Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fire & Hail by Andrew Grey

Brock Ferguson knew he might run into his ex-boyfriend, Vincent Geraldini, when he took his first job as a police officer in Carlisle. Vincent's attitude during a routine traffic stop reminds Brock why their relationship didn't last.

What Brock doesn't expect is finding two scared children in the trunk of a Corvette. He's also surprised to learn the kids' mother is Vincent's sister. But his immediate concern is the safety of the two children, Abey and Penny, and he offers to comfort and care for them when their mother is taken into custody.

Vincent is also shocked to learn what his sister has done. For the sake of the kids, he and Brock bury the hatchet-and soon find they have much more in common than they realized. With Abey and Penny's help, they grow closer, until the four of them start to feel like a family. But Vincent's sister and her boyfriend-an equal-opportunity jerk-could tear down everything they're trying to build.

I love Andrew Grey's Carlisle Cops series, they're fun, dramatic, loving, sexy - basically everything you hope for in a contemporary romance.  Throw in some kids and it just adds another layer of realism that tugs at your heartstrings.  Abey and Penny are absolutely adorable, how can you not fall in love with them as much as Brock does?  You definitely should have a box of tissues handy, you don't want to short out your ereader from falling tears.  And you will have a few tears, tears of heartache, tears of sadness, tears of laughter, and tears of joy.

Former loves reconnecting can be tricky to convey, especially when the breakup might not have been for the best.  You need to understand and believe why the connection is still strong as well as why it took so long to meet up again, the balance has to be just right and Andrew Grey has created a very realistic blend with Brock and Vincent in Fire & Hail.  Once Brock unlocked the trunk and found two pairs of innocent eyes staring back at him, I was hooked.  There was no way I was putting my Kindle down until I reached the last page.  Forget eating and sleeping, I just had to know their journey.

Each book in the series can be read as a standalone but I highly recommend reading them in order.  The ins and outs of the secondary characters from previous entries just make the flow of each story run smoother.


TRAFFIC DUTY. Of course they assigned him traffic enforcement. Brock Ferguson was the newbie in the department in every way.

Hell, he wasn’t going to complain—he knew he was the luckiest guy on earth to have this job at all. When he’d applied, he was told there weren’t any openings and they’d put his résumé in the file in case something came up. He hadn’t had much hope, but then he’d been called for an interview just ten days later because one of the officers decided to move back South. He’d worked hard to make a good impression and seemed to have pulled it off. Of course, that meant he now got to sit in a patrol car watching vehicles as they passed by, their speeds registering on the radar system installed in the dashboard.

Vehicles of every description passed in front of him, everything from tiny Smart cars to huge semitrailers. He checked the speed of each one and yawned. Hours of sitting with the engine running, and even then the air-conditioning barely kept up with the heat from the sun pouring through the windows. It was like being in a tin can roasting in an oven, with no place to go. Brock hadn’t moved in forever. It seemed the word was out about where he’d been stationed. Everyone was slowing down, driving sedately past him, and probably speeding up as soon as they were out of sight. Still, he knew the purpose of him being there was to act more as a deterrent and get people to slow down in the first place.

A red sports car with the convertible top down passed, going fast enough that the radar peeped. Brock put the car in gear, flipped on his lights, and pulled out, joining the flow of traffic and keeping the offender in sight. As he drove, he called in to report the stop and gave the license plate to the dispatcher to make sure the car hadn’t been reported stolen. The other cars got out of the way, and when Brock stayed behind the offender, the driver pulled to the side. Now he needed to be careful. Traffic stops, while routine, could also be dangerous. He got out of his car and walked up to the other vehicle, where a head of thick black hair poked up above the seat.

“Could I see your license and registration, please?” Brock asked as he looked over the inside of the car, checking for any sort of weapon. “Do you know how fast you were going?”

The driver turned to him, and Brock stared into a very familiar set of eyes.

“Vinny,” Brock said, relaxing a little. “I see you still drive like a bat out of hell.” He waited for him to hand over his license. “I guess some things never change.”

“I prefer Vincent now,” he said.
Brock ignored the comment and went back to his car to run the information. Not that he needed the driver’s license. He knew everything there was to know about Vincent Geraldini. He’d learned enough while the two of them dated years earlier. Granted, it hadn’t been for very long, but just as Brock thought they might be getting serious, Vinny—Vincent—had backed away.

Vinny’s record came back clean, and Brock sat in his car a little longer than was necessary, thinking about what he was going to do. At the speed Vinny had been going, writing a citation was discretionary, so Brock was still debating. Maybe he could write him one for being a dickweed. Brock opened the door, got out of his car again, and returned to Vinny.

“Are you going to give me a ticket?” Vinny asked. He was always the kind of guy who tackled things head-on. It had been one of the things Brock had first liked about him. There was no backing down in Vinny. He always asked what he wanted to know and stared people down until he got an answer.

“I’m still deciding.” Brock opened his pad and began writing. Usually he’d do that in the car, but he wanted Vinny to squirm a little and wonder exactly what he was doing. Not getting the answers he wanted was one of the things Brock knew would get under Vinny’s skin, and he wanted that at the moment. Sometimes it was easy to do, such as moments like this when Vinny was not the one in control. “Are you visiting?” Brock asked, having noticed that the address on Vinny’s license read Shippensburg.

“No. I moved back to Carlisle recently and I still have to get the address on my license changed.” Vinny gave him his new address, and Brock added that to the information on the sheet.

Brock had to force himself to keep writing when Vinny turned his way once again, tilting his head upward just enough that Brock got a good look into his intense brown eyes with their flecks of gold. For a split second, he flashed on a memory of just how those eyes shone in the afternoon sun, his olive-colored skin contrasted against the blanket, covered with a light sheen of sweat as Brock leaned over him…. Brock took a deep breath, released it, and hoped like hell that Vinny hadn’t seen anything in his expression. What had happened between them had no bearing on today and how he was going to react.

“I’m going to give you a warning. But….” Brock leaned over the side of the car, his gaze zeroing in on Vinny, and he suppressed a smile when he saw him shudder a little. “This will stay in your file here, and if you get stopped again, this will turn into a citation, along with the one the officer is sure to give you then. So slow down and drive safely.”

“Of course, Brock.” The momentary heat in Vinny’s eyes dissipated as he took the slip of paper. “I’ll be careful.”

Brock glared for a split second. He wasn’t buying that act. Vinny had never been one of those guys who played it safe. Not at least as far as Brock knew.

He patted the door of the car twice and stepped back. “Have a good day.” He turned to walk back to his patrol car.

“Is that all?” Vinny asked.

Brock continued walking and got inside, watching as Vinny pulled out into traffic and guided his car up to the next intersection. Brock turned off his lights, merged as well, and made his way to his original location. He turned on his radar equipment and settled into his routine. He called in to let dispatch know he was back at his location and then tried to get comfortable.

That stop seemed to be his excitement for the morning. Well, that and the fact that now that he’d seen Vinny again, he couldn’t seem to get his mind back where it belonged. He watched cars go by and paid attention to the radar, but his mind kept wandering to the summer between his junior and senior year of college. Maybe he and Vinny were too young at that point to have really made a go of it, but Brock had fallen in love with the olive-skinned, vibrant, take-no-prisoners Vinny. But obviously the feelings hadn’t been returned. Either that or what they’d had was just some summer fling to Vinny that was over as soon as the weather broke and they went back to school. The heat of those summer months, both outside and between them, was something Brock wasn’t ever likely to forget. He grew warm and shifted in his seat just remembering it.

Not that he particularly wanted to spend part of his day thinking about Vinny and what he’d thought they had together. Brock had had other boyfriends since then, but none of them had made him feel quite the way Vinny did. Oh, they got him excited, and he even fell in love once, but in a less soul touching way, whereas Vinny could get his heart racing with just a coy look. They didn’t need to be in the same room. A text from Vinny would have Brock excited just to hear from him. Of course, as he looked back on it, he had been stupid to give his heart and become so invested in things with Vinny so quickly. In the end he’d gotten his heart broken, and Brock let that stew in his mind for a while in order to help him pull his head back onto the task at hand.

A message came through his in-car computer, telling him there were no pending calls, so he decided to go to lunch. Brock sighed with relief and pulled out of his spot, making a right onto Hanover and heading for downtown. Carter Schunk, a friend and fellow officer, had arranged to meet him at the Hanover Grille for lunch.

Brock pulled into town, drove past rows of historic homes and the colonial-era red brick courthouse with its white clock tower, and through the square with its impressive churches. He loved how the old town had a past, and she wore it well. Brock parked in the lot behind the restaurant in one of the spots designated for law enforcement vehicles, because of its proximity to the courthouse, and walked around to the front door. Carter already had a table, and Brock joined him.

“How did it go?”

“Boring,” Brock answered with a slight smile. “Exactly what you told me it would be.”

“I heard your call about a stop.” Carter handed Brock a menu but didn’t open one himself. The Grille was a regular lunch place and Brock pretty much knew the menu by heart. It had been the place his mom took him when they went out to dinner, and it hadn’t changed much over the years.

“I made one, and it turned out to be Vinny….”

“Someone you knew?” Carter leaned a little closer.

“Quite well at one time, if you know what I mean.”

Mary, the server they saw most days at lunch, brought them water, and they each ordered a burger with a salad and some ice tea. They thanked her, and she hurried to put in their orders.
“I gave him a warning because that’s what I think I would have done for anyone else.”

“Good. Always be fair. That’s the best we can do.”

“I try.” Brock smiled when Mary brought their drinks, and then took a sip, the liquid cooling his parched throat.

“I need to change the subject before I forget. You put in for some additional shifts and they’re coming your way. Red is going on vacation.”

“The big guy with the scars?” Brock was still learning who everyone was.

“That’s him.” Carter glanced around the room and even turned behind him. Brock did the same. It was good to know what was happening around you. They were still in uniform, and with all the shootings of police officers in the national news, they needed to be on alert.

“He was so intimidating the first time I met him, but he seems like a really good guy.”

“He’s leaving tomorrow to join his partner in Rio. Terry is on the US Olympic swimming team, and Red is going to watch him compete. I wish I could afford to go too, but with him gone, I put in for you to ride with me for a few weeks, and the captain agreed. So it looks like you’re off traffic duty, for a little while anyway.”

Brock was shocked. He hadn’t expected something like this so soon. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me just yet. You might wish you were on traffic duty after two weeks of second shift. It can be very active, especially during the summer. People hole up inside during the day and then come out once the sun goes down and it cools off, with a lot of pent-up energy and frustration. Tempers flare. We get a lot of domestic disturbance calls.”

“It has to beat sitting in a car all day, baking like a ham.”

Carter flashed him a look of amusement. “Pun intended.”

Brock blinked. He didn’t get it.

“Ham… pig….”

Brock groaned and changed the subject. “Do you know if Terry and Red had to take special precautions with the Zika virus and all?”

“Red said he had so many shots, he felt like a pincushion. He and Terry had to be inoculated for everything, and apparently, the US Olympic Committee is bringing its own drinking water for the athletes and their families. They don’t want anyone to get sick. Terry and Red briefly talked about him backing out, but Terry is old enough that this is his last shot at the Olympics. In four years he’ll be too old, so they decided to take the chance.” Carter grinned. “Red would move heaven and earth to see that Terry’s happy, and the reverse is also true.”

“How are things with you? How’s Alex?” Brock had met Carter and Donald’s son a few times, and the six-year-old was completely adorable.

“He’s growing like a weed and getting bigger every day. He’s so excited to be going into the first grade. Unfortunately, he didn’t like his kindergarten teacher, and Donald had to step in and get him moved into a different class. He loved Mrs. Bobb and made up the ground he was behind because of her. So this year he was apprehensive until Donald and I took him down to meet his new teacher. He stood behind my legs at first and refused to look at her because he still wanted Mrs. Bobb as his teacher again and didn’t understand why if he was going to first grade, she wasn’t coming along too. Mr. Keller was patient and gave Alex time. He’s still a little apprehensive around men he doesn’t know, but after a while, they started talking, and by the end, Alex turned to us and asked if school started tomorrow.” Carter took a drink of his tea. “Sorry, I slipped into proud parent mode.”

“Nothing to be sorry for. I asked.” Brock missed his niece and nephew—he hadn’t seen them since they were toddlers.

Mary brought their food and grabbed their glasses for refills. “There you are. I’ll be back in a minute. Can I bring anything besides drinks?”

“Looks good.”

“Thank you.”

She left, and Brock dug into his burger. He was so dang hungry, he could eat a mule whole. Their conversation drew to a halt for a while until the edge on their hunger seemed to have abated.

“So will we be working double shifts while Red and Terry are gone?”

“A few, maybe. But the plan is for us to work seven days, and some of the other guys will give up days off as well. The money will be good, and it’s only for a few weeks, so be sure to get plenty of rest when you’re off. These constant days can drag unless you’re eating and sleeping well.”

They returned to their food, and Mary brought drink refills. Once they were done, Carter excused himself to go to the restroom. Brock again scanned the room and saw Vinny come in with a group of guys. Vinny hadn’t seemed to notice Brock, which was fine.

Still, every few seconds his attention returned to Vinny and the group. Vinny couldn’t see him because his back was mostly to Brock, but Brock saw him talking animatedly, waving his hands before sitting back to laugh—a deep, rich sound he couldn’t completely hear, but knew anyway. The others around the table joined in, and Brock turned away. He wasn’t included in their fun, and even when he and Vinny dated—fucked, whatever it had been—he hadn’t been included in the other parts of Vinny’s life.

“Do you need anything?” Carter asked.

Brock shook his head and silently berated himself for not being more vigilant about what was happening around him. He hadn’t heard Carter come back because he’d let his personal thoughts drag him on a woolgathering expedition, and that needed to stop.

Carter sat down, and Brock went back to use the restroom. He did his business, washed his hands, and used a cold towel to sponge off his face. Once he was done, he rejoined Carter and they paid their bills.

“Have a good afternoon, and tomorrow we’ll ride together.” Carter walked with him to their parked cars. They got in and pulled out of the lot, each going their separate directions.

Brock spent the rest of the day in a few places around town that were notorious for speeders and wrote a number of citations. At least it gave him something to do. He checked the clock and smiled. He had less than half an hour before he could go back to the station and clock out for the day. Brock was very ready.

“All units,” he heard over the radio. “Please be on the lookout for yellow recent-model Corvette convertible driven by two women. Stop if seen, but use caution. There is a report that there are children in the trunk.” Brock blinked and listened more intently, making sure he’d heard correctly. “I repeat, there are reportedly children locked in the trunk of the car.”

“Holy shit,” Brock said to himself. He’d heard stories of what people would do to each other and to children, but this was a surprise even to him.

Brock returned his attention to the road in front of him, one of the main roads from Carlisle to Harrisburg, and sure enough, a yellow Corvette turned his direction from a block away. “I have a possible sighting of the Corvette on Harrisburg Pike headed east. Two women, top down, plate HUF–9080. I am about to intercept and will make it appear a routine traffic stop. Send backup.”

“I’m on my way,” Carter said.

Brock pulled out, maneuvered until he was behind the car, and then flipped on his lights. The Corvette kept going, so Brock put on his siren. Finally the women pulled over and Brock got out of his car.

Carter pulled behind him in his cruiser. He got out as well, and they converged on the women sitting in the expensive two-seater convertible. “May I see your license and registration, please?” Brock asked the driver. Muffled sounds from the back of the car gave him pause. “Please unlock your trunk.” He met the driver’s gaze, but she made no move to comply and stared at him with vacant eyes.

“Get out of the car and keep your hands where I can see them, both of you,” Carter barked, hand on his weapon and ready to draw, and Brock stepped away to give the driver space while the women did as he asked.

“You can’t do this,” the passenger said as Carter had her place both her hands on the hood of the car, her legs spread.

Once Carter had eyes on both women, Brock reached inside the car and found the trunk release. He pressed it, went to the back, and opened the tiny trunk lid. Two sets of eyes peered out from inside.

“It’s okay, sweethearts. No one is going to hurt you.” He pushed the lid all the way open, and a little girl in a pink sundress and white-and-pink-striped tights stood up. Brock guessed she was about three. “We need assistance at Harrisburg Pike near East. I can confirm two children in the trunk. They seem okay so far.” He kept his voice as calm and level as possible.

A boy, about five years old, carefully climbed out of the trunk. “Mama,” he said, pointing to the woman who had been driving the car.

Brock glared at the woman. He had trouble imagining how anyone could be so heartless and cruel as to lock two small children in the trunk of a car on one of the hottest days of the year and then go out joy riding. Not only was it a miracle that they weren’t hurt from being tossed around inside the confined space, but it was lucky they hadn’t been injured from the heat.

He escorted the children onto the grass and into the shade of a nearby tree, then knelt down so he could be more on their level and less intimidating. “I’m Brock. What are your names?”

“Abey, and this is Penny,” the little boy answered and then pointed to the car. “It was scary in there.”

Penny had her thumb in her mouth and stayed close to Abey.

“Is Penny your sister?” Brock asked, and Abey nodded. “Did you take care of her while you were in there?”

“Yes. I held her when we rolled around.”

“You were a very brave big boy.” Brock didn’t know what else to say, but Abey nodded. “Can you stay right here with Penny?” Brock asked as he heard cars approaching. He stood to watch the scene but stayed close to the children.

Two other police vehicles stopped nearby. Both Kip Rogers and Aaron Cloud got out of their vehicles. Aaron was the ranking officer and he’d probably take charge of the scene. Brock stayed where he was as Kip helped Carter handcuff both women and get them loaded into the back of separate police cars. Then Aaron made his way toward Brock and the kids.

“Did you find out why they were in the trunk?” Brock’s heart went out to both children as Aaron stepped away a few feet.

“The car belongs to the passenger, Brenda Weaver, and apparently she’d just bought the car and drove it over to show Rhonda Geraldini. Rhonda wanted to take the car for a spin, and since there was no backseat and she didn’t have a babysitter, she put the kids in the trunk and the women decided to go for a ride.”

“My God,” Brock said softly. Vinny’s sister. Sometimes it was a small, sick world.

“Her excuse was that she thought the kids would be fine and that they weren’t going very far or very fast. Oh, and that there was no backseat in the car for the kids to ride in anyway.” Aaron rolled his eyes.

Brock turned back to the kids and forced a smile. “This is Abey and Penny. Abey held and protected his sister while they were in there so that she wouldn’t get hurt. He’s a very good big brother.”

“Where did they take Mama?” Abey picked at his sleeve, swaying from foot to foot.

“It’s all right. She shouldn’t have put you and Penny in the trunk, so the officers are going to talk with her.” He turned to Aaron, floundering.

“Carter called for some help, and his husband, Donald, is on the way.”

Brock nodded. “I’ve met his family.” That was a huge relief. Donald would know exactly what to do and how to help make sure the kids remained calm. “I’ll stay with the kids here in the shade if you want me too.”

“Perfect. We’ll handle the rest.” Aaron left them, and shortly after, Penny pulled on Abey’s sleeve.

“Penny has to go potty,” Abey said.

“Okay.” He caught Aaron’s eye and motioned to the gas station next door. Then he took each of their hands and gently led them across the grass and into the store. There was just a single bathroom, and Brock waited outside while Abey took Penny inside. He kept watch and listened for any issues. Soon the heavy door moved, and Brock helped open it. They came out, Abey holding Penny’s hand.
“Did you wash up?” Brock smiled when they both nodded, and he led them back through the store. At the register, Brock bought two boxes of animal crackers and handed one to each of them. He also got some bottles of water, then walked the kids across the parking lot to where Donald was waiting for them. “Abey and Penny, this is Mr. Donald. He’s going to be your friend and he’ll help you. I promise. He’s a very nice man.”

Abey’s lower lip quivered, and Penny stepped behind her brother. Brock suspected that all this was way more than they could handle and fear was really setting in.

“I’m going to take both of you to stay with a friend of mine. Okay?” Even Brock found Donald’s voice soothing.

Abey shook his head, turned to Penny, and put his arms around her to shield her from Donald. “No strangers. Mama says so.”

“Am I a stranger?” Brock asked, and Abey turned to look at him but didn’t move away from Penny.

“Yes,” he answered. “But you’re a nice stranger.” He turned and held his box of cookies close to him, and Penny mimicked her brother.

Brock wanted to cry right there by the side of the road. He blinked and had to turn away. Damn it, he wasn’t supposed to get emotional when he was on the job. Take whatever you see, bury it, cover it up, and make it stay there. That’s what he was supposed to do. But how in the hell was that possible when he was looking into two pairs of wide, frightened blue eyes?

“Do you want me to go with you?”

Abey thought a second, screwing up his face in a look of concentration, and then finally nodded. Abey seemed to trust Brock, at least initially.

“Will you stay here with Penny?” Brock asked Abey, and he nodded, holding his sister’s hand. Then Brock and Donald took a few steps away. “I can ride with you to where you’re taking them.”

“That’s the problem. I don’t have a single home with room for two kids. All I have are two separate emergency foster care homes, and they are limited to taking one each at the moment.”

Brock’s gaze hardened and he glared at Donald. “You can’t split them up. They just saw their mother taken away in a police car. Look at him—he’ll fight you tooth and nail if you try to separate him from Penny, and the poor little thing will come apart. She’s already got half her hand in her mouth, she’s under so much stress.”

“Emergency foster homes require special certification, and I can’t just make things up as I go along. I have to go by the book. These are court matters.”

“Crap….” Brock wished he could do something—anything—about the fear in their eyes. “You do what you have to do, but so help me God….” Maybe this profession wasn’t the right one for him. “I took an oath to protect and serve, and if I can’t help little ones like them, then what the hell good am I in the first place?” Brock couldn’t just walk away.

Donald sighed and turned to look to where Carter was searching the car. Brock saw the moment Carter realized Donald was looking at him. He could almost see the zing of awareness that passed between them, it was so strong.

Carter and Donald seemed to communicate with each other without saying a word, and Brock saw Carter nod to Donald, who smiled and then turned back to him. “Carter and I will take them in. I’m certified as an emergency foster home, and we have enough room for the two of them if they share a room.”

“I doubt you’re going to get them to sleep apart.”

“You’re probably right, though I think Penny is going to need a bed with a rail to ensure she doesn’t roll out, but I can accommodate that.”

Brock turned to the kids, who were still frightened. Penny had ripped open her box of crackers and was eating them while Abey still held his with the handle clutched in his fists. He looked about as defiant as a five-year-old could when fear was stalking close by.

“Mr. Donald is going to take you home with him.”

Abey once again shook his head and moved closer to Penny.

“Would it be okay if I went along with you?” Brock asked, and Abey nodded his agreement after a few seconds, looking from Donald and then to him.

“I’ve got a car seat as well as a booster in my car, so the kids can ride with me.”

“I need to clock out, and then I’ll be over to your house as soon as I can get there.” Brock knelt down. “Mr. Donald is going to take you to his house, where he has a lot of really fun toys, and his son, Alex, will be there for you to play with. I promise I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Brock took both kids’ hands, led them to Donald’s car, and got them buckled in. “I promise I’ll be over to see you soon.” Brock closed the door and stepped away from the car. As soon as Donald pulled away, Brock hurried to where Carter and Aaron were comparing notes.

“Are you clocking out?” Carter asked.

“Yes. The kids are with Donald, and I told him I’d be over as soon as I could.”

“Why?” Aaron asked.

Brock thought that was one of the dumbest questions he’d ever heard but kept his reaction off his face. “The kids trust me for some reason, and they’re suspicious of Donald. So I want to make sure they’re okay.”

“Good. Tell Donald I’ll be home as soon as we button things up here and I can get the paperwork done on our ‘mother of the year.’”

Brock got in his car, radioed in, and headed to the station. Once there, he clocked out and left as soon as he could. He made a quick stop at his apartment over Victorian Antiques on Hanover Street, where he changed clothes. Then he headed out, walking the few blocks to Donald’s as fast as possible. He knocked, and Donald answered the door with Penny in his arms, tears streaking her face. She reached for him, so Brock took her and rubbed her back to try to soothe her as he stepped inside.

Abey sat on the sofa, staring at nothing, his little legs sticking out in front of him. He seemed so forlorn, but when he saw Brock, he perked up, slid to the floor, and walked over.

“Penny is fine, little protector,” Brock said, sitting on the sofa. Abey climbed up and sat next to him. “Where’s Alex?”

“He’s at the neighbors’ house, playing with a friend. I have to go over and get him, but I wanted to wait for you. I’ll be right back.” Donald left, and Brock gathered Abey to him with his free arm.

“Are you hungry? You can eat your crackers if you want.”

Abey looked down at the red box covered with circus animals and slowly opened it. He ate one of the animal-shaped crackers inside and then handed one up to Brock. He ate it and thanked Abey for sharing. Penny’s box was on the table, so he leaned over, got one, and handed it up to her. She took it but continued holding him tight, like she had no intention of letting him go.

Donald returned with hurricane Alex, who blew in amid a flurry of storytelling. “Mark said that he was the bestest at bike riding and I said unh-uh, and he said he was, but I beat him so I was right. But he….” His conversation cut off midsentence when he saw Brock and the kids.

“Alex, this is Penny and Abey. They’re going to be staying with us for a little while. Is that okay?”

Alex looked up at Donald and then at the two youngsters as though he were thinking. Then he turned back up to Donald. “Are they like me?”

“They’re like you were when you first came to live with me. They need my help. Is that okay?” Brock liked the way Donald always seemed to ask questions rather than forcing the kids to do what he wished. Granted, in the end, Donald got what he wanted, but he always made Alex part of the process.

“I still get my room, right?” Suspicion clouded Alex’s adorable face.

“Of course. They’re going to sleep in the room next to yours.”

“Okay.” Alex walked right over to Abey. “Do you want to play Legos? I got lots of ’em.”

Abey hesitated and then slid down off the sofa, handed Brock his animal crackers, and followed Alex to the corner of the room where his toy box was.

“Do you want to play too?” Brock asked Penny, but she seemed content to stay right where she was. She did lift her head, though, watching the boys.

“They’ve been through a lot in a very short time. All we can do is give comfort. If I knew them, I’d try to find out their routine and stick with it. But we’re going to have to wing it.” Donald approached slowly. “Are you hungry, sweet girl?”

Penny nodded slowly.

“Do you like macaroni and cheese?” Donald asked, and she nodded again.

“I’ll go make some. Do you want to help me?” Donald extended his hand, and Penny looked at it for a while. Brock didn’t think she was going to go for it, but then she took Donald’s hand, and Brock let her go into Donald’s arms. “There you are. Let’s go make some dinner.” He carried Penny into the kitchen, and Brock sat where he was, watching the boys play. Abey seemed content to spend time with Alex and wasn’t fussing as they scooted around the floor, chattering like they were old friends.

Brock pushed to his feet and walked to where Donald had gone. “I think they’re settled now, so I’ll get out of your hair.” There really wasn’t a need for him to be there any longer. Penny and Abey were safe, and Donald knew how to take care of them and would shepherd them to a more permanent living location.

“Stay for dinner. Once the kids are fed, I have some steaks marinating and there’s plenty.” Donald moved around his kitchen with practiced ease, even with Penny in his arms.
“I don’t want to impose, and—”

Donald interrupted him. “Nonsense. You did a great thing today, and the least I can do is feed you. Besides, what are you going to do? Go out and eat more fried stuff, or heat up a TV dinner and sit in front of the television?” Donald pulled out a plastic bag and set it on the counter. The marinating steaks looked dang good, and Brock’s belly let him know it. “And I could use your help. I don’t know when Carter will be home exactly, and I need to log in and see what I can find out about these two, as well as get them in the system, so you’d be doing me a favor.” Donald smiled, and Brock caved and returned to the living room.

It wasn’t long before Donald called the boys in, and Alex held Abey’s hand as they went to eat. Brock followed and took a seat at the table. “I can stay here if you have things to do,” Brock offered.

“Awesome.” Donald hurried out of the room.

“How are you, pretty Penny?” Brock asked. She was getting more of her dinner on her than in her so Brock gave her a hand, using the spoon to feed her. He got smiles for that and even a few giggles. Abey seemed contented enough to chat with his new friend Alex.

The kids were almost done eating when Donald returned. “I was able to get a court time for tomorrow.” Donald’s tone didn’t betray any of the seriousness of what he was saying, and the kids didn’t pay any attention to him. “We can talk more once they’re in bed.”

Brock nodded and returned to the “open the barn door” game duty as he fed Penny.

Carter got home as they finished, and the boys went back into the living room to play. Carter leaned over where Donald sat at the table and kissed him soundly. “I got home as fast as I could.” Carter shook Brock’s hand and sat down himself. “I have the information you’re going to need. The kids’ last name is Geraldini. I was able to search birth records. Their mother is Rhonda Geraldini, who is currently our guest and is likely to remain that way for a while. They might have different fathers, and Rhonda has never been married.”

“Thanks. I’ll check on them in the system in a few minutes.”

“Rhonda has a—”

“Brother…. Vincent,” Brock supplied, and Carter paused, looking at him in astonishment.

“Okay. You’ve either developed ESP or something is going on.” He turned to Donald, who shrugged.

“I used to date Vincent, but that was some time ago. He left town and moved to Shippensburg, but he’s back now and we have his address.” Brock grinned. “Sometimes small-town living is priceless. I gave him a warning for speeding this morning.”

“Okay. Let me call the station and see if we can get his phone number so we can contact him as a possible guardian.” Carter kissed Donald one more time and left the room.

Soon Brock heard him talking on the phone in the other room. “Is it always like this with what you do?” Brock asked.

“Sometimes. People don’t always neglect or hurt their children on a nine-to-five schedule.” Donald got out a plate. “The grill is out back. Would you mind going to light it? Or we’re never going to get some dinner.”

“Sure.” Brock found the grill on the patio in the backyard and easily got it lit. He closed the lid to let it heat and returned to where Donald had started the rest of dinner. Penny sat in her chair, eyes drooping, and Brock figured it was best to let her sleep. He checked on the boys and saw they were having a good time. Legos were strewn all over the living room floor, but the boys seemed to have moved on to playing cars and trucks.

“Alex, buddy, why don’t you pick up the Legos?”

Alex looked at him like he’d just said the dumbest thing ever. “They’re the track.” They zoomed the cars around the room, and it took them a few moments to realize the Legos didn’t make a very good track. Alex gathered them up, and they ran the cars and trucks along the floor, playing like they had known each other forever.

Carter finished what he needed and passed the address information to Donald, then took over kitchen duty while Donald grabbed his laptop and sat next to Brock on the sofa. It was like a balancing act between Carter and Donald. They instinctively seemed to know what the other needed to do and made a way for it to happen.

From where Brock sat, he could see Penny asleep in the high chair and watch Abey and Alex, so he kept vigil while the two of them did what they needed to do.

“Got it.”


“A phone number.” Donald grabbed his phone and made a call. He left a message and then hung up. “At least I have the right number, according to the voice mail.”

Donald returned to the kitchen, and Brock watched the children and did his best to stay out of the way. “Don’t the kids need clothes?” Brock asked.

“I have some they can use for the time being, and tomorrow we’ll have to see about getting them some more.” Donald stayed in the kitchen, and Carter approached and sat next to Brock on the sofa.

“Their mother is being charged with multiple counts, and while she may get out on bail, it isn’t likely she’s going to be getting the kids back easily. Not with her history. But that will be up to the courts, of course. Donald and I will keep the kids here until they either get a more permanent placement or are awarded back to their mother.”

“Mama,” Penny suddenly cried from the kitchen, whimpering.

Brock got up, lifted her out of her chair, and carried her back to the living room. Abey stopped playing and stood next to Brock, protecting his sister like he had earlier in the day. Penny continued to cry on Brock’s shoulder.

“It’s all right, sweetheart,” Brock soothed. Her cries must have agitated Abey, so Carter picked him up and set him on his lap. Alex climbed on the sofa, and soon the children surrounded them. It was an amazing feeling to be needed like this.

Penny’s cries eventually died away, and the boys’ energy got the best of them so they returned to their play.

The phone rang in the other room and Donald answered it, then sent Carter out with the plate of steaks. Donald continued talking as he worked and then hung up.

“What is it?” Brock could see Donald’s agitation.

“That was the kids’ uncle. He said that he and his sister are estranged and that he hasn’t seen Abey since he was eighteen months old and has never met Penny. He was shocked to know he had a niece at all.”

“Is he going to come see the kids?”

“I know you and he have a history, but I need to do what’s best for the kids, and having a relationship with family members is the best thing. So I invited him over in an hour. At least he can meet the kids.” Donald paced slowly. “I was hoping for someone the kids knew so that this whole thing would be less of a shock.”

“I don’t think there’s any way around that now.” Brock turned to where all three kids were playing. “They deserve so much better than what happened to them.” He was having a hard time letting go of the image of opening that trunk and seeing those sweet children in there. He’d been warned, but nothing could have prepared him for that. Nothing at all. Brock turned away and reminded himself that no matter what he might have thought of their uncle, what was best for Penny and Abey was what mattered.

Donald called him in to eat. The dining area was open through an archway to the living room, so they could easily see the kids as they ate. None of them talked very much, their attention focused on the three kids. Eventually Penny came over and stood next to Brock’s chair. He lifted her onto his lap, and she settled in. She didn’t seem hungry, even though he offered her some of what he was eating.

“It looks like you made a real friend.”

“I have no idea why,” Brock told Carter.

“Because you helped them. They had to have been terrified being in that trunk, and you got them out and were nice to them.”

Abey approached the table, stood next to Donald, and whispered to him. Donald got up, took Abey by the hand, and led him out of the room. Then Donald returned and sat back down.

“Is he okay?” Brock figured he needed to be shown where the bathroom was, and Donald confirmed his suspicion.

“Yes. Just needed to go to the bathroom.” Donald kept an eye out, and sure enough, Abey returned and began playing with Alex once again.

The doorbell rang just as they finished dinner. Donald took his plate into the kitchen and then went to answer the door. Brock’s tension rose instantly, and when he saw Vincent following Donald into the living room, he wasn’t so sure how he felt about seeing him again. But the near-frantic expression on Vincent’s face pushed aside his own discomfort for the sake of the kids.

“I’m Donald, a social worker with child services, and this is my husband, Carter. And I believe you know Brock already. He and Carter work together.”

Vinny nodded, his attention going right to the little girl still on Brock’s lap. Her little thumb stuck in her mouth and she turned away, hiding her face against Brock’s chest. “I haven’t seen Abey in years, and this little girl….” The hitch in Vinny’s voice caught Brock’s attention.

“Then why don’t you come meet both of them.” Donald led the way to the living room and invited Vinny to sit down. Brock lifted Penny before standing, followed Vinny, and sat next to him. Penny hid once again, but Brock hoped she’d get over the initial shyness if he were patient.

“Were you the one who helped them?” Vinny asked.

“Yes. Do you know what happened?”

Vinny shook his head. “Just that they were taken away.”

“I thought it best to tell him face-to-face rather than on the phone.” Donald sat in one of the two leather recliners and motioned Abey to come over. “This is your Uncle Vincent. He’s your mother’s brother.”

“I met you when you were a baby.” Vinny smiled.

“I’m not a baby anymore. I’m a big boy.” Abey leaned back against Donald. All of this had to be a lot for these kids.

“I can see that.” Vinny kept glancing around the room, confusion reigning.

Abey stared at Vinny and then went back to join Alex where he was playing.

“I think he’s really confused. The kids saw the police take your sister and her friend away.”

Vinny didn’t move as though not sure what to do.

Donald stood, walked over to where Brock sat on the sofa, and lifted Penny into his arms. “I think it’s time for this one to have a bath and then go to sleep.” Donald headed upstairs, and Brock watched as Abey continued to play.

“Apparently a friend of your sister got a new car and they decided to take it out for a ride. It was a Corvette without a backseat, so your sister put the kids in the trunk.” When Vinny gasped, Brock nodded to confirm what he’d said. “Someone reported her, and I stopped the car and found the kids.”

“Where is Rhonda now?”

“She’s in jail, pending a hearing in the morning.”

“Can you get her some help?” Vinny asked as Carter joined them. “My sister has mental health problems. She sometimes hears voices and she’s supposed to be on medication, but she doesn’t always take it. But even when she does, her ability to make sound judgments is compromised.”

“I don’t know. At the moment it’s pretty much up to the courts and social workers. But what about her friend? I would hope that one of them would be able to think clearly.”

“Rhonda doesn’t pick her friends for clear thinking. She picks them based upon their ability to go along with her ideas and notions. So any of Rhonda’s friends aren’t likely to be the kinds of people to act as voices of reason. Is she being tested?”

“Yes. We’re running a number of tests to see if she was impaired in any way. She didn’t seem particularly lucid when I took her into custody.”

Vinny nodded and sat back, putting his hands over his eyes. “I was always afraid of something like this. I knew she’d had Abey, but I didn’t have a clue about Penny. I think I talked to her last about six months ago, and then maybe a year before that. She’d only call when she wanted something, and the last few times, I’ve had to tell her no. I wanted to help, I really did, but she bled my parents dry and ran them into debt. What should have been relatively comfortable retirement years turned into hard ones for them. She pestered and begged for whatever they had, and because Rhonda was their daughter, they gave her what they could.” Vinny seemed about ready to fall apart, which was eye-opening for Brock. Vinny took a deep breath and blinked. “At least the kids are safe.” He released his breath. “So what happens now?”

The trepidation in Vinny’s voice touched Brock. He really cared about these kids and that said something about him. Brock wanted to think of Vinny as being selfish and uncaring. That made the earlier rejection easier to handle. But he wasn’t, and Brock was relieved for Abey and Penny’s sake, but it left him wondering what he’d done wrong.

Author Bio:
Andrew grew up in western Michigan with a father who loved to tell stories and a mother who loved to read them. Since then he has lived throughout the country and traveled throughout the world. He has a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and now writes full time.

Andrew’s hobbies include collecting antiques, gardening, and leaving his dirty dishes anywhere but in the sink (particularly when writing)  He considers himself blessed with an accepting family, fantastic friends, and the world’s most supportive and loving partner. Andrew currently lives in beautiful, historic Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

EMAIL: andrewgrey@comcast.net


Reclamation by Melissa Kay Clarke

Title: Reclamation
Author: Melissa Kay Clarke
Series: The Legacy Reborn #1
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Release Date: November 26, 2016
One woman, one man, one Legacy, one chance to save them all.

Something malevolent stalks the world spreading chaos and discord, targeting those individuals who are destined to provide a great service to humanity. Most are not aware of their sinister plots, but one is.

To the casual observer, Scarlet is only a bicycle courier, however, she is so much more. When the shadows lengthen and evil walks, she is judge and jury, exacting justice. Perhaps some may call it an honor but she calls it a curse because she can't have a family or friends and can't relinquish it until the day she dies. With no help, she muddles through best she can, hoping to make a difference at the price of her own happiness.

Gage Williams, Senior Detective, is searching for a mysterious vigilante who leaves behind a sea of destruction and a grateful public. When all the evidence points to Scarlet, he has to weigh it against his own heart. Is it possible the woman that has captured his attention is the one they are searching for?

When the Legacy calls, Scarlet must answer. 

Even if it costs her everything.

“He was about five-foot-eight or nine, skinny but with big muscles.” Renee shivered as she described her hero to the detective.

“No, he was more like six foot tall,” piped in her friend Jill, “with blond hair and blue eyes.”

“His eyes were green. I got a close look,” Renee retorted. “His hair was more like brown than blond, maybe what they call dirty blond.”

Gage rolled his eyes as he tried to make notes on the person who had saved the teens from their folly. “Are you even sure it was a man?”

Both girls nodded. “Absolutely. He had a deep, sexy voice,” Jill chimed in, “and a blond mustache. I saw it over the scarf he had over his face.”

“What kind of knife did he have?” Gage waited expectantly.

“It wasn’t a knife, it was one of those sword thingies,” Renee said.

“Yeah, a freaking huge sword. It was about three foot long and two inches wide, with black leather on the handle. I could draw a picture of it, if you want.” Jill nodded enthusiastically.

“It would help.” He smiled. He severely doubted either of these two could supply anything helpful, given the way they were both behaving. If he had to guess, they were probably coming off a high or drunk or perhaps both. He looked up as a car pulled into the parking lot and four adults spilled out, running over to them. “Here come your parents. You can go with them, but I need you both to come down to the station in the morning and answer some more questions.” He flipped the notebook closed and tucked it back into his pocket. The two girls were wrapped in parental arms and sobs of relief filled the air.

Back at the murder scene, the M.E. loaded the second body onto a gurney and into their waiting van.

“What do you think really happened?”

Gage rolled his shoulders and glanced over at the officer who had asked. “I think two kids got lucky and one kid didn’t.”

“You want to put out an APB on our hero?”

The detective laughed. “Yeah, sure. Be on the lookout for a blond or brunette man between five-foot-nine and six foot tall, roughly one hundred and fifty pounds or two hundred pounds, in his early twenties or thirties with blue and green eyes, wearing all black. Approach with caution because he has a freaking huge sword thingy.”

“So basically, we are looking for the entire cast from Highlander,” the officer quipped. “I can’t wait to see the sketch accompanying it.”

Author Bio:
Melissa was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised in Houlka, a small rural town forty-five minutes southwest down the famous Natchez Trace. She found a love of reading very early and quickly devoured everything she could. In the fourth grade she discovered a multitude of worlds when she received her first library card. Told repeatedly that she had a wonderful imagination, she turned to scribbling her musings and wrote her first novel while in college. It was never published and has since vanished. The death of a close friend who aspired to become an author reawaked her own desire resulting in penning her first book, Shattered Dreams, published in 2013. It was quickly followed by two sequels with a forth final book in the works.

Melissa now resides in Meridian, Mississippi with her supportive family – husband, Robert and daughter Rebecca, two cats, and a precocious Chihuahua. When she isn't writing, she spends way too much time communicating with her online friends and feeding her ravenous appetite for the written word.



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Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: What's His Passion?

Unexpected Places by Bailey Bradford
Love finds you in the most unexpected places.

Carter Hausemann loves his adventures in the great outdoors. He never feels as free and happy as he does when he’s hiking up a mountain or over a desert trail. After a childhood spent locked indoors, he craves the sunlight on his face and the blanket of moonlight.

Unfortunately, he has to work, so his hiking trips aren’t as frequent as he would like.

He has a new adventure planned, but little does he know, his real adventure will start at a worn-down looking club in Odessa, Texas. Carter’s dreams of finding his perfect men will become more than fantasy, starting with one sexy leather-clad man, Eddie Canales. What starts out as a night of debauchery turns into so much more.

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of male ménage.

Vegas Hustle by Ethan Stone
A business trip to Las Vegas becomes a life or death situation for a comic book fan.

Comic book geek Adam Brand is young, good-looking and wealthy. He’s also a virgin because he’s not skilled at picking up guys. While in Vegas with his friend Dean to finalize a real estate deal, he throws caution to the wind and hires a professional. Hustler Javier Campos is just Adam’s type and his first time is perfect.

Things go very wrong when Dean and Adam have a run-in with two corrupt cops and Dean ends up dead. Adam must go into hiding with Javier where they realise their attraction is more than just a business arrangement.

Mountains to Climb by TA Chase
Sometimes the past can be the biggest mountain to climb.

Toby Schwartzel has never forgotten Jensen Brockhoff, the man he loved and the one who disappeared six years ago. He thinks he’s moved on, but when Jensen appears again and wants to explain what happened, Toby realises he hasn’t gotten over Jensen. He’d only built up walls to keep from being hurt again.

Jensen Brockhoff left New York City and Toby Schwartzel for several reasons. All of them had to do with drugs and alcohol. He’s clean now and the only thing he’s addicted to is mountain climbing. His passion for the sport has got him through the last six years. But after a particularly harrowing fall on Denali, Jensen knows he has to go back to tell Toby the truth.

Will Toby and Jensen discover they’d never moved past the love they had for each other all those years ago? Or are the mountains between them too high to climb?

Size Matters by Sean Michael
Trey is a natural submissive, but no one wants to take on a blind man. When Trey and Lucien hit it off, it could be the answer to Trey’s prayers.

When Lucien meets his favorite author at a book signing, he's surprised to discover the man is not only blind, but much younger than he’d expected. He’s even more surprised to discover that Trey shares a passion of his—BDSM.

Trey loves his life as a horror mystery writer, but it is a lonely one. Immediately drawn to Lucien, he’s surprised and intrigued when Lucien ferrets out his interests in certain aspects of BDSM right from the start.

Is Lucien exactly who Trey’s been waiting for, or is it too good to be true?

Picturing Lysander by LM Somerton
Photography, like love, should have no limits.

Lysander Brock is a talented photographer and capturing the perfect picture is his passion. His work takes him all over the world and he is famous for his willingness to take risks for the perfect image.

Kyle Dawson is tasked by his mysterious employer to obtain Brock’s services for a dangerous job and he’s prepared to use any method to ensure that the young photographer does as he’s told. Breaking and entering and blackmail are just tools of his trade.

Despite the circumstances, the spark of attraction between Brock and Kyle is strong. Brock’s addiction to adrenaline-fuelled adventure holds him captive, just as much as Kyle’s brooding dominant appeal. As a fragile trust builds between them, Kyle takes a gamble and tells Brock the truth about his mission. Can Brock accept the challenges ahead—as a photographer and as a man?

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of mild BDSM.

Rockin' the Alternative by Mortica Knight
The chance of a lifetime and the touch of a rock god are offered to music journalist Bryan Gallagher on the same day. Embracing one is easy, but resisting the other is harder than he’d anticipated—especially since Bryan has never been with a man.

It could be his dream assignment. Aubrey King, the legendary god of alternative rock music, has requested to meet with journalist and writer Bryan about penning the star’s memoir. Aubrey and his dark, angsty songs are the reason Bryan was inspired to become a leading rock journalist. His obsession for his career has alienated the women in his life, but Bryan doesn’t care. What really matters to him is the music.

Aubrey King has been out of the music scene for almost ten years—ever since his alternative rock band, Falling in Stereo, broke up. Questions about his sexual preferences have always surrounded him, and now that he’s ready to make a solo comeback, he wants to tell his story, his way. He’s followed journalist Bryan Gallagher’s career for a while and believes that Bryan’s obvious passion for music mirrors his own. He loves his writing style, but is also enraptured by the boyishly handsome writer.

Brian finds pushing his fanboy nervousness aside is difficult when Aubrey finally stands before him. He’s amazed at how little Aubrey has changed—his intense gaze, his unique style and his still youthful looks epitomise the star he’s always been. But Aubrey’s vulnerability when he sings and shares the deeply personal lyrics of a new song triggers something in Bryan that he never knew was there. The need to give himself to Aubrey, to let the rock god do to him what he’s never before desired a man to do.

Unexpected Places by Bailey Bradford
“Hey, Carter, you headed out to Grayson’s?”

Carter Hausemann bit back a groan. He hadn’t gotten away quick enough to avoid Mark Watson. Carter turned to watch him approach the elevator. Mark was an attractive guy, but he wasn’t someone Carter wanted a long-term anything with. Or even a quick fuck, for that matter. Mark skeeved him out.

“Actually, I’m not,” Carter told him.

He desperately hoped someone else would join them for the elevator ride down from the twelfth floor. Mark could be pushy to the point of obnoxious if they were alone.

“I’m going home to prepare for the hiking trip I’m taking over the weekend.” Not that it was any of Mark’s business, but Carter hoped it would get the man to back off.

Instead, Mark stopped just a little too close, but not so much that Carter could call him out on it. Well, he could, but Mark would likely tell him he was being paranoid—even though they’d both know better.

“Hiking again?” Mark raked him with a calculating gaze Carter had seen too often. “Surely there are better things to do with your time?”

And that attitude was one of the reasons Carter would never want to hook up with Mark. Besides being a co-worker, he always had something bordering on snide to say about Carter’s love of hiking.

Carter shifted his briefcase into the hand closest to Mark, forcing him to move back or get whacked on the knee. As tempting as it was to be a dick and tell Mark to fuck off, Carter wouldn’t do it. He was certain that, eventually, Mark would lose interest in him.

“Nothing beats the great outdoors.”

“Nothing?” Mark asked, skepticism layering over his features. “Uh huh. I’ve seen the Odessa Meteor Crater hiking trail and don’t see how anyone could want to bother with it more than once, yet you seem to practically live out there on the weekends.” Mark cocked his head and gave Carter a borderline leer. “If that’s the most fun you’ve had here in Odessa, maybe you’ve been doing some things wrong, because I can think of at least one thing that should top the great outdoors.”

“Not if you’re hiking right,” Carter retorted. “Oh hey, here comes Becca.” He almost added, Thank God, but restrained himself at the last moment. “Hey, Becca, just in time,” Carter called out as the elevator bell dinged.

Becca was his boss, and he’d never been so grateful to see her as he was at that moment. She got on the elevator with him and Mark after murmuring greetings to them. Carter made certain he stood on her right, as Mark was to Becca’s left.

“Are you ready for your trip? This one’s going to be different from your usual day-hikes out here. Think this will be a big adventure?” Becca asked him. She pressed the button for the ground floor.

Carter smiled warmly at her. He liked his boss, was glad to be working on her team. “Hopefully it will be, yeah, though not the get-eaten-by-a-bear kind of adventure. As to being ready, almost. I’m quite excited about the weekend trip exploring parts of Big Bend. I’ve been wanting to see it ever since I moved here.”

“You just have to pack,” Mark added, eyeing him as if gauging whether or not Carter had lied about that.

“Exactly,” Carter agreed. “I was given a list of recommended supplies for the trip after I signed up for it. This’ll be my first weekend hike there. I’ve been all over New Mexico and Colorado.”

Becca turned to him, effectively cutting Mark out of the conversation. “You know, your enthusiasm is inspiring. I think I’ll talk to Lee about taking the kids hiking soon. Plus, the exercise will do us all some good. Let me know what you think about Big Bend.”

Carter nibbled his bottom lip, running through what he did know. The elevator reached the ground floor. The doors opened and Mark hovered. Carter focused on Becca. “After you.”

Vegas Hustle by Ethan Stone
I stretched my arms out, bent my legs and dove into the cool, refreshing water. I was in Las Vegas, I was eighteen years old and I was alone for the first time ever.

Well, almost alone, my friend Dean Schweister was with me. “Dean will keep you out of trouble,” my father had said. Ha! Dean had fooled everyone into believing he was a sweet young man.

I emerged from the water in dramatic fashion, imagining the scene in The Little Mermaid when Ariel comes out of the ocean onto the rock, her red hair flowing around her. My hair wasn’t red or long, but I still felt like a prince.

“Such a show off,” Dean muttered and tried to hide a smile.

We’d known each other our entire lives because our fathers worked together often. Dean’s father was one of my dad’s many lawyers. Barry Schweister normally only handled my father’s business on the West Coast but Dad had taken him to Australia to handle a crisis. It had then fallen on me and Dean to iron out a deal in Vegas. There wasn’t much to it other than a little haggling and signing some papers. I would’ve had to be an absolute idiot to screw it up.

Since Dean was two years older than me, I’m sure Dad had an idea we would party, but I don’t think he had a clue exactly what we had planned. Dad didn’t have a problem with me being gay but I doubt he’d want to know I planned on losing my virginity.

I pulled myself out of the pool then sat on a lounge chair next to Dean.

“You excited about later?” he asked.

“Yeah, I can’t wait to check out Heroes Unlimited.” HU was a comic book shop right on the strip, one of the biggest stores in the United States.

He rolled his eyes. “You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”

“Yes, I’m looking forward to our other plans, too.” I smirked.

He leaned forward and eyed me. “Dude, we’re talking about you having sex for the first time and you sound like it’s just another day.” Dean had a fake ID and had gotten one for me as well. He’d been going out to bars and clubs and having sex with men since he was sixteen. He’d promised me we would party until we found the right guy for me to sleep with.

“I’m nervous about it,” I admitted.

“Adam, it’s going to be awesome.” He sat back in the chair and closed his eyes.

“Did you see that Hispanic stud in the hallway earlier?” I’d only gotten a quick glance at him but it was enough. He was a few inches shorter than me, had a goatee, light-brown hair and beautiful brown eyes.

Dean nodded.

“Damn, he was hot.”

Dean lowered his sunglasses. “You know he was a hustler, right?”

“A what?”

“A hustler,” he repeated. “Hooker. Prostitute. Whore.”

I forced my jaw closed, trying not to let my naiveté be quite so obvious. “How do you know?”

“There’s no way a dude like him could ever afford to stay at the Bellagio. He’d probably just finished with a customer.”

I knew hustlers existed, but the ones I’d seen and imagined were dirtier and skankier than the hottie in the hallway. “You ever hired one?”

He shook his head. “I don’t see anything wrong with it but I’ve never needed to pay for sex when it’s so readily available.”

I wondered what the man charged. He had the body type I craved as well as a rough edge that made my body tremble. Being kissed and touched by him had to be a thrilling experience. A man who got paid for sex was no doubt good at what he did.

Mountains to Climb by TA Chase
Stepping in the bar was almost like getting hit by a car from the noise. Not that Toby Schwartzel had ever been struck by any kind of moving vehicle. He didn’t think a bicycle counted. He paused in the entrance to give himself a chance to adjust to the sound level and to scan the crowd, searching for any of the guys from the firm.

“Hey, Toby. We’re over here,” Simpson called from one of the back corners.

After acknowledging him with a wave, Toby wound his way to the bar where he ordered one of his favourite microbrews. While he waited for the bartender to pour it, he glanced around, checking out the possible hook-ups. It was Friday night and Toby didn’t have to work during the weekend, so he was looking for a little fun.

“Here you go, Toby.” Gray slid his mug across the wooden surface.

“Thanks, Gray. This is for you.” He slipped a five-dollar bill in the tip jar before taking a sip.

“I see your friend finally dragged himself out from whatever rock he’d been hiding under.” Gray jerked his head over toward the corner where Toby’s gang hung out.

“What friend?” He frowned as he tried to figure out whom Gray was talking about. All his friends were accounted for. Well, that he knew of anyway. He’d been so busy working on closing a big deal for a client during the last three months that he lost touch with a few of them that he didn’t see all the time at the office.

“Brockhoff. Saw him come in with Simpson.”

Someone yelled for Gray at the other end of the bar, so he shot Toby a quick smile before walking away.

Toby was frozen to the floor. What the fuck is Jensen Brockhoff doing back in town? Why the fuck hasn’t he called me in six years? The bastard couldn’t be bothered to tell me he was leaving. All I got was some ridiculous email about needing to get clean. Now he didn’t worry about letting me know he’s back. I should just leave.

His phone vibrated in his pocket and he pulled it out to see he had a text from Simpson.

Get your ass back here, fuckhead.

He should’ve known Simpson wasn’t going to let him leave.

I think I’m heading home.

Sighing, he pouted as he sent that reply. He’d been eager to relax, drink and take some stranger home to fuck him into his mattress. It’d been a while since he’d had sex with someone else. Lately, it had been his hand and his dildo.

Fuck no! Brockhoff isn’t here to see any of us. He wants you.

There was a winking smiley face at the end of Simpson’s text.

Toby rolled his eyes, still not convinced it was the best idea for him to go over there. He wasn’t sure he could control his need to punch Jensen in the mouth for leaving like that. Get a fucking grip! It’s not like you were partners or anything. Just friends with benefits. It wasn’t like he owed you anything. Yet he did think that Jensen at least owed him the respect of telling him that he was leaving town, instead of just disappearing. Maybe he shouldn’t feel so bad since Jensen hadn’t informed anyone else either.

Tough. You deal with him, Simpson. I’m going home. I’ll see you in the morning.

He finished his beer then set the mug on the bar, turning to push his way through the growing crowd to get to the door. Just as he was about to make his escape, Simpson stepped in front of him.

Size Matters by Sean Michael
Trey took his guide dog Happy out, heading to the coffee shop at the corner. It was quiet there, especially late at night, and he knew Sarah and Anthony, the owners, would make sure he was taken care of. It was the one place he felt comfortable going on his own, thanks to them.

“Hey, Trey!” Sarah called out as he hit the door. “How’s it going?”

“Good. Good. Caramel latte, love?”

“You got it. We’ve got a piece of caramel crunch pie left, too.”

“Oh, rock on. Thanks.”

He sat, put one of his earbuds in, and checked his emails. There was one from the guy with the pretty voice, thanking him for signing. He answered with—

You’re welcome, man. Good to meet you.

It had been his first book signing, and it had gone okay. The guy with the pretty voice had been good-looking if Allison’s fluttering about him afterward was anything to go by. She’d described him as tall, dark and perfect. His voice had been…liquid velvet was pretty fucking cheesy. Still, it was true.

Velvety soft and rich and…whoa. Okay. Okay. No springing wood. The guy had asked him out for coffee in that voice

His email binged.

Nice to meet you too. I meant it, about the coffee.

Trey chuckled.

I managed to get myself a cup.

Lucien’s reply didn’t take long to arrive.

You’re going to make me come right out and say it, aren’t you? I’m more interested in you than in coffee.

I don’t know you from Job.

Trey wanted to, though. The idea of it both thrilled and scared him. More thrilled, if he were being honest.

Thus the coffee.

He chuckled at that.

I guess so. I have to be careful, you know?

I get that, I do. But if we could do coffee at the place of your choice. What can I do in a public place?

Yeah. I have a good place here. Safe. Folks know me.

There you go. Invite me over.

Earthscape Java on Cornell.

Oh, God. Oh, God, what had he done?

I’ll be there in twenty.

Twenty. That gave Trey time to go home, to bail. He really didn’t want to. He should, though, right?

Picturing Lysander by LM Somerton
“You need your head read, young man. You treat photography like an extreme sport.”

“And your bedside manner needs some work, Doc.” Brock winced and gritted his teeth as another needle punctured his flesh.

“Would you rather I patted your head and gave you a sugar lump?”

“Is that what you did in the army?” Brock often thought that his doctor forgot he was now dealing with delicate civilians.

“Most squaddies would run away screaming at the sight of a needle if it didn’t mean disciplinary action. I often wish the same principles could be applied to my patients here.”

Brock squirmed. “I don’t remember vaccinations ever being this painful.”

The doctor grinned. “Probably because you never had to have six at the same time before. Okay, that was the last one. You can pull your trousers up.”

He peeled off his gloves and threw the used syringe into a special bin that his nurse held out for him.

“You may experience some flu-like symptoms over the next twenty-four hours, and you’ll probably get some bruising, but if you feel any worse than that, give me a call. When are you traveling?”

“Ten days time.” Brock smiled and got to his feet. “Then I’ll be out there for four weeks.”

“Well, good luck. Stay safe. Bring me back another picture for the wall in reception.”

Brock pulled the consulting room door closed behind him but still overheard the doctor as he said, “Colombia! I don’t know whether he’s brave, stupid or just too young to know any better!”

Brock waited for the nurse to respond, but nothing happened.

“Linda! Quit mooning over him and get the room ready for the next patient.”

“But he’s so gorgeous, Doc. I could definitely be tempted to get unprofessional with him!”

Brock winced. Not in this lifetime.

The doctor chuckled mischievously. “Forget it! He’s more likely to go for me than you.”

There was a groan. “Oh, for goodness sake, why are all the pretty ones either married or gay? That is a serious loss to womankind.”

Brock shook his head, stepped quietly away from the door and headed for the exit. Outside the surgery, the weather was doing its best impression of a tropical monsoon, though without the heat. The rain beat down onto pavements already awash after days of continuous downpours. In the distance, thunder rumbled ominously and the sky had a threatening purple hue that spoke of more rain to come.

Brock looked up just as lightning split the sky. The rain got even harder. Stoically he turned up the collar of his waterproof coat and grimaced at the trickle of cold water that immediately slid down his neck. In seconds, his hair was soaked and plastered to his head. Brock hunched his shoulders and lengthened his stride toward home. It wasn’t strictly his home. He was just house-sitting while his brother, sister-in-law and two young nephews spent their annual fortnight’s holiday on one of the Balearic Islands—he couldn’t remember which one.

Brock spent such a lot of time traveling on photographic assignments that he’d never bothered to get his own place. When he was in England, he spent the time with his brother’s family or returned to his mum and dad’s rambling old place in Northumberland. Their house was so big, and they were both so busy with various pet projects and charities, that he could probably have lived there full time without them even noticing his presence. Brock smiled to himself at the thought—he was very fond of his eccentric parents.

Brock soon arrived at the edge of the new estate where his brother’s house sat on a decent-sized plot, halfway down a tree-lined avenue. Despite the miserable weather, he felt uncomfortably warm and was glad to make it to the sanctuary of the front hall, where a small puddle gathered around his feet as he stripped off dripping outdoor clothes and boots. Feeling progressively worse, he met his own piercing blue eyes in the hall mirror and grimaced. His skin looked clammy and his hands shook a little.

Rockin' the Alternative by Morticia Knight
“He’s the one I want, Ed.”

Tapping his index finger on a photo of the author of a Rolling Stone magazine article, Aubrey King stared down his manager of almost twenty years.

“Shouldn’t the two of you meet first, see if you click before you make such a momentous decision?”

Really? Has the man ever met me before?

He didn’t answer. He merely raised one eyebrow and pursed his lips ever so slightly. It was the look he’d learned over the years would make almost anyone fall at his feet, make them clamour for the privilege of doing his bidding. Ed, fans, straight men…

“Ed, please. Bryan Gallagher is the man who will write my memoir. I don’t want to waste any more time on this subject. Give his agent a call and set something up—the sooner the better.”

“But what about Conrad Jensen? He’s very edgy and has a lot of buzz right now.”

“I hate that shit, Ed.”

Ed sighed. “What shit, Aubrey? Am I using too much industry speak for you?”

“God, yes. Please stop.”

“Aubrey, I’ve managed your rock singing career for, what, twenty years? I’ve been there from the first hit that Falling in Stereo ever had, through the gruesome break-up then all the way to your glorious comeback.”

Aubrey snorted. “I’m reserving comment as to how glorious this comeback actually ends up being.”

Frowning, Ed continued. “Regardless, I’ve used industry speak that entire time. It’s as silly to criticise me for its use as it is for me to question whether you should do something when you’ve so obviously already decided.”

Ed arched his eyebrows at him and Aubrey let out a bellow of laughter.

“This is why we’re so perfect together.” He chanced a sly peek at Ed and winked. “As manager and client, that is.” He ran his fingers through his shaggy brown hair. “And you also know how much I despise labels. Categories. Boxes that people are forced into. It’s what killed the band.”

After the music became dulled and artificial by the endless demands of touring, recording and the pressure to crank out the hits—Aubrey had needed to take a break, re-evaluate everything. All he’d ever wanted was to make music that mattered, the music his fans yearned for. The other band members strongly disagreed since only he and Chad—the lead guitar player—wrote any of the songs. The tours were how their bandmates made the real bucks.

Aubrey had tried to convince them to give the band a breather, that it would become revitalised and would be best for everyone in the long term. However, the party rock star life they’d been living had made it impossible for them to take any breaks—their money had already been pissed away. His band mates had all decided they could do just as well by going off on their own and forming solo projects. Their plan hadn’t worked out so good.

In Aubrey’s case, he’d taken the time off for himself that he’d proposed the rest of them do all along. His disillusionment with the industry had been so all-encompassing that he’d stayed off the music radar almost completely for close to ten years. It remained to be seen if he could ever recover from his self-imposed absence.

He looked up to see Ed gazing at him thoughtfully.

“I know, I get it. You take care of your music, I’ll take care of the business. If Bryan Gallagher is the one you want, I’ll make sure you have him.”

Aubrey lifted the corners of his mouth in a satisfied smile. It wasn’t about him being a prima donna. It was about knowing what the best thing was for him. Bryan Gallagher’s writing style, his taste in music, his understanding of the emotion behind rock‘n’roll—all of that made the young writer the only one who should tell his story. At least the parts Aubrey was willing to reveal.

Author Bios:
Ethan Stone
Ethan Stone doesn’t write your typical boy meets boy stories. With a combination of love and suspense he makes his characters work hard for their HEAs. If they can survive what he puts them through, then they can survive anything. He enjoys Romance with an Edge.

Ethan has been reading mysteries and thrillers since he was young. He’s had a thing for guys in uniform for just as long. That may have influenced the stories he writes.

He’s a native Oregonian with two kids. One of whom has made him a grandfather three times over; even though he is way too young.

Morticia Knight
M/M Erotic Romance author Morticia Knight enjoys hot stories of men loving men forever after. They can be men in uniform, Doms and subs, rock stars or bikers - but they're all searching for the one (or two!) who was meant only for them.

When not indulging in her passion for books, she loves the outdoors, film and music. Once upon a time she was the singer in an indie rock band that toured the West Coast and charted on U.S. college radio. She is currently working on more installments of Sin City Uniforms and The Hampton Road Club, as well as the follow-up to Bryan and Aubrey's story from Rockin' the Alternative.

TA Chase
There is beauty in every kind of love, so why not live a life without boundaries? Experiencing everything the world offers fascinates me and writing about the things that make each of us unique is how I share those insights. I live in the Midwest with a wonderful partner of thirteen years. When not writing, I’m watching movies, reading and living life to the fullest.

Sean Michael
Often referred to as "Space Cowboy" and "Gangsta of Love" while still striving for the moniker of "Maurice," Sean Michael spends his days surfing, smutting, organizing his immense gourd collection and fantasizing about one day retiring on a small secluded island peopled entirely by horseshoe crabs. While collecting vast amounts of vintage gay pulp novels and mood rings, Sean whiles away the hours between dropping the f-bomb and persuing the kama sutra by channeling the long lost spirit of John Wayne and singing along with the soundtrack to "Chicago."

A long-time writer of complicated haiku, currently Sean is attempting to learn the advanced arts of plate spinning and soap carving sex toys.

Barring any of that? He'll stick with writing his stories, thanks, and rubbing pretty bodies together to see if they spark.

Bailey Bradford
A native Texan, Bailey spends her days spinning stories around in her head, which has contributed to more than one incident of tripping over her own feet. Evenings are reserved for pounding away at the keyboard, as are early morning hours. Sleep? Doesn't happen much. Writing is too much fun, and there are too many characters bouncing about, tapping on Bailey's brain demanding to be let out.

Caffeine and chocolate are permanent fixtures in Bailey's office and are never far from hand at any given time. Removing either of those necessities from Bailey's presence can result in what is known as A Very, Very Scary Bailey and is not advised under any circumstances.

LM Somerton
Lucinda lives in a small village in the English countryside, surrounded by rolling hills, cows and sheep. She started writing to fill time between jobs and is now firmly and unashamedly addicted.

She loves the English weather, especially the rain, and adores a thunderstorm. She loves good food, warm company and a crackling fire. She's fascinated by the psychology of relationships, especially between men, and her stories contain some subtle (and some not so subtle) leanings towards BDSM.

Ethan Stone
EMAIL: ethanstone.nv@gmail.com

Morticia Knight
EMAIL: MorticiaKnight@gmail.com

TA Chase
EMAIL: chase.ta@gmail.com

Sean Michael
EMAIL: seanmichaelwrites@gmail.com

Bailey Bradford
EMAIL: bailey@baileybradford.com

LM Somerton
EMAIL: lmsomerton@aol.com