Thursday, October 13, 2016

Random Paranormal Tales 2016 Part 4


Trick of Time by JL Merrow
Summary:
A lover from another time

When Ted Ennis steps out the doors of the Criterion Theatre for a cigarette and finds himself in Victorian London, he begins to doubt his sanity. At first he thinks it's all a film set, and is sure that the strikingly handsome young man leaning against a lamppost must be the leading man…

What starts as a sordid transaction with a beautiful rent boy quickly turns into something much deeper, drawing him back again and again as he gets to know Jem and craves meaningful encounters with him.

But Ted doesn't understand the exact conditions necessary for his trips through time—and for Jem, time may actually be running out. Now Ted has one last shot to get back to Jem and save their relationship, before it's too late…


A beautiful mix of romance, time travel, and history that blends into a perfectly scripted novella of love.  Some novellas could be better if they were a full length novel and some, like Trick of Time, are perfect just as they are.  Times change, technology changes, inventions come and go, but as Ted and Jem discover, love is timeless and thrives no matter what the calendar says.  Time travel may be more science fiction than paranormal but it's still a great addition to my Halloween shelf.

RATING: 

Third Solstice by Harper Fox(Tyack & Frayne Mystery #6) by Harper Fox
Summary:
Gideon’s managed to swing a few festive days off, and he and Lee are looking forward to celebrating their little girl’s first birthday. But duty calls, and Gideon is too good an officer to ignore the summons. He finds himself on the streets of Penzance, helping police the midwinter Montol celebrations.

It’s his third winter solstice with Lee, and disturbance, danger and magic are in the air. His daughter is beginning to show some remarkable gifts, and not all the family can cope with them. As the Montol festivities reach their fiery heights, will Lee and Gideon find a way to keep those they love best on the right side of the solstice gate?


How did I not know this came out before Christmas?  I fell in love with Lee & Gideon a few months back and it's a great treat to find them in a holiday setting.  Don't think that just because it's Christmas their lives are any less hectic or paranormal.  When their daughter shows what she can do, will it make things easier or more troubling?  Well, for that you'll have to read it and you most definitely will want to do so.  Now I can file Lee & Gideon under both paranormal and my holiday shelf.

RATING: 

Never Lose Your Flame by Francis Gideon
Summary:
Cop-turned-bounty-hunter Gabe Dominguez is hired to capture firestarter Nat Wyatt. For a dragon-shifter like Gabe, apprehending Nat is easy, but transporting him involves more time, energy, and blood loss than he envisioned. An attack from a band of fairies, an out-of-control forest fire, and a showdown at an auction don’t faze Gabe, but Nat’s innocence might stop him entirely.

Since discovering his abilities, Nat’s lost a best friend, a boyfriend, and trust in his brother. Only his love of concerts and card games get him through life without a home. Rumors of the Judge, a giant dragon who once destroyed half of Canada avenging those he loved, provide Nat with hope of vindication. When Nat discovers his captor is the Judge, he thinks he’s finally caught a break. Through late-night conversations and a shared love of music, Nat tries to convince Gabe he’s not guilty.

Can Gabe continue his cutthroat lifestyle, or will he run away with his dragon hoard like he’s always longed to do? Can Nat escape his legacy, or will his be another spark snuffed out by people who don’t understand? The Oracle, the most powerful wizard in Canada, might be the only one who can provide answers.

Soul of the Mummy by BG Thomas
Summary:
S'ankhibthot is an ancient Egyptian trapped in a relationship with an insane warlock. Tucker Bradshaw is a modern gay man whose cheating lover has brought him to the brink of despair. Both men long for real love. When Tucker flees to Egypt, will the fates and ancient gods be able to bring them together across the sands of three thousand years? And if they do, how does the warlock feel about his lover S'an finding someone new in the modern world?

Devil at the Crossroads by Cornelia Grey
Summary:
The devil covets more than his soul ...

Six years ago, Logan Hart sold his soul to the devil to become the greatest bluesman of all time—and now the devil has come to collect.

The irony is that Logan squandered his gift. High on fame, money, and drugs, he ignored his muse and neglected his music. And despite managing to escape showbiz in a moment of clarity, it’s too late to redeem himself. All that’s left is to try to go out with some dignity. Alas, the prospect of an eternity in Hell isn’t helping much with that goal.

But Farfarello, the devil who bought Logan’s soul, isn’t ready to drag him down to Hell quite yet. He’s just spent six years working his ass off to whip a bluesman into shape, and he refuses to let that—or the opportunity for more sinful pleasures with Logan—go to waste.


Who knew the devil had the potential to be good?  A really interesting read with an intriguing pair discovering what a Faustian deal can really bring you in life.  Could this have been better if it had been a full length novel?  Maybe but for me, it's pretty darn good just as it is.  Definitely a great addition to my paranormal library.

RATING: 

Click to Check Out Previous
Random Paranormal Tales 2016 Parts

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3



Trick of Time by JL Merrow
God, I needed a cigarette.

We'd had trouble with the props--Dick Buskin and Jack Rover had been larking about before curtain playing at swordfights, and one of the idiots had broken Thunder's cane. If it hadn't been for the old lady in row C being a game old dear who let me borrow her walking stick, he'd have been left to bluster without it. When the curtain finally went up, I breathed a sigh of relief, and reached shakily for the cigarette packet in my pocket.

One of these years, I'd give it up, I promised myself. Probably not while I worked in the theatre, though.

I had to smile, because even on days like this, I couldn't imagine wanting to leave, now I'd found my place here. I'd spent most of my twenties working in a bank, trying to please my parents. But that was before the accident that left me an orphan and a widower in a screech of twisted metal and broken lives... I took a deep breath and leaned against the cool, tiled wall, drawing strength from its solidity and permanence.

The Criterion Theatre was an oasis of old-fashioned elegance set in--or more precisely, underneath--bustling Piccadilly Circus, with its hordes of language students, day-trippers and city folk out west to dip their toes in the decadence of Soho. I'd been a bit effusive about the Cri the day I started working here as a theatre assistant. It was a not particularly glorified euphemism for general dogsbody, and yes, I was too old for the job. But Rob, the house manager, was a friend. A good friend, willing to give me a chance when half the world looked on me as unemployable, what with the tremors in my hand, the dizzy spells and the often-slurred speech that only got worse under pressure. There were a fair few days when I agreed with them.

Rob had raised a world-weary eyebrow at my raptures about the place. "Theatres? They're all much of a muchness, really."

Not this place. The Cri was different, from the pink plush of the auditorium to the ornate Art Deco styling of the box office. I took the stairs two at a time, past the walls tiled in sepia and green, each panel framing the name of a composer of days gone by. The Criterion had been planned as a concert hall but repurposed as a theatre before opening night. Maybe this was why I liked the Cri so much--like me, she was a leopard who'd changed her spots.

Cherubs smiled down at me from where they frolicked on the ceiling, and Terpsichore played her lyre with silent serenity as I passed. I resisted the urge to run my fingers along the ornate tiles--Rob was watching from the box office.

"Going out for a smoke, Ted?" he asked with a knowing smile. "You know, you're not getting paid to sort out the props. Let Miri sweat it next time."

I shrugged and patted my back pocket, reassuring myself my cigarettes hadn't jumped out when I wasn't looking. If it'd been half an hour earlier in the evening, I'd have managed without a smoke, but anyone arriving this late for the show would have more to worry about than me smoking outside the theatre and making the place look untidy. I shouldered through the heavy front door, popping a cigarette in my mouth and fumbling in my pockets for my matches...and found Piccadilly Circus full of ghosts.

I stared, the cigarette almost dropping out of my mouth in amazement. I'd always thought there ought to be something more, something beyond this shallow world of fragile lives and shattered dreams. But to see it confirmed was like being hit with a tsunami in the bathtub.

Third Solstice by Harper Fox
How long had Lee been sitting there? Gideon sat up, catching his sleeping infant before she could slide off his chest. The so-called watchdog was flat on her back, legs sprawled, hairy paws flickering with dreams. “Lee! Um... Hi, sweetheart. I wasn’t... I didn’t think you’d be back yet.”

“Clearly.” Lee’s face was bright with amusement. He’d had to sit on the edge of the coffee table for want of room on the sofa. “I got in about five minutes ago. I pulled up a pew to watch you three.”

“Sorry.” Gideon yawned hugely. “Sorry. I meant to have supper ready.”

“I stuck a lasagne into the microwave to defrost. We’ll have that.”

A huge tide of pleasure swept Gideon, as if he’d been offered champagne cocktails under the stars on a luxury liner. This week was the longest time he and Lee had been apart since their wedding. “Sweetheart,” he said, and leaned forward to kiss him, keeping Tamsyn out of the way of crushing or suffocation. “Did the last of the filming go well? How was your journey? How come I didn’t know you were nearly home?”

“Fine. Long. You were asleep.” Lee returned his embrace with hungry warmth. Tamsyn emerged serenely from sleep at the sound of his voice, and he lifted her onto his knee, smiling. “God almighty, look at her. She’s grown while I’ve been away.”

“Not surprised. She’s been eating like a tentacled sea-monster. Do you have to go back between now and New Year?”

“Nope, we’re all done. Jack and Anna just wanted some talking-head stuff to wrap up the London Hauntings series. We’re cleared for our festive take-off.”

“Wonderful.” Gideon had bargained away part of his paternity leave to get this first birthday and Christmas at home with his small family. He rubbed his eyes, trying to focus. Lee’s outline was blurred to him, somehow unreal. “Weird that I didn’t wake up, though. I normally feel you coming a mile off.”

Lee raised a suggestive eyebrow at him, then visibly changed the subject. “Seriously, she’s huge. A week’s too long to be away at the moment, isn’t it? What have I missed?”

“Not much. Some truly horrific nappies.”

“Must be all those sailors and galleons she’s been eating. What else?” His brow creased. “I did miss something, didn’t I? Oh, no—not her first step.”

“No, no. She’s been standing on her own, but she always flops down onto that well-padded backside of hers. Speaking of which, I’d better get her swaddled up before she wrecks this towel.”

“Hang on a second. Tell me.”

Lee would never just reach in. Gideon had learned to lower barricades inside his mind, to offer silent permission. The soft, delicious pushing was absent tonight. Well, having a mindreader in the family was no substitute for honest conversation, and some things just had to be said. “She’s developed a bit of a new party trick. Might be better if she showed you, rather than me trying to explain.” He patted Tamsyn’s cheek with one fingertip to draw her attention. “Tamsie. Where’s your bear?”

She pointed to the floor where the toy had fallen, a clear indication that he should pick it up for her. “You get it,” he encouraged. “Get the bear for Lee.”

“No.”

It was clear and decisive, and made both her parents start to laugh. After Dada and Eee, her first word had been no, and she’d made liberal use of it since. “She’s not gonna do it,” Gideon said, picking up the bear for her instead. “Here. No more porridge song, though, please.”

She cackled and began to pull the string. Lee grasped his head in mock agony. “Would it be cruel of us to cut that off? What were you expecting her to do, anyway?”

“I’m not sure.” Gideon rubbed his eyes. “It’s been a long week. I was probably hallucinating. Right, you little rug rat—let’s get you to bed, so your daddies can have some food and sex the way they occasionally used to before you came along.”

Lee grinned and got to his feet, hoisting her ceilingwards. “I remember those golden days. The room looks beautiful, Gid. Who knew a big Cornish plod would have such a talent for decoration?”

“Big gay Cornish copper. Comes with the territory.”

“In that case, shouldn’t I be getting a home-baked quiche for my tea, not microwaved lasagne?”

“Only if you want to home-bake one yourself.” Gideon watched the two of them—his husband and his baby—with pride and love warring for place in his heart. He’d never imagined that life would hold such riches for him. “I found a box of ornaments in the parish-house attic. What do you think?”

“Beautiful. Especially the little silver sphere with... Does it have lights in it?”

“No, but it catches the light in the room. That one was my mum’s favourite too.”

“I can’t imagine the pastor approving.”

“Oh, he didn’t. She used to put a little tree up in her parlour where he wouldn’t see it.”

“Looks like it’s found its proper home now.”

Yes, it did. Gideon surveyed the replantable fir he’d strapped to the roof of the police truck to bring home. Nothing but the best for his little girl’s Christmas—her solstice, her Yule, Pagan trimmings aplenty. The little sphere rotated gently, as if a breeze had touched it. Sparkles flashed hypnotically from within its wire cage. Something tugged at the back of Gideon’s brain. Isolde sat up on the sofa and emitted a faint whine.

“Uh-oh. I think she’s gonna do it.”

“What?” Lee asked in alarm. “Nappy?”

“No. Look at her hand. Watch that bauble.”

“Gid, are you all... Oh. Holy fuck.”

The sphere drifted slowly off the branch. Its string caught on the needles, and Tamsyn frowned as if she’d been given a new puzzle and shifted her hand, left and then right. She beamed and gave a yell of delight, and then—because Gideon could have no further doubt of cause and effect, that she was deliberately doing this—she brought the glittering thing to a brief halt in midair, then fired it squarely at Lee.

He caught it on reflex in his free hand. For a few long seconds he stood motionless, cradling the child and the bauble with equal care. Then he turned to Gideon, his colour fading. “Gid, no.”

“No what? I know it’s freaky, but we’ve seen weirder stuff than this.”

“You don’t... Look, she should be in bed. Will you help me put her down?”

“Of course, but—”

“Seriously. Now.”

Never Lose Your Flame by Francis Gideon
Chapter One
“GOT A light?” Gabe asked.

The guy in the gray hoodie paused. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his tight jeans, flipping his hair out of his face with a tilt of his head. He was unsuccessful in his movements, and his mousy blond locks still obscured part of his eyes. But Gabe could see there was something in the man he liked. Skinny, a touch shorter than Gabe’s six feet four, all sharp edges and attitude, and obviously into the underground scene in some way. Maybe this guy was a supernatural or someone who knew that Beatrix Jane threw the best parties in the scene. Her house throbbed with music. The heat of the people crowding her basement formed condensation all the way to the sliding doors of her back porch, where both men stood.

“Did you hear me?” Gabe asked. “Do you have a light, or are you admiring the view?”

The guy combed his hair behind his ears successfully. His eyes were young—definitely young. No bags, no wrinkles anywhere on his face, but as he removed his hands from his pockets, Gabe noticed they were scarred. A tiny lattice of burned tissue coated his hands and fingers like gloves. Maybe he’s a guitarist who got into an accident or someone who used to be an alchemist at one of the plants. Gabe examined the stranger’s hands, then his eyes again. Maybe twenty-five. At most.

“I heard you,” he said. “But I don’t really smoke.”

“You want to start?” Gabe tapped the front of his jacket as he took out a package of cigarettes. Two bounced forward as he extended the pack to the stranger. “Come on. I promise it adds to the music.”

The guy smiled as he took the cigarette. As Gabe grabbed his own, the kid reached into his pockets again. He must have pulled out a lighter, because a flame danced between his cupped palms. He took in a deep breath and exhaled smoke.

“Pass it over,” Gabe said.

“You come here. It’s my father’s lighter. Can’t let it go.”

Gabe’s stomach flipped as he encroached on the guy’s space, nearly bending himself in two to reach the flame. The kid made an impressed noise between his mouth and the cigarette.

“I’ve never seen a lighter, especially an older one, work that quickly.”

“I know.” He took a step back, until he was leaning against the railing on the porch. “Which is exactly why I can’t let it out of my sight. I’ve kept it all these years because it actually works. A rarity.”

“Without spell work, that’s true. Your dad a mage?”

“Not even close.”

When the kid didn’t offer up his own mage status, Gabe figured there was no story to tell. Tonight was about good luck and being in the right place at the right time.

They smoked in silence. The sky was dark over Winnipeg, making the smelting plants light up across the lake. Gabe’s stomach turned as the molten plastics and base metals hit his nose. He swore that he could smell this kid too on the updraft of the wind. Something different about him. Something… almost sweet.

“I’m Gabe,” he said, extending his hand. “And you’d be?”

The guy eyed Gabe’s hand for a moment before shaking it. In spite of the scars, his skin was soft. Almost surreal. He was also warm—warmer than Gabe anticipated, and the sweet smell from before was overwhelming. Fuck. This kid. This kid is utterly beautiful and utterly my type.

“I’m Nat.”

Nat gazed out at the skyline, while Gabe was still stuck on his name. His hand. Nat’s feeling all over Gabe’s body. Gabe wanted him. And from past experience, Gabe was used to getting what he wanted. Especially at Beatrix’s parties.

“So, Nat,” Gabe said. “What brings you to Beatrix’s?”

“You know the answer to that. She’s the best hostess in Winnipeg.”

“Farther than that,” Gabe added. “She’s the best in the underground network.”

When Nat didn’t react, Gabe beamed. Nat knew about the network as more than just a cool party he’d stumbled into. Nat also didn’t react much when Gabe brought up spell work. His father wasn’t a supernatural, but so what? He wasn’t like Gabe, but maybe he was like Tansy. Or even someone like Imogen, who worked with the supernaturals but never manifested themselves. Gabe placed a hand on the porch railing, sliding closer to Nat. As their elbows brushed, Gabe’s heart hammered. Was that a spark between them? No way this kid’s normal. He has to be some magical creature.

“So what’s your story?” Nat asked.

“What?”

Nat inhaled smoke before he gave Gabe a sidelong glance. “Your story. You mentioned the underground network, and in my experience, no one ever does unless they want to share. Or brag. So are you gonna tell me a bedtime story to keep me up at night?”

Gabe let out a low chuckle. “Oh, I can think of so many better things to do than to tell stories.”

“Oh yeah?” Nat turned on his side against the railing, lifting his eyebrows in a challenge. “More than listening to music and gazing at the stars?”

“Is that really what you came to do tonight?”

“Maybe. But I’m good at adapting.”

“Good.”

Gabe turned to face Nat. Nat’s gaze never wavered, never flinched. His hazel eyes—almost gray in the low light from the party—made Gabe think of quicksilver, the kind of metal that melted in his hands. Oh my God, I want to make you melt, boy. Gabe placed a palm on the small of Nat’s back, and he swore that Nat really did melt into him. The inches between them were gone. Their cigarettes were forgotten about as they ashed them on the railing. Nothing separated them but their breath and clothing. Nat’s scent was enchanting in a way Gabe hadn’t experienced. The sweetness he caught a whiff of before wasn’t entirely accurate. Now, this close, Gabe realized Nat was hot, savory, and—

“Are you gonna breathe in my mouth?” Nat asked. “Or are you going to kiss me?”

Gabe laughed lowly. He placed his other hand on the back of Nat’s neck and dragged their lips together. Nat opened to him with a gasp, allowing Gabe’s tongue inside. Nat tasted like he smelled: savory and rich. Gabe latched on to his hips, knocking them together as the kiss grew in ferocity. Gabe wished he hadn’t worn his fucking belt buckle tonight. No matter, he chastised himself. It’ll soon be on the ground, if I get my way. Gabe caressed Nat’s neck and cheeks—his hot cheeks—as he kissed him with more force. Teeth gnashed together, lips were bit. But it was good, rough in all the right ways. Nat tugged on the collar of Gabe’s leather jacket, and soon, Gabe was shucking it off.

“Inside?” Nat asked.

Gabe sucked on the tender skin by Nat’s ears. He didn’t answer.

“Inside?” Nat asked again, gasping this time.

Gabe sucked harder. He could feel the suck-bruise he was forming on Nat’s skin under his tongue. He snaked his arms under Nat’s, pinning him against the railing. Nat squirmed, moaning and shuddering under Gabe’s movements. When he asked to go inside again, it was a faint whisper to Gabe’s ears. A frenzy took over Gabe. He wanted Nat right here, right now, in front of nothing but the smelting plants of Winnipeg, at a shitty house party (even if Beatrix was the best, all house parties in Winnipeg were shit), and even while he was on the clock at work. Fuck. I can’t believe Duke actually wanted me to work tonight. The house party was supposed to be a lead in a new case Duke hadn’t even given him specific details for yet. As soon as Gabe stepped into the front hall, Beatrix had welcomed him with open arms and a drink. Then the songs took over. The music got underneath his skin, like Nat was right now, and made Gabe forget all the consequences to his actions.

“Fuck,” Nat cursed as he writhed. Taking Gabe’s collar in his hands, Nat pulled Gabe’s mouth off his neck and made their tongues meet again. Gabe went willingly, especially as Nat’s erection collided with his own. After several moments of rushed grinding, Gabe grasped the hem of Nat’s shirt and lifted it up. He raked his fingers against Nat’s rib cage before he pressed their bodies together.

“Fuck. Fuck. Gabe,” Nat panted. “We can’t do this here.”

“But I want you right here.”

“I know.” Nat grinned—fiendish, almost devilish. He held Gabe’s chin in his hands, their lips so close but not touching. “I know. But is this really where you want this? Beatrix… you know she has bedrooms, right?”

“Right.” Gabe nodded. Nat caught his lips off guard, and his thoughts, however coherent, were lost to his impulses.

“Okay,” Nat said, pulling away. “Then you’ll get a room for us. I’ll be there in a moment, trust me.”

“I just met you. How can I trust you?”

When all Nat did was grin, Gabe’s stomach flipped. The feeling was compounded when Nat kissed Gabe again.

“Fuck,” Gabe whispered in Nat’s ear. “I want to kiss and fuck that grin right off your mouth.”

Nat laughed, deep and throaty. For a moment, Gabe thought he saw sparks and felt a glow of fire underneath Nat’s skin. Gabe shook his head. You need to control yourself. Get your power under control before you do anything else—or anyone else—tonight. Beatrix would fucking kill him if he changed into a dragon midfuck and ruined her house. Gabe laughed at the image now. Nat tilted his head.

“What’s so funny, biker boy?”

“Biker boy?” Gabe laughed. “You saw my bike in the front?”

“Hard not to see it. When I first got here, I wondered whose Davidson cruiser was in the front. Custom paint job, right? I wanted to admire it—the whole thing, really.”

“You know something about bikes?”

“Enough to know what I like.” Nat tugged on Gabe’s belt buckle and cupped a hand over Gabe’s still half-hard erection. “Are bikes really what you want to talk about now?”

“Not at all.” Gabe kissed Nat again, tongue diving in and out, as an answer. When he broke away, his breath was choppy. “Go to the bedroom first. I have to make sure I have what I need so I can treat you right. You understand, of course?”

Nat bit his lip, already red and swollen from their actions. “You may not need that for me, you know.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Gabe shuddered at the thought. No condoms? For this guy? Maybe he’s a mage and his entire immune system is enchanted against disease. A thousand other reasons spun inside Gabe’s mind, but they were all trumped by the permission he’d been given. Fuck this guy without anything between them. Skin to skin, body to body…. Gabe swallowed hard.

Nat pressed a brief kiss to Gabe’s mouth. When he stepped back, he unzipped his hoodie and hung it over his arm. “I’ll be waiting. Don’t take too long, biker boy.”

Gabe watched from the porch until Nat’s slender body disappeared into the living area and then became indistinguishable in the crowd. Fuck, Gabe thought. This is definitely my lucky night.

His phone’s muffled ringing against the porch’s wooden floorboards and jacket pocket startled Gabe from his thoughts. Duke. Shit. Gabe scrambled to find his phone in the jacket’s breast pocket and wondered if he could cook up an excuse. Sorry, boss. No one here. I guess the gang—because what else would you send me?—you wanted me to track doesn’t like the punk scene anymore. Really, if you want me to find smugglers, you gotta go to the industrial buildings. The raves. The smugglers love it there. Gabe had learned this the hard way when he was tracking a different gang but kept the info to himself when Duke texted him the orders tonight, because he missed Beatrix. Any excuse to see her was a good one in his book. Some nights he swore he missed Winnipeg more than Toronto now, though Gabe would never admit to that out loud. At least not without threat of torture.

By the time Gabe grabbed his phone, a second call had gone to voice mail. Several angry text messages were also there, all of them in caps and from Duke. CALL ME. WHAT DO I PAY YOU FOR? COME ON, DRAGON BOY. BEING THE JUDGE MEANS NOTHING UNTIL YOU CALL.

Gabe groaned. He glanced back at the house and wondered how long Nat would wait for him. Naked. Maybe Nat’d get hot and bothered in the meantime, touching himself when Gabe took too long. So when Gabe arrived, he could slide up next to him, and they’d be ready to go all night.

If Duke will let you go all night.

With a sigh, Gabe called Duke. He picked up on the first ring. “Dominguez. Fuck you.”

“Fuck you,” Gabe said right back. “I’m busy. I’m working. But let me tell you, gangs don’t like the punk scene. They like—”

“I know. I don’t care. I found someone else to go to the industrial parks in Toronto.”

“Oh. Well. That’s good, I guess.” Gabe brushed past the sting of a job being taken away from him. “So why bother me again? I’m busy.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Duke’s tone suggested he knew exactly what Gabe was about to get busy doing. “I still have a case for you. With one hand I take, but I’ll always give back. I’m a good boss.”

“Get to the point.”

“Well, the last lead we had for this new guy was in Winnipeg, so I think you may be in the right spot.”

“I’m not looking for another troll in the smelting plants. I smelled for weeks afterwards.”

“Calm down. Don’t reject until you read the case file. Do you remember nothing of what I taught you?”

“Fine. Send it over. I’ll text you if I’m into it. But don’t expect anything for a while. Not until dawn, at least.”

Duke huffed. “You work for me, Dominguez. I don’t work for you.”

Duke disconnected. His last words stung for several seconds afterward. Gabe really didn’t mean to offend him—and not just because Duke was one of the most power-hungry men he knew. Gabe could handle big egos. That wasn’t a big deal. It was disappointment, after he owed Duke so much. So much when….

Gabe’s phone buzzed with an e-mail before he could wander down darker thoughts. He clicked on it and scanned Duke’s first message as he slid open the porch’s screen door.

So I have a firestarter for you this time, a branch of elementals. Name’s Wyatt. He may be going by several different names, though, so use the photos to ID him. Firestarters can’t do any permanent body modification because of their blood chemistry, so he should look the same as ever, barring maybe hair color changes. I’ve attached the photos and the cases he’s involved in. You’re a good worker, Dominguez, so we really need you for this one. Fire can’t kill dragons, remember? So don’t reject it.

Take it easy,

Duke

Gabe groaned. Of course he’d be stuck with catching a firestarter. He’d done one a few years back when he was first brought into Duke’s ring of bounty hunters. The woman was nasty to catch; she nearly burned half of Halifax down in order to get away. But Gabe had caught her, with very few injuries, for the exact reason Duke cited. Fire can’t kill dragons. In the worst brawl with a firestarter, Gabe would have to shape-shift into his dragon form and take them out. Easy as pie, even if Gabe wasn’t so excited about being a dragon anymore.

And I was so close to being laid. Gabe’s erection was all but gone now from talking to Duke, and his mind was already back in work mode. Gabe skimmed the case files and Duke’s notes on Wyatt as he trudged through Beatrix’s house.

Wyatt was a serial arsonist, known for starting fires with his powers. The first two were in abandoned buildings in Ontario close to the high school or university the kid had been attending. He’d been brought in, charged, and eventually placed into a facility for supernaturals for his second offense. After two years, he was even discharged—but not more than a day after, another building went up. Then another in a different province. The largest following fire had been in an 8,000-square-foot warehouse and killed seven people—and that wasn’t even the last one Wyatt was charged with. Gabe let out a low whistle. The numbers and damages all looked pretty brutal. He could understand why someone had paid Duke to come after this guy. Even if this wasn’t a gang case, Duke often took on freelance work for corporations. Since the last few buildings were commercial enterprises, all of this checked out. Piss off enough witches, vamps, or other creatures who’ve become CEOs, and eventually they stop trusting the civilian government and go through the underground network—even the nastier sides of it, like Duke’s operation.

Well, I have my next week and a half, maybe even month, cut out for me.

When Gabe flipped through the image attachments, he stopped in his tracks. A pair of familiar gray eyes stared back at him from a color photo, though they were framed behind thick-rimmed glasses. The same blond hair, skinny frame, and sharp edges with attitude. Wyatt wasn’t a first name, but a last name. The first?

Nathanael.

“Nat!” Gabe hissed. “Nat!”

Gabe barreled up the stairs two by two. The music throbbed over his cursing. Of course the one person I hook up with is a firestarter. Of course, of course. Gabe was about to start pounding on all the closed doors on the second floor when he tried to regain his composure. If Nat really is this firestarter, then you already have him. Possibly half-naked on a bed waiting for you, which means he won’t run and that he doesn’t know who you are. This case can be closed, and you can be done for the night. Gabe took another deep breath and steadied himself. He started to knock on all the doors, but quietly.

Beatrix was the first to answer. Her hair was messy, her dark eyeliner smudged around her lids. Gabe spotted another guy in the back of the bedroom with her.

“What are you doing, Gabe?” she asked. “Are you high? You’ve got the squirrely movements like you’re high.”

“You see a tall kid? Skinny. With a gray hoodie on…?”

Beatrix shook her head.

Gabe huffed. Fuck. “Are there any more rooms up here? I’ve knocked on all the others and there’s no one answering.”

“Oh, sweetie. You get stood up?”

Gabe slammed a fist into the wall. Beatrix blinked and furrowed her brows. “Hey, now. I know it’s shitty being stood up, but leave my house alone. Respect your transformative elders, dear.”

“I’m sorry. I just… I need to work a job and—”

Gabe stopped speaking when he heard the low rumble of an engine during a lull of the concert music.

“Isn’t that your bike?” Beatrix asked.

Gabe bolted toward a bedroom right over the garage. From the cracked window, Gabe watched as his beautiful black and gold Harley-Davidson cruiser rode out of the driveway and down the street. On the back, of course, was a guy in a gray hoodie. Nat Wyatt. Fucking Nathanael Wyatt, a firestarter known for killing at least half a dozen people and costing upwards of two million in damages.

“Fuck!” Gabe barreled out the bedroom and toward the front door.

“Gabe! Gabe!” Beatrix cried after him. “You need to calm down. Think of—”

Beatrix stopped at the foot of the stairs, seeming to know it was impossible to stop him. It always had been. At least tonight, Gabe hoped his speed was an advantage and not something that would draw too much unwanted attention from the wrong people.

Either way, I need this kid. And my bike. With another breath, Gabe ran through Beatrix’s door and into the night.

Soul of the Mummy by BG Thomas
S’ankhibthot did not want to die.

Oh, to turn back the hours! Oh, to be far from this place. He had been all over the world. If only he were in Niya or Mitanni, even Nubia. Any place but here.

How had events changed so much, so suddenly? Why, only yesterday he’d been one of the favored: honored in court, invited to every social gathering, sent gifts in hopes of future favors, and greeted on the streets by rich and poor alike. People he’d never met called him “S’an,” as if they were friends.

And tonight? He was marked for death!

Fate could be fickle.

Feeling lightheaded, he sat on the roof ledge, looking out at the Nile where the surface of the black waters reflected a twin of the moon.

How much longer do I have? S’an wondered. Was there some way to escape both Pharaoh’s men and his lover’s insane plan? S’an was recognized by so many. Was there any way to just slip into the night? For how could he trust that his lover could really raise them from the dead, for the gods’ sake?

True, S’an had witnessed the man do the impossible.

Why, it was the raising of a dead man that had won his lover a new name. Pharaoh Hatshepsut herself had dubbed him Ma’akheruenhut, “justified of the temple.” What irony that a man the priests had shunned should become the most famous of them all!

Only a week before the miracle of the resurrection, S’an had gone to temple to pray and make a meager offering when he’d first seen the priest who would soon be known as Ma’akheruenhut. Even from across the courtyard the man had taken S’an’s breath away. He was magnificent; tall, powerfully muscled, skin glistening with oils, he stood apart from the other priests around him like lapis lazuli in a handful of gravel.

They’d locked eyes from across the great courtyard and, to S’an’s surprise, the priest had smiled and come to him. In the coming hours he went from the man’s side to his table and finally to his bed. A hand’s span of days later, he’d accompanied the priest to the royal palace of Pharaoh Hatshepsut! It was like something from a story his mother had told him in his youth.

S’an had been sure Ma’akheruenhut would tire of him quickly. Of what lasting interest could he—just a poor commoner—be to such a man? Yet here he was, twenty years later. It had been a journey through fertile valleys and arid desert. Ma’akheruenhut had brought him exquisite joy and crushing heartbreak. But through it all, there had been magic!

Yes, Ma’akheruenhut could do miraculous things.

But S’an knew that not all of his lover’s miracles were genuine. Many of the amazing feats were but tricks. The staff that transformed into a great snake? Why, a drug could be fed to a serpent that left it stiff and paralyzed until Ma’akheruenhut slipped it an antidote and it appeared to suddenly animate. Coins and other small objects that disappeared and appeared again were but practiced sleight of hand. Turning a goblet of water into blood was merely the secret addition of a powder made from the sap of the Dragon tree. So could Ma’akheruenhut really bring the dead back to life? It was a question S’an asked himself many times over the years. Perhaps his famous miracle had been just another clever fraud. Ma’akheruenhut was quite skilled at deception.

S’an knew that better than anyone.

When it was his own life at stake, S’an needed to know whether resurrection was possible. S’an, like any other man faced with his own mortality, realized he desperately wanted to live.

Does that make me greedy? he asked himself.

He had lived far longer than the circumstances of his birth gave him any right to expect. He’d outlived all his childhood friends, whether it be by illness, crime, or war. Would their wandering bas have any pity for him?

“No, not for you!”

Startled, S’an turned and then fell back in shock, nearly toppling off the roof.

Why, it was one of those very childhood friends who stood before him. Impossible!

“Minemhat?” he asked, fighting off another wave of dizziness.

“It is I,” came the dry, raspy voice.

“But you’re dead!”

“Yes,” he answered. When he moved, hand outstretched, S’an saw it was not a hand at all. Just a stump that bled freely, as if the wound were fresh.

“By Seth!” S’an cried and rolled to the side.

“I have only come to guide you to ├émmut, the devourer of the dead!”

“Minemhat, why do you wish me ill?”

“Why should I wish you otherwise? I died at thirteen, and you moan because you will die at three times that?”

“You died because you were a thief!”

“I stole because I could not afford bread! But you! You are a deviant, living far longer than any common man because of the riches of your man-lover! Your crimes are against the gods themselves!”

“Listen to them not, beloved,” came a second voice, and there was Neferhati. And why not another dead friend?

The world turned gray, and S’an shook his head to clear it.

Neferhati knelt beside him. Neferhati, who had loved him with all her heart, and whose love he had not been able to return. She had died in childbirth, married to a man she did not love.

“Oh, Neferhati! Do you hate me also?”

“Never, my love. I will guide you to the Great Balance, where I know your heart will measure true and you will be allowed into the presence of Osiris.”

“S’ankhibthot!”

He jumped at this third voice, and without so much as a puff of mist, his long dead companions vanished. He looked up to see Ma’akheruenhut, in all his priestly robes and dazzling jeweled collar, standing above him. “Are you all right?”

S’an began to tremble. “I was visited by the dead!”

Ma’akheruenhut reached down and pulled him to his feet. “It is the drug I gave you. It not only makes what is to come easier. It is near the same potion I use to talk to the dead. Tell me what they said.”

S’an took a deep breath and told his lover everything.

“Ah, don’t you see? Minemhat was a thief who had his hand cut off and unfortunately, he died from the wound. Without a hand, his body was incomplete, and he could not go on to eternity. He is but a mut, the vengeful dead, doomed to forever wander the earth. He is jealous of you.”

“But we were friends!”

“Darling! How long has he been dead? Twenty years now? His mind is not right.”

S’an shuddered, and tears filled his eyes. “Oh, Minemhat….”

“And then there is Neferhati,” Ma’akheruenhut continued. “She was a good woman and was embalmed and lives with the gods. She wished you nothing but love.

“Yet, both were wrong. We will both die tonight, but we will rise again and live another day.”

S’an so wanted to believe, but doubt filled him again, despite all he had seen in his years with his lover. “Is it really possible?”

“Oh, it is possible,” Ma’akheruenhut said, his voice rising to a shout, his eyes wide and wild. “It is for that crime that Pharaoh Thutmose has ordered my execution.” From his robes Ma’akheruenhut brought out a large golden blade with strange lettering upon its surface. He raised the weapon to the sky, his grin a horrid rictus. “S’an, I know the secret! I can take and give life as I choose!”

Fear washed over S’an.

Ma’akheruenhut looked insane.

As if realizing that very fact, his lover’s eyes returned to normal. He reached out and gently took S’ankhibthot’s hand in his own. His voice had resumed the fine timbre that always soothed S’an.

Then Ma’akheruenhut told him everything.

And when Pharaoh’s soldiers crashed into the house below, S’an knew what he would do.

After all, in the end, there really was no choice.

Devil at the Crossroads by Cornelia Grey
Chapter One
Now
Logan Hart never imagined death would find him this way—alone in an old hotel room, a Marlboro in his mouth, his soul heavy in his chest, waiting for the devil to come rip him to shreds.

The room was quiet and dusty, its floorboards marred by charred lines, telltale signs of cigarettes dropped by careless sleepers. The smell of smoke saturated the heavy curtains, the worn bedsheets, the faded wallpaper.

Logan sat on a moth-eaten, red velvet armchair. On the small table beside him, among piles of old newspapers, rested a bottle of whiskey—barely half of it left. He had every intention of finishing it, and soon.

If what he feared was truly going to happen . . . he would sure as hell need it.

For most of his life, he hadn’t thought about his own death at all. Even during the last six years, he’d pushed it to the back of his mind—buried it under bright lights and expensive drugs, sweaty bodies and too-loud voices. In the last month, though, he’d thought of little else. He had concocted an array of scenarios, all involving alcohol and dangerous places. A tall building in a gray city, an even grayer street down below, cold tarmac ready to catch a falling body. A bottle shattered into an infinity of fragments. A chair kicked to the floor under the ceiling fan in a presidential suite, an empty minibar, and dangling feet. A heavy car sinking in a lake, muddy water rising in the locked cabin. Anything to get ahead, so to speak—just to avoid finding out exactly what sort of death the devil had in mind for him.

Somehow, he hadn’t gone through with any of his plans. Maybe he lacked the exact measure of madness he needed to believe that the devil would actually show up. Or maybe he just lacked the knowledge of the exact measure of cruelty the devil possessed and, if he knew—really knew—how creative the devil could be . . . if he knew the exact measure of pain a human body could withstand before succumbing to a merciful death, maybe he’d swallow rusty nails with that whiskey and throw himself through the window, smiling all the way down.

Maybe he just lacked imagination.

There was a chill in the air, a sibilant breeze that filtered through the cracks in the walls, howled and hissed on the tiled roof. It seeped into the room like a thin silver thread; it sneaked under Logan’s clothes and brushed his skin with icy fingers. The day had been stifling hot and damp, but, as darkness came, with it had crept that slithering cold, like fractures appearing in old bones. It had muted birds and crickets and paralyzed the murmuring grass, moving forward until it had reached the hotel. There, it had crawled up the creaking wooden steps and spread, quiet and bone-chilling, to everyone’s fingertips.

The guests had looked at each other with watchful eyes and had left Logan alone.

They could feel it. Logan was sure of it. He didn’t know who they were or where they came from, and yet somehow they were stranded there with him—in that silent, shadowy hotel, somewhere on the brink of insanity. Maybe they were trapped, or maybe in transit, just like him. But whoever they were, whatever reason they had to be there—they could tell. They knew.

Logan had seen them as he’d staggered through the corridor after purchasing the whiskey from the tall, solemn bartender; he’d caught a glimpse of an ample ballroom, the notes of a tango floating languorous in the air. A dark-skinned woman had been sitting at a table, tapping her long red nails on the wood to the music. She’d been wearing a crimson flower in her hair, and her eyes had flashed like a cat’s when she’d looked at Logan. Behind her, a short man in a striped suit had grinned, revealing gleaming golden teeth.

Suddenly, all eyes in the room had turned to Logan. And everyone had smiled that same smile, or maybe just bared their teeth. Logan had thought he’d heard a chorus of low growls, somewhere at the back of his mind.

He’d squeezed his eyes shut and stumbled to the stairs.

The music had followed him, muffled until it was just a low, guttural lament, floating up the wooden steps, twining around the scraped banister. The hair on Logan’s arms had risen. It was only when he’d slammed his room’s door behind himself that he’d been able to stifle that sound.

Even now, he could hear the dull, rhythmic thumps of dancing feet stomping on the wooden floor, mapping a tune he could feel all the way into his ribcage. It seemed to grow louder and louder, much like his own heartbeat. Logan passed a shaky hand over his face. He wondered whether they were dancing for him—clapping a noisy send-off from the world, a dancing funeral of tango and blood-red nails and crooked, golden smiles. Or perhaps they danced to drown the room in sound—music and clicking heels—and they’d dance until the deep of the night, laughing raucous and loud to cover Logan’s screams. Or maybe they danced for joy: he was condemned while they still lived on, and that called for a celebration.

Or maybe they just danced, and that’s all there was to it.

Logan leaned back against the velvet headrest, closed his eyes, and exhaled. He couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone in that ballroom knew exactly what was going down tonight. He could still feel their gazes on him, could still see their feral smiles. They’d smelled blood. They knew his time was up.

Logan swallowed and reached with shaky hands for the bottle resting on the table. He wished, not for the first time, that there was something he could do. But it was late now, too late to look for redemption or salvation, too late to ask for help. Six years had passed quickly, and all he had to show for it was . . . a dusty motel room, cheap whiskey in a chipped glass, and a crumpled packet of Marlboros. And no one, no one to call on the antiquated dial phone perched on the bedside table like a fat porcelain toad.

He wiped his hand over his mouth as he once again lifted his eyes to the clock.

Two minutes to midnight.

The panic that had been crawling around his body for the past day gripped his chest so abruptly it left him unable to breathe for a moment. He hadn’t realized he was so close already. He’d thought there were still a few hours to go. And yet, somehow, as he’d sat motionless in the dusty armchair, time had slipped away, fast and smooth like a rug pulled out from under him by an illusionist, so quiet he hadn’t noticed it go. And all of a sudden he was left with two minutes—two minutes and nothing more—and the thought grabbed him by the throat and clenched, choking him.

He nearly toppled off the chair, the burst of adrenaline screaming at him to run. But after three stuttering steps, he stopped in the middle of the room, body tense and vibrating. Because there was nowhere to run. Nowhere to escape to. And the enemy might well be lying in wait just outside that door; there was no way to predict from where the danger would strike, from where the deadly blow would come. Maybe he should barricade himself inside, instead, push the bed in front of the door and go sit in the farthest corner, shoulders against the wall, shielding his back. But who was to say that devilish arms wouldn’t tear through the worn wallpaper and grab him, nails sinking into his flesh, and drag him back, through the wall, into unimaginable agony—

A noise. Logan’s strained nerves nearly went into overdrive, making him jump, making his heart ache inside his chest. His eyes darted to the door. The wooden panels suddenly looked to him like the lid of his casket, the decades-old calendar page taped to it like his obituary. Then he heard it again. A minute scraping sound, just outside the door. Nails scratching the wood, maybe, or cloven hooves dragging on the floor . . .

A sudden calm descended on him, flooding his chest, filling him with absurd, surreal relief. Because at least now he would know. And he could grab his irrational panic by the scruff of its neck and shove it back down; he could swallow and straighten his shoulders and face this thing like a man. He’d had years to prepare himself for this; he’d imagined this moment over and over. At the very least, he would go with dignity.

Slowly, muscles so tense it nearly hurt to walk, he stepped to the door. Every creak and moan of the wooden floor resounded sharply in his head. He lifted his hand and rested it on the handle, strangely disconnected, as if he were watching somebody else’s hand, as if the cold brass under his palm was too far away for him to really feel.

Logan took a deep, shaky breath, and opened the door.

Nothing. Heart pumping wildly in his chest, his temples, his wrists, he looked at the closed doors along the dimly lit corridor, at the ruined green wallpaper. No one. Then the scratching sound came again, and Logan’s gaze flicked to the floor—a brown mouse was pushing aside the baseboard. After it disappeared through the opening, its pink tail slithering behind it, the corridor was empty.

Logan closed the door, the click of the lock echoing in his very bones. He rested his forehead on the ancient calendar, nearly sagging, almost overwhelmed with dizziness. A sigh escaped his mouth.

He was such a fool. There was no one outside; there had never been anyone, no devil ready to come at midnight, no demon waiting to rip his soul from him with heinous tortures. He’d just gone insane for a little bit, nothing more; it could happen to anyone. He was perfectly safe.

Fuck. Logan laughed, a small, breathless laugh, still pressed against the door. He needed a drink, right now. And then he’d go downstairs and dance with the girl with the flower in her hair. He’d dance and laugh and drink till morning, till he passed out on the floor. He straightened his shoulders, finally able to breathe for the first time in weeks, and turned around.

The man sitting on Logan’s armchair tipped his head to the side and smiled.

“Hello. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting?”


Chapter Two
Then
Middle of the night, middle of nowhere, a chill breeze seeping through his clothes as if they were made of gauze.

Logan trudged along the dirt road, angrily kicking up clouds of dust. The tips of this boots were already smeared yellow, just like the hems of his jeans. He could feel the dust gritting between his molars, sticking to his tongue when he tried to swallow. A guitar case, the handle heavy in his hand, thumped against his knee with every step.

He raised a flashlight to inspect his surroundings. The weak beam of light was swallowed by the dark, but he could still make out the outlines of the desolate landscape. The road stretched on, surrounded by nothing at all except dried-out crops. A few yards ahead, just beside the crossroads, he spotted the contorted skeleton of a dead tree, knotted and bent, the only vertical object for miles. It had wooden planks crudely nailed to it, pointing to two godforsaken towns, scrawled with a trembling hand. And beside it lay two busted truck wheels caked with mud and weeds.

Logan stumbled on a stone and nearly fell to his knees. Cursing, he lowered the flashlight to form a shaky pool of light on the ground. Nothing but dust and stones, and a dead snake, its skin torn to reveal countless ribs. Logan avoided stepping on it.

He reached the middle of the crossroads and stood there, awkwardly flashing his light in all directions. A whole lotta nothing. How nice. A pair of eyes gleamed in the light for an instant before the creature scuttled noisily away into the low vegetation. God, it was pitch-black out here. But further away, he could see the sky tinted a dirty, smoky orange. The dead glow spread like a disease over the landscape, painting its contours in sickly smears of coal dust. It oozed from the chimney of the coke plant, where the gigantic furnaces never stopped burning.

He worked there, slaving away unloading the containers of raw coal. He went home every day with coal-clogged pores, black smears on his neck, under his nails, impossible to wash off. He’d gotten used to it and to the painful rashes it caused. The coal powder wasn’t fine enough to end up in his lungs, the boss always said. Fine enough to filter past Logan’s protective goggles, though: every night he looked at himself in the bathroom mirror with bloodshot eyes, each thin capillary in stark evidence. Fine enough to taint all his food, to stick to his tongue, behind his lips, the inside of his cheeks. Just thinking about it made Logan turn his head and spit in the dust.

The cold, the wind, the coal—they made his knuckles so dry they cracked and bled when he grasped his guitar, made his fingers so coarse he could barely feel the strings. The protective gloves, when they could wear them—when they didn’t risk getting caught in hooks and gears and conveyor belts, breaking bones, tearing flesh—got so cold and stiff they only made it worse, made him hiss each time he flexed his hands.

And still, Logan played every night, despite the burn of it, despite the blood that trickled down his knuckles, staining the guitar’s rounded body. He’d hitchhike for miles to one ramshackle pub or another, playing with ratty bands till the wee hours, then find someone, usually completely trashed, to drive him to the plant, in rickety pickups or ancient Fords, just in time for his dawn shift. Logan would doze in his seat—cracking one eye open every time they hit a bump to make sure the driver hadn’t passed out and they weren’t falling off a cliff—the guitar case clutched to his chest, scraped and heavy and comforting. As long as he could play, nothing else mattered, a gasp of oxygen before drowning in a black lake of coal dust. Sometimes, he thought it was the only thing keeping him sane. Keeping him awake.

And yet, somehow, it was no longer enough. He wasn’t going to spend his life in there until the coal killed him—until he just keeled over and died for “completely unrelated reasons,” like they’d said of his father.

Not when he could play instead.

Shaking himself, Logan reached the gnarled tree and sat on a busted tire, carefully setting the case down. Holding the flashlight between his teeth, he flicked the clasps open with loud clacks and lifted the top. The guitar gleamed a warm, comforting purple in the weak light, nestled in the worn gray padding. Logan rested his fingertips on the wood, tapping it amicably. This. This was all he needed. All he wanted. And if this crazy idea of his worked . . . a piece of wood and six nickel-plated strings would be his ticket out of that hellhole.

Spit gathered at the corner of his mouth, so he dropped the flashlight and balanced it on the second tire, aimed at the crossroads. There was too much darkness all around, and the weak circle of light stretched and faded, pathetically inadequate, but still enough to carve a niche of light where the two dirt roads intersected.

Logan looked down at his watch, square black numbers on a cheap greenish display.

Two minutes to midnight.

Just in time. He pulled out the guitar, cradling its neck, and placed it in his lap, pressed against his chest. It fit like it had been built just for him. He bent over it, strumming the strings once. There was something oddly fascinating in playing an unplugged electric guitar. It wasn’t mute, wasn’t useless, as people thought. It had a different, secret voice that only a few could know and appreciate, short, heavy notes without an echo. He had to press and hit the strings harder than he normally would, strain his fingers, exert himself, an eminently physical effort to coax sounds out of the instrument. Low, guttural notes, a harsh twang, a bitten-off melodic moan. It was tough, having to play without relying on the drawn-out notes he preferred, the ones he could endlessly tweak as they unraveled like a ribbon.

He set an easy rhythm, tapping his foot, falling into the comforting twelve-bar progression that felt so natural to his fingers. In the vastness of the night, the notes seemed louder than usual. He struck a string with his right hand, then bent it up on the guitar neck with his left middle finger, and the note morphed and sharpened before ending abruptly. Almost without noticing, Logan started following the familiar rhythm of Hendrix’s “Red House.” He moved his head in time, enjoying the tune, playing with it—building here and adding a pause there, slipping in a minute vibration among the choked notes . . .

“Nice choice,” someone said, and Logan nearly dropped the guitar.

“Fuck.” He looked frantically around, his heart pounding in his chest. The man was right there—standing smack in the middle of the crossroads, in the weak circle of the flashlight, hands loosely slipped in his pockets, looking perfectly at ease with the world. Where the ever-loving fuck had he come from?

As Logan watched, the man’s lips curled in a smirk.

“No need to look so scared, buddy.” His voice was low and raspy, like he’d smoked too many cigarettes. “I do believe you were, after all, waiting for me.”

He strolled toward Logan, who clung to the guitar, uncertain. The man was slender, wearing a pair of ragged jeans—might have been gray, but then again, most things seemed gray in the colorless night—and a visibly worn leather jacket. Everything about him seemed faded—his skin was paler than any Logan had ever seen, and the long hair falling over his shoulders and spilling down his chest looked pure white.

Logan shook his head. He didn’t exactly know who . . . or what . . . he was waiting for, but this certainly wasn’t it. “I don’t think so.” His heart was still beating too fast.

There was something odd about the man. As he came closer, Logan felt the hair on his arms stand on end under his worn jean jacket, as if static electricity was prickling all over his skin, just this side of painful—making him too hot and scraping him with sharp, cold fingers at the same time.

“Really. Because I think you came here tonight especially to see me.” He dropped abruptly to a crouch, arms resting on his knees, and stared Logan right in the face. Logan gasped.

The man’s irises were a vivid, unmistakable red.

“I am Farfarello, from the Malebolge, in the eighth circle of Hell,” the man said. He tipped his chin toward Logan’s Gibson. “Care to hand me that guitar?”

Author Bios:
JL Merrow
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.

She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and the paranormal, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novella Muscling Through was a 2013 EPIC Award finalist, and her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy. Her novel Relief Valve is a finalist in the 2015 EPIC Awards.

JL Merrow is a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.

Harper Fox
Harper Fox is an M/M author with a mission. She’s produced six critically acclaimed novels in a year and is trying to dispel rumours that she has a clone/twin sister locked away in a study in her basement. In fact she simply continues working on what she loves best– creating worlds and stories for the huge cast of lovely gay men queuing up inside her head. She lives in rural Northumberland in northern England and does most of her writing at a pensioned-off kitchen table in her back garden, often with blanket and hot water bottle.

She lives with her SO Jane, who has somehow put up with her for a quarter of a century now, and three enigmatic cats, chief among whom is Lucy, who knows the secret of the universe but isn't letting on. When not writing, she either despairs or makes bread, specialities foccacia and her amazing seven-strand challah. If she has any other skills, she's yet to discover them.

Francis Gideon
Francis Gideon is pretty much nocturnal and drinks too much coffee. These two things may be related, but he's not sure yet. Also, he writes books. Francis Gideon is a writer of m/m romance, but he also dabbles in mystery, fantasy, historical, and paranormal fiction. He likes to stay up late, drink too much coffee, and read too many comic books. He credits music, especially the artists Patti Smith, Frank Iero, Gerard Way, Florence + the Machine, and The Pixies as his main sources of inspiration, but the list grows every day. Since age twelve, he’s been trying to figure out what genre is best suited for a strange, quiet kid like him and so far, he’s happy to be where he’s ended up. When not writing fiction, Francis teaches college English classes while he studies for his PhD. He has published several nonfiction and critical articles on everything from the Canadian poet and artist P.K. Page, transgender identity in the YouTube community, using fanfiction as a teaching tool, and character deaths in the TV show Hannibal. Those are all under different his “real” name, though. He writes his novels using his middle name, Francis, so that his students don’t Google him and ask too many questions. Both Francis and his partner live in Canada, where they often disagree about TV shows and make really bad puns. To talk more about books, bad horror movies, LGBT poetry, or anything else, please drop him a line! PS: The image used for this profile is clearly not Francis, but the album art cover for Brand New's Deja Entendu. Which is really good. You should check it out.

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!"

Cornelia Grey
Cornelia Grey is a creative writing student fresh out of university, with a penchant for fine arts and the blues. Born and raised in the hills of Northern Italy, where she collected her share of poetry and narrative prizes, she is now based in London, and she is thoroughly enjoying the cultural melting pot that is the City.

Her interests vary from painting to photography, from sewing to acting; when writing, she favors curious, surreal poems and short stories involving handsome young men seducing each other.

After graduating with top grades, she is now busy with internships - literary agencies, publishing houses, and creative departments handling book series, among others. She also works as a freelance translator.


JL Merrow
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  WEBSITE
iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  AUDIBLE
KOBO  /  SMASHWORDS  /  B&N  /  AMAZON
EMAIL: jl.merrow@gmail.com

Harper Fox
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  WEBSITE
BLOG  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  AUDIBLE  /  B&N
GOOGLE PLAY  /  SMASHWORDS  /  ARe
EMAIL: harperfox777@yahoo.co.uk

Francis Gideon
BLOG  /  iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY
ARe  /  B&N  /  AMAZON  /  GOODREADS
EMAIL: francisgideon88@gmail.com

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

Cornelia Grey
FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  WEBSITE
BLOG  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY
TUMBLR  /  SMASHWORDS  /  ARe  /  B&N
EMAIL: corneliagrey@yahoo.com



Trick of Time
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
KOBO  /  AUDIBLE  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  iTUNES

Third Solstice
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Never Lose Your Flame
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  ARe

Soul of the Mummy
Devil at the Crossroads
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  SMASHWORDS
ARe  /  RIPTIDE  /  GOODREADS TBR