Monday, October 19, 2015

The Big Girl’s Guide to Buying Lingerie by Amie Stuart

Title: The Big Girl's Guide to Buying Lingerie
Author: Amie Stuart
Series: Bluebonnet, Texas #4
Genre: Erotica, Romance
Release Date: October 20, 2015


Summary:
My name is JADE BALLARD, and this is the story of how a freak accident with a cookie changed the life of a semi-reformed people-pleaser (that’s me!).

After a disastrous marital near-miss Jade Ballard retreats to San Antonio, cutting herself off from the world in general and more specifically her family’s country club lifestyle, which she no longer wants any part of. She takes comfort in food and the safety of an internet love affair.

Rowdy Yates is a semi-reformed womanizer who’s leery of long-term entanglements. Until Jade, he never seriously considered anything beyond a “Wife-For-A-Night.”

After months of flirting on the internet the couple meets, only to discover they already know one another. Rowdy has always mistaken Jade’s shy reserved nature for snobbishness, and Jade has always viewed the woman-loving Rowdy as a Redneck Casanova. But the seven months they spent getting to know one another formed an attraction neither can fight.





1. What is the biggest influence/interest that brought you to this genre?
Honestly, I’ve been reading romance since I was probably too young to be reading romance! LOL Seriously, I cut my teeth on Regency Romances and Harlequin Presents and never looked back. Writing romance just seemed like a natural fit.

2. When writing a book, what is your favorite part of the creative process(outline, plot, character names, editing, etc)?
I cannot tell a lie. It’s a toss-up between the opening and editing. I know I KNOW! I hear about authors all the time who angst over openings and even rewrite them—repeatedly. I don’t. Usually, the opening I write is the opening in the final product. And yes, I’m also one of those weirdos who likes to edit. I like that feeling of finding problems in the book and fixing them and making it stronger.

3. When reading a book, what genre do you find most interesting/intriguing?
My favorite genre to read is probably a toss-up between romantic suspense and urban fantasy. That said, I read pretty much everything!

4. If you could co-author with any author, past or present, who would you choose?
Wow this is a tough question! I honestly don’t even know. Maybe Jane Porter. I’m a huge fan of hers!

5. Have you always wanted to write or did it come to you "later in life"?
Some might say I came to it later in life (my 30’s) but I think I came to it at just the right time.

Author Bio:
Amie Stuart is the last of a dying breed, a native Texan, and still makes her home there, where cowboys and music (her other two loves) abound. Growing up, she wanted to be a lawyer and a psychologist. No doubt the shrinks would have a field day with her head, but she’s seen the error of her ways and considers all those other jobs ‘research’ for the writing gig.

She’s a multiple contest finalist as well as a trained contest judge and is affectionately know as The Terminator by her critique partners. She’s written as CELIA STUART for Black Lace Books, & Liquid Silver Books, and as AMIE STUART for Kensington Aphrodisia, she has a short story (PEACHES ‘N CREAM) in Zane’s CARMEL FLAVA 2, and launched Cobblestone Press’s new short erotica line, Wicked.


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Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: Hell Cop & Hell Cop 2


Hell Cop
Summary:
Welcome to Parmas City, where demons and sorcerers live among ordinary people and a few tough Hell Cops protect them all. Jay, Argent, and Ben are three of them, and they've just met the men of their hottest dreams.

Next of Kin by Astrid Amara
Jay Yervant is a Hell Cop so powerful that his bare skin incinerates anyone he contacts. Isolated, he is tortured by desire, until he meets Brian, a sensual young man who touches him with impunity. But Jay's burgeoning hope is threatened when a malevolent sorcerer unleashes a host of demonic assassins against Brian. Keeping his lover may cost Jay his life.

Red Sands by Nicole Kimberling
Anthropologist Michael Gold's got problems. His apartment's been ransacked, his dad's missing, and he's been framed for murder. As a half-demon he expects trouble from the city's Hell Cops. Instead, he gets Argent, a man with intimate knowledge of Michael and whom Michael can't penetrate with his psychic powers. So does Argent want to clear him or expose him?

Touching Sparks by Ginn Hale
When photojournalist James Sparks discovers an underworld of sorcery, blood sports and demonic drug traffic, he turns to Detective Ben Moran, a hard-bodied Hell Cop whose touch sends James's pulse racing. But when James uncovers evidence of police corruption he realizes that Moran may be in as much danger as he is.

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, male/male sexual practices, strong violence.


Parmas City is the hive of paranormal crime and I loved every minute of it.  Not sure which was my favorite in this three story anthology, I guess I have to go with Next of Kin by Astrid Amara.  That's not to say that I didn't enjoy Nicole Kimberling's or Ginn Hale's stories equally but Amara's story is the first and that tends to grab my heart more.  The relationships are built realistically and the paranormal aspect is creatively stunning.  Don't even get me started on the heat level, WOW!

RATING: 

Hell Cop 2
Summary:
Trust Me by Astrid Amara
Brian Day's no longer the naïve country boy Jay Yervant fell in love with. A hardened hell cop with dangerous powers, Brian's osmotic abilities are growing out of control. When two men are found dead, killed by an osmotic, Jay wants to clear Brian's name. But Brian's erratic powers threaten even Jay's survival, and he's left wondering if his lover is as innocent as he claims.

Dark Waters by Nicole Kimberling
After a year of seeing Detective Argent, Michael Gold is uncertain about the future of their relationship. Can a liberal university professor and a Hell Cop find a happily ever after? When Michael invites Argent on an anthropological study, he thinks they're performing an experiment in domesticity. But when a dead body appears, Michael and Argent end up playing detective instead of playing house.

Such Heights by Ginn Hale
Photojournalist James Sparks fled to the exotic Storm Palace to escape his relationship troubles. But soon he's witness to a murder, and the man he least wants to deal with -- his lover, Detective Ben Moran -- is on the case.


More great stories of the Hell Cops of Parmas City.  Really enjoyed seeing how Brian has grown both as a hell cop and as an osmotic in Astrid Amara's Trust Me.  Seeing Jay deal with Brian's growing powers was just as powerful as watching said powers grow.  Seeing Michael in his anthropology element with Argent along in Nicole Kimberling's Deep Waters is interesting and creepy all in one. I loved the warring relationship emotions that James has in Ginn Hale's Such Heights.  All together Hell Cops 1 & 2 are great additions to my paranormal library.

RATING: 


Hell Cop
Next of Kin by Astrid Amara
As Jay left the ICU, he saw the slim figure of the man who had touched his bare skin the day before. He was leaving the hospital, backpack slung over his shoulder. Instinctively, Jay rushed after him.

The guy was young, in his early twenties. His thick black hair was styled carefully, but his clothes were worn and clearly used. There was an interesting hesitation in his step as he looked across the street at a yellow-skinned, ram-horned taxi driver. He glanced quickly away.

The neighborhood west of the hospital bordered on dangerous. Jay trailed the man from the hospital at a safe distance, wondering what the hell he was doing. He was in the middle of an investigation, and rather than work, he was following some guy home because he had touched him. Being a thirty-year-old virgin was turning him into a pervert.

The man turned down a shuttered and graffiti-strewn street and plunged deeper into the neighborhood. Now he was in the company of addicts and prostitutes.

At one point, this had been a quaint working community with family homes. Now each dilapidated residence slumped under the weight of years of neglect. Large, untended shrubs bulged out over the sidewalks. Broken cars sat like massive lawn ornaments in the middle of grassless yards.

The man stopped at a corner house with a wooden porch that slanted with rotted beams. Gang signs were written in black paint across the front. He turned the key and hastily stepped inside.

Jay trailed the man up the walkway, then found himself hesitating. He'd followed him all this way. It would be foolish to leave now. He would just ask the guy why he could touch Jay's skin. It was something novel and Jay wanted to learn more about it, that was all. It had nothing to do with the tightness of the man's ass or the mixture of masculinity and beauty in his face.

Jay heard a van screech to a halt behind him. He immediately ducked into the porch shadows, hidden by an overgrown oleander bush. This was ridiculous. Not only was he stalking the damn guy, he was hiding in the bushes.

A cheery whistle filled the air as a large blonde woman with breasts that were nearly popping out of her skintight tank top skipped up the porch steps. Jay looked at her, taken aback by the brazen half-nudity of her delivery costume. The tight spandex bike shorts barely covered her ass.

"Delivery!" she chirped, chewing her gum. She popped a bubble.

Jay leaned out from the shadows for a better look. The delivery boxes in her hands had no labels. And her skin had no pores.

Jay shook his head. Even living in this shithole, the man somehow had enough money to hire a succubus?

The demon knocked again, her perfect smile plastered on her face. "Delivery for Brian Day," she said in a sultry voice.

The man opened the door. "I'm Brian Day." He frowned. "But I didn't order anything."

The demon took in a deep whiff of air. And then she suddenly shifted, growing in size, skin darkening, growing hair. The thighs within her tight bike shorts widened and bulked out, growing meaty and hard. The demon metamorphosed into a large, brawny man.

The man, Brian Day, gaped at the demon. His face flushed. Jay raised an eyebrow. It seemed he wasn't the only queer on the block.

The air smelled sickeningly sweet as the succubus released pheromones as part of its illusion.

Jay sank farther into the shadow. The demon finished changing and was now a strapping deliveryman with a roguish grin and two days' worth of stubble. His tank top fit tight across well-developed abs. The smell of hot, greasy pizza and charbroiled beef wafted from the steaming boxes.

Brian stared openly. "Uh...I didn't...order..."

"Paid for by an admirer," the demon said cheerfully. He pushed himself through Brian's door and shut it behind them.

Jay should leave.

He really should.

This was obviously just a role-playing prostitute. He had no business interfering.

Instead, he moved closer to the filmy window, to watch as the succubus offered his wares, food and otherwise. Jay felt like a filthy deviant. That didn't stop the tingles of desire that shot through him, the excitement of stolen glances.

"You hungry?" the succubus asked. He held the boxes of food aloft and stepped closer, until he was standing only inches from Brian.

Brian's face flushed bright red. "Yeah." His glance wavered between the succubus's face and the pizza box.

"I got sausage mushroom pizza," the demon said. "Or chicken wings? You want chicken wings?" He held up the other box. "I also got a steak sandwich."

Brian looked hungrily at the boxes. While his nostrils flared at the smells, the succubus placed the boxes on the floor and took off his shirt. His smile didn't waver -- it stayed creepily perfect. Jay had seen far better impersonations of humanity from other demons. This guy was a rube.

Brian glanced at the succubus's face, and his lips parted. His eyes dilated with arousal, and he stepped closer.

Jay could smell the demon's pheromones even from outside the house. His dick hardened, and he saw Brian was also flushed with arousal. He moved even closer, captive to the sight and scent.

Brian hesitated, hands balled into fists at his sides. And then the demon leaned forward and kissed him.

Jay stood still, entranced, watching as Brian returned the succubus's kiss with pulsing hunger.

Jay, who had never himself kissed anyone, felt a surge of aching jealousy. It looked so damned good. The demon's tongue plunged into Brian's mouth, and Brian's body trembled.

The demon tore at Brian's clothes as they kissed. Within seconds Brian stood there in the middle of his living room naked.

The succubus blocked Jay's view of Brian's cock. But he could see the flush of desire across the rest of Brian's body. Unlike Jay's own body, hard and covered in hair, strong and scarred, Brian's body was perfect. Slim, flawless, pale. Brian's voice trembled as the demon kissed his way down Brian's chest, laving each nipple before sinking to his knees. The succubus looked up and smiled.

"Can I suck your cock, Brian?" the succubus asked.

Brian's eyes stared down at him, pupils wide, hands shaking. "Yeah."

Jay smirked. Like the answer would ever be no.

The demon smiled up at Brian and then placed his large palms on Brian's buttocks, pulling his groin forward. Jay strained to see better. He watched the succubus pull Brian's long, lean shaft deep into his mouth. Brian threw his head back, eyes clenched shut, and moaned.

Jay watched in silence. The succubus was good at his job. He pulled back completely and then slammed his head forward, sucking in all of Brian's cock, burrowing his nose into Brian's dark pubic hair. And then he pulled back and repeated the movement. One of his hands reached behind Brian. Jay couldn't see exactly what he was doing, but suddenly Brian arched forward into the succubus's mouth, crying out. Jay thought he could see the succubus pumping his finger into Brian's ass. With his other hand, the demon fondled and cupped Brian's balls.

Jay's breathing was rapid, gasping. This was so sick -- and so good. This was better than porn. He could smell the pheromones, his own desire. The demon frigged Brian's ass and sucked his cock with an inhumanly rapid rhythm now; Brian stunned between alternating thrusts of tongue and finger, clearly in heaven.

The demon's figure shimmered. A large, spiny, blue tail slowly grew out of the base of his spine, and it whipped in the air like an eel. It coiled, ready to strike. Its entire length was studded with blades. Jay had seen those razor sharp snakes of muscle cut a man in half before he could blink.

Jay's arousal died. He ripped his gloves off and kicked in the shabby door.

"Freeze!" he bellowed. He unholstered and charged his shock-volt pistol.

The demon spun, teeth growing, fangs pushing through his mouth. Its eyes split into red slits, and it screeched. Its skin rippled as it lunged.

The demon's tail whipped toward Jay with lightning speed, cracking the air. Jay snapped out his arm and grabbed the tail with his bare hand. The demon screamed as his skin burned, charred flesh and hair stinking the air. Jay jerked the demon down onto the ground.

It kept growing, scales bursting over its illusory human skin, tail twitching desperately in Jay's iron grasp.

"Metro Demonic Unit!" Jay shouted. He wasn't about to show his credentials. The demon thrashed as it burned. "You are under arrest!"

The demon tried to kick Jay's feet from under him. Jay stepped hard on the demon's stomach and kicked it. "Who summoned you?" he hissed. He aimed his pistol at the demon's head.

The demon continued to screech. Jay's fingers burned through flesh, and he could feel the raw bones of the demon's tail. The demon whipped it loose and coiled it close to its body. Jay slammed his free hand into the demon's stomach, and the flesh instantly burned.

"Who summoned you?" Jay shouted.

The demon hissed at Brian, who stood naked and stunned.

Jay put the barrel of his pistol against the demon's forehead, but before he could fire, a burst of yellow light blinded him. The succubus vanished in an instant. The smell of singed flesh mingled sickly with the salty, earthy perfume of sex pheromones and sausage pizza.

Jay lowered his pistol, breathing heavily. Then he gave the man a blinding smile.

"Hi."

Red Sands by Nicole Kimberling
The Whitecrescent Hotel occupied a quarter mile of beachfront property at what used to be the northern edge of Parmas. In the fifty years since the hotel had been built, the city had grown up around it in an architecturally lackluster rash of square, flat-roofed buildings. The smooth blue and white hotel facade stood out: a relic of Parmas’s bygone heyday. The hotel had been designed by the famous modernist architect, Talu, before the Commons Revolution when this section of Parmas had been a winter playground for the old sorcerous families.

Michael had only come to the famous Whitecrescent cabana parties—never inside.

“Nice hotel,” he remarked. “Good to know our tax dollars are being spent economically.”

“We’ve got a deal with them from way back before the Commons Revolution,” Argent said. “This place is cheaper for us than some off-ramp Motel Hell.”

Michael followed Argent into the lapis lazuli-tiled lobby, feeling grubby and underdressed. And also decidedly inhuman.

Sleek blue leather armchairs sat next to chrome and glass coffee tables laden with financial newspapers and luxury yachting magazines.

Glancing down at the muscular curve of Argent’s ass, Michael recalled that, yes, the Whitecrescent did have a boat launch.

“I’ve got your room, sir! 777.”

Turning, Michael saw a uniformed cop coming toward him. He was young, and the blue armored vest looked slightly awkward on him. He held his helmet in one hand and a couple of hotel keys in the other. He had pale skin and dark hair and approached Argent with the open enthusiasm of a first-week freshman.

“Thanks.” Argent took the key from him. “Mr. Gold, this is Officer Day. He’ll be in the room next to yours.”

They shook hands and then took the old-fashioned elevator up to the top floor. Argent chatted with Day about the Metro Demonic Unit’s annual poker tournament, which Day seemed to think Argent would win.

“He’s got a great game face,” Day told Michael. “You never know what he’s thinking.”

“I think Mr. Gold might find a way to beat me,” Argent said. The elevator lurched to a stop, and Argent opened the cage door.

“Oh yeah, I read that in your file.” Day turned to Michael and tapped the side of his own head with a gloved hand. “You’ve got telepathy, right?”

“Only with direct skin-to-skin contact,” Michael said. “So unless I’m sitting on Argent’s lap during the game, his poker title is safe from me.”

Argent and Day exchanged a brief, smug look. God, did Day know about him and Argent? Probably. Embarrassment crept through him, making him blush.

Argent opened the door to 777. Michael started to go in, but Day stopped him. Argent went in ahead of them.

“He’s checking to make sure it’s all clear,” Day assured him. Argent returned a minute later.

“I opened up the balcony door to get some air inside.” He gave Day a nod of dismissal.

“I’ll be in the next room,” Day told Michael. “There’s a connecting door if you need me.”

From inside the room, Michael smelled fresh sea air and moved toward it. The room wasn’t large, but it was beautiful. The walls, furnishings, carpet, and even the abstract painting above the massive bed were all shades of white, cream or bone. Pale curtains billowed out in front of the sliding glass door that led to a small balcony edged with a wrought iron railing, whose balusters were decorated with modernist palm trees.

Blue Whitecrescent Hotel umbrellas dotted the beach below. A few people swam, all of them tourists, since locals typically found the water too cold in the springtime.

He dropped his backpack next to the bed and noted, with embarrassment, the ring of red dust that fell from his pack onto the white carpet.

“I think I need to wash up,” he said.

“Just let me take a look in there first.” Argent stepped inside, then came the sound of a running tap. Argent poked his head back out, beckoning him forward. The flirtation in his eye was unmistakable. “Come on in, the water’s fine.”

A deep twitch of excitement passed through Michael’s exhausted body. He felt pretty sure that what Argent seemed to be suggesting went directly against both police procedure and his own common sense. Not that that made him want it less.

The bathroom was spacious and, like the rest of the room, white. The oblong, sunken tub was carved from a single, sparkling piece of white marble. It dominated the room. A small white marble bench sat alongside the tub, next to a chrome rack stocked with towels as big as bed sheets and two fluffy white bathrobes. There was also a shower stall enclosed by panes of frosted glass. The WC was hidden away behind a sliding door alongside a spacious, mirrored vanity.

“I started the bath,” Argent said.

“You could wash a whole sandstrider in that thing.” Michael started unbuttoning his shirt, then looked to Argent, who flashed him a quick smile.

“I’ll be right outside if you need me.” Argent started for the door.

A sudden feeling of vulnerability moved through Michael, and he heard himself saying, “I don’t mind if you stay with me. Just to be on the safe side.”

“Then I’ll be right here.” Argent stopped just inside the room, leaning casually against the doorframe. He took off his windbreaker to reveal a red and white polo shirt that was slightly too small in the sleeves. But then, Michael supposed everything was too small in the sleeves for Argent.

His expression gave nothing away. He was calm, friendly and professional, even while staring down at a naked half-demon. Although Michael normally tended toward self-consciousness, he didn’t feel so with Argent. Whether this was the result of previous familiarity or fatigue he could not be certain. Let Argent have a gander at all of him. He couldn’t care about that now. He just wanted to feel safe.

He slipped down into the steaming tub reclining against a smooth marble seat. His muscles relaxed, but the knot of worry remained in his gut.

“I’m sorry to have pulled you away from…whatever you were doing.”

“Just some maintenance on the boat.”

Ah, Michael thought, boat shoes. That also explained the windbreaker, and probably, the tie.

“What kind?”

“Euphemie’s a forty-foot ketch,” Argent said. “I live aboard.”

“Euphemie?”

“I named her after my mom.” Argent gave him a grin. “I’m a shameless momma’s boy.”

“I’m more of a grandma’s boy myself,” Michael murmured. “Do you really think my father had anything to do with the snuffler?”

“I can’t rule it out,” Argent replied.

“But it just doesn’t make sense. It’s not his way.”

“Okay then.” Argent sat down on the bench next to the tub and leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Why don’t you tell me what you think happened to you?”

“Obviously I’ve been framed because of who I am,” Michael said. “Whoever killed Cassidy picked me because I’m an easy target, being half-demon.”

“But who knows that about you?”

“Apart from everyone who bought my father’s album?” Sarcasm edged Michael’s voice.

“Point taken, but what I mean is, who would know you were related to the victim? He had a different last name, and you two weren’t regularly seen together. It follows that the perpetrator would have had to be close enough to the victim to know who his cousins were, and that usually means that the perpetrator is a member of the family, I’m sorry to say.”

“So you still think I did it?” Michael asked.

“I don’t think so, no.”

“Why not? Apparently you think I’ve got a motive.” Michael found a tiny complimentary bottle of shampoo and lathered his hair.

“Yes, your grandmother’s inheritance, but we also know you are most likely not the killer because the victim had been dead for almost twenty-four hours before he was put into the portal with you.” Argent’s eyes roamed over his body openly. “Plus your shock-volt hadn’t deployed.”

“So who did it?” Michael smoothed lather over his neck and chest.

“I’m not sure yet. Can you think of anyone else who would benefit from your cousin’s death? Anyone with a grudge?”

“How should I know? As far as I knew, Cassidy was doing a good job following in his father’s footsteps. He got an engineering degree and became a clueless and judgmental nerd. At grandma’s funeral all he talked about were optimizing spells for sorcerous semiconductors.” Michael drew himself up to the edge of the tub. “Why not talk to his wife? Maybe she did it.”

“Summer Beaty? She, like you, is a person of interest,” Argent said.

“Person of interest,” Michael repeated the words, knowing that they were a standard phrase, yet wanting to believe that Argent meant more by them. Carefully, he reached out and pressed his fingertips against Argent’s calf.

Images quickly flashed from Argent’s mind into Michael’s. He glimpsed himself, naked, but not as he was now—naked on the white bed, stretched out, Argent’s hands closing around Michael’s hips, pulling him up, pushing his thick shaft into Michael’s tight ass. Blood drained into Michael’s own groin as the image sharpened from a vague notion to an explicit desire, almost like Argent was pushing the images toward him, one after another. He lay on the bed again, face up, legs apart. He stood bent over the marble vanity. He saw himself through Argent’s eyes, kneeling on a white sandy beach sucking hard on Argent’s cock.

The last image, a recollection rather than imagination, came stronger than the others. Argent apparently had a photographic memory, and he’d kept his eyes open the whole time.

Michael watched his own lips tighten and slide down Argent’s shaft. He experienced the feeling as Argent had: the dark, luscious heat of Michael’s mouth, the shock of Michael’s responsiveness. He felt Argent’s helpless reflexive thrust when Michael took him into his throat and also the restraint Argent forced on himself when Michael flinched in response. He felt Argent’s muscles trembling as Michael finished him off with his hand, face pressed against Michael’s stomach, tawny skin against black. Tight pleasure built and built until he finally shot his load, long strands of semen falling to the damp sand where Michael knelt.

The last image in Argent’s memory was Michael’s face, eyes turned up toward him, mouth swollen and about to speak, then falling silent when Argent’s friends had called him back to their volleyball game.

Then the contact was broken.

Argent pulled his leg away. Michael was glad that the tub hid his now erect penis. Michael splashed water on his face, mainly to hide his own embarrassment. When he’d touched Argent, he’d expected to find mild interest, not visions of himself in hard core.

Argent leaned down and said, “While you’re still a suspect, Mr. Gold, I’ll have to ask you to refrain from physical contact. You understand, don’t you?”

“Sure.” Michael nodded. “I just wanted to know if you secretly thought I did it. It’s a natural desire, to want to know if someone believes you’re a murderer.”

“What conclusion did you come to?”

“I couldn’t tell.” Michael couldn’t make himself face Argent. “You were thinking of something else. How can you be talking about murder while thinking about nothing but hardcore sex?”

Argent grinned.

“Let’s just call it my own form of multitasking.”

Touching Sparks by Ginn Hale
Moran took in James’s naked body stretched out against the cheap yellow sheets. He looked peaceful, like he was drifting off to sleep. His head rested on his crossed forearms, face turned away from Moran, damp, blond hair drying into ringlets at the nape of his neck. Moran followed the line of James’s straight spine down from his angular back to the tight muscles of his butt. His long legs parted just enough to tease Moran. Then James crossed his left calf over his right.

Moran caught his ankle and pulled James’s legs back apart. James didn’t resist him, didn’t even lift his head or ask why Moran needed to spread his thighs.

He was so trusting that it almost scared Moran.

Physically James had grown up a lot from the skinny teenager whom Moran could easily remember flipping somersaults on a black trampoline and waving at him from across the fence. But in other ways, James still seemed so young and so full of ideals that he reminded Moran of one of those legendary, golden youths who fought dragons with nothing more than righteousness to protect them.

Even in legends those boys died young.

Moran sat down beside James. The bed creaked with his weight, and James released a slow breath. Moran laid his hands against the small of James’s back. His skin felt cool and smooth, with just a hint of heat at the base of his spine. Moran spread his fingers, pushing against the firmness of James’s flesh. He felt a shiver pass through James’s muscles.

“Relax, Sparky.” His voice sounded too rough, even to himself.

Moran concentrated on the searing heat that seemed to always pulse through his chest. He let a little of it free to flow through his arms and pour over James as he massaged his back. For an instant, James tensed, and then slowly, his body relented. Moran pushed the heat deeper into James, feeling silky coolness on his hands and tasting earthy salt on his tongue.

“That’s good, Sparky,” he whispered. “Just relax and let me in.”

“Are you always gonna call me Sparky?” James sounded half asleep.

“You prefer Skinny-Jimmy?” Moran teased.

“No.” The languor in James’s voice made him sound childishly sullen. Moran smiled and kept working his hands over James, drinking in the pleasure of his slim body and searing away the dark traces of venom that haunted his veins.

Very little of the drug tainted James’s flesh, especially considering the places Moran had sent him. Still it was more than Moran wanted to feel. He couldn’t suppress his sense of guilt as the oily taste of venom seeped into his memory of James.

When they’d first met, Moran had been a patrol officer, three years out of academy. He’d rented an apartment across from the Sparks family’s quaint two-story house, and occasionally he caught glimpses of James—bounding, flipping, running, or lying in wait with his black camera in hand. Bill hadn’t liked the kid, but then, Bill hadn’t liked much, not by then.

Moran had talked to James from time to time, mostly about music and Moran’s dog. The kid made him smile, and he appreciated that.

Then James had gone away to college, and Bill had finally done it for real. Deep vertical gashes, cutting down nearly to bone. A week after the funeral, Moran found a small apartment closer to the station and far from his old neighbors and their curious, pitying glances.

He’d kept a couple of the photos James had given him. Now and then he’d noticed James’s name on the byline of a photo essay in a magazine, but he hadn’t expected to ever see him again.

Certainly he hadn’t thought that James would show up on his doorstep one late night looking surprisingly handsome and troubled.

It had been raining that night too.

James’s white shirt clung to the lean lines of his chest. His skin looked ghostly pale, and his deep brown eyes seemed almost black in the darkness. Moran had invited him in, found a towel and some dry clothes for him. The bathroom door stood ajar as James stripped and dressed, and Moran watched him with growing arousal. It was too easy to picture that sleek body arching under him. Too easy to imagine the way James would blush as he went down on Moran.

He offered James a beer after he emerged from the bathroom, and briefly Moran thought that James returned his hungry look. But then they started talking, and there was nothing remotely flirtatious about the conversation.

James’s roommate, a scrawny blond named Tony Allmon, had found himself a circle of rich, nasty friends and a venom addiction to go along with the bad company. In the wake of one of Tony’s parties, James had discovered that the venom was coming from demons that had been abducted from their home worlds and forced to battle against each other for entertainment. The defeated combatants—their savaged bodies still pumped with demonic endorphins and adrenaline—were often half-alive when they were dragged into grinders and processed into very potent venom that would be sold at the next match.

The information didn’t surprise Moran, not after eight years on the force. Poor people gambled on fighting dogs in pits, while the moneyed elite—especially hotbloods of sorcerous ancestry—preferred more exotic blood sports. But it was still the same thing. People were worse than demons most of the time.

But James had been appalled and furious. Moran had never seen him so angry. His cheeks flushed, and the muscles of his delicate jaw worked like steel cables. Moran sensed the chance of laying James had dropped to zero. He was too righteous and outraged.

It was just as well, Moran told himself. James was just a kid, a beautiful kid, but still a virgin for all Moran knew. And Moran didn’t want to be the son of a bitch who screwed him and then broke his heart in the morning.

After Bill, he didn’t think he knew how to be anything else.

It was almost a relief when James demanded to know what it would take to stop the summonings and fights. How could a ring of well-connected venom dealers be brought to justice?

Like an idiot, Moran told him, in detail, knowing that the reality of the work would seem overwhelming. The sheer difficulty of producing hard evidence and grooming informants took years. James listened and then thanked Moran. He left without finishing his beer.

Moran had expected James to organize a petition or maybe write an angry editorial to the paper, not to personally go in after evidence. Certainly he hadn’t been prepared for James to return—again in the dead of night—with pictures, addresses, and names.

Moran knew he should have turned James away then. He should have told him that the police would take it from there. But the information had been too good, and James had been too well placed. Over the course of the past year, James just kept getting better. Now Moran was close to being able to bring down the man at the top. One clear image was all he needed. But he knew he was building the conviction at James’s expense.

Moran stroked James’s shoulder, felt the tender bruises, and silently cursed himself. He worked his fingers in slow circles, pushing more heat and energy into James. The bruises faded. Moran felt knotted muscles relax under his hands.

James gave a soft, contented sound. He turned his head to look at Moran. A flush already colored his pale cheeks. His lids lowered, and his lips parted as if he were on the verge of sleep.

“That feels so…good,” James said softly.

Hell Cop 2
Trust Me by Astrid Amara
Detective Jay Yervant stood outside the back entrance of Enyalios Station, smoking a cigarette.

He had to hurry. Brian would be out any minute, and Brian heartily discouraged Jay’s nasty habit. But it had been a bitch of a long day, and Jay needed something to distract him until Brian finally got off duty.

Jay’s case was not going well.

He was investigating what the media had nicknamed the “changeling babies,” at least a dozen infants adopted by unsuspecting families from an unscrupulous agency that had used a glamour spell over demon infants to make them appear human. Normal as babies, the children developed into their full-sized, massive, scaly, demonic selves when the glamour wore off around age two. Without the calming influence of their natural parents, the children were uncontrollable, and often brutal restraining techniques were required to manage them after their change. There was nothing worse than being sent out to shock-volt someone’s furious, confused toddler.

It was a big case, involving a national adoption agency, a dozen grief-stricken new parents, and a slew of demon-rights advocates who were horrified that demons were being robbed of their infants and the law did nothing about it. But ever since Jay lost his partner a year ago in an attack, he had been working alone. It was too much for one man to follow up on, and every day he felt clues slipping from his grasp, the trail growing colder.

The back door opened, and Jay pinched his cigarette, ready to toss it. But it was only Bridget Carmichael. She smirked at Jay, knowing Brian disapproved of his smoking.

A moment later the doors opened again, this time for Bartleby and another demon. Bartleby’s thin black body was sleek and muscular. Unlike many demons who worked for humans, Bartleby didn’t bother with clothing. His nudity never seemed to be an issue for him, and after a while, it wasn’t for any of the cops who had worked with him for so many years.

Bartleby nodded to Jay as well and clicked something in his native language to the other demon beside him. They both laughed. Jay straightened, feeling self-conscious.

“Hey.”

Jay quickly dropped his cigarette at Brian’s voice. He crushed it under his boot. He turned and had to do a double take as soon as he saw the uniform in Brian’s arms, soiled nearly black.

Jay looked him over. “How much of that blood is yours?”

“Just a little.” Brian gave him a tired smile.

Jay knew one of his eyebrows raised, but he didn’t say anything. He’d let Brian tell him about it if he wanted to.

But it was clear something was wrong. Brian’s skin looked irritated, his hands were badly scratched. And the expression on Brian’s face was angrier than he’d seen in a long time.

Jay pulled off the thin glove on his right hand and gently reached out to grab Brian’s wrist. Brian knew what he offered. Jay expected to feel that odd sleepy draining sensation of Brian taking his energy to heal himself. Instead Brian jerked his hand back as if burned.

“Don’t!” Brian looked angry.

Jay dropped his hand. “Sorry.”

Brian closed his eyes. He leaned forward, resting his forehead against Jay’s shoulder. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bark.” He lifted his head and gave Jay a weak smile that wasn’t fooling anyone. “I’m fine, really.”

“You look beat,” Jay said. He pulled his glove back on. “You sure you want to go to the gym?”

Brian nodded. “I’ve got some aggression to work out.”

Jay wanted to say the amount of gore on his uniform suggested that Brian had already worked out a lot of aggression, but he kept his mouth shut and started walking.

Ten blocks separated the station and Pearl’s Gym, but Jay liked the walk after work, and it was a good way to stretch his muscles before his workout.

Despite the late hour, the air lay heavy against him, like a warm washcloth draped across his face. Jay always burned hot, so on scorching days he struggled to keep himself hydrated. A low blue flame rolled off his exposed skin, and steam rose from his head as his sweat evaporated from his burning body.

“Catch any bad guys?” Jay asked.

Brian laughed. It was one of their inside jokes, a reference to Brian’s dismay at how much police work involved filing reports.

Brian didn’t answer the question, but he did gently tap Jay on the arm. “I got a call from Leon this morning.”

“Oh?” Leon and Brian had an odd but amusing friendship. “What did he want?”

“He wanted suggestions on where to take his girlfriend out to dinner. He said he wanted something nicer than fast food, a classy place.”

“Wait. We’re talking about Leon here? Leon, your-old-landlord-Leon?”

Brian grinned. “He said, ‘somewhere a guy could spend maybe four dollars a person.’”

Jay laughed. “Classy.”

“For Leon? Yeah. Remember, I once asked him what his perfect weekend would be, and he said ‘I don’t know… I always wanted to go to a buffet.’”

“I think buffets are a vision of endless bounty to him.” Jay shook his head. “I’m more amazed that he has a girlfriend.”

“Me too.” Brian laughed. “He didn’t believe me once when I told him that women have eggs. He thought I was mixing up demons with humans again. I had to explain all about ovaries. And then I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing? I’m a gay man raised in a religious commune. Why am I explaining this shit to anyone, let alone a forty-year-old guy I hardly know? Insane.”

Jay laughed again, feeling the tension of his day slip away. It was always this easy, with Brian.

Brian launched into a lively discussion about some debate he’d had with his partner over the inter-department basketball tournament, and Jay listened, walking casually, enjoying the warm air and Brian’s excited voice. After a while Jay realized Brian was a little too animated. He seemed bursting with energy. If Jay had seen such behavior in other people, he might suspect drug use. But with Brian, it usually meant he had absorbed power from a passing sorcerer, or an unsuspecting demon, or, lately, a light post.

Something bothered Brian, he could tell. There was a nervous quality to his voice as he discussed his day. But Jay didn’t ask about it. He didn’t want to pry. After all, he himself was often grateful for Brian’s discretion. There had been many nights Jay had come home in a crappy mood, but Brian never forced confessions out of him or made him relive it. The two of them would find comfort either in light conversation and a little television, or more frequently, some rigorous fucking that would leave Jay so sated and happy that he couldn’t even remember what he had been pissed about in the first place.

Yeah, Brian had done wonders for his mood swings, but he doubted he could say the same for Brian. When they had met, Brian had been one of the most optimistic, cheerful, and innocent people he had ever spent time with.

But a year as a police officer seemed to have taken its toll on Brian’s formerly bubbly personality, and Jay wasn’t sure he liked the change.

At the gym Jay pulled on his workout gear and immediately headed to the weights. The club was always sparsely populated, one of the perks of the high membership price, but at the late hour the place was nearly dead.

Brian began his workout on the treadmill, setting a fast tempo for his run, his dark blue eyes staring forward blankly. He ran his hand through his short black hair, and it stuck upward, wet with sweat. Jay smiled to himself. He always thought Brian looked incredible, but he especially liked it when Brian’s appearance grew disheveled like this.

Jay lost himself in the pleasurable exhaustion of his routine, his worries about Brian and the missing pieces of his investigation drifting temporarily from his mind.

When Brian was done with his run, he moved closer to Jay, giving a quick smile before sitting down at one of the nearby stationary bikes.

Jay added a hundred pounds to the bench press and lay back on the leather bench. Just as he did, he caught sight of the short blond hair and sharp blue eyes of Paul Krochalis, one of the other members of the gym.

Jay immediately sat up. He tensed as Paul walked past Brian. And Paul proved his reaction right; while passing Brian, Paul mouthed the word “cocksucker” before going to his own stationary bike.

Brian’s face went blank of expression, but Jay felt his own heat pull from his body, toward Brian. The lights in the gym flickered. Jay watched him carefully.

Brian closed his eyes and slowly blew air out between his clenched teeth. He looked down at the floor as he continued to pedal his bike.

Jay glared across the room at Paul. He knew him, vaguely. He was a relative, some cousin thrice removed. That didn’t mean Jay liked him in the least. The guy was a prick, and ever since Jay bought Brian a membership at the club for his birthday, Paul seemed to have a thing for Brian, in the worst way.

Paul accused Brian of not wiping down the equipment. He blamed Brian for leaving his towel out. And even though Brian never said anything to Jay about it, Jay knew Paul whispered taunts to Brian when their paths crossed.

Paul looked back at them both with a smirk before moving on to the Stairmaster.

“Bry, check this out,” Jay said. He reached up and did a quick succession of pull-ups with one hand, while lifting a one-hundred-pound dumbbell in his other.

Brian laughed. “Show-off.” He shook his head.

“Want to see how many I can do?” Jay asked.

“Sure. I bet you quit at fifteen.” Brian grinned as he pedaled his bike.

Jay loved a challenge. His arms started shaking at ten, but he pushed through the burn. He focused some of the sorcerous heat that coursed over his body into his muscles, providing extra support, and he managed to finish twenty reps before dropping to the ground in a heap.

Brian laughed again. He looked so damn cute when he did that. Jay moved to Brian’s side, still panting.

But his success as a distraction was fleeting. As Brian glanced at Paul once more, his expression hardened.

“You want me to beat him up for you?” Jay whispered.

“No.” Brian didn’t even laugh like he would normally have. He kept racing, his legs pedaling faster, and he wiped sweat from his forehead. “I just… How many times are people going to insult me today? Seriously?”

“He’s just jealous,” Jay said, trying for levity. “He can’t stand that the only cock you suck is mine.”

Brian whipped his towel at Jay. “Asshole.” But he smiled, which lightened his expression once more.

Jay watched Brian finish his workout, unable to tear his eyes off the man’s body. His pale skin and blue eyes seemed all the brighter against his short black hair. Brian had the long, straight nose of all the sorcerers of the Sair family, but his sensual lips and high cheekbones were clearly from his mother’s side.

Unlike Jay, all bulk and muscle, Brian was thin and agile. He could lift a good hundred eighty pounds, but his body remained tight and sleek. He was as close to artwork as Jay had ever seen in a body.

When Brian finished his ride, he stood very close to Jay. Brian glanced at him, and Jay smiled back. And despite the fact that Paul Krochalis watched them disapprovingly, Brian reached out and rested his hand on Jay’s neck. A simple touch, but Jay’s entire body stretched toward it.

Because of Jay’s own genetic makeup, he was too hot to ever touch other living beings. His flesh burned on contact. Until he met Brian, he had spent his entire adult life wearing gloves and keeping his distance, memories of scalding his mother and charring the arms of childhood friends scarring his ability to share physical space with others.

But Brian had changed all that. Brian’s osmotic powers absorbed Jay’s heat rather than burned from it. Jay could finally have the physical contact he had craved his entire life.

Even now, a year into their relationship, he still reveled in Brian’s touch. All day long he thought about it.

And here it was, the soothing weight of Brian’s hand, a simple caress that meant everything to Jay.

Jay easily forgot the problems that nagged their relationship when Brian touched him. With someone as beautiful as Brian, it was easy to push problems off for another day.

So Jay ignored the glares of Paul, the exhaustion in his body, and the fruitlessness of his work day, and let himself be lost in the simple pleasure of just the two of them.

Dark Waters by Nicole Kimberling
The township of Iron Springs wasn’t much more than a freeway exit, a gas station, and the End of the Line Cafe, a tiny diner sitting opposite the bus stop, whose lollipop sign marked the terminus of Parmas City Municipal Transit’s F Line. Michael negotiated his big, unwieldy vehicle from the ramp onto the two-lane highway, hoping that his elderly rock-star father’s estimation of the roadworthiness of his old tour bus was close to accurate. The brakes certainly felt spongy, and turning the steering wheel required nearly all of Michael’s demonic strength. But he’d needed to borrow a crappy old bus for his research trip and the Devil Dogs’ Amphibious Hell Machine had been available.

Besides, he didn’t have much farther to go.

The entrance to Iron Springs Mobile Estates was marked by two signs. The first was a white wooden sign that had once been quaint, but since been heavily defaced. At one point it had read: IT’S A GREAT DAY AT IRON SPRINGS MOBILE ESTATES! WELCOME! Now the peeling red and white paint could barely be seen behind the graffiti and tags. A vicious-looking shark had been spray-painted across the bottom half of the sign over the word “Welcome.” A leering, horned face had been painted over the top of the sign.

The second, smaller sign read: FOR SALE BY OWNER.

“It’s a fixer-upper, but I think we can make it a go of it.” Argent had to speak up to be heard above the epileptic growl of the Hell Machine’s engine. He swiveled his red leather bucket seat around to face Michael. “If we can clear out the resident gangs—the Sharks and the Devils, apparently—we can make this trailer park into our own little slice of single-wide paradise. I’ll sell my boat to raise the down payment on the property. What do you think?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “As if you’d ever sell Euphemie. Besides, I think the one with horns is a faun, not a devil,” Michael said. “The student who invited me here belongs to the faun community.”

“The Sharks versus the Fauns?” Argent chuckled. “I know who I’m betting on.”

Argent ran his hands over the red leather armrests of his chair. A smug, satisfied smile lit his face as he once again glanced around the interior of the bus, taking in the flame-colored deep shag carpeting, the faux-wood paneling, and extensive ceiling mural depicting ninety-nine naked, flying, bat-winged devil women having sex with a giant purple octopus. The waterbed, complete with octopus-shaped headboard. The wet bar.

“I still can’t believe I’m really in the Hell Machine,” he said, grinning. Michael couldn’t help but smile in return. When Argent smiled like this it was easy to look deep into that slab of sorcerous muscle and see the little boy Argent must have been before he grew up and became a hell cop. He’d seen a photograph once of Argent, aged nine, arms sticking out of an oversized Devil Dogs T-shirt like skinny black inner tubes, red plastic sunglasses covering his pretty hazel eyes. He was smiling in that exact same way now.

Michael guessed that if he were to lay a hand on Argent now and use his telepathy to read Argent’s thoughts, he too, would experience the thrill of being a young boy who loved a noisy and flamboyant band.

Or, more likely, he would see their immediate surroundings and feel a bland sort of contentedness that Michael had deemed the telepathic equivalent of elevator music.

Argent’s training as an undercover officer made him unreadable to Michael. Sometimes Michael found Argent’s impenetrability new and exciting. That edge that uncertainty and fear lent definitely enhanced his sexual excitement. But most other times, he just found Argent nerve-wrackingly opaque. He tried to console himself with the knowledge that (except for a handful of fellow telepaths) all other people in the world relied on things like conversation and visual cues to glean the emotional state of their partner. He told himself not to be such wimp about it. But deep down he wished that Argent would simply let him in and let him feel what he felt without having to always use words.

Feeling suddenly melancholy, Michael turned down the drive to Iron Springs Motor Estates.

Yellow sunlight filtered through the cypress trees thickly hung with pale green moss. Still water reflected the light on either side of the gravel road, which, though currently dry, clearly got routinely covered over with water. Deep, cracked ruts and powdery dust eroded his confidence in the roadway.

Through the trees he could glimpse patches of corrugated siding in colors like lavender, powder blue, and pink. Someone had strung a line of festive, rainbow-colored pennants between the trees.

Argent leaned forward, squinting.

“Are those the trailers?”

“Looks like it.”

“I think the Hell Machine might be too high class for this community.”

“Yeah, it’s only made up of fifty-eight percent outer-body rust.”

“At least it’s not made of plastic sheeting.” Argent jerked his thumb toward a structure that had been assembled mainly from tarps and discarded shower curtains. Three figures lounged half in half out of the water in front of the structure. Their porpoiselike skin gleamed green-gray. Flat, lidless eyes watched as they drove by.

“Baramans,” Michael commented. “Vaughn said there was a big pod of them living out here.”

“Illegals?” Argent asked.

“Refugees, I think,” Michael said. He felt a twinge of annoyance at Argent for having immediately thought of the legal status of every demon he ever met, but he let it go. “There’s the manager’s office ahead.”

The manager’s office occupied one end of a low, concrete building situated on the main berm. The other end of the structure was apparently a laundry room, or at least that’s what the sign said. Standing against the cinderblock wall between these two doors were three battered vending machines. The soda machine, particularly, seemed to have seen better days. Several small but deep dents marred the machine’s surface at about the level of Michael’s knee. He wondered if they’d been stamped there by the hooves of angry fauns trying to retrieve their lost change.

Inside, the office was air-conditioned, but by a machine whose filter had not been changed in a very long time and hence lent the room a smell reminiscent of the inside of an old refrigerator. There was a desk, a television, and a woman named Bert. Bert had short, curly hair that had been recently dyed brown, but not recently enough. She wore a short-sleeved polyester pantsuit and orthopedic lace-ups. Her eyes were watery and brown.

When Michael explained that he’d like to rent a space for a couple of weeks, Bert immediately rebuffed him.

“We don’t do short-term leases,” she said. “No offense. I’m sure you’re a perfectly honorable man, but short-term leases bring in all sorts of transient riff-raff.”

“But I’m not a transient. I live in Parmas City. I’m a professor at Parmas City University, and I’ve been invited here by one of your tenants, Vaughn Songbird.”

“Little Vaughn invited you?” Bert perked up at this.

“Yes, he said that I could stay here to document the faun Half Moon Ceremony. He’s going to be honored.”

“Document it how?” Bert seemed still skeptical, but interested. Michael smiled.

“I’ll be taking notes and audio recordings of the ceremony. If the faun elders allow it, I’ll take some pictures, but that’s contingent on their approval, of course. I wouldn’t want to be disrespectful,” he said.

“And what about you?” Bert turned her attention to Argent, who had stood silent through this entire interaction.

“He brought me along to wash his laundry.” Argent jerked his thumb at Michael. “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.”

Bert’s face stilled, and for a moment, while she processed this new information, Michael thought Argent had made a fatal misstep. In previous situations where people had become offended by their relationship, Michael could never be sure if they objected because he plainly had demonic blood or because of the more banal but still actual prejudice against same-sex lovers.

Not that it had to be one or the other, really.

Bert’s long, blank stare ended. She blinked, apparently having come to a decision.

“I suppose I can make an exception, seeing as you’re a college professor. I’ll meet you down at space fourteen. It’s four spaces down from the laundry room. Right next to me.” Bert smiled and Michael shook her hand. When he got back in, Argent sat in the driver’s seat, again grinning like a little kid.

“Do you want to drive, baby?”

“Only if you’re tired.” Argent tried to give a noncommittal shrug but was clearly too excited to give even one polite refusal.

“I could let you,” Michael said, “but you’ll have to let me drive later tonight.” He ran a hand down Argent’s back. A light touch but definitely a touch descending downward. Argent looked genuinely surprised, then genuinely interested.

“You got a deal.”

Michael handed him the keys. “Just don’t wreck it. My dad would kill me.”

“I would never hurt the Hell Machine.” Argent smoothed his hand along the faux-leather dashboard. Argent motored the vehicle slowly down into the shallow canal that had once been the mobile park’s main drive. He ignited the outboard and the Hell Machine chugged toward space fourteen. Alongside them, old trailers stood on stilts or floated on pontoons. Squadrons of blue and black dragonflies patrolled the water’s surface, snapping up mosquitoes. Structures that had once served as patios now functioned as docks. Three kids, two human and one faun, raced past them in swan-shaped paddleboats, hooting and shooting each other with squirt guns. The backs of the paddleboats read: PROPERTY OF PARMAS CITY RIVER PARK.

Michael glanced sidelong at Argent, who met his gaze with a smirk.

“Come on, Michael. I’m not going to arrest a bunch of kids.”

“I never know what you’re going to do.” Michael’s response came out poutier than he had intended and he winced.

“Besides, robbery isn’t my division,” Argent said. “Not unless they used an illegal spell to do it, but looking at the back of those boats I’d say they were liberated with an average set of bolt cutters.”

“So that’s how it is? If it’s not your department you’re not interested.”

“Right now, yeah. That’s how it is. Especially when I’m on vacation.” Argent shifted gears, preparing to maneuver the boat into space fourteen. “You’re really nervous about having me here with you, aren’t you?”

“I’ve never brought a lover with me on a trip before,” Michael said. “I’m having performance anxiety.”

Such Heights by Ginn Hale
Clouds rolled and curled beneath James Sparks’s feet as he sprinted across the transparent expanses of the Storm Palace skywalks. His stomach lurched slightly at the sight of Parmas City lying miles below him. The sprawling freeway and towering skyscrapers flashed like spilled glitter in the early morning light. He could just make out the green patches of Marine Park and the tiny glinting gold spark that was the massive Hilliard’s Portal Complex. If he looked closer, he might have picked out the bright blue roof of the Enyalios police station. Doubtless, Detective Ben Moran was already at work there, towering over some hapless suspect with a glare that conveyed utter contempt for his vocation, sense of self-preservation, and taste in curry. Or maybe that was just something special Moran saved for James.

James knew he shouldn’t still be brooding about Moran. Now wasn’t the time or place to worry about it.

Instead, he chased the flight of thirty large, brilliant birds as they swooped through the clouds directly below him. Their long wings glinted like molten gold as they caught the sun and then reflected pearl white when they skimmed beneath the pale supports of the skywalk.

James glimpsed his own lanky figure glinting in the mirror-like plumes of one of the birds. His shaggy blonde bangs covered the worst of his fading bruises, but the last three sleepless nights still showed in his dark brown eyes.

It was almost as if his body had forgotten how to relax without Moran beside him. Memories of Moran’s tall, muscular body, his thick black hair, and clear blue eyes taunted James in the emptiness of his bed. And when James did at last fall asleep, Moran’s strong hands and crooked smile haunted his dreams. Every night, James woke suddenly to find himself alone and filled with a frustrated longing for the heat and weight of Moran’s hard, tanned body.

At least today, his sleeplessness had ensured that he was awake well before sunrise and able to capture these dazzling moments of the phoenixes’ dawn flights.

With a single beat of its six-foot wingspan, the bird in front of James effortlessly swept higher into the wisps of cirrus clouds. James snapped photos as quickly as he could while running up and down the skywalks to keep pace with the playful swoops and dives of this rare flock.

Of the hundred thousand phoenixes that were said to have once filled the skies during the rule of the sorcerers, these thirty were thought to be the last remaining. Vast numbers had been slaughtered during the Commons Revolution—some for food, but many simply because of their likenesses graced so many sorcerers’ crests. Their numbers dwindled further in the following years as the floating palaces where they bred fell from favor and disappeared from the skies.

Now only the pearl white Storm Palace remained, suspended on trade winds like some huge, surreal seashell. To James it seemed both a shelter and showcase for the last lingering remains of a fallen age.

Most people of James’s generation had never even glimpsed a phoenix flying overhead, much less run with a flock soaring only a few feet away. James bounded up a staircase and focused his camera on a pair of the majestic birds as they broke through the ice vapor of a cloud.

They were astounding. Their sleek, heron-like bodies blazed gold in the morning sun, making them shine as if they really were creatures born from flames. They banked and glided directly past James. He clicked off a quick series of pictures, catching the fine details of their seamless beaks, large orange eyes, and luminous pinion feathers. One of the birds rolled, and James grinned as he captured a perfect shot of delicate clawless feet, tucked in tight against a downy silver breast.

Normally he wouldn’t have considered accepting a job like this one. Documenting just how extravagantly the descendants of overthrown sorcerers and sycophants could still afford to live struck him as both tedious and pandering, but Lanna had asked him personally. In addition, it had been the only job offer that wasn’t likely to add to Moran’s poor opinion of his common sense, which had almost made James pass it up just to spite the arrogant bastard.

But at this moment, he felt no regrets. The view was inspiring and the luxurious environment had been easy on his beaten body. Moran hadn’t been entirely wrong; it felt good to cover a story that didn’t involve brutal criminals who routinely murdered journalists.

The temptation to simply call Moran—to tell him that he’d passed on the Maldvar Islands offer—fluttered through James’s thoughts. But the last thing he wanted was to just roll over and concede. Moran could damn well wait. If he couldn’t trust James to take care of himself for one week, then it was probably already over between them anyway.

The thought pained James deeply, far more deeply than the lingering aches and bruises that marked his body. He swore at himself for once again letting his concentration slip. He was here to get away from Moran and to get a job done.

Author Bios:
Astrid Amara
Astrid Amara lives in Bellingham, Washington. She's a former Peace Corps Volunteer, an advocate for animal rights, and a bureaucrat by day. After work she can usually be found writing, riding horses, hiking, or else sleeping. Her novel The Archer's Heart was a finalist for the 2008 Lambda Literary Award.

Nicole Kimberling
Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington with her wife, Dawn Kimberling, two bad cats as well as a wide and diverse variety of invasive and noxious weeds. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. She is also the author of the Bellingham Mystery Series.

Ginn Hale
Ginn Hale resides in the Pacific Northwest with her wife and three cats. She spends many of the rainy days tinkering with devices and words and can often be sighted herding other people’s dogs, bees and goats. Her novel Wicked Gentlemen won the Spectrum Award for Best Novel and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.


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Connection by Brigham Vaughn

Title: Connection
Author: Brigham Vaughn
Series: Connection #1
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Release Date: October 15, 2015
Summary:
After a lifetime of being told he’s worthless, shy, sheltered Evan Harris is forced out of the closet and kicked out of his home. Friends in Atlanta give him a place to stay while he gets on his feet, but despite his eagerness to explore the city, it isn’t exactly what he expected.

Physically and emotionally scarred from a devastating car accident, Jeremy Lewis struggles to reconcile the brash, outgoing man he used to be with the social recluse he’s become.

Loneliness draws them to each other, but a strong mutual attraction isn’t enough to overcome their pasts. In order to be together, Evan must discover his own worth and Jeremy must trust someone to see past his scars.


I can't praise Connection enough.  When I first started, I didn't think that Evan and Jeremy were going to work their way into my heart as deeply as Russ and Stephen did from Miss Vaughn's Equals series, well was I wrong.  They may still be second to my favorite May/December boys but it is a very close second.  Do you need to read Equals before delving into Evan and Jeremy's journey? Probably not but I can't imagine not knowing Russ and Stephen's journey so I am going to recommend reading Equals first but that is my personal opinion.

As to the relationship between Evan and Jeremy, the author develops it beautifully.  We get both points of view and that really helps with their individual inner monologues. This story will really tug at your heart and I am looking forward to their continuing journey, I can tell it won't be easy but it will be heartwarming.  There is only a few authors on my "1-click without blurb reading" list and Brigham Vaughn is one of them.


RATING: 


Hours later, Jeremy dropped his phone on his kitchen counter with a clatter, not bothering to plug it in. Except for the occasional employee calling in sick, no one ever called to talk to him, and work was the last thing he wanted to think about right then.

The day had gone from bad to worse when he realized the problems with inventory went far beyond what Mia had found. There were discrepancies all over the place, and he’d had to sit down with Dwight, the shoe department manager, and tell him this was his third warning. If the guy didn’t shape up soon, he was going to lose his job. Firing people was one of the things Jeremy hated most about his job, and he could almost guarantee he’d have to fire Dwight in the near future. As a result, Jeremy had stayed well after the normal closing time, trying to reconcile the inventory listed in the computer against what was actually in the stock room. He couldn’t figure out what the hell Dwight had done to screw it up in the first place, but it had taken hours to straighten out, and he wasn’t looking forward to the discussion he’d need to have with the store manager about it the following day.

Jeremy scrubbed a hand over his face, irritated and exhausted. He wandered over to the refrigerator and pulled open the door of the freezer, staring with disinterest at the frozen meals inside. His stomach rumbled noisily, but nothing appealed to him. He had to eat something, though, and he grabbed blindly for the one at the top of the stack. He tore open the packaging, stabbed the plastic film with more violence than was necessary, and tossed it in the microwave.

He leaned against the counter as he waited for it to heat. Despite the long day at work—or maybe because of it—he wanted an outlet for his frustration. These days, the only forms of release he had were workouts at the apartment complex’s fitness center and laps in the pool. That morning, he’d lifted weights and did the physical therapy exercises he was destined to do every day for the rest of his life. He wanted to work out again, but he had to be careful not to overdo it, and he knew better than to double up on his workouts. Swimming would be okay, but the pool was closed for the night already.

He slammed his palm against the counter, irritated.

The remainder of the evening loomed before him, dull and predictable: microwave dinner and TV on the couch before going to bed alone. It had been his life for the past eight years—since he got out of the inpatient and residential rehab facilities following his accident—and day by day, it was wearing him down.

Except for the throbbing headache—which the pills had barely touched—and the twinge of discomfort in his thigh, he couldn’t feel a damn thing. It scared him, wondering if he was slowly slipping back into the depression that had consumed him in rehab. What exactly was he living for these days? Sure, he was alive, but he didn’t have much to show for it.

He glanced around the apartment as the microwave beeped next to him and felt a sudden wave of resentment for the life he lived now.

The problem was he had no one to blame but himself.


Author Bio:
Brigham Vaughn is starting the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga. She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.


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EMAIL: brighamvaughn@gmail.com



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