Thursday, October 22, 2015

Random Paranormal Tales Part 6

Hemovore by Jordan Castillo Price
Can art imitate death? Oh no, girlfriend. Don’t even go there…

Ten years ago, the Human Hemovore Virus blazed through the world, and left the few victims who survived unable to eat, allergic to sunlight and craving the taste of blood.

Mark Jensen used to think V-positives were incredibly sexy with their pale, flawless skin and taut, lean bodies. Not anymore. Not since he’s been stuck procuring under-the-counter feline blood for his control-freak boss, Jonathan Varga. Why cat blood? Mark has never dared to ask.

It’s not as if he’s usually at a loss for words. He can dish an insult and follow it with a snap as quick as you can say “Miss Thang”. But one look at Jonathan’s black-as-sin gypsy eyes, and Mark’s objections drain away.

So he endures their strange, endless routine: Jonathan hiding in his studio, painting solid black canvases. Mark hurling insults as he buffs the office to a shine with antiviral wipes and maps out the mysterious “routes” he’s required to drive.

Then a blurb in Art in America unleashes a chain of events neither of them saw coming. As secrets of Jonathan’s past come to light, it becomes clear all his precautions weren’t nearly enough.

Product Warnings
Be sure to schedule adequate breaks for food and sleep while reading this novel. The author will not be held liable for any missed workdays, low blood sugar headrushes, or unfortunate bathroom accidents that may result from reading “just one more chapter”.

The Haunted Heart: Winter by Josh Lanyon
Still grieving over the sudden death of his lover, antiques dealer Flynn Ambrose moves to the old, ramshackle house on Pitch Pine Lane to catalog and sell the large inventory of arcane and oddball items that once filled his late uncle's mysterious museum.

But not all the items are that easy to catalog -- or get rid of.

There was just the right amount of mystery, paranormal, humor, and romance to make this story almost perfect. The only flaw I found was I wished it was longer because I wasn't ready to let go of Flynn & Kirk when I found myself looking at the last page.


Ghost of a Chance by T.A. Chase
For Padraig, finding himself face to face with the man he'd loved and lost a lifetime ago is the biggest thing on his mind.

Padraig Monaghan has a problem. Most would consider dying in a bar fight ten years ago upsetting, and existing as a ghost wandering the world might be thought a real predicament. They might deem a second chance at life through a chance encounter with a dying man a serious dilemma. But for Padraig, finding himself face to face with the man he'd loved and lost a lifetime ago is the biggest thing on his mind. Gareth Reilly stops at O'Toole's for a drink before he heads home. Tomorrow's going to be another lonely birthday for him until he's approached by a stranger. There's something about Padraig's bright green eyes and Irish accent that reminds Gareth of a man he once knew. Unable to resist, Gareth breaks his cardinal rule and invites Padraig home. On St. Patrick's Day, when Irish magic is strongest, it'll take a belief in the impossible and help from a grateful elf to give Padraig and Gareth another chance at love.

This is a beautifully written tale of second chances or more to the point, taking that leap of faith.  Padriag and Gareth both wanted each other but never seized the moment, now 10 years later they have a second chance at their moment, too bad Padraig has been dead the past decade.  This is a fun read, sexy, loving, and it reminds you to take a chance when your heart speaks to you.  You will laugh, you will cry, and if you are like me you will probably grumble a little at the shortness of the story but in the end you won't regret taking a chance because it will warm your heart.


Lone by Rowan McBride
Professor Seth Anderson has finally found sanctuary in Brier, Iowa. Even better, he's found Raphael "Rafe" Dirisio, a strong, giant of a man who owns the town pool hall, and Seth has never felt so comfortable, safe, or close to anyone. When Seth is asked to give a series of lectures in Washington, DC, it seems only natural that Rafe come along. But in a few surreal days, Seth's true nature is exposed and he brings both their lives crashing down around them.

Because Seth is not only a werewolf, he's also something much, much worse...

Kick at the Darkness by Keira Andrews
To live through the zombie apocalypse they have to survive each other first.

College freshman Parker Osborne is having the worst day ever. He humiliated himself trying to pick up a cute guy, he hasn’t made any friends at school, and his stupidly hot jerk of a TA gave him a crappy grade on his paper. He’s going to drop Adam Hawkins’ film class and start fresh tomorrow after he’s had a good sulk.

But Parker’s about to find out what a bad day really looks like—if he can survive the night.

A virus is unleashed, transforming infected people into zombie-like killers. After these quick and deadly creepers swarm campus, Parker only escapes thanks to Adam swooping him onto the back of his trusty motorcycle. Now they're on the run—and stuck with each other.

When they’re not bickering, they’re fighting off the infected in a bloody battle for survival. Their only hope is to head east to Parker's family, but orphaned Adam has a secret he’s not sure Parker will accept: he’s a werewolf. Can they trust each other enough to find some light in these dark days?

Chapter One
The blood is the life.

So Hollywood’s been telling us, and maybe it’s true, but water is where the real money’s being made. Water should be free—it falls from the sky, after all—but there it was on the shelf in slick, designer-looking bottles, selling for four, five bucks apiece. Water. It had become the fastest-growing, highest-grossing product on the market.

I felt vaguely guilty as I steered my shopping cart full of Lean Cuisines down the water aisle, but only vaguely. Jonathan had never forbidden me to shop in the water aisle—only the vampire aisle. Though you could argue that they were practically one and the same, especially since water now came in such flavors as Dew Kissed Pear Orchard and…Meatball Hoagie.

I did a double take. Yes indeed, I’d read the label correctly. Meatball Hoagie De-Lite. I rotated a bottle so I could read the label. The first ingredient was water. That was encouraging. A bunch of scientific-sounding words followed. Additives? Preservatives? Hard to say. All I knew was, that bottle of flavored water had more chemicals in it than my Aunt Trixie at the last ill-fated Hansen family Thanksgiving gathering.

The shelf had a bright orange tag dangling from the edge. Meatball Hoagie De-Lite was on sale, three for $11—which was irritating, since eleven isn’t readily divisible by three, and which, I suspected, was the very reason it had been priced that way. It couldn’t hurt to try it, since it was on sale and all, but I wasn’t about to put it on Jonathan’s credit card with the rest of our food. Maybe he looked at the receipts, or maybe he shoved them all into a shoebox for his accountant to handle, but either way, I didn’t want to be stuck explaining my sudden perverse desire to taste sandwich-flavored water.

Maybe I had some cash.

I slipped off my store glove to avoid contaminating my pocket and felt around for my money clip. Empty. But wait, there was a papery sort of rustling behind the foil-wrapped antiviral wipe. I plucked the paper out triumphantly, fully expecting it to be a five…and found a McDonald’s receipt instead. For the record, I never eat at McDonald’s. Not unless I’m fainting from low blood sugar, or I’m stuck at the apex of a particularly long and circuitous route.

I gazed fondly at the receipt. The Big Mac had been divine. And the fries were golden perfection. I hadn’t been imagining money where it didn’t exist—there really had been a five. However, that particular bit of currency now resided in the antimicrobial cash register beneath the Golden Arches.

Vampire water never tasted as good as I imagined it would, anyway. There was no heft to it. No calories. No fat. And the flavors either faded so fast that I couldn’t be sure I’d even tasted them, or they lingered on as strange and intrusive aftertastes. It was just as well that I had no cash to waste on an outrageously priced bottle of water, especially since I still hadn’t managed to calculate its exact cost.

I’d turned away from the display and was fully prepared to wheel my shopping cart away, and as I tried to stuff my hand back into my store glove, a thought occurred to me. Did the water taste like bread? It would have to, wouldn’t it? Otherwise it would be bouillon. Clear, chemically replicated bouillon without any actual meat stock, but bouillon, nonetheless. What made this particular flavor of water taste like a hoagie?

It was while I was in this vulnerable state of confusion that the goth girl accosted me.

“Hiya!” She was up close and personal—and her hand slid into my poor, vulnerable bare hand before I even knew what hit me.

I jerked my hand back, and my elbow knocked several bottles of water off the shelf. Moist palm, fishy grip—I’d been expecting the worst as soon I realized I was actually getting an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned handshake. The flesh-on-flesh contact had been mercifully brief, but she’d left a souvenir behind—a piece of paper.

I unfolded the sheet. It was a quarter-page flyer, hysterically pink, with a local phone number on it. Below that, it read:

Support Group
For V-Negative Spouses and Partners
Of V-Positives
First and Third Mondays at 8:30 a.m.

“What is this?”

“Call that number whenever,” she said. “I leave the machine on.”

“And I would want to call you…why?”

She looked up through her mascara-clumped lashes and gave me a knowing smile. “It’s tough, living side by side with the virus, worrying about catching it, day in, day out. It wears you down. We know.”

“Which is why they invented gloves.” And antiviral sprays, soaks and wipes. I pulled my right glove back on with a snap, even though I’d touched that damn piece of paper, so now the gloves would need to go in the autoclave.

Her smile went wispy. “Well, mainly we talk about safe sex. Like I said, call me whenever.”

She turned and traipsed away. Her boot heels were as shoddy as her overcoat. She looked as if she might break into a joyous Julie Andrews skip at any moment.

I thought goths were supposed to act morose. Maybe she was emo.

“I’m not…sleeping with him,” I said. Because, oh no, girlfriend. You don’t even want to go there.

I stepped over the water bottles rolling around on the floor and propelled the cart away, all curiosity about the water’s hoagieness gone, replaced by the need to finish my shopping and get out of the store before anyone else saw me and pegged me for a…a what? A guy whose paycheck was signed by a vampire, who happened to do his grocery shopping? Because that’s all I was. Nothing less, nothing more.

I tossed a couple quarts of peanut oil into the basket and headed for the checkout line. Little Miss Handshake was reading the label on a bottle of synthesized blood when I marched past her with my cart, head held high, on my way to the checkout. She glanced at the peanut oil.

“I’m deep frying a turkey,” I informed her.

She raised a triple-pierced eyebrow, smiled, and went back to her comparison shopping.

* * *

Color me paranoid, but I was especially careful driving back to Varga Studio. I could have taken numerous routes—and I’m not talking about normal-person routes, such as, “Should I stay on Halsted, or would it be faster if I turned down Clark?” No, I mean Jonathan-routes, dozens of maze-like paths designed to thwart a would-be pursuer. Not that I ever actually believed someone was following me. It was more that I suspected Jonathan might be checking the odometer to make sure I had followed his instructions to the letter.

I chose route double-double-ess, as I called it in my head, since it had the most right turns, and therefore was the least likely formation to leave me flapping in the wind in the left turn lane.

I attempted a right on red, then stopped as a pedestrian wandered into the street, oblivious, talking on her cell phone. I could have tapped my horn, but what was the point? It wasn’t like I was in a hurry to get back to the studio. Not in the mood I was in.

Safe sex. As if. No sex with a vampire was safe sex. You couldn’t even dry-kiss without someday finding yourself on the long road to a permanent liquid diet…if you even survived all three hideous stages of the disease, which a majority of the people who contracted it didn’t.

Still, those two words nagged at me all the way back to the studio. Safe sex. Back before the hemovore virus, when all we had to worry about was HIV, my best friend Larry used to say, “Keep your fluids to yourself, and everything will be just fine.”

Just fine.

Except nowadays, a condom wasn’t enough. There were respiratory masks, and antiviral products for every surface known to man, and gloves. Dozens and dozens of gloves.

I disinfected my hands with gel, swapped out my car gloves with house gloves and let myself in with my key. The studio was more of a converted high-rise apartment than an actual place of business. Jonathan painted there, and slept there, and I took his calls and ran his errands, his ridiculous routes, and we did our best to avoid one another and acted like everything was just fi—

“What are you doing?” I said.

There he stood, in the center of the kitchen. My kitchen.

Well, okay, technically his kitchen, since it was his studio. He hovered there, midway between the autoclave and the trash compactor. He’d looked to be about twenty-five when I met him and he hadn’t visibly aged a day since. I’ve grown to think of him as a non-age, a vampire age. Which looked pretty much like twenty-five.

Even when he was doing nothing more telling than standing, he was light on the balls of his feet. It was nearly a pose—contrapposto, lean hip outthrust, arms loose. One side of his shoulder-length black hair was tucked carelessly behind his ear, and the other side dangled to his chin in uncombed waves. Black paint streaked one cheek, dotted his jaw, the bridge of his nose.

Did he look silly? No, of course not. He looked breathtaking. As usual.

His head turned and he looked at me. For just a moment, the overhead light in the hallway behind me refracted off his retinas, and his eyes glowed. But only for a moment. When he trained that gaze right on me, and I stood between him and the light source, all hulking six and a half feet of me, his eyes went practically black. Gypsy eyes.

“Mark.” He rolled the “r” when he said my name. Just like Count Dracula, or more accurately, Bela Lugosi—who’d been born in Hungary, like he had. “It is bad.”

I wondered if this was the point at which he’d tell me the goth chick in the supermarket was actually a secret shopper he’d hired to make sure I wasn’t cruising the vampire aisles. “Could you be somewhat more specific?”

He huffed and gestured toward the refrigerator.

“Great,” I said. “You touched it with your bare hands again. Do you realize how long it’ll take me to wipe it down?” I clucked my tongue and set the bags on the countertop. “I keep my lunch in there, y’know. I told you we should order a second fridge—”

“I was wearing the gloves.” He pronounced it, “I vas varink da glahvs,” by which I could tell he was exceptionally agitated. Because usually his accent wasn’t any more pronounced than the heavily rolled “r”, a few flat vowels and an overall lyrical lilt.

Chastised, but only slightly, I said, “Well, then what?”

He gestured at the fridge again. “It is bad.”

“Did the power go out?” I went around him and pulled open the door. Cool air wafted from the opening. I checked the readout on the separate thermometer we kept in addition to the built-in unit. Thirty-seven degrees. “The temperature’s fine. What do you mean, it’s bad?”

“It is…clotted.”

Oh. The refrigerator wasn’t the problem. It. He couldn’t even say the word “blood” in front of me, as if it were something shameful. “Are you sure?”


Stupid question, right. But we’d used the same blood dealer for years, and never had a platelet problem before. “How many doses are left? Three? All of them are…?”

He gave me a look of exaggerated patience, crossed his arms and assumed a pose that was even more heartwrenchingly beautiful. Which I didn’t notice at all, given that he was my boss. And V-positive.

“Okay.” I pointedly ignored the way his clingy, long-sleeved T-shirt molded itself to his shoulders and pecs, and let the problem-solving portion of my mind click into gear. “I can’t get you more cat until Wednesday, so I’ll track down some synthetics to tide you over—”

“Please call Mrs. Jeffers and explain. I cannot take the synthetics.”

I needed to wrangle with the cat blood dealer like I needed to spray my gloves with Teflon. “She’s not going to bleed her cats twice in the same week. She can’t. And if I piss her off by asking—hell, she’ll probably fly into a tizzy if I even let her know she didn’t anticoagulate this batch right—she’s probably going to tell you to go find yourself another source. Do you have a backup? Because I don’t.”

“I have…a phone number.” He spun and walked out of the room, so graceful it looked like the move had been choreographed. I sighed, opened up the autoclave and rearranged the beakers and vials inside so that I could stuff in one more pair of gloves.


I hadn’t heard Jonathan return, but that was nothing new. I didn’t jump. I’d had plenty of practice quelling my startle reflex.

He held out the slip of paper. He had his gloves on, but I hesitated anyway.

“Take it. I copied down the number again.”

Okay, but was the notepad sterile? The ball point of the pen? I had my own gloves on, but still. Passing a tiny slip of paper seemed an awful lot like touching.

I took the phone number and told myself to stop being ridiculous.

I went into my office, gave my desk, chair and phone a once-over with a pop-up wipe, all the while rehearsing what I’d say. Be brief and to the point, I told myself. Businesslike. You could hardly take two steps after dark these days without tripping over a vampire, but even so, the whole blood trade was still the stuff of hush-hush, back-alley melodrama.

Immediately after I punched in the number, three discordant tones blasted through the receiver. “We’re sorry. The number you have called has been disconnected…”

I glanced up from the slip of paper. Jonathan stood in the hallway, arms crossed, watching me with his black gypsy-eyes.

According to the digital readout on my phone, I’d dialed correctly, but I tried again anyway. The same three tones pummeled my eardrum. I hung up.

“Call Mrs. Jeffers,” Jonathan said. “Please.”

I forced myself to shape my face into the expression I assumed passed for bland neutrality. Please. He’s scrupulously polite when he orders me around. But that single word—please—can so easily be turned into the soundtrack of a fantasy I had no business dreaming up.

“That was your backup?” I said, nastier than I had to. “One phone number.”

“Mrs. Jeffers had very good references. In four years, there has never been a problem.”

I flipped through my kitschy Rolodex and poked through the J section, and wondered what it would take to keep Jonathan from listening in, though I had the sneaking suspicion that his range outstripped the cordless phone’s.

I dialed. Mrs. Jeffers’ phone rang. And rang. And rang. “She’s not there. No machine either—”


Dang. “Mark Hansen calling.”

No response. But I could hear her breathing.

“About this week’s supply. We’ve had some coagulation—”

“That’s impossible. I follow procedures.”

I closed my eyes and pretended Jonathan wasn’t hovering there in the hallway with his eyes trained on me. And that one of Mrs. Jeffers’ ridiculous cats was taking a dump inside her favorite pair of shoes. Even that didn’t make me feel better. I modulated my voice. Cool. Calm. Professional. “Of course. The quality, up to this point, has been pristine. I’m sure it’s some sort of fluke—but whatever the reason, it’s caused us to be three days’ short—”

“No refunds. You don’t like it? You find someone else to get you cat.”

When, exactly, I’d opened my eyes again, I wasn’t sure. I saw Jonathan fidget in my peripheral vision and wished I’d kept them shut. “I’m happy to pay you for the additional three days.” Jonathan motioned for me to go higher. “And another hundred dollars for your trouble.”

What I really wanted to do was threaten to report her to the Humane Society. But seeing Jonathan squirm like that forced me to quell the urge to give in to my petty impulse.

More breathing—nose-breathing. With a whistle. “I just bled ’em four days ago.”

Jonathan motioned for me to go higher still.

“Two hundred.”

She breathed. Ten seconds. Twenty. Finally, when I decided she’d probably slipped into a diabetic coma, she said, “Two hundred, and two cats. Big ones, socialized, no FIV or ear mites.”

Where was I supposed to…? Jonathan was nodding vigorously.

“Three hundred?” I suggested.

“Two hundred and two cats. That’s the best I can do. I just bled ’em.”

“I heard you the first time.”

The Haunted Heart: Winter
I didn’t see him until it was too late.

A tall, faceless figure looming up out of the shadows. Even if I had seen him, I’m not sure it would have made a difference. My only thought was getting downstairs and out the front door as fast as possible. It turned out the fastest way was crashing headlong into someone bigger, and letting my momentum send us both hurtling down the staircase.

My…er…companion yelled and cursed all the way down the first flight. Well, in fairness it was one long yelp and a prolonged curse. “Yooouuu’ve gotta be fu-uh-uh-uh-uh-cking kid-ding me!”
We landed in a tangle of limbs on the unswept and none-too-plushy carpet. My elbow whanged one final time into the balusters and my head banged down on the floor. I saw stars. Or maybe that was just the dust, which had probably crystallized with age.

“What the hell was that?” moaned someone from the ether.

Good. Question.

What the hell had that been? It sure wasn’t a trick of the light. Though I’d done my best to tell myself that’s exactly what it was — and had kept telling myself that right up until the moment the murkiness in the mirror had begun to take form.

“Sorry about that,” I mumbled. His bare foot was planted in my gut, and I couldn’t blame him when he dug his toes in for leverage before lifting off me. “Oof!”

“What do you think you’re doing running down these stairs in the middle of the night?”

I groped for the railing and pulled myself painfully into a sitting position. “I…thought someone was in my room.” Lying was second nature to me by now, but that was a stupid lie. I knew it, the instant the words left my mouth.

404-A — What was his name? Something Murdoch — got to his knees and gaped at me in the dingy light. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“I am saying so.”

We both turned to stare up at the wide-open door leading into my rooms. My lamp-lit and noticeably silent rooms.

We looked at each other.

404-A was older than me, bigger than me, shaggier than me. He had a beard and shoulder length black hair. His eyes were dark and sort of hollow looking — that was probably lack of sleep. He looked like those old posters for Serpico, but he wasn’t a cop. He was some kind of a writer.

And a crap guitarist. Then again, I wasn’t anyone’s dream neighbor either. As indicated by current events.

“You think someone’s up there?” He asked me slowly, skeptically.

I weighed a possible visit from the local fuzz, and opted for resident whacko.

“I did. But…maybe I was wrong.”

“Maybe? Maybe? Why don’t we find out?” He was on his feet now, yanking his red plaid flannel bathrobe shut and retying it with a couple of hard, businesslike tugs that vaguely suggested a wish to throttle something. Without waiting to see if I was following or not, he stomped up the flight of stairs. Guiltily, I noticed he was limping.

It was actually amazing either of us hadn’t been seriously injured or even killed in that fall.

“Coming?” he threw over his shoulder.


He muttered something, and not pausing for an answer, disappeared through the doorway.

I admit I waited.

He couldn’t fail to see the mirror first thing. It was as tall as I was, cartouche-shaped, mounted on an ornate, ormolu frame. It stood propped against a Chinese black lacquer curio cabinet. The slight angle created the effect of walking up a slanted floor to peer into its silvered surface.

An icy draft whispered against the back of my neck. I shivered. This dilapidated four-story Victorian monstrosity was full of drafts. Drafts and dust. And shadows and creaks. All of them perfectly harmless. I shivered again.

Footsteps squeaked overhead. “It’s clear. Come on up. There’s nobody here,” 404-A called at last.

I let out a long breath and jogged up the stairs. The elfin faces carved in the black walnut railing winked and smirked at me as I passed.

I reached the top landing and walked into the jumble sale of my living room. “Living room” was kind of a euphemism. It was more like the entry hall of a failing museum, complete with battered statuary and oil paintings of morose Flemish people. And in fact most of these objects had been in a museum at one time. My late great Great-Uncle Winston’s museum of weirdness.

My gaze fell on the mirror first thing, but the surface showed only me, tall and skinny and pale in my Woody Woodpecker boxers. My hair looked like Woody’s too, only blond, not red. Definitely standing on end, whatever the color.

“I guess I dreamed…it,” I said by way of apology.

“First time living alone?” 404-A asked dryly. He stood right beside the mirror, his own reflection off to the side.

“Ha,” I said. “Not hardly.” But come to think of it, he was right. I’d lived at home until college and then after college, I’d lived with Alan. This was my first time totally on my own. “Anyway, sorry about dragging you out of bed and knocking you down the stairs. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” He continued to eye me in a way that seemed a bit clinical.

Yeah. I got the message. Maybe I had dreamed it. What a relief to realize it was just a nightmare.

If only I slept.

“Come to think of it, you were already on your way up here,” I remembered.

He said bluntly, “I was going to ask you to stop pacing up and down all night. The floorboards creak.”

“Oh.” My face warmed at this rude but effective reminder that I wasn’t alone in the world. Not even this crumbly and dimly lit corner of the world. “Sorry,” I mumbled. To be honest, I forgot he was even in the building most of the time. He was pretty quiet, other than the occasional fit of guitar picking, and it was just the two of us here at 404 Pitch Pine Lane. We were neither of us the sociable type.
I glanced at the mirror again. Just me and the edge of my neighbor’s plaid bathrobe in its shining surface. The reflection of the ceiling chandelier blazed like a sunspot in the center, obliterating most of us and the room we stood in.

I looked more closely. Had something moved in the very back of the reverse room?

404-A glanced down at the mirror and then back at me. He said, “I have to work tomorrow.”

“Sure. I didn’t realize you could hear me.”

He unbent enough to say, “I mostly can’t. Only the floorboards. Mainly at night.”

“I’ll make sure to pace in the other room.”

“Great.” He pushed away from the cabinet and headed for the door. “I’ll let you get back to it.”

His reflection crossed the mirror’s surface, large bare feet, ragged Levi’s beneath the hem of the bathrobe.

“Night,” I said absently. I remembered to ask, “What’s your name again?”

“Murdoch. Kirk Murdoch.”

Kirk Murdoch? Try saying that five times fast. Not that I planned on making a habit of calling for Kirk. “Right. Night, Kirk.”

“Goodnight, Flynn.”

I watched the mirrored reflection of the door closing quietly behind him.

Ghost of a Chance
Chapter One
The sound of scuffling drew Padraig's attention, and he drifted over to an alley. One slender guy was struggling against two bulkier men. He'd seen enough robberies in his time to know what was happening there. Curiosity drove him closer, even though there wasn't any way he could help the poor sod getting his ass kicked. Sometimes being a ghost sucked.

He couldn't make out much in the shadows cast by what little light the street lamps threw down the alley, but he caught the glint of a knife, and he started to shout out a warning. Too late, Padraig remembered no one could hear him.

Gasping, their victim sank to his knees. Padraig was afraid it wasn't going to end well.

"Shit." One of the assailants whirled on the other. "Why the hell did you do that?"

"I didn't stab him on purpose. You pushed him into me."

"Fuck. It doesn't matter. We need to get out of here before anyone sees us."

He didn't move as the two assailants rushed toward him. They shivered as they passed through him. Padraig had to let them go. Being invisible made it impossible for him to do anything, really. Concern drove him closer to the body on the ground.

Crouching down, he looked at the man dying among the garbage in the alley. Even if Padraig had been human, he wouldn't have been able to save the man. Blood pumped from the man's stomach and pooled under him. Padraig reached out, knowing he couldn't offer comfort to the victim, but needing to make some effort.

He gasped as his hand touched the warm liquid surrounding the wound. The dying man's eyelids fluttered, and Padraig jerked when those eyes opened and focused on him.

"Are you an angel?"

He shook his head. He'd never been accused of being angelic, even when he was alive, just being scary and creepy. "You can see me?" Padraig glanced over his shoulder, wondering if anyone was going to come help this man.

"Yes. Am I not supposed to?"

He coughed, and Padraig grimaced at the wet sound in the man's lungs.

"No one except crazy people and dogs have been able to see me for ten years." He shrugged. "And now it seems that dying people can see me. I'm Padraig."

"I'm Steven. I'm dying, huh?" The effort to talk strained Steven's voice.

There was no point in lying to the man. "I'm afraid so, Steven. I can't help you, and it doesn't look like anyone else is coming."

A slight lift of Steven's shoulders caused the man to groan. Padraig tried removing his hand from the wound but couldn't. Blood stuck to Padraig's hand like warm glue. He tugged and his hand sank in deeper. It was like he was being sucked into Steven's body.

"Bloody hell," he muttered, wondering what the fuck was going on.

"Do you see a light?" Steven's unfocused gaze went over Padraig's shoulder.

Fighting the urge to look, he grimaced as he slid up to his elbow in the gaping wound. "If I saw a bloody fucking light, I wouldn't be here." He rolled his eyes.

Steven's lips moved, but nothing came out.

Padraig struggled, pulling away as he tried to free himself. What the bloody hell was happening to him? Was he suddenly going to Heaven or Hell, whichever place the higher power chose to send him to? It was like sticking his hand in quicksand. Every time he tried to get free, it sucked him deeper in. There was no way he could get out, and he slipped farther into Steven's body.

...Seth shoved his clothes into the suitcase he’d set on the table, his body shaking as he tried to keep quiet. Flashes of Rafe asking him to stop, of Rafe crying out, of Rafe being subjugated to his every desire played through his mind and body over and over. The dark side of him begged him to shift, to wake up the human and relive this afternoon.

Bad Seth. Bad Seth. Bad Seth!

How could he have unleashed his pure Nightkin nature? On Rafe?

Rafe, who’d always done his best to protect him.

Rafe, who’d been kind.

Seth had dominated and humiliated the only man who’d ever been good to him.

And he wanted to do it again.

He snatched his suits from the closet and threw them into the case. Going back to Iowa was out of the question. He knew he wouldn’t be able to keep himself from Rafe. Arizona maybe. Or Maine.

“Little early to be packing, isn’t it? Being that we’re not leaving till Sunday.”

His hands stilled and he glanced at the bed as Rafe sat up. The muscles in the human’s tan, naked body worked with the movement, every line and curve highlighted by the setting sun. His black hair fell over his forehead, accenting his sapphire eyes. The wolf inside wanted to tear free.


Seth went to the dresser and pulled out the rest of his clothes. “You’re leaving on Sunday. I’m going now. Someplace far away from you.”

His face sober, Rafe stood and crossed to the table. “Just like that, huh?”

“Yes!” yelled Seth, the sound caught between a shout and a growl. Rafe jumped back, and it killed him to see it. To see Rafe, so big and strong, cower from him that way. “It’s what you want.”

“Is it what you want?”

Seth dumped his clothes into the suitcase. He hadn’t known how much he’d wanted Rafe to deny it until just now. “Yes.”

“Liar. A few hours ago you were practically begging me to… What was the word? Oh, yeah. Stay.”

He stiffened, accosted by more memories. “I hurt you. I bit you.”

Rafe ran a hand over the fresh mark on his chest. “I’ve seen you in action, Seth. You could have taken the whole damned muscle out of me if you’d wanted. Now that I’m calmer, it feels more like a love bite.”

A love bite? Disquieted by the words, Seth scratched himself behind his ear, trying to sort it out. He caught the cautious consideration in Rafe’s expression and slammed the suitcase shut. “It’s already started, hasn’t it? Everything I do, every move I make…you’re comparing it to a wolf, or a dog, aren’t you? Do you feel like you’ve been sleeping with a dirty little animal all this time?”

Rafe grabbed his shoulders and shoved him into a chair. “Sit down, Seth.”

Black rage rose up in him and he shot to his feet, even as he held the wolf at bay. “Did you just tell me to sit?”

He thrust Seth back into the chair. “Yes, I did.”

Fear saturated the air, but Rafe’s face was grim, determined. What was going on? Unsure, and needing to know, Seth did as he was told.

Rafe paced the open area in front of him, looking like a wolf on the prowl. “You do a lot of weird damned things, Seth. Half the time you’re like some puppy left out in the rain, and the other half you’re like a hungry, wild wolf. The first I guess I’ve always seen, but I didn’t even know about the second until yesterday. So yes, I’ve been comparing you to both animals quite a bit, and it’s been freaking me out.”

Anger and bitterness nearly choked him. “You lied to me. You promised you would tell me when you wanted me to leave.”

He whirled around. “Shut up!”

Seth jumped and shut his mouth, stunned by his fury.

“I have never lied to you, but you’ve been lying to me since I fucking met you, so you don’t get to be self-righteous. Do you hear me?”

He shrank back, nodded.

Rafe swept his hand through the air between them. “And what is this? Why do you act so timid and scared when we both know you can kick my ass any time you want? One second you’re shy, the next savage, the next you’re on a stage in front of hundreds of people talking about math. Who the fuck are you, Seth?”

Rafe was mad. The Alpha was mad. Instinct hunched his shoulders, bowed his head. He tugged on his hair as he fought back a whimper. “S-Sorry.”

“Stop that.” Rafe grasped his wrist and untangled his fingers from his hair. “And spell it out for me.”

The gentle touch. The soft, gruff tone. Rafe was kind, and some of the panic eased out of him as he remembered that. “I…can’t.”


He stared down at his lap. Nightkin nature was so complex, so intimate. How could he explain it to a human?...

Kick at the Darkness
He really should have gone to bed.

Instead, Parker was in an empty classroom sitting in a circle with a bunch of people who looked as if they should be smoking up and playing Hacky Sack at the Oval. He squirmed in his wooden chair, wondering if he could just get up and walk out in the middle of the lesbian’s story about her struggle to add vegan items to the cafeteria menu. He had nothing against lesbians or vegans (or lesbian vegans), but he clearly didn’t fit in with the LGBT student group. Activism wasn’t really his thing.

He’d spotted the flyer for the group meeting after his lecture, and had decided it was high time to stop feeling sorry for himself, and to try making friends. Or take Jason’s advice and maybe pick up a hot guy.

Of course the only guy he could think about was Adam Hawkins. All day, Parker had replayed their encounter in his mind, devising witty comebacks and scathing putdowns. Not that he’d ever see Adam again, thank God. First thing tomorrow, he was dropping that class. He’d pick up another elective next semester, or in the summer if he had to.

“What do you think, Parker? It’s Parker, right?” The blonde girl who’d been speaking smiled encouragingly.

Shit. “Um, I think it’s great. Sounds like a plan.”

A murmur buzzed around the circle, and a short Asian guy with a pierced eyebrow spoke up. “You think we should stage a sit-in until the school bans all meat and dairy products? Don’t you think that’s a bit extreme?”

He felt the heat of a dozen pairs of eyes on him. “Uh…it would get their attention, though. Then maybe they’d compromise?”

The blonde exclaimed, “Exactly!”

As everyone debated the merits of food-based activism, Parker eyed the cute guy sitting next to him. Reddish hair and green eyes, and a tight little body. The guy hadn’t said much of anything so far. Maybe he wasn’t digging it either? It was hard to tell. But he could be cool. He was definitely hot, at least. I won’t meet anyone if I don’t try.

Screwing up his courage, Parker leaned over and whispered, “Meat, I get, but no dairy? And no chocolate? Life isn’t worth living.”

The redhead glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “Chocolate is overrated.”

“Uh, yeah, of course.” Parker waved his hand. “I was just kidding.”

The guy smiled. Hmm. Wait, had he been kidding too? Everyone liked chocolate, right? Heart thumping, Parker whispered, “Want to grab a coffee after this? We could live dangerously and have a latte with real milk.”

Please say yes. Please say yes.

The redhead’s gaze swept up and down Parker, like a searchlight coming up empty. Parker wanted to puke as the guy pasted on a smile.

“That’s so sweet. But I’ve got a lot of studying to do after the meeting.” Then he decisively turned back to the group. “Marjorie? Can we discuss that stunt Kappa Sigma pulled on the weekend at our cruelty-free bake sale? I think we should petition the administration…”

As they discussed something involving an unholy alliance of snickerdoodles and condoms, Parker wished the scuffed tile floor would open up and swallow him whole. Sadly, the floor was apparently vegan, because Parker remained right where he was, his face burning, sure that everyone knew he’d just been shot down.

He cursed himself for thinking it was a good idea to attend this meeting in the first place. Why did he need to officially meet other gay people? Maybe he should just pledge a frat and put his cocksucking skills to good use like he had in prep school. He didn’t need a boyfriend anyway.

But I want one.

Remembered shame flooded Parker, joining the fresh humiliation of being rejected by the redhead beside him. He’d only tried to kiss Greg Mason once, and he could still feel the hard tile floor of the shower, cold and wet as he’d landed on his ass, Greg staring down at him with a curled lip. “Don’t be a little faggot.”

The fact that he was eighteen and still had never properly kissed someone was so pathetic he could barely stand it. Sitting there in the circle of LGBT students who’d probably all kissed a dozen people, he felt like he had a neon sign blinking over his head.

Loser! Loser! Loser!

But what was the point of finding a boyfriend anyway? It’s not like he could ever really bring someone home. His parents tried their best—they really did—but the whole gay thing made them so awkward and uncomfortable. Not to mention he knew their rich pals at the country club would surely not approve. Parker wondered what his father would say if he dated an anti-establishment hippie type. The mere thought made him bark out a laugh.

Heads swiveled. “Is there something you wanted to share?” The blonde asked, her smile a little strained.

Before Parker could answer, a white guy with dreads interrupted, frowning at his smartphone. “Whoa. Did you guys see this? There are some crazy riots or something in New York.”

“What are they protesting?”

“Probably not meat and dairy, Abrah.”

“Is it Occupy Wall Street? I hope so. I heard they’re trying to make a comeback.”

“Dunno. Oh wait, it’s in DC too. Probably something about police brutality?”

As the group talked over each other, checking their phones, Parker slung his messenger bag over his head and made a beeline for the door. He escaped back to the quad and grabbed a sandwich (turkey and Havarti, thank you very much) on the way to his dorm. The common room was crowded with people watching CNN, but Parker didn’t care about whatever protest or riot or whatever-the-fuck was happening. He probably should, but he had way too much reading to do, especially after wasting time at that meeting.

Embarrassment flooded him again as he thought of the dismissive way the redhead had examined him. Then a voice echoed in his head—Adam Hawkins calling him a lazy freshman. “I work hard at what matters. Ugh, he’s such an asshole,” Parker muttered as he kicked the door closed behind him.

“Who’s an asshole?”

“Jesus!” Parker’s heart skipped a beat. “Don’t do that.”

Grinning, Chris pulled a T-shirt over his shorn head. “Sorry, bro. Just came back to do some laundry.” He smelled his arm pit. “Febreze is the best invention ever.”

“I’ve barely seen you since NSO.” New student orientation had been a week of mandatory activities designed to help frosh settle in and make friends. Parker had learned his way around, but totally failed to meet anyone he connected with. Chris was nice enough, but another pang of missing Jessica and Jason swelled in Parker. He cleared his throat. “How’s Michelle?”

“Spectacular. Seriously, her tits are just…” Chris raised his fingers to his mouth to kiss them. “Bellissimo. I’ve found the woman of my dreams.” He shrugged. “At least for now. Hey, her roommate’s pretty hot too. Wanna come back with me? I got some dope weed. We can hang out and play Call of Duty. I bet she’ll blow you by the end of the night.”

Parker chuckled. He could undoubtedly give Michelle’s roommate some pointers. “Nah. I’ve got a lot of reading to do. Econ test tomorrow already.” Maybe he should go hang with them, but he hadn’t had a chance to come out to Chris, and he had zero interest in weed. Sometimes Parker felt like he was eighteen going on forty-five. Partying and getting high had never really been fun for him.

“Cool. If you change your mind give me a buzz.” Chris raised his hand as he headed to the door.

Parker slapped Chris’s palm and flopped down on his bed. “Later.”

In the silence that followed, Parker found himself actually missing the near-constant thump-thump of the house music favored by the girl next door. Maybe she was watching TV in the lounge. The news channels always made such a big deal out of everything these days, and Parker didn’t see the point in getting worked up.

He stared at Chris’s empty bed. Jason had been his roommate all through high school at Westley, so it should have been nice to virtually have his own room at school for a change. It should have been freaking awesome.

But it wasn’t.

Parker pulled out his phone. No message from Jessica. He hit her number and waited while it rang, sighing as her voicemail clicked on.

“This is Jessica. Quick—leave a message before phones become completely obsolete.”

For a moment, Parker was frozen with indecision. Then he tapped the screen and ended the call. What would he say that didn’t sound ninety-nine percent pathetic?

“Okay, enough.” His voice was loud in the stillness of the room. “Time to get to work.”

After wolfing down his sandwich, he opened his textbooks. The dorm was quieter than usual, and he put his phone on airplane mode and lost himself in free trade theory. By eight o’clock his eyes drooped, and he stretched out for a power nap. He was drifting off when a girl’s piercing voice echoed in the hall.

“It’s happening in San Francisco!”

With a roll of his eyes, Parker put in his earplugs and curled toward the wall. He’d check the news later when there was actual information to report instead of just fear-mongering speculation. Let them protest corporate America or the police or whatever they were doing. He had his GPA to worry about.

* * *

It was ten-thirty by the time Parker dragged himself out of bed. He still wore his jeans and a T-shirt, and he zipped on a dark green hoodie before stuffing his feet into his sneakers. The fifteen-minute walk across campus to the coffee shop would wake him up, and sweet caffeine would keep him going all night. He needed to do better. He needed to ace this test. He would ace this test.

He popped in his earbuds and skirted around the people jammed into the dorm’s common room.

“Yo, Parker. Are you seeing this shit?” Mike from two rooms down—nice enough guy, but obsessed with sports—called out as Parker hurried by.

“Later, man. Need coffee.” Parker gave him a wave and turned on his music. They were probably watching the baseball game since the Oakland A’s were one win away from the playoffs, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted.

He’d mapped out this shortcut the first week of school after the RA had confiscated his Italian coffee maker. The night air was crisp, and Parker shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets as he navigated the nooks and crannies between buildings. He caught glimpses of the main quad, where a large number of people milled about. Probably some frat thing; all the better that he avoided it so he could get back to his books ASAP.

But he wondered what the riots or whatever had been about, and he thumbed off the airplane mode on his phone so he could Google it. As the phone reconnected, it vibrated in his palm and the screen filled with notifications. Nothing from Jessica or Jason, and Parker wished he didn’t feel the stab of disappointment and hurt. It wasn’t their fault they were fitting in and making friends at college. He couldn’t expect them to have the time for him that they used to. But it still stung.

He shook it off and focused on the screen. “Seven missed calls from Mom?” he muttered to himself with a smile. “Classic.” When she got something into her head, she was a dog with a bone. As he walked, he listened to the voicemail message she’d left.

“Honey.” The recording was staticy and garbled, with some kind of background noise. Parker stopped to listen harder. He couldn’t make out the next few words. Then, “Cape house. We love you.” The message ended.

Huh. That was weird.

Why would she be calling about the Cape house? His parents went to Chatham most weekends in September, but it was Tuesday. Parker deleted the message and started walking again. He’d call her when he got back to the dorm, or maybe wait until morning. It was after midnight on the east coast.

As he cut behind one of the science buildings, he stopped in his tracks. By a palm tree, there stood Adam Hawkins and his ludicrous cheekbones. Of course—he’d never seen the guy before today, and now he was likely doomed to run into him daily.

Adam had a motorcycle helmet in one hand, and had changed his loafers for black work boots. Wearing earbuds, he peered at the bright screen of his phone with a frown creasing his forehead.


Adam’s gaze shot up, his eyes hard as he removed his earbuds. “Excuse me?”

Parker realized he might have said that out loud. He paused his playlist and cleared his throat, trying to remember one of the witty comebacks he’d had a million of that afternoon. “Um, nothing.” Of course he’d think of ten more the minute he left Adam behind. Which couldn’t be too soon. In his black leather jacket and stubble, he looked ridiculous. Ridiculously hot, which wasn’t really fair since he was a film geek. A documentarian, even! Not to mention a condescending know-it-all. Parker kept walking.

“You didn’t have to complain to the dean,” Adam called after him.

Parker stopped and faced him. “Huh?”

“Are you seriously going to pretend it wasn’t you? I have to meet with Professor Grindle and the head of the department at the end of the week because a student with rich alumni parents put up a stink. She wouldn’t say who, but she didn’t need to.”

“It wasn’t me.” When Adam snorted and started walking away, Parker couldn’t stop himself from following. “Hey! It wasn’t me, asshole.”

“I’m the asshole?” Adam turned, gripping his helmet. His nostrils flared. “Every year I get kids like you taking my courses. Kids who don’t care about the arts and just want an easy grade. And now you’re messing with my future. This job is everything to me. My degree is everything.”

“First off, who says I don’t care about the arts? I like the arts just fine, thank you very much. I played viola in my school orchestra, I’ll have you know. And like I said, it wasn’t me. Whatever, dude. You’re not worth it. I have important things to do like study for my econ test.”


“What? What does that mean?”

“That eighteen-year-olds think they know it all.” Adam shrugged, his flash of passion concealed again behind a flat expression. “If you say it wasn’t you, I guess it wasn’t.”

Jesus, this guy was annoying. “And what are you, twenty-two? So wise.”

“Twenty-three, actually.”

“Oh, that changes everything. Whatever. I don’t have to talk to you.”

“Okay.” He shrugged again, now completely calm.

“Econ is a hell of a lot more important than dissecting movies.”

Adam watched him with an inscrutable gaze. Just like with the cute redhead, it felt as though he was being evaluated and found hopelessly lacking. “Okay.”

“Stop saying that! Oh my god, why am I even having his conversation?” Parker brushed by him and pressed play even though now he was going the wrong way for the coffee shop. He’d loop around, since he couldn’t turn back. “Have a nice life,” he called in his wake. If Adam replied, Parker didn’t hear it over the music in his ears.

He could not drop that class soon enough. He should have known—

A scream pierced the night, so loud he heard it over the new Macklemore song. Parker ripped out the earbuds and glanced around. He and Adam stared at each other. “Do you hear—”

“Yes,” Adam replied, his entire body tensed.

In the distance, the screaming swelled as other voices joined in. Parker’s heart thumped. “That’s a hell of a hazing ritual.”

The din increased, and more shrieks raised the hair on Parker’s arms. A girl and guy raced around the building. “What’s going on?” Parker shouted.

“They’re killing everyone!” the girl yelled, her eyes wild as she shoved past him.

More students streamed behind the buildings, and Parker watched them as his brain struggled to process what was happening. Then he was being yanked so hard he thought his shoulder might pop free of its socket. Adam propelled him forward, and yes, run. Run!

Author Bios:
Jordan Castillo Price 
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books LLC. Her paranormal thrillers are colored by her time in the midwest, from inner city Chicago, to small town Wisconsin, to liberal Madison.

Jordan is best known as the author of the PsyCop series, an unfolding tale of paranormal mystery and suspense starring Victor Bayne, a gay medium who's plagued by ghostly visitations. Also check out her new series, Mnevermind, where memories are client at a time.

With her education in fine arts and practical experience as a graphic designer, Jordan set out to create high quality ebooks with lavish cover art, quality editing and gripping content. The result is JCP Books, offering stories you'll want to read again and again.

Author Bio:
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.

TA Chase
There is beauty in every kind of love, so why not live a life without boundaries? Experiencing everything the world offers fascinates me and writing about the things that make each of us unique is how I share those insights. I live in the Midwest with a wonderful partner of thirteen years. When not writing, I’m watching movies, reading and living life to the fullest.

Rowan McBride
Born an Air Force dependent, Rowan McBride traveled the world and totally missed the 80’s as most Americans know it. In exchange, xe’s gotten to walk in clogs, break an arm at Mt. Fuji, and say prayers at a Korean Buddhist temple. So far it seems like a fair trade. Although xe graduated from high school in Hawaii, xe didn’t learn to hula and make leis until going to college in Iowa. After leaving the Midwest, xe moved to Washington, DC and very nearly got xemself a Juris Doctor degree. Now xe’s chilling out in Texas, diabolically planning road trips that could span years.

People say xyr life is random, and that’s probably true. Rowan comforts xemself with the working theory that a random life makes for good stories. When that doesn’t work, there’s Pocky. Lots and lots of Pocky.

Keira Andrews
After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

Jordan Castillo Price

Josh Lanyon

TA Chase

Rowan McBride

Keira Andrews


The Haunted Heart: Winter

Ghost of a Chance


Kick at the Darkness
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

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