time, Luke would have struck up a conversation with him instead of watching the opportunity slip away. Maybe Simon had a point.
“It’s fine,” he said. “And you’re right. I should make an effort to get out there and meet new men. Especially since things will go back to normal after Pete gets home. For a while, anyway.”
“That ‘for a while’ is kind of a problem.” Simon’s expression sobered. “Your brother will still be at Quantico more rather than less. I don’t even mean that in a bad way because I know you love having her here.”
Luke nodded. He’d never thought twice about welcoming his niece into his home. “I do. All the more reason to find someone who’s okay with Ella being in my life.”
Is that such a bad thing to want? Luke didn’t think so.
The barista called their order and Luke handed Simon the bags he’d been holding. “At any rate, it’ll be great having Pete back, even if he’s not in Boston. Ella hasn’t been the same since her dad was deployed.” Carefully, he collected the trays of cups.
Simon led the way out, talking over his shoulder as he held the door for Luke. “You think so?”
“Oh, yeah.” Luke sighed. “She really misses him, and it’s not like we can visit. She worries about his safety, just like my parents worry, and I do, too. Life will be a hundred times easier for all of us with Pete on US soil, whether he’s at the Marine base or not.”
“I understand,” Simon replied. “I’m just sorry I can’t do more than listen.”
Luke smiled. “Don’t be. I’d have gone bananas a long time ago without you and Gillian around to listen and keep me sane.”
“Girl, you’ve always been bananas,” Simon said, his tone airy. “But we’re used to it and don’t love you any less.” He shot Luke a wink and they headed for the office.
About the Author
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.
K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.
K.’s books explore LGBTQ+ romance in contemporary settings.
Attention: This book contains explicit sexual content between consenting assassins and not so innocent professors. There are depictions of masochistic masturbation, male chastity, breath play, watersports, humiliation, and torture by eighties hair bands with ginger sprinkles on top. Phew! Now, that that’s out of the way, Hi. I’m Mr. No your friendly communications agent for The Assassins’ Guild AKA T.A.G. I’ve been authorized by the head honcho himself, Mr. H, to release approved records from the agent files. Agent Code Name Mr. W was recovering from a near death debacle by way of an easy assignment in a small mountain town. Red flags sprang up immediately around the seemingly innocent English professor. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery Jacob Peters presented, Mr. W made plans to do what he did best, watch , wait , and then capture and interrogate. But even the best laid plans can go awry and what Mr. W discovered derailed his plan to kill Jacob. Find out what brought Mr. W to his knees in this first release from the archives of The Assassins’ Guild.
Shortly, after the cock cage incident, Dad sat me down to have The Talk. I knew by then that I liked dick. At first, I thought maybe it was because I was around men all the time and hardly ever any women, but one day I pulled up cameras from the women’s locker room just to see. Yeah, even the more masculine looking females did nothing for me. I got off my dad’s laptop quickly before he caught me and went back to my room to look at the gay porn I had smuggled from the sex shop. So, my dad sits me down and I’m worried. Even as isolated as we were on the compound, I had access to the outside world. I knew how homosexuality was viewed. Yes, there were changes being made and it was more accepted now, but I still worried.
I was sitting at the kitchen table when Dad came in with a dildo in one hand and a weird looking toy in the other one. It looked scary from afar. He put them down on the table along with a condom and a bottle of lube before he sat down. I was already blushing and ready to make a dash back to my room, but he pinned me with that look he got when he was dead serious and started his explanation. He showed me how to put a condom on, which I rolled my eyes at because duh. That was proceeded with a long talk on all STDs, how you can catch them in non-sexual ways, symptoms, and pictures. He pulled up pictures on his laptop. I was mortified, but damn if I was going to make sure I used condoms no matter what.
He then picked up the item that I had been avoiding looking at. It was multicolored and just weird looking. It turned out to be a big silicon asshole more or less. It was weird. Later, I found out why it looked so weird, but that’s just not something I want to think about. Although, I did end up buying a few dildos from the fantasy dildo company it was from when I got older. But back to my horrifying sex talk with my dad. He opened the lube and briefly went over the best kinds of lube to use and when. At this point, it hadn’t occurred to me how my dad knew all this stuff. He was my dad. He knew everything as far as I was concerned. He then showed me how, if I were to have sex with another man, how to prepare them or myself for it using the silicon asshole of course. He explained things like the prostate and other key erogenous zones of the male genitalia. By the end, I knew I was scarlet and dying of embarrassment. If my dad was embarrassed in anyway, he didn’t show it. He was very clinical about it. He used his instructor voice and could have been going over the parts of a P-90, he was so unphased.
He never once said anything about women. The next day, I went to his office and asked him, “How did you know?”
He quirked an eyebrow at me and said, “Yoshi, do you really think Mr. Th (that was his assistant) got you stuff from the adult store in town without my permission?”
I turned beet red and stuttered, “No, sir.” I thought I was in huge trouble and kept my eyes on my feet.
My dad pulled me into his arms and hugged me tight, surprising me. “I’m not mad. I’m glad that you went to him rather than try to sneak off on your own or do something irresponsible. I figured you weren’t ready to talk to me about those kinds of things and that’s okay. Just know that I’m always here if you need me and I’ll never judge you.” I nodded and hugged him tight, not realizing that I had started crying. I hadn’t really thought how much I was worried about it until I felt the relief his words brought me.
“I love you, Dad.” The words came out more of a whisper than I intended.
He pushed me to arm’s length, so he could see me and wiped my eyes. “I love you too, Son. Now, go out to the range. You have a test tomorrow.” I nodded and headed to the door. I had my hand on the knob when he spoke again. “Just so you know, I’m gay too.”
I turned my head in shock. The surprise evident on my face, my eyes wide. He furrowed his brows at me. “What? Did you not think I had a love life, too?”
I tried to pick my jaw up off the ground to answer. “No, Dad. Honestly, I never thought about you having a relationship much less sex.”
Dad burst out laughing then. “Well, I do.”
I stuck my fingers in my ears and started singing, “Lalalalala. I don’t want to know, Dad.”
My dad sobered then and cleared his throat. “Do you think if I found someone I really liked that you’d be okay if I brought him round?”
I took my fingers out of my ears and went back and threw my arms around him again and squeezed tight and then let go. “Yeah, Dad.” Before things could get any more awkward, I dashed out the door and closed it behind me. I hissed traitor as I passed Mr. Th’s desk and went out to the range.
About the Author
A.G. Carothers is actually a dragon very cleverly disguised as a human. They are a non-binary author of LGBTQIA Romance and Urban Fantasy, who enjoys writing original and entertaining stories. They are very excited to share the worlds they’ve created with you.
A.G. currently lives in Tennessee with their platonic life partner, who is not a dragon. They yearn to live back in Europe and will some day. In their spare time they are addicted to losing themselves in the lovely worlds created by other authors A.G. is committed to writing the stories they see in their head without restrictions. Love is blind and doesn’t see gender, race, or sexuality.
Mating A Cowboy is book one in A Port Hope Small Town Romance series, but can be read as a standalone.
Release Date: May 23, 2019
Heat Rating: 4 flames
A bakery barely treading water, and a pending business loan has omega Dawson sweating more than standing next to the kitchen’s finicky oven. Serving up the sweetest temptations should be his primary concern, but when news of his alpha father’s death falls on his ears, Dawson learns that he has been named as the sole heir of his ranch in the small town of Port Hope.
Selling the ranch could be the miracle he needs to save the bakery, but after a chance encounter with a rugged small town alpha, Dawson struggles to balance his goal, with the cowboy’s lasso tugging at his heart.
Alpha Wyatt is no stranger to living the cowboy life. Having grown up in the serene countryside of Port Hope, Wyatt spends his days training and providing care to his rescue horses. Rolling hills, fresh air, leather saddles, and his Stetson was all Wyatt wanted in life. It was all he needed—then he met Dawson.
As their passion burns, the harsh reality starts to set in. Dawson has a life to return to in the big city, and Wyatt’s a country boy through and through. Is the bond they have worth fighting for? Or are their roots settled in the thousands of miles between them?
He looked in my eyes as mine lifted, the smile on his lips subtly bold, though the slant of his shoulders remained hesitant. The signals confused me even as they roused something protective. I knew he wanted me; it was in the dilation of his pupils, in the press of his fingers around my wrist. Maybe he was waiting for me to take charge, maybe he wasn’t sure where all this would lead in the morning.
I cleared my throat. “Do you—can I kiss you?”
His smile widened. I suppressed a wince because I knew it was a little late to be asking permission, but late was better than never.
“Yes,” Dawson replied, jaw flexing underneath my fingers.
I touched his lips a second time, but in this instance my eyelids fell closed and I inhaled. His head tilted back, mouth opening beneath mine as I pressed forward, deepening the kiss, our tongues meeting briefly, retreating, meeting again. It was a dance, the first few steps exploratory.
But as heat flared, my cock hardening, my fingers tightened their grip on his jaws and the dance morphed into a battle.
I pulled Dawson flush against my body, hands roving down his body to grip his hips, looping into the leather belt he wore. Spinning with him in my arms, I backed him almost blindly against the wall, slapping my hands on either side of his head as my crotch ground into his.
He gasped, hands reaching up to tangle in my hair. Tightly. As laid back as he was, the omega made his lust known.
“Bedroom,” he gasped against my mouth.
His lips glistened; it took a moment to tear my eyes away. “What?” He’d said something, right?
“Beeedrooom.” He drawled out the syllables.
I could fuck him right here, right now against the wall, but I sensed he needed, wanted, more care than that. If this was our first time together, I had to make a good showing for myself.
I didn’t want it to be the first and the last.
His hand slipped into mine, the gesture all the more touching for its casual intimacy. We walked the short hall silently, and I paused in front of my bedroom door, giving him that split second to retreat before pushing the door open and pulling him inside.
“Wyatt,” he whispered. The sound of my name on his lips… I don’t know how we ended up on the bed, my body braced over his. My mind blanked, body taking over.
I cursed. “Damn, we still have our shoes on.”
He laughed up at me. “And all our clothes.” Placing his hands on my chest, he pushed, eyes never leaving mine as his half hesitant, half teasing smile continued to stoke the flames of my lust. The need, the craving to make him mine engulfed everything else. I stood long enough to kick off my shoes, pull my shirt over my head.
Dawson sighed. “I guess we’ll save the striptease for next time.”
I paused, about to push my jeans down, and slowed the motion, trying to draw out his pleasure and my own using anticipation of the big reveal. And then my mind tripped on the ‘next time.’
“There’ll be a next time?”
About the Author
Kenna Grace is a small woman with a huge personality. By evening, she can be found writing, reading, and getting lost in her wild imagination. In her other life, she’s a behavioral analyst and devoted partner, but writing about men falling in love and their happily-ever-after is so much more exciting!
Ever since then, he has lived as an immortal house cat—short one life.
Anselm is a mildly depressed vampire with a soft spot for the feline he calls friend.
They live together as equals, companions for eternity—or so they hope.
But their lives take a dark turn when the witch who cursed Edmund long ago dies.
And suddenly, he is human again.
In a race against time’s cruel hand, Anselm and Edmund must make a decision.
Do they find a dark witch and re-enact the curse that plagued Edmund so they can be together for an eternity? Or . . . does Edmund give up forever as a cat to be with Anselm for now as a man?
I clenched my jaw. If this stranger had hurt Edmund, there would be hell to pay.
My immortal cat, as irritating as he could be sometimes, was my best friend. We’d been a pair since the beginning of the twentieth century and . . . in reality, he was all I had.
Everything changed but not Edmund. Nor me.
He was a cursed cat, once a young man in the prime of his life. I was the vampire he called friend.
“Edmund,” I called, dropping the bags I held. The fresh fish and blood I’d bought cascaded to the floor. Some of the packets burst open, but I didn’t care about the mess the blood would make or the smell that would linger for days; I cared about my best friend. “Edmund?!”
The stranger turned; his sharp gaze followed me though he was rooted to the spot.
I rushed through the living room, heading deeper into my home, knowing that if my heart still beat, it would be pounding against my chest like a sledgehammer.
Where was Edmund? Why wasn’t he answering?
Hunting through the rooms, I checked in all of Edmund’s favorite hiding spots—on top of the bookshelf, on my side of the bed, behind my pillow, in the perfect patch of moonlight that streamed through the bay windows in my office—but Edmund was nowhere to be found.
He was missing, gone, disappeared.
“Where is he?!” I demanded as I raged into the living room and caught the stranger by the throat. My fingers tightened as my anger—my fear—tainted the air, sending the thick stench of decay curling around us. The strange young man’s lips parted, opening and closing like a fish out of water as he grasped my wrist and fought for breath. “If you hurt him—” I couldn’t even finish the thought, much less the sentence.
The very idea of not having Edmund, of being without him . . .
I shook the man impatiently. “Where is he?!” I bellowed, shaking the boy.
He appeared desperate as he clutched my wrist and tugged on my arm, attempting to remove my hold, but my grasp was absolute as my fingers tightened around his neck.
Panic danced across his face. His wide eyes shined, a familiar neon blue that I knew.
My lips parted. “Edmund?”
I loosened my hold. It wasn’t possible. Edmund was . . .
The man I held by the neck trembled in my grasp, one minute a man, and in the next, thick black fur sprouted out of his transformed body.
“Y . . . You choked me,” he gasped as I gathered him close.
“You turned into a-a-a man!” I pulled him away from my chest, inspecting him as I did so.
How was this possible? He was cursed by a witch to live the rest of his life, or at least nine lives—eight now that he’d died once—as a cat. Right now, the fluffy black thing I peered down at looked like my housecat, but seconds ago . . .
About the Authors
Autumn Breeze is a bestselling LGBT+ author, and current Radish Content Provider. She is also the winner of a 2015 Watty Award, a former Wattpad Star, with more than 70K followers on Wattpad who was featured in Cosmo in 2017 “My Lessons with the Sexy Dance Instructor.” In 2017 she worked as a Freelance Writer for 20th Century Fox on, “A Cure for Wellness: Seeking A Cure.”
Ashley Chamblee is a bestselling author with 10+ years of experience who specializes in writing horror, fantasy, paranormal, and romance with LGBT themes. Currently, she has 35K+ followers on her combined Wattpad accounts EzraWinn and HonestDying. When Ashley isn’t writing she is either working with special needs adults, playing video games, reading or spending time with friends and family.
Blood Prize, her bestselling novel is available on Amazon.
When a veterinarian and a construction worker connect, it takes mishaps, mistakes, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Rex to show them they’re made for each other. Dr. Carter Falon is content living a quiet life in a small town caring for his animal patients. That doesn’t mean he’s not looking for a distraction. After finding himself precariously wedged… naked and at the mercy of a drop-dead gorgeous construction worker, Carter hires his savior to renovate his home. When Tanner Grady’s best friend and new niece needed him, he uprooted and relocated without a second thought. His life has since been centered on work and spending time with his family, but when he comes to the rescue of a cute vet, Tanner finds he’s a lot more interested in the homeowner than the house he’s renovating.
My eyes widened when they landed on his form. Damn, it wasn’t every day a client greeted me in the nude. Looking at the path between me and who I assumed to be Carter on the ground, I tried not to let my eyes linger for too long on his smooth expanse of skin. He was lightly toned, with a softness about him that was impossible to not notice, despite trying my hardest not to.
With a shake of my head, I calculated each step I took to get to his side. Once I made it safely to the top, the floorboards creaking under my booted feet, Carter angled himself to turn and look at me. Definitely pissed off and in pain, and perhaps a bit mortified too, a light blush covering his cheeks. His gaze roamed me from bottom to top before landing on my own. I quirked my brow in amusement and question while strategically ignoring how fucking pretty his brown eyes were. “So…?” I offered.
He sighed, and I watched in fascination as his Adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed. “I rushed from the piece-of-crap shower when I heard the knock. My foot went through the board, and it’s stuck.” His pink cheeks turned crimson.
Unable to stay the small smile tugging at my lips, I grinned as I stepped closer. I took my time to get to him, wanting to help the guy out. The last thing he needed was me falling on my ass. Clearing my throat, I crouched down at his side, my focus now on his leg and foot.
The whole area was rotten and would need ripping out. But for the time being, I’d need to tear up the two surrounding boards to get his ankle free. “You have tried to get it out, right?” I felt like a jackass for asking, but it was always best to check first.
Carter huffed out a breath. “Yeah, I did. It’s wedged against something. I tried pulling it out, but it’s a no go. It’s tighter than a virgin ass.”
My gaze whipped to his. What the fuck? With lifted brows, I stared wide-eyed at him, drawing another blush from him.
“Shoot, sorry. That was inappropriate.” His eyes widened in horror. “I meant, it’s wedged. Erm. It’s just wedged tight, and—”
I grinned. “It’s all good. Give me a sec.” The poor guy looked like he wanted to join his foot in the space under the floorboards and curl over. He needed an out, and I needed to get some air in my lungs away from his intoxicating smell and firm thighs, which were impossible to ignore in such close proximity.
About the Author
Becca Seymour lives and breathes all things book related. Usually with at least three books being read and two WiPs being written at the same time, life is merrily hectic. She tends to do nothing by halves so happily seeks the craziness and busyness life offers. Living on her small property in Queensland with her human family as well as her animal family of cows, chooks, and dogs, Becca appreciates the beauty of the world around her and is a believer that love truly is love.
Jojo Arias, a Spanish-Filipino mestizo, didn’t expect to meet a U.S. Marine in a swank bar in the Philippines. But, Jojo can’t deny the electricity they have once he meets Adam. Although they come from different worlds, they struggle to keep their relationship private to protect Jojo’s status, and position as part of one of wealthiest and powerful in Filipino society. Billions of dollars could be easily lost if his family business was jeopardized by Jojo’s secret. Jojo is pressured to abandon Adam and live a life in the closet. When the struggle to maintain their secret romance unravels, Jojo is left with a life-changing decision to leave his family, or to pursue his love.
James Joseph Garcia Arias savored the last few drops, then set the now empty pilsner down, right next to two other empty bottles of San Miguel beer. Despite the thick glass windows in the swank Makati bar that should have offered some soundproofing, Saturday Manila traffic passed noisily one floor below. The rumble of buses, cars honking, and steady stream of headlights never bored him. He preferred the noise of the city to the quiet stillness that his parents called home.
He glanced at his Patek Phillipe Nautilus watch his grandmother had given him. He texted Erwin. Ready. Barely a second or two passed, when his phone received the reply text. Be right there, boss. He sighed. He’d asked Erwin not to call him that for the longest time, but Erwin insisted. Jojo stood, fished out the right amount of pesos, plus a slightly larger gratuity than what was expected, then headed for the men’s room. A large group of Americans sat around the glass-tiled bar, laughing loudly. He guessed they were military, based on their crew cuts, hanging out to blow off steam. When he returned a few minutes later, after peeing an hour’s worth of beer, one of the military guys glanced up, and smiled at him. The man’s eyes followed Jojo.
Walk on by. Don’t stop.
He wanted to listen to the voice inside his head but he couldn’t. Maybe the alcohol made him less inhibited, maybe he was still reeling from the breakup with his fiancee and maybe he wanted to talk to someone who wasn’t an employee or a family member, or maybe because no one left in the bar knew him because the next thing he did was he stopped, inches away from the blond.
“Is this seat taken?” Jojo asked.
The stranger smiled more broadly and shook his head. “No.”
Jojo waited a second to see if the handsome man would say something else, but all the blond man did was smile even more. “American right?” Jojo asked.
“I’m guessing you guys are U.S. military?”
“Marines, yeah. We’re sending one of our guys off, rotating from the Embassy here. My name’s Adam, by the way.” Adam offered his hand, which Jojo shook.
“James Arias, but my friends call me ‘Jojo’.”
Adam opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by his friends who came over to meet Jojo. It didn’t take Jojo long to figure that Adam was probably the only sober one in the group, as the four other guys slurred their words, and often laughed uncontrollably at each other’s jokes. When Adam’s friends returned to their seats at the bar, Adam leaned in. “Your English is perfect, no trace of an accent, so I’m guessing you’re American too?”
“You’re partly right. I was born in America. My mother was a medical student in the U.S., and we lived in San Francisco but we moved back here after she got her degree.”
“So your mom’s a doctor?”
Jojo smiled. He wanted to tell Adam the whole long story of why his mother had never practiced medicine after she completed medical school because the family had seen no need of her working at a hospital or a clinic, and that these days her mother was busy hosting, or attending social and charitable events, but he thought the better of it and just answered simply. “Yeah, she is.”
“So you live here. . . I mean the Philippines?” Adam asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m sorry I’m asking stupid questions because you don’t look Filipino. I hope I’m not offending you by saying that. Most Filipinos are short and very Asian looking. You look more like my Latino friends from Southern California and in a good way.”
Jojo laughed. “It’s probably the lighting, but my father and mother are both parts Spanish and Filipino so maybe that’s why my features are different than most.” Jojo’s cell phone vibrated. I’m downstairs, boss. Jojo palmed the phone for a second, aware that Adam was studying him. Erwin, something’s come up. Head back to the garage until I text you again.
Jojo shook his head without looking up from his phone.
Jojo raised his head and laughed at the handsome man’s brazenness. He liked how Adam’s strong jawline, full lips and dark eyebrows peered at him, waiting on every word. Maybe it was the alcohol. He moved within earshot so that only the Marine could hear. “No, I haven’t had a boyfriend in a long time. But, I did just break up with my fiancée.”
“Is that why you were nursing several beers over in that corner after your friends left you?”
Jojo narrowed his eyes. “You’re very perceptive, Adam. Except they weren’t my friends, they were . . . co-workers.” Jojo almost said employees, but stopped himself. Maybe it was the Arias family tendency to be secretive, and not give out too much information, but here he was on a Saturday night in a bar, drinking, when he was usually still in the office poring over engineering details, building plans, and contract proposals.
“I’m sorry about the break up. You look torn up about it. I couldn’t help but notice earlier when we first arrived. Can I buy you a beer?”
Jojo smiled, then laughed without meaning to. The last time a guy had bought him a beer was in a dive bar right outside CalPoly, after an engineering final.
“What’s so funny?” Adam asked, as he chuckled along.
“It’s been a while since another guy offered to buy me a beer.”
“No worries. It looked like earlier you needed it. Did she break your heart?” Jojo faced toward the bar, away from Adam. Jojo didn’t say anything, but he wanted to respond.
Adam spoke again. “You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.”
Jojo pondered Adam’s question as Adam’s friends got louder and louder on their end of the bar.
“Don’t worry about them,” Adam said as he pointed to his friends. “I’m the designated driver, and in about an hour they’ll all be sound asleep snoring in the government issued van I’m driving.”
So he’s brazen without alcohol.
Jojo faced Adam and breathed deeply. He couldn’t tell the color of Adam’s piercing eyes but Jojo couldn’t deny his own intense interest in the serviceman. Adam leaned in and prolonged his gaze. Jojo was mesmerized. Adam seemed genuinely concerned. And maybe he was wrong, but Adam appeared compassionate. “She asked me if I was ever going to marry her. If I loved her, and if we were only together because both our families wanted it. I had to tell her the truth, and that as much as I had feelings for her, I didn’t love her.”
“Ouch!” Then Adam smiled, his voice took on a tone of playfulness. “And you’re here, living and breathing with no scratch on you.”
“She is a very logical, rational person. That’s why I liked her when we first met. She was so completely different from the other girls my parents tried to set me up with.”
“You have a picture of her? I’m curious.”
Jojo nodded, fished out his phone, and scrolled through some pictures before showing a good one of his ex, Lani.
“Wow. She’s hot. Your parents had good taste if they thought she would be a good wife.”
One of Adam’s friends sauntered over and peered at Lani’s photo. “Dude, your girlfriend?”
“Ex,” Adam said. “That’s his ex.”
“How about giving me her number? She’s pretty.”
Jojo shook his head. If Lani, a black belt in tae kwon do, found out he’d ever given her number to someone, she’d probably roundhouse kick him in the head before he knew anything about it. “Sorry, I can’t do that.”
“Well, at least I tried,” the Marine said. “Hey, Adam, we’re thinking we should head on over to the bars downtown.”
“Downtown?” Adam asked.
“Ermita,” the man said.
Adam turned away so that only Jojo could see his face as he rolled his eyes.
“What do you say? For old time’s sake?” his friend asked. “You’re welcome to come along––’’
“––Jojo, my name’s, Jojo,” as they both shook hands.
“Mine’s Nate. Yeah, come along with us, I’m sure Adam won’t mind,” the Marine continued. “It’ll keep him company, and his mind off his ex-boyfriend he’s probably still pining after.”
Adam slouched. Adam’s reaction to his Marine buddy’s comment must have hit a chord and Jojo was compelled to find out more about Adam. Jojo hesitated for a moment. He wasn’t used to spontaneously accepting strangers offers to hang out, but Adam’s eyes beckoned him to say yes. Besides, maybe a few more hours out on the town would make him feel better for breaking up with Lani.
“If you’re sure I won’t be a fifth wheel, yeah, I’ll join you.”
Adam smiled. “Nate’s a little bit of a douche bag. So sorry about that.”
“Well, your friend’s had a little too much to drink.” Jojo leaned closer, sticking a hand in his pants pocket, his lips almost touching Adam’s ear, and whispered. “But to be honest, that scene is a little too, I’m trying to find the right words to say it––”
“––Red light? Yeah, I hate going down there.” Adam put his hand on top of Jojo’s wrist, squeezed it, and then removed it. The quick touch happened in a blink of an eye. “Do you have any other suggestions?”
Jojo didn’t say anything. He was shocked that Adam had just placed his hand on him, so casually, so friendly like. He couldn’t deny the electricity he felt when Adam touched him either. “If they’re looking for dancing women, there’s a club two blocks from here, more upscale but not so red light, as you say.”
“Well, lead the way, Jojo.” Adam smiled. “I’ll rustle them from the bar and we’ll follow you.” Adam stood and moved to where Nate and the other guys were huddled.
Jojo motioned to the bartender. “I’ll pay their tab.”
“Thanks, Mr. Arias. Shall I add it to your monthly bill?”
Jojo nodded. Before he could say anything else, Adam appeared at his elbow. Standing, he towered over Jojo by a few inches.
“The boys are cool checking out a new place. Thanks for the offer.”
“So who’s leaving that you’re having this party for?” Jojo asked.
“His name’s John.” Adam pointed him out. “He’s been stationed at the Embassy for more than three years now. Overdue for his new assignment back to San Diego.”
Jojo signed the chit the bartender handed him without even looking at the total bill.
“Hey, is that our bill? You shouldn’t have done that. What do we owe you?”
Jojo shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I come here often enough that they actually give me a discount, and I’m glad to pay. Thanks for your service. All of you.”
Adam walked to where Nate stood, clapped him on the shoulder, and shouted something in his ear. All the guys around Nate, including John turned to Jojo and raised their glasses and beer bottles, some empty and others not so empty. “Thanks!” they shouted in unison.
Adam took two steps back to Jojo. “Now, they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. Buying their drinks bought you some loyalty. Lead the way, fine sir!” Adam gestured with a bow, holding an invisible cap in his hands as his head followed the gesture.
Jojo laughed at the dramatic flourish and walked out of the bar, Adam right next to him as the other Marines followed them. As they took the steps down one level to the street, Jojo recognized the SUV parked on the side. “Hold on,” he said to Adam.
Jojo approached the Lexus with dark tinted windows. The whir of the window revealed Erwin’s face. “I didn’t go back to the garage, boss. They said I could just wait here until you were done, however long it lasted.”
“Well, we’re headed to my cousin’s VIP club down the block. You know the one. If you want to meet me there, that’s fine.” Jojo ignored his driver’s raised eyebrow. Jojo’s cousin, Tiny, owned a lounge with a rooftop bar.
Jojo hadn’t talked to Tiny in a week or so, since Tiny asked for a loan from Arias Holdings to help his deep in the red bar.
Tiny’s club had boxing on one floor, Ukrainian and Russian models on the second floor, and Filipino women, working as cocktail waitresses, dressed in Vietnamese ao dais whose skirts were mini-skirts rather than full length dresses. The male bartenders were all selectively picked for the discreet crowd. Cousin Tiny interviewed the entire bar and wait staff himself, making sure that they were attractive. The truth was, if they could flirt with Tiny and the head waitress, they were hired if they had a pretty face. Jojo didn’t care for the little people fighting in a small area that took up most of the dance floor, but his cousin assured him that he never exploited them, and that they were being paid handsomely to pretend to hit each other very hard.
The walk to the building where the lounge was didn’t take long. Security at the front recognized Jojo immediately. “They’re with me,” Jojo pointed to Adam and the Marines. The large security guard at the front, who Jojo guessed was probably part Samoan and part Filipino, was dressed in a heavy wool jacket and pants, nodded and then radioed the two equally large security guards by the door. They were shown to the marbled main floor of the building. As soon as they took the elevators, again escorted by another security guard, Adam and the Marines were quiet and didn’t say much. When they arrived at the final floor, loud music greeted them before the elevator doors opened.
About the Author
A military brat, who joined the military himself, W.S. Long now practices law during the day, but at night reads and writes male-male romance. When he’s not writing, W.S. Long travels and dreams of traveling far off distant lands with his mild-mannered college professor husband.
Dive into the first volume of a bleak cyberpunk tahgmahr you can’t afford to miss. What would you sacrifice to survive?
By 4042 CE, the Hierophant and his Church have risen to political dominance with his cannibalistic army of genetically modified humans: martyrs. In an era when mankind’s intergenerational cold wars against their long-lived predators seem close to running hot, the Holy Family is poised on the verge of complete planetary control. It will take a miracle to save humanity from extinction.
It will also take a miracle to resurrect the wife of 331-year-old General Dominia di Mephitoli, who defects during martyr year 1997 AL in search of Lazarus, the one man rumored to bring life to the dead. With the Hierophant’s Project Black Sun looming over her head, she has little choice but to believe this Lazarus is really all her new friends say he is–assuming he exists at all–and that these companions of hers are really able to help her. From the foulmouthed Japanese prostitute with a few secrets of her own to the outright sapient dog who seems to judge every move, they don’t inspire a lot of confidence, but the General has to take the help she can get.
After all, Dominia is no ordinary martyr. She is THE HIEROPHANT’S DAUGHTER, and her Father won’t let her switch sides without a fight. Not when she still has so much to learn.
The dystopic first entry of an epic cyberpunk trilogy, THE HIEROPHANT’S DAUGHTER is a horror/sci-fi adventure sure to delight and inspire adult readers of all stripes.
The Disgraced Governess of the United Front was blind in her right eye. Was that blood in the left, or was it damaged, too? The crash ringing in her ears kept her from thinking straight. Of course her left eye still worked: it worked well enough to prevent her from careening into the trees through which she plunged. Yet, for the tinted flecks of reality sometimes twinkling between crimson streaks, she could only imagine her total blindness with existential horror. Would the protein heal the damage? How severely was her left eye wounded? What about the one she knew to be blind—was it salvageable? Ichigawa could check, if she ever made it to the shore.
She couldn’t afford to think that way. It was a matter of “when,” not of “if.” She would never succumb. Neither could car accident, nor baying hounds, nor the Hierophant himself keep her from her goal. She had fourteen miles to the ship that would whisk her across the Pacific and deliver her to the relative safety of the Risen Sun. Then the Lazarene ceremony would be less than a week away. Cassandra’s diamond beat against her heart to pump it into double time, and with each double beat, she thought of her wife (smiling, laughing, weeping when she thought herself alone) and ran faster. A lucky thing the Governess wasn’t human! Though, had she remained human, she’d have died three centuries ago in some ghetto if she’d lived past twenty without becoming supper. Might have been the easier fate, or so she lamented each time her mind replayed the crash of the passenger-laden tanque at fifth gear against the side of their small car. How much she might have avoided!
Of course—then she never would have known Cassandra. That made all this a reasonable trade. Cold rain softened the black earth to the greedy consistency of clay, but her body served where her eyes failed. The darkness was normally no trouble, but now she squinted while she ran and, under sway of a dangerous adrenaline high, was side-swiped by more than one twisting branch. The old road that was her immediate goal, Highway 128, would lead her to the coast of her favorite Jurisdiction, but she now had to rediscover that golden path after the crash’s diversion. In an effort to evade her pursuers, she had torn into a pear orchard without thought of their canine companions. Not that the soldiers of the Americas kept companions like Europa’s nobles. These dogs were tools. Well-honed, organic death machines with a cultivated taste for living flesh, whether martyr or human. The dogs understood something that most had forgotten: the difference between the two was untenable. Martyrs could tell themselves they were superior for an eternity, but it wouldn’t change the fact that the so-called master race and the humans they consumed were the same species.
That was not why Cassandra had died, but it hadn’t contributed to their marital bliss. And now, knowing what she did of the Hierophant’s intentions—thinking, always, what Cassandra would have said—the Governess pretended she was driven by that ghost, and not by her own hopelessness. Without the self-delusion, she was a victim to a great many ugly thoughts, foremost among them being: Was the fear of life after her wife’s death worth such disgrace? A death sentence? Few appreciated what little difference there was between human and martyr, and fewer cared, because caring was fatal. But she was a part of the Holy Family. Shouldn’t that have been all that mattered? Stunning how, after three centuries, she deserved to be treated no better than a human. Then again, there was nothing quite like resignation from one’s post to fall in her Father’s estimate. Partly, he was upset by her poor timing—she did stand him up at some stupid press event, but only because she hoped it would keep everybody occupied while she got away. In that moment, she couldn’t even remember what it was. Dedicating a bridge? Probably. Her poor head, what did the nature of the event matter when she was close to death?
That lapse in social graces was not the reason for this hunt. He understood that more lay behind her resignation than a keening for country life. Even before he called her while she and the others took the tanque to the coast, he must have known. Just like he must have known the crash was seconds from happening while he chatted away, and that the humans in her company, already nervous to be within a foot of the fleeing Governess, were doomed.
Of the many people remaining on Earth, those lumped into the group of “human” were at constant risk of death, mutilation, or—far worse—unwilling martyrdom. This meant those humans lucky enough to avoid city-living segregation went to great lengths to keep their private properties secure. Not only houses but stables. The Disgraced Governess found this to be true of the stables into which she might have stumbled and electrocuted herself were it not for the bug zaps of rain against the threshold’s surface. Her mind made an instinctive turn toward prayer for the friendliness of the humans in the nearby farmhouse—an operation she was quick to abort. In those seconds (minutes?) since the crash, she’d succeeded in reconstructing the tinted windows of the tanque and a glimpse of silver ram’s horns: the Lamb lurked close enough to hear her like she spoke into his ear. It was too much to ask that he be on her side tonight.
Granted, the dogs of the Lamb were far closer, and far more decisive about where their loyalties stood. One hound sank its teeth into her ankle, and she, crying out, kicked the beast into its closest partner with a crunch. Slower dogs snarled outrage in the distance while the Disgraced Governess ran to the farmhouse caught in her left periphery. The prudent owners, to her frustration, shuttered their windows at night. Nevertheless, she smashed her fist against the one part of the house that protruded: the doorbell required by the Hierophant’s “fair play” dictatum allowing the use of electronic barriers. As the humans inside stumbled out of bed in response to her buzzing, the Disgraced Governess unholstered her antique revolver and unloaded two rounds into the recovered canines before they were upon her. The discharge wasn’t a tip-off she wanted to give to the Lamb and her other pursuers, but it hastened the response of the sleeping farmers as the intercom crackled to life.
“Who is it?” A woman’s voice, quivering with an edge of panic.
“My name is Dominia di Mephitoli: I’m the former Governess of the United Front, and I need to borrow a horse. Please. Don’t let me in. Just drop the threshold on your stables.”
“The Governess? I’m sorry, I don’t understand. The Dominia di Mephitoli, really? The martyr?”
“Yes, yes, please. I need a horse now.” Another dog careened around the corner and leapt over the bodies of his comrades with such grace that she wasted her third round in the corpses. Two more put it down as she shouted into the receiver. “I can’t transfer you any credits because they’ve frozen my Halcyon account, but I’ll leave you twenty pieces of silver if you drop the threshold and loan me a horse. You can reclaim it at the docks off Bay Street, in the township of Sienna. Please! He’ll kill me.”
“And he’ll be sure to kill us for helping you.”
“Tell him I threatened you. Tell him I tricked you! Anything. Just help me get away!”
“He’ll never believe what we say. He’ll kill me, my husband, our children. We can’t.”
“Oh, please. An act of mercy for a dying woman. Please, help me leave. I can give you the name of a man in San Valentino who can shelter you and give you passage abroad.”
“There’s no time to go so far south. Not as long as it takes to get across the city.”
It had been ten seconds since she’d heard the last dog. That worried her. With her revolver at the ready, she scanned the area for something more than the quivering roulette blotches swelling in her right eye. Nothing but the dead animals. “He’ll kill you either way. For talking to me, and not keeping me occupied until his arrival. For knowing that there’s disarray in his perfect land. He’ll find a reason, even if it only makes sense to him.”
The steady beat of rain pattered out a passive answer. On the verge of giving up, Dominia stepped back to ready herself for a fight—and the house’s threshold dropped with an electric pop. The absent mauve shimmer left the façade bare. How rare to see a country place without its barrier! A strange thing. Stranger for the front door to open; she’d only expected them to do away with the threshold on the stables.
But, rather than the housewife she’d anticipated, there stood the Hierophant. Several bleak notions clicked into place.
One immaculate gray brow arched. “Now, Dominia, that’s hardly fair. Knowledge of your disgrace isn’t why I’ll kill them. The whole world will know of it tomorrow morning. You embarrassed me by sending your resignation, rather than making the appearance I asked of you, so it is only fair I embarrass you by rejecting your resignation and firing you publicly. No, my dear. I will kill these fine people to upset you. In fact, Mr. McLintock is already dead in the attic. A mite too brave. Of course”—he winked, and whispered in conspiracy—“don’t tell them that.”
“How did you know I’d come here?”
“Such an odd spurt of rain tonight. Of all your Jurisdictions, this one is usually so dry this time of year! Won’t you come in for tea? Mrs. McLintock brews a fine pot. But put that gun away. You’re humiliating yourself. And me.”
About the Author
M.F. Sullivan is the author of Delilah, My Woman, The Lightning Stenography Device, and a slew of plays in addition to the Trilogy. She lives in Ashland, Oregon with her boyfriend and her cat, where she attends the local Shakespeare Festival and experiments with the occult.
Find more information about her work (and plenty of free essays) here.