Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: A More Perfect Union


Summary:
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States made a monumental decision, and at long last, marriage equality became the law of the land. That ruling made history, and now gay and lesbian Americans will grow up in a country where they will never be denied the right to marry the person they love.

But what about the gay men who waited and wondered all of their lives if the day would ever come when they could stand beside the person they love and say, “I do?”

Here, four accomplished authors—married gay men—offer their take on that question as they explore same-sex relationships, love, and matrimony. Men who thought legal marriage was a right they would never have. Men who, unbelievably, now stand legally joined with the men they love. With this book, they share the magic and excitement of dreams that came true—in tales of fantasy and romance with a dose of their personal experiences in the mix.

To commemorate the anniversary of full marriage equality in the US, this anthology celebrates the idea of marriage itself, and the universal truth of it that applies to us all, gay or straight.


FLAMES
Prologue
Monday, September 28
THERE WAS only this moment. This place. Alex holding Gio’s hand, gently because of the burns on the back of Gio’s arm. The sounds of the breathing machine came in regular soft sighs.

The little green box held in Alex’s other hand—and all it symbolized between them.

All their life together had shrunk down to this moment, this place, this plea. “Please wake up, Gio. Amore mio, svegliati.”

Chapter One
Saturday, September 12. Two weeks earlier
ALEX WAS late getting home, and he was in a foul mood from the long, difficult day at work. One of the properties he’d made a bid on had fallen through, and another client had all but called him a bald-faced liar.

He was looking forward to getting home, taking a long hot shower, then crawling into bed.

Alex was startled to find a huge meal, complete with wine and candles, laid out on their dining room table. Gio must have spent the whole day cooking.

Alex was late. He’d been delayed with his angry client, and to make matters worse, his phone had up and died halfway through the afternoon and he’d been without his car charger.

He was already annoyed when he walked in the door.

“Welcome home, amore,” Gio called from the kitchen.

“I had a hell of a day….” He caught a whiff of whatever Gio was cooking.

“Come sit down. I’ve got everything ready.”

The dining room looked like a Martha Stewart production of a telenovella Thanksgiving. “I’m sorry. I’m not really hungry. Things were the shits at work today.”

“Sorry to hear that. Have a seat.” Gio grabbed his elbow and urged him toward his chair. “Food makes everything better.”

Alex was starting to get annoyed. “Look, I’m sorry, but I’m not hungry. I just want to wash up—”

“That’s just the job talking.” Gio took his arm again.

“Knock it off! I’m not in the mood tonight.”

Gio looked hurt, but Alex plowed on, too incensed to stop.

“This isn’t some kind of June and Ward Cleaver thing.”

“I just—”

“You have to let go of your stupid, unrealistic expectations of me and this relationship.”

Gio frowned. “That’s bullshit, and you know it. Just because you had a bad day at work, there’s no reason to take it out on me.”

He was right. But Alex couldn’t admit it. “Just leave me the fuck alone,” he said, grabbing his phone charger and storming out. He’d find somewhere else to sleep tonight.

ALEX WOKE, still groggy from the immense amount of alcohol he’d consumed the night before.

Where am I? Memory slowly returned through his aching brain. The Super 8 Motel. It had been close and cheap, and he hadn’t wanted to go back home after the binge he’d gone on.

He sat up and pulled back the motel sheets and bedspread from his naked form. If Gio had been mad at him before, he’d be livid now. And he had the right to be.

The cow skull in the watercolor painting on the wall glared down at him as if in judgment.

God, his head was pounding. He stumbled into the bathroom and ran the water until it was hot. Then somehow he managed to get himself into the shower. He breathed in the steam deeply, and the pressure in his head abated a little, enough that he could start to think.

There was no choice other than to go home and face the music. This whole thing was his mess—he’d made it, and he’d have to live with it. But he could delay his hour of reckoning, at least for a little while longer. He stayed under the warm spray, letting himself forget what waited for him at home.

Eventually the water ran cold and he had to leave the shower.

Alex dried off and checked himself in the mirror. He didn’t look too bad, considering. The eyes were a little red, but they’d have to do. He rubbed his temples with his thumbs, willing the pain to go away.

Alex didn’t have a fresh change of clothing with him, so he pulled his old ones back on. He could change when he got home.

Then he noticed his phone where he’d plugged it in to charge upon reaching his room. At least he’d remembered to grab his charger on his way out of the house.

He had it on Do Not Disturb because he hadn’t wanted to talk with Gio last night, not in the condition Alex had been in. He unplugged the phone from the wall charger. It was fully juiced up now, so he activated it, and a flood of texts and messages arrived.

Jesus, had the Paxton deal gone south? He’d hate to lose that commission.

The thought fled his mind as he scanned the texts. Most were from their friend Oscar.

Alex, they’re calling me. Something happened to Gio. Where are you?

On my way to the U of A Medical Center. Hope to see you there.

At the hospital with Gio. It’s bad…. Alex, where are you?

By the time Alex read the last one, he was at the car, fumbling to find his keys in his briefcase. He fished them out and hopped inside, not bothering with checkout. He threw the case in the passenger seat and peeled out of the motel parking lot.

“Hold on, Gio, hold on,” he whispered to himself. “I’m coming.”

He reached the University of Arizona Medical Center in record time, thanking the traffic gods when he didn’t have an accident and wasn’t stopped for a ticket. He parked his car in the first visible spot in the garage and jumped out, not even bothering to lock it, and ran toward the hospital lobby. A couple walking past shot him a sympathetic glance, but he ignored them.

There was only Gio.

He reached the front desk, panting, hands outstretched on the cool surface as he fought to catch his breath. “I’m looking… for… Giovanni.”

The woman at the desk put her hand on his. “Calm down, sir. Catch your breath.”

He closed his eyes for a second, willing himself to be calm. “Better?” His eyes threatened violence if she didn’t say yes.

She seemed to sense his urgency. “Giovanni, you said?”

Alex swallowed hard and nodded. He took a couple of deep breaths and tried again. “I need to find Giovanni Montanari.”

“Let me look,” she said, her voice full of sympathy. “When was he brought in?”

He checked the messages on his phone. “I don’t know. Late last night, maybe?”

She nodded. “Okay, I found him.”

“How is he?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t tell you that. You’ll have to talk to the doctor.”

“He’s still alive?”

She nodded again. “Yes, sir. He’s in the burn ward. Take the elevator down that hall”—she pointed—“up to the third floor. Then follow the signs.”

He ran down the hall toward the elevator. Burn ward?


JEORDI AND TOM
Chapter One
WHEN THE front door of the trailer slammed shut with a loud bang, followed immediately by an animalistic howl of rage and frustration, Tom knew Jeordi was home. He snickered and shook his head.

“Hey, babe,” Tom called out. “I forgot this was the day you were going to visit your parents. It went that well, huh?”

One glance at his boyfriend told Tom all he needed to know. Despite the scowl and look of anger and frustration on Jeordi’s face, it only took one glance at the man to ignite the most sensitive parts of his nervous system (and everything connected to it).

He couldn’t help but smile at the sight of Jeordi. He wasn’t handsome in the New York runway model sense, but was handsome in the real man sense. Jeordi turned heads every time he walked down the street, although he consistently missed the many glances people cast his way.

All Jeordi saw when he looked at himself was that he wasn’t tall, and he felt his ears were too big. Tom daily told Jeordi that he was the most studly man he’d ever known—and he quietly gave thanks that the man was all his.

Tom felt two strong hands wrap around his waist as he stood at the sink in their kitchen. Carefully setting down the dish he’d been washing, he leaned his head back against his boyfriend’s solid shoulder, brushing his smooth cheek against Jeordi’s fuzzy cheek—fuzzy not from a beard but from a strong five o’clock shadow the man dependably had every day by late afternoon. Jeordi hated it, but Tom loved it and loved rubbing one part or another of his body over the stubble.

“Love you, babe,” Tom whispered. “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Why?” Jeordi whispered into Tom’s ear. “Why? Why? Why do I keep subjecting myself to the same crap?”

“So, they didn’t throw their arms open and tell you they’ve joined PFLAG and ask for your advice on what to wear in the next Pride Day parade?”

Jeordi snorted. “Um, that would be a great big no.”

“What did they do this time?” Tom asked.

“Prayed—and then some. They tried to have some kind of healing service to rid me of the evil that had ‘grabbed ahold’ of me, to quote my mother. They said they needed to cast the devil out of my body.”

“Oh, isn’t that special,” Tom joked.

“Not so much,” Jeordi disagreed.

“Was it just your parents?”

“Oh, no. That’s what made this one more frustrating. They had their minister there. He brought a backup minister—poor kid looked freaked out just being in the same room with a known homosexual. Don’t know what he thought was going to happen.”

“They upped the ante, I see,” Tom said.

“Oh, there’s more,” Jeordi said.

“More?”

“Hell, yes. They had some of my more uptight brothers there with them this time.”

“They succeeded in getting any of your brothers to be in the same room at the same time? How the hell did they swing that one?”

“Don’t know. Must have been one hell of a bribe. They, of course, brought their wives, I guess to show me how a good strong Christian heterosexual marriage works. They pissed me off so much I slipped and asked Beau how he could take part in something like that when he’d been off screwing half the women in the county. He didn’t appreciate it. I guess his wife didn’t know he was a hound dog she needed to keep on a tighter leash.”

Tom stopped what he was doing and dropped his head back, deep in thought. “Hmm, your brother Beau would look damned good in a collar—and naked,” he said. “Now, if you maybe added a blindfold, put him on his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back—now that’s just freaking hot. Maybe I should call his wife and give her a few suggestions. How do you think she’d take that? I’d be doing it strictly to help her out since I doubt she’d ever come up with an idea like that on her own. And of course I’d need to be there to help her, you know, to consult.”

“Don’t go there,” Jeordi warned with a chuckle. Beau was beautiful, but unfortunately he knew it and wasn’t at all opposed to spreading his beauty around to any and all women who’d have him. “At least that got the two of them out of the whole ritualistic crap my mother had planned for the weekly visit.”

“Two down, ten to go,” Tom said.

Tom turned around and wrapped his arms around Jeordi, kissing his neck. “I love you, babe,” he whispered into Jeordi’s ear as he held tightly to his man.

“I’m so glad you do. My family certainly doesn’t."

“Oh, they love you. They just don’t understand it because the playing field has changed since you came out,” Tom said.


DESTINED
Prelude
1994
JAY AND WALLACE were convinced they met for the first time in 1999, but they were wrong. They’d met five years earlier than that, in 1994. But neither of them remembered.

Jay had just graduated from college with a computer science degree and found himself a job two hours west of the university doing tech support for a mail-order company called PC Connection. A coworker found out he was looking for an apartment in the area and told him his wife managed an apartment building. So that was how Jayson Corey ended up in Keene, New Hampshire, in the midnineties with a job, an apartment, and no friends to speak of.

He was social enough. He made some acquaintances at work. The support department went out for drinks every Wednesday night after work, so he got to know his coworkers a bit better. But apart from work, he didn’t have much in common with them. And none of them were gay.

There was a gay men’s group in town, so Jay went to one of their meetings. The men were nice—and some were pretty cute—but he didn’t immediately connect with anyone. In retrospect, perhaps his friends in college had been a little on the fringe. They’d introduced Jay to role-playing games, medieval banquets, fire dancing, skinny-dipping….

He could imagine some of these guys skinny-dipping—and that was pleasant to think about—but they clearly wouldn’t have fit in with his friends back at UNH. He supposed it might be time to move on. After all, he wasn’t in college anymore. But that thought didn’t cheer him up at all.

Then he saw the flyers on the table. They were largely flyers for other gay groups in New England, some too far away to appeal to him at present. But one intrigued him. It was a flyer for Gaynemede’s Crossing, a group for “gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, and trans pagans” in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jay wasn’t a very religious man, but he’d attended some Wiccan gatherings in college. The circles had been peaceful and beautiful experiences. He found the thought of dipping a toe back into that scene intriguing, especially as a contrast to the stressful, high-tech business environment he now worked in. And Cambridge was just north of Boston, about an hour’s drive away.

HIS FIRST attempt at going to the group was a dismal failure. He’d never driven in the Boston area, and he wasn’t prepared for the chaos in and around the city. He drove an hour to get there, then spent another hour driving around hopelessly lost, until he finally found himself on a highway heading north, passing an abandoned car in the breakdown lane that was literally on fire. He said, “Fuck it!” and kept going until he hit the New Hampshire border. Then he went home, vowing never to try anything so foolish again.

But one month later, he was back on the road. Jay wasn’t sure why he was so determined to go to this one group, but this time he was armed with better directions and a phone number.

He got lost again. As the beginning time for the meeting came and went, he found himself at the ass end of Boston, surrounded by crumbling, mostly empty buildings and road construction. He had no idea where he was, though it resembled a portal to the underworld. Eventually Jay came across a Dunkin’ Donuts that had a pay phone. He dialed the number for the group, and a man answered.

“Hello?” Wallace said, having no idea he was about to hear the voice of the man he was destined to marry.

Frustrated, his nerves stretched to the breaking point, Jay skipped over romance and went straight for, “Where the hell are you? I’ve been driving around looking for you guys for forty-five minutes!”

“Um… do you know who you’re calling?”

Jay hesitated. Maybe he’d dialed the wrong number. “Sorry. Is this Gaynemede’s Crossing?”

“Oh. Yes.”

“I wanted to come tonight.”

“The meeting’s almost over.”

When Jay spoke again, he was embarrassed to hear a catch in his voice, as if he were on the edge of tears. “I drove all the way from New Hampshire….”

“Well, where are you now?”

Jay wasn’t sure. But he described the Dunkin’ Donuts and the bridge outside, and his suspicion that it led to one of the nether hells. To his surprise, the man recognized it.

“Gods! How on earth did you end up all the way down there?”

“I have no idea.”

The man on the phone was silent for a long moment, and Jay waited for him to say “Sorry. Better luck next time.” Then Jay would have to find his way back home, having failed again. He braced himself for it.

But instead the man said, “You’ll need to turn around and head back the way you came, until you cross the bridge into Cambridge.” Then he proceeded to give Jay directions and describe the neighborhood and what the storefront looked like.

Jay had no idea what the man’s name was or what he looked like. But he knew he loved him.


SOMEDAY
1991
1
THE FIRST time Lucas Arrowood saw Dalton was on his way to his first day of kindergarten. His mother was walking him to school, he was very excited, and his right shoelace was flopping, untied.

“Baby,” said his mom. “Let’s sit down and try to tie your shoe.”

He looked up at her, excitement temporarily quashed. He couldn’t do it. Couldn’t tie his shoe. And he was supposed to be able to. His mother had tried to show him how—over and over again—but he couldn’t get the laces to go where they were supposed to go, and it just fell apart. He couldn’t do it. If his teacher found out, would they make him go home? Would he have to wait until next year? That would be horrible!

“Hey, you can do it. It’s easy!”

Lucas gave a little jump, turned around, and sighed as he looked into the narrow dark eyes of the most beautiful human being he had ever seen.

“Want me to help?” the boy asked, flipping his mop of dark brown hair out of his eyes with a toss of his head. “I taught a bunch of kids last year when I was in kindergarten.”

A bunch of kids hadn’t known how to tie their shoes? That perked up his ears. Lucas looked up at his mother.

She smiled. “Do you want him to help?”

Then he realized something. He did want the boy to help him. He thought he would do anything the boy wanted him to do, even ask his mom to take the training wheels off his bike (which was a big scary because he was afraid of falling and getting hurt!).

“Sit down,” said the boy, pointing to the landscaping wall along the sidewalk.

Lucas sat.

“What’s your name?” asked Lucas’s mother.

“Dalton Churchill. Like Winston Churchill. Only it’s Dalton.”

He smiled, and Lucas knew Dalton was the most beautiful boy on the planet.

“Who’s Winston Churchill?” Lucas asked.

Dalton shrugged and got down on one knee before Lucas. “I don’t know. I think he’s a minister. Okay, now, first you pull your laces up and then cross them over, like this.” Dalton demonstrated.

“I can tie a knot,” Lucas said, wanting very much not to look like a complete dope in front of Dalton. Then he frowned. “It’s the other part I get mixed up on.”

“That’s cool,” Dalton said, tying the knot. “Okay…. So here’s the tricky part. First you make a loop and stick it up so it looks like a tree—see?”

Lucas nodded. He wasn’t sure the upward turned loop looked much like a tree, but he wasn’t going to tell Dalton that.

“Then you take the other lace and wrap it around the bottom like this—like a dog running around the tree.”

Lucas smiled. “My neighbor has a dog. His name is Super Mario.”

“That’s a great name,” Dalton said, laughing.

Then he finished showing Lucas how to tie his shoe.

“Wow,” Lucas said.

But then Dalton untied the shoe.

“Hey!” cried Lucas.

“Now you do it,” Dalton said. He nodded. “You can. I know you can. Easy.”

Lucas wanted to yell, “No, I can’t!” but he quite suddenly knew he could not disappoint the pretty boy with the beautiful eyes. He sighed. What had Dalton said about a tree? He made a loop with one of the laces.

“Just like that, but the other one. Unless you’re a southpaw.”

Lucas looked up through his own dark bangs. “Huh?”

“Southpaw means left-handed.”

“Oh!” Lucas giggled. “I’m not.”

“Tree!” Dalton ordered, brows knitted together.

So Lucas made a loop with his shoelace.

“Yes!” Dalton said with such enthusiasm Lucas would have thought he’d ridden down to the corner and back on his bike without training wheels. He laughed and then thought about dogs running around the base of trees. A moment later, Lucas had tied his shoe. His mother clapped.

“Yes,” shouted Dalton. “I knew you could do it, Lucas.”

Dalton walked the rest of the way to school with them. But even better, he also promised to walk Lucas to school the next day.

Author Bios:
B.G. Thomas
B.G. loves romance, comedies, fantasy, science fiction and even horror—as far as he is concerned, as long as the stories are character driven and entertaining, it doesn't matter the genre. He has gone to conventions since he was fourteen years old and has been lucky enough to meet many of his favorite writers. He has made up stories since he was child; it is where he finds his joy.

In the nineties, he wrote for gay magazines but stopped because the editors wanted all sex without plot. "The sex is never as important as the characters," he says. "Who cares what they are doing if we don't care about them?" Excited about the growing male/male romance market, he began writing again. Gay men are what he knows best, after all. He submitted his first story in years and was thrilled when it was accepted in four days.

"Leap, and the net will appear" is his personal philosophy and his message to all. "It is never too late," he states. "Pursue your dreams. They will come true!"

J. Scott Coatsworth
Scott has been writing since elementary school, when he won a University of Arizona writing contest in 4th grade for his first sci fi story (with crayon illustrations!). He finished his first novel in his mid twenties, but after seeing it rejected by ten publishers, he gave up on writing for a while.

Over the ensuing years, he came back to it periodically, but it never stuck. Then one day, he was complaining to Mark, his husband, early last year about how he had been derailed yet again by the death of a family member, and Mark said to him “the only one stopping you from writing is you.”

Since then, Scott has gone back to writing in a big way, finishing more than a dozen short stories – some new, some that he had started years before – and seeing his first sale. He’s embarking on a new trilogy, and also runs the Queer Sci Fi site, a support group for writers of gay sci fi, fantasy, and supernatural fiction.

Jamie Fessenden
Jamie Fessenden set out to be a writer in junior high school. He published a couple short pieces in his high school's literary magazine and had another story place in the top 100 in a national contest, but it wasn't until he met his partner, Erich, almost twenty years later, that he began writing again in earnest. With Erich alternately inspiring and goading him, Jamie wrote several screenplays and directed a few of them as micro-budget independent films. He then began writing novels and published his first novella in 2010.

After nine years together, Jamie and Erich have married and purchased a house together in the wilds of Raymond, New Hampshire, where there are no street lights, turkeys and deer wander through their yard, and coyotes serenade them on a nightly basis. Jamie recently left his "day job" as a tech support analyst to be a full-time writer.

Michael Murphy
In a world of so many things, how do you settle on just a few? All my life I've been interested in everything around me, wanting to see new places, meet new people, tell new stories. Writing has been the culmination of a long term dream. Being a part of the Dreamspinner family is priceless beyond compare. Anytime I'm asked the question of who I am I have to stop and try to decide how in the world to answer. I might biologically be middle age, but inside I feel like a randy teenager anxious to explore the world. Dreams of writing have been a part of my life since I was five years old. Two of the greatest influences on me as I was growing up were my two grandmothers. Both were strong women who had unbelievable burdens thrust upon them when they were widowed very early in life. Both of these incredible women loved stories. They loved reading stories and telling stories, and the stories they had to tell were incredible. For as long as I can remember I've been writing stories. What has been different over the last five years is that I've finally been brave enough to allow someone else to read what I'd written. When that happened I found that others liked what I'd written which made me beyond happy. In addition to writing, my other love is photography. Taking photos of some of the beautiful men of the world is my current focus. With any luck, one of those photos will grace the cover of a Dreamspinner novel in the near future. My partner and I have traveled the world, trying to see as much as possible. When not traveling, we live in Washington, DC with our best friend, a throw-away dog we adopted twelve years ago. To pay the bills, I am Director of Information Technology for a national organization based in Washington, DC. While I'd rather be writing full-time, I haven't figured out how to make that a viable option - yet.


BG Thomas
TWITTER  /  BLOG  /  iTUNES  /  KOBO
AUDIBLE  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  AMAZON  /  B&N
ARe  /  DREAMSPINNER  /  GOODREADS
EMAIL: bg_thomas@livejournal.com

J. Scott Coatsworth
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  WEBSITE  /  B&N
GOOGLE PLAY  /  SMASHWORDS  /  ARe
EMAIL: jscottc@me.com

Jamie Fessenden
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  BLOG  /  KOBO
GOOGLE PLAY  /  ARe  /  SMASHWORDS  /  B&N

Michael Murphy
EMAIL: writer@gayromancewriter.com



AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  ARe


The Gentleman & the Lamplighter by Summer Devon

Summary:
You Can’t Walk Away from Love.

Destroyed by the death of his former schoolmate yet unable to show it publicly, Giles Fullerton has taken to walking the streets of London in the middle of the night, the only time he can safely mourn the only person he’s ever loved—until one chance meeting with a lamplighter changes everything….

But You Can Walk Toward It...

Widower John Banks knows a thing or two about grief, and immediately recognizes a kindred spirit when he finally meets the handsome, haunted gentleman he’s admired from afar. And in fact, the two men discover shared passions and the possibility of a forever love—if they can overcome social taboos, and their own fears….


This is shorter than I would have liked it to be but it is so amazing with so much detail shown to the history that I can't give it anything less than a full 5 bookmarks.  Two souls mourning past loves come together in friendship but will it turn into something more?  For that answer, you will have to read this sweet, charming, well written historical romantic novella.  Trust me, it's the worth the time, Giles and John burrowed their way into my heart in just a few pages.

RATING:


CHAPTER 1
London, 1880
After Woolver's death, Giles took to the streets at night. A gentleman could stay awake through the long night and stare at nothing through longer days—and hear no complaints about his strange habits.

He had nothing important to do with himself except sort through his dead friend's affairs and offer comfort to the young widow left behind. The widow, only six months married, seemed almost indifferent to her husband's death, so Giles usually avoided that task laid upon him by Wool. The rest he did methodically and with care.

He had to go through those papers and accounts, in honor of Woolver, dead too young. Wool, the only person Giles had ever loved. Wool, who'd abandoned Giles to fulfill his duty and marry a girl his parents had picked years ago. Wool, who'd killed himself exactly one year after he said good-bye to Giles.

Wool.

The loss plagued Giles during the day and woke him up at night. Each time the truth of Wool's stupid death hit, it opened him as if he'd been slashed by a knife, and he had to move to avoid the pain.

Thankfully no one, not even the men he saw each day at one of his two clubs, appeared to suspect his deep sorrow. He blamed his paleness and lack of appetite on illness. Conversation carried on as usual—no dropped voices when he passed—so he assumed he had them all convinced.

With time, the stabbing pain turned into a heavy ache, but he'd lost the habit of sleep and he still had no interest in pretending to be jolly. And on occasion he still felt too restless to remain still.

He promised himself he would abandon the indulgence of secret mourning on the second anniversary marking Woolver's farewell, the first anniversary of his death.

That day in April, Giles started awake at four in the morning—as usual.

The soft light of a streetlamp across the lane filtered through the curtains so he could see the dim shapes of his bedroom. Giles stared at the ceiling, at the humps formed by the overstuffed chairs in the corner, then turned to stare at the reflection in the mirror—and he knew sleep had abandoned him again. Tears threatened and he was heartily sick of them; he got out of the bed, determined to outrun his internal storm.

Giles yanked on his clothes and bounded down the stairs. He didn't have to sneak about for the servants' sakes. The butler, housekeeper, cook, three maids, and valet who slept under his roof had learned to sleep through his restlessness.

Still, he closed the front door softly behind him. No need to wake the innocent. He paused at the doorstep and drew in a long breath. Concentrate on this moment alone. If he could not think of the past without sorrow or the future without dreary dismay, then he must exist in the moment.

He'd grabbed an overcoat only to hide his lack of tie and collar, for he'd been too impatient to arrange the details of his dress, but he was glad for its warmth. The night air was frosty but almost refreshing and held a hint of early spring. This time of night, the air smelled of damp earth, horse manure with a trace of the ubiquitous dirty coal and dustbins. The only light came from the three lamps burning along his street and the very faint gray distant lights from the rest of the city.

Instead of his usual frantic walk about the empty streets, he decided to concentrate. He would distinguish every sense open to him—although, perhaps not taste. He balked at licking the columns at either side of his door.

That faint bit of humor made him smile.

He lowered himself to the cold granite step and leaned against the elaborate wrought- iron handrail. Closing his eyes, he listened so hard his ears seemed to pick up the faint swish of his own heartbeat.

I am alive. It has been two years without Wool, but I am still alive. The thought gave him no particular joy, but it was a nice change from misery.

He listened. The city slept, and not even early morning servants or milkmen stirred. A far away clop of hooves, the call of some night bird—Wool would know what sort ... do not think of Wool.

Not far off he heard the tap of someone's footsteps and something wooden clunking against something metal. Someone came down his quiet street.

He had at last relaxed and thus resented this intrusion. He must not be caught sitting on the steps like a vagrant or drunken carouser. Giles glared in the direction he thought the steps came from. They stopped. Something tapped. More thumping.

Perhaps he would blend into the darkness of the steps and the person, a policeman he supposed, would pass him by.

He couldn't see the pavement around the curve of the road, but several houses away, sudden darkness filled the street.

Of course. The sound he heard was the lamplighter going about his early morning duties.

The clunk and thump and footsteps made a steady rhythm.

The lamplighter strolled into view. On one shoulder rested the usual long pole, but the man had a ladder slung over his other shoulder, which he put down with a grunt. He paused, then twisted and stared straight at Giles.

The lamplighter rested the pole against the wrought-iron fence and walked quietly toward Giles. "Here, now. Time to wake. You'll get in trouble around these parts, friend." He sounded almost apologetic, certainly not bullying.

Giles sighed and rose to his feet. "No. The worst would be I'll be embarrassed, caught skulking in front of my own house."

The lamplighter pulled off his cap. He wasn't tall, perhaps an inch or two shorter than Giles. His clothes, dark-colored jacket and trousers, a uniform of a sort, had been made for a fatter man, and they hung on him, but as he moved, Giles could see hints of his form beneath.

"Been having a long night of it, sir?" In the lamplight that still glowed, the man's knowing smile was wide.

Giles shouldn't have been annoyed, but he straightened and yanked the bottom of his waistcoat. "I am not drunk, if that's what you're implying."

The lamplighter stepped back and Giles supposed he was going to scramble back to his duty.

Instead he said, "Oh, hey now. I know you! You're the ghostly walker."

"What?"

"I see you all sorts of nights striding about town, in snow, in rain, at dusk, and before dawn."

"I don't see you."

"No, you wouldn't," he said without resentment. "I heard once that children watch for the man who lights the lamp, but no one else sees him. Strikes me as about right."

A lamplighter who'd stepped from some sort of children's book. Giles remembered his own time in the nursery, looking out the window and waiting for the moment that the darkness was vanquished by the man with the long stick.

The lamplighter grabbed his pole and sauntered over to the lamp. Giles expected that was the end of the conversation as the man reached up with the hook end and deftly doused the light.

But then the man came back and stood near him, hands loose and easy, his wrists holding the long slender pole in place, balanced across both shoulders. Wide shoulders.

Giles stared at him and felt something loosen and open inside his chest. A whisper of change almost as silent as the fog, except he'd been still enough to listen. He grew aware of the man's body and his own.

That would not do ... for all it proved he was alive.

"Are you all right, sir?" The lamplighter peered at him again.

"Yes." And then to turn the attention away from himself, Giles asked. "What's your name?"

"Banks, sir. John Banks." He shifted so his rear rested on the edge of the large planter in front of Giles's house. He'd come quite close, and if that informality wasn't enough, he asked, "What's yours?"

Giles supposed he should be offended by the cheek of the man but in that moment of awareness, the strange hour removed from existence—he couldn't be bothered.

"Mr. Giles Fullerton."

"Nice to make your acquaintance. I just about feel as if we are old friends since I've seen you often enough."

Giles only said, "Ah." He'd been buried deep in misery for so long he hadn't remembered the world outside himself existed. He had never noticed this man before.

"You like the exercise?"

Giles snorted.

"I asked myself why you were out in all sorts of weather."

Giles almost said And why is it any of your business?, but amended it to the less offended "Why would you care?"

"That's my sin, curiosity." Banks sounded remarkably unconcerned. "I go about five miles twice, night and day, and see puzzling things. You're one of them. So why do you walk?"

It was none of the man's affair and he was rude to even be falling into conversation with a man so far above his station. But Giles didn't speak because he couldn't think of an answer that wasn't stupid or, worse, saccharine.

The lamplighter didn't sigh or shift position; he might have turned to a statue as he simply waited. Banks was close enough that Giles could hear his breathing and smell him, too. Wool, tobacco, sweat, and night air was a rather pleasant mix.

Apparently Giles would have to say something, or shoo the man off—or walk away. "Restlessness," he said at last.

"Ah, I should not have asked."

A bit late to recall proprieties, Giles thought, but then Banks continued, "I'd hoped you were some sort of gentleman spy racing from one secret location to another, carrying out some nefarious deeds."

That startled a laugh from Giles. "Nothing so interesting."

Banks shifted from boot to boot. "Real life is never so interesting as the penny dreadfuls or plays. Still, a man can hope for some adventure—as long as it is someone else encountering the horrible pirate cannibal."

"Horrible pirate cannibal?" Giles grinned. "You read this nonsense?"

"Whenever I can. Something to think about when walking. A man I know declares it rubbish for the mind and says a person's brain won't thrive—like bad food and drink won't nourish the body."

"Who's that?"

"A bookseller, Abrams near the Strand." Banks made a soft disparaging sound. "But you look at some of those Shakespeare plays that are just as silly. Fairies, twins, and such."

"You read Shakespeare?"

"Naw. I've watched some now and again."

"That seems rather ..." He was going to say it seemed rather outside of what a working man might enjoy, but what did he know of a lamplighter's preferences? "Is that your favorite sort of entertainment?"

"If I'm in funds, I'd rather go over to Wych Street and the Opera Comique. They have a bang-up show just now, The Pirates of Penzance."

Arms up, resting on the pole, the lamplighter twisted his body from side to side and Giles wished he could see the details of John Banks better.

"What do you do for your entertainment, Mr. Fullerton, besides walk? Read?"

"I read for pleasure a few years ago, but now I don't have the inclination." What did he do for pleasure? Nothing came to mind.

Banks dropped to his heels in a crouch and straightened again. He did it a few times. "Are you engaged in some sort of exercise program?" Giles asked.

"A bit of moving around helps a man stay limber, as you know." Banks heaved a sigh and leaned against the large pot. "Truth is, I fell off m'ladder a couple streets back. I was halfway up and a cat startled me with a yowl. I turned too fast, hadn't steadied the ladder on the cross bars well enough, and bang. There I was, sprawled on the cobblestones. Moving seems to help keep the stiffness away."

"Are you all right?"

"I am, though I'd best come up with a more interesting story for the scrapes on my side or get laughed at. I'm a clock-lighter, you see, and the fish-tail men look down on our sort as it is."

Giles wondered what he was talking about but ventured, "You might blame those blood-thirsty cannibals of yours. You could claim a tribe of them ran after you."

Banks's bark of laughter was loud, too raucous for this quiet place and time. "Whoops," he said. "Beg your pardon for the noise."

They both waited in the darkness, but no one else stirred or spoke out.

The lamplighter tilted his head back. "Sun's on its way. I got another 'leven, no, twelve, to put out. I'd invite you to come along walking since I know it's your hobby, but I suppose that wouldn't do." He walked back to his ladder and hoisted it with a grunt.

"Why do you carry that?"

"A few of the lamps need repair." Banks yawned. "I best be on my way, and you can probably sleep now, I think."

"Why do you say that?"

"You don't have that restless air now. Some nights I've seen you, you're a caged animal, as though London's a big prison and you're looking for an escape."

"First I was a spy and then a prisoner. You have thought about me that often?"

"Often enough." Banks carefully drew his cap from the jacket where he'd stuffed it and jammed it back onto his head. Giles wondered if the care was due to his injuries or the ladder balanced on his shoulder.

Banks loomed, a dark silhouette. "Some people fire the imagination. Ha, fire, like a lamp burning in my brain." His voice was amused and so quiet, Giles wondered if he heard right.

A little louder Banks said, "Good night or good morning, sir, whichever you prefer. I'll watch for you, now I know where you live."

He walked away without looking behind him.

Giles stayed on the step watching him melt into the darkness, wondering at the very strange encounter. Shakespeare, penny dreadfuls, a slender man with broad shoulders and a cheerful intrusive manner. Within a few minutes it felt as if the whole event had been a dream Giles had had whilst sitting on the stairs outside his home in the middle of the night.

He rose feeling as stiff as a lamplighter who'd tumbled from halfway up a ladder.

* * * * *

John walked away smiling. Giles. Giles Fullerton. Before this morning, he had called the ghost-walker Adam because on those nights the dark-haired man paced the streets of the city, he'd seemed as alone as the man in Eden before the arrival of the rest of humankind.

Oh, how lowering to know the man who'd kept John's brain busy through long hours hadn't so much as noticed him.

He knew from the start the man ran from some sort of devils inside. The first time John set eyes on the gentleman, he'd felt a stab of resentment. How could a man with such good looks and so much money—those fine clothes—have the gall to be eaten up with sorrow?

But the next time he saw him, up near Pall Mall one cold slippery night, John softened. The haunted look on that handsome face made John long to stop him, perhaps buy him a mug of hot grog and coax out the reason for the misery. Never mind the fact that a man wearing a fine calf-length coat probably would never touch the stuff any lamplighter drank to keep off the chill.

Giles Fullerton.

Maybe the bookseller would recognize the name. Abrams actually read the Debretts he kept at the back of the shop, and if Fullerton wasn't a peer or a muckety-muck, he had to be related to such as earls, dukes, or lords. John had pegged that fact of him right off.

But then he decided, no, he wouldn't share the details of the gentleman with Abrams. He liked holding the truth of Fullerton as a secret.

He hadn't figured the man out yet. Perhaps the gent had a disordered mind and was mad. That would be a pity, though a reasonable explanation. Yet surely even madmen needed friendly conversation now and again.

And wasn't that thought as full of lies as any tale with pirate vampires. The simple fact of the matter was John wanted Giles Fullerton. Friendly conversation didn't involve naked skin and moaning bodies. He burned to touch the man and had for months.

He'd never be fool enough to say those words aloud to Fullerton or anyone else, but he enjoyed the fact in his own world and used his experience of desire to help him work with Abrams.

Last autumn, Fullerton had once passed so close to him on the pavement, John had seen the setting sun light the reddish gleam of the man's glossy dark hair. Such clean and well-ordered locks, and that evening Adam/Giles wore no hat to bar the view of his face. On the nearly deserted street of this neighborhood, John had watched him striding along and had memorized the fine nose, clean-shaven cheeks, and those blue or green eyes fixed on a distant sight, a gaze so far away he might have been a brainless fool or a storyteller lost in another world.

That had to be the night John's vague curiosity about the well-dressed gentleman turned into a more intriguing interest. And now they'd spoken at last.

Author Bio:
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).

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Willem by Victoria Danann

Title: Willem
Author: Victoria Danann
Series: Witches of Wimberley #1
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal Romance
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Summary:


He squinted his eyes and gave me a little smile like he questioned my sanity.

“You do know we’re talking about witches, right?”

“I know there are a lot of people who call themselves witches, but what it means is they like burning candles, dancing naked sometimes, I guess. Are you saying you think there are women here who really are touched by the supernatural?”

He laughed. “Man. I don’t know how you’re sitting on that stool next to me. How did you manage to get this far without knowing anything about what you’re doing here?” He shook his head. “Yes. I do mean there are women here who really are touched by the supernatural.”

I had to admit that I felt a thrill start in my nipples and run all the way through my body producing goosebumps, a cock twitch, and a half hard. What if it was true? I’d spent my whole life secretly hoping that I’d be lucky enough to have an actual encounter with the other side of reality, while not really believing that such a thing might be possible.

That’s when I realized that I’d been on the wrong path. For the first time I recognized and confronted the fact that I didn’t really want to be an actor. I hadn’t wanted to be a college student taking a foreign language I’d never use or studying geology, which I would never use. But I hadn’t really wanted to be an actor either. It was just Plan B more or less suggested by other people. My heart wasn’t in it at all.

Acting as my heart’s desire? Don’t make me laugh. Actually there’s not much laughable about wasting ten years pursuing something I didn’t even want.

That revelation made me feel like the dumbest guy sitting on a counter stool anywhere. Why hadn’t I clued in before? And what if I couldn’t get jobs acting because I wasn’t supposed to be acting.
That follow up revelation almost blew me right off the stool.

“If that’s true, it would be beyond incredible.”

“You scared?”

It hadn’t occurred to me to be scared before and maybe that just meant I was revealing an expanded capacity for stupidity.

​​
“Should I be?” He shrugged. “Do you believe there’s a ghost at the hotel, too?”

Roger laughed again. He had a nice laugh. I wondered if that’s what they were looking for. All of a sudden I cared what they were looking for.

I wasn’t interested in contemplating a lifetime contract of marriage, but I could do a year with anybody if it meant doing actual hands-on research. Maybe I should change that to on site research.

He lifted a well-toned shoulder. “Who knows? I can’t say I’ve seen anything like that, but ley lines do intersect at the crossroads.”

I jerked my gaze back to his. “Ley lines? You know about ley lines?”

“I know enough.”

Deciding to let that go, I said, “So we’re going to meet the witches at the barbeque tonight?”

He shook his head while still taking a pull on his IBC. When he swallowed he said, “I think it’s just contestants and former winners. Our chance to talk to them about life in Wimberley or whatever. They’ll be at the big event tomorrow night though. The Witches’ Ball.”

Author Bio:
USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Victoria Danann, is making her debut into Contemporary Romance with releases in May and June 2015, after taking the world of PNR by storm.

Her Knights of Black Swan series won BEST PARANORMAL ROMANCE SERIES TWO YEARS IN A ROW (2013, 2014). Reviewers Choice Awards, The Paranormal Romance Guild.

Victoria's paranormal romances come with uniquely fresh perspectives on "imaginary" creatures, characters, and themes. She adds a dash of scifi, a flourish of fantasy, enough humor to make you laugh out loud, and enough steam to make you squirm in your chair. Her heroines are independent femmes with flaws and minds of their own whether they are aliens, witches, demonologists, psychics, past life therapists, or financial analysts from Dallas. Her heroes are hot and hunky, but they also have brains, character, and good manners - usually - whether they be elves, demons, berserkers, werewolves, or vampires.

The first book of the Knights of Black Swan Paranormal Romance Series, My Familiar Stranger, was nominated for Best Paranormal Romance of 2012 by both Reviewers' Choice and Readers' Choice Awards. All of her books have opened on the Amazon Best Sellers list and earned Night Owl Reviews TOP PICK awards. Many have appeared on Listopia BOOK OF THE MONTH as #1 across all genres.

For books published in 2013, Black Swan won three awards. 1. Best Paranormal Romance Series 2. Best Paranormal Romance Novel - A SUMMONER'S TALE 3. Best Vampire~Shifter Novel - MOONLIGHT. In 2014, Solomon's Sieve won Best Vampire Novel.

If you're interested in Victoria personally, she is also a classically trained musician who defected to Classic Rock music. Until 2013 she was the utility player for Houston's Roadhouse band, which means she played rhythm guitar, keyboards, sang back ups and female leads. Her band covered everything (note for note) from Styx to Led Zepellin to Rush.

She lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband and a very smart, mostly black German Shepherd dog.

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EMAIL: vdanann@gmail.com



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