After betraying the only man he ever loved, Hadrian ni Leyanon waits for death amid the ruins of a sorcerous battle. Before that can happen he is recruited by the Council of Elders which governs the use of magick in Juxtan. The Council needs him to track down his evil sorcerer father and force him to face a justice they aren’t powerful enough to inflict on their own. Wracked with guilt, Hadrian agrees to join the mage-led mission in the hopes it will allow him to redeem himself. But when Caled, the handsome mercenary whom Hadrian betrayed, insists on joining the mission, too, Hadrian discovers that redemption needs to come from the man who hates him most.
This book was previously published as The Gathering.
The mercenary tightened his fingers around Hadrian’s wrist in response. For a brief instant Hadrian was transported back in time, when Caled held his arm this way because he was leading Hadrian back to the Bell and Buckle for a midday roll and they were trying to be discreet while excitement quickening their pulses. The memory was so sharp and the ache it caused so painful that Hadrian let out a whimper of longing before he could stop himself.
Caled turned his head at the sound, his glorious blue eyes still full of a hate that seemed to age him. But there was something else which lurked in those sapphire depths, something…
“Please,” Hadrian said, the word holding a thousand meanings―it was up to Caled to decide which interpretation to take. “Please.”
Caled had brought them to a mudroom off the main entrance that afforded some privacy. In the semi-darkness, surrounded by hanging cloaks and furs, Caled released Hadrian’s arm and turned around. He herded Hadrian back against the nearest wall, Hadrian clumsily moving his feet out of the way to avoid being stepped on.
“It’s too late for that,” Caled told him grimly. “It’s too late for pleas, for forgiveness. It’s too late, Hadrian.”
Hadrian found himself pressed into the scratchy fabric of wool cloaks. Damp mud on their hems brushed the backs of his bare calves, making him shiver at the cold. But if he needed heat, all he needed to do was look into Caled’s eyes.
“I understand you’re going to kill me,” Hadrian began, his voice stronger than he expected. “I deserve your justice.” The lines around Caled’s eyes deepened. “But I want you to know, Caled. I want you to know―it wasn’t a deception. What we shared―it was real. It was real for me.”
About the Author
Tricia Owens has been writing m/m fiction since 2000, after stumbling onto the term ‘slash’ and thinking it referred to horror stories. She is the author of the Sin City, A Pirate’s Life for Me, and Juxtapose City series, among several others. She lives in Las Vegas.
A Links in the Chain Story A rich man is about to set foot into an unknown world, while a Good Samaritan fears he’ll have to close the charity he’s spent his life building. Poised to lose it all, they might find what they need most in each other. Son of a wealthy importer, Galen Merriweather lives to broker deals, and he’s damn good at it. But it’s getting harder to ignore the kind of man his father is—a man who would pay Galen’s brother’s lover to leave… a man who’d demand Galen retrieve a quarter-million-dollar check from a struggling homeless shelter. Robert Kotke knows the money is too good to be true, but it’s a godsend that could help so many people. Still, he hands it over when Galen shows up. But he isn’t done with Galen yet, and he’s going to challenge everything Galen ever believed. Galen will face an impossible decision: the redemption he’s come to realize he wants, or the life he’d always dreamed of.
THE PEOPLE milling around at the coffeepot scattered when Galen Merriweather stormed into Primal Imports and headed for his office. He’d gone to see his brother, Lincoln, at Park View, the diner he owned, to tell him about the betrayal of Noel Simmons, Lincoln’s lover. When his father had offered Noel a quarter of a million dollars to walk away so Lincoln would be forced to come back to the family business, Galen had been incensed. Their old man had pulled some shady crap over the years, but this was a new low, even for him.
His personal assistant, Olivia, greeted him with a warm smile when he stepped through the door. “Good afternoon, Mr. Merriweather.”
Galen sneered at her and stomped into his office, slamming the door as he did. He dropped into the stylish leather chair that sat behind the imposingly large oak desk, wondering why the hell he’d bothered to talk to Lincoln at all. His feelings about Galen had been made perfectly clear when he chose that… person over his own family.
Plus, what was up with their father? His private investigator had somehow acquired pictures of Lincoln from a BDSM club he’d frequented at some point in his storied past. They showed Lincoln and some of the submissives he’d played with at the clubs. It turned Galen’s stomach to see. Not that he had a problem with BDSM. The problem was how his father had gone about it. The guys in the pictures were innocent, but anyone could clearly see who they were. Galen had to wonder if the PI had stolen the pictures or had worked out a deal with a club owner.
Either way, the whole thing stunk, and Galen hated the thought that he’d done nothing but sit there as his father rode roughshod over Noel. He had to admit, the way Noel had played his father was masterful, and there wasn’t a doubt in Galen’s mind that when he found out, his father’s retribution would be swift.
Galen didn’t like Noel, but he had to respect the ginormous set of balls he obviously had.
Still, what the fuck was up with his father? He’d seen the man pull some awful shit, but this? It went way beyond the pale, even for him. Galen’s ire rose as he thought about how any hope of Lincoln coming back to Primal had now been dashed, and all because their father was a total asshole.
When his phone rang, Galen took a moment to compose himself, then answered it without checking to see who it was.
“Primal Imports, this is Galen. How can I help you?”
Galen groaned. Andy might be the closest thing he had to a friend, but Galen couldn’t muster the energy to talk to him now. Best to find out what he wanted, then politely get rid of him. “What can I do for you, Andy?”
“Don’t be like that. We haven’t talked in weeks.” If it was possible to pout over the phone, Andy was doing so. “How come you haven’t called me? Last time I saw you was at Tyler’s party, when you were puking your guts out, and he was—”
“It’s been hectic here. Was there something you needed?” Keeping the conversation focused was the only way Galen would get off the phone sometime today.
“YP is having strippers tonight. I thought we could go.”
Not just no. Hell no. The last time he’d gone to a bar with Andy, Galen had been forced to duck out the back when he thought he saw someone from the office walk in. While Lincoln was out and proud, Galen was firmly rooted in the closet, and that was the way it was going to stay. Having already borne witness to the disappointment of Lincoln’s “lifestyle,” as their father called it, Galen had no intention of being on the receiving end of that treatment. How the family friends discussed Lincoln was bad, but hearing it from his father was infinitely worse.
“Michael is going to be there. He’s been asking about you.”
Galen’s stomach knotted. Michael had been a one-night stand about a year ago. Galen wouldn’t deny he enjoyed the sex, but he would say Michael’s crude behavior made it obvious the man should never be seen in the light of day, and he certainly would never fit in at family affairs. No, with his oversized muscles, gruff voice, and arrogance, Michael would be more likely to fit in at Lincoln’s diner.
“No, but thank you for asking. I—”
The door to his office was flung open so hard, it bounced off the dark wood panels and caused Galen to flinch.
“I have to go.”
Andy’s protests were cut short as Galen hung up the phone. His father stomped in, a sneer on his face. He stalked over to Galen, put his palms flat on the desk, and leaned in close. “Explain this… mess to me.”
What was there to explain? Noel had played them big-time. His father’s reaction came as no surprise. Jonathan Merriweather was no one’s fool. In all of his dealings, he made it very clear what was expected of people. He used it against them, more often than not, as a means of acquiring their business. Galen had enjoyed observing his father’s cutthroat tactics. Seeing men who thought they had power brought to their knees because of some slight slip of the tongue had been fascinating to watch, and Galen had taken those lessons to heart. Father wasn’t happy about having them turned against him.
“Simmons played you, Father. He followed your instructions to the exact letter, and after he had the check in hand, he left.”
“He’s still here. I’m not a stupid man, Galen. I had Tate follow him. He went back to the diner. We had an agreement, and the little shit took the money.”
“The office, Father. He left the office. You weren’t specific enough about what you wanted from him, and he used it against you. As there were no contracts signed, the only thing you have is a verbal agreement, which could be argued in court. I can’t believe you showed him pictures of Lincoln with his… whatever.”
Nostrils flaring, Galen’s father stood to his full six-foot, six-inch height. “Don’t question how I do things, Galen.”
Galen wanted the chair to swallow him whole. His father’s glower never failed to make him feel small and helpless. He’d gotten Galen to fall in line ever since he was a child, simply by turning it on him. “No, of course not, sir.”
His father splayed his fingers on the desk and leaned forward, his gaze locked with Galen’s. “I’ve already spoken with Lincoln, and do you know the bastard laughed at me? I want you to get that money back. I don’t care what you need to do, but no one cheats me. Do you understand?”
“Why not just cancel the check?”
His father sneered. “Because I want you to put the fear of God into all of them. They need to learn not to screw with me. Do you think you’re able to handle this?”
Galen stiffened his spine. “Yes, of course.”
“I’m going to sue that little shit into the ground.”
“Maybe it would be best if—”
His father’s expression was ice-cold. “When I want your opinion, I’ll ask. Until then, keep it to yourself and do as you’re told.” He turned on his heel and huffed like a bull as he barreled out the open door.
Galen leaned back and ran a hand through his hair. God, the old man was a prick. He’d never been a nurturing person, leaving that to Galen and Lincoln’s nanny. Of course, they never lasted long either. As soon as either he or Lincoln began to feel close, they’d be terminated and someone new would be brought in. Galen was never sure if it was because their father wanted to control his sons or if he’d been screwing the nanny and was done with her.
The sad thing was that his mother was every bit as bad. She’d had affairs with the chauffeur, one of the cooks, and if rumor was to be believed, she’d even bedded a few maids. She wasn’t discriminating about who she had sex with, nor was she shy about sniffing around them when his father was nearby. But in public, they were one big, happy family.
Yeah, he knew what a fucked-up life he led, but he couldn’t complain too much. He had money, power, and when his father retired—God, let it be soon—he would take over the company. Pity Lincoln didn’t want anything to do with it. The two of them together could rule their empire with an iron fist.
His phone rang, and this time he glanced at the caller ID. With a sigh, he picked up. “Sorry, Andy. I had someone come into the office.”
“You hung up on me. Do you know how rude that is?”
“I said I was sorry. What more can I do?”
“Come out tonight. You can buy me a drink, we can dance, watch the strippers, have a good time, and maybe we’ll even get lucky.”
It had been better than three months since Galen got laid, and his ass clenched at the thought. Still, he’d been given a task by his father, and he needed to get on that right away.
“Tonight’s not good. Are you willing to give me a rain check?”
When Andy gave that weary, put-upon sigh, Galen knew he was going to give in. He always did, just because he didn’t want to hear Andy—
“Just one drink, Gale. Please?”
—whine. He knew he was going to regret it, but really, what could one drink hurt? And it wasn’t like the job was his life or anything.
“One drink, one dance. Then I have to go.”
Galen shook his head. This had bad idea written all over it.
THE ANNOYING ringtone on the phone dragged Galen out of a drunken stupor. He glanced over at the clock and groaned. Nearly 4:00 a.m., and he was still wasted.
Despite the fact he’d repeatedly said he had to go, Andy had kept plying him with drinks, and like an idiot, Galen drank them. When someone took his hand and dragged him along, Galen stumbled onto the dance floor, where hot, sweaty men surrounded him, their skin glistening under the pulsating lights. He remembered a mouth on him, sucking at his chest. When he tried to push the person away, they sank to their knees, undid his zipper, and right there in the middle of the club, they’d gone down on him. It was such a shock, and Galen knew he ought to run, but the mouth was hot and wet and Galen was horny, so he grabbed the head and thrust in deep. As he fucked the guy’s mouth, other hands pulled down Galen’s pants. Something cold and wet touched his ass, and Galen shivered. The guy blowing him chuckled. The sound of foil ripping told Galen what was about to happen. The man blowing him pulled off and Galen was urged down to his knees. Without preamble, a thick cock pushed inside him in one stroke, burying to the hilt. Galen moaned. It had been so fucking long.
The man who’d been sucking him stretched out, his legs spread, holding his cock in his hand. He gripped Galen’s hair and pulled it toward his crotch. Galen opened wide, allowing the head to slide into his mouth. The guy locked both hands on Galen’s head, forcing him to take the considerable length.
A slap to his cheek made Galen yelp, as much as he could with a mouthful of cock.
They weren’t gentle at all, and Galen didn’t care. He’d never been spit-roasted before, and he was in heaven. Two men, each using Galen to satisfy their needs, not caring about him. This was what he wanted—no, this was what he needed. He had a hard job, a shitty family, and no one gave a fuck about him.
He wondered what his old man would say if he could see him now.
The man who he was sucking began to grunt, shoving Galen’s head down hard, forcing him to open up his throat. “Gonna come.” His voice was a growl, which inflamed Galen’s senses. “Fuck, this guy can suck a cock.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna seed his ass.”
The talk was filthy, and they were treating Galen like he was a hooker or something. He didn’t care. They still treated him better than his father.
The music volume kicked up a notch, and the words and grunts were drowned out by a thumping bass that went through Galen’s body. A hand reached down and grabbed his dick, jacking it while the guy at his head shot into Galen’s mouth. He swallowed it down, delighting in the musky flavor.
As soon as Galen had swallowed it all, the guy stood up, patted his head, said thanks, then disappeared back into the crowd. When the other guy pulled out, Galen felt empty. He smacked Galen on the ass before he, too, left.
Galen wasn’t sure why, but his whole world turned upside down after that. He pulled his pants up and lurched back to the bar, where he ordered another drink, downed it in one go, then stumbled out of the place.
The ringing phone was like a drumbeat in his head. He reached over to the nightstand and grabbed it. There were six missed calls from Andy. And now he was calling again. Might as well get it over with.
“What’s going on?”
“You tell me, stud.” There was a teasing quality to Andy’s voice that unsettled Galen even more.
“What are you talking about?” Galen’s stomach rolled over, and he got up and swayed a bit before he was able to get his balance. His bladder was screaming at him, so Galen figured he should listen for a change. He moved from his bedroom to the living room.
“Your little act on the floor. It was hotter than hell, and your fans wanted to know where you went and when the next show is. Shit, the Xtube video has nine thousand views already, and it was only posted a few hours ago. You, my friend, are going to be a star. Who the hell knew you had it in you? Well, I guess we all did, since we watched.”
Galen’s stomach lurched and he threw his phone onto the couch, then ran to the bathroom, dropped to his knees, and tossed his cookies. How had this gone so wrong? The old man had gotten pictures of Lincoln somehow. What would happen if he somehow saw this video? Shit, Galen’s life could well and truly be over. After discovering his father had hired a private detective to track down information on Noel, Galen could imagine him having people scour the internet to dig up dirt on both his sons. He had no idea to what end, but seeing how he had attempted to blackmail Lincoln, tried to pay Noel to leave, and how angry he’d gotten over a little nobody like Noel getting the better of him? What would happen if he learned both of his sons were queer?
Shit. Shit shit shit.
Galen swiped a hand over his mouth, stood, and trudged to the sink. He didn’t even need the mirror to know he looked like shit. Still, he wanted to see just how bad it was. Sunken cheeks, bloodshot gray eyes, and his dark hair was greasy. Galen could smell the smoke clinging to him. Even his normally tanned skin was sallow. He turned away. That was definitely not the image he needed to present when he went into work. He took a shower and brushed his teeth, then shuffled into the kitchen where he grabbed a coffee pod and started a pot. His phone rang from the other room, but Galen didn’t want to answer it. He wanted—needed—to put the whole thing out of his mind. It was a nightmare; that’s all it had been.
But despite the drinks at the bar and the beers he’d downed after he got home, Galen remembered some of it. Their hands on him, their cocks inside him. The taste, their forcefulness, the way they’d treated him. If anyone else had done that, Galen would have thrown a fit, but those two men? Galen realized he was nothing more than a hole for them to use, but that was okay. They saw him at least. He snorted, because apparently the whole world was now seeing him. One night fucked up everything, and Galen’s dreams were crumbling to dust before him.
His only hope—and that wasn’t saying much—was to get the money back from the shelter Noel said he’d given it to. If Galen could show his father he could be as cutthroat and ruthless as the old man, maybe it would go a long way toward helping him out of this damned mess.
One thing was certain: he sure as hell wasn’t going out with Andy again.
No matter how good it felt.
About the Author
Parker Williams began to write as a teen, but never showed his work to anyone. As he grew older, he drifted away from writing, but his love of the written word moved him to reading. A chance encounter with an author changed the course of his life as she encouraged him to never give up on a dream. With the help of some amazing friends, he rediscovered the joy of writing, thanks to a community of writers who have become his family.
Parker firmly believes in love, but is also of the opinion that anything worth having requires work and sacrifice (plus a little hurt and angst, too). The course of love is never a smooth one, and happily-ever-after always has a price tag.
I’d like to introduce a new author, Brad Shreve, an LGBT Fiction Author. Although, I typically feature Gay Romance novels, his book, “A Body in the Bathhouse” is of crime and mystery, which I am a huge fan of, featuring gay characters and theming. Mystery and Gay combined! I’m onboard and I had to feature his book.
This is a private investigator whodunnit mystery novel.
On the verge of bankruptcy private investigator Mitch O’Reilly takes any gig that comes his way while running his Eye Spy Supply shop in a forgotten Los Angeles strip mall. After two tours in Afghanistan, Mitch’s life amounts to running his store, coping with his fun-loving sister, Josie, and scoring with anonymous men he meets online. That changes when he gets a break. A beloved comedy scriptwriter is murdered at a bathhouse, and Mitch is hired to prove the innocence of the club custodian. Adapting from a two-bit gumshoe to a high-profile sleuth proves more challenging than he expected.
As if Mitch didn’t have enough to deal with, playful bathhouse operator Trent Nakos enters his life. After a heartbreaking past, the manager is the definition of a man the brooding P.I. actively avoids.
Following leads from sprawling mansions to sketchy hoods is demanding but becomes more troublesome when deadly threats jeopardize the biggest opportunity of his career.
This is a mystery novel. While there is an element of romance it is definitely of the slow burn variety.
“This case will be good for both of us,” Eve said. “If we get my client off, we look like heroes. If we don’t, he’s just another Mexican in prison who’ll be forgotten.”
“You’re one cold-hearted bitch.”
“Just honest, Mitch.”
Attorney Eve Aiken and I had worked together twice before. Once, I took pictures of a drug-abusing father in a custody battle. The second case involved a Pomeranian and suspicious bite marks.
“He’s probably an illegal. That’ll make it harder for us.” She pulled her gray suit jacket off, revealing a low-cut, black shell top. The skin above her breasts and down her arms was rough, wrinkled, and splotchy, making her look far beyond her fifty years. “I’ll give you the quick and dirty.”
I cocked my head and smirked. “Quick and dirty is the way I like it.”
She glared. “You probably know about the murder at that gay bathhouse yesterday.”
“It may surprise you to know there is no gay underground to disseminate information.”
“Don’t you watch the news?”
Before I could answer, a bell on the main door handle jingled. I rolled my desk chair to see the front of my store, Eye Spy Supplies. My twin sister, Josie, was showing up for work an hour late.
My desk, tucked in the corner of the cramped storeroom, is one of those heavy-as-hell, gray metal types the government used for decades after World War II. I placed my arm back on it, bumping a pile of paperwork to the floor where it mingled with more papers sorted in no particular order.
Eve scowled as she combed my shabby storeroom office with its dimmed fluorescent lighting and dark wood paneling. Stacked boxes slanted, ready to fall at any moment. A stool next to the desk barely balanced a mountain of bills on top, all stamped “past due.” I casually took a book off my desk and placed it on the pile. I had opened the store to be my own boss and get out of detective work. My plan was failing miserably. I still didn’t make enough from the store to stop being a private investigator, and I didn’t make enough as an investigator to close the store.
“You were saying?” I urged Eve on.
“A man was killed yesterday morning at the Club Silver Lake bathhouse,” she said. “Familiar with it?”
Familiar? It had been almost five years since I’d been inside, but I would never shake the lure of sheer self-indulgence that consumed my life after I left the army.
“I’ve heard of it. What happened?”
“A man by the name of Victor Verboom had his throat slashed while in a steam room. They have a suspect in custody—Ernesto Torres, a jilted lover who swears he didn’t do it. I’m defending him. That’s why I need your help.”
“Given your feelings towards ‘the gays,’ it’s surprising you took the case.”
“I work with you, don’t I? Anyway, it doesn’t matter which way the wind blows, as long as the cash is green.” She slid forward on my turquoise thrift-store couch and leaned toward me.
“They found Verboom’s body at 3:00 a.m. Apparently, he has a huge house in the hills, but he was known to sleep at the bathhouse several nights a week. Can you imagine
I could but didn’t say so. “What’s his story?”
“He was a staff writer for some TV comedy I don’t watch. It’s in the file.” She opened a manila folder that was in her lap. “Let’s see, it’s a show called Don’t do That! You ever see it?”
“I don’t watch much TV, but I can’t imagine you watching sitcoms. Is it even possible for you to crack a smile?”
Eve’s lips turned down, and she furrowed her brow. In an attempt to lean back, she forgot she was seated too far forward, which caused her to slump on the couch flailing her raised hands. Grunting and clearly embarrassed, she scooched up in her seat and straightened her gray, stained skirt. I was forced to grit my teeth and look away to maintain self-control.
She brushed aside a strand of her thin, black hair and crossed her arms. “Do you want this job, O’Reilly?”
It’s 1985, and Joe Stone is excited to be joining his old school friend, and lifelong crush, Chris, for a long weekend in London’s Soho—home to a vibrant, developing gay scene, and a million miles from the small town Joe and Chris grew up in.
When Chris is found brutally murdered, the police write his death off as another rent boy fallen foul of a bad hook up. But Joe knows his best friend was killed deliberately, and joins forces with former police detective, Russell Dixon—Chris’s flatmate—to find out why.
Spiralling debt, illicit sex, blackmail, spurned lovers and hard-nosed gangsters all play their part, but who among the celebrities, fashionistas, drag queens, ex-lovers and so-called friends is Chris’s killer?
A noirish whodunit set in 1980s London, with all the big hair, electro-pop, shoulder pads, police discrimination and lethal killers that the era had to offer.
Tainted Love is the first book in the Soho Noir series of cozy crime novellas.
About the series
The Soho Noir series is set in the decade of big hair, shoulder pads, pastel suits and bright, cheesy pop, in a part of London which, on the surface at least, seemed to accept and adore people from all walks of life—a melting pot of gender, sexuality, colour and race, where celebrities rubbed up against the average Joe in cafes, bars and hair salons on every street.
But the 1980s had a darker underbelly, even in Soho. This was a time when gay rights were hard fought, where the police actively targeted gay men as easy victims for arrest and extortion, the government deliberately restricted gay rights and the tabloids screamed about The Gay Plague—the AIDS epidemic. And yet, gay icons who would go on to endure lasting fame and success were springing up all over the pop and fashion world.
The 1980s forms a strangely fitting, sometimes nostalgic, always entertaining backdrop to this colourful series of cozy crime stories.
Noirish, sexy and delicious.
SOHO, LONDON. 1985.
THE DANK WINTERY STREETS outside were a distant memory now. Tonight, this hot, sweaty, neon-lit club was Joe’s whole universe. Music pulsed through his body like a brand new heartbeat. London was already changing him.
Sweat sticking his T-shirt to his ribs, arms raised high above his head, grinning wildly, hips pumping to Frankie’s repetitive calls to “Relax”. Joe hardly recognised himself and he was happier than he’d ever been.
It had been a night of Bronski Beat, Sister Sledge, Culture Club and Madonna—the kind of upbeat pop Joe usually hated. He was into more brooding, melancholic stuff—miserable shite, according to his friend Chris—and yet these pulsing, happy beats felt like they defined him right now. The new him. His new start.
This whole weekend had been like none Joe had ever known. He’d always been the quiet one, never even daring to come down to London on his own. Not confident enough to admit who he really was. This year was different already.
His oldest friend from school, Chris Sexton, had called him out of the blue to invite Joe to join him in London for a long weekend. A friend is having a party, he’d said. It’s going to be wild. You should come.
Chris had been the only person Joe had stayed in touch with from his school days. His first and only love, though he knew that particular accolade was one-sided, and Joe had long since given up hope of anything happening between them, even if he was still—and always would be—a little besotted with Chris.
Chris wasn’t the kind of guy who went around falling in love, though. Handsome, confident, reckless, funny and the bravest man Joe knew—Chris had left a trail of broken hearts behind him of those who’d fallen for him before they realised he’d never settle down.
So Joe and Chris had stayed friends, meeting up less frequently now that they had both left their respective universities, and Joe had secured a boring but well paid job with the council back in their old home town.
Chris, on the other hand, had moved to London seven years ago to study Fashion at St Martin’s College. Two fingers up to his father, who’d wanted him to join the family accountancy firm. Maybe he’d go back to it, when he’d settled down a bit. Though there was no sign of that happening any time soon.
After college, Chris had hooked himself up in a partnership with a couple of other young designers, and had been making a name for himself on the fashion scene ever since.
He was renting a flat in the heart of Soho and seemed to have a wide circle of friends of all shapes and ages. Joe wished he had Chris’s life. Or his talent. Or his looks. Any one of those would do.
Joe laughed as his friend bounced across the floor in a series of typically ostentatious dance moves, deliberately bumping into a tall, skinny, blonde guy—exactly Chris’s type—and planting a sly kiss on his cheek before sashaying away again. Oh, for that confidence.
Joe hadn’t even come out to his family yet. In fact, Chris was the only person he’d ever confided in, though he was sure others knew.
His oldest sister suspected. She’d asked him outright once, but he’d just changed the subject. It was none of her business. She was like the mirror of their mother. She wouldn’t understand. She would just worry.
All of that felt a lifetime away right now. Here in this club, Joe had found his spiritual home. This was living. This was who he really was. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna blasting out of the speakers, bodies bouncing and writhing together, very few of them remotely like a virgin.
About the Author
Claiming to be only half-Welsh, T.S. Hunter lived in South Wales for much of his latter teens, moving to London as soon as confidence and finances allowed. He never looked back.
He has variously been a teacher, a cocktail waiter, a podium dancer and a removal man, but his passion for writing has been the only constant.
He’s a confident and engaging speaker and guest, who is as passionate about writing and storytelling as he is about promoting mainstream LGBT fiction.
He now lives with his husband in the country, and is active on social media as @TSHunter5.
London, 1924. Evan Calver is enjoying a quiet pint, when he notices a man smiling at him across the bar. While the Rose and Crown isn’t that kind of pub, Evan thinks his luck might be in, and he narrowly escapes humiliation when he realises the man is smiling at a friend. Eavesdropping on their conversation, Evan discovers the man is named Milo Halstead and served as an army captain during the war.
When they meet again by chance in the British Museum, artist Milo asks Evan if he would sit for a portrait. Evan is amazed that an upper-class artist wants to paint the son of a miner, and he’s just as surprised when their acquaintance blossoms into friendship. When he discovers that Milo is a man like himself, he hopes that friendship might become more. But as Evan and Milo grow ever closer, can they escape the fears of the past to find their future happiness?
On the opposite side of the cabinet, a man was gazing intently at the Athenian amphora. Evan doubted he was having the same thoughts as himself as he scrutinized the naked athletes, but he seemed transfixed by its sporting design. The dark-haired man was wearing a brown pinstripe suit, the kind seen in newspaper photographs of famous actors and royalty, which Evan could never hope to afford. The stranger looked born to wear his stylish attire, his confident posture showing the suit’s fine cut to full advantage. Then he raised his eyes, and Evan saw the man was not a total stranger. His hair was smooth with Brilliantine, and he wasn’t wearing his gold-rimmed glasses, but he was unmistakably Captain Milo Halstead.
Evan was about to make a hasty exit when he realized the former soldier was smiling at him through the glass. He may have looked smarter than he had last night, but his smile was still as warm and kind as a Nightingale Nurse’s. Evan didn’t imagine the captain remembered him, but he smiled back, thinking it would be impolite not to, then turned to walk away. To his surprise, Evan’s action was mirrored on the other side of the cabinet as Captain Halstead moved in the same direction. He was still looking at Evan, still smiling, and as they both reached the end of the cabinet, Evan wondered what would happen next. Would words be exchanged? And what would those words be? If Milo remembered him from last night and he wasn’t the genial man he seemed, they might hint at blackmail or violence.
Evan was tempted to put his head down and make a run for it, but he didn’t want to attract the attention of the museum guards. He took a breath and stepped forward, only to find Milo standing in his way.
“Excuse me. Could I get past?”
“Of course, but…” Milo’s smile was uncertain now, but he didn’t move from Evan’s path. “It was you I saw in the Rose and Crown last night, wasn’t it?”
Evan lowered his eyes and weighed up his options. He could admit he was at the pub and ask to know what business of Milo’s it was. Or he could deny being anywhere near the place, or even knowing of its existence. The latter seemed the most sensible choice, avoiding all confrontation, but when he looked up and saw Milo’s blue eyes sparkling cheerfully back at him, Evan was overwhelmed by a longing to spend a few seconds more in his company.
With no idea of Milo’s intentions, Evan answered, “That’s right. I saw you there too.”
About the Author
H. has worked with books for a number of years, and is delighted to finally find herself on the author’s side of the bookshelf. She enjoys writing historical romances, and contemporary stories too, and while her characters travel all over the world, they always have a touch of British humour.
H. has lived in various parts of the UK and currently lives in the north of England, where she’s enjoying city life as much as the beautiful countryside. In her spare time, H. loves going to the cinema and theatre, and her very eclectic tastes range from quirky comedy to ballet and Shakespeare, and pretty much everything in between.
Throughout the restaurant industry, Chef Bastian Aquino is a notorious control freak. For two very long years, Kian Reynolds has worked for Bastian as his special assistant, doing whatever he and his restaurant needs. The toughest part isn’t even all the impossible tasks he expects Kian to complete flawlessly—it’s the hopeless, endless love he feels for his older boss.
Falling for someone so far above him might be agonizing, but at least his feelings aren’t unrequited. Bastian fell in love right alongside him, but at the very beginning, they made the choice to abstain for logical, smart, professional reasons.
But love isn’t logical, it isn’t smart, and it definitely isn’t professional. It defies containment, even by Bastian. While he watches Bastian struggle with their attraction, Kian finally comes to the conclusion that he’s done.
He’s done standing off the side, done not getting any of the credit, done letting Bastian define the boundaries of their relationship. Most of all, he’s done waiting.
“I’m sorry,” Bastian said quietly. “I’m sorry I gave Xander the sous job, not when you deserved it.”
Kian had been dying for this apology for six months, but even the tender, apologetic look Bastian swiftly shot him wasn’t enough.
He wanted more. He wanted Xander’s old job. He wanted more than just the fleeting touch of Bastian’s fingers on his cheek. He wanted another kiss. He wanted even more than that.
It didn’t matter that it was dangerous or that Bastian had said it was impossible. It didn’t even matter that a part of Kian believed he was right, because there was another part of him that was actively rebelling. That part wanted more, and was not going to be placated with less.
“And you’re still going to try to convince him to come back?” Kian said incredulously. He didn’t need Xander back; they both knew it. Bastian could promote Kian and the kitchen would probably run better, not worse.
But Bastian couldn’t have looked more surprised than if Kian had been the one to walk out in the middle of prep.
“I don’t think you understand,” Bastian began, and Kian knew him well enough, knew his mental gymnastics well enough by this point that he knew exactly what he was going to say. I don’t apologize to anyone, and I’m apologizing to you. You’re special, you’re important, and you need to stay exactly where I’ve put you.
Kian had liked that place, but even at the beginning, it hadn’t quite felt like enough, and by now, two years in, Kian was tired of it and bored.
“I understand,” Kian cut him off. “More than you realize.”
Bastian’s hand dropped to his side and he flexed it, like he was trying to forget the way Kian’s skin had felt under his fingertips. Even if he never forgot, it wouldn’t be enough. Kian wanted to weasel his way under his skin, until there was nothing else between them. Until Kian didn’t know where he stopped and Bastian began. He loved him. Why had he ever thought this sort of half-relationship would ever be enough?
“I guess you do,” Bastian said slowly.
“I need to check on the soup,” Kian said and walked away.
He wanted to be shocked and incredulous that in one breath, Bastian would tell him that Kian should have had the job that was Xander’s and in the next, tell him he was getting Xander back. But the truth was, Kian wasn’t, at all.
He’d known the person Bastian was for a long time now, and he’d loved him anyway. Believing that his mother’s advice was solid, he’d loved the good and the bad parts of him, and that wasn’t going to change, at least not anytime soon. But he was done tolerating Bastian’s shit and he was done giving in.
Most of all, Kian was done being jealous of Luc for having things he never would.
About the Author
A lifelong Oregonian, Beth Boldenhas just recently moved to North Carolina with her supportive husband. She still believes in Keeping Portland Weird, and intends to start a chapter of Keeping Durham Weird.
Beth has been writing practically since she learned the alphabet. Unfortunately, her first foray into novel writing, titled Big Bear with Sparkly Earrings, wasn’t a bestseller, but hope springs eternal. She’s published eleven novels and four short stories, with Indulge Me, the last book of the Kitchen Gods series, releasing in spring 2019.
A psychic medium and a skeptical cop solve supernatural murders in Myrtle Beach
Blurb Medium and clairvoyant Simon Kincaide owns a Myrtle Beach boardwalk shop where he runs ghost tours, holds séances, and offers private psychic readings, making a fresh start after his abilities cost him his lover and his job as a folklore professor. Jaded cop Vic D’Amato saw something supernatural he couldn’t explain during a shootout several years ago in Pittsburgh and relocated to Myrtle Beach to leave the past behind, still skeptical about the paranormal. But when the search for a serial killer hits a dead end, Vic battles his skepticism to ask Simon for help. As the body count rises, Simon’s involvement makes him a target, and a suspect. But Simon can’t say no, even if it costs him his life and heart.
Morgan Brice is the romance pen name of bestselling author Gail Z. Martin. Morgan writes urban fantasy male/male paranormal romance, with plenty of action, adventure and supernatural thrills to go with the happily ever after. Gail writes epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and together with co-author hubby Larry N. Martin, steampunk and comedic horror, all of which have less romance, more explosions. Characters from her Gail books make frequent appearances in secondary roles in her Morgan books, and vice versa.
On the rare occasions Morgan isn’t writing, she’s either reading, cooking, or spoiling two very pampered dogs.
Other books include Witchbane, Burn, Dark Rivers, and Badlands. Watch for more in these series, plus new series coming soon!
At his surgeon father's insistence, premed bad boy Cameron Lord transfers from the massive University of Texas to tiny Tall Thicket State University in small-town East Texas. After the scandal of seducing the dean’s son during their sophomore year in Austin and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Cameron needs a fresh start. Dr. Lord insists Cameron's lucky any school still wants him, but Cameron's more concerned with whether a certain gorgeous blond undergrad is interested.
After spotting Tim Sullivan through the plate glass window of Big Cheeser's Pizza, Cameron can't resist the opportunity to apply for a job there. Angelically handsome, Tim's also frontman for popular local cover band the Angry Goats, proving there's more to him than polo shirts and shy smiles. When Tim reveals he's on Prozac for severe depression, Cameron's convinced they understand each other. But with Tim's evangelical upbringing, the terror of the AIDS epidemic, and the casual homophobia of Tim's bandmate, will virgin Tim be brave enough to acknowledge his growing interest in worldly, reckless Cameron?
Tall Thicket, Texas. Home to Tall Thicket State and Woodpeckers football, for those who even fucking cared. Texans or not, most Thicketers knew the Woodpeckers sucked. No one with any talent came to East Texas to play ball, and honestly, the student body didn’t care. In 1993, they had other things on their minds.
Cameron Lord definitely did. Transferring junior year from the massive University of Texas hadn’t been his Plan A, but after the way he fucked up sophomore year in Austin, well, he needed a fresh start. His dad insisted he was lucky Tall Thicket wanted him, and Cameron had argued enough with his dad recently.
Besides, TTSU had a great psych department. So that worked out, probably. When Cameron had graduated high school near the top of his class, everyone figured he’d become a surgeon like his dad, but now...
Well. Fuck it. Just, fuck it, right? Psychologist was close enough, and it’d be less pressure, and he kind of knew about the field firsthand now.
What seemed entirely unfair, honestly, was that despite how much money Cameron’s dad was saving by sending him here, he expected Cameron to hold down a part-time job. On one hand, that was great. Cameron liked his independence, and he hated his dad, so not having to ask him for much suited him fine. On the other hand, if these meds didn’t pan out...
If these meds didn’t pan out, Cameron would be losing a lot more than a part-time job. Like, oh, his mind?
After two months on them, he felt different. Not better, just different. More detached. Less moved by emotions. That was probably okay, but Cameron couldn’t tell otherwise.
Living off-campus would be nice, at least, right? He’d been in the dorms his two years at UT; at least now he had some space. His therapist, Lynette, had suggested to Dr. Lord that Cameron have somewhere to get away from over-stimulating social situations, so while he still had a roommate, he had his own bedroom with a lock on the door.
Of course, she’d also suggested he walk everywhere because he maybe shouldn’t drive on his current chemical cocktail, but Cameron refused to give up his chopper. He and his dad had built matching ones together when he was sixteen, and it was all he really had left of that part of his life, now he’d blown up their relationship. At least he still had a cool ride.
For all the good it would do him.
His apartment was a stone’s throw from campus, and walking would’ve been easier than driving a bike in the January-molasses kind of traffic moving across the sprawling grounds. By the time he’d done orientation, gotten his books, and settled in, he was convinced he should have bought sensible walking shoes instead of his heavy Doc Martens.
His dad was always telling him to choose substance over style, but what about when style had the most substance? Sometimes form followed function. Wasn’t that better than ugly practicality?
Which seemed to prove Cameron wasn’t cut out for a surgeon’s job. Psychology seemed like a better fit, personal understanding of mental illness aside.
To emphasize the point, Cameron had observed Tall Thicket was home to some improbably good-looking student bodies. The boy who’d been ahead of him at the bookstore had stolen his breath for a good ten seconds and left him light-headed. A girl who sat beside him at orientation had flustered him until he dropped his pencil. Overall, it was a pretty, pretty school—spectacularly landscaped grounds notwithstanding.
Too bad the meds he was on kind of killed his sex drive, along with numbing any other excitement he might feel. Some would argue that was for the best.
With classes starting next week, there was little for Cameron to do with his weekend besides hunker down and settle in, familiarize himself with the town. It wasn’t as dinky as the one-stoplight towns around these parts, but it was a lot smaller than Austin. He’d still been finding cool new spots there when he left. Here, a bike ride down the main drag would take him past just about everything that mattered.
Might as well get out there.
“Going out?” Mike, Cameron’s new roommate, asked as Cameron strode out his bedroom toward the front door.
Cameron grunted in Mike’s direction and shrugged. What did the guy want from him? They had to live together, and if Cameron had his way, that would mean a lot of ships-in-the-night action, not a buddy flick.
“Have fun.” Mike seemed untroubled by Cameron’s attitude and turned his attention back to his grainy recording of Seinfeld.
With two raised fingers, Cameron saluted briefly and headed out. Within moments he was pulling his long hair back into a low ponytail and settling a black helmet on his head. Then he was on his bike and pulling out of the parking lot, turning onto University and then blazing toward the four-lane highway with a roar. Within moments he’d left behind the landscaped campus for the endless rows of mom-and-pop shops intermingled with chain shops.
Clusters of students milled along the sidewalks and waited at corners to cross. Cameron watched them hungrily, the numbness inside growing teeth and gnawing at him. He longed for the belonging of kids hand-in-hand striding over the crosswalk at least as much as he despised it. Easier to dismiss it altogether, though.
Easier never to want what he couldn’t have. Better. Safer.
Lynette talked about comfort zones and stepping outside them, but Cameron wasn’t certain he could survive that much change all at once. Not right now.
Waiting at the stoplight, he caught a glimpse of golden hair through the plate glass window of a pizza place and his chest seized up. Was that bookshop guy?
Oh man, it was.
Bad idea, right? Such a bad idea. Cameron wasn’t hungry, and that guy was probably straight, and this was East Texas.
TheNOW HIRINGsign beckoned, and Cameron sighed and gave in. He had only so much willpower to get him through a day, and most of that was focused on basic human tasks like not driving into oncoming traffic and keeping his balls clean.
He eased across traffic and parked diagonally right in front. He wiped suddenly sweaty hands on his ripped jeans and plaid shirt and then hung his helmet from the ape-hangers.
So what if he was going to mix work and play a little?
So what if he was purposely attempting to get a job somewhere with a devastatingly attractive co-worker who’d fuck his head right up?
Self-destruction was in vogue. He’d wear it well. More to journal about, right?
Cameron wasn’t dressed for success, but what did it even matter? It wasn’t Wall Street. They probably weren’t picky, even if he could just hear his dad moaning over the situation.
Inside, the place was filled with customers. How had Cameron even spotted the golden boy from the road past all these people? Friday night dinner had to be prime time.
The blond man stood in front of the ovens, behind the counter. He held a metal spatula that he clanged against something metal above him before he shouted. “Bell, large supreme pie.”
He then slid a box on the counter in front of him. A woman, presumably Bell, joined the line at the cash register. The man squinted past the heat lamps into the lobby. Their eyes met and his brows rose briefly before he gave a quick nod and then spun around to retrieve another pizza out of the oven.
The place was slammed. As soon as one phone was answered, another rang. The woman answering the phones looked older than the rest of the staff, as if she was in charge. She handled putting people on hold with brutal efficiency, taking down orders on paper slips she stacked until someone came from the back to snatch them away, apparently to fulfill them.
For a second, Cameron considered backing out. Just turning around and walking out. He’d worked at the video store during high school, and Friday nights had been like this, but... Man, food service seemed like a whole other animal. Way more intense.
Though fewer shouting matches so far, at least.
As much as Cameron wanted to bail, the way the blond guy seemed to recognize him—had he, though, or was Cameron reading in?—galvanized him. He stood his ground, waited until he was at the counter, and then licked his lips, suddenly nervous. If he hadn’t been medicated, it would’ve been too much. As it was, he copped a swagger and grinned at the folks behind the counter.
“Saw y’all are hiring. Need help?”
“Oh, um.” The young lady at the front counter crouched down, shuffling papers. She pulled out a pad of job application forms with the company logo in the corner. Ripping one off, she handed it to him and gave him a wide, toothy smile. Her lashes fluttered over her pinkening cheeks. “Need a pen?”
The woman at the phones slung one on her shoulder as she leaned forward, squinting at Cameron. “Hey, kid, you eighteen?”
“Twenty,” Cameron countered with a smile he didn’t feel and a challenge he did. He took the application from the girl and held out his hand for a pen, although he had the sense the manager was inclined to skip to the part where she stopped being short-handed.
The metal clang rang out again as the blond man shouted another name and order. A box appeared on top of another. He paused, looking between Cameron and the manager, then whirled around to grab another pizza out.
“Can you start now? Wash a dish or fifty?” The woman smiled. There was a gap between her front teeth. Her hair was frizzy, probably with the heat and humidity. “Minimum wage, but all the pizza you can eat.”
The blond man dropped the pizza on the table, then ran a roller slicer through with lightning speed. His lithe muscles flexed under the fitted golf shirt. It was probably just the heat that made his cheeks rosy. Or was it?
“Yeah, sure, I can wash dishes tonight. I need a uniform for that?” Cameron tried his best not to stare at the hot boy, especially not in front of potential colleagues. What was he even doing?
Why was he doing this to himself?
He’d never even washed dishes, except at home. The video store had been more with the Be-Kind-Rewind and less with the suds.
“Nah, but you’ll want an apron. Tim, you got an extra apron back there for our new hire?” She glanced over at the blond guy who gave a quick nod before shouting another name.
He peeked into the back and then back to his boss. “Yeah, there’s one on the dough table. Might also need boxes later if this keeps up.”
“Shoot.” She grimaced but set the phone on the stand and then threw open the door to the right of the counter. “Well, you’re hired, um… What’s your name?”
“Cameron.” He stepped through the counter door and sized up the other employees. At least his dad couldn’t ride his ass about this now. He met the manager’s gaze and shrugged one shoulder. “Thanks, um...?”
“Nina. Cameron, great name. Don’t think you’ll need a hat for dishes, but we’ll get you one of those, and the shirt and apron. Pants are just plain black. Docs are good; anything with support will do for shoes.” She started toward the back, giving the phones a swift glance. “I’ll just show you the back quick.”
She pointed at the blond guy. “That’s Tim. At the counter is Lisa.”
She walked back to behind the ovens where a harried looking young lady was frantically making pizzas. “This is Heather. Heather, Cameron. He’s going to do dishes.”
Heather looked at Cameron briefly, went back to her pizzas and then looked back again, eyes roving more slowly. “Cool.”
There was a man facing the back wall shoving dough into a machine. It came out oblong. He ran it through again and the dough was round.
Nina scooted past him. “That’s John.”
John turned. His eyes were bloodshot like he’d been smoking not too long ago, but he seemed to be working industriously. “Great, someone else to suck up hours.”
Nina rolled her eyes. “He’s real fun.” She showed Cameron the bathroom, then the walk-in fridge, then around to the sink. Beside it stood a pile of pizza pans almost as tall as he was.
There was a clank from the front and Cameron caught a glimpse of Tim dropping another pan in a growing stack. He gave Cameron a brief smile and gestured with the metal spatula at a table against the wall where an apron lay. “There’s a dishwasher apron in the bathroom that’s more heavy duty. Just gets hot. Up to you. It’s clean.”
“Hot enough already. Thanks.” Cameron shot Tim a look, half-searching and half-bitter. He already kind of hated him. Tim. What a fucking wholesome sounding name. He was probably a real nice boy.
If Cameron had learned anything, it was to mistrust nice boys. You thought they were your friend. That you could trust them. Be real.
Then they freaked out on you and threw you to the wolves.
Turning his back on Tim, Cameron beelined for the apron and pulled it on before rolling up his sleeves and remaking his ponytail at the base of his neck to keep the wild, wavy strands under control.
“Great. Ask Tim if you’ve got questions. Soap’s up top. Sprayer powers out most everything. Don’t burn yourself. Gotta get back to the phones.” Nina flashed him a smile as she patted his shoulder. “Get you to fill out the paperwork later so we can get you paid. I’ll show you the time cards too.”
If Tim was offended by the cold shouldering, he was too busy to show it. He turned to the ovens and got back to work. A radio played the college radio station. It wasn’t loud enough to be heard in the lobby; it was barely loud enough for Cameron to hear over the sprayer.
What he could hear was the rhythmic clank of metal on metal when Tim pulled out a pizza, signaled he was calling a name, and the thump of another pan dropping into the pile. He could also hear Tim calling a name pretty clearly, which was surprising, given how loud everything was. Pretty good projection. Probably a jerk.
Jerk with a good voice though. Strong. Clear.
Cameron couldn’t help being a little intrigued, especially when he glanced over at every call to see Tim moving nimbly around his station, his muscles stretching and bunching under his uniform shirt. He looked way better in it than he had any right to.
About the Authors
Clancy Nacht is a bisexual genderqueer person who lives in Austin. Clancy has published several bestselling romances. Many of her books have been honored with Rainbow Awards; Le Jazz Hot won for Best Bisexual/Transgender Romance & Erotic Romance. In 2013, Black Gold: Double Black was a runner-up for a Rainbow Award. In 2015, Gemini won an Honorable Mention for Gay Erotic Romance and in 2016, Strange Times won an Honorable Mention for Science Fiction. Wyatt’s Recipes for Wooing Rock Stars was a finalist in the highly competitive William Neale Award for Best Gay Contemporary Romance. The Phisher King won second place in the Rainbow Award for Romantic Suspense, 16th for Gay Book of the Year.
The Thursday Euclid is a strange and elusive creature dwelling in the Texas Gulf Coast region. Frequently mistaken for Bigfoot, Chupacabra, or the monster of the week, he is, in fact, a 30-something black sheep with a penchant for K-pop, geekery, and hot and sour soup. When he’s not playing Dragon Age or SWTOR, he’s probably watching B-movies or talking to his best friend and frequent collaborator Clancy Nacht. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or email him at thursdayeuclid at gmail dot com.
An art fraud, a polyamorous suspect, an asexual detective…
Polyamory and asexuality meet in this third tale about a north-east England quad.
The police suspect Raith Balan of faking a painting. So do money-launderers who sink profits into art. Mike, Ross and Phil, the three men in Raith’s life, must prove his innocence. They’re hampered by their certainty that a member of the Fraud Squad is corrupt.
The senior investigating officer is Detective Sergeant Nick Seabrooke. He knows he is asexual, but is he aromantic too? As Raith’s lovers struggle to keep Raith safe and find the fraudster, the sergeant struggles to understand why the quad is often in his thoughts.
Raith stood in the kitchen in front of the calendar. His gaze shifted from the naked figure depicted on ‘October’ to the highlighted ‘Thursday 12th’ and back again. He pressed a fingertip to his lips, transferred a kiss to the mid-point of the figure’s shoulder blades and ran his finger down the spine—Mike Angells’ spine.
The real-life Mike walked into the room and filled the kettle.
“What are you admirin’?” he asked. “The model or the artist?”
Raith was the artist. “The artist,” he replied. “He’s classy. The model’s okay, I suppose.”
“Cheeky!” Mike admonished.
Changing the subject, Raith asked, “You know what day it is in two days’ time, don’t you?”
“In two days? Well, let’s see… difficult one… It must be Thursday. Aye, that’s right. It was Monday yesterday, so—”
“Stop teasing me! Do you think he’s forgotten?”
‘He’ was Phil Roberts, the man Raith had married 364days earlier.
“Don’t be daft. Of course not. You know Phil. His middle name’s ‘No fuss’.”
“That’s two names.”
“And that’s two cups of coffee. One for you. One for me,” said Mike, handing over a mug.
“None for me?” asked a third man who, yawning, had entered the kitchen. He hugged the two men already there.
“Sorry, Ross,” Mike apologised. “I didn’t make you one. I thought you were still asleep.”
“No. Just dozy,” said Ross sleepily. “I heard Phil’s car. Is it an emergency, Raith?”
“Not exactly,” Raith replied. “He went in early to cover for a colleague.”
Phil had helped to pioneer a form of rectal surgery that used nanocarbon patches to reconstruct torn tissue. He was a respected consultant at the hospital an hour’s drive away in Warbridge, County Durham.
“I’d better get sorted and get out myself,” said Ross. He was, amongst other things, a gallery proprietor in Gateshead, and his journey to work took longer than Phil’s. He yawned again.
“Are you feelin’ okay?” asked Mike, alert to Ross’s tone of voice. “It’s not like you to sound so unenthusiastic about work.” In fact, it wasn’t like Ross to sound unenthusiastic about anything. He was always lively—he personified keenness.
“I’m dead tired cos I didn’t sleep well. I had a strange text late on. You were already asleep. I don’t think you heard the phone buzz. Strange. Unsettling.”
“How do you mean?” asked Raith. “We’re not going to get involved with more criminal activities, are we? I had enough of crime fighting last time!”
Even though Mike was no longer a detective with the Tees, Tyne and Wear Constabulary, the four of them were involved in a surprising amount of crime fighting. ‘Last time’ had involved an illegal immigrant, and the tensions that had arisen had threatened the survival of the quad.
That’s what they were: a gay, polyamorous quad. They lived in Tunhead, a hamlet in Weardale in the Durham hills. Once, Tunhead had rung to the sound of workers’ hammers hitting stone. In a way it still did: Ross had turned it into an arts centre full of smiths, sculptors and potters who wanted to escape the North East’s towns.
“Well, we’re not, are we?” Raith repeated.
“Good. Well, my creations won’t create themselves. I’d better get off, too.”
In Raith’s case, ‘getting off’ simply meant walking twenty yards to his studio, a converted storehouse.
“You sure he hasn’t forgotten?” he asked Mike again before he left.
“What’s that about?” asked Ross after Raith was gone.
“He’s bothered that Phil’s forgotten their anniversary.”
“I know he hasn’t. He’s takin’ him off on a trip sumwhere—but you know Raith. He needs everythin’ crystal clear and written in capital letters. And sumtimes, so do I. What was this message about?”
Ross pulled a face and explained. When he’d done so, Mike could understand his concern.
“He wouldn’t be so stupid, Ross… Would he?”
“Not stupid, Mike, but he’s gullible. He doesn’t always think. I just don’t know.”
The message stayed in Ross’s mind during the forty-mile drive to the gallery and he couldn’t forget about it once he was there. Some of Raith’s paintings hung on the gallery walls. They were mainly of Weardale’s waterfalls. After heavy rain, the falls transformed from gentle trickles into rushing, gushing powerful forces of nature that the four men knew could kill. They’d seen them kill.
Raith loved to paint the waterfalls. From a distance, his torrents looked alive. The effect was linked to his use of colour. Raith was a tetrachromat; he could see a host of hues in what, to most people, was a single shade. He painted for himself, though, not for fame or money—he had plenty of both, due to his skill with clay not brushes. Several of his wares were on show at the gallery, most tagged ‘sold’ with a price that would feed and clothe all four men for a long, long time. His sensually erotic sculptures, modelled on Mike and Phil, were always in demand and beautifully, lovingly executed. But today, Ross gave Raith’s erotica a miss. He stared, instead, at the waterfalls.
What might induce Raith to produce a piece of work “with intent to deceive”, as the legal phrase was?
That was what the worrying message had suggested. That Raith’s were the hands and eyes behind a painting that the police were interested in. They thought it was a fake. For the umpteenth time, Ross asked himself why?
Raith didn’t need fame and he didn’t need fortune, but did he need the challenge of outwitting the experts? Of copying another artist’s work so accurately that no one would notice the difference?
Surely not. Momentarily, Ross’s dark mood lifted. The only challenge Raith was likely to rise to was the one of finding ways to spice up the quad’s evening meals. Two nights ago, he’d ‘accidentally’ stumbled near the saucepan with a teaspoon of chilli flakes in his hand.
“Oh, look! They’ve fallen in,”he’d said apologetically.
Ross smiled when he thought about it, but anxiety soon returned. Could Raith be feeling resentment? Sometimes, that was the driving force behind a fraud. Failed artists whose work had been refused once too often. Failed artists who took I’ll show them!literally.
No. All Raith’s resentments were little ones that quickly blew over—feeling nagged for not doing his turn on the house-keeping rota, being yelled at for leaving clay-covered dirty washing on top of the pile of clean laundry. Raith took umbrage easily, but he’d be smiling again within the hour. And anyway, he wasn’t a failed artist. He was a very successful one.
He was a strange mixture though. That complexity was part of his attraction. It was part of what made him Raith. His skill was undeniable, but his mental health was fragile— ‘bloody unhinged’ was how Mike would describe Raith in less charitable moments. He could be unpredictable. He could be very violent. He had another side, though, and it was what Mike and Phil and Ross adored about him. Canny, clued up, an ex-con hard as nails… but at the toss of a coin, as loving, as sweet and as trusting as anyone they had ever met. Mike was as loving, and often as sweet, but trusting? No. Mike was ex-CID. It wasn’t in his nature to be trusting.
Which was why Mike was already making phone calls.
About the Author
I’m not Nick Seabrooke, the ace in the picture, but there are some firsthand truths peeping through the fiction. Like Nick, I’m ace and happy with it, but also, like Nick, I’m wavery on that ro/aro line–and that can cause some soul-searching. If the picture painted in the story is a very narrow one, it’s because I didn’t want to stray too far from what I know. The quad, however, are totally imaginary.
I blog at https://polyallsorts.wordpress.com. There are posts about asexuality, polyamory, beer, tattoos, book covers, and many other story-related items. There are photos of the Durham countryside, the setting of the stories, too. I’m always happy to receive and respond to comments. Well, if they’re friendly ones!
Blurb Two Hearts. One Curse. Zero Time.A century ago a spiteful witch cursed Edmund. Ever since, 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. Then, the witch who cursed Edmund long ago dies.And suddenly, he is human again.In a race against times 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 eternity? Or . . . does Edmund give up forever as a cat to be with Anselm for now as a man?
Excerpt “Hi.” I gave a small wave. “Hello,” Elex said, sounding unsure and confused. “It’s me, Edmund,” I explained. “Surprise.”“Yeah. Whoa. Surprise.” Elex shook his head. “Remember I told you I could talk because I was human, and a witch cursed me,” I rushed to explain why I was suddenly human. “Well I’m pretty sure she’s dead and the curse is wearing off. Anselm is out looking for a new dark witch now.”“Wait. What? Why?” Elex asked. His initial shock seemed to turn into something else. “To re-curse me,” I muttered, watching his eyes widen.“And I thought my relationship was twisted,” Elex muttered, and I laughed softly.
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.