Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Random Paranormal Tales 2016 Part 3

Spindrift by Amy Rae Durreson
When lonely artist Siôn Ruston retreats to the seaside village of Rosewick Bay, Yorkshire, to recover from a suicide attempt, he doesn’t expect to encounter any ghosts, let alone the one who appears in his bedroom every morning at dawn. He also doesn’t expect to meet his ghost’s gorgeous, flirty descendant working at the local museum… and the village pub, and as a lifeboat volunteer. But Mattie’s great-great-grandfather isn’t the only specter in Rosewick Bay, and as Siôn and Mattie investigate an ill-fated love affair from a bygone era, they begin a romance of their own, one that will hopefully escape the tragedy Mattie’s ancestor suffered.

But the ghosts aren’t the only ones with secrets, and the things Siôn and Mattie are keeping from each other threaten to tear them apart. And all the while, the dead are biding their time, because the curse of Rosewick Bay has never been broken. If the ghosts are seen on the streets, local tradition foretells a man will drown before the summer’s end.

I had never read this author before this past summer and Spindrift is my fourth in about 3 months time, can I just say that Amy Rae Durreson knows how to tell a ghost story.  Spindrift, like the others, is so much more than just a ghost story, it's a love story with wonderful characters and incredible detail to atmosphere, combined they create an incredible tale I just couldn't put down until I reached the last page.  Mix in secrets, a past mystery, and a ghost or two and what you have is a read that leaves you mesmerized and a little creeped out, okay a lot creeped out at times but completely hooked.  A definite must for paranormal lovers.


The Guardian by Mary Calmes
Jude Shea's life is turned upside down when he rescues a dog he names Joe. Even though Jude has enough trouble taking care of himself-he doesn't even have a job-he can't resist the animal that needs him. Then one night, a man shows up on his doorstep looking to claim Jude's new companion. As they run from a surprise attack, Jude finds out that "Joe" is not what he seems. Eoin Thral is a guardian from an alternate dimension, and once he leads Jude through the veil that separates their worlds, he transforms into a handsome hulk of a man known for his fighting skills, not the capacity for love. Jude finds himself immersed in Eoin's world, and he's faced with the fight of his life to secure a happy future for them both.

Reaping Havoc #1 by AJ Rose
No one asked Mitch Seeker if he wanted to be a grim reaper. He didn’t sign up for the rumors, the lack of friends, or the erratic schedule. He doesn’t want to go through life watching people die. Especially not a man he loves. Mitch’s solution is simple—don’t fall in love. He’ll never have to explain why he doesn’t age or why he’s around death so often. Most of all, he will never be a widower.

But when his head is turned by world-class skier Nate Koehn, Mitch believes he may have the answer. If the soul attached to Nate is any indication, Mitch has found himself another reaper, in which case, his undeniable feelings don’t have to be suppressed. However, the spectral tag-a-long is only the beginning of Nate’s burdens. After a catastrophic loss, Nate is no stranger to grief and the hole it leaves behind.

The question they both must answer is loud and clear: is the pain of losing love worse than the pain of never having loved at all?

Who knew a story concerning a grim reaper and death could lead to such a powerful love story?  This tale completely and utterly blew me away.  I am at a loss for words how to describe how much I loved Reaping Havoc so I am not going to confuse you with witty phrasess and play on words, I will speak plainly and to the point.  Reaping is a must read for anyone who enjoys a well written story with intriguing characters.  If you tend to only read paranormal in October then please be sure and put this at the top of your Halloween TBR list, you won't regret it.


Reaping Fate #2 by AJ Rose
For Nate Koehn, the worst part of being a reaper is maintaining his compassion without becoming too involved with the souls in his charge. He’s always been sensitive to others’ hurts, and there is no hurt bigger than death, with which he’s already intimately familiar. The learning curve is steep, but the perks of the job—spending the next 300 years with the love of his life, his husband Mitch Seeker—are unmistakable. For Nate, death is a lifelong commitment.

Then Mitch is assigned to reap a serial killer’s victim.

Mitch and Nate are willing to go to just about any lengths to bring the killer to justice, but Divinity has a plan for everyone, and the reapers are at risk of being terminated themselves if they meddle too much. Mitch knows better than to tempt fate, but Nate isn’t wired to sit idly by while innocent people lose their lives to a vicious killer.

Nate sets out to balance the scales of justice for the souls in their charge, but what happens when he becomes the killer’s bug in the web? Can he stop a killer without exercising his own free will or putting those he loves in the crosshairs? Only Death knows, and he’s not talking.

Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of violence, which may be too intense for some readers. Reader discretion advised.

Sequels in the paranormal genre can be a little iffy, sometimes they seem repetitive of the first, others are equally as good, and then there is the rarity that surpasses the original.  Reaping Fate falls into the third category, I never thought it possible but it's true.  I don't do spoilers but since this is made mention of in the blurb, I guess it's okay to say something.  Having seen what Mitch dealt with in Reaping Havoc, there was an inkling to what Nate might be facing now that he is a reaper too.  This time around, amongst their reaping duties they also are facing a possible serial killer, but being reapers they have a different code of ethics when it comes to death but will Nate be able to follow the code?  For that you'll have to read it for yourself, trust me you will definitely want to.


Dancing on the Head of a Pin by Kiernan Kelly
2nd Edition

When a demon saves an angel’s life, he wins the chance to stay out of Hell and walk the earthly plane until the End of Days.

Cael wasn’t aware of the loophole when he spared the angel Malak, but he plans to exploit it. All he needs to do to earn his freedom is convince Malak to give up his virginity. Three thousand years should be plenty of time. But Malak isn’t interested—not in having sex with Cael and not in being exiled from Heaven as a result.

Time is running out, and if Cael fails, his punishment will be unspeakable. With only days left, Malak realizes he can’t let that happen—not to the demon he’s come to love.

But the End of Days is coming sooner than either anticipated. Lucifer has found a way to unleash the Four Horseman and end all existence. If Cael and Malak want to stay together, they need to seek out all four Horsemen and stop them from bringing about the Apocalypse.

First Edition published by Torquere Press, 2007.

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Random Paranormal Tales 2016 Parts

Part 1  /  Part 2

Spindrift by Amy Rae Durreson
Chapter 1
SIÔN DREAMED he went back to the bridge again, stepping out along the pedestrian walkway with his camera banging against his chest where it hung uselessly. The fog was just as deep as it had been on that day in March, wrapping around him like a bag around his head. It muffled his steps and made even the occasional rumble of passing cars sound far, far away. The fog closed behind him, hiding the north bank and the river below. As he walked he became convinced that he would never reach the far end, that he would walk forever through this damp gray shadow of a world.

Gradually, just like the first time, his steps slowed until he simply stood where he was. A bleak, quiet conviction settled over him.

He was completely alone in the world.

It seemed inconceivable that there even was a world out there beyond the fog, and he knew there was no one there who would miss him if he stayed here forever. He had no family, no friends, no lover, only a few colleagues he never socialized with. He didn’t even have a cat.

So why keep walking? Why not just stay here in the fog?

But he knew that the fog would lift and the world would still be there, and it would still be empty for him.

Even as he thought it, fear was clenching around his heart. Something was wrong.

Something was wrong with him.

And a shadowy figure came walking out of the mist toward him, stopping a foot away. Siôn recognized him at once—knew the expensive camera hanging around his neck, the soft old university hoodie with the St John’s College logo faded on the breast, the jeans that had never sat comfortably over his narrow hips and too long legs, the flop of pale hair. He was looking at himself, but it was a version of himself that had no face.

Looking at that dark emptiness, feeling that thin, screaming fear in his heart, Siôn suddenly understood. It wasn’t the world that was empty. It was him. He was the problem.

It seemed only logical to turn to the water. The stone handrail was elbow height, easy enough to climb, and he knew the river below was deep and fast enough to suck him down. Carefully, he took off his camera, handing it to his shadow self, and made for the edge.

Out in the gray, a gull cried, and then another and another, squabbling with sudden energy.

Their noise pulled Siôn away from the bridge, and he came out of the dream with a sudden gulp of relief. The cold fear released him so fast that he choked on his own indrawn breath and began to cough painfully, his lungs hurting.

By the time he could breathe again, he was fully awake and knew where he was—not on that cold bridge, but tucked under the sloping ceiling of Spindrift Cottage. The first light of the summer dawn was spilling softly through the dormer window and the lace curtains, creating thin patterns of light on the polished wooden floor and tufted rag rug in front of the unused hearth. Those seagulls were still squabbling outside his window, and he could just hear the sea breathing softly against the harbor bar.

He was alive. He was sane again. He was safe.

He was still alone.

But that was one of the thoughts he had learned to guard against, so he took another steadying breath, pushed himself up against the pile of lace-trimmed pillows, and went through his mantra again.

Alive. Sane. Safe. It had been three months since the bridge, and—with the help of a change of scene, mandatory therapy, and plenty of pills—he knew everything he had seen and felt up there had been false. He no longer believed that death was the only logical conclusion.

Tempting sometimes, but not logical.

Another breath, and this time he said the three words aloud to remind himself more firmly. “Alive. Sane. Safe.”

It helped to be here, in a sunlit room in this quiet house. Siôn had been reading before he went to sleep, Gavin Francis’s travelogue True North, and he reached out for his e-reader to keep going. There was nothing like the fascinating yet distant details of life in a cold climate to soothe his restless mind.

But as he turned, he heard a soft noise from his bedroom door. Then he saw the man standing there.

He was an ordinary-looking young man, of average height and squarely built, not much more than twenty. His dark hair was cropped close to his skull, and his face was ruddy and weathered. He had a slightly pointed face, not unhandsome, but not remarkable either, his expression solemn, although there was something around his eyes that suggested he could laugh. He wore a heavy navy blue jersey, cable-knit in complex patterns that drew Siôn’s eye, and faintly oily looking.

He had a thin little mustache and a gray leather flat cap, both of the sort Siôn associated with period films and a particular subset of urban hipster, and they seemed out of place in this little coastal retreat.

The initial surprise was giving way to indignation. Siôn had let the cottage for the next three months, and the agency had promised him that he would be left alone to enjoy it. They had also mentioned that the owner’s grandson would be staying in the basement flat once his university term was over, and “if you need owt and can’t get us on t’ phone, young Mattie will take a gander for thee.”

Siôn had managed to hide his instinctive grimace at both the idea and the exaggerated-cod Yorkshireism being thrown in his tourist face, but at least he now had a clue who this intruder was and how he had managed to get in. Bloody students.

Irritated, he snapped out, “What the devil do you think you’re doing?”

The man turned his head toward Siôn. His eyes were very wide and a little unfocused, as if they were seeing things Siôn could not, and suddenly the room felt icy, all the soft heat of early June seeping away like a retreating tide. The hairs on his arms stood on end, and his back cramped.

“Sarah,” the man said, and his voice was as cracked and distant as an old record, fading more with every syllable. “…Sorry… d—ned… shua….”

And he came forward across the room, bringing with him a stink of salt and rotten seaweed and something worse, something old and deep and dead.

Siôn couldn’t move.

Frozen in place, naked under the duvet, he watched this man—this dead thing—come gliding closer and closer to him, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even flinch.

The ghost passed across the room, his blank eyes unblinking, brushed past the bed, and walked toward the wide, low window where the dawn light was blazing in, thin and white and dazzling. He stepped into it and was gone, leaving behind only a lingering smell of death.

And then Siôn could breathe again, though part of him didn’t want to. The thing he had feared since he woke up in hospital had finally come to pass.

He had lost his mind again.

HE DIDN’T go back to sleep, though it was a long time before he could talk himself out of the bed. It was only when his alarm went off that he forced himself up. Routine was important, and he followed his with a dim, cold sense of detachment.

He ate his breakfast standing at the sink, forcing cornflakes into his mouth as he stared out of the window, for once not registering the soft loveliness of the morning light over the rooftops and harbor below. He washed up his bowl, put it carefully in the rack to dry, showered, and tried to shave.

His hand was shaking so much he put the razor down before he hurt himself.

It was only then that he realized he was tensed for that feeling—the bridge feeling—to come back, for that certainty to steal over him and make him believe it was time to die. If his brain was starting to break apart, to show him ghosts, that was the inevitable next step, wasn’t it? He was hallucinating again, this time without the excuse of months of insomnia. If his eyes had failed him, how long would it be before his logic turned on him too? He was used to analyzing risk, to recognizing situations that could not be overcome, and he wondered, a little frantically, what it would be this time—a bridge or the sea or, oh God, the cliffs?

What had possessed him to come and recuperate in a place with cliffs?

Had he been self-sabotaging even then?

It was the worst thought yet—that all these months of dealing with the shock and fear of what he had done, of recognizing that he wasn’t okay, whatever logic told him, and slowly picking up the pieces… they had all been for nothing if the dark, cold place inside him was still building traps.

“Routine,” he said to his reflection, which was hollow cheeked and wan, but at least still possessed a face. “Get back to routine.”

Routine meant dressing in light summer clothes and then shrugging on his windbreaker, because it might be June, but it was still Yorkshire. It meant gathering up his art supplies, checking that his phone was charged—for all the good that would do him when he couldn’t get a signal at the bottom of the village—and making sure he had some cash to buy lunch in the pub.

Staring at the emergency numbers pinned to the kitchen notice board wasn’t part of his usual routine, but it took an effort to drag himself away. Should he be calling someone? What would he say? Hi, I’m not suicidal and am frankly embarrassed that I ever was. I feel fine, except for the fact that I just saw a dead man walk across my bedroom.

What could they say to that? Nothing much, beyond suggesting it had been a bad dream and he should come in for a checkup, which would mean either a whole day driving or hours on buses and trains followed by twiddling his thumbs in the too solemn quiet of the waiting room, then having to find a hotel, and then losing another day traveling back. No. Let them spend their time on people who really were at breaking point. He would monitor himself as closely as he could and call if he started feeling genuinely bad.

Newly resolute, Siôn picked up his bag and strode out the door of the cottage and down the narrow steps into the sloping street.

Spindrift Cottage stood on the corner of a lane in the village of Rosewick Bay. The road curved down around the house to drop toward the tiny harbor below. Siôn had to enter the house by climbing a steep flight of steps to the kitchen door. The front windows of his living room looked over the rooftops and tiny patio gardens of the houses on the street below, while the back ones overlooked a small patio of his own and the foundations of the houses on the next street up. Below his part of the house was a tiny single-floor flat that backed into the cliff side on two faces, had a door opening onto the street at the front, and a window that was above head height on the sloping road that turned around the corner of the house. The whole village was a precarious tumble of red-tiled rooftops and terraced houses crammed into every foothold.

It had been an artists’ paradise since Edwardian times, and Siôn had chosen to retreat here for that reason. He had been here a fortnight already and was still not tired of trying to capture the higgledy lines of the houses, the water below, the gulls soaring overhead, and the light over the North Sea.

Today he walked briskly down through the village, heading for the harbor bar. It was early enough that the air was still cool, though in a way that promised heat later. The light was as thin and bright as sugar glaze, and he quickened his stride, no longer alarmed by the startling steepness of the lanes and the narrow ginnels that wound between the houses.

The harbor was pressed between two high cliffs, both of which were the haunts of seabirds who screeched and yammered as he walked below them and headed out across the breakwater that stretched from the foot of Minehouse Nab, the northern cliff. From the breakwater he could position his easel so he could look back at the village, and he took his time selecting a good spot.

But today, miserably, the art would not come. Every thin line he sketched seemed skewed, and when he gave up on guidelines and tried to splash watercolor straight onto the page, everything came out misshapen or saccharine.

He had never lost his art before—and he knew that, not the pills and therapy, was the main reason he had recovered as well as he had. He had heard so many horror stories about creativity and antidepressants. He had always been able to paint, although the mood and nature of his paintings had changed, the grays and stark lines of his urban landscapes giving way to a more dreamy, romantic palette. So he had come here to paint, and nothing else. Sometimes, still, he woke in the night with his heart pounding at the thought of going back to the silence and loneliness of London. Here, though, in this little bubble of light and sea and watercolor, he was safe.

But today, his muse failed him.

Perhaps it was the worry. Perhaps it was the way the keening gulls sounded so eerie today, or the way the sigh of the sea on the other side of the breakwater kept making the hairs rise on the back of his neck. Perhaps it was the memory of the hallucination’s eyes focusing on something other than Siôn, something only it could see.

“It was a dream,” he said firmly out loud. That was the only logical explanation. He had woken from a nightmare, and his still-dreaming brain had constructed something out of shadows and reflections.

He had never before had a nightmare that smelled like anything, let alone rot and water.

Just thinking of it brought the memory of the scent back so strongly that he was sure it was rising out of the big boulders of the modern breakwater behind him.

It was the harbor and the tide, he told himself. He had been living in the city so long he just didn’t know how to cope with natural smells any longer.

But the tide was high, and the stink was getting stronger and stronger.

Behind him there was a faint scrabbling noise, as if the rocks were shifting—or something was crawling across them.

Siôn shot to his feet, knocking his easel over, and spun, throwing his hands out defensively.

There was nothing there—only the open sea and the long stretch of the coast, the far cliffs still soft with morning mist.

All the same, since his paper was ruined and he was clearly getting nothing done here, he gathered his stuff and headed along the breakwater to get his feet back on solid ground.

He wandered the village for a while, trying to find a perspective that appealed to him, but nothing worked and the first coachload of day-tripping retirees had arrived. Giving up, he took his easel back to the cottage and contemplated just staying there, taking advantage of the light in the attic studio to improve some earlier pieces.

But isolating himself in this frame of mind was a bad idea, so he dragged himself out again, tucking his sketchbook under his arm as a defense against the world. He wasn’t required to talk to anyone directly, but he could eavesdrop a bit and sketch a few poses, and so feel a little more connected to the rest of the world. His first instinct might always be to isolate himself, but he had been forced to learn better, however much he resented having to step out into the world.

Halfway down the hill, he passed the open doors of the Rosewick Bay Heritage Center and paused. He hadn’t been in there yet, and perhaps this was the day. He could find out a little more about the history of the place and soak up some inspiration. If he was very lucky, they might even have some information about the Rosewick Group, that little offshoot of the Yorkshire impressionists who had settled in the village in the 1890s and early years of the twentieth century. One of the first pieces he had bought when he was finally earning enough to invest in real art had been Elinor Castle’s Rosewick Cobles, showing fisherwomen helping to pull a boat ashore. The painting had brought him here when he’d had to choose a place to recuperate. He had liked the idea of following in the footsteps of an artist he admired, and although her studio, now a lucrative little holiday cottage, had been let all summer, his inquiring phone call to the letting agent had brought him to Spindrift Cottage, which had been a family home until last year and had only just become available.

There was no guarantee the little museum would have anything about Castle and her circle, but they were the village’s only claim to fame, so there ought to be a postcard reproduction or two for sale at least. Castle herself was still moderately famous, and her pieces sold for more than a local museum could afford, but there might even be some works by, or information about, the lesser artists of the group. Siôn knew little about them, and perhaps today was the day to repair that gap in his knowledge.

Inside, the museum was bigger than it had looked from the outside. A glance along the main corridor revealed that a new frontage must have been built across the original terrace, because there was space for a whole row of Victorian-style shops done up in painstakingly authentic style. A spiral staircase led upstairs, with a sign taped to it that announced, “Fishing gallery, Art and Artists in Rosewick Bay, a Victorian Missionary in the South Seas, Childhood Past and Present.”

There was a wooden sign on the wall by the door that stated the entrance fees, as well as a counter, although it was unmanned. Someone had Blu-Tacked a bit of paper to it that read, in a scrawl of purple felt-tip, “Back in 5m! Please leave cash in honesty box!”

Siôn guessed that meant the wooden box with a slit in the top that was chained to the counter. He put his two pounds in, amused and oddly touched. London seemed very far away.

He wandered over to the first exhibit, a display of fishing lines carefully strung with hooks, and leaned in to read the typed explanation pinned to wall above. It was surrounded by framed photographs of fishermen and boats, old newspaper clippings, and a rather ferocious-looking fish mounted on a board with its teeth showing. Glancing around, Siôn realized that every wall was covered in the same way. At a guess, he would say that every single scrap of the village’s history was on display here.

It was charming, in a cluttered sort of way, and he moved on to study the contents of a reconstructed chemist’s shop, which seemed to feature the rescued contents of local medicine cabinets from Victorian times to the 1970s, all arranged so the brand names faced outward. There was even a door with an old-fashioned knocker. It was closed, and he wasn’t sure if it was just for effect or whether there was more to see inside the shop. Carefully, he reached out and pushed at it slightly, to see if it would open.

“Nowt but wall behind that one,” a warm, cheerful voice said behind him. “You have to go round to get to the history of the lifeboat.”

Irrationally embarrassed, Siôn stepped back. “I’m sorry.”

“You weren’t to know,” the kid behind him said. He had a nice voice, deep with a thick Yorkshire accent. He sounded friendly, young, confident—everything Siôn struggled with. “I keep telling Mrs. Peacock that we ought to put a sign up, but she won’t have it. Says it would spoil the authenticity.”

Siôn turned round, preparing a smile, and started to say, “I’d hate to see anyone try to force….”

Then the words dried up in his throat.

The young man leaning over the counter and grinning at him looked very, very familiar. In fact, Siôn had last seen him only a few hours ago, although he had been dressed very differently then.

This was the man who had walked across his room at dawn and vanished into a blur of light.

The Guardian by Mary Calmes
IT WAS hard to explain what it was that woke him. Even trying later to put the experience into words, Jude found it impossible. One minute he was lost in a dream, the very next he was wide awake, panting, sitting up in bed in a cold sweat. What in the world? He felt like he was drowning and squeezed in a vise all at the same time. When he tried to go back to sleep that proved futile. The overwhelming feeling of dread would not budge; he needed to get up or something horrible would happen. So even though it made no sense, he rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom. Looking into his own dark brown eyes in the mirror, he realized that maybe it was just his own life that had him awake at three in the morning. Lately it seemed like a pit had opened up and he couldn't pull free. Nothing was going right, and with no end in sight, it made sense that panic would leap from his subconscious, where he kept it pinned down all day, and grab hold of him while he was sleeping. But even as he told himself that the fear was logical, he still couldn't shake it. Maybe if he took a walk he'd feel better; his one-bedroom apartment felt small suddenly and claustrophobic. He had to get out.

After pulling on jeans, a heavy wool sweater, and hiking boots, twenty-six-year-old Jude Shea made his way from his brownstone toward the park. It was slow going, colder than he thought it would be, but being outside worked to clear his head. He felt calmer, steadier, grounded… until he heard the growling. Turning the corner he realized that he had made a left instead of a right. He had meant to take the path over the footbridge but had ended up going under it instead and now found himself at the mouth of a small tunnel. From where he was he could see the moon-washed path on the other side, could see the barren trees and even the wrought-iron fence, but between him and that was the total darkness of the creepy, smelly tunnel. And something close by was growling.

It took only a second to decide to reverse his course and go back, but in that heartbeat of time, he felt something resonate inside him. It was the pulse again, the same throb, a pressure that pushed against him like a sonic wave, like something or someone was calling to him. Jude had never felt anything like it and found it hard to process, to categorize. There was no pain, just the feeling of falling, like the first drop on a rollercoaster. He shivered hard, deciding quickly that nothing would keep him from moving forward. The pull was too strong to ignore. He had to find whatever it was he was outside in the cold looking for, because maybe if he found it, the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach would go away. He could only hope.

As Jude strode into the dark tunnel, he felt stupid for even hesitating. The growling had obviously been just the howl of the wind. He was not a woman who had to worry about being attacked, and at five-eleven and covered in lean muscle, there were not a lot of men who could hurt him without a weapon of some kind. Really, the only thing he had to worry about at all was finding a job. Having been looking for one for the last two weeks, he was exhausted. He had no business being out of bed at three in the morning looking for what… something that had drawn him with its siren call? It was crazy, and yet he plowed on through the pitch black of the tunnel to the other side.

When he emerged, the second he came around the corner, he saw them. There were four dogs in all, three on their feet and one on the ground. The three that were hovering were taking turns biting and clawing at the prone figure. The snarling was loud, the attack was vicious, and the dog that could no longer fight back would be dead soon. A feeling of relief washed over him, and he knew, beyond anything remotely logical, that he was there to save the dog. He yelled, and there was instant silence but for the moan of the wind. It had rained earlier, and between the wet chill in the air, the black shapes outlined against a dark charcoal sky, and the way the leaves blew across the path, there was an eerie feel to the night. When the dogs turned on him and charged, heads lowered, he felt as though he were facing some primordial foe instead of feral dogs in the park. Even for someone as rational as Jude, there was a second of horror before he heard the laughter.

Turning, he saw the group of people emerge from the tunnel. Four men, three women—and the first guy on the end reached under his jacket as he called out "Hey, man, you all right?"

The guy had a gun, and normally a man with a gun outside of law enforcement would be a concern, but right then the only thing Jude could be was thankful. He took a breath so his heart could start again.

"What the fuck's goin' on?" another of the men asked.

Turning back to face the dogs, Jude realized instantly that they were gone. "Where did they go?"

"That way," one of the guys said as the group reached him, pointing into the trees to the left. "Man, you are all kinds of crazy."

Jude didn't waste another second of time. Charging up the slight incline, he fell to his knees beside the injured animal. It was enormous, not as big as the others—their size had been freakish—but still the biggest dog Jude had ever seen.

"Oh shit," someone said behind him.

The dog lifted its head just barely and looked at its savior before the snarl tore from his throat. The sound made everyone except Jude shudder.

"Ohmygod, don't touch him!" a woman exclaimed.

"Get back! He'll rip your arm off!" a man warned.

Jude was too close to the wounded animal. If the dog wanted to, it could tear out his throat or maul the hand reaching toward him. There could be no protection from an attack in the slight distance between them.

Nothing mattered to Jude but the fact that the dog was hurt and needed him. Every other concern paled in comparison. The second he felt the wet heavy breath on his skin, Jude knew it would be all right. He smoothed his hand over the dog's nose, and its tongue darted out to lick his fingers. Scooting forward, cradling the dog's head in his hands, Jude gently, tenderly, put the heavy skull down on his bent knees. The dog's whimper was almost painful to hear as it pushed forward, trying to get its body closer to the man. Jude knew the animal had to be freezing, it was shaking with pain and fatigue, but its innate need for human contact still had overcome its instinct for self-preservation. The dog wanted to be in the man's lap.

"It's okay, baby, I got you," Jude promised the dog as its eyes started to droop closed.

There was a chorus of oh from the women, assorted groans, and finally the command from the first guy to help the fuckin' guy with his goddamn dog. Jude looked up at the man with a leather trench coat over his black Versace suit and thanked him.

"You are one lucky sonofabitch." The man smiled down at Jude, the diamond in his front tooth catching the light. "What the hell were you thinkin', walkin' up on a wounded animal?"

"He needed me," Jude said helplessly.

"Yeah, well, I suggest maybe you use your brain next time."

There was always a first time.

WHO woke up in the middle of the night and ended up saving a dog? The story was crazy, but even more amazing was the fact that no one cared. The nice lady at the intake window at the county animal shelter, the vet tech who took the dog from him, as well as the vet herself, none of them were interested in what had led him to the dog, only with the fact that he had saved it. He was a hero, plain and simple, and they all took turns telling him that.

Hours later, as he sat in the waiting area filling out forms, he found himself stuck on Name of Animal and couldn't get any further. There was no way he could be responsible for a dog when his entire life was up in the air. How could he promise to feed and shelter another life when he didn't even have a job? Sitting there, staring down at the linoleum floor, it was hard not to sink into self-pity.

A month ago, the small, financially sound public relations firm where Jude had worked for the past three years had been acquired by Sheridan Grant, a behemoth in the industry with offices all across country. The impact was that there had been many layoffs and only very few jobs had been spared. Jude had been one of the lucky ones—his reputation and client list kept the wolves from his door—but job security ended up being the least of his problems. A new managing director had been chosen for their office and Colton Bale showed up fresh from San Francisco with big ideas for change. Jude had no idea at the time what that meant for him personally.

"Excuse me, uh, Mr. Shea?"

Yanked from his reverie, Jude looked up into the face of the vet tech. She was a very pretty girl with a cute ponytail, and her nametag identified her as Amy. He found her adorable but completely missed his effect on her.

With his big dark brown eyes, impossibly long lashes, chiseled features, and flawless skin, the man was as close to perfection as she would ever see. She swallowed her gum.

"Um, can you come with me?"

"Sure," he replied, standing. "But don't call me 'sir,' call me Jude."

"Jude," she repeated, her eyes looking him over from head to toe. Yummy. The man was definitely edible with his curly brown hair that fell just past his shoulders, full, kissable lips, and lean frame. The jeans were tight and hugged long legs, and when she let him walk in front of her for a moment, she saw a firm, round ass. He was pretty, and she liked her men that way.

Jude checked over his shoulder, not sure which way to go once they hit the hall and confused as to why he was leading when he had no idea where he was going. Amy pointed to his right and then did a quick step and was back in front of him. Walking into a room three doors down, Jude was again faced with Dr. Rosalie Powers, the on-site veterinarian. He decided that she was the kind of woman that men—straight men—would watch walk by on the street: striking, with her waves of chestnut hair and blue eyes. Since he was gay, he noted her allure, but it was lost on him.

"Mr. Shea, I––" the vet started.

"Jude," he cut her off, yawning. "It's too late, or early, I guess, for Mr. Shea."

Dr. Powers's smile was warm. "Well, Jude, let's talk about your dog."

His dog?

He was told that his pet––the horse masquerading as a dog––was most likely a Newfoundland/husky or malamute mix. He had been viciously cut up and bitten, and it also looked like he had been struck hard by something. Dr. Powers thought perhaps he had been hit by a car, and then some other dogs had seen him, judged him incapacitated, and attacked him. Whatever the situation, he was lucky to be alive, and he was also a marvel of healing. The X-rays had yielded no broken bones, but his ribs were badly bruised. That he was already able to stand was amazing. He had drunk some water but was refusing to eat. She wanted to keep him overnight, but the problem was she didn't think she could.

"How'dya mean?" Jude asked.

It was like Dr. Powers was almost embarrassed. "I don't think even the big kennel will hold him. He's just too big. I need to keep him in the wolf enclosure at the zoo or something."

Wolf enclosure? How big was the dog really?

"So maybe you should just take him home, and I'll give you the name of a vet, and Monday morning you can take him in just to have him looked at."

Jude was surprised. "Are you serious?"

To show him that she was in no way kidding, the vet tech, Amy, cheerfully presented Jude with a bill for three hundred and twenty-two dollars and seventy-four cents. They were so not kidding.

"Wait!" He put up my hands. "I can't have a dog. I have a one-bedroom apartment that's like seven hundred square feet."

"Lucky it's a one-bedroom." Amy smiled at him.

"Yes," Dr. Powers agreed, "because that guy's a monster."


Dr. Powers grinned at him, nodding. "Congratulations, Mr. Shea. It's a boy."

"Wait," he told her. "I seriously can't have a dog."

"Not a lot of people could accommodate a dog that big."

"That's not what I mean."

"No pets allowed in your building?" Dr. Powers asked.

"No, but––"

"You allergic?"

"No, I just––"

Dr. Powers chuckled deeply. "Jude, I suggest you put an ad in the paper and try to find his owner. He's in much too good shape to be a stray, and let's face it, as big as he is, somebody's missing him. A dog like that doesn't just fall from the sky."

Jude sighed deeply as an overwhelming sense of resignation came over him.

"Someone will come claim him, Jude, I promise you."

But his luck didn't work like that.

"Think about it this way. You'll never have to worry about being robbed again. Who in their right mind would even try?" Dr. Powers reasoned.

He shot her a look.

Her laughter bubbled up out of her; the smile was huge. "I mean really, who in their right mind would rob a man who has a wolf?"

"He's not a wolf," he mumbled.

"No, he's probably a cross between a Newfoundland or a Great Pyrenees and something else. Except for the shape of his ears and his muzzle, he looks like one of those to me. But his nose and the shape of his head suggest a sled dog. It might even seriously be wolf in there; I have no way of knowing. But he's a huge dog. He weighs just over a hundred and twenty pounds, and it's all muscle. There's not an ounce of fat on him."

He groaned.

"I have no space for a dog that big at this facility," Dr. Powers said apologetically.

"I don't either," Jude assured her.

"Then I suggest you find his owner."

"What if he tries to bite me?"

"If he tries to bite you, I wouldn't worry about it." Dr. Powers sighed deeply.

"Why not?"

"Because Mr. Shea, if he goes after you, you're going to die."

Jude wondered vaguely if she was allowed to say those kinds of things to him. Wasn't she supposed to be encouraging?

When Dr. Powers smacked him on the shoulder, he got that she understood that she could. Most people were quickly at ease with Jude, and the nice lady vet was proving to be no exception. Jude's father always told him it was a gift, the warmth he radiated that drew people like bees to honey. Jude had never been fully convinced.

The dog had been resting in another room, but as they walked Jude toward the end of the hall, he saw that a crowd had gathered outside the door. The entire group was milling around, all trying to look through the small window into the room. Loud sounds of things crashing were coming from inside.

"What's going on?" Dr. Powers yelled.

"That dog wants out," one of the women called back.

Jude knew he had to get him out of there before he owed them redecoration expenses as well as just the bill for veterinary services.

He was allowed to the front of the crowd, and when he looked into the window found his "wolf" pacing back and forth in the tiny room. He looked formidable as he charged the door and banged it. Had it been other than metal, it would have come down already under his weight and the power he was exerting over it. On his feet with his teeth bared, lips pulled back, head down, ears flattened against the top of his head, he looked like he belonged in a nightmare or a horror movie. If his eyes glowed red, he would look just like a werewolf. The thought was not comforting. Jude turned sideways to look at the doctor.

Dr. Powers frowned deeply. "Okay, so in all seriousness, if he comes at you, we're probably going to have to put him down. He's much too big and dangerous for us to let you walk out of here with him if he can't be controlled."

"So you were kidding before."

"I wasn't kidding about him killing you if he decides he wants to, but I was kidding about letting you just take him home. I won't actually allow you to put yourself in danger because you feel some compulsion to save his life. If he won't respond to you, we're going to euthanize him." Looking back in the window at him and then across the room to the other door, Jude saw men on the other side waiting to enter. He heard a walkie-talkie chirp behind him as Dr. Powers told the men to wait to go in until Jude did.

"Okay, Jude." She sighed, and he felt her hand on his shoulder. "Go in and see if your friend there realizes that you're his guardian angel. My guys will go in at the exact same time. If he charges you, we're going to tranquilize him."

It was like a safari instead of the back of the animal shelter, Jude thought. "I bet you had no idea tonight when you came into work that the graveyard shift was going to be so eventful."

She shrugged. "It's always something here, but yeah, this has been memorable for sure."

Jude coughed. "Just go in, huh?"

"You're stalling." Dr. Powers chuckled. "Now ready on three––in you go."

Gulping in air, he opened the door. It took only a second for the dog to recognize him. His head lifted, the snarling stopped, and the aggressive stance relaxed. He even tipped his head sideways as he looked at Jude the way dogs did.

"Hey buddy." Jude smiled at him, dropping down to one knee. "You remember me? I smell like someone you know?" Jude noticed that the dog's eyes had no white on the edges; they were just black. It was a little weird. "You wanna come home with me?"

In response the animal moved fast. Had he wanted to hurt him, no dart from a gun would have saved Jude's life. One moment the dog was across the room, the next second he was right in front of the man, inches from his face, easily able tear his throat out if that had been his desire. Jude remained frozen as the dog looked him over and then laughed when he ran his wet nose up under his chin, bumped his head up with his muzzle, and licked the base of his throat. Jude grabbed him, buried his hands in his coat, and stroked the silky fur. He was rough with his petting, and the whimper he got in response made him smile.

"Oh yeah," Dr. Powers said, and when Jude looked up at her from the floor, he found her smiling. "He definitely remembers you."

Jude buried his face in the dog's neck, unable not to, and was pleased to find that his fur smelled like pine and freshly cut wood. "He smells great. Whatever you guys washed him with smells really good."

"We didn't bathe him." She chuckled. "But I noticed that too. He smells wonderful, and that's why I'm telling you: he belongs to someone. Don't fall so in love with him that you don't put an ad in the paper. Somebody's missing him right now."

He stood up, his hand still on his dog, stroking his silky head. "Not a chance. I will find this guy's owner, believe me." The dog lifted his nose into Jude's hand and licked him before rubbing his ears against Jude's palm.

"Aww," Amy cooed as she stepped in beside the vet. "Look… he's just crazy about you. He must know you saved him."

Jude doubted that. "No, he's just checking to see if I taste like chicken or beef."

She giggled, and Jude pulled out his wallet and passed her his Visa.

"Ring him up."

Dancing on the Head of a Pin by Kiernan Kelly
BARELY KISSING the horizon, the sun glowed a fiery crimson over the purpling waters of Islamorada, casting orange shadows over the storm-shuttered windows and whitewashed wraparound porch of their beachfront home.

Warm, salty breezes promised an evening thunderstorm and rippled the tall sea oats that covered the dunes, surrounding the house with a green and gold carpet.

Malak stood barefoot on the second-floor balcony, dressed in nothing but a loose-fitting pair of thin white cotton pants. His tanned, flawless skin stretched over a chiseled body and his long dark hair blew wild in the evening breeze. Malak was himself as much a work of art as anything his talented hands created.

A flick of Malak’s wrist added a touch of vermillion to the wide swath of color that stretched across his canvas. Stepping back and eyeing his work, a small frown creased the skin between dark eyebrows.

To anyone else Malak would appear to be only slightly dissatisfied with what he saw, but Cael knew him better than that and ducked just as the canvas came whizzing through the air. It flipped end over end, sailing over the balcony railing, spiraling onto the dunes below.

“What was wrong with that one, Mal?” Cael asked, peering down at the wreckage of Malak’s latest creation. Coarse sand clung to the wet paint, lending it the consistency of colored grits.

“It was shit.”

Only Malak’s voice, deep and smoky, could make defecation sound sexy. Cael smirked and swung himself up onto the balcony railing, straddling it. Leaning back against one of the posts supporting the overhang, he crossed his arms over his chest, watching Malak angrily swish brushes around in a mason jar half-filled with murky turpentine.

“You say that about everything you paint these days, Mal.”

Below Cael, half-buried in the sand, were the remnants of at least a couple dozen of Malak’s canvases, in various stages of completion. Pieces of the stretched canvas and broken frames stuck up through the sand like paint-splattered bones. Malak refused to allow any of them to be picked up and thrown away, inspiring Cael to nickname the area surrounding their porch St. Malak’s Cemetery.

“Don’t you have something else to do?” Malak grumbled, carefully cleaning his brushes and placing them bristles up in another mason jar. He dried his hands on a paint-splattered rag, keeping his back to Cael. “Someone else to do?”

“Not at the moment,” Cael answered, grinning. He could see the muscles tensing across Malak’s shoulders. It was so easy to provoke him that it barely provided Cael with a challenge anymore. He flipped his mane of golden hair behind him and smiled impishly. “Why? Got someone in mind?”

“Go fuck yourself, Cael.”

“A physical impossibility, Mal. Believe me, if I could I would—constantly, and with great enthusiasm.” Cael laughed, jumping down from the railing. He walked up behind Malak and ran his hands over Malak’s strongly muscled back, feeling the silken skin twitch under his palms. “You’re tense, Malak. That’s why you’re having a hard time creating anything worthwhile. You’ve held out too long, and it’s affecting you physically.”

“The only reason I’m tense is because you’re still here,” Malak growled, shrugging Cael’s hands off his shoulders.

Undeterred, Cael’s hands returned to caress Malak’s smooth skin. “I could relieve your tension in an instant, you know,” he purred, sliding his hands around Malak’s trim waist. He traced his fingers lightly over the ropy muscle of Malak’s stomach, before slipping them under the drawstring waistband of Malak’s pants, smiling at the sharp gasp when his fingers brushed against Malak’s pubic hair. “I’d do whatever you’d like me to do. Touch you. Kiss you. Devour you. I’d even bend over the railing for you, let you take me hard and fast or slow and sweet. Or would you rather bottom? You’d like to feel my cock push its way into your sweet, tight ass, wouldn’t you? All you need to do is tell me what you want, Mal. That’s all it would take.”

“Knock it off, Cael! You already know what my answer to that is.”

Malak twisted away and opened the sliding glass door that led into the upstairs living area. He slipped inside, closing it behind him. Cael watched him round the corner into his bedroom, the resulting bang as he slammed the door shut echoing throughout the house.

Still smiling, Cael fingered his erection through his cargo shorts, adjusting himself. Damn if he hadn’t given himself another boner. It was a wonder he never learned—thinking about fucking Malak did that to him every time.

Touching any part of Malak’s body had that same effect on Cael, the heat from Malak’s skin going straight from Cael’s fingertips to his groin. He sighed deeply as his erection grew painfully hard. A body would think he’d have grown immune to Malak’s charms by now, but no.

It had been that way for the past three thousand years—why should today be different?

Flinging himself over the railing, Cael’s blood-red wings shimmered into view, membranous and leathery, flapping slowly to ease his fall. He landed lightly on the sand below, his feet barely indenting the grainy surface.

Bending, he plucked Malak’s latest creation from the ground. A slow grin creased his cheek as he contemplated the sand-splattered painting. The canvas showed two figures entwined, one light and one dark. Although their faces were indistinct, no more than smudges of color, it was clear to Cael who the subjects were.

Malak’s subconscious was trying to break through the wall he’d erected between them. His desire was manifesting itself in his paintings, had been for centuries now, which was why Malak was unhappy with everything he painted.

He didn’t want to admit that he wanted Cael as badly as Cael wanted him. But Malak’s wild, bold brushstrokes and his sensual use of color, in addition to his subject matter, told a different story.

He was losing control.

And none too soon, as far as Cael was concerned. Time was swiftly running out for him. If Cael didn’t get Malak between the sheets relatively quickly, Cael was going to find himself right back where he’d started, with a pitchfork stuck in his ass and a permanent case of the hornies.

That was a totally unacceptable outcome. Cael would not go back, refused even to consider the possibility. Three millennia had done nothing to dim the memories of his life before he’d met Malak. He remembered all too clearly what it had been like, how much he had suffered.

Humiliation. Degradation. Subjugation. Deprivation. All tempered with a healthy dose of pain, they’d filled his every waking moment. And since Cael never slept, that translated to being miserable every moment of every fucking day.

No way.

He was not going back.

His hands clenched involuntarily, crushing the canvas with a splintering sound as the wooden frame cracked in his fingers. Letting it drop back onto the sand, he struggled to regain his composure.

Calm yourself. You have everything under control. He’s going to snap any moment now, like a twig in a tornado. Cael took a deep breath, filling his lungs with clean, fresh air, willing his muscles to relax.

A few more days and Malak’s resolve would crumple like tissue paper. That’s all it would take, Cael told himself. A handful of hours and he’d have Malak naked, writhing underneath him. And once he’d had his fill of Malak’s delectable flesh, once he’d spilled his seed deeply inside Malak’s perfect body or had Malak’s semen fill his—it didn’t matter to Cael in the slightest which way it went down—Cael would be safe until the end of time. A few more days and it would all be over.

It had better be.

A few more days were all Cael had left.

Author Bios:
Amy Rae Durreson
Amy Rae Durreson is a writer and romantic, who writes m/m romances. She likes to go wandering across the local hills with a camera, hunting for settings for her stories. She's got a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though please don't ask her to speak any of them now.

Amy started her first novel nineteen years ago (it featured a warrior princess, magic swords, elves and an evil maths teacher) and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semi-colon.

Mary Calmes
Mary Calmes lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and two children and loves all the seasons except summer. She graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Due to the fact that it is English lit and not English grammar, do not ask her to point out a clause for you, as it will so not happen. She loves writing, becoming immersed in the process, and falling into the work. She can even tell you what her characters smell like. She loves buying books and going to conventions to meet her fans.

AJ Rose
It began with a Halloween themed short story assignment from a second grade teacher, and from then on, AJ Rose fell head over heels in love with writing. Even an active social life through school, learning to play the piano in a passable imitation of proficient, and a daring cross country move couldn't stop the tall tales about imaginary people that refused to be ignored. With college experiences came a change in perspective to romance and passion. A propensity to slash favorite TV characters brought AJ to today, writing mostly M/M for publication. But don't be surprised if the occasional ghost still pops up.

Kiernan Kelly
Kiernan Kelly lives in Florida among the alligators and palmetto bugs with her husband and a Shar Pei-Labrador puppy who thinks she's a person (the dog, not Kiernan. Kiernan knows she's a person. At least, she is after she's had her daily dose of caffeine). Kiernan spends most of her time writing gay erotic romance while chained to a computer in the dark recesses of her office, which her children have dubbed, "The Gay Cave."

Amy Rae Durreson

Mary Calmes

AJ Rose

Kiernan Kelly


The Guardian

Reaping Havoc #1

Reaping Fate #2

Dancing on the Head of a Pin

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