Thursday, October 15, 2015

Random Paranormal Tales Part 4


The Mystery of Ruby Lode by Scotty Cade
Summary:
After six months of research, adventure seekers Bowen McAlister, Cyrus Curran, Duff Gentry, and Lockhart Dawson make their way to Boulder, Colorado, to explore the abandoned gold mine Ruby Lode. But when they arrive, Duff, a born psychic, senses something isn’t quite right—and the closer they get, the more his unease grows.

Something long buried in the deep shafts and drifts of Ruby Lode makes its presence known by exposing dark, guarded secrets. Preying on the adventurers’ weaknesses and insecurities, Ruby Lode’s own destructive secret threatens their sanity, friendship, and ultimately their lives. Bo, Cy, Duff, and Lockey must work together to unravel the century-old mystery before they become another footnote in the mine’s history.


I loved the blend of history and paranormal all mixed together with romance.  When Frink and Counter meet Hepp and Shull, they had no idea what would be set in motion.  Even though the majority of the story is set around the four friends, Bo, Cy, Duff, and Lockey in present day, what went down in the past hovers over the entire story.  Love, friendship, betrayal(at least in one character's perception), and a certain level of creepiness that makes this a perfect read for lovers of October scariness but will make a great read any time.

RATING: 

The Eye of Heaven by JoAnne Soper-Cook
Summary:
When Dante di Salvatore, former prostitute and adopted son of one of Florence’s reigning nobles, is bitten by the ancient vampire goddess Lillith, his mortal life is over. Once enslaved by the vampire queen’s malign influence, Dante allies himself with Rouen, a young man of dazzling beauty and great influence who is enamored with Dante. But they cannot truly be together unless Dante changes Rouen into a vampire, and for Rouen, accepting the dark gift may ultimately cost him his immortal soul. Soon the great city of Florence will be taken to account for her sins as the streets are scourged of everything the fanatical preacher Serenola deems unnatural.

But many silent, mostly unseen creatures of the night are coming together from the disparate corners of the earth to do battle one last time against Serenola, evil disguised as good. What Dante does not realize is that he, above all others, holds the key to not only his own salvation, but the preservation of all of vampire kind—and perhaps even the human race.

Werewolves of Brooklyn by Brad Vance
Summary:
Darien Mackey wasn’t looking for an adventure. For ten years, he’d been happy living in Brooklyn, working as a butcher in the same job, living in the same apartment, dating some “nothing-special” guys. Until one night his buddy Jacob talked him into taking ayahuasca, the soul-changing drug. And Darien had a vision…of a wolf, its all-too-human eyes on him, its paws on his chest, its enquiring mind in his own…

Darien Mackey is changing. He’s more confident, more assertive, hungrier, hornier. And his world is changing around him – his job, his home, his beloved Mechanic’s Library all falling victim to the predations of unscrupulous developers, bent on demolishing the old Brooklyn he loves and replacing it with a forest of condos. But he’s no longer a passive observer of his own life, and as this thing, this power, grows inside of him, he resolves to fight back, to preserve the way of life he loves.

And he’s not alone in the fight. The Lipsius Preservation Society of Brooklyn stands ready to assist in the battle, even though it seems like a bit of a joke to Darien, with its King and its Duke, Marquess, Earl and Viscount.

But there’s nothing funny about his growing attraction to Albeus Finley, King of this mysterious Court. And when slumlords and condo-mongers start to die mysterious, violent deaths at the hands of savage animals, Darien begins to realize that something is afoot in Brooklyn – something supernatural.

And it’s afoot in him, too…

Sight Unseen by Hunter Raines
Summary:
Daniel Van Doren was once a renowned writer, until he was blinded in the car accident that killed his lover. Now, all he sees are ghosts in need of help. They follow him everywhere, and the only way to be rid of his ethereal visitors is to help them resolve their unfinished business here on earth so their spirits can find peace.

Ghostwriter Logan Riley is assigned to pen Daniel's biography. He plans to reveal him as a fraud, but when they meet he's struck by Danny's quiet sincerity--and a growing attraction. Which makes sticking close to Danny to find out the truth more than a little distracting.

When they are attacked by a violent poltergeist Logan begins to believe Danny's not just telling the truth, he's in grave danger. A spirit has learned how to harness the energy of the living to break through the barrier between worlds to harm Danny. And Logan may be the one to blame...

He Speaks Dead by Adrienne Wilder
Summary:
Charlie Harrington not only sees the dead and speaks with them, he can make them real. Lucky for him, because the love of his life, Ethan, isn't among the living.

While their relationship is unusual, things are good between them until Charlie is accused of murder and Detective Daniel Briggs walks into his life. Then, for the first time in years, Charlie is attracted to someone alive.

Ethan knows he should step aside and let Charlie live his life, but he just can’t give Charlie up--even if staying with Charlie may eventually kill him.


The Mystery of Ruby Lode
Chapter One
“SETTLE down, folks! Settle down.”

The lanky auctioneer slammed a gavel on the podium, demanding silence.

When the room was again quiet, the auctioneer looked up from his perch.

“Our next piece of property is the Ruby Lode Mining Claim, designated by the surveyor general as survey number one-nine-four-five-three. The claim embraces a portion of section six, in township two North, Range seventy-one West of the sixth Principal Meridian in the Mining District and bounded and described as more particularly set forth in the patent from the United States to O.E. Jasper of record in Boulder County, Colorado. Records; said survey number one-nine-four-five-three extending one thousand five hundred feet in length along the Ruby vein or lode; the premises herein granted containing five and fifteen hundredth acres along the South St. Vrain River. The tax lien is one hundred dollars.

“Do I hear an opening bid of one hundred dollars?”

You could hear a pin drop in the sparsely filled town hall.

“Do I hear an opening bid of seventy-five?”

From three rows back, Frink Davis fidgeted as he and his best friend, Counter Stephens, scanned the room for any signs of activity. A hand going up, a wink, a nod, even a cough could indicate a bid. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Frink saw movement, and Counter must have seen the same movement because they both turned quickly in that direction. Seated in the front row, a rugged middle-aged man wearing a brown cowboy hat leaned over and whispered something to an exceptionally broad-shouldered man wearing all black sitting right next to him. They nodded in agreement and the man wearing the brown hat brushed his hand across the brim. Counter elbowed Frink in excitement.

“Seventy-five dollars,” said the auctioneer. “Do I hear eighty?”

Frink nervously watched as Counter studied the two men. Then he scanned the room again, looking for other bidders before turning to Counter and smiling. Counter raised his hand and the auctioneer nodded.

“Eighty, I have eighty dollars. Do I hear eighty-five?”

The two men in the front row turned around with surprised looks on their faces to see where the next bid had come from.

This time, the man in black shouted, “Ninety dollars.”

“Ninety dollars, I have ninety dollars. Do I hear ninety-five?”

Frink’s hands were beginning to shake uncontrollably, and he felt as if sweat was pouring out of each of his palms, but he held his emotions together as he prayed his best friend could make this happen.

Wait for it, Count, wait for it, wait…. But the excitement must have gotten the best of Counter because he jumped to his feet and yelled, “One hundred dollars,” glaring at the men in the front row.

Frink couldn’t believe his ears, and he glared at Counter, shaking his head from side to side. He leaned in and hissed, “Ninety-five, you idiot, not one hundred.”

“One hundred dollars, I have one hundred dollars,” the auctioneer yelled. “Do I hear one-ten?”

Counter smacked himself in the head. “Fuck! Did I just say…? Did I say one hundred dollars? I meant to say ninety-five.” Silence again filled the hot, stuffy town hall. Frink couldn’t think. In his head he kept hearing Counter’s voice over and over again: one hundred dollars, one hundred dollars. He put his head between his legs and did his best not to pass out.

“Going once.”

More silence….

“Going twice.”

Again, the two men in the front row slowly turned around and glared at them, then turned back and stared straight ahead.

But still more silence….

“Sold!” The auctioneer yelled as the gavel hit the top of the podium. “Ruby Lode sold to the gentleman in the third row.”

Frink would have sworn his heart was going to leap out of his chest. Just then Counter threw his calloused hands in the air and shouted, “Hot dog, Frink, we just bought ourselves a mine.”

Frink stood up with a concerned look on his face. “Count, I sure hope there’s gold in that there mine, ’cause if there’s not, my paw and everybody I borrowed money from to buy it is going to hang me from a tall tree with a short rope.”

Frink felt Counter’s hands on both of his shoulders, and his heart began to race.

“Relax, Frink, there’s gold. I can just feel it. We’ll find gold in Ruby Lode, or we’ll die tryin’.”

Frink’s bottom lip quivered. “That’s what I’m afraid of, and I sure hope it’s not the latter.”

Frink had never been able to deny his best friend anything, no matter how big or how small. All through school, Counter had gotten him into so many tight jams he’d lost track. And he’d lost count of the number of times he went home from school with bruised knuckles because he’d taken the blame for something Counter had done. The schoolmaster had vowed to break Counter’s bad ways and all the while, Frink kept on covering for him.

He felt Counter’s comfortable hands patting his back, and he started to calm just a little. But as quickly as those hands were there, they moved, and Frink suddenly found himself being dragged to the front of the town hall, he assumed to pay for their new gold mine. Midway to the cashier, the two rugged men from the front row stepped into the aisle and blocked their way.

“Howdy and congratulations, son,” one of the men said to Counter.

Counter stood up straight and smiled. “Much obliged.”

“The name’s Thomas, Hepp Thomas,” the man said with a slight smile while sticking his hand out in an offer of introduction. “And this here’s Shull Johnson”—pointing to his friend.

“I’m Counter Stephens,” Counter said as he looked hesitantly at Frink.

“And I’m Frink Davis.”

Frink watched Counter accept the stranger’s hand and shake; then he did the same. But the stranger held on to Frink’s hand a little longer than normal protocol, looking directly into his eyes. The stranger then released him and turned to Counter.

“Good to meet you, boys,” Hepp offered.

Frink looked at Counter and then the waiting cashier. “Ain’t aimin’ to be rude, gentlemen, but we got a little business to take care of.”

“Uh, call me Hepp, and about that—before you pay the cashier, can we talk some business?”

Frink saw another cautious look fill Counter’s eyes.

“What kind of business might that be?” Counter asked suspiciously.

“How would you like a couple of partners in Ruby Lode?”

Frink threw Counter a questioning glance. “Partners?”

“Yep,” Hepp replied. “We came here to buy Ruby Lode, but we only had ninety dollars between the two of us.”

Frink rubbed his head. Boy, I know what that feels like.

“I don’t think so,” Frink heard Counter tell the stranger.

He jammed his finger in Counter’s side and Counter yelped. “What’s that for?”

He shushed him with a wave of his hand. “Counter, can I have a word with you?”

Counter stared at Frink and waited for him to speak.

“In private,” Frink ground out through clenched teeth. “Please give us a minute, gentlemen.” Frink grabbed Counter’s arm and escorted him outside.

When they reached the porch of the town hall, he stood with his hands on his hips. “What in tarnation do you think you’re doing?”

“What do you mean, what am I doing?” Counter snapped. “I’m protecting our investment and keeping us from going into business with two thugs we just met.”

“But Count, that’s fifty dollars,” he whined. “I could give some of the money back that I borrowed, and we could still have the mine. Come on, if that mine is half as full of gold as you say it is, there’s more than enough for all of us.”

“You’ve got a point, Frink, but we don’t even know these guys. How do we know they’re not going to shoot us, bury our bodies, and take our deed?”

“The mine will be in our names, and if and when we hit gold, we’ll put half the mine in their name. If he doesn’t agree, we try something else, but I don’t want to pass up that money.” Frink studied the all-too-familiar look on Counter’s face that appeared when he was ciphering on something. He finally used what worked every time: his pleading eyes.

“Oh, okay, fine,” Counter snapped. “But I’m not gonna give it to them too easily. And if they double cross us, I’m the one who’s gonna hang you from a tall tree with a short rope.” Counter gave him a warning look. “Right after I plant my boot in your ass.”

Counter turned and stormed back into the town hall without waiting for his response, and Frink hurried to catch up. Hepp and Shull remained where they’d left them.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen, but—”

“What if I sweeten the pot?” Hepp quickly interjected.

“I’m listening.”

Frink cleared his throat and gave Counter a stern look.

“I mean, we’re listening.”

Frink folded his arms. “That’s better.”

“Shut up and let the man talk, Frink.”

“What do you have for equipment?”

“We’ve got what we need,” Counter snapped defensively.

“Is that so?” Hepp asked. “Do you have poppet heads and winches?”

“Uh no, not yet, but—”

“Do you have rails, ore carts, picks, cold chisels, and lanterns?” Shull interrupted.

Counter’s eyes got big as saucers, and Frink did his best to hide his shock. He wasn’t about to give away how completely unprepared they were. They had little more than a few picks and some worn chisels.

“Shull and I have all the tools we’ll ever need to break this mine,” Hepp informed them. “This is not our first time at the rodeo. We’re experienced miners.”

Frink glanced at Counter. “Under one condition,” he said.

Looking a little distrustful, Hepp said, “Okay, we’re listening.”

“The mine stays in our name until we hit a vein and strike it big. Then we put the mine in all our names.”

Shull looked back and forth between Counter and Frink. “No deal,” he said, and then turned to his partner. “Hepp, I told you this was a stupid idea. Let’s go.” Shull headed for the door. He looked over his shoulder and added, “These boys are amateurs and we don’t have time for amateurs.”

“Sorry to have wasted your time, boys,” Hepp said, tipping his hat in their direction. “Good luck with Ruby Lode.”

Hepp turned and walked away. It was Counter’s turn to poke Frink in the ribs. “We need those tools, Frink. Stop him. I think they’re on the up-and-up.”

Frink rolled his eyes and sighed, “I sure hope you’re right. Hepp, wait.”

Hepp stopped and turned around.

“Okay. You get twenty-five percent ownership right now and the other twenty-five percent when we strike it big.”

Hepp turned around again and started for the door.

“Okay, okay, you win,” Frink conceded. “Fifty percent right now for fifty dollars in cash.”

Hepp smiled genuinely. “I’m not interested in winning. I’m interested in what’s fair.” Hepp went out to the porch and joined Shull. Frink and Counter followed, the four men shook hands, and just like that, they were in business together.

After paying for their new gold mine, the four new Ruby Lode mine owners walked down to the local watering hole to seal the deal. They shared a bottle of whiskey and started to get to know one another. Frink and Counter explained they shared a room over the post office in Boulder, and they’d saved every penny they could, borrowing the rest from family to buy Ruby Lode. Hepp and Shull, both single men, explained they owned a farm together in Lyons, just seven miles outside of town in the opposite direction, and they’d had moderate success mining both gold and silver over the years.

With the whiskey slowly loosening tongues, Frink listened with interest as Hepp confessed he and Shull had met an old drunk at this very saloon who had told them his family owned Ruby Lode up until the state seized the mine for back property taxes owed. Hepp told the story of how he and Shull had pumped the old guy full of whiskey, and over the course of a few hours, the guy admitted he and his grandfather had first started mining the lode in 1906. When they dug the first shaft into the mine, they had seen gold in Ruby Lode. The old cuss also explained they hadn’t been able to afford the equipment needed to dig and stabilize the first shaft properly, but they had kept digging as best they could, resulting in a dangerously unstable shaft at a pretty steep thirty-degree angle. Mining the shaft was difficult and risky, but they knew there was gold so they kept going. At one point they hit what they assumed was the tip of a major vein and pulled enough gold out of the shaft to buy the equipment they needed to dig and properly shore a second shaft, hoping to hit the gold midvein. Unfortunately, they never hit that vein, but that old man swore the gold is there. Before he could find the vein, his grandfather passed away, and his family lost the mine to the state. He never told anyone about the gold, hoping one day he’d find a way to get the mine back, but he never did.

Frink watched Counter’s eyes grow wide with excitement while listening to Hepp and Shull’s story. When they were finished, Frink confessed he and Counter had first become interested in the mine after hearing the identical tale from the same old man.

“That old man gets around,” Frink chuckled. “Wonder how many more people he’s told his story to?”

“Doesn’t really matter none.” Hepp raised his glass in salute before taking a sip. “The mine belongs to us now.”

“Let’s just hope the old guy is right about the gold.” Shull shook his head. “We’re all betting on it.”

Suddenly the table got quiet, and their moods took a somber turn. Probably a combination of the whiskey and the shared admission that they’d each spent their last penny based on the ramblings of an old drunk bellied up to this very bar.

Counter downed his last shot of whiskey and closed his eyes as he enjoyed the slight burn. “Well, if he’s not right, we’re all doomed.”

With the getting-to-know-you phase clearly out of the way and the celebratory mood over, the realization of what they’d just done began to set in. Frink’s right knee started to bounce, and goose bumps ran up and down his spine. He was suddenly very anxious about the days ahead and ready to get started. The four men quickly made plans to meet the next morning at Hepp and Shull’s farm to get the needed equipment. They’d take the equipment up to Ruby Lode and at the same time, survey the shafts for safety and stability. After saying his goodnights, each man left looking forward to getting to work on the mine.

The next morning, following the directions given to them, Frink and Counter rode the seven miles or so to Hepp and Shull’s farm, and together they loaded what equipment they could fit into Hepp’s wagon and departed for the two- to three-hour ride to Ruby Lode. When they arrived, the four men stood at the base of the mountain and looked up at an almost vertical peak. There stood the capped entrance to their new mine. The capping was a ten foot by twenty foot platform with a shed roof built over the mine’s opening.

Frink looked up the mountain in disbelief. “How in the hell are we going to get the equipment up there?”

Shull gave him a knowing glance and a jab to the ribs. “The same way we’d get ore, or in our case, gold, out of the mine: by pulley system.”

Frink eyed the heavy equipment with uncertainty. “Hope you have some mighty strong rope,” he commented with a shrug.

Hepp suggested he and Counter unload the equipment while Frink and Shull climbed up to the mine’s entrance with ropes and pulleys over their shoulders. The climb was slow going, but the last hundred yards were the toughest. Frink and Shull crawled up the almost vertical peak on all fours, mostly holding on to vegetation to keep them from sliding back down the mountain. When they reached the mine’s entrance, Frink watched as Shull secured the pulleys to a large rock covered by the old wooden structure protecting the mine’s opening. He slipped ropes through each one and told Frink to stay put.

“I’m going to lower myself back down the mountainside with the ends of the ropes. No sense both of us risking our lives,” Shull teased and winked.

Frink sat on the large rock and stretched his legs out. “Be my guest. I’ll gladly sit right here and watch ya work.”

Frink gasped when Shull lost his footing and started sliding down the mountain before digging his boots in and stopping his descent downward. He let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding when Shull gave him a weak smile and thumbs up before continuing down the mountain. He watched anxiously until Shull finally reached the bottom. Shull, Counter, and Hepp secured item after item to the ropes and hoisted the equipment slowly but surely to Frink’s awaiting arms. He stacked and organized the equipment as it came up, and just as the sun dipped over the mountain, the full wagon of equipment had been completely hoisted up and organized. Frink stretched his overworked back before heading down to join the others.


HEPP stood and wiped the sweat from his brow with his red work handkerchief. “One more load tomorrow and that should do it.” He shoved the handkerchief into his back pocket. “No need for you boys to ride the fifteen miles back home when you can just follow us and stay at our place. It’s nothing special, but it’s clean. Shull can cook up a mess of something and y’all can spend the night. That way we can get an early start in the morning.”

Frink looked at Counter, and he nodded his head in agreement. The sooner he filled his belly and laid his head down for the night, the better.

“That’d be mighty fine, Hepp,” Frink said appreciatively. “Much obliged.”

When they again reached Shull and Hepp’s farm, Hepp, Frink, and Counter tended to the horses while Shull went into the house and rustled up something for them to eat. Soon, all four men were cleaned up and sitting down to a dinner of hearty beef stew and warm bread.

Frink took a bite of warm buttered bread. “This is awful good.”

“I’ll say,” Counter added. “Where’d you learn to cook like this, Shull?”

“I was born back east, and my momma died when I was thirteen. I had two younger brothers and my daddy had to work, so that left only me to take care of the young’uns,” Shull explained. “You do what you gotta do to get by, so I had no choice but to learn.”

Counter and Frink watched as Hepp gave Shull a warm smile in an almost proud but loving way.

“Wow, Shull,” Counter added. “That couldn’t have been easy.”

“’Tweren’t easy. But nothing worth nothing in life is—easy, I mean,” Shull admitted. “I did what I had to do to give my brothers the best chance I could give them. Hell, I was their maw and paw all rolled up into one most of the time. Especially the youngest. He was only a year old when Maw died.”

Counter had a confused look on his face. “How did you know how to take care of a young’n?”

“I’d watched my Maw with both babies and did mostly what she did. Pretty soon I learned if you keep them fed and clean, most of time they’re pretty happy, unless they’re sick or something.”

Hepp cleared the dishes and they all pitched in until everything in the tiny kitchen was clean and organized.

Frink stretched and yawned. “Where do you want us to sleep?”

Hepp looked at Shull with a questioning look and Shull nodded.

“There’s an extra bedroom upstairs next to ours if you boys don’t mind sharin’.”

It was Counter and Frink’s turn to look at each other.

Frink’s eyes widened. “You men sleep together?”

“Yep, for the last twelve years,” Shull confessed. “You got a problem with that?”

“I… I guess not,” Frink stammered uneasily. “You boys sodomites?”

“That’s not a term we like to use,” Hepp said with distaste. “But yep, I guess so.”

Up to this point, Counter hadn’t said anything. Frink watched as he rocked from one foot to the other, nervously looking back and forth from Frink to Hepp to Shull.

“Counter?” Shull asked. “You have anything to say?”

“Uh, no, sir, just shocked is all. Never met a real sodomite before.”

“Sure you have, son, you just don’t know it. This is not something we talk about with many folks. Our ways are not popular with most people, so we keep to ourselves.”

“But you guys don’t seem like sodomites,” Frink said curiously. “I mean, you’re big, strong, and manly. Everyone thinks sodomites wear dresses and have pretty hair and act like girls.”

Hepp and Shull both laughed at that one. “How old are you boys?” Hepp asked.

“I’m nineteen.”

“And I’m twenty,” Counter added.

“The way you describe what we are is what most people think when they think of sodomites, so no one ever suspects us,” Hepp said. “We’ve lived here for going on eight years and no one we know has ever questioned our manhood. We don’t rub our lifestyle in folks’ faces and everyone leaves us alone.”

“Are you afraid of burning in Hell?” Counter blurted.

Hepp looked at Shull before turning a questioning look toward Counter. “Why do you think we’re going to burn in Hell?”

“When I was a kid, I remember our preacher in church preaching about Sodom and Gomorrah and how all sodomites would eventually burn in Hell for their sins. He said sodomy ain’t natural and is against God.”

“Son, faith is faith, and Hepp and me, we live good, clean lives. We ain’t done nothing against God. Besides, if he sends us to Hell for loving one another, then his Heaven is not a place we want to be anyway.”

Hepp continued before Frink or Counter could respond. “You boys are going to believe what you want to believe, so filling your head with our beliefs won’t do anyone any good.”

“Look,” Shull interrupted. “The only reason we said anything at all is because we felt that if we were going to be in business together, we wanted to be honest with you. That’s all.”

“Much obliged,” Frink said. “I don’t personally believe all that fire and brimstone talk, and I don’t really know where sodomites go when they die, but faith aside, it’s not for me to say what two people do behind closed doors.” Frink looked at Counter, hoping he wouldn’t continue down his current line of questioning.

“Yeah, what he said,” Counter agreed with a curt nod.

“Then that settles it,” Hepp said. “No need to bring it up ever again.”

“Let me show you boys to your room,” Shull motioned towards the stairs. “We need to be loaded and ready to go at first light.”


FRINK and Counter stripped and crawled into bed like old habit. They slept in the same bed every night in their little room above the post office and had shared a bed many times before that as kids during their twelve years of friendship. Frink thought about the many times they’d had relations in the quiet of the night, starting out exploring like boys do when they were kids, but continuing on well into their young adult life. Counter had never once spoken of what they’d done, nor had he ever acknowledged the feelings Frink knew hung between them, but after both tossed and turned for quite some time, Frink was the first to speak. “Count, you awake?”

“Yep, I’m up.”

“I know we’ve slept together hundreds of times since we were kids, but lying next to you feels different to me tonight.”

“I know what you mean,” Counter admitted. “Maybe it’s because we’re sleeping so close to sodomites.”

Frink hesitated and then asked the question that had been plaguing him for so many years. “Do you think we’re sodomites?”

Counter sat up in bed. “Why in tarnation would you ask that?”

“Well, because we’ve… uh, slept together so many times.”

“That doesn’t make us sodomites.”

“Doesn’t it?” Frink suggested.

“Heck no! You’ve got to do stuff,” Counter insisted.

There was silence for a few minutes. “Count?”

“Yeah?”

Frink opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it. “Uh… never mind. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Frink.”

“WELL, that went pretty well,” Shull said as he snuggled against Hepp’s broad chest.

“I guess so, but Counter didn’t seem as okay with us as Frink seemed to be.”

“Yeah, I picked up on that too.”

“Shull, have you ever noticed the way Frink looks at Counter?”

“Yeah, I have. Like the sun rises and sets just to shine on him. Just like the way I look at you,” Shull admitted.

“You think…?”

“Who knows, but those boys have known each other since they were kids, and we all know what kids do when they reach puberty.”

Hepp chuckled. “I know what you mean, but I guess time will tell about those two. The more we work together and get to know each other better, maybe they’ll get used to us and relax and just accept us.”

“I sure hope so, ’cause I like them both. They’re good boys.”

“Me too. ’Night, Shull.”

“’Night, Hepp. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

The Eye of Heaven
DANTE

IN 1347, in the year of our Lord, there went out a proclamation from the Lord God, He who is called Jehovah, and it was noised abroad to all the corners of the earth. It was said that the angel Gabriel stood atop the Mount of Olives and blew his trumpet, and lo, the Earth melted like wax.

At long last, the promised end of the world. Our kind had proliferated, had now spread abroad so far and so fast that God must needs purge the land of our presence. Or so the prophets said. Our number had become too great, and we were infecting the mortal innocents, affecting them with our iniquity. It was time to change the course of our most necessary evil, and by so doing, eradicate all evil from the face of the earth. The means by which He chose to destroy us was a disease you now know as plague. The instrument of this destruction was a woman named merely, Lilith.

My name is Dante, of the house of Salvatore, and I am, at the time of this telling, in this, your modern age, some six hundred and fifty years old. I am immortal, one of a small and peerless number that nightly roam the world. When I was first brought over into darkness, I was but a stripling youth, and so I have remained. Our kind do not age; despite the ravages of time, we remain the same as on the night that we first took that unholy cup.

I am forever twenty years of age. I still have a young man’s smooth, square face, framed with dark chestnut hair that flutters around my shoulders and large dark eyes, heavy-lidded, flecked with gold. Arched brows that lend my face a permanently quizzical expression, as if I were questioning the gods. A mouth that hints at a hidden sensuality, the lower lip not quite pendulous but poutish, petulant. Tall for then—the Middle Ages—not so very tall for now, these modern times, this twentieth century.

In life I was the kind of face and figure that could meld into the masses. I exist now in death, and my immortal nature is well hidden. I am a template upon which my milieu inevitably sets its mark.

I have a story to tell you, one which I think you will very much want to hear. Because it concerns the nature of existence, the integrity of betrayal, and the astounding wrath of the vengeful God Jehovah. Pray, place your hand in mine and follow. You very much believe, even as you resist me, that nothing is as tender as the night.


Chapter One

October 1347

Florence, Italy (Firenze)

DANTE

I HAVE heard the story told, in hushed whispers around the dining table, or in my master’s chambers, that the holy God Jehovah made Lilith from the dust of the earth, created her as He created Adam. And Lilith, unwilling to subjugate herself to him, resisted, uttered the secret name of God, (that which is not given men to know) and flew high into the air. She traveled to the Red Sea and there, in a frenzy of evil, created demons, the diabolic children of her blood-lust. This was the seed of her rebellion against Him.

This was the beginning of our kind, this aberrant subspecies of blood-drinkers that nightly roams the earth. We are bound with chains as ancient as the universe.

When I met Lilith, she was already immensely old, and I have no reason not to believe the stories. I believe that she is the First Eve, the immortal wife of Adam. I believe she is as much evil as I have ever known.



“DANTE!” The tinkling crash of broken crockery; a shattered plate skittered into pieces across the hard tiles of Ludmilla’s kitchen floor. “Clumsy oaf!”

Her hand cuffed me, briefly, a clever tap across the nape of my neck that nonetheless humiliated me. I bent to scrape up the broken fragments, brush them into a cloth to be taken away. I would never have dropped the tray except that I was in a frenzy of excitement, my whole body juddering with nervous anticipation.

“You’ve cut yourself! Ahhhh!” Ludmilla squatted in front of me, a huge shadow blocking out the morning light. “Little piece of it—” She brought my finger close to her face and picked the tiny shard away. Immediately the blood welled up and with it, the pain. “Here. Wrap it up.” She passed me a strip of linen and bound it twice around my finger. “You should be more careful.”

I had been careful, I had been exquisitely careful, but I was just so excited! The trader that my master entertained upstairs was not his normal sort of guest; this man was special, different. I sensed it. The entire household buzzed with unasked questions, humming like a beehive. We were each of us intensely curious about him.

“Now, need another tray for you to take.” Ludmilla bustled about, a large shape at the dim edges of my vision. I wasn’t listening to her. I was feeling the throb in my finger and wishing that she would hurry with the tray, so I could go in and see my master’s strange visitor. “Take this—grip it, boy!” She curled my fingers around the handles, squeezed my hands until they hurt. “Don’t drop it this time.” She scrutinized me with her small, dark eyes, lips pursed. “So you’ve seen him, then.”

“Who?”

“The trader!” She turned and pretended busyness with a basket of onions. “Cosimo says he has an extra eye, here.” She pressed her thumb against the center of her smooth round forehead. “And an extra finger on each hand.”

“Maestro Salvatore has an extra finger on each hand?” Mio Dio, this was news to me. How was it I hadn’t noticed?

“The trader!” Ludmilla glared at me with all the gravity of a disgruntled sow. “How is it you were raised at his side—” She jerked a thumb upward to indicate my master, in the rooms above us, “—and are so stupid?”

I pulled a face. “Cosimo talks nonsense.” Cosimo was the master of horses. “He has no extra fingers, nor eyes either.”

“Ahhhh!” She shoved me out the door. “Make haste with that, and don’t drop it!”

I went up with my tray of wine and sweetmeats, careful on the stairs, my mind quivering with anticipation. I was now finally old enough to serve my master properly, as a man, to wait on him and bring him wine. I was no longer relegated to the kitchen with Ludmilla. I was a respected servant, very nearly a counselor, with the master’s ear if I wanted it.

I pushed the door open furtively, peered around the corner. Salvatore was hunched over at his desk, gazing at a map.

“My Master.” I waited in the doorway, as Ludmilla had taught me, and allowed only my gaze to rove around the room. It was indeed glorious, but then, my master was a man of wealth and position, and much humility. That he conducted his business in this gilded salon was nothing to him; its gorgeous frescoes and vaulted, coffered ceilings escaped his attention as surely as if they were mere phantoms of the imagination.

“Ah, Dante! Come in, come in.” Salvatore looked up, smiling at me, and I was struck by how little he had changed since first he’d found me in the marketplace. And that was eons ago, ages since. I felt that I had come a great distance since then. “Dante, this is Ysin-Hui, the trade emissary from China. Ysin-Hui provides me with the spices and dyes I need, and in return, I supply him with oil from my groves. Here—” Salvatore uncorked one of several vials that stood in a row upon his desk, motioned me near, “—cinnamon, and cardamom.” The heady smells rose and mingled, a delicious perfume.

“I have never seen such things….” I touched a hesitant finger to the side of the glass bottle; I expected it to be warm to the touch. There was anise seed, attar of roses, yellow turmeric, and saffron, impossibly expensive and much more precious than gold. There were innumerable rows of tiny vials, filled with things I had never seen before. There was the dried head of a monkey in a velvet bag.

“Young, Dante, I am pleasured by our meeting.” He bowed to me, graciously, but I flushed hot and cold with embarrassment. My master’s other friends, wealthy Florentines, knew not to bow to me, as I was but a servant. “Would you like something to take along with you?” He pushed the velvet bag a little closer to the table’s edge. “Maestro Monkey, he smiles because he likes you.”

I glanced at the animal’s severed head with its thin dead lips, its fixed expression. The eyeballs had long since rotted and collapsed back into the hollow sockets, dried strips of crackling tissue that was plastered flat against the bone. My stomach lurched painfully, and I looked quickly away. “You are far too kind, Ser.”

“Dante is my servant, but he is much more to me than that.” Salvatore was speaking to the emissary, but I listened without seeming to. It was a trick I often employed, to apprise myself of the household business. “I found him in the market when he was but a child, and he has remained with me ever since. I expect that, because I am so very fond of him, I may need to purchase him a title.” Salvatore often showed me off this way, proud that I belonged to him. “I have thought of petitioning the Medici. They are rising rapidly in prominence….” He trailed off, smiling, and Ysin-Hui smiled also, and nodded, a courteous mirroring. His keen, dark eyes watched me as I went to stand by Salvatore’s side. “Ysin-Hui honors us, Dante.”

I bowed from the waist and nodded to the emissary. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Ser.” I employed the Tuscan honorific, since I had no idea how to greet him in his own tongue, but he seemed pleased with me, and smiled. In fact, he smiled more than anyone I had ever met. I looked carefully but could see no extra eye. His hands employed a mere five fingers each.

“Ysin-Hui will be staying with us for a few days, Dante, as he is a stranger in our city. Would you run and ask Ludmilla to make up his bedroom, please?”

I was being dismissed, but I didn’t mind. I had performed my duty, and I had seen what was in the little bottles and indeed the monkey’s head as well, and now, as was often the case, it was time to depart silently, as any worthy servant knows to do. “I will, Maestro.”

The truth was, a prolonged stretch of time in Salvatore’s presence made me uncomfortable. He often made much more of me than was appropriate, and his enthusiasm embarrassed me. His affection was an overwhelming thing, a nearly physical presence that enveloped me like a cloud, cloying, overpowering. I knew that his deep regard for me could smother me, without meaning to; he merely loved me far more than I could stand. I felt his hand descend upon my shoulder, and it burned me. I slid away from it, under the pretence of picking up my tray, and moved toward the door in guilty silence. I bobbed a bow and escaped, running down the back stairs until I reached the kitchen, out of breath.

When I was a child, he brought me sweetmeats from market every day, watched while I ate them, observed me with a frightening intensity that compelled me to swallow every one, until I made myself ill. He ordered clothing made for me, from the finest houses between here and Venice: cloaks and doublets, cut in the latest style, fashioned from the finest cloth, fine-woven hose of silken thread, leather boots dyed to match. When the other boys at my school made sport of me and beat me up, Salvatore hired tutors such as those employed by prominent fiorentino, so that I should be educated in his home, and not exposed to peril on my way to school. He boasted that I was tutored by such minds as those who created the erudition of the Medici, the Sforza.

He sat beside my bed at night until I fell asleep, even when I became so old that I no longer feared the darkness. Often I would be occupied in some task about the house, and I would look up to see him watching me, a curious expression on his face.

He supervised my activities himself, or if he was unable, sent a servant to go with me. I felt ridiculous, being followed about the town by Salvatore’s hulking guards, as if I were his firstborn son, instead of merely his servant. If I went into a shop, a tavern, or a church, his emissaries followed me. If I sought sport with a fellow or a maiden, it was certain I was being watched, under the guise of his protection. Salvatore’s presence followed me everywhere, he was with me every possible moment, as if he feared that I would vanish like a vision. When I knelt to say the Pater Noster at Mass on Sundays, Salvatore was there beside me, gazing into my face as if it held some kind of holy glow.

Salvatore loved me too much. It frightened me. There is love, and love again, and then the love becomes religion.



MY EARLIEST memory is of being in the marketplace. I can’t have been more than two. I don’t remember how I got there, of course; I merely remember sitting in the dust behind an applecart and crying as if my heart were broken.

The market seemed so very huge a place, and I, so all alone. And I was hungry, I remember it now: that peculiar, gnawing hunger that feels as if it would eat right through you. This lent vigor to my screaming and I continued until I was fairly hoarse from it. Still, no one came.

I first remember Salvatore as an elegant shadow falling over me, a huge pair of hands reaching down. I was lifted up, into the sunlight of late afternoon, the ground falling away from me. He seemed so very tall, but then, I was a tiny child. To me, he would have seemed so. Even now, hundreds of years after his demise, he still seems huge, a tall, elegant shadow. Perhaps I will always remember him this way, as my savior in the marketplace, lifting me out of the darkness and into the light. He thought I would always exist in light, my wise master. But then, he could not have anticipated Lilith, her ancient blood that condemned me to this immortal hell. Perhaps it is best that he does not know what his servant, his sometimes-son, has come to.

Tuscany in summer is a glorious place; there is an ethereal quality about the light not seen elsewhere, I’m certain you yourself have seen it in the paintings of the Renaissance: Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Andrea del Sarto. There is a quality of stillness, also, of eternal waiting, as if the landscape held its breath. It is a place as perfectly the same as it has ever been, unchanged by Time, untempered by Fortune and by Fate. The green hills with their dappled olive groves roll into the horizon as ever they did; tranquil streams meander thoughtfully, unhurried; the sky in daylight is still a stretch of blue serenity. It is above all else, a place of peace, and a certain creature comfort. There are times when, in my self-imposed exile, I search for some solace, and it is then that Salvatore’s villa establishes itself most strongly in my memory: a stately palazzo on the outskirts of Florence in which I was happy.

After he had found me, he installed me in his house under the care of a nurse—a washerwoman who had been with him as long as anyone could remember. She also cared for his only daughter, Sorcha, a plain and plump girl who cared little for anything besides prayers and holy books. It was whispered that she was bound for the convent. All I ever saw of her was her back, as it traveled hither and yon about the house. She was a fussy, petulant girl, much given to moods and rages; it was not unknown for her to scream the house down, when she was denied some trinket or bauble that her father might have brought from market. Her various attitudes changed as quickly as the wind. She spent most of her time closeted with her nurse and never went outside.

But I was as happy underneath his roof as I had been anywhere; indeed, I had no real recall of being either happy or otherwise, but then, I had been so very young when he found me. So perhaps my time under his roof is all the mortal memory I have, all the mortal memory I need. It is as if I was created the moment that he reached down to lift me into the light.

His house, with its myriad rooms and labyrinthine corridors, was a perfect place for a young boy, and I passed many a contented hour wandering there, devising imagined adventures in which I figured largely as the hero. In summer, there was the courtyard, lush with trees, cool and sheltered from the sunlight. If I climbed onto the topmost point of Salvatore’s tower, I could gaze out over his olive groves and his vineyards, rich acres of green stretching as far as I could see: this was Salvatore’s world, this was my world.

These olives had made him rich, and because of his wealth, I wanted for nothing. I was clothed in the same rich fabrics all in his household wore, I was fed and cared for as if I were his son, instead of the urchin that he had found at market. Like many a foundling who was forced to fall upon the kindness of strangers, I could never be sure of my place within the household, but with Salvatore di Tuscano, I was always sure of my place in his regard.

I was in service to him when Lilith came.

I had just passed my twentieth year, well into my majority, an adult now. You will remember that the span of time to make a life was much shorter then; at twenty I was as mature as ever I would be. I had reached the fullness of my height, my shoulders broad and strong, my muscles hardened from years of carrying and fetching, working with Salvatore’s cavaliere in the courtyard. I had hair underneath my arms and elsewhere on my body, and I was compelled now to shave my face every morning with a blade.

There was a commotion in the house at that time: Sorcha was twenty-five and still had not married, and Salvatore seemed intent that she should go into contemplation. She had always been a quiet girl, immersed in reading, the study of Scripture, not overly inclined to gaiety, and certainly not interested in being courted. Salvatore had her introduced to several of his patrons, their sons, and their sons’ cousins, but all for naught. Sorcha was not interested, she would not marry, and as the years passed, one upon the other, the time when she might wed dwindled down to nothing, and was gone. Salvatore considered sending her to the convent, but Sorcha wailed and wept, prevailed upon his mercies in the name of her dead mother, until Salvatore finally consented. Sorcha would remain here, would manage the affairs of the family after Salvatore had gone; since there was no son, I would assist her, as her chamberlain, and thus be assured of my livelihood for the remainder of my days.

Alas, it did not happen like that.



I WAS folding cloth for Ludmilla the night that I first saw her: a woman, tall and thin, with an unearthly countenance and eyes of blue that glittered. I shrank from her, my voice withered in my throat and died, and I knew nothing but this horrible, heart-pounding terror. Fear rose and filled my head, a wordless shriek, as she moved, one hand outstretched in front of her, the long nails gleaming in the dimness, eerily illuminated by my candle.

I knew she was something unholy. Yet I was powerless to flee; it was as if my feet had fallen off my legs.

“Dante….” Her lips moved to shape my name; she uttered it, a whisper like dried leaves, a murmur that died away like wind. She drifted, grew in height, hovered over me like some great, winged shadow. Her hair was long and tangled and reached nearly to the floor, a dark sheet, a shroud. Her mind pressed against me like a mouth, a great beckoning presence that insisted, that insinuated itself into my soul. And I sagged against the wall, drained of life, held pinioned by the terror I felt because of her. I was in a great, shrieking, mindless agony of fear, that horror that erupts when the mind can hold no other thought, no other impulse. As if from a distance, I heard the thudding cadence of my heart, the dark interior swishing of my blood as it slowed by degrees, like a timepiece running down.

I was suspended in death.

I felt her bend over me, felt the tendrils of her hair brush against my face, my neck. Fingers probed my face, my mouth, slipped into my nostrils, examined the insides of my ears. Fingers slipped into my opened shirt, sliced my nipple with a fingernail, a pain as keen as ecstasy. “You are mine. I have marked you for my own.”

My mouth opened, my lips shaping themselves into an oval, a supplication. Who are you?

“I have come to bring about the end of the world.” Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots.

Who are you?

“I am Lilith. The First Eve, the willful woman, the cast-off skin of evil. I am—” Leaning over me, her hair brushing my face, my blinded eyes, “—the very consort of God.”

There was a fluttering rush, as if from the beating of a great many wings, and her nails slid into my neck. She wrenched my head around, bared my throat and sank her fangs into me.

My body rose in her embrace, floating. Her lips fastened onto my skin with a powerful suction that seemed to pull my soul to her. And I was filled with light: varicolored, beautiful, it streamed out of her and into me, a spiral thread. I existed in a perfect space, and I was safe, and every cold and lonely thing inside me was erased, replaced with love and heat. She was draining me, and it was the best thing, because what else was there except this love, this perfect peace? Peace I give unto you, not as the world gives….

“Dante, drink it, darling.” A flood of liquid over me, against my face, my death-blinded eyes, dripping into my mouth. I was with my mother again, and I remembered what it was to be an infant, suckled at her breast and safe in her embrace, the milky smell of her. Oh, my mother…. Suckling at her breast and safe, and—

The slow thudding of my heart returned: gently at first, barely audible, a distant ticking like a watch. And then stronger, beating in my ears like the cadence of an enormous drum, pounding lustily and strong and alive!

The room resolved around me, and I saw that I was in her arms, my mouth at her breast, and I was pulling blood from her, as she had taken it from me.

“Enough, Dante.” She disengaged her nipple from my mouth, pressed her fingers against the flow of blood, smeared them on my lips. “New-made revenant, I bless you.”

I caught her fingers and sucked them, drew them deep inside my mouth and bucked against her, my whole being suddenly engorged with lust. I held her by her waist and rubbed myself against her hip, faster and faster, rubbing myself against the rough fabric of my hose, the silken fabric of her dress. Release hovered around the edges of my senses; I could feel it building underneath my skin, that telltale tickle in the brain, the soles of my feet: imminent now, building, building—

Bright stars danced behind my closed eyelids and I spent myself against her in long, tremulous bursts that left me weeping. She wrapped her hand around me and squeezed, and I shivered again, and ground myself against her.

The world was exquisitely painful, and jagged around the edges. If I opened my eyes, the candlelight would blind me.

“Dante.”



THE Ancient Kiss manifests itself differently in us all, but for me, it was a horror from the start, an alternate reality that had stolen my own existence, replaced it with something that I did not recognize and could not navigate.

I awoke the morning after Lilith made me, lying on the floor of my chamber, half-blind from the beam of daylight that slid across the floor, my skin seared with the impending heat, the promise of the dawn. The sight of it nauseated me and seared my eyeballs; I feared to touch it because I knew it would burn the skin from my bones. I crawled into a cabinet and slid the door behind me, and there I stayed, unconscious, until the world had made its revolution into darkness.

When I awoke again, I crawled up from a nightmare. I was possessed of a hunger the likes of which I had never known: it throbbed along my very bones, it pulsed underneath my skin. Every fiber of my being screamed for nourishment, a hunger that was like the fever pitch of lust.

I crept down into the kitchen.

There was food here, I thought, yes, food. I would eat and then I would be appeased, the pain would stop. I was utterly demented, my need for nourishment possessed me: I was deaf and blind to all else and driven only by this. My gums ached furiously; the bones themselves seemed to change their shape.

I found a loaf of bread lying on a table, and I seized it greedily, tore into it with my teeth, stuffed it down my throat. This was food, it was good, it would help—my stomach recoiled around it, forced it back in a great, retching heave, a violent contraction, a revulsion that ripped its way up out of my chest. I vomited until I was empty, huddled on the floor and clutching my aching stomach, arms wrapped around my chest. “Oh God, it hurts….” My voice was loud, ringing in the stillness of the kitchen. I could hear rats running underneath the cupboards, the padding of their tiny feet upon the stones. Above me, I could hear Ludmilla, sewing: I could hear each tug and pull as she drew her thread, the hissing passage of the needle through the cloth. I could hear people sleeping, hearts beating in the distant rooms above the kitchen.

I was losing my mind! I clamped my hands to the sides of my head, squeezed my eyes shut. The room seemed to move; the whole house was breathing, I could hear them all, breathing like that. I could hear the shifting of the timbers as the house settled, the creaking of the stones. I could hear it, hear everything.

I found a pitcher and poured a little water, but I could not drink it—my stomach lurched as I passed the cup across my lips, and I knew that if I drank it, I would vomit as before. I was suddenly and violently afraid.

“I’m going to die,” I said. I would starve to death. Despite the abundance of Salvatore’s wealth around me, I would starve.

I wondered what I was supposed to eat, now that Lilith had changed me, now that her blood had passed into me. I wasn’t certain about what had happened, I only knew that I had changed. My body felt differently than it had the day before: lighter, but at the same time more inherently solid, as if it had been invested with some covert power. My blood hummed along my veins, throbbed underneath my skin; my skull felt full of light.

Ludmilla kept a glass against the door, just on the wall above the chopping table, and I went to it now, pulled it down and peered into it. I was curious to see how these myriad sensations had manifested themselves in me; I wondered if drinking Lilith’s blood had altered my essential structure. I held the mirror in my arms and tilted it until my face came into view.

I was changed!

I recoiled from the glass, flattened myself against the wall, desperately afraid of the apparition in the mirror. That wasn’t me, it couldn’t be me, and if it was, then Lilith had worked dark magic on me. I didn’t look like that, it wasn’t me!

My eyes, though still brown, were flecked with rich gold; the irises were deep and velvet, the whites as clear as marble. Something moved in the depth of my gaze, something animate; my eyes themselves were warm, glowing, enticing.

These were not the only changes.

My skin was pale as bone, and my face was unusually mobile, less able now than ever to disguise its expression. My hair tumbled about my shoulders, as darkly glossy as the mane of one of Salvatore’s finest mares. My lips, slightly parted, glistened with moisture; when I parted them to see my teeth, I noticed two tiny spikes emerging from my gums on either side. I was subtly altered, a metamorphosis so precise as to leave my features intact while perfecting every aspect of my being.

I was beautiful now. But still damnably hungry! And it was building by the second, this lust for nourishment, so that it had become quite exquisitely painful.

I thought about the woman Lilith, what she had done to me, how she had given me suck from her breast, how she had given me blood from her body, how she had taken mine in return.

My mind was working furiously. This thing I craved, could it be blood? Perhaps this was what I must now eat. Perhaps I could no longer tolerate Ludmilla’s cakes or her good, doughy loaves. Perhaps I could not take fruit, or sweetmeats, or wine.

I could feed as Lilith fed on me. The thought grew, gained shape, solidified.

Lilith had taken my blood. And I had taken hers. Then it was blood I needed. I would have to eat blood, drink it, something….

“I can’t do it.” Whispering, my voice was as loud as a normal person’s mumble: I heard a twitter in the hallway, in a moment I would be discovered. The hunger twanged my senses like an over-tightened lute string; in a moment I would snap—

“Well, Dante! What are you doing, hiding in Ludmilla’s kitchen?”

I spun guiltily, upset the mirror, and it fell before I could catch it, shattered into a million, silvery pieces.

It was Luigi, the groom’s son. “Mother of God!” He blessed himself hurriedly, hastened to ward off the bad luck that follows a broken mirror. He was thirteen, barely on the cusp of manhood, still superstitious and uncertain, still clinging to childhood ideas. I regarded him with a lofty contempt that was quite wonderful and new.

“Luigi… I don’t feel very well.” I pitched my voice low to beckon him closer, slid down the wall till I was sitting on the floor. The hunger pulsed in me like a living thing, and there was no whispering of conscience, not then. I was hungry, I would eat. It was as simple as all that. I had scarce thought outside of hunger; there was room for little else.

“Should I summon Ludmilla? Have her make a potion?” He came closer, he was kneeling in my vomit, and this amused me, somehow. I could smell him, and he smelled wonderful: his skin, his hair, his sweat, the dust of his day’s labor. I could hear blood beating in him, swishing through the tiny tubes of veins and arteries. I wanted to devour him whole, and I thought how easy it would be to break his soft, thin skin, so very like the skin of a plum or a grape. It would be like biting through a crust of sugar to the pulsing sweet heart of him. I thought about this quite intently. And I noticed that he was moving closer to me.

Come closer, yes, that’s it, like that…. I could draw him with just a thought, and now he was folding himself into my arms, and he was there in my embrace and oh! the sweetness of him, like a luscious candied thing, the rich blood smell of him, rising into my nostrils. I held him delicately, afraid that if I squeezed him he would shatter.

My gums ached, the shape of them was changing, from either side the spike descending, sliding down out of the bone. But I was clumsy with them yet, and I couldn’t pierce his skin, so I seized a shard of broken mirror and slashed his throat, groaned aloud as the blood streamed down into his hair. I sealed my lips over the wound, as the dark fountain of his life erupted into my throat. The hunger hissed a little less keenly, and a lambent desire rose to take its place, filled my belly with a heady languor like that left behind by wine, well-aged and red. I felt the way I did after I had pleasured myself, alone in my bedroom, after I had brought my own release: sated, warm, and safe.

I drank until I felt his essential being disengage, slip out of his body with a discrete click like the snapping of a bone. The death was a shock, a sudden, sucking pull that dragged at me with claws; I recoiled from him, cast his body from me. Perhaps I ought not to continue drinking until the death comes, I thought.

I crouched for a long time with my back against the wall and watched him, watched the slow process of mortal demise with some great interest. I could see things now that I had never seen before, and I could see more: all the varied shades of light and dark that move across the spectrum. I watched Luigi dying, saw the changing temperature of his skin as the life left him. I saw the varicolored, invisible gases rising from his flesh, the slow stiffening of the rigor mortis.

The body cools so quickly. Something I learned that Lilith never told me. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this now. But it does: cools, and stiffens, the limbs hardening, the face becoming waxen, like a doll. A thing. I leaned against the wall and regarded him this way, my arms clutched around my belly, the blood spreading its warmth through me. I pondered, idly, what to do with it, this empty shell. I supposed I ought to bury it, dispose of it somehow. There aren’t any rules for such things, you know. I wondered if the dogs might take it, should I leave it outside the villa gates….

Murder is a mortal sin, I thought idly. Murder. I have murdered him…. I rolled the word around in my mouth, sucked it back like blood. It had the shape of a small stone, rested easily on my tongue. It meant little to me, as did other supposed sins. Salvatore tried to civilize me, but I have never fully embraced the dogma of the Christ. I fear that my inherent sensuality precludes such a spiritual gesture, as I love pleasure far more than is proper.

I wondered if this was how Lilith felt after she had taken me. I wished that I could ask her, but she had long since left, and I was alone in my new state, with none to tell me otherwise. I tossed Luigi’s body into a stream behind the house.


I MADE my way back into the villa and up the stairs, intending to sleep in my old room. I knew now that the light could harm me, so it was vital that I shutter all the windows and bar the door.

A sound startled me, and I turned to see Ysin-Hui, Salvatore’s Chinese trader, coming up the stairs. He carried a pail and a linen towel, and looked as if he had been ill. His skin was as pale as wax, and in the dim light, I could see beads of sweat standing on his forehead.

“Are you unwell, Ser?” My voice boomed out in the stillness of the stairwell, rushing past my lips at unearthly volume. I clamped a hand over my mouth and smiled past my fingers. “May I aid you?” I whispered. I could smell his blood, it didn’t smell right. He hovered, creaking in front of me, his dark, almond eyes hazy, his gaze indistinct.

“I wish only rest.” He moved away and down into the hallway, walking with a certain hobbling gait, his arms held stiffly from his sides, as if his armpits hurt him.

I noticed that the linen towel was spattered with bright red blood.

Werewolves of Brooklyn
The wolf’s eyes were lava-yellow with hate. His growl and his snarl were meant to terrify Darien, to freeze him in his tracks, prepare him for his death.

Then something rose up in Darien, rage, frustration, primal energy. And his own lips curled, his own growl met the enemy’s.

The Duke retreated a pace, taken aback. Darien felt sharp pains in his palms and looked down. Where he’d had fingernails, he had claws, long and sharp, and the fists he was making were digging them into his flesh.

He smiled, exhilarated, wild. He lunged and snapped at his enemy, knowing that his canines had become…literally that, elongated spikes ready to tear out a neck.

Darien’s ears were ringing, something surging in him beyond mortal feeling – like testosterone but stronger, more powerful, the smell of victory, immortality.

“The King is mine,” Darien declared. “And I am his.”

He knew he’d taken a step from which there was no turning back. He was the King’s man, the King’s consort. He would open to Albeus and take him, and be taken by him, and he would be alone no more.

He was one of the pack.

And it curdled the blood of men for miles around when he raised his face to the full moon, and howled.

Sight Unseen
The stench of rot, mildew and decay jammed Danny's nasal passages. He'd tried breathing through his mouth for about a minute, but that only made him want to retch, so he returned to his original tactic. Slow, shallow breaths through his nose, taken one small whiff at a time.

If he survived this revolting trek through Phoenix's sewer system, he'd be showering for the next three days. And he'd spend every minute of those seventy-two hours inhaling the scent of fresh shampoo until his lungs went numb.

"You better be right about this, Van Doren." Detective Nick Samuels snorted, then gagged, before letting a gob of spit loose. It landed somewhere in the vicinity of Danny's feet. "If you're dragging me through shit for nothing, I'll spend the rest of my days making you pay. God as my witness."

"Right, Detective. Because this is where I always take my evening stroll."

Nick let out a groan that said he didn't give a damn if Danny walked off a cliff without bungee gear. "You just better be right. That's all I'm saying." No threat this time, but Danny heard it just the same.

Despite the fact that he'd helped the Phoenix P.D. solve six homicides in the last nine months, Nick didn't like him much. He never had, not even when he'd been married to Danny's sister. That was probably Danny's fault. They'd gotten their relationship off to a rocky start the first night he found Nick groping Elena in the front seat of his car. A decade later, Nick still hadn't forgiven him for that bloody nose.

The shape he followed flickered in the distance. She was short, maybe four foot six at best. Probably about ten years old. She ran ahead of them, but he couldn't give chase. Being blind made treading on a newly paved sidewalk as treacherous as skating on bare feet. Slogging through the sewers with the rank stench of waste sticking to his lungs and his feet sloshing through inches of foul water meant he had to shuffle rather than walk, and running was out of the question.

"Come on, honey." Danny kept his voice low, soothing, even though he had no idea whether the little girl could hear him. She pretended to, sometimes, and other times he might as well have been talking to a brick wall. A bystander watching him hold a conversation with himself would think he was doing just that. Most people who knew him already assumed he'd lost his mind along with his eyesight.

Hell, most days he thought the same.

"Right behind ya, pumpkin."

The sarcasm in Nick's voice grated on Danny's nerves. If he didn't need the man to identify the location of the body when Danny finally led him to it--and to guide him back out of this hellhole once his ethereal guide disappeared--he'd have been just as happy to leave the detective sitting in front of a box of donuts at the station.

Well, no, that wasn't entirely true. Danny wasn't stupid. Or reckless, for that matter. He needed Nick to watch his back on this ill-advised expedition, almost as much as the little girl's ghost needed him.

Two years ago, before Danny lost his sight, Nick had been tall, lean and handsome. These days, Danny liked to picture him based on his surly demeanor and gruff voice. It took some effort, but he pictured a barrel-chested, beer-gutted man with a bad comb over and a permanent snarl on thin lips crusted with powdered sugar. Danny grinned at that mental image and momentarily forgot his resolve to take small, shallow breaths. He sucked in a mouthful of the funky air before catching himself, and his stomach writhed.


Author Bio:
Scotty Cade
Scotty Cade is the author of fourteen books published by Dreamspinner Press. He left Corporate America and twenty-five years of Marketing and Public Relations behind to buy an Inn & Restaurant on the island of Martha's Vineyard with his partner of eighteen years. He started writing stories as soon as he could read, but only four years ago for publication. When not at the Inn, you can find him on the bow of his boat writing gay romance novels with his Shetland sheepdog Mavis at his side. Being from the south and a lover of commitment and fidelity, most of his characters find their way to long healthy relationships, however long it takes them to get there. He believes that in the end, the boy should always get the boy.

JoAnne Soper-Cook
JoAnne Soper-Cook was born in Old Perlican, Newfoundland and grew up in Hant's Harbour. She published her first story at the age of 8 when her mother, impressed with the quality of a short story she'd written for a school project, sent it in to a local newspaper. Since then she has written novels, novellas, short stories, plays, speeches, radio scripts and some really, really bad poetry. She holds a B.A. (Honors) and an M.A. in English Literature from Memorial University and a B.Ed, also from Memorial. When she isn't writing she loves reading (pulp, mystery, and Southern Gothic are her favourite genres) walking, travel (the Deep South states of Mississippi and Louisiana rank high on her list of destinations) and listening to the voices in her head. She makes her home in St. John's, Newfoundland, with her husband Paul and her two spoiled rotten dogs Lola and Sheppie.

Brad Vance
Brad Vance writes gay romance, erotica and paranormal stories and novels, including the breakout hits “A Little Too Broken” and “Given the Circumstances.”

Hunter Raines
Hunter Raines leads a double life. By day, she works in a male-dominated environment as a professional proposal writer responsible for securing multi-million-dollar accounts. By night, she pens naughty tales of hunky men doing wonderfully sexy things to each other. Her coworkers think they're the source of her inspiration, and she doesn't have the heart to tell them otherwise.

Hunter is the author of numerous short stories and novellas, and she holds an Honors B.A. in English Literature. When she's not working or writing, she can be found curled up in her library of more than four thousand books, or playing video games with her husband.

Adrienne Wilder
Georgia born and bred, I am an artist, a writer, and a general pain in the ass.

I spend most of my days working on my next book or designing cover art for other writers. For stress relief I do olympic lifting and occasionally run (but hate it). I have been in love with writing since I was very young but it wasn't until recently that I decided to pursue it as a profession.

I have experimented in several genres and found that since I identify as male, male romance has been the most comfortable for me to write. I don't discriminate in my books. All characters are fair game. I do however, prefer a happy ending at some level.

I don't write the standard romance book. Some might even argue that what I write isn't romance at all. Personally I think of them as love stories, where even in a fantastical world, there are realistic outcomes to the obstacles the characters face.

Many of my books have dark turns and twists where the characters fight for the light at the end of the tunnel. I write action, fist fights, gun fights, down right dirty evil people who have to be stopped, things catch fire, blow up, and fall in. My characters come in a unique range. They are not all good guys, but the majority of them have very good hearts. Many of them have been through hell in their lives, and many of them have a laundry list of faults. But hopefully they manage to surprise you with their tenacity and loyalty.

If all goes well, there will be a myriad of different kinds of books available this year. If I am really lucky, you will enjoy them.


Scotty Cade
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EMAIL: scotty@scottycade.com

JoAnne Soper-Cook
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ARe  /  DREAMSPINNER  /  AMAZON

Brad Vance

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PINTEREST  /  SMASHWORDS  /  ARe
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EMAIL: bradvanceerotica@gmail.com

Hunter Raines
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ARe  /  LOOSE ID  /  AMAZON  /  GOODREADS
EMAIL: hrainesauthor@gmail.com

Adrienne Wilder
 FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  WEBSITE
YOU TUBE  /  AMAZON  /  GOODREADS



The Mystery of Ruby Lode
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The Eye of Heaven
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DREAMSPINNER  /  GOODREADS TBR

Werewolves of Brooklyn
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  GOODREADS TBR

Sight Unseen
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He Speaks Dead
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Release Day Blitz: The Butterfly Code by Sue Wyshynski

Title: The Butterfly Code
Author: Sue Wyshynski
Genre: New Adult Romantic Suspense
Release Date: October 15, 2015
Summary:
My friends say Hunter Cayman’s dangerous.
They say he's a threat to everyone in town.
I’m not so sure.
As he stands before me in this crowded club with the lights shining around us, I catch something good under Hunter’s dark facade. Something decent and profound.
I don’t know who or what to believe.
But I will find out the truth.

Aeris Thorne is expecting a restful vacation in the remote town of Deep Cove. But on a stormy night, she meets the alluring and mysterious Hunter Cayman, and her life takes an exhilarating turn.

Aeris is both drawn to him and determined to find out what he’s hiding. It’s clear Hunter has found success with the high-security lab on his vast estate. But what Aeris doesn’t know is that he’s tormented by a secret: the truth behind his research.

As he and Aeris are drawn together, the walls he’s built to protect himself threaten to crumble. At the same time, she begins to wonder if she’s found the key to unraveling her own tragic past. When Aeris’s life is threatened, Hunter is forced to make an impossible decision about her future—one that could change everything.


Video of author reading the following Excerpt of Chapter 1

Chapter One
I stumble through the red-tinged nightclub haze and wonder if this is what purgatory looks like. Ella and Gage are nowhere to be seen. Did they leave? I hurry out the club door and cold air engulfs me. A gasp bursts from my lips, half relief, half shudder, as the night’s damp fingers creep through my fluttering dress.
Shivering, I wind my arms around my ribs.
That’s when I see him. Dr. Hunter Cayman.
The man the town has been whispering about. The man no one really seems to know. The man my father despises.
He’s across the street, leaning against a steel monster—a low-slung black car, its curves somehow wicked in the night. Rain sparkles like fire on the front hood under the glow of the orange streetlamps. His startling, magnetic intensity pulls at me so hard that I can’t seem to look away.
For a doctor in charge of a research facility, he’s young. Late twenties, maybe. His dark gray T-shirt stretches across his muscular chest. His thumbs are hooked into the pockets of his well-fitting jeans, and his strong forearms are bare to the relentless drizzle. In fact, he seems to enjoy the misty wetness. Like he’s in his element. The way I would be on a beach in Hawaii, a million miles away from this tiny, nowhere town.
Despite the midnight sky, he’s wearing dark glasses. Like the car, they, too, sparkle with rain. His face is rugged, more handsome than beautiful. His strong jaw is shadowed faintly with stubble. I wonder what he looks like when he smiles. If he does smile.
Why is he here? Is he debating whether to go in? Or is he waiting for someone?
For one dizzy, strange moment, I wish he were waiting for me. Aeris Thorne.

Quiz: What Kind of Fictional Character Are You?
Sue Wyshynski is the author of the new release, The Butterfly Code.
To celebrate the launch of her new fictional star, Aeris Thorne, Sue created this fun quiz.

What kind of fictional character would you be?
Test yourself and find out!

1. In The Butterfly Code, Aeris meets Hunter at a nightclub. It's your turn. A stranger you find attractive makes eye contact across a crowded dance floor.
a) You smile politely, and then move inconspicuously closer in hopes of meeting.
b) You raise your drink in salute and watch to see his response.
c) You smile brightly, then bite your lip and worry that you were being too obvious.
d) You weave through the crowd, walk right up, and invite him to dance.

2. Aeris' best friend disapproves of her crush. It's your turn. How do you handle this challenge?
a) You state that you like him and you really hope she will come around.
b) You keep both happy by spending quality time with your friend away from your crush.
c) You are disappointed and worried about how to bridge the gap between them.
d) You try to investigate what it is exactly that's making your friend feel this way.

3. In The Butterfly Code, Aeris faces some nerve-wracking situations. It's your turn. You arrive home to find a strange man escaping from your house.
a) You whip out your phone and race after him to try and snap a photo for investigators.
b) You retreat to a safe place and call the police.
c) You search your house and the surrounding area for victims that may be hurt.
d) You hurry inside to investigate what he was after.

4. Aeris is caught in frustrating situations. It's your turn. You run out of gas on a country road.
a) You grab the gas can you always carry in your trunk and flag down a ride to the nearest station.
b) You pull out your phone and call AAA.
c) You call a family member or your best friend to bring you some gas.
d) You use your GPS to find the shortest walking distance between you and a gas station.

5. In The Butterfly Code, it seems everyone has an opinion about what Aeris should do in a certain situation. It's your turn. Everyone wants to tell you what to do.
a) You politely tell them that you know what to do and you plan to do it.
b) You listen to everyone's advice and then make your decision.
c) You make a list of all the pros and cons before you decide how to proceed.
d) You've made your decision, but you'll let people weigh in.

If you answered mostly a's, you are: An Analyst. Think Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), Sarah (Orphan Black). You radiate self-confidence, and you're somewhat mysterious to the rest of the world. You're an idealist and believe anything is possible with the right amount of effort. You stand by your principles and are wise beyond your years. Remember that a romantic partner may not always stand up to your ideals, but they have other gifts worthy of your admiration!

If you answered mostly b's, you are: A Diplomat. Think Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones). You radiate authenticity and your charismatic nature lights up a room. In relationships, you're a team player and romantic partners feel comfortable placing their trust in you. Your passion makes people want to be around you. Be cautious about your openness and sensitivity as that can sometimes cause you to get hurt.

If you answered mostly c's, you are: A Sentinel. Think Hermione Granger (Harry Potter). You radiate honesty, patience, and responsibility. You are kind and have a deep caring for others. You make a truly dedicated partner and have strong family values. You will put a lot of effort into making your union a happy one. Remember that sometimes it's okay to bend the rules and try new things.

If you answered mostly d's, you are: An Explorer. Think Captain Janeway (Star Trek Voyager). You radiate curiosity and a cool rationalism. You love exploring and troubleshooting, and you seek out people with independent points of view. Romantic partners are drawn to your optimism and lust for life. Sometimes you need to actively focus on relaxing and opening up, but it's worth the effort.

What kind of fictional character is Aeris Thorne? An Analyst, a Diplomat, a Sentinel, or an Explorer? Read The Butterfly Code and find out!

I am so grateful to my host for having me as a guest on this blog. Thanks to everyone for letting me share a little bit about how I write!

Drop me a line any time, I can be found at suewyshynski.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Author Bio:
Sue Wyshynski's writing style has been described as immersive, emotional, and action-packed.

According to Sue, "Writers must do more than write; they must try to speak to the hearts of the world."

The Butterfly Code, coming this fall, is Sue's first New Adult romantic suspense.


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