Thursday, January 7, 2016

Best Reads of 2015 Part 1


I read nearly 300 books in 2015 so when I decided to do a Best Reads feature it was very difficult to narrow it down.  I finally decided on 3 books for each month broken into four parts, here is part 1 of my favorite reads of 2015 each containing my original review.

Restless Spirits by Jordan L Hawk
Summary:
After losing the family fortune to a fraudulent psychic, inventor Henry Strauss is determined to bring the otherworld under control through the application of science. All he needs is a genuine haunting to prove his Electro-Séance will work. A letter from wealthy industrialist Dominic Gladfield seems the answer to his prayers. Gladfield’s proposition: a contest pitting science against spiritualism, with a hefty prize for the winner.

The contest takes Henry to Reyhome Castle, the site of a series of brutal murders decades earlier. There he meets his rival for the prize, the dangerously appealing Vincent Night. Vincent is handsome, charming…and determined to get Henry into bed.

Henry can’t afford to fall for a spirit medium, let alone the competition. But nothing in the haunted mansion is quite as it seems, and soon winning the contest is the least of Henry’s concerns.

For the evil stalking the halls of Reyhome Castle wants to claim not just Henry and Vincent’s lives, but their very souls.


When you find yourself on the ground floor of a new series, it's a pretty great feeling.  To have it by an author you already love is pretty exciting.  But, to have it rival or at the very least a close second to said author's series that brought you to the author it's pretty darn amazing.  And that's what Restless Spirits have been for me.  It may not currently reach the level of giddiness I have for Miss Hawk's Whyborne & Griffith series, but Restless is well on it's way to being right up there and that's only after one book!  It hasn't even been a month since Henry and Vincent first debuted and already I'm longing for the next installment.  I love the way the author introduces us to both sides of the ghost detecting(to put it simply) business.  This story is filled with twists, sexy times, mystery, sexy times, ghosts, sexy times, okay maybe I'm over doing the sexy times but it's definitely very hot, very heart wrenching, funny at times, and of course paranormal suspense.

RATING: 

The Courage of Love by EE Montgomery
Summary:
Sequel to Between Love and Honor

In 1915, after his beloved Carl died from a vicious beating, David Harrison enlisted in the Army and went to war. He returns home to find a world seemingly unchanged, while he will never be the same. At Mrs. Gill’s boarding house, he meets Bernard Donnelly, a young man suffering the aftereffects of his own war experiences. David finds himself increasingly attracted to Bernard, but that terrifies him. He blames himself for Carl’s horrific death and fears he isn’t strong enough to lose another love to violence.

Bernard needs David to help him face each day and find a way they can be together without stigma—and without putting them in legal and physical danger—but David clings to his idea that the only way to keep a lover safe is not to have one. His fears threaten to destroy everything, unless he learns that sometimes the risk is worth it and finds the courage to love.


This story is so powerful and emotions are all over the place.  I'll admit that the first few shell shock induced nightmare scenes are a little confusing but afterwards, I realized that the mild confusion I felt only added to the severity of what both David and Bernard were dealing with.  I've always been a bit of a history buff, so this is not my first story surrounding World War 1 veterans but the author still managed to tug at my heart when dealing with the shell shock.  Some people might see the continued nightmares and David's reluctance to open his heart again after losing Carl as repetitious but I see them as showing how far they've actually come and at the same time reminding us that it's not a clear cut scenario that can be bad one day and completely fixed the next, it's ongoing.  David and Bernard and even the memory of Carl, David's first love, are the main focus of the story but those around them are so important to story.  Mrs. Gill is amazing, she's the mother that David should have had, she's caring but she's also right to the point.  As for David's mother? She's not actually in the story much but she certainly leaves a lasting impression and it's not a nice one either. This is the first time I've read E.E. Montgomery but it won't be the last.

RATING: 

Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen
Summary:
New York City, 1919. His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after a scandalous affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, Sutton heads to Manhattan with no plans and little money in his pocket but with a desire to call his life his own. Jack Bailey lost his parents to influenza and now hopes to save the family novelty shop by advertising on the radio, a medium barely more than a novelty, itself. His nights are spent in a careless and debauched romp through the gayer sections of Manhattan. When these two men cross paths, despite a world of differences separating them, their attraction cannot be denied. Sutton finds himself drawn to the piano, playing for Jack. But can his music heal them both, or will sudden prosperity jeopardize their chance at love?


I have to admit I had a bit of a hard getting into this one but it was no fault of the author.  I just wasn't ready to let go of the characters of the previous book I had finished.  But by the time I was finished with chapter 3 or 4 I was hooked.  Sutton and Jack may have been from opposites ends of the  spectrum as far as their upbringing and background but they were more alike than either of them realized.  It's pretty clear that they are both better off together than either was alone.  If you're a fan of historical fiction mixed with romance, then this is definitely a book for you.  I hadn't read anything by this author but after finishing Whistling, I went on to read three more and will definitely be checking out others as well.
RATING: 

Thin as Smoke by Erin O'Quinn
Summary:
In 1924, the PI team of Michael McCree and Simon Hart are on the trail of missing motors—a mundane case that turns deadly when they discover the link between their case and that of Samuel Dashiell Hammett.

The writer of hard-boiled crime is scratching to earn a living, and his work as an undercover Pinkerton operative lands him on the shore of the Irish Sea, in the city of Dun Linden. In one of a series of coincidences, Hammett finds himself paired with his old friend Michael, a man he knew in the U.S. before he left for the World War.

“Sam,” as he’s known to Michael, unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that separate the two partners and sometime-lovers. Working on his own, Simon finds himself on both ends of a Smith & Wesson revolver. Meanwhile, Sam and Michael discover that the perilous connection between motors and Mafia bootleggers also means a shattering of former alliances...because Michael and his old friend share a secret, one that threatens to end both his career and his complex relationship with Simon.


Simon and Michael are spectacular once again.  I love the fact that this installment is centered around their one year "anniversary".  We get to see how each of them see that fateful day and when you throw in their new case and the addition of Michael's old colleague, you have yourself a perfect addition to the Gaslight Mysteries.

Speaking of Michael's old colleague, Sam Hammett, it's a special treat for me.  Not only does Sam bring a new element to the story, an inkling of Michael's history and Simon dealing with the jealousy that Sam's arrival has brought out, but for me it adds a bit of fangirl moments.  Sam Hammett, or as most people know him, Dashiell Hammett, is the creator of my most favorite mystery solving couple, Nick and Nora Charles and The Thin Man.  Neither The Thin Man nor Hammett's writing skills have any bearing on this story but just the addition of his character into the mix had me giddy going in and once I finished Thin as Smoke, I was just as giddy.  Miss O'Quinn weaves Hammett into the world that Simon and Michael live in with creativity and nearly as much charm as Michael used to originally worm his way into Simon's life back in Heart to Hart.

Now for the mystery itself.  Perfect for the duo, or should I say trio in this case.  I don't think that the case is as big a part of this story as the cases in the first three of the series.  However, I do think that how the characters deal with the case and each other is more at the center of Thin as Smoke, which is still part of the mystery so perhaps it's just from a different angle.  However you look at the ins and outs of the case, this is a great addition the series and a must read, especially if you like historical settings.
RATING: 

Merrick by Claire Cray
Summary:
New York, 1799: the future looks bright for the charming young book dealer William Lacy, until a raucous night of drinking lands him in shackles. He narrowly avoids the brutal prison system thanks to his mother, who negotiates with the judge to secure him a five year apprenticeship in lieu of a prison sentence. And so William finds himself in a carriage bound for the remote woods upstate, where he'll spend the next years of his life learning a new trade under some old master.

When he first sees Merrick, William thinks he's been dropped into a medieval horror story. Tall and gruff, dressed in a hooded robe that completely conceals his features, and riding a black mare, Merrick might as well be the Grim Reaper.

But appearances are deceiving. A skilled apothecary and healer, Merrick proves to be a generous host and a gentle teacher, and William soon finds himself surprisingly comfortable in his new surroundings. And yet troubling mysteries abound: Why does Merrick never show his face or hands? Why do his movements seem so young and sure beneath his robes? What lies within the cave behind the stone cottage?

Something unnatural is afoot. But most alarming by far is William's own reaction to his new keeper. For Merrick's strange charms are bewitching enough by day; but by night, in the darkness of the room and the bed they share, William finds himself entirely overwhelmed by desires he never imagined...


This was such a great find.  I wasn't looking for a vampire or supernatural story, I was actually searching for historical fiction when I saw "New York, 1799" in the summary and went and "1-clicked" it.  So glad I did.  I'll start by saying there is, in my honest opinion, a bit of an over abundance of exclamation points in William's inner monologues.  I only mention it because I know for some that can be an issue, but for me it wasn't.  Not once did those exclamation points or lack of inner thoughts in italics a distraction from the ride the author was taking us on.  I found the story to be beautifully told and the characters very intriguing.  From William being faced with a five year court appointed apprenticeship to his acceptance of who and what Merrick is, this book had me completely enthralled.

RATING: 

The Psychic & the Sleuth by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon
Summary:
Trusting a psychic flash might solve a mystery…and lead to love.

Inspector Robert Court should have felt a sense of justice when a rag-and-bones man went to the gallows for murdering his cousin. Yet something has never felt right about the investigation. Robert’s relentless quest for the truth has annoyed his superintendent, landing him lowly assignments such as foiling a false medium who’s fleecing the wives of the elite.

Oliver Marsh plays the confidence game of spiritualism, though his flashes of insight often offer his clients some comfort. Despite the presence of an attractive, if sneering, non-believer at a séance, he carries on—and experiences a horrifying psychic episode in which he experiences a murder as the victim.

There’s only one way for Court to learn if the young, dangerously attractive Marsh is his cousin’s killer or a real psychic: spend as much time with him as possible. Despite his resolve to focus on his job, Marsh somehow manages to weave a seductive spell around the inspector’s straight-laced heart.

Gradually, undeniable attraction overcomes caution. The two men are on the case, and on each other, as they race to stop a murderer before he kills again.

Warning: Graphic language and hot male/male sex with light BDSM themes. Despite “Descriptions of Murderous Acts” perpetrated by an unhinged killer, resist the temptation to cover your eyes—you’ll miss the good parts!


Robert and Oliver are such a great pair.  I don't know that I would classify this as a "enemies to lovers" sub-genre but they most definitely have the equal parts fighting and attraction down pat.  The author's warning says it best "Despite “Descriptions of Murderous Acts” perpetrated by an unhinged killer, resist the temptation to cover your eyes—you’ll miss the good parts!"  There are so many good parts mixed throughout the story, and I'm not just talking about "yummy" times, there is humor, sparring, fear, and of course murder.  By fear, I'm not just referring to the mystery, I'm also referring to Oliver's realization that he actually does have some psychic ability and Robert's same realization and having to admit that being psychic isn't an automatic conman at work.  This is the first time I've read either author or one of their collaborations but it definitely won't be the last.

RATING: 

The Bells of Time Square by Amy Lane
Summary:
Every New Year’s Eve since 1946, Nate Meyer has ventured alone to Times Square to listen for the ghostly church bells he and his long-lost wartime lover vowed to hear together. This year, however, his grandson Blaine is pushing Nate through the Manhattan streets, revealing his secrets to his silent, stroke-stricken grandfather.

When Blaine introduces his boyfriend to his beloved grandfather, he has no idea that Nate holds a similar secret. As they endure the chilly death of the old year, Nate is drawn back in memory to a much earlier time . . . and to Walter.

Long before, in a peace carefully crafted in the heart of wartime tumult, Nate and Walter forged a loving home in the midst of violence and chaos. But nothing in war is permanent, and now all Nate has is memories of a man his family never knew existed. And a hope that he’ll finally hear the church bells that will unite everybody—including the lovers who hid the best and most sacred parts of their hearts.


I want to start off by simply saying "This is an amazing read!"  Those of you who have been following my personal reviews here or on Goodreads, have probably noticed that I've been in a historical mood for the past six months or so and this is a perfect addition to my historical shelf.  I could see where the story was going to end from nearly the first page but it in no way took away from my enjoyment of this Amy Lane creation.  It's not always about the ending but the journey and that's what we have here, Walter's journey.  The connection and love between Nate and Walter might not seem to have much future but it is definitely heartwarming and everlasting.  I can honestly say that, although I've cried with many a book before, I have never teared up so much as I did with this story.

RATING: 

Surreal by RE Hargrave
Summary: 
Catherine O'Chancey is a young submissive who has found her happily ever after, with a man far better than she’d ever dreamed.  Or has she? Is life that easy?  Jayden Masterson first opened his playroom to Catherine—a provocative Irish beauty with a penchant for pain—and then his heart to her everyday persona, Erin. For him, life has never been more perfect . . . Or more confusing.  He's comfortable as a Dominant, but still finding his way as a lover and equal partner. Jayden is also learning that he can't protect his jewel from everything—nor should he. Some battles she must fight on her own.  The travesties of Erin's past still haunt her, and as the couple move forward in their merging relationship, they must now cope with the physical damage left behind by her abuser.  Catherine and her Master have a lot to learn—about each other, and about themselves. If Jayden and his jewel can overcome the challenges they'll face on the next leg of their journey, their ending just might be . . . Surreal.

***Contains explicit sexual content (including multiple partners and gender pairings) and mature situations which could be trigger-inducing for some readers.***


I'm not going to say too much in my review, as I don't want to risk giving anything away.  Now, I will say that I think this is a perfect way for this series to end, if it must end.  It's like seeing a story come full circle as well as the characters involved.  I think we finally get to see just how far Catherine has really traveled.  Throughout the series, we've seen her blossom but in Surreal, she becomes the Rose Parade.  We are always learning and growing in life and this is a great example of how even Jayden, who is so confident in his role as Dom, can still be taught a few things.  If you're looking for a true story that involves the BDSM lifestyle, than this is the one for you.  In my opinion, 50 Shades doesn't hold a candle to RE Hargrave's Divine Trilogy.

RATING: 

The Auspicious Troubles of Chance by Charlie Cochet
Summary:
Chance Irving is a young man with a gift for getting into trouble-not surprising, as trouble is all he's ever known. After losing everything he held dear one fateful night, he decides to leave New York and his past behind, and joins the French Foreign Legion. But even in Algiers, Chance can't seem to shake his old ways, and he ends up being transferred to a unit made up of misfits and rabble-rousers like him-a unit he finds just in time to be captured and thrown into a cell with his new commandant, Jacky Valentine.

A highly respected commandant with a soft spot for hard luck cases, Jacky is the kind of guy who would go to war for you, and the three equally troubled youths from his unit he's more or less adopted feel the same way about him. Suddenly Chance starts to think that his life doesn't have to be as desolate and barren as the wastelands around him.

But even after their escape, with the promise of a future with Jacky to buoy his spirits, or maybe because of it, Chance can't stop making mistakes. He disobeys orders, lashes out at the boys in Jacky's care, and blazes a trail of self-destruction across the desert-until someone makes him realize he's hurting more than just himself.

A Timeless Dreams title: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.


The title says it all!  Chance is definitely trouble.  I couldn't even begin to guess what kind of man would be able to handle him.  Well, the author has done a perfect job when she created Jacky because he the only one who could possibly tolerate Chance.  We all know where the two will end up and that's together, but the story is how they get there.  And what a ride it is.  This is the first I've read Charlie Cochet but it most certainly won't be the last.

RATING: 


Restless Spirits
Click here to read Chapter 1

The Courage to Love
Chapter One
Brisbane, July 1919
THE westerlies began early this year. The icy winter wind cut straight through my clothes. I tugged my collar closer around my face, shoved my gloved hands into the pockets of my overcoat, and stared at the weathered headstone. The words carved into the pale granite were now dark and legible. The southern side of the stone held a slight greenish tinge, the beginnings of moss growth, but someone had been caring for Carl. The grass around the grave was neatly trimmed, and there was a small bowl of fresh camellias beside the headstone.

We could not say good-bye.

My heart is broken.

“It still is, Carl,” I whispered. “Every day.”

Eventually, my shivering became so extreme I had to leave. I looked up at a sky tinged orange and pink and knew if I didn’t run, I’d miss the last tram into the city.


MOTHER’S shrill voice started before I finished unbuttoning my coat. “Where have you been, David? Dinner’s been ready for over an hour. You know what time to be home.” The diminutive woman who ruled my every waking moment when I was at home came into the front hall. She had pulled her graying hair back into her usual severe bun, her thin lips were pinched in disapproval, and her gray eyes glared accusingly as I turned from hanging my coat on the coat stand. “Well?”

“I was just walking around, Mother.”

“Mrs. Edwards and Esther came for afternoon tea. I expected you to be home.”

I stifled the sigh that wanted to escape, but judging by the frown on Mother’s face, I probably didn’t hide my relief very well. The excuses I’d once used dried on my tongue. I would no longer pretend to be someone I wasn’t. After Carl, I’d not get drawn or trapped into marrying a woman my mother chose. Or any woman.

“Did you go to the Post Office and get your job back?”

I couldn’t control the sigh this time. I had gone in there in the morning, and nothing had changed. The checkered tiles still muted footsteps from the doors to the counter. The polished oak counter and stair railings gleamed in the light as they had before. The large room still smelled of old paper, ink, and furniture polish. The only difference was the new faces behind the counter. And me. I was different too, but no one understood that, least of all my mother. I didn’t want to go back to the Post Office, but I wanted to stay in this house even less.

“I begin on Monday.”

Her consideration of me changed, and I suppressed a cringe, standing taller, my back rigid, knowing what she’d say next.

“Good, then you’ll be able to pay more board.” She returned to the living room and sat among the threadbare spotlessness of worn carpets and upholstery. A small fire burned in the grate, lending a homey feel to the one room my mother spent time in. She positioned her feet precisely together, as a lady should, and picked up her mending. “Your dinner is in the oven.”

Dried-out cottage pie and wrinkled, woody carrots, burned on the tips, sat forlornly on an enameled plate in the hot side of the wood-fired oven. I sat at the scarred kitchen table and shoveled the food into my mouth, chewing and swallowing without tasting anything. I didn’t care what my mother served. Everything here tasted better than what I’d eaten the last four years. If I never saw bully beef, tinned peaches, or golden syrup again, it would be too soon.

When I finished, I placed my plate in the tub of water sitting in the sink and stared at the dim reflection of myself in the grubby window. I shuffled my feet against the gritty, sticky floor, then went up the stairs to my room, grateful every day that it was positioned directly over the kitchen and its warmth.

I pulled my suitcase from the top of the wardrobe, sneezed at the dust that came down with it, and packed as many of my clothes and books as would fit. I put the filled suitcase back on top of the wardrobe, hung my pants, coat, and shirt over a chair, crawled into my narrow bed, and stared at the stained ceiling.

I woke in the dark hours before dawn to screams echoing in my room and, from what I knew from her complaints after other nightmares, the thump of my mother’s shoe hitting the other side of the wall above my head. I rose and dressed, then went down the back stairs. Within five minutes, I was free of the house and headed for the river.


OUR glade was unchanged except for the cigarette ends that littered the flattened grass in the middle. The white paper-ends, left by careless smokers, glowed dully in the predawn light. I crawled under the drooping leaves of the willow and leaned against the trunk. I closed my eyes as I remembered the times I’d spent there with Carl, holding his warm body against mine, before the ugliness of our world exploded.

I woke reaching for my rifle, only to have my fingers bump against roots and dew-damp mulch. Murmured voices faded downriver as their unseen owners meandered along the nearby path. I stared through the fractured canopy above me until my breathing settled and my heart rate calmed. When I was sure I was in the glade and not at war, and that no one waited to shoot me, I crawled out of the dimness, brushed myself off, and walked along the riverbank toward Mrs. Gill’s in New Farm.

The house had suffered while I’d been away. The paint looked dull. Sections on the western side had begun to peel and flake away. Dirt clouded the louvered windows that formed the top half of the closed-in wraparound verandas on both the ground floor and the floor above. A small gum tree sprouted in the drooping gutter at the corner of the corrugated iron roof. The front gate needed oiling—the hinges caught and screeched as I pushed it open and closed. The grass beside the path needed cutting, while the flower beds on either side of the short set of stairs to the front door still flourished amid a tangle of weeds, though not much but azaleas were in bloom. The roses, planted in round mounds of mulch leading the way from the gate to the stairs, had been pruned and were beginning to shoot. Over to the side of the front yard, between the house and the fence, a scraggly Geraldton Wax leaned away from the wind, its purple geometrically arranged flowers whipped to a frenzy against the fence dividing this yard from the one next door.

I took the front stairs two at a time, as I always had, only remembering when I reached the landing, there was nothing worth running toward anymore. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. I hoped Mrs. Gill remembered me and that she had a room to spare.

“Mr. Harrison, you’re back!” Mrs. Gill pulled me into the entry and enveloped me in a lavender-scented hug. Then she pushed me away and fussed with the position of a bowl of camellias on the side table. They were the same color as the flowers at Carl’s grave. “Come on in and tell me when you got back.”

I followed the bustling woman down the long hallway—past the doors to the dining room and parlor, the stairs to the upper level, and the short hallway that led to boarders’ rooms and the downstairs bathroom—to the back of the house and stepped down the single step into the warm kitchen.

There were only good memories in this room. Mrs. Gill’s stove was the same model as my mother’s, but where my mother’s was dull black and smoked from its poorly cleaned flue, Mrs. Gill’s shone from Stove Black and produced a sweet, clean warmth that immediately soothed me. Mrs. Gill tapped the back of one of the wooden chairs as she passed. “Sit, sit, Mr. Harrison.”

She dragged a heavy kettle from the back right corner of the stove to the left, directly above the fire. I looked around the room as I sat. The scrubbed wooden table top was the same, but the large basket that usually contained fruit was gone. The potato sack hanging on the back of the open pantry door was half-full. On the floor in the pantry was a bucket filled with turnips and cabbages. The icebox in the corner of the room didn’t sweat as it usually did when freshly stocked with ice but appeared to be the same temperature as the rest of the room. The stone floor gleamed, clean and smooth in the early morning light that streamed in through the windows over the stove.

Outside, in the backyard, the vegetable patch brought memories of lazy Sunday afternoons in my room, laughing as Carl, naked and flushed from our loving, leaned out the window and tried to scare the crows from the corn. Tall stalks of corn and trellised beans waved in the breeze, but appeared neglected, overgrown with weeds, like a remnant of a better life that would never be seen again. The tall jacaranda tree in the back corner appeared unchanged, and provided shade over nearly half the yard. In front of the vegetable garden, over to the side of the privy, white sheets flapped in the breeze on lines strung across the yard from the small washhouse.

“I’ll make us a nice cup of tea, and you can tell me all that you’ve been doing since you came back and what you have planned now.” Mrs. Gill pulled down cups and saucers from the dresser against the wall facing the sink.

I sat and breathed deeply for the first time in what felt like months. Everyone else wanted to know about the war. They asked if I’d had fun in France and how many French women I’d met. They told me I must be “so proud to have served King and country” and be pleased to have driven the Huns back. I’m glad Mrs. Gill didn’t.

“So how are you settling back in, Mr. Harrison? Several of our young men from here never returned.” She cleared her throat. “But you’d know more about that than I would, I expect.” She placed a cup of steaming tea in front of me and pushed the sugar over. “We lost nearly half our chickens in a storm a few months ago, so it’s going to be difficult to keep eggs on the table until new ones arrive, but I’m sure we’ll manage, dear. We always do.” She sat and, pulling the saucer, drew her teacup toward her.

I flinched at the rattled china-scrape across the table.

Mrs. Gill added milk to her tea, picked up a teaspoon, and stirred it as she stared at the swirling liquid. “I suppose you’ve found better accommodations since you returned?”

“Actually, no, Mrs. Gill. I’ve been staying with my mother, but I was wondering if my old room was available.” My speech was as I had rehearsed, but my throat felt scratchy, like I wanted to cough or vomit. I had no idea what I’d do if Mrs. Gill had rented my room to someone else. The only thing I knew for sure was I couldn’t spend another night under my mother’s roof.

“Oh.” Mrs. Gill looked up at me, her faded blue eyes showing an endearing combination of surprise, pleasure, and dismay. “Actually, it’s not available, Mr. Harrison. I put Mr. Donnelly in your old room, on account of it being at the back of the house and quieter.”

I nodded and tried to smile, but my stomach churned. I twisted my fingers together in my lap, my nerves stretched so tight I thought I would start screaming and never stop.

“I expect you’re looking for a quiet room as well.” She considered me carefully for several seconds. I was relieved that she seemed to instinctively understand. “With so many motor cars around lately, all the front rooms will be too noisy for you. You could have Mr. George’s old room if you wanted.” After making this statement, Mrs. Gill jumped up, grabbed a cloth, and wiped the table down, then refilled my cup, even though I’d barely taken two sips from it.

“It’s not taken?” My heart pounded and I closed my eyes against the image of Carl, in pain, his eyes crying out his love for me even as he breathed his last. I didn’t know if I could go back into that room, yet part of me couldn’t stay away.

“No.” Mrs. Gill hesitated. “Some gentlemen don’t like the thought that someone died there, but you and Mr. George were such close friends, I thought you wouldn’t mind.”

The alternative was my mother’s. I’d rather be somewhere Carl had been. “I start back at the Post Office on Monday. Would I be able to move in today and pay the board after I receive my first wage?”

Mrs. Gill beamed at me. “Of course, dear. You didn’t bring anything with you?” She looked around the kitchen as if expecting to see a suitcase materialize even though we both knew I hadn’t arrived with anything. Mrs. Gill reached over and patted my arm. “It’s good to have you back, Mr. Harrison.”

I smiled at her. “And it’s good to be back, Mrs. Gill.”

For the first time since the ship had landed back in Australia, I meant those words.


I RETURNED to my mother’s house in the afternoon. Today was her library afternoon, in which she met several like-minded matrons at the local library and they discussed in hushed whispers the state of the neighborhood. It was cowardly, but I didn’t want to face her. I’d had enough of people screaming at me, and if I had to listen to one more of her tirades, I would say something irrevocable. As much as I no longer wanted to live with her, she was my mother, and I needed to treat her with as much respect as I was able to. Unfortunately, that meant behaving like the basest coward and running away.

I left a note on the kitchen table, collected my suitcase, and shoved the front door key under the door as I left.


CARL’S room felt like me: it looked the same, but it was empty. The washstand still held the same fluted blue-and-white basin and jug, but his brushes and shaving gear were gone. I laid out my toiletries precisely but on the opposite side of the basin from where he’d always stored his. After hanging my clothes in the single wardrobe, I pushed them to the left, leaving enough room for as many again beside them. Then I positioned the suitcase on its side on top of the wardrobe. I stared at the bed, but didn’t touch it. His bed had always been narrower than mine, so I’d never slept in it. If I closed my eyes, I could see Carl as he was the last time I saw him, belly swollen, bones broken, tears streaming down his face.

I didn’t close my eyes.

Mrs. Gill let me take one of the brocade wing-back chairs from the downstairs sitting room. I positioned it near the window, facing out so I could sit and look at the garden, with the branches of the jacaranda tree gracefully protecting the corner of the vegetable garden from the midday sun. I kept it at an angle so I could also see the door. On the floor beside the chair, I placed a sturdy branch that had fallen from the gum tree in the neighbor’s yard.

At dinner that night, I met the other boarders. I remembered one from my previous time there, but the other two were new. I forgot their names before I’d finished shaking their hands. They took their places at the dining table, leaving one place setting unclaimed. They sat silently and avoided looking at each other, a stark contrast to the noisy conversation that had heralded their arrival. The two other dining tables were bare of place settings. I went to the kitchen.

“Mrs. Gill, is there anything I can help you with?” I asked as I walked into the room.

A crash greeted me, and I looked over to see a tall, thin young man, with a head of unruly mahogany curls, crouched over a smashed plate. He frantically scooped scattered food onto the largest piece of plate. As I watched, blood bloomed on his hand, and I rushed over to him.

“Mr. Harrison, don’t.”

“You’ve cut yourself,” I murmured as I reached for the young man’s hand. “Let me see.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what happened next. One moment I crouched next to the injured man, the next I lay sprawled on the floor with food splattered over me and the young man curled into a whimpering ball, pressed against the wall beside the stove. His trousers rode up his ankles as he curled in on himself, but I could see the fabric gathering under his belt, a testament to recently lost weight.

“Mr. Harrison, come away now.”

I looked up to see Mrs. Gill standing on the far side of the table, concern etching wrinkles into her forehead.

“Come now, Mr. Harrison, I’ll put your dinner in the dining room with the others.” She loaded a large wooden tray with plates of steaming food and left. I glanced at the man on the floor, and I felt torn between doing as Mrs. Gill instructed and helping the man.

The whimpers had stopped, but the man hadn’t moved, his face resolutely hidden from me. I determined to ask Mrs. Gill about him after dinner, then went to eat my meal.

By the time I’d finished eating, I’d decided I would ask Mrs. Gill if I could eat in the kitchen from then on. Anything would be better than the uncomfortable silences alternating with generalized complaints against society that had accompanied my meal in the dining room.


“THAT’S Mr. Donnelly.” Mrs. Gill efficiently dried plates and put them in a stack with a clack. “I mentioned him this morning.”

“Is he…?”

“He was in the war, Mr. Harrison.” Mrs. Gill turned to stare at me. “I’m sure you know the kinds of things he might have experienced.”

Shell shock. I’d seen it before. Good soldiers, even great soldiers, started to sob and not stop, even when the medics came to carry them out. Others experienced flashbacks so bad they went on rampages and shot everything that moved. Hell, I’d even experienced some of that myself. I still had nightmares.

“How long has he been with you?”

“Only a couple of months. He just needs things quiet for a while, I think.”

Hence giving him the back bedroom. I placed my hand on her shoulder. “You’re a good woman, Mrs. Gill.”

Whistling in the Dark
Jack's expression of surprise lasted only an instant before a wicked leer took its place. As he sauntered over, Sutton's heart seemed to quicken to 2/2 time. He didn't know if Jack felt the same attraction, the one coursing with sudden heat through his blood. He wanted to think so—but Jack seemed to play to the crowd as he dropped onto Sutton’s lap and, draping both arms around his shoulders, drew closer for a kiss. Jack's breath warm in his face reminded him to breathe and he did so, audibly. But at the last second, Jack brushed his forehead with a brotherly buss and everyone exclaimed in good-natured protest.

Jack was unrepentant. "That's how they kiss in Kansas," he said and turned laughing eyes back to Sutton. "Tell 'em, Mabel."

Deciding to correct that misapprehension, Sutton took him by the lapels and kissed him. He could feel Jack's initial shock in the lack of response. Then Jack kissed back, sparking something neither of them could blame on the champagne. His momentum dropped them backward to the pillows, Jack still kissing him as if he never wanted to stop, and Sutton didn’t mind in the least if it went on forever. He ignored the whoops and whistles from their audience and Jack did too, until Theo stuck his nose in. "Would you gentlemen care for the key to my apartment?"

Jack broke from the kiss, meeting Sutton's gaze for barely an instant before turning to smirk at Theo. "Satisfied?"

Theo looked only more amused. "Just what I was about to ask you."

Disentangling themselves, they sat up and Jack made a show of straightening Sutton's coat and tie before rising to swagger back to his spot.

Sutton avoided all the laughing faces and wondered if he'd gone too far. No one else seemed to think so or care, so he tried not to care, either. But he couldn't bring himself to look Jack’s way until the game had broken up and the others had returned to dancing. By then, Jack had vanished in the crowd and before Sutton could look for him, Theo pounced to ask without pretense this time if he would play the piano again.


It was after midnight when Sutton wandered to the edge of the roof for a little fresh air and a sumptuous view. A welcome breeze blew in his face along the shadowed walk behind the palms. He found Jack leaning on the parapet, his features in unusually quiet repose as he took in the view. Unbidden came the thought that Jack was terribly handsome and rather dear, besides.

Jack looked around at his approach and smiled easily. "You ready to go home?"

"No, I just wanted to—well, I hope I didn't embarrass you earlier. In the game," he added, at Jack's puzzled look.

"Oh, that?" Jack laughed. "Nothing to worry about. Unless Topeka law says we're engaged."

"Not even promised. In our case, anyway." He felt foolish. The kiss had been part of a silly game. He shouldn't have brought it up.

"Champagne?" Jack picked up the bottle on the ledge and filled his empty glass.

"No, thank you. I think I'm done with that or I'll be sick."

Jack downed the glassful. "You've been to fancier parties than this. Your folks must throw some real hummers."

"Yes, just—decidedly different." He shuddered to imagine what his parents would think of the goings-on at Theo's.

"No kissing? Or dancing?"

"Dancing, of course. But of the proper sort."

Jack rolled his eyes. "A party's no place to be proper. Your folks don't know you dance with boys?"

"I never have," Sutton said, then realized Jack meant more than dancing.

"You always blush that easily?" Jack grabbed his hands and whirled him around in an unsteady circle.

"Jack, for heaven’s sake." But he couldn't keep from laughing.

"You can't fox-trot worth a damn, Mabel."

"Is that what you're trying to do?"

"Smug bastard." Jack grinned and pushed him. "You don't even know how to get good and drunk. I think you met me just in time."

Thin as Smoke #4
...Simon was lying back on the divan in his usual attitude of disinterest, one long leg hooked over the back of the too-short seat. He looked up with those heart-clogging eyes, and his sulky lower lip seemed to jut even more than usual. He rose from his indolent posture and moved toward Michael with feline grace.

“I cannot believe it. What is it about a simple tie that still clots your fingers?”

Michael had never admitted to Simon that he knew a thing or two about knots, except tacitly, on the occasions when he’d applied them to a silken cord around a bed dowel. Now he stood helpless while his partner moved behind him and began to finger the buttons on his shirt.

“First, you know, the shirt needs fastening.”

Michael felt Simon’s closeness at his back as he’d feel the heat from a raging fireplace, and his groin flared, huge and ready. “Please, love, would ye mind?” His prick was almost shouting, I need to fuck ye!

But Michael had learned through the painstaking process of living with Simon that he’d best not show his hand so soon. After all, the man was brilliant and knew precisely what besides Michael’s burly arm lay up his sleeve.

An’ what third fist is clenched in me pants.

He looked down to watch Simon’s lithe fingers push buttons through embroidered holes, traveling upward, perhaps accidentally brushing a rigid nipple, until they rested near the collar. The fingers seemed to move as if the air were thick as cottage soup…slow, light as pillow down…and then they found both ends of the tie. As if mesmerized, he saw those fingers stroke the mohair. An instant electric spark resonated from his gut to his asshole.

As his companion began to fold the ends into a wide Windsor, the blood fast pumping to his groin forced his turgid cock through the still-open fly. It seemed to erupt as a race horse would bolt from the starting gate. As he turned, Simon’s arms still circling his chest, he seemed to be accepting a lover’s tacit embrace.

Thank God, Simon did not move backward as he half-expected. Michael slid both hands around his neck, just under the jaw, letting his thumbs play with the windpipe. He heard the other man gasp a little, felt the explosion of air as he traced the moving lips with his darting tongue, then bent the head back while he wetly explored a ready mouth.

Simon did not try to wrest his body from Michael’s insistent cock as they kissed. Incredibly, his groin, a little lower than his own engorged prick, met his like a jackhammer. Hard, insistent, no feather-soft surface anywhere now. Just two hungry men whose hands were moving on each other’s ass…jagged breaths and ravening mouths sampling the skin of the other’s lips…now the cheeks, the ears, the hollow of throats…

Simon moaned, a sound that served only to madden his wanting prick. He picked up the man with both oversized hands grasping his rounded buttocks and began to carry him to the bedroom...

Merrick
God’s sakes.

I wasn’t even fighting it anymore.

When he touched me like that, even with just his gloved fingers on my head, it felt like every molecule in my body was drawn to the point of contact.

Was it loneliness? Was I lonely? Was that made me want to press against his broad chest and breathe in the warm, male scent of him? Was it loneliness that made me dream of his lips on my skin?

Merrick turned back to me, and I realized I’d fallen several paces behind. “Are you all right, William?”

“Yes, sir. Pardon me.”

He waited for me to catch up. “Are you unwell? You’re flushed.”

“No, sir.” Lord, I could feel it. I was flaming red. “It must be the air I’m unaccustomed to.”

His dark hood stayed fixed on me for a moment.

I fumbled. “Don’t you suppose that um…living in the city all that time, the lack of fresh air and all…maybe when a man gets out into nature, he feels so much more for the first time, say…that is, his body might experience a whole new spectrum of…”

Oh, for the love of... That wasn’t where I’d meant to head. “That is,” I tried again. “Of taste, and scent…senses, little parts of his body he’s never used, suddenly waking up, now that there’s something to stimulate them…”

I cursed myself silently.

“I think you’re right,” Merrick said simply, and turned away to continue on.

I grabbed my own face, scowling fiercely before I shook my limbs out and rushed to catch up to him.

The Psychic & the Sleuth
London, 1892
“I’m getting a name. I believe it starts with a W.” The young man in the checked jacket spoke in the sepulchral tone one expected from a Spiritualistic medium. Lush, dark lashes fluttered against his cheeks, and full lips parted as his eyebrows drew together in a frown.

He might sound the part, but his appearance was wrong, Court decided. His clothes, for one thing. Most mediums he’d observed wore dark, dignified clothing, as if to lend gravity to their incredible claims. Oliver Marsh’s scarlet waistcoat and checked jacket were too flashy by far for the role he was playing. Made him appear more like a fly-by-night salesman than a portal to the other world.

“Wilma? No. Winifred.” Marsh’s head cocked as though hearing an unseen voice whisper the name in his ear.

Court forced his eyes not to roll at the act. The young lady beside him gasped, and her limp, clammy hand gripped his tighter. “I have an aunt named Winifred. She died two years ago.”

The spiritualist inclined his head. “I’m getting the sense of her presence, a sense of great love and peace. She’s content on the other side, but she has a message she needs to deliver.”

Miss Abigail Fontaine leaned forward, eyes wide. “What does she want to tell me?”

Mr. Marsh’s frown deepened, and he moved his head slowly from side to side as though searching for a sound that came in intermittent bursts. “She says…” A long pause. “Don’t. There is something you are about to do, a big decision. She’s warning you against making the wrong choice.”

The redhead gasped again, and her grip on Court’s hand became almost painful. “Rodney? Aunt Winifred doesn’t approve of my fiancé, Mr. Pepperidge? But that’s impossible. Why not? Ask her why not?”

Court’s jaw tightened as he watched the medium play the young woman like an angler taking his time reeling in a fish. He didn’t know how Marsh had secured the details of the Fontaine woman’s engagement or why he would interfere. Perhaps her family or the Pepperidges didn’t approve the match and had paid Marsh to encourage Miss Fontaine to end it. Any scenario was feasible except for the possibility that Miss Fontaine’s aunt was actually transmitting a message from beyond the grave.

It was Court’s job to expose Marsh as a charlatan to stop him from taking money from gullible people. Posing as a believer, he’d observe the man until he was able to prove he’d fleeced a customer or coerced money from someone. Because he’d been too damned persistent on a case that hadn’t been assigned to him, Court no longer hunted murderers. It was some consolation to reflect that he would be stopping a predator. A man who gave false hope to the desperate was the lowest sort of scum.

He would maintain his cover so he could continue to interact with the spiritualist. Soon enough the false medium would be arrested, ending another shameful career.

Marsh paused and frowned some more, belaboring the effort it took to reach through the mists of time and space to reach the dead. “This spirit seems to feel your young man is not all he has represented himself to be. I’m getting two messages from her, a sense of deep love for you and a clear warning, but nothing more specific.”

Court had tracked another medium a few years earlier—that one had stolen works of art during weekend parties—and he’d been to enough séances now to know the routine. At this point, the medium usually snapped out of his or her trance, making a great show of weariness, and would leave the table. The excited guests would break for refreshments as they pondered his great spiritual gift and discussed the messages. In Court’s opinion, there was more thrill-seeking than actual spiritual resonance about these affairs.

But tonight the medium didn’t immediately open those long-lashed eyes. Instead, he held very still, and his face turned markedly pale. He caught his breath before he spoke again, and when he did, his voice was low and rasping, scraping up Court’s spine like a file. “There is another presence.”

Their hostess and fervent spiritualist, Lady Markham, was beside herself with excitement at the prospect of more messages from beyond. “Are you all right, Mr. Marsh?”

“Oh God.” Marsh grimaced as though in pain. “She is… She needs…” he stammered.

“Who? Do you have a name?” Lady Markham murmured, anxious not to break the medium’s concentration at this delicate moment.

“A flower. White. Not a daisy. She’s”—Marsh caught his breath and exhaled a name—“Lily.”

Court felt like someone had driven a fist into his stomach. Lily. The image of his cousin’s face came to him. God, he wished he could see a picture of Lily laughing, but no, he saw the moment of her death. Every detail from the blood oozing from the back of her head, to the anguish in her eyes just before they closed for the last time—he bit down on the inside of his cheek to stop himself seeing the rest. God damn Marsh.

“The man scared her. He said she’ll join the others.” Marsh’s voice was anguished and his expression contorted. It was quite a performance, and Court was having a hard time keeping his dyspeptic stomach from lurching. The medium must know he was a police inspector and his true purpose in attending the séance. But how had Marsh found out about Lily?

Marsh choked on a sob. “She’s looking at Robert.”

“Robert Littleton?” Lady Markham looked at the white-haired gentleman seated across the table from her.

“Not I, madam.” Littleton’s handlebar moustache twitched as he spoke. “There’s never been a woman named Lily in my life.”

Robert Court stirred uneasily. He hadn’t given his first name when he’d contacted Lady Markham about her interesting new protégé; he’d simply called himself Mr. Peeler, the name he often used for this sort of work.

What was Marsh’s goal? What did he hope to achieve by baiting him? Court wanted to let go of the sweaty palm of the man named Abernathy on his left and Miss Fontaine’s slender hand on his right to jump up and walk away from the table, but he mustn’t react to Marsh’s words. He couldn’t let any of them know who he truly was, and they would interrogate him if they thought the pronouncement from beyond held meaning for him.

“He said there were others,” the medium’s desolate voice continued. “Murder. Murder.”

“Oh my goodness.” The elderly woman beside Miss Fontaine broke the circle and reached for her handkerchief to dab at her forehead. “This is too much, Lady Markham. Entirely too much. I don’t wish to participate any longer.”

“Shh, Marjorie,” their hostess said. “A murderer’s identity may be revealed here tonight. What greater purpose could there be for these gatherings than to bring about truth and justice?” Diamonds flashed in Lady Markham’s ears, matching the sparkle in her eyes. Her ladyship was the type of woman who wore jewels even for an informal gathering with friends, overdressed and with too much time on her idle hands, but a caring person at heart, Court believed. She’d be appalled to learn she was the reason her good friend Mr. Marsh had come under the gaze of the authorities.

The relatively minor case of a spiritual medium had been handed to the serious-crimes officer because Marsh had begun to bilk the wealthy. Lord Markham disliked having his wife throw money at Marsh and had complained to Sir Bradford, the commissioner.

“Carry on, Mr. Marsh,” Lady Markham said. “What else does Lily say?”

Court studied the medium’s face, noting how his eyes darted back and forth beneath the lids. He was quite an actor, with a full arsenal of emotions in his quiver. Tears leaked from the corners of his closed eyes and rolled down his cheeks. Court watched in fascination as they dripped off that smooth-shaven jaw onto his crisp white shirt collar and felt a ridiculous urge to lean forward and wipe away the tears.

It’s all a sham, he reminded himself. Bits of facts stitched together with fancy. A swindler was adept at learning everything about the people he planned to cheat and then striking them at their Achilles’ heel. How Marsh had learned about the Lily Bailey case was all that mattered.

“He was stronger than I imagined. I didn’t listen to you about being careful, dear. I should have listened to you. Oh, Phillip,” Marsh whispered the words.

Court felt another blow to his gut, for only he had heard those words after he’d been summoned to the scene by the constable. She’d returned to consciousness for a few heartbeats, whispered the few garbled phrases, just as roughly as Marsh had, and no one else had been within hearing distance. Another thought came to him—there might be a simple explanation why Marsh might have been lurking so close. He could be the murderer.

The Bells of Time Square
Dawn of a New Age

“Mom, is he ready?”

If Nate Meyer could have smiled, he would have, but his face didn’t do that anymore.

“Blaine, honey, it’s freezing outside. Really? Are we really doing this?”

Nate closed his rheumy eyes. His wrinkled, liver-spotted hand shimmied as he plucked at the polyester blanket across his lap. Please, Stephanie. Please. The bells. I might hear the bells.

“Mom, he lives for this, you know that.”

Good boy. Blaine, such a good boy. Dark black hair, big brown eyes—couldn’t look more like me as a young man if we’d tried.

But then, Stephanie had married a nice boy, a dentist, with black hair and brown eyes as well, and she’d laughed about that. A good Jewish girl marrying a Jewish dentist—it was like she’d read a manual, yes? Her children would look almost frum. Nate and Carmen had laughed quietly about that as well, because Stephanie herself looked German. Her brother Alan had blond hair and brown eyes, although Nate suspected that after he hit twenty-five, the blond streaks had come from a bottle. Well, yes, a man could do that now, in these days. A man could dye his hair and not be accused of being a . . . What had Walter called them?

Poof. Yes, that was the word.

A man could streak his hair and dress himself fancy, and not be afraid of being a poof.

In his head, Nate laughed, and he could see himself as Walter had seen him: just like Blaine with his dark curly hair, dark-brown eyes, dark lashes, full lips, a slight space between his teeth, and a nose with a decided bow outwards. He’d always looked like a Jew, had never been ashamed of it, not even when he’d moved from his predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the Lower East Side to the barracks with the other USAAF privates, some of them from places in the country that had never seen a Jew before. That posting hadn’t lasted long, though.

Somewhere, somebody had seen his recruitment papers. The degree in art history meant nothing, but his father was a clockmaker, and Nate worked in his shop. His specialty? Cameras, the new and the old. And Nathan Meyer suddenly became a valuable commodity, didn’t he? Six-pointed star and all, Nate could work cameras, and in 1941, when Brits had just started figuring out how to outfit their Spitfires so the pilots didn’t die and the cameras didn’t freeze, that man who could take a picture was like gold, wasn’t he?

Nate hadn’t hidden his gloating, either, when he’d been recruited by the OSS while in the USAAF. He’d been inducted into the 25th Tactical and Reconnaissance Wing—more specifically, the 654th bombardment. Him, Nate Meyer. Even he had something special, something the OSS needed.

It had started with the clocks. Everyone had something to contribute, because that was the war, right? Even Nate’s mother had planted a victory garden in the flower bed she kept in the little concrete apron behind the family brownstone. Before the crash, when Nate was a little boy, she’d worn gloves when dusting to keep her hands soft. And now, with the crash and the war? She was gardening!

And Nate, who had needed to beg his father to buy an old Brownie and then had taken it apart, put it together, learned all the words—f-stop, shutter speed, lens width, scope—while his father complained bitterly about the newfangled thing and the expense of the invention, that Nate now had a special skill to offer. So he got the promotion and the raise in pay and the better bunk, and all for taking pictures.

His father hadn’t been so proud. Pictures? What good were pictures? Officers needed pictures; the war needed men! But of course, pictures of officers were what Nate had told his parents he took so his letters home didn’t look like a picture puzzle. In reality, his pictures were very different . . .

“Grandpa? Are you ready yet?”

Not so ready. Because my body is meat, boy, and no amount of wiping it off or swaddling it in these acrylic afghans your mother makes will render it more than meat.

Blaine didn’t hear him, of course. He was a strong boy, and Nate had enough of himself to wrap his arms around Blaine’s neck so the boy could lift him up from his bed and set him in his wheelchair. Stephanie’s husband—another good boy. Oh, Nate was surrounded by good boys. He was grateful—had a ramp installed. So thank heavens, there would be no bump-kerthump, bump-kerthump, as there had been so often in the first days after the stroke.

“Mom! Where’s his coat? The thick wool one, with the leather gloves in the pocket?”

“Blaine, do you really want to—”

There was a knock at the front, and Stephanie left off her nagging, probably to open the door.

“That’s Tony,” Blaine said. He had always liked talking to Nate and had kept up the habit of it even after Nate couldn’t talk anymore. Nate might find it irritating as hell, but at least Blaine talked about real things. He certainly could do without Stephanie’s yammering about buying something new for the house. He hated the new things—the new tile, the new tables—because her mother had worked so hard for the old things. It felt disloyal, this opening of the house, the sunshiny colors, the skylight over the living room. Hearing Stephanie justify these things to Nate—that only hurt him more.

But Blaine talked about politics, he talked about books.

And because Nate couldn’t talk, couldn’t tell, couldn’t condemn, Blaine also talked about Tony.

Nate lived for Blaine’s monologues about Tony.

At first it had been Tony’s mind—the funny things that Tony had said. Tony was in Blaine’s sociology course at NYU, and he had the best things, the best shows, the best songs.

Then it had been Tony’s laughter, the jokes that he told and how he liked action-adventure movies and didn’t like the Oscar ones because they were too sad. Blaine had been disappointed by this at first, because Blaine himself was always so serious, always so worried about tomorrow. But Nate had listened, and Blaine had started to laugh at himself more, appreciate that you needed to laugh in order to work toward a better tomorrow.

Sometimes Blaine would talk about how he’d been giving Tony lessons about being a Jew, which made Nate laugh inside. When Nate had been Blaine’s age, he hadn’t even spoken Yiddish in an attempt to not align himself with his father or any of the traditions that Nate had been forced to follow, simply because they were traditions. He had changed when he’d come home from the war, embraced those stories, loved those traditions, for Carmen’s sake, for his own, for his family’s.

And Blaine had learned to love them as well. Blaine would study the Passover Seder stories and the Purim stories, and tell them to Tony, and then come home and tell his zayde all about Tony’s reactions. So yes, Nate had heard all about Tony’s love of a good story.

More recently, he’d heard all about Tony’s smile.

But Nate had yet to meet Tony, and now, hearing the suppressed excitement in Blaine’s voice, he was suddenly excited, as well. He was going out, out into the cold to listen for the bells, and he would get to meet Blaine’s Tony. He made an effort then, worked hard, and a sound came out. A happy sound, he hoped.

“You like that?” Blaine smiled while he helped Nate into his coat. “You want to meet Tony? He’ll like you. I told him you were a hero in the war, you know? He thought that was pretty awesome.”

Awesome—everything these days was awesome or excellent or wonderful. What about Blaine’s generation made them talk in superlatives? Nate missed the days when you could understate things, when it would be nice or nifty or interesting instead.

Of course, if Nate had lived in a time when your whole life could be accomplished on a little glowing box on the kitchen table, well then, everything might indeed have been awesome, wouldn’t it?

But Blaine didn’t hear Nate’s thoughts on awesome.

“I wanted him to meet you. I mean, I know you can’t exactly tell him stories, Zayde, but you know . . .”

You wanted to know if I would welcome him, love him as you do already. You wanted to know if Zayde would bless you and make it all good, even if your mother would say to stop this mishegas already, there is no gay in her family.

The moment stretched on achingly as Blaine helped him with his gloves. Nate remembered this boy when he was a child. He would cling to Nate’s hand, bury his face in Nate’s thick wool coat whenever they went outdoors during the holidays. New York, even the Upper East Side, was loud and frightening for a small boy. And now, the boy had found another hand to help him through, and he wanted to know if his Zayde would bind their hands together, like a rabbi at a wedding.

Nate longed to give his blessing.

Blaine buttoned up Nate’s coat. He was sweltering inside it, but, well, it was better than freezing as soon as they made it outside. Blaine was in the middle of tucking another blanket around Nate’s lap when he turned.

“Tony!” The warmth of his voice, the pitch of the enthusiasm, told Nate far too much about how hard it was to be here, wrapping his grandfather up like a swaddled child, to help him honor this old tradition.

“Is he all ready?” Tony asked cheerfully, and Nate’s good eye focused on him.

Oh my. The left side of his face could still move, and he knew he was smiling in pleased surprise.

Tony was a handsome boy, with skin nearly the color of Nate’s black wool coat and teeth that gleamed against that dark skin. Oh, look at them! Boys who could look at each other and smile like that, dark skin and six-pointed star and all.

If Nate could have spoken, he would have said Awesome! or Excellent!

Blaine . . . such a good boy.

Of course, Nate’s father would have said no such thing about Blaine’s choice. But then Selig Meyer had not been a fan of Carmen when she had first followed Nate home from the library in the fall of ’47—although he’d never said so to her face. Too fair, too blue eyed, too delicate, even though her parents went to the same temple as Nate’s family, when his father went at all. But he’d come to love her—probably more than he loved his only son—by the end.

A boy—any boy, no less a boy like this one—would have sent Nate running from the city, his father’s outraged disappointment chasing him like a black wave.

But then, no boy had ever really appealed to Nate after Provence Claire La Lune. No girl, either, but Carmen had been kind, and determined. A marriage—a kosher marriage—had been no less than her ultimate goal, and Nate, so lost after the war, what was he to do?

“Hereyago, Mr. Meyer!” Tony was right behind him, pushing the chair down the ramp, holding the back of it so very low to keep it from pitching. “Blaine’s been looking forward to this for a week, you know. Kept trying to tell me about the bells.”

Nate glanced around, his right eye rolling frantically in the useless, drooping side of his face. He made a noise then, a panicked and inarticulate noise, because—

“Blaine’s back in the house, Mr. Meyer,” Tony said quickly. “No worries. You got no worries at all. He was just checking with his mom. Didn’t want her to panic none, ’cause he said he was going to edge in close to 37th Street tonight, and it’s a bit of a walk, and sort of a riot, but you know that.”

Nate let out a long exhale, and the slap of the wind tried to steal that breath from him as it went. Of course, of course. Blaine would not leave him in the hands of someone who would not care for him. That was not his way.

“You ready?” Blaine called from the top of the stairs. “Ready, Grandpa? We’re going to stop down at the corner for some hot chocolate, and then make our way toward Times Square.”

“Man, that place is gonna be crowded. Do you really wanna go all that way?”

Nate couldn’t be sure, but he thought there might have been a touch of . . . something. There was a pause that bespoke intimacy, of that he was certain.

“We’re not going all the way into the square,” Blaine said quietly. “We’re going near the square. Close enough to hear church bells, if there are any.”

“Church bells,” Tony said blankly. “I know you told me this, but why are we listening for church bells again? Do church bells even ring on New Year’s at Times Square?”

I don’t know, Nate thought. I never heard them.

“And besides, aren’t you Jewish?”

Blaine laughed shyly. “You really have to ask?”

Tony’s return laugh was fond. “No, I guess not. So why church bells? Why not temple bells or something?”

Blaine sighed. “I’m not really sure. It’s just . . . It’s weird, really. Grandpa, for as long as I can remember, he’s gone on a walk on New Year’s Eve—Mom said he did it when she was little too. Grandma never went. He always said he was listening for bells.”

Once. My Carmen went once. Then she gave the walk to me, my once a year, to listen for church bells.

“That’s sort of cool,” Tony said, and Nate could feel his regard. For a moment, Nate was the handsome, strapping man who had gone off to war, and he was confused. Wasn’t he wounded, slight, limping on the damaged body that kept him from returning to active duty, the lone stranger in any crowd? Older, seasoned, a child on his hip and one by the hand? Middle-aged, successful, a hard-working photographer with his own exclusive Manhattan boutique?

Old, bereft, a widower, remembering how to make his own toast and the reasons a man should get out of bed in the morning?

Helpless, afloat in his own head, his body a lingering wreck of lung sounds and heartbeats, his only power in his thrice-weekly visits to the pool with an aqua teacher?

Young and in love, holding his male lover to his chest after the fury of the mishkav zakhar, the one act between men that was considered unforgivable, that reshaped the hearts of them both.

Oh God, the merciful and wise, who was Nathan Selig Meyer, and where was he in time?

The distant sound of shouts called him to the present, the faraway merriment reminding him that those shouts of joy were just out of his reach.

Walter, are you there? Are they ringing the bells? I can’t hear the bells!

“Here we go, Grandpa,” Blaine said, pulling the wheelchair back next to a bench. They were in a lovely neighborhood, not too far from the statue of the tailor and the needle. He used to see stage actors here, sometimes. Nate didn’t know if they owned or rented, but he loved the excitement of walking down the street and, Hey! There was someone you’d seen perpetrate magic on the stage or the screen.

He enjoyed this place, this bench under the tree. Blaine had chosen well.

He could hear Blaine and Tony sitting down on the bench beside him, talking animatedly, in a way that bespoke great familiarity.

“So, we’re out here to hear bells that don’t get rung?” Tony sounded skeptical, but playful too.

“Yeah,” Blaine replied shyly. “I mean, I looked it up once. The most I could get was a reference, mind you, that a nearby church rang bells on New Year’s Eve during the war.”

“Did you keep it?”

“Are you kidding? You’ve seen me study!”

Tony made an exasperated sound. “Augh, kid, you are killing me. You know I live for this stuff.”

“I’m a year younger than you, smart-ass, but look here. I brought you something.”

Nate saw Blaine pull something out of his coat, and inside, he smiled.

“Oh wow! A scrapbook!”

“Yeah, apparently my great-grandmother kept a scrapbook of Zayde—”

“Thereyago, talking Jewish to me again!”

Blaine laughed, but it wasn’t embarrassed. “Yiddish, Tony. We call it Yiddish, and I only know a few words. It’s like ‘Grandpa,’ but, you know, affectionate, like ‘Papa’ or ‘Grampy’—Zayde.”

A speculative silence then. “Zayde . . . That’s nice. What about, you know . . .” And now Tony was the shy one. “What I want to call you, but nothing sounds right.”

“Mmm.” Blaine’s voice fell, then rose intimately. “Tateleh, I think.”

Tony laughed a little. “That don’t hardly sound real. But, you know, better than ‘baby.’”

“Oy gevalt!” Blaine exaggerated, and they both laughed again, the sound low and personal. “Anything’s better than ‘baby’!”

More laughter, and instead of feeling excluded, Nate felt the opposite. Like he was in on the joke, in on the secret. He knew something about these two young men that nobody else did.

“Seriously,” Tony said, the laughter in his voice faded and sad. “You got all these traditions—”

“Not so many, now,” Blaine said quickly. “My grandparents, they were Reformed Jews—sort of like, modern but, you know, you gotta say it different. I’m not sure if Zayde believed, exactly, but he thought it was important. Traditions were important to him—us belonging somewhere. He said that a lot to my mom, that we needed a chance to belong. He wanted that. But”—and Nate could imagine Blaine’s shrug—“my parents, they barely made it to temple.”

“You got a bar mitzvah, though,” Tony chided.

Blaine grunted. Direct hit. “It was a party, you know? I said some verses, recited some Torah, got the party. Mom didn’t want her neighbors to think we couldn’t afford it; it was a status thing.”

“But you liked the words. You told me that. The words mean something to you.”

“Yeah, but only the good ones. Why is this important, anyway?”

It was Tony’s turn to grunt, and Nate couldn’t see, couldn’t turn his head, but he heard what sounded like a kiss. On the cheek, on the hand, on the lips, Nate couldn’t be sure, but men, they didn’t sit and kiss parts of each other when they were talking about sports or the weather.

“Because it is,” Tony said lowly. “I want to look at your family scrapbook and say, ‘Hey! That’s my boyfriend’s history!’ Is that so bad?”

“No.” There were more kissing sounds, and Nate burned inside to talk to them, to tell them, to explain. The Orthodox rabbis said one thing and the Reformed rabbis said another. It was supposed to be okay if you were that way, as long as you didn’t act on it, but Nate had been young, he’d felt the pull, the strength like steel springs, binding a human heart to another. What was talk of an unseen God when the world had fallen to chaos? All was hell and violence—how bad could the mishkav zakhar be?

“Does your mom know?” Blaine asked when the kissing sounds stopped. “Did you tell her?”

“About you? No.”

Blaine grunted shortly, but it sounded hurt, not angry.

“You need to be ready to come out to your family first, you know that right?” Tony said sternly, and it must have been an argument they’d had before, because Blaine’s sound changed.

He sighed instead. In Nate’s line of vision, a parade of cars trolled slowly down the street, headlamps slicing through the darkness like the wind was currently slicing through Nate’s coat. Light, steel, it all found a way in.

“But my mom knows about me,” Tony said, sighing. “I told you that. When I was a little kid, I said I liked boys. She cried, she tried to talk me out of it, she threatened to have my uncle beat the gay out of me. But Uncle Jason wouldn’t do it, and in the end, she just accepted it. I just had to be . . . you know . . .”

“Stubborn,” Blaine said. “You.”

Nate wanted to see them. More cars wandered the night, but in his mind, he saw that beautiful young man with the skin like night touching Blaine’s hair, his forehead, his cheek. Tenderness, Nate imagined. There would be tenderness.

Abruptly, his skin—which had deadened, had become blind to the realm of touch—ached for tenderness like amputees were said to ache for missing limbs. Once, Nate had known such tenderness, and he would never feel it again, not in this body.

“Would they cut you off?” Tony asked. “If you came out? If we moved in, like we’ve been talking about?”

“Eh . . .” Blaine said uncertainly. “I don’t know.” Nate heard rustling, and from his finite line of vision, he saw Blaine’s knees shift so the boy was facing Nate. “I don’t think Grandpa would, even with all the tradition, because . . . I don’t know. Because he was just too good a guy. But my mom, well . . .” He grunted. “I heard my grandpa call her kalta neshomeh once, when she was redecorating the house after Grandma died. He was hurt, you know? I mean, she said he was just being cheap because, well, I guess it was a thing. The Depression had everybody saving money and stuff, but it was more than that— All of Grandma’s stuff was getting put in storage and sold, and Grandpa was shoved into a room and . . . and it wasn’t right.”

“So what does it mean?”

“I had to ask our rabbi. I think he yelled at Grandpa for it too. It means ‘cold soul.’”

Tony’s low whistle made Nate smile inside. Oh yes, yes I did call her that. She deserved it, selling her mother’s things like that. No, we did not go to temple as often as we could have, but we had a happy home. Those things should not have been sold as if they had no meaning. Carmen’s old jewelry boxes, her costume jewelry, the desk where she’d done the store and family accounts for more than forty years. Couldn’t Stephanie have waited until Nate died? It wasn’t like he had more time than anyone else! Of course, Nate chuckled inwardly, that had been six years ago, and he was still hanging around. Perhaps he did have more time!

“Wow,” Tony said in the resulting quiet. Then, low voiced, urgent: “I have my own apartment. You have a job working at the hospital. I mean, we’ve talked about it before, but even if they cut you off, you could move in anyway. You know I want you with me, right?”

“I want to be there too,” Blaine said plaintively. “But my mother—”

“I mean, you could still be a doctor, even if your mother doesn’t want to pay for school. You’d have to take out loans and stuff, but, it’s like, people are always so afraid of not having any money, but whether you have it or not, you’re living your life, and that’s the fun part, right? If you’ve got food, a roof over your head—”

He was so urgent, so upset. Nate wanted to reassure him. He loves you, Tony. Don’t worry. Our boy will do the right thing.

“Sha shtil, tateleh,” Blaine said, and his knees shifted in Nate’s vision again. Nate could picture them, Blaine holding Tony so that his face buried into Blaine’s deceptively wide shoulder, their faces close together, a dropped kiss on Tony’s forehead. “I hear you.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have anything to say to me!” There was a rustle, and Tony must have stood up because so did Blaine. Nate gave up chasing cars in the darkness. He closed his eyes and saw the boys—his boys—like a movie.

Oh, Walter. It looks like a good one. A romance—I wonder how it ends.

“I want to say yes,” Blaine murmured. “But I need to ask Zayde.”

“You need to ask—”

Yes, bubeleh, I am confused, as well.

“Don’t say it,” Blaine told him softly. “I just . . . I want so badly to talk to someone in my family, do you understand? He’s the one person who told me about tradition and about banding together with people who care about you, and he’s the one person who can’t say he doesn’t love me anymore.”

“I hear you.” An ironic pause. “Bells, huh?”

“Yes. I am not so sure we will hear any tonight, but if we do, maybe we should take it as a sign, you think?”

“I think I’m freezing my ass off, that’s what I think. You said coffee?”

“Thank you. See it? Three blocks up.”

“Yeah, I know. Is your gramps gonna want some?”

“Get him hot chocolate—me too, for that matter. I’m not such a fan of coffee.”

Tony’s briskness faded, and Nate saw a hand, covered in a bright-red wool mitten, reach out and pluck off Blaine’s hat so the other hand could ruffle his curly hair. Tony stepped into Nate’s vision and placed the hat carefully on Blaine’s head before kissing him on the forehead.

“I know you’re not,” he said fondly. “I’m just as happy you prefer ‘hot chocolate.’”

Blaine choked on a guffaw. “That was awful. Oh my God, I should break it off with you just for that!”

“You wouldn’t really—” beat “—would you?”

“No. Oh God, no. I just need a minute, Tony. Just, let me swallow it all. Coming out, moving out, is . . . irrevocable. I want to be sure.”

“The fact that you take it so seriously? That’s why I love you. That’s why it’s worth the wait. Just know that all I want for both of us is— Is there a Yiddish word for ‘everything’?”

“I don’t know,” Blaine said softly, and they were standing so close!

“That’s what I want for you,” Tony said, and this time the kiss was personal, intimate, on the lips.

Nate couldn’t look away.

Alz. Alz is the word. That’s what you want for each other. Alz. Isn’t that what we wanted, Walter? Isn’t that what you wanted for us? Wasn’t that what we were looking for, listening for, with the bells?

But Walter didn’t answer, and Nate watched in frustration as Blaine’s Tony disappeared into the night, looking for the coffee shop. The lights around them, from the streets, from the cars, were swallowed up, and the darkness washed over his vision like a closed shutter, and when the shutter opened again, he was back, back in 1943, before Walter, before Carmen, when his world was narrowed to the tiny bunk with Hector and Joey and the missions he flew and the danger and the horror of a war that had swallowed the world . . .

Recon

“That’s a dame!” Joey Shanahan muttered after a low whistle. “Hey, Meyer. Did you get that shot?”

Nate glanced up from the viewfinder of his 35mm Leica Rangefinder and whistled, pretending he’d noticed the pretty WAAF officer walking across the field of Harrington.

He hadn’t. He’d been framing the big, powerful B-4 bombers instead.

“Yeah, you should get a picture!” Joey nodded, decidedly enthusiastic. Joey had apparently been striking out with women on a regular basis. He wasn’t a bad-looking kid, really, Nate thought objectively. He stood average height, with dark-blond hair and blue eyes—the picture of the Irish people in the same way Nate was the picture of Jewish descent—and his mouth was wide and smiled easily. He even had sort of a crooked-grinned charm, but oy! Could that boy talk!

“You know, you should take a lot more pictures of dames in your spare time, you know that? I mean, you get the air base, the crowds, the seashore—why don’t you got any dames?”

“For one thing, I don’t call them that,” Nate said, pulling a corner of his mouth up in faint derision. He liked Joey, liked him fine. If he was taking pictures of people right now, he’d take a picture of Joey, eyes as guileless as the sea. But Joey seemed to be incredibly single-minded about the thing—the one thing—Nate had never had a particular interest in. Oh yes, Nate did admire a pretty girl sometimes; pretty girls made pretty pictures. But he wasn’t interested in spending his leave in some strange woman’s bed. It wasn’t kosher—there was supposedly no joy in that sort of sex, and while Nate’s parents hadn’t been Orthodox, they had raised him in the traditions out of a sense of obligation if nothing else.

And, well . . . girls just didn’t appeal. Not even a little, not to touch, not to linger over. But the new mission—that’s what appealed to him.

The missions were risky, which held an allure all its own. Risk meant you were doing your part, right? And flying in low in the middle of the night, dropping the M46 photoflash bombs to take pictures—it didn’t get much riskier than that. So much for his father saying Nate wasn’t a real man with the camera, that he couldn’t do his part with a degree in art history and no military skills whatsoever. Nate had been in the cockpit for six Joker missions thus far, and every damned one of them scared the hell out of him.

Of course, Joey and Hector were flying Red Stockings, and those weren’t a joke, either. They had to fly at high altitude, find a specific spot, and circle until Hector picked up the signal from the OSS officer who’d been dropped behind enemy lines earlier. Tough gig for Joey, circling around and around like that while Hector fiddled with the recording equipment to find the signal. Tougher still for the guy on the ground transmitting information and requesting information back—and hoping not to get killed!

Nate’s pilot, Captain Albert Thompson, RAF, was a stolid sort—late thirties, lived for his weekly letter from his wife and two children. Nate depended on him to get them home safely, and Albert depended on Nate to competently assure him that their foray into darkness hadn’t been in vain. Together, they were nothing like the fiery Hector and Joey, and Nate appreciated that. Three nights before, they’d been over Belgium when they’d been spotted by the Jerries. Albert had flown, closed mouthed, until they’d reached the air territory over St. Croix, and the stationed Allied planes had moved in and intercepted while Nate had taken pictures with a quiet resolve. Of course, it was dark, and even with his training and the special lens, Nate had only a general notion as to what he was looking for. But that didn’t matter, now did it? What mattered was that his pictures would be developed and analyzed, and the installations he was photographing would either be announced useful for the war effort or too crowded with civilians to destroy. Either way, it was necessary information to have, and Nate was proud.

“What’s wrong with calling a girl a dame? Hector, did you hear that? He thinks I’m not a gentleman enough to get a girl!” Joey sat at a folding card table in the sun outside their barracks, doing nav calculations for their next run. Most guys did their calculations once, twice, and then they were through, but Joey didn’t make it through high school before he started working at his father’s bar. He was smart, whip smart, and he wasn’t going to let anybody say that some uneducated Mick blew a mission because he couldn’t do the goddamned math.

“You’re not,” Hector said, grinning. He leaned up against the door with his face to the thin English sun. Having spent his whole life in Southern California, he was only truly happy when his bronze skin was glutted with sunshine, like an exotic houseplant or a napping cat. So far, England had proved a vast disappointment to him, but Hector wasn’t the complaining sort. Nobody at this base even knew what Chanukah was, which was why Nate had given Hector a postcard of St. Croix for Christmas so he’d always have a little sunshine. Hector hadn’t said much at the time, but he slept on one of the bottom bunks, and the postcard was right above him every time he woke.

“I am too a gentleman,” Joey muttered, mapping out his nav coordinates for the third time. “If I wasn’t a gentleman, I wouldn’t do such a good job of escorting you home!”

Hector laughed loudly, with his mouth open, as though he expected everyone to share the joy. Nate loved that about him: he was unapologetic about who he was. He spoke Spanish with a big, booming voice and proudly displayed a picture of himself, dancing with his girl, in a zoot suit that he claimed to be sky blue and gold, and spoke of fondly. “Me and the other pachucos, we’d dance the sailor boys to shame, you know?” Even after the riots, Hector showed that photo, because he wasn’t going to run scared just because the sailor boys had no sense of humor.

“Yeah, you take real good care of me, sweetheart. But maybe try those skills on someone who hasn’t seen you scratch your balls and your ass and brag about it while in the shower.”

Nate laughed, and after a year in the service, he didn’t even blush. He’d gone to a private school, and while boys could get crude in the locker rooms anywhere, it was when they said things like that out under the sun, where even women could hear you, that had made Nate uncomfortable at first. But only at first.

But then, he’d been watching Joey Shanahan scratch his balls and his ass simultaneously for nearly three months—ever since he’d been assigned here, specialized camera equipment and all. There weren’t so many OSS officers here at Menwith Hill that Nate could afford to alienate his roommate because he didn’t like the way the guy talked about scratching his balls.

Besides, watching Joey check and recheck the calculations reminded Nate of what Hector had said repeatedly: Joey wasn’t letting anyone die on his watch, particularly not the guy who had his back whenever they went looking for girls.

“You like it,” Joey retorted. “If you didn’t see me scratch my ass in the morning, you’d forget you needed that extra blanket to keep your pansy ass warm.”

Hector squinted at the gray sky and shuddered. “Nobody’s warm today, that’s for certain.”

No, not on this chilly day in March.

“It would be this cold in New York,” Nate said, thinking. He found he didn’t miss his family’s brownstone or his father’s small watch shop at all. He hadn’t waited for Pearl Harbor, no. Nate had watched, along with the rest of his family, as the Nazis had become more than just a frightening rumor, threatening their kin overseas, and metamorphosed into a terrifying, mind-twisting reality. Friends’ cousins had disappeared, letters had ceased, pleas to the State Department for news had gone unheeded. Nate’s Uncle Lev, whom he had never met, became a ghost on the tongues of his father and mother, overnight, one more mortal caution to haunt the brownstone, next to Nate’s dead brother and the children his mother’s body had not been able to sustain.

“Yeah?” Hector asked. He pulled a cigarette from the ever-present pack in his pocket and offered one to Joey. Joey demurred, because he was still working and he didn’t smoke when he was working, and Nate simply didn’t smoke. At first the guys had assumed it was because he was a Jew; that he was too fastidious to like the taste was beyond them.

“Yes,” Nate said, staring at the grayness ruminatively. “In fact, it would be even more bitter.” He cracked a smile. “Of course, in New York, they don’t have to put on flight gear and go miles into the air.”

A sudden silence descended then. There was a big push tonight in the 654th. More than two hundred of the men stationed at Menwith Hill were with tactical surveillance, and Nate figured that between him and Hector, they’d counted over twenty planes that were going up this night. Not a weather advance, which meant more dogfights and more casualties, but a surveillance push. Several planes going off to all quarters of Europe, some Joker, some Red Stocking, all of them with urgent orders that they didn’t share with anyone else. American, RAF—everybody was going up in the sky to see what was what.

Nate, who only played chess a little, thought about the way the old men in the park would sit back, surveying the entire board over their noses before letting go of a long, considering breath.

This moment right here was the Allied equivalent of sitting back, sliding their hands under their suspenders, and saying, Hmm, what is it we have to work with here, before beginning the game in earnest.

Sometimes, an awful lot of pawns would be left, rolling alongside the board, before those moments behind the chessboard ended. Nate worried about those pawns like he worried about the entire board. In fact, he worried more.

“Hey,” Hector said lowly, in the kind of voice that made Nate sidle a little closer, even aware that he and Joey were the only ones within earshot anyway.

“Yeah?”

“Where’re you going tonight?” Hector asked. “I mean, not specific-like, just, you know. Country at least, okay?”

“Germany,” Nate said without compunction for spilling secrets. There were no secrets between the three of them. “But I don’t know specifically where. You?”

“France. Some place called Provence Claire La Lune. Our operators down there say we might talk to some resistance fighters—our guys are supposed to encourage that, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah? Well, that’s a good thing.”

“I know it. What about you?”

Nate grunted. “The usual—take a picture at these coordinates—again? Got no clue. A month later, those coordinates are pulverized to powder. Or not.”

Hector grunted back. “It’s not personal enough,” he growled. “The Jerries, they don’t like the color of our skin, who our parents are—feels like a knee to the balls. We go five miles up and listen to voices—”

“Or two miles up and take pictures of clouds,” Nate finished for him. “Yes. Impersonal means for a very personal war. I understand. But what’s to do? Our skills weren’t marching and shooting, they were pictures and listening. It’s what we can—”

“You ready?” Albert stalked around the corner in midconversation. Well, he often did that—he didn’t like small talk for one thing. For another, he was in charge of settling new recruits. He met with his staff sergeants in the morning—the mother hen of the Menwith Hill barracks. He was busy, and he had no time to worry about OSS recruits with one lousy skill.

“We’re not going until . . .” Nate left the end meaningfully. He hadn’t been given a time; that was Albert’s purview.

“Twenty-one hundred,” Albert told him shortly. “Be outfitted and ready to belt in, yeah?” As though Nate had ever not been ready to belt in. “Meet me on the field, no fucking off to spank your monkey or bugger the rabbi or whatever the hell else you blokes do.”

“Yes, sir!” Nate saluted, because Albert was a superior officer and for no other reason. “Sir?” he asked, when it looked like Albert was going to stomp off.

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Where we going tonight?”

Albert grimaced. Yes, all destinations were classified, but it did help a photographer to know what he was dealing with. Albert called Nate over with a jerk of the head, and Nate left off his insouciant pose against the barracks.

“Stuttgart, like that means anything to you,” he said, voice low enough for Joey and Hector to be left out. “Looks like there’ll be good cloud cover, but there’s nothing friendly for pretty much everywhere. Be prepared to keep a sharp lookout and not just through the viewfinder. Can you do that or is it some sort of holy day?”

“I’m up for the job, sir!” Nate saluted again, and Albert glared, then stalked off. A good pilot, but not a kind man, at least not to Nate. And it was clear his heart was so very with the family he saw once a month on leave. Well, good for him. He could see family on leave. Nate couldn’t—and apparently Hector and Joey could only get hints of getting laid, and not all of that was Joey’s fault.

“Really, Meyer,” Joey asked, looking up from his calculations and leaning on his elbows, “what did you do to that guy?”

“Besides make him fly reconnaissance?” Nate asked with a shrug. “I have no idea. You think it’s because I’m a Jew?” That was rhetorical, of course.

“They don’t got Jews in England? Get out!” Hector laughed, turning his head to spit. “I thought that was Hitler’s problem. They got Jews everywhere!”

Nate raised an eyebrow. “We’re not cockroaches, but yes. Jews populate Europe much like Catholics—wherever there is a warm place to breed.”

Hector and Joey didn’t take offense; they laughed instead. No, you could not spend months smelling your roommates’ farts and not learn to be tolerant of one another’s differences. Of course, Hector had started to thaw with the postcard of St. Croix. With Joey, it had taken a tiny gold pin of the cross, which Joey wore on his hat, underneath the brim. Not Nate’s faith, no, but then, giving it some honor had made Joey feel like it wasn’t under attack by Nate’s very “otherness.” He had friends from college who would have been angry at this—why should Nate pacify the ignorant?

But Hector had his zoot suits, and Joey had his crosses, and Nate had the six-pointed star he wore under his shirt with his dog tags on every mission. His father may have thought Nate was weak for becoming friends with the gentiles, but Nate had to believe that faith and goodness were things to respect. Wasn’t that what his own faith taught?

He had only needed to spend a week playing cards, listening to Joey’s record player, and exchanging family stories with Hector, to know that if these men didn’t come back from their mission, or the next, or the next, he should be very sorry.

“Have we all put our letters under our pillows?” Nate asked carefully in the silence following Albert’s departure.

“Same letter as last time.” Joey grunted. “I’m starting to think it’s a good luck charm.”

“Yeah, well, as much as the captain hates me, I’m thinking I can take all the luck I can get.”

Hector grunted in return. “I’d let Joey here fly you, but he’s the only one who doesn’t scare the hell out of me at thirty thousand.” Hector shuddered. “Dios. What a man like me is doing in that much cold, I don’t even want to think about.”

Nate smiled at him, liking him very much. “Penance,” he said, eyes twinkling. “For all the bad deeds you’ve left to do.”

Hector laughed again, and Nate felt an unfortunate stir in the pit of his stomach. No. No. Not this. Not this, that had kept him aloof from his fellows through school. Not this, fear of seeing the sun on a cheekbone, filtered through someone’s eyelashes, or the shadow of a jawline, and feeling . . . this thing. The thing that poets spoke about, but not like this. Not for the girls at the dances with their shy smiles and sturdy prettiness but for the boys, milling about on the other side of the room in navy shirts and red ties, looking, by turns, bored and nervous and happy.

“I haven’t done anything truly bad yet,” Hector said, chuckling low and evil. Then he kicked Joey’s chair. “I’ve got an albatross around my neck keeping me from all the wickedness!”

Joey cast him an irritated glance. “Yeah, and it’s called a dame in the States. Now gimme two more seconds, and we can go do some PT before we go up!”

“I’ll go change,” Nate said, because his camera equipment was flawless, as it always was, and because whoever thought of doing PT before a mission had been inspired. Getting the blood flowing and the muscles pleasantly exercised took away some of the feeling of confinement in the small space of the cockpit, and some of the restlessness, as well. Not too much—not enough to tire one out—just enough to make the body easier at rest.

And it was a perfect excuse to get away from Hector and his bronzed skin and square face and the way his brown eyes seemed to invite everyone in on the joke.

Nate was buttoning up his loose khakis and lacing his softest boots when he decided to check under the pillow for his letter. Ah, yes, there it was. A good-bye to his mother, and a passing nod to his father.

His throat tightened.

Was that all he wanted to offer? His father was a reserved man, certainly—open affection had never been his way. But was Nate’s enmity an adult feeling or the leftovers of childhood resentment? Nate frowned at the envelope, made of some of the best paper stock Joey had been able to smuggle out of the officers’ supply cabinet, and wondered if he shouldn’t write another letter. Something more genial, more neutral. Something, perhaps, asking his father to believe he was worthwhile, that he was capable of worthwhile things. Something apologizing for not being Zev.

Nate’s conscience was perfectly clear about the things he’d done in the war thus far. The tally of things that bothered him or made him question his faith at this moment equaled the number of times his father had ever kissed his cheek in affection: zero.

He heard a ruckus behind him as Hector and Joey entered, pushing on each other and laughing. No time to rewrite the letter now. He shoved it back under the pillow and ran after his roommates for a round of pop-up in the field by the airstrip. None of the other pilots or officers joined them—they never had. Many of the residents were RAF, for one, and the rivalry was not always easy to transcend. For many, the mix was too different. The spic, the Mick, and the Jew—it was the beginning of a joke with no good punch line. Nate, who had never had a peer group through school, had finally managed to find one, and they were as isolated unto themselves as three as Nate ever had been as one.

But at least they were three.

Maybe next leave, Nate would go with them and let Hector try to find him a woman. Maybe those moments of thinking Hector Garcia was as beautiful as sunlight would fade.

*****

Nate had a notion that being inside a real mosquito was probably much quieter than being inside of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito—wooden sides or not. The airplanes were versatile—light bombers, tactical bombers, day or night missions, and, of course, converted photo-surveillance planes. While the top sported the squadron insignia, as well as Captain Thompson’s personal insignia—a mosquito wearing a flowered dress with a purse—near the cockpit, the bottom of Miss Mossy (as the captain called her) had been painted dark gray to blend in with the nighttime cloud cover. Still, Nate had always been surprised that every plane that went flying over German airspace hadn’t been shot down.

“Stuttgart,” Nate said resignedly into the intercom as the plane took off. “Five shots at the coordinates. We have ten flares.”

“I know the mission,” Captain Thompson stated flatly. “I know the mission, I know the risks. Do you need me to hold your hand?”

“Only if it would help you feel better,” Nate replied just as flatly.

Thompson grunted, the sound translating over the intercom as a crackle of static. “Not bloody likely. Do you have anything else obvious you’d like to tell me? Do I take a right or a left to get to Germany? How’s that? Can you tell me how to fly this boat to Germany, you uppity shit?”

“I assume you point it east and go,” Nate snapped. “Wake me up when we get there.”

But Nate had no intention of sleeping.

The view through the cockpit window wasn’t ideal. Nate had thought more than once that he wished he could fly facedown on a clear platform so that he could see everything—the countryside, the farms, the smokestacks, everything. Because even with the hum of the Mosquito in his ears, when he gazed down on the sleeping mass of Europe, he knew he wasn’t seeing the complete vista, and the artist that he was hungered for the whole picture.

Bombs would be dropped on some of the towns down there; devastation would follow. What would that look like? Who would be killed? He was skilled with the specialized camera and the twenty-four-inch lens that allowed him to take shots from the plane, although the pictures he usually shot needed a room full of intelligence officers with magnifying glasses to pinpoint exactly what the photo targets were. What he was not skilled at was understanding the distance between the plane, at fifteen thousand feet, and the people on the ground. Empty space? The handbreadth of God? What made it so someone such as he could determine whether people he would never see or touch would live or die?

The silence in the plane became oppressive, and Nate scanned through his viewfinder to keep himself from sleeping in earnest. The shiny, roiling mass of the ocean sat underneath them, but the horizon of France and Germany was not that far away. Oh, hey—a town, smaller than Stuttgart, right across the black silver of the channel.

“Hello, what’s that?” Nate murmured to himself. “Do you see that?”

“I don’t see it!” Captain Thompson snapped back, but Nate was too preoccupied with what looked to be large smokestacks coming from the ground, just north of the tiny city below, to respond to his tone. That couldn’t be right, could it? There would have to be an installation underground. He couldn’t see in the dark—or without his camera.

“Captain, give us a candle drop—”

“Those are saved for the—”

“I know, but we’ve got ten. We’ll only need two. I just want one.”

“I don’t like it—we’re hours away from Stuttgart.”

“Do you see anyone, Captain? There’s no one out tonight, and that . . . that thing down there. It looks like a plant. It wasn’t there the last time we flew up this way, and it just feels wrong—it’s something important, can’t you feel it?”

“Could give a shit what you feel, you fuckin’—”

“Captain, do you really want to finish that sentence?” Nate asked, his skin chilling underneath his voluminous flight suit.

“Yes, damn it!” Thompson snapped, but he didn’t. “Candle dropping. Where do you want to go?”

“That town below us—it’s small. You see the outskirts of it to the east a little. Yes. There. Go.”

“Count off,” Thompson snarled, and Nate held his breath. There. They were close. Close. Close.

“Launch candle in ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-three-two— Candle launch!”

Thompson hit something on the dash, and the flare cascaded out of the plane, falling, falling, falling before exploding harsh and white, lighting up the sky around them.

Nate was ready.

He clicked the shutter furiously, all of the settings ready for nighttime pictures. One, two, three, four—the light began to stutter—five, six.

“Shit!” Thompson cried, and Nate finished his last shot and looked around. Oh hell. Sure enough, framed against the clouds by the stuttering flare was a pair of Messerschmitts.

“Can you—”

“Shut up and let me call for backup,” Thompson barked, and Nate heard him radio for a couple of bulldogs to come take care of the Messers on their tail.

And then Captain Thompson did what was best for everyone involved and flew that little plane as fast as it could go.

The Messerschmitts weren’t going anywhere. They stayed on their tail, firing occasionally but lacking the necessary range. Miss Mossy had a lead on them from the very beginning, and if Captain Albert knew one thing, it was how to fly quick like zoom.

“Where’s the bloody bulldogs?” Captain Thompson snarled. “What’s the good of having planes out with guns if they can’t shoot that bloody lot out of the fucking sky?”

Nate wisely didn’t answer. He changed the film in his camera in tense silence, putting the canister in the cargo pocket of his flight suit and readying the camera for Stuttgart on faith.

They didn’t make it.

The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was a superlative night fighter, and Miss Mossy, who was fitted out with cameras all around, had no guns. Her cooling system had been modified to keep the cameras and the pilots from freezing during the high-altitude missions, and when pushed too hard, her engines tended to get hot. Even while Nate despised Captain Albert, he knew the man was flying a fine line between outrunning the enemy and cooking their engines with speed.

Their one hope was that the call for backup would be answered and some dogfighters would appear over the horizon around them.

Nate kept lookout, and when the first bursts of fire spurted from the newly appeared specks behind them, acute relief almost stopped his voice.

“Friendlies!”

“Brilliant. We might not die up here.”

“I am not overwhelmed with optimism,” Nate muttered, but either Thompson’s voice was lost in the engine noise or he didn’t deign to answer.

Below, the various lumps and smokestacks of Stuttgart appeared. Very few lights—all sides had learned the trick of the blackout to confuse bombing raids—but Nate had flown over and taken pictures before. He knew the shape, the basic landmarks—and although he knew their support was behind them and if they couldn’t outrun the Messerschmitts before the bulldogs got there they were in real trouble, for some reason the city gave him comfort. It wasn’t featureless, wasn’t blank. He recognized the landscape, and they weren’t lost.

And just as he figured it out, tracers of antiaircraft fire passed to his right, shattering his peace.

“They’re closing in!”

“Not them! It’s another group! Hang on and spot the bastards!”

Calmly, Nate placed his camera and lens in the case and buckled it shut, using his stomach muscles and thighs to keep his seat as the plane began a series of vicious evasive maneuvers that might have made his stomach rebel when he’d first started to fly. When the camera was safely stowed, he grabbed hold of the grips on either side and did what Captain Thompson had ordered: held on and spotted.

“Three o’clock, Cap. Two planes closing.”

“Dive roll. Don’t puke.”

“They’re following, following—lost them. Not puking.”

“Don’t be a bloody arse! Fire from six o’clock. G roll.”

Oh hell. The negative-G rolls—Captain Thompson’s specialty—were Nate’s least favorite aerobatic. He held on and didn’t puke—his first time up in the cockpit, he had puked, and had to live in it for hours. Never again.

“Nine o’clock, Cap—friendlies.”

“Fucking firing! Blast it and bugger God’s arse!”

The blasphemy didn’t faze Nate, but the fact that they were stuck between friendly fire and enemy fire without guns themselves was starting to wear on his hard-earned calm.

“Evade, Captain. Friendlies engaging!”

“I am evading, you stupid kike. Shut the fuck up and let me work!”

Oy! Now they get to the bottom of Captain Albert’s hostility? “For heaven’s sake,” Nate muttered, but Thompson let out another round of cursing, and the plane jerked, shuddered, and rolled some more. They had flown past Stuttgart now, beyond the borders, and dropped their altitude in an attempt to evade. The featureless landscape loomed below them, a black trough of rural woods.

“Holy God, there’s more!”

“You had to stop and take a fucking picture!” Thompson snarled. “We had one lousy job to do, and you had to stop and take a fucking picture, and we’ve got these buggers following us from fucking everywhere!”

“Well, that means whatever was there was pretty damned important, don’t you think?” Nate shot back, because that was the truly frightening thing. Stuttgart was a big city, pretty close to the border of France and Germany; there should be important things in Stuttgart. But that smaller city, on the tip of land across from England, the Axis shouldn’t be making anything there, should they?

“We’re not bloody likely to find out, are we?”

They executed a barrel roll evasive maneuver then, the horizon spinning dizzily and leaving Nate gasping for breath in the hopes that he wouldn’t throw up and wouldn’t pass out. Captain Thompson swore again, and the plane suddenly lurched in the middle of a barrel roll.

“We’re hit!” Thompson screamed. “We’re hit! And I’m going to die because a bloody kike Jew had to jerk off his camera!”

*****

Later, it would occur to Nate that for all his shortcomings as a companion, Albert Thompson was an amazing pilot. The plane heaved level, which saved his life, and descended at a terrifying, dizzying speed. Too fast to jettison, even if bailing out of a Mosquito was possible at this altitude, but slow enough to keep the plane from disintegrating on impact. Maybe.

The wood under his feet trembled, and the plane skittered and rattled, shaking Nate like a yolk in its shell. Something exploded behind him, the force of air blowing Nate forward, then back, until he cracked his head on the window and the world detonated into the blackness inside his skull.

The Auspicious Troubles of Chance
Chapter One
1934
Buckinghamshire, England

WHAT a bloody mess. Emphasis on the bloody.

Before you say anything, I know what you’re thinking. How the hell do you get yourself into these situations? It’s a good question. I’ll let you know when I have an answer. A guy in my position should have known better, considering my experience with this sort of thing. Even without said experience, the sharp pain in my gut should have been my first clue. Oh no, it was the familiar feel of blood seeping between my fingers that finally triggered that little voice in my head saying, You’ve been shot—again.

Only after my little realization did I start to feel the flames lapping my side, as if it were trying to set me ablaze from the inside out. I hated getting shot. Then again, what sap didn’t? I shrugged out of my jacket with a groan, then unbuttoned my vest and cast it to the floor alongside my tie. This was what I got for not packing heat. Since when had firearms become a prerequisite for a morning stroll through the woods? On my own lands, no less? That ought to learn me. Weren’t people who lived in the country supposed to live longer? I was obviously the exception to the rule.

Well, time for the verdict. I ripped open my shirt and looked down at the crimson pool spreading through my clean white undershirt. Jeepers creepers, I had a belly full of lead. I had turned into a bad movie cliché. Well, I’d be damned if I was gonna end up dying like one. This ain’t no Warner’s picture, and I ain’t James Cagney. You want to know who I am? I’m the guy who ends up getting plugged so the real hero can learn some poxy life lesson, grow wiser from the experience, and in turn redeem us all. Like hell. The hero of this story ain’t in the habit of learning lessons. He’s in the habit of giving them. I should know. I’ve got the scars to prove it.

I’m the right-hand man, the Watson to his Holmes, the Jekyll to his Hyde, the Laurel to his Hardy, the—you get the picture.

This explains a lot more about my current situation than you might think, but we’ll get to that. First, I had to do something about all this blood. I tore up my shirt and wrapped it around my torso, giving it a good tug and gritting my teeth at the sharp pain that rippled through my body like a pebble in a pond. At least that should keep some of my blood inside me for the time being. Goddamn it, I was getting too old for this. At the age of thirty-six, I had truly believed my days of finding myself face to face with the barrel of a gun were well and truly behind me. Not the first time I had been wrong.

What a way to go, waiting around for a mug whose idea of a good time is dragging me through a string of pubs and starting brawls in each one, but only after half a dozen pints and a scone with enough strawberry compote and clotted cream to give him a coronary. Who am I to gripe about it? It won’t be the first time he’s seen me shot up. Or punched or smacked or—well I’ve got a list. One so long I doubt I have enough time to tell you about it. In fact, thinking back on it, I realize I’ve spent most of my young adult life willingly taking some form of physical or mental pounding on account of him. But why, you ask? Who is this man continuously accompanied by chaos and some form of deep-rooted lunacy? And why the hell would I voluntarily allow myself physical and mental harm over and over on account of him? Just who the hell is he? Well, believe it or not, pal, you’re about to find out.

But I thought you said you didn’t have enough time?

No, I said I didn’t have enough time to run down the list of everything he’s ever done to me. I have more than enough time to tell you how I had the fortune or misfortune—depending on the mood I’m in, which, as I make myself comfortable in some woodland creature’s home in the forest of a town whose name I can’t pronounce with a bullet hole in me, I’m leaning more toward misfortune—of meeting him. What I can say for certain is that he changed my life in more ways than I care to admit. So here goes— What, another question? What are you, some kind of newshawk? Spit it out. If you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly oozing with hospitality here.

Aren’t you scared?

Scared? No.

Bored? Yes.

Annoyed? Most certainly.

I’ve approached Death so many times over the years the guy’s become a close personal friend of mine. I drop in occasionally, we have a few laughs, then he tells me to scram. In my line of work, especially with him around, my life is in grave danger a good seventy-five percent of the time. The other twenty-five percent of the time is spent in moderate danger. Now, I ain’t so good at math, but if my sums work out, that means I spend a hundred percent of the time in some kind of peril or high alert. Right now, I’m wondering if my pal Death ain’t getting a little too accustomed to my company.

Don’t go buying me any daisies just yet. One thing you need to know about Jacky Valentine—that would be him, not me. My name’s Chance. Well, actually, my real name is Chauncey Irving. I know. Who names their kid Chauncey? My no-good parents, that’s who. That’s why I stick to Chance. A name bestowed upon me by the man himself many moons ago. Where was I? Right. Jacky. One of the most stubborn men you’ll ever meet. If he doesn’t want me to die, then God almighty himself ain’t gonna get in his way. Help is coming, and I should be back at Hawthorn Manor, tickling the ivory in no time flat, but not before I beat on his head like a couple of bongo drums for getting me into this fine mess in the first place. I can see I’m losing you. Stick with me, kid. I’ll explain.

When I met Jacky, I wouldn’t have traded places with him for all the tea in China, and considering who the guy was and who I was, that says a lot. The fella really had his work cut out for him. I know for a fact that in the whole of Jacky’s career, I was his biggest challenge, and when you do what we do for a living, that ain’t no compliment. Back then I wasn’t the man I am today. Far from it. A multitude of events in my life had led me onto a path of vice and self-destruction. You name it, I had done it. I was on a fast train to the end of the line, and that train had no brakes.

Now, I ain’t gonna sit here and feed you some sappy story about how my circumstances were to blame for what I became. How society had a hand in my creation, how I was really just a good kid unloved and misunderstood, blah, blah, blah, because frankly, that’s a bunch of baloney. I became who I was out of my own anger, self-loathing, and bad choices. I could have taken the higher path, decided to learn from my experiences, become focused and determined to get myself out of the desolate hole I found myself in, but instead, I chose to be a hazard to myself and everyone around me. Why? Because I could. Because it was easy.

From the age of seven, I had had various jobs, none of which lasted longer than a couple of weeks. I was told countless times I was insubordinate and beyond the pale. That was partially true. I did lack discipline and was indeed deplorable, but that’s not why I couldn’t hold a job. It was because I hated every job I had. I thought they were beneath me, and if I didn’t want to be somewhere, heaven help the poor sap who tried to make me stay put. I didn’t really consider the rights or wrongs of being put to work. I didn’t really know any better. What I did know was that I didn’t like it, and if I didn’t like it, why should I do it? My other problem came from being told what to do. Which is, of course, ironic, considering where I ended up. But I digress….

Author Bios:
Jordan L Hawk
Jordan L. Hawk grew up in the wilds of North Carolina, where she was raised on stories of haints and mountain magic by her bootlegging granny and single mother. After using a silver knife in the light of a full moon to summon her true love, she turned her talents to spinning tales. She weaves together couples who need to fall in love, then throws in some evil sorcerers and undead just to make sure they want it bad enough. In Jordan’s world, love might conquer all, but it just as easily could end up in the grave.

EE Montgomery
E E Montgomery wants the world to be a better place, with equality and acceptance for all. Her philosophy is: We can’t change the world but we can change our small part of it and, in that way, influence the whole. Writing stories that show people finding their own ‘better place’ is part of E E Montgomery’s own small contribution.

Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of inspiration for stories that show people growing in their acceptance and love of themselves and others. A dedicated people-watcher, E E finds stories everywhere. In a cafe, a cemetery, a book on space exploration or on the news, there’ll be a story of personal growth, love, and unconditional acceptance there somewhere.

Tamara Allen
Tamara Allen resides in the piney woods north of Houston with her cozy family of husband, son, and cat. Her primary occupation is keeping them out of trouble, but on the side she likes to make up stories, for the pleasure of living briefly in an era long gone by.

Erin O'Quinn
Erin O’Quinn earned a BA (English) and MA (Comparative Literature) from the University of Southern California. Her life has been a pastiche of fascinating vocations—newspaper marketing manager, university teacher, car salesperson, landscape gardener—until now, in relative retirement, she lives and writes in a small town in central Texas.

Erin has published six M/M novels and three novellas with AmberQuillPress and two independent M/M novels.

Her series titled “The Gaslight Mysteries” includes Heart to Hart, Sparring with Shadows, To the Bone. and Thin as Smoke.

Erin's indie books are NEVADA HIGHLANDER and THE KILT COMPLEX, both very well received.

In addition to these Amber Quill Press and indie books, Erin has thirteen other published novels. Of those, two are M/M historicals published by Siren Bookstrand, set in the Ireland of badass clansmen, cattle drovers, druids, Saxon mercenaries and St. Patrick himself.

Claire Cray
Claire Cray specializes in M/M romance and stories of an offbeat nature. Her tales feature intelligent characters, a vivid sense of atmosphere, and a (sometimes twisted) sense of humor. Born in a strange little village in the Pacific Northwest, Claire was raised on rain, trees, and spooky stories. An addiction to misadventure has carried her from the backwoods of Oregon to Portland, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and New York, where she currently resides.

Bonnie Dee
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.

I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.

Summer Devon
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.

You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).

Amy Lane
Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her website or blog, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.


RE Hargrave
R.E. Hargrave lives on the outskirts of Dallas, TX where she prides herself on being a domestic engineer. Married to her high school sweetheart, together they are raising three children from elementary age to college age. She is an avid reader, a sometimes quilter and now, a writer. Other hobbies include gardening and a love of a music.

A native 'mutt,' Hargrave has lived in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas, and California. She is fond of setting her stories on location in South Carolina and Texas, but its anybody's guess as to what the genre will be!

Charlie Cochet
M/M romance author by day, artist by night, Charlie Cochet is quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse. From Historical to Fantasy, Contemporary to Science Fiction, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From hardboiled detectives and society gentleman, to angels and elves, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!


Jordan L Hawk
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EE Montgomery
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Tamera Allen
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Claire Cray
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Bonnie Dee
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Summer Devon
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EMAILS: summerdevon@comcast.net
katerothwell@gmail.com

Amy Lane
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EMAIL:  amylane@greenshill.com

RE Hargrave
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Charlie Cochet
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EMAIL: charlie@charliecochet.com



Restless Spirits
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The Courage to Love
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Whistling in the Dark
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Thin as Smoke
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Merrick
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The Psychic & the Sleuth
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The Bells of Time Square
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Surreal

The Auspicious Troubles of Chance
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