Monday, October 30, 2017

Random Paranormal Tales of 2017 Part 11


Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists by Angel Martinez
Summary:
A poltergeist haunts Taro, dogging his international travels. It washes glasses, puts dishes away, and even dusts. At least he hopes it's a cleaning-obsessed poltergeist and not his own anxieties burbling over into neat freak fits he doesn't remember. When his property manager suggests he call paranormal expert, Jack Montrose, Taro's skeptical but desperate enough to try even a ghost hunter.

Jack's arrival crushes Taro's hopes of a dashing Van Helsing-style hero. Instead of an invincible hunter, he gets Ichabod Crane. As the paranormal puzzles multiply and Jack begins to suggest the entity might not be a ghostly one, Taro adds a budding friendship with Jack to his pile of anxieties. It's a race to see whether Taro's poltergeist or his relationship with the obviously-not-ace Jack will reach maximum strangeness first.


Taro has recently won the largest lottery to date and has kept the information from everyone but his family to avoid the horrors that befall previous lottery winners.  After setting up some trusts and charities he decides to purchase homes all over the world to become a journal-keeping traveler.  Problems arise when he wakes one morning in one of his new homes to find everything has been mysteriously tidied overnight.  Has he begun sleepwalk cleaning or does he have a tidy ghost?  The cleanliness soon follows him to other properties and spooks him out.  With the help of paranormal expert, Jack Montrose, will Taro learn the identity of his supernatural servant and will he find love along the way?

Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists is a fun tale laced with just the right amount of romantic spookiness.  You can't help but love Taro and his desire to help his loved ones and create a new path for himself now that money is no object.  When he meets Jack he's looking for nothing more than answers to his mysterious cleaner.  Jack's devotion to finding answers is commendable and makes him even more endearing to me.

I won't give away any hints to just what Taro's otherworldly helper is but I will say how much I loved and appreciated the originality behind it, "not something you often see" is all I'll say on the subject. If you are looking for a scary freaky story than this probably isn't the tale for you but if you are looking for a fun, entertaining tale of discovery with just the right blend of freaky and romance than Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists is right up your alley.

RATING: 

Stray by Kari Gregg
Summary:
With a lycan father, a human mother, and the human side of his genetic makeup dominant, Luke left his birth pack to try living among humans, but he felt awkward and uncomfortable isolated from the culture that raised him. He’s still searching for where he fits in.

After losing his family in a vicious attack, Dean rebuilt his pack by accepting loners, rejects, other survivors, and even ferals. He and his ragtag group of strays made a warm and welcoming home.

Luke believes he’s finally found where he belongs. Meddling parents and a neighbor who isn’t as human as he seems won’t sway him. Luke wants Dean to take in one last stray...him.

Content Warning: Shifter knotting/tying, mating heats (yes, plural), and jerky! 









Kingdom Volume 1
Summary:
The three books in this volume were previously published titles available separately. There have been no changes to the stories. Previously known as the Supernatural Bounty Hunters series.

The Vampire Contract #1
A vampire guilty of murder on the run from justice to prove his innocence. A werewolf sent to retrieve him with one thought – that only the guilty run.

Vampire Micah Jamieson is found guilty of killing his human husband. He runs from the execution he is facing to get home. He just has to pray he’ll reach home before supernatural law enforcement, in the shape of a Glitnir Court Retriever close in on him.

Wolf shifter and Retriever, Connor Strand easily captures Micah and he’s fully prepared to take the runaway in. But his wolf has other ideas.

Something about Micah challenges Connor and his long held beliefs. What if Micah is actually innocent? Will Connor put to one side his own prejudices, and then risk both his life and career to keep Micah safe?

The Guilty Werewolf #2
Declan Finlay is the best Retriever that Glitnir has.

Well, he is now that Connor Strand has gone rogue.

He is sent to find Connor - the guilty werewolf. But he doubts that his best friend could ever be guilty and he resolves to track him down and find out why he ran with the renegade vampire.

When the Fae Alliance, reporting to Glitnir, demand that he not go alone he is forced to accept the Incubus, Levi Tiernan, an assassin, as his companion on the journey. If Declan doesn't kill Connor, then Levi will.

What happens when old lust and love dictate action and suddenly Declan is questioning everything he loves.

The Warlock’s Secret #3
In a world where magic is rare, Joseph Jamieson is one of the most powerful holders of power. Orophin Tiwele, or Phin to his friends, is the son of the Elf King and has magic of his own. The rules say two supernatural beings with magic cannot be together and Joseph and Phin have lived by that rule despite their attraction to each other.

The resistance is growing larger each day, but traitors threaten everything Joseph has built. He wants peace, but soon comes to realize the way to peace, is through war.

When the only thing that will save lives is Joseph and Phin working together, it becomes impossible to see where magic and passion end and where love could begin.

Kingdom Volume 2
Summary:
The three books in this volume were previously published titles available separately. There have been no changes to the stories. Previously known as the Supernatural Bounty Hunters series.

The Demon's Blood #4
When Simeon, a mountain lion shifter meets Asher, a blood demon, there is instant attraction. But, how can they act on the way they feel when there is an entire kingdom at stake.

Asherkan Iblis is a blood demon, a slave to elves and a soldier. He keeps the fact he has royal elvish blood a secret. His half brother returns to broker peace but reveals he is actually there for much more and Asher faces a decision that could lead to his death.

Simeon Blue, brother of the leader of the Feline Guild, mountain lion shifter, is tasked to accompany Phin on a mission over the Red Mountains and into the Second Kingdom. He has to talk to the Guild but all they want to do is stay in isolation and his mission is fraught with danger.

When Simeon is wounded Asher hides him and suddenly, next to a kings death, a cousin's hate, and Ludvik's black magic, love falls on the agenda.

The Incubus Agenda #5
When Nicholas Tarrant sees a broken and bloody Brody Lennox dragged into the Werewolf Coalition he has to decide. Stay under cover or help the incubus live. His decision is simple.

Nicholas Tarrant has worked hard for his position on the Werewolf Coalition. Having access to whatever is happening inside the Coalition is important to the Underground and he's good at blending in.

Brody Lennox is sent to Glitnir to broker talks of peace but is dragged broken and bloody into the Council chambers. Ludvik wants him killed as a traitor.

Can Nicholas save Brody? Or is Brody too broken to be saved?

The Third Kingdom #6
The story that began as a simple Retriever case, has become the tale of the fight against a thousand years of evil.

The wolf shifters have Niceros to take down. The Vampire Twins have to deal with Cassius. The Second Kingdom is in disarray and Simeon, Asher and Phin are desperate to calm the unrest.

An alpha needs to accept his role, a blood demon has to become the King he was meant to be, and the Vampire twins have to end the war.

Against all this, Reuben and Ethan, lovers separated for a millennium, are thrown back in to a war to end the poison that is Ludvik Peitrol.

In a battle on the barren fields of Arberfan is where this story will end.

How can love survive the evil that is another's hate?

New Release Overall Series Review July 2017:
Micah and Connor are definitely a handful which makes them perfect for each other. Declan has met his match in the incubus Levi.  Joseph finally gets some happiness if he & Phin finally let each other in.  Asherkan & Simeon make for an interesting pair.  Can their attraction be enough for Nicholas & Brody to overcome their differences?  Reuben and Ethan have been given another chance after nearly a thousand years, but will it turn our any differently the second time around?  These leaders and members of the Resistance want to change their corner of the world to make things better for all supernaturals but will they be able to find happiness for themselves along the way?

The series may have been given a new title along with a new presentation but the story arc is just as good as when I originally read it nearly 2 years ago.  I loved how each story was another piece of the puzzle, I do love a good puzzle, and when everything and everyone comes together in The Third Kingdom, all the details start to fall into place.  The finale is amazing and brings a conclusion that will leave you feeling every emotion out there but completely satisfied when you hit the last page.

Generally, when a series centers on a different couple for each installment I have a hard time connecting with each new one because the first couple reached my heart so completely but RJ Scott has a way about her that it never becomes an issue.  I love them all equally.  If you are someone who only reads paranormal tales in October as Halloween approaches, be sure to pencil Kingdom in your calendar because it is so worth it but if you are like me and can enjoy them anytime, don't wait another minute to give these guys a read, you won't regret it.

Original Overall Series Review October 2015:
This is an overall series review as you really can't read just one.  Each book may center on a different couple but each is just another piece of the puzzle that is Supernatural Bounty Hunters.  The mystery behind the vampire twins, Joseph and Micah, quest for peace leads us on a journey of blood, deceit, death, and love.  Another great world created by RJ Scott that brings you a little bit of everything and makes for a great Halloween read.  Who am I kidding?  It makes for a great read anytime of the year.

RATING: 

Heaven Can't Wait by Eli Easton
Summary:
When Brian Matheson dies at nineteen, his soul is in limbo. He has one chance to redeem himself before he’s thrown into a nasty pit. All Brian has to do is save the life of Kevin Anderson, a boy he and his friends tormented for being gay.

Kevin thought he’d finally escaped bullying. But his college roommate, Chuck, and his homophobic pals, prove him wrong. Now he can only wait for another room to open up—and try to keep his eyes off sexy, uber-straight Chuck.

Chuck is struggling to keep up the tough-guy faƧade everyone expects, but being trapped in a dorm room with the prettiest twink he’s ever seen isn’t helping him keep his feelings hidden.

If Brian can untangle this mess, he’ll deserve his wings.


Brian Matheson's life ended at nineteen but before he can move out of limbo and go forward he is given a chance at attoning for his sins: bullying his friend's roommate for being gay.  Kevin Anderson thought college would be a new start for him away from the bullying he lived with in high school.  Then he met his roommate and his friends.  So much for a new start.  Will Brian be able to help this young man, to right his wrongs or will assumptions once again get him into trouble?

Heaven Can't Wait is a short novella originally part of Dreamspinner's 2014 Daily Dose package Mended but I just discovered it this fall.  I may not have read everything Eli Easton has written but I have loved everything that's crossed my Kindle from her so I thought this will be a great little read.  Was I wrong!  It wasn't great, it was beyond great, it was amazing!  Yes, it may be what some would classify as typical "newly dead must right his wrongs to go to heaven" but its more than that because at its very core is heart.

Heaven is not all about Brian learning from his mistakes nor is it all about Kevin finding out that not everyone is unaccepting of who he is.  It's about both these things but more too.  I'm not sure how to say it without spoilers but just know that although its entertaining and fun, it's also dramatic, loving, and full of discovery.  You might think that death is too late to learn new things but Brian finds out its never too late to learn.  Kevin may think that he's judged because of his orientation, size, and style but he also discovers that perhaps he's judged his roommate on size and style as well.

I guess what I am trying to say is its never too late to learn, nor is it ever too late to be true to yourself.  Heaven Can't Wait is about being true to who you are, being kind to those around you, because you never know when tomorrow won't come to make things right.  A very lovely tale of friendship, love, understanding, all wrapped together in a very interesting paranormal bow that might just teach you something about yourself as well as entertain.

RATING: 


Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists by Angel Martinez
Chapter One (Dinner in Kennett Square)
Taro fidgeted in his chair, as nervous as when he'd confessed to skipping class in high school. A class, singular, but the crushing remorse afterward had expanded it in his mind into a criminal act. The unease was ridiculous now—he had good news to spill—but his stomach wouldn't settle. Everything still had a surreal quality to it tinged with creeping guilt, as if any moment someone would show up and say it was all a mistake or worse, that Taro had unwittingly committed some sort of fraud.

He waited for a lull in conversation, not an easy thing, since both Ben and Luka had brought their families for Sunday dinner. It had been a regular thing years ago for their parents to have the whole family over, but Ray had moved out west, and Ben and Luka had been moving progressively farther away with each addition to their respective families. Now, most weeks it was just Mom, Papi, and Taro, since he still lived in town. Alone. Again.

Once his nieces and nephews had been freed from the onerous chore of sitting at the table with the old people and their moms had followed to referee, Taro made an attempt. "I drove ... down to Dover a few weeks ago."

"To the farmer's market?" Ben said around a mouthful of pie. "Long way to go for strawberries."

Luka gave Ben an odd look. "He didn't say anything about produce."
"Well, no, but why else go all the way—" Ben tried to defend his conclusion-jumping, but Mom interrupted him.

"It was to go to some specialist down there, wasn't it?" Her tone was hard, but there was undisguised horror in her eyes. "Taro, are you sick? Why didn't you tell us?"

"Holy shit," Ben whispered. "That idiot Craig infected you? Should we even have the kids around you? Little germ carriers. That could be bad if your immune system isn't working right."

"That's not how it works." Luka's forehead creased in annoyance. "Don't start spreading misinform—"

"So you're a medical doctor now?"

"No, but I treat patients with HIV. I have to inform myself."

Taro folded his napkin into a precise triangle, then successively smaller ones while he waited for his brothers’ pissing contest to die down. Nothing new, of course. Ben was the oldest and always knew best. Luka was the one with the psychology degrees and should've known better. Had Ray been there, he would've been just as likely to egg Ben on as to try to mediate.

"You could all stop making wild guesses and let Taro tell you," Papi said without taking his attention from his pie or raising his voice. "Just a suggestion."

The jumble of voices stilled as if he had bellowed, Ben still glaring and their mother's expression stating quite clearly that heads would roll if she didn't have answers quickly.

"I won the lottery," Taro blurted out.

"That's all?" Mom crushed her napkin in her fist. "This is a good thing. You couldn't tell us a good thing?"

"Lise, please," Papi soothed. "I think there's more."

Luka leaned back in his chair. "Yes. Like why you had to drive all the way to Dover."

Taro cleared his throat. Mom was right. This was a good thing, or it would be if he could rid himself of the nagging anxiety. "I don't usually play. But the Powerball was so huge, I thought, why not? I bought five tickets in Hockessin instead of here because Delaware has nondisclosure. Just in case. When the numbers matched on one, I was excited, but I was sure I'd be sharing the prize with other people."

"Well, fuck," Ben whispered.

"Language," Mom snapped automatically, but she was staring at Taro.

"I went to Dover to claim the prize. There were none ... no other winners."

Luka placed a hand on Taro's, ebony covering Taro's copper. It was probably to stop Taro's shaking, though Luka trembled as well. "Tar? How much are we talking here?"

Stray by Kari Gregg
Chapter One
Including the attic, the farmhouse towered three floors. Two additions had been haphazardly built onto the main structure in recent years, one stretching to the left and another shorter stub to the right. The white paint on the newer sections didn’t quite match. Still, the place looked ordinary. Big, but nothing special.

That fooled no one, least of all Luke.

Nate pulled his Jeep next to a Chevy truck that was more primer than paint in the scrap of bare ground that passed for a driveway. After shoving the gearshift into park, he retrieved the keys from the ignition.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said.

Easy for him to say. Nate was lycan. Nate had also been a member of this pack—best friends with Dean, the head of their makeshift family—for the last ten years. Luke, a human, hadn’t belonged to a pack in a decade plus another four years.

Luke’s damp palms smoothed wrinkles from his khakis. His heartbeat sprinted and his stomach balled to an anxious knot. Getting today’s introduction right was vital. He’d invested two years studying the pack and Dean from a wary distance. He’d needed to be sure. Not just that the pack was safe for him, but that maybe he’d found the place he could call home.

“I’m not nervous,” Luke said. Nervous? No, he’d sailed passed nervous months ago. He was petrified.

As if Nate could hear his thoughts rather than the slight stutter of his heartbeat signaling Luke’s lie, Nate chuckled, but it wasn’t a mean sound. Neither was the sparkle in his eyes or the brilliance of his smile.

“You’ll do fine. Better than fine. Come on.”

Luke wanted to argue only a lycan could be that confident, but worry froze the air in his lungs. Didn’t lock his leg muscles, though. He climbed from the jeep and followed Nate up the stairs to a wide front porch and the screen door of the house. Gaze down, only daring to peek through his lashes, he shuffled through the door when Nate opened it and waved him inside.

The house’s appearance of normalcy, human normalcy anyway, ended once he gathered the guts to glance around the entry. Oak flooring gleamed, nice if he ignored the scratches in the wood. He shuddered at the lack of furniture and the absence of decorations on white walls marred with thin gouges that hadn’t been puttied over yet. The shiver was partly at the chill of the room—lycans kept their homes cooler because their body temperature ran a little higher—but mostly he shook in longing.

He clenched his shaking hands.

He’d forgotten how much he missed this.

Missing the cold was crazy. He liked his neat apartment, the paintings he’d picked for it at the college art fair last summer, and the few pieces of furniture he’d selected from flea markets to re-purpose or restore. He hated stark white walls with a passion and had bid farewell to his security deposit by painting his rooms in a sunny yellow. He’d set his thermostat for his comfort and no one else’s. He never fretted that shifting whelps might break the desk he’d painstakingly refinished… or him. He didn’t even own a bucket of drywall compound, a staple in any pack house for endless repairs to walls painted white for no-fuss maintenance.

Nate threaded his fingers with Luke’s and squeezed. “It’s all right. You’ll see,” Nate said, his grin wide.

That look, the feeling of belonging and comfort, was what he’d missed and would never get enough of. God knows he’d tried to live without it. He’d wasted years trying to fit in human society. After the disaster of his last relationship, Luke had refocused on himself for a while too. He’d learned to live alone, seeking out his place among neither humans nor lycans. No sharing a house with a dozen or more temperamental lycans, no timing everything by the phase of the moon. He’d made his own decisions. By himself. He’d experimented with going vegetarian, unsuccessfully since Luke hadn’t been able to give up bacon, but he’d experimented. He’d explored. He’d tried.

Living as a human hadn’t been all it was cracked up to be, but trying to make it on the fringes of both worlds had been pure hell. Some might argue the dormant lycan half of his genetics motivated him to be with other lycans. Although Luke would never shift or exhibit any traits common to his lycan father’s heritage, part of Luke was nevertheless lycan, and lycans were social animals who didn’t cope well alone. Others would likely point to his upbringing. Raised inside a pack, Luke hadn’t simply acclimated to lycan culture and its unique rules and mores—he’d been conditioned to it since birth.

Nature or nurture didn’t matter. Luke didn’t care anymore. He’d stopped questioning what he needed and why.

When Nate tugged, Luke submitted to his lead. His knees might have jellied and the rest of him trembled in equal parts fear and anticipation at how readily he’d fallen into the old habit, but he somehow kept pace behind Nate stalking into the pack house’s meeting room. Luke glued his stare to the floor, this room’s hardwood protected by a thick rug in a geometric pattern of overlapping rectangles. He didn’t miss the bared feet and naked legs of the others, though. With the full moon rising tonight, Dean had gathered his pack—the lycan strays he’d adopted to replace the birth family humans had slaughtered a dozen years ago.

The pack Luke had studied wouldn’t kill a human with his pedigree. Might reject him, but Luke didn’t think so. When necessary, Dean worked with humans from town, and if he had reason to hate anyone, Dean would despise them most. He definitely wouldn’t kill Luke when his best friend Nate vouched for Luke. Vince, another lycan who worked in town, liked Luke too, but Nate’s opinion mattered most. Dean respected Nate.

If nothing else, his last relationship had taught Luke the income he earned and his family connections appealed to lycans. Useful enough to prod Dean to tolerate a human on his pack lands rather than run him off? Luke would soon find out.

The collected lycans fell silent one by one as Nate guided Luke to the far end of the room… and as their noses told them what Luke’s nose never would and what they probably thought could not be possible. A human? In the pack house? This close to the full moon? Luke strolled right in, pulse racing, scared out of his mind his plan would work but also terrified it wouldn’t. When Nate finally stopped, Luke stared at Dean’s feet.

Strong feet. Sleek, sexy feet. Neatly trimmed nails tipped slender toes. Tan skin. A light dusting of dark hair grew in thicker as Luke’s glance strayed from feet to ankles and up to calves so dense with taut muscle Luke’s body ached.

Luke nipped those errant thoughts in the bud, before the whole room scented arousal on him. Or embarrassment. Even on the East Coast, where human integration with lycans lagged, humans didn’t need to mate inside a pack to join it. He knew that. Everybody did. He’d welcomed a lycan lover to him once, in desperate hope the affair would lend greater security to his standing with the rest of the pack, but he wouldn’t repeat that mistake.

He’d make brand new ones.

“This is Luke. His human mother mated and bonded with a lycan father out West. They reared him inside his father’s pack. He left home to explore the world after he became an adult,” Nate told Dean. “He wants to ally with us.”

Luke had been specific about his goals: ally. Asking to join outright might push too hard and ask too much. Permission to visit pack lands between full moons and the freedom to get to know the family would be enough. He’d learn to be happy on the edges of Dean’s group until he proved his worth.

“Oh really?” Dean asked, his voice low and sultry. It made Luke shiver in all the ways the leader of a pack should make one of his own shiver, with an unmistakable sense of kinship and attentive interest. Luke’s eyes snapped shut with his relief at feeling that again.

“He handles payroll for several businesses in town, including the construction crew Vince and I work for,” Nate continued, his grip on Luke’s hand steadying him.

“An educated human,” Dean said on a growl. “How… predictable.”

Luke struggled not to fidget, feeling the slow stare Dean swept up and down him like a body search. It wasn’t his fault lycans couldn’t go to public schools with humans and were homeschooled instead. Luke wasn’t to blame for the fact lycan education wildly differed from what students were taught from human books, either. He’d learned pack lore too! His father had included him with his brothers for oral history lessons, and he’d tutored Luke particularly in lycan culture and law. As part human and his human side dominant, Luke couldn’t claim the instincts his brothers and cousins did, and Luke had needed to know. For his own safety.

“His uncle paid for college,” Nate said. “Luke repaid the pack after he left.”

Despite himself, Luke shifted his weight from foot to foot. See? He wanted to say. Humans are capable of honor too. Instead, he pressed his lips shut.

Dean grunted. “Can he speak?”

Trembling, Luke slipped his free hand into a pocket of his khakis for the scrap of paper he’d placed there for this moment. He offered the note on an upraised palm. “My father’s cell number is the first. My lycan father,” he said, gaze yet pasted to the floor. Non-allied humans didn’t meet the stare of a lycan on his home territory without invitation unless the human wanted trouble. “The second number belongs to my uncle, Ty Warren, my family’s patriarch.” Only ignorant humans referred to lycans as alphas, betas, and omegas. “Dad and Uncle Ty will confirm everything I told Nate.” No lycan would baldly accept the word of a human, not on something that could endanger his pack, but they’d listen to fellow lycans. Luke would be thoroughly vetted.

“The Warrens,” Dean said, husky voice considering. “Never heard of them.”

“My family is in Oregon, sir,” Luke said. “On the outskirts of Portland.” Which was the other side of the country, because when Luke had won the freedom to run, he’d run far. His ambition to live as a regular human would’ve been doomed if he’d stayed where he or his pack lineage could be recognized. “The Warrens are a big family, large enough to accept my father bonding with a human.” Small packs forbid contact with humans to remove the risk of producing offspring like Luke. Lycan population numbers were scant, especially in the more urbanized East where human suspicion of and hostility toward their kind lingered. Packs barely hanging on couldn’t afford to divert precious resources and attention to mixed lycan mutts. Groups larger than a single-family unit routinely accepted humans as lovers and allies now, however, including in the contentious Northeast. “My birth pack boasts several breeding pairs. My parents and two other bonded mates have raised children alongside Uncle Ty and Aunt Miriam. The Warrens are highly regarded on the West Coast.”

Such things were significant to lycans, and Dean didn’t disappoint him. When Luke glanced up, Dean’s eyebrow had arched. “Is that right?”

He forced his gaze back down before replying. “Yes.”

“Large packs don’t guarantee safety. More of us isn’t always smart.”

Luke gulped at the reminder of the family Dean had lost. Humans here mostly ignored the pack on its border these days, but a few locals had been willing to talk about times when too many lycans had roamed the hills outside town.

“My mother provides a bridge between the pack and the neighboring human community. Uncle Ty allied with several humans in Portland who act as ambassadors too. Problems are discussed and resolved before townspeople hunt us.”

Dean snorted his contempt. “You don’t know what it is to be hunted.”

Luke’s shoulders bunched. “No, I don’t,” he admitted. “But humans would kill me too.”

The pack leader’s lips thinned to a grim line. “Because you’re part lycan?”

“Because I’ve committed the unpardonable sin of leaving human society to go where I belong: with lycans.” Luke pushed out an anxious breath. “Hunts aren’t inevitable, though. Compromise isn’t easy, but resolutions avoiding bloodshed are attainable.” He glanced up to meet Dean’s unflinching stare. “When packs accept humans among them and those humans speak for the pack when issues arise, peace is much more likely and with peace comes better odds for survival. After years of searching, I haven’t found evidence of hostility against lycans from locals—attacks appear to be a danger of the past in this area—but a human ally would make you and your family safer. I could be useful to you.” As soon as he finished his plea, he jerked his stare down again, to the floor. To Dean’s sexy feet.

No challenging Dean. Luke didn’t have a death wish.

He didn’t stop quivering until Dean blew out a slow breath. “Dinner should be ready. Take him with the others out back. I’ll make some calls after.”

Luke’s heart leapt with hope.

“Thanks, Dean,” Nate said.

“I said I’d call,” Dean said on an ill-tempered snarl. “No promises.”

“He understands.” Nate’s grip on Luke’s hand tightened in silent reassurance.

“Go on.” Dean jerked his chin toward a wide doorway across the room. “The moon will rise soon.”

Relief crashed through Luke as Nate guided him into the pack’s kitchen and then on to a spacious backyard. No deck or patio disrupted the carpet of grass—natural grasses, at that. Careful stewards of their environment, lycans would never abide non-native plants. They kept it mowed closer to the house and patches of bare earth framed logs strategically placed around a fire pit. A sheet of plywood rested on a pair of sawhorses off to one side to provide a table for platters of meat surrounding a partially carved boar.

Smart. Lycans with full bellies didn’t hunt for food during the full moon, only for sport. Luke had noted a comforting excess of human vigilance when the lunar cycle peaked. People stayed in town then and in their homes. Traditionally outnumbered, wise lycans nevertheless seized every precaution and hungry lycans roamed more.

With the pack streaming through the back door, Luke sank to the ground the moment Nate shifted a hand to Luke’s shoulder and pushed down. He made no comment when Nate headed toward the food, nor did Luke let slip a solitary sound as the others went to eat too. Even the whelps, three of whom weren’t tall enough to reach Luke’s waist, ignored him, but his surveillance had already convinced Luke of Dean’s mastery of pack discipline. None of the family would approach Luke without Dean’s approval.

After Dean had served himself and nodded his okay, the rest of the pack piled stainless steel plates with succulent chunks of pork. Luke’s mouth watered at the scent of cooked meat. His stomach grumbled, but he kept his yap shut.

Lycans weren’t humans. Guest or not, Luke would eat if and when Dean said he could and not one second before.

At least his proximity to the central fire warmed the autumn chill a little.

Hands resting on his thighs, heels digging into his butt where he sat, he waited as the lycans took their respective places on logs and stumps dotting the yard. He didn’t watch them eat, instead fixing his gaze on the flickering red and oranges of the fire. He listened, though. Dean thanked Vince and two other lycans for catching the boar as well as two others—men, not the lone adult female in the group—for roasting it. Luke had realized Dean didn’t assign chores by gender roles last year, but extra confirmation never hurt. Two of the three kindergarten-aged whelps squabbled, fluidly shifting into their animal forms to fight it out until a pair of lanky teenagers pried them apart. Dean, rather than the kids’ parents, chastised the kids for disrupting their meal, belatedly adding that undisciplined shifting also risked “the human.”

No one mentioned or discussed sensitive business, unlike other gatherings preceding the full moon, Luke was certain. Lycans came together to resolve problems and decide issues while united for their full moon runs. Luke had chosen tonight to come forward for that reason. With any kind of luck, once Dean had checked Luke’s references, he’d poll his family about the potential alliance. Luke needn’t agonize for days anticipating Dean’s answer. Dean could reveal his decision as soon as the night’s run concluded.

None of the collected lycans spoke to Luke, but they were all aware of him. Luke sensed it in the deliberate circling around his position kneeling in the dirt and the leery glances, darting from him whenever Luke noticed the attention. In human terms, Luke was the elephant in the room. Every lycan, to a man, tried too hard to pretend he wasn’t there. Painfully, at least to Luke.

Luke pretended too.

He schooled his face to an unconcerned mask and forced his body to remain loose, but his heart raced when Dean slipped away, returning to the house. Humans combed references for jobs, leases and mortgages to buy their homes, but they didn’t know the first thing about background checks, not really. Luke had every confidence his father and Uncle Ty would back him up. Luke had left his birth pack, yes, but before he’d ever landed a job to help with pack expenses, he’d performed chores like this pack’s teenagers in rearing younger whelps. He’d also washed laundry, cleaned dishes, and repaired gouged drywall. He hadn’t simply completed chores assigned to him. He’d done any odd job capturing his notice, whatever his family needed. He’d been a contributing member of his pack. Regardless of how often his last lycan lover had beaten him or how severely, Luke had been a contributing member of that pack too.

Human or not, Luke pulled his weight.

His dad and uncle would confirm his diligence, which this close to the full moon might possibly save Luke’s life since lycan patience for treacherous humans thinned most at the height of the moon cycle. Those reports would also go a long way toward persuading Dean to give Luke a chance. That’s all he needed. If they’d let him, Luke would prove he could earn his place.

He was already proving he could fit here. Nate hadn’t shoved him to sit on the ground because he was human. A lycan seeking to join the pack would’ve been treated the same. It was their way, Luke’s way, the lycan way. Luke hadn’t resisted. He’d lowered his gaze to show he meant to issue challenges to no one. He hadn’t spoken until Dean had addressed him, and although his empty stomach rumbled, despite the enticing smell of roast boar, Luke hadn’t shifted from his spot. As patriarch, Dean ate first and the rest of the pack shared the meal only with his permission. Luke, an uninvited stranger, might not eat at all, and he certainly wasn’t free to wander.

He knew the rules. Living among humans the last many years hadn’t erased that.

He had to demonstrate to Dean and the rest of the pack he remembered, show them he could and would honor lycan customs. He understood those laws were for everyone’s benefit and safety, including his.

Luke’s muscles didn’t unbunch until he spied Dean slinking back to the bonfire from the farmhouse. As always since Luke’s youth, he took his cues from his pack leader—Dean ambled around the campfire, his smile relaxed as he chatted with his people. So Luke relaxed. The phone calls must have gone well. If not, Dean would have marched to Luke immediately and removed the threat—Luke—from the family Dean loved. Instead, Dean stopped to exchange a few words with the teenagers tasked with keeping an eye on the younger kids. Moving on, he placed a familiar hand on the shoulder of one of the lycans Luke hadn’t been introduced to yet. Dean squeezed lightly, with affection.

Lycans were tactile creatures, constantly rubbing shoulders, stroking arms and bellies, palming cheeks. Sleeping together in piles. Hugging.

Smothering an optimistic spark he couldn’t afford, Luke suppressed his yearning. None of them had touched him since Nate had released Luke’s hand and none probably would for weeks, perhaps months. Lone humans weren’t supposed to grow starved for touch like a lycan would. It’d been four freaking years since a pack leader had grabbed his nape, though, like Dean did with the woman he laughed with now. Luke’s need for that caress ached to the marrow of his bones.

He shrugged off his hunger for physical affection and stayed where Nate had planted him. Quiet. Obedient. Respectful. Dean would work his way around to Luke eventually. The lycan had a duty to reassure his family, and if the weakening light of the setting sun melted into darkness and the clock ticked closer to the rise of the moon, Luke had to trust Dean. He’d already chosen to trust Dean with his life, or Luke would have never approached Vince and Nate to start with.

He waited as patiently as he could—no fidgeting—and studied his hoped-for pack leader beneath his lashes, reveling in the once-forbidden treat of being near enough to clearly see him. Dean towered a couple inches above everyone. Most lycans were tall and brawny, but as head of the family, Dean seemed especially so, wide through the shoulders, with a broad chest that tapered to a flat stomach and trim hips. Wiry hair sprinkled over acres of taut muscle, black hair to match the thick pelt on Dean’s head. Someone had cut it short, which was a pity. All the men and the lone woman in this pack sported short spiky hair, leaving only the children flaunting the heavy manes notorious of lycans. Luke’s unruly mop of brown hair, which he’d grown to brush the tips of his shoulders since he’d gone into business for himself, fell several inches longer.

Surprisingly, Luke’s fingers still itched to sink into Dean’s hair.

He’d never wondered at the silkiness of a packmate’s hair before. How odd.

The pack might have turned its back on customary hair length, but the rest of Dean screamed pure lycan. He had the proud straight nose and the lantern jaw. A stubborn chin. His brows were heavy, lashes dense, and his forehead high and wide. The eyes caught Luke’s breath, though. They were as dark as soot, but this close to the full moon? Luke shivered at glints of lycan yellow in them.

He’d be magnificent in his animal form, as his wolf.

Though the autumn night chilled Luke, lycan body temperatures were higher and lycans cared little for physical modesty. The pack, Dean included, had stripped prior to the feast. Clothes were a human convention. Thermostats in pack houses were set low to conserve resources and for the comfort of the many rather than the few humans who might require extra warmth. Growing up, sweatshirts and jeans had warded off the cold and subtly set Luke apart as different. He’d developed a shyness with his body that his brothers and cousins never had.

Luke could look at Dean, if he wanted. All of him. The light of the campfire flickered. Shadows danced, but the darkness wasn’t so deep Luke wouldn’t be able to make out the curve of the pack leader’s ass or the length and girth of his cock, permanently erect thanks to a bone in lycan penises that was absent in human dicks. The slight bulge at the base of Dean’s cock was different too—the knot swelling during sex to tie Dean to his lover. These readily discernible variations in human and lycan sex organs served as species identifiers in mixed litters at birth. Lacking a nascent knot and an erection had marked Luke as human since he’d drawn his first breath. While the physical discrepancies between human and lycan were no big deal to lycans otherwise, they endlessly fascinated humans.

It mesmerized Luke. Taunted him.

No one would consider looking at Dean’s dick strange or be offended by it, least of all Dean. The temptation to steal a quick peek ate at Luke. He averted his gaze, though, snapping his eyes shut when Dean crouched to talk to another member of his pack.

Explaining blushes to lycans never worked.

Erections, they understood. Human dicks might operate differently than lycan ones, but lycans were tutored in the mechanics of sex, be their partner human or lycan, male or female, as soon as whelps sexually matured at puberty. After witnessing the misery humans suffered before and after coming out to their parents as gay or bi, Luke had become extremely grateful agonizing over his family’s rejection had never been a problem for him. Impossible to hide the reaction of a human teenage boy’s body to what he liked. Luke’s family had known he was gay before Luke had figured it out for himself. With the survival rates of females low, most lycans—bisexual by nature—chose men as their lovers too. No one had cared that Luke only desired men.

Blushes, on the other hand, confounded them.

The issue wasn’t that lycans couldn’t experience embarrassment. They did. Prey escaped them more often than not, including during the full moon when their affinity with their animal forms ruled strongest. Adults had taken failed hunts in stride in Luke’s family. There were plenty more deer in the woods or so Luke’s dad had said, but neglecting to bring down game had humiliated his brothers, particularly when the younger generation began hunting without adults to guide them. Uncle Ty was right, though. As embarrassed as his brothers and cousins had been to return empty-handed, they’d learned to work together as a group.

His last lycan lover had exploded with rage when his prey got away, not embarrassment, but Luke wouldn’t think of Neil now.

Lycans knew embarrassment. They just didn’t connect that emotion with physical appearance and didn’t understand anyone who did. For lycans, nudity was a natural state and the body given to them a gift, be their form human or wolf. Lycans didn’t scar as readily as humans, but such imperfections were a badge of honor, worn with pride. Whatever had hurt them, they’d survived. Lycan metabolism also burned calories mercilessly fast. Few packed on extra pounds and, unlike humans, they considered fat instead of lean muscle a sign of a prosperous pack. Short, tall, thin, bulky, all were beautiful to lycans.

Luke wished he could share their sentiment. He was a thirty-six year old gay man who already needed bifocals and carried twenty extra pounds around his middle the doctor in town wasn’t happy with despite Luke’s very lycan-like robust health otherwise. Despite the extra weight, his knees were knobby and he was short. Not only by lycan standards, either. At a couple inches over five and a half feet, he was dwarfed by most human men and a lot of women too. Enormous ears stuck out from the sides of his head, his eyes a human blue instead of lycan brown, and a ridiculous dimple dented his chin. He’d also taken after his mother’s fair skin, which hadn’t been helped by Luke working indoors. His chest was broad, but he’d never sprouted more than several stingy brown curls on it. And freckles! They scattered over his chest, shoulders, and biceps, tiny dots unhidden by the body hair he’d failed to grow. Luke sometimes wondered if he connected the damn freckles right, they’d spell out how awkward he felt.

That lycans prized physical diversity as precious and endlessly appealing made Luke’s discomfort worse. He didn’t want the others gawking at him. As much as he craved touch, he didn’t want the pack tracing with their fingertips the freckles lycans weren’t born with or rubbing the subtle pooch of his belly. He didn’t want them admiring his appendix scar, either.

How badly he wanted to examine the length of Dean’s uncut cock and spy the shape of his butt embarrassed Luke too.

Giving the pack leader any indication of how much Dean turned Luke on would humiliate him. Not here. Not now. Dean was lycan, with a lycan’s acute sense of smell. He’d sniff out Luke’s attraction sooner or later. Luke hoped later. Much later. Preferably after the pack leader had accepted his presence in the group. Once Luke mustered more confidence in his place in the pack, he’d better cope with Dean’s rejection—or worse, Dean’s seduction of someone he considered an intriguing novelty, at best.

Luke startled at fingers tunneling through his hair at the crown of his bowed head, swallowing a gasp when those fingers clenched and jerked his gaze up.

“You grew it out. Why?”

Dean’s black eyes didn’t glint with censure, just curiosity. Luke gulped and answered him honestly. “Humans expect short hair in business settings. I cut it for work, but I grew up with long hair next to my brothers and cousins. As soon as I hung my shingle as an independent accountant, I stopped trimming my hair. I didn’t like it short. Never felt natural.” Luke shivered. “Made me feel colder.” And more naked. “Why do you cut yours?” He sucked in an alarmed breath, his eyes going wide. His heartbeat trebled.

Would Dean consider that a challenge?

“Relax.” One corner of Dean’s lush mouth kicked up. “I won’t rip your throat out for asking a reasonable question.” His eyebrows rose, forming a vee. “Doesn’t mean I’ll answer it. I won’t punish you for asking, though.”

Luke’s shoulders drooped with his relief. His eyes slipped shut.

“We adults cut our hair because it makes us seem less strange to humans. More like them. It’s safer.”

“I didn’t know. I—I wasn’t sure.” Luke opened his eyes, the burning in his cheeks telling him a demand to explain blushes would be soon forthcoming. “I’ll cut mine tomorrow.”

“You will not.” The fist in his hair gentled from a controlling grip to a caress. “I like it. Besides, none of the townspeople would ever consider you dangerous.”

Luke couldn’t stifle his wince.

“That isn’t a criticism.” Dean chuckled. “You’re a skittish little thing for a pack-born human.”

“Nervous,” Luke corrected.

“You should be nervous.” Dean released him and stood to his full height. “Undress.

Kingdom Volume 1 & 2 by RJ Scott
The Vampire Contract #1
“How’s your arm?” Micah finally asked.

Connor glanced down at his arm. He remembered bones snapping and stabbing through his skin, but there was nothing there except faint marks and an ache in his muscles. He stalked towards the vampire and Micah scrambled to stand.

“I’m taking you back,” Connor growled. His claws curved viciously from the tips of his fingers and he flexed his hand. He stepped over the dying fire and then suddenly he stopped. He didn’t mean to. He attempted to force his legs to move in some semblance of walking, but there was nothing. His wolf snarled inside him, forcing its way up and in control and stopping him from moving an inch. His wolf stopped the angry push, forcing him to step back from Micah. Startled, Connor stopped exactly where he was.

“What did you do?” he snarled.

“Nothing.” Micah held out his hands palm up and he looked so damn innocent. “I promise you I didn’t do a thing.”

Connor attempted to move forward again, but the muscles in his legs locked into place like he had walked into a brick wall as his wolf yanked him to a standstill.

“What the hell is going on?”

“Pretty sure your wolf scented me and loved me last night,” Micah teased.

“What?”

“You don’t remember?” Micah asked. “I’m losing my touch.”

Connor lifted a hand and ran it through his unruly shaggy hair and then tugged on it sharply to check he wasn’t dreaming. The prick of pain was enough to convince that instead of working with him, his wolf side was somehow making decisions his conscious human form couldn’t cash.

“I remember…” What did he recall? The fight, the tree, his arm snapping like a twig. That wasn’t right. He peered at his arm, which was break free. Fuck, he must have hit his head damn hard to have blocked out shifting in his sleep. “Nothing,” he said. “I don’t remember anything after the tree.”

Micah nodded. “You hit it pretty hard.” He looked guilty and suddenly couldn’t look Connor in the eye. Tapping his own head, he added, “Head first.”

The tension in Connor’s muscles as he leaned into the press-back from the wolf was getting tiring, and with a curse of exasperation he returned to the place he had woken up with the stones and ash of a fire between them and Micah still unable to look him in the eye.

This was the first time he’d really seen what Micah looked like close-up. Shorter than Connor by a small amount with jet-black hair, he looked young.

“I’m sorry I did that,” Micah offered softly. He lifted his chin and looked at Connor directly.

“How did you do it?” Connor asked. He needed to know how for the first time in ten years of retrieval he had been bested. And by a vampire no less.

“Luck,” Micah said quickly.

“You’re lying,” Connor snapped. His wolf agreed. At least this was one thing that could be settled in this unwelcome war of control inside him.

Micah moved quickly into a couple of practiced smooth moves. “There. You see. I know moves.”

Connor watched with amazement at the vampire throwing some kind of half-hearted chop through the air followed up by a stumble and kick.

“Clearly you do,” he said dryly. “But what part of that includes being able to throw me against a tree?”

Micah looked at the floor and shuffled his feet. Evidently he had to decide on what to tell Connor.

“You were hurt. You wouldn’t have known what happened to you,” he finally offered. He shrugged and then looked at Connor directly. “You shifted, you healed.”

Connor sighed. He attempted to move again, but there was no way his wolf was letting him move anything but backwards. Frustrated, he threw his hands up and summarized exactly what he wanted. “Make this easy and come back to Glitnir with me?”

“Yeah, because every vampire wants his head removed from his body with a sharp axe. Forgive me if I’m not seeing the benefits of giving in and going back.”

“You’re a murderer,” Connor spat. “I read you the rules. We’ll never stop hunting you until you’re dead by Court hands or ours.”

“Then you’ll have to kill me,” Micah snapped back. “I didn’t kill Ethan. I wouldn’t kill Ethan.”

The Guilty Werewolf #2
Declan wanted to be out front and ready to track Phin and it sounded like they were saying their goodbyes. He scented the air and made sure he could get enough of Phin’s smell to mean he could halfway track the little guy. Then he shuffled back as quietly as he could, but stopped when he came up against a warm body. Glancing behind him, Levi was right there and Declan glared at him. Without words he declared his irritability with the Fae. Levi merely stared back with stony focus. Declan leaned in to encourage the damn man to move just as a blade passed through the space his head had been. That slight move forward had been enough to save his life.

The knife, small but deadly, embedded itself in the oven unit opposite that he had been using as a mirror. Immediately in defence mode Declan ducked lower and used the mirrored metal to ascertain what the hell was happening. The barman, Abb, stared at the space they were hidden in. No sign of Phin. This was not the optimum place to be holed up in and he glanced behind him to communicate that to his shadow, but there was no sign of Levi.

Great. Declan was pretty exposed here and the freaking incubus had abandoned him. He should have known. All that talk about fighting for tradition and Levi was the first to run when things went south.

Another knife flew too close for comfort, parting his hair and, by the feel of it, drawing blood. Looking at the beautiful, intricate knives told him one thing; the barman was no mild mannered bear shifter who plied you with alcohol, then took your money. He evidently had mad knife throwing skills. Not a good start for Declan in this whole escaping-with-his-life-intact situation.

He heard a thud and cautiously leaned so he could look in the mirrored surface. What he saw had him scrambling to stand. The barman was felled like a tree, dead straight on the floor with his eyes shut and his breathing shallow. Levi loomed over him like some kind of ghostly apparition with wisps of scarlet lingering around him.

“What did you do?” Declan asked.

“Took him out.”

“He’s dead? Did you suck him?”

“I wish you’d stop calling it that.”

“Well, did you?”

“No. Okay? I didn’t take any of his emotions, although I couldn’t help some of the anger that trickled into me.”

Declan blinked at what Levi was saying. Like it didn’t matter the incubus had accidentally taken something from someone.

“Will he get it back?” Declan snapped.

“What?”

“His anger.”

“His anger?” Levi looked confused, then realisation cross his features. “You think when I… That I… It’s not permanent, Declan. Don’t they teach you anything in Fae 101?”

Declan crouched and felt for a pulse, then looked up at Levi. “No killing,” he said. “Not on my watch.”

“Says the animal with teeth and claws,” Levi said dryly.

The Warlock's Secret #3
Phin watched Micah and Connor from the cover of the trees for some time. That was, until Connor sniffed the air and turned his way, then he knew he had to step out.

“What do you want?” he snapped irritably. “I’ve had Declan and Levi tracking me to the west and you two here. I’m not going back to listen to Joseph’s crap anymore.” He exhaled heavily. Why he was being so careful not to use his magic to evade this childish hunting game escaped him. He should just port out of here and find a place where the resistance, the hunters, and most of all Joseph, didn’t get up in his face. It was bad enough he’d had to explain himself to his father after he’d sent Asher home near death.

“It’s Joseph,” Micah said. “He’s missing.”

“He’s probably up a mountain communing with nature,” Phin dismissed. Despite hearing something off in Micah’s voice, he wasn’t getting involved. Joseph had this way of finding trouble, then evading it at the last minute. He’d be fine.

“Tell him,” Connor said firmly.

Phin crossed his arms over his chest. He didn’t like Connor’s tone. It suggested Micah was reluctant to tell him something.

“Tell me what?” he asked suspiciously.

Micah sighed. “We need your help. Joseph used magic to create a portal to get inside Glitnir.”

Phin dropped his stance of stubbornness and allowed his shock to come to the forefront. He stepped closer to Micah who, to his credit, didn’t move. “What the hell?” Phin shouted. “You know he shouldn’t…we shouldn’t…” He was lost for words. There was a reason they didn’t use their powers near anything to do with Glitnir. Supernaturals with magic were sought after and placed in hiding for their own protection. No one with the kind of skills inside them that he and Joseph had, would be allowed to be free of Glitnir interference.

“We were in the old library,” Micah said, “and he stayed behind and closed the portal.”

“Why would he do that?” Phin demanded. “Did he want to be trapped? Is he suicidal? Hell Micah. Why didn’t you stop him?” Very real fear built inside him. Joseph was inside Glitnir—and he’d used magic? He wouldn’t wish that combination on anyone if anyone had found out. Why hadn’t Joseph just got out? Where was he? None of this could be good.

“I couldn’t stop him,” Micah snapped. “We were discovered. We barricaded the door, he opened the portal, I went through with Levi, and he shut the connection down so no one could follow us.”

“Why did you even let him go there in the first place?” Phin stood right up in front of Micah and, despite having to look up at the vampire, he had Micah backing a step away.

“No one lets Joseph do anything,” Connor defended. He moved to stand between Phin and Micah and his tone and body language stopped Phin’s growing anger in its tracks.

Micah shook his head. “What’s done is done,” he said. “We need to get him out.”

Phin shook his head. “We can’t. He’s on his own.” Phin watched as Micah and Connor exchanged glances. What now? He knew he should have spent more time wandering the forest and less time leaving trails for Connor and Declan to follow. He’d been having fun playing with the two wolf shifters, but evidently Micah wanted him to get serious.

“We found something,” Micah started.

“A journal,” Connor interrupted.

Micah nodded. “A vampire journal. The one mentioned in the prophesies that say it will come to the twins from the royal line of the Sinclairs—”

Connor interrupted. “The prophesy about how one of them will have magic and that twin will lead an army for change.”

Phin felt like he was watching Micah and Joseph when they were together. Connor and Micah were evidently in synch given they kept finishing each other’s sentences. He held up a hand to stop them doing that back and forth in the explanation.

“Connor, you’d best go and find Declan. I left him circling a chalk pit last I saw him. Bring him and Levi here.”

Connor opened his mouth to protest, but a gentle touch from Micah’s hand on his arm had him stripping, shifting, and running the direction Phin indicated. Suddenly tired and needing to sit, Phin walked to the nearest fallen tree and perched himself on one end. He crossed his legs, then with a wave of his hand, indicated Micah should sit opposite.

Micah didn’t argue and the vampire began to talk as soon as he sat down. “The Journal Of Days was what Joseph was looking for at the Vampire Clan’s Council house. It wasn’t there, but he tracked it to Glitnir.”

“Why do you think this journal is so important?” Phin knew a little about vampire society, and he’d heard the prophesies, otherwise he wouldn’t be here alongside Joseph and Micah in this Underground they’d set up. He just hadn’t thought the journal mentioned in the prophesy would ever be found. Just the mention of Joseph again had fear curling inside him. What the hell made the idiot think going into Glitnir was a good thing.

Micah sighed heavily. “When Glitnir was first created and the vamps, werewolves, and the fae all held council, no one wanted the vampires to be part of it.”

“I recall reading that somewhere.”

“What most supernaturals don’t know is that this journal was a way of the vampires placating the others. The wolves and fae were concerned about the vampires creating a whole race of blood demons tied to them as donors, and about the fact they killed indiscriminately. The Vampire Clans Council agreed to have a book that contained, in detail, the workings of the council. It would automatically mark every action by a vampire and be proof in case the fae and the wolves suspected the vamps were planning to overthrow them and take Glitnir as theirs.”

“Every vampire action?”

Micah sighed. “Anything deemed important. The journal was spelled and locked and it was never to be removed from the vault. In fact it could only be opened by these mythical twins from the prophesies and only at the time of real need. Together.”

The Demon's Blood #4
“I didn’t offer you a role because what I want you to do means I need to share something with you that I have to be certain you won’t reveal to another soul, and only you alone can know.” Joseph looked deadly serious.

Simeon felt himself frown. Where was the openness now? A team, any kind of team with secrets, was destined to implode. Especially a team who didn’t all sleep together.

“I don’t like secrets,” he said firmly. Declan had said the same thing this morning. Declan, whose scent wasn’t as irritating as Connor’s, and his incubus lover, Levi, along with Brody, were off making contact with the bears at the foot of the Trent Forest. Why it took two incubi to deal with bears, Simeon didn’t understand, but he didn’t question Joseph’s intentions. The vamp had magic running through his veins and Simeon at least respected the ancient power that resided inside Joseph, even though he didn’t understand it.

The door opened and Reuben came back in the room with a whoop and a clash of knives and body armour. He looked faintly ridiculous when you saw him sitting at ease, but Simeon had watched the ancient warrior at practice with his sword and even he had to admit Reuben was pretty good with the sharp stuff.

Simeon had even attempted to ascertain whether Reuben liked males, but for some reason his normal instincts evaded him whenever Reuben joined him in the room. Probably something to do with the fact Reuben was eight hundred or so years old, and that he had been imprisoned by magic. Reuben sat in the seat opposite Simeon and next to Joseph. Simeon instantly felt like he was under interrogation. What was Reuben doing being part of this whole secret sharing thing? Simeon straightened in his seat, but not before he saw Joseph cast an irritated look at the manner of Reuben’s entrance.

“Why is Reuben here then?” Simeon asked. “If this secret is so damn special?”

“Because I have to know everything,” Reuben announced grandly.

Joseph frowned and glanced at Reuben. “That isn’t exactly accurate, but he has a point,” he began. “Reuben is here to record the details I’m giving you into the Vampire Book of Days.”

Simeon looked for paper or a pen, or anything that indicated this information would be put to record, but all he could see was a smirking Reuben tapping his forehead. Simeon remained uneasy at the thought Reuben could trap information with his freaky, enchanted book-brain.

Simeon was also suspicious. “Why does what I do, a member of the Feline Guild, need to be recorded in some ancient book of blood suckers?”

Reuben scowled and made a move towards Simeon. Joseph stopped him with a hand across his chest.

“Bring it,” Simeon snarled in response.

“Not worth it,” Reuben replied disinterestedly.

Joseph sighed and suddenly appeared very tired. “Firstly, so we can track if you break the agreement to secrecy. Although what Reuben wants to do with that information if you do break the agreement, I dread to think.”

“I’ll kill him,” Reuben said with a sniff before snarling with his fangs drawn. He stabbed a knife into the wooden desktop.

Simeon merely raised an eyebrow in dismissal. “You don’t scare me, vampire.” He laughed.

Reuben stood and leaned over the table and, in a movement so quick it blurred, he had Simeon pressed against the stone wall, Simeon’s legs dangling and Reuben’s hands around Simeon’s neck.

“Stop!” Joseph ordered. “For pity's sake, Reuben, sit down.”

Reuben tightened his hold momentarily and Simeon simply stared at him. His breathing was compromised, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to show it. Finally, Reuben released Simeon, then sat back down.

“You break your word, cat, I will find you in that instant, connected to the magic in this promise, and I will use my sword to split you in half.” He flicked a fang with his nail as if to emphasise the point.

Joseph continued immediately, as if Reuben hadn’t just threatened death and mayhem.

The Incubus Agenda #5
Nick Tarrant took a careful step back and leaned against the large oak chairs around the outside of the room. He had to be more in shadow and less in the middle of the heated discussion that already had one council member threatening to kill another. Newly elected, he finally had his place of the Werewolf Coalition but he wasn’t willing to put his neck out just yet to say what he thought. He had his own ideas that would remain hidden inside him until they needed to be turned into proper plans.

“This rebellion has to be stopped,” Cassius shouted over the noise of the arguing, which grew more violent and exponentially louder by the second. Cassius was the Head of the Vampire Clans Council and he was here, it seemed, to do nothing more than rile up the Wolf shifters and incite them to war. Given wolf shifters never did anything by halves and with the council split over the matter of Glitnir, Nick was waiting for his fellow wolves to shift and tear off into the forest looking for the rebellious Underground.

Only Niceros sat quietly to one side much as Nick did. His expression was guarded but Nick could swear there was the faint hint of a smile on his face. He was the big wolf in the Coalition now. Not only did he have twenty Retrievers under his control but he was cozied up to Cassius. Seeing the vampire and the werewolf together never failed to send shivers of apprehension down Nick’s spine.

“Glitnir has done nothing for us,” a new addition to the rank of Retrievers snarled. Nick couldn’t recall the shifter’s name, such was the turnover of Retrievers at the moment. Two other wolves pulled him to one side and proceeded to pummel him into the ground. Snarls and growls and sudden silence made Nick think that the Retrievers were going to be one short now. What the fuck was happening here? Everything was out of control.

“Does anyone else have anything to say?” Cassius shouted over the noise to make himself heard. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down from his height to the shorter wolves. Nick could see how this was going. Over half of the Coalition was behind this vampire, which put the vamps and the wolves squarely on the side of Glitnir in this crap. Not exactly the outcome that Nick was hoping for but he wasn’t saying a thing to the contrary of general opinion. His job was to stay quiet and get the intelligence he gathered to Joseph without getting caught, nothing more, nothing less. Silence fell over the room.

This closed Coalition meeting was anything but. Not only was Cassius here in his flowing black floor-length cloak that screamed pretentious, but Ludvik freaking Peitrol was outside in the ante room after asking for audience to talk. Nick couldn’t recall the last time that a vampire was allowed to address a full meeting of a werewolf council, but add in the fact Ludvik was fae and suddenly anything like tradition was being shot to pieces.

Not one wolf spoke up against Glitnir but a few looked at the prone body of the dead Retriever and the blood that pooled under his torn throat. It was so easy to kill these days, no one stopped a murder in the name of pushing down the rebellion.

“Then we’re agreed?” Niceros finally spoke up. Everyone in the room turned to him with expectation on their faces. He stood and Nick had to admit he looked every bit a big bad wolf. “Do we need to put this to a vote?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I put forward the motion that the Werewolf Coalition forms an alliance with the Vampire Clans Council and puts our support solidly behind the Fae and Glitnir.”

Silence.

Then each of the Retrievers that were left lifted their hands and as one each shifter in the room, even Nick, copied the gesture.

The Third Kingdom #6
Reuben stumbled over loose stones and wet grass in his hurry to get down into the space at the bottom of the incline. Methulan was here, standing in the centre of the destroyed space and waiting for him. Sudden doubts forced him to an abrupt halt when he reached level ground. Was this a trick? Some old magic that gave the illusion of the other half of his heart standing so lost and lonely in the very place of the last battle—the spot where Methulan died and Reuben lost his will to live?

“Methulan?” he called uncertainly. He hoped to hell Brody and Nick weren’t watching this epic uncertainty. They would surely think him one hell of a coward for not striding forward and damning the consequences.

The figure held out his hands. “Reuben,” he said.

That was Methulan’s voice, his beautiful face. The only thing that was different was his hair: long and white-blond, it framed his features. Reuben pushed aside his fear that this was all some kind of cruel revenge from a past foe. Someone like Lekland the Kappa—or Ludvik as he was known now—a creature bent on becoming a god in his own lifetime and not letting anyone stand in his way.

Reuben took a step forward, then another, faltering over discarded rocks, evidence of the battle that had once been fought on this sacred earth. Soon his walk grew into a steady run. Methulan moved towards him and suddenly he was right up to Methulan before he could think of any more reasons why this was a bad thing. He fell into Methulan’s arms, a cry of wonder passing his lips as Methulan embraced him and held him steady. For long minutes they held each other, and Reuben fought back the emotion that threatened to push him to his knees.

“Reuben,” Methulan was saying over and over. “Reuben. My love. I thought you were dead.” Methulan tightened his grip and Reuben grabbed at his jacket and held tight, the supple leather wrapping around his fingers. The feel of him, the scent of him, every part of Methulan was here. This was no apparition.

Methulan pulled away and Reuben could see the agony carved into the other man’s face. “Too long,” he murmured.

Reuben shook his head. “I don’t understand,” he said. “You died. I saw you kill yourself because of me. I don’t…” He couldn’t think of the right words, let alone utter them in a coherent fashion. Instead he released his hold on the leather and cradled Methulan’s face. He stared directly into silver eyes, one flecked with blue, the other green. Then, before he could question anything, he kissed Methulan, at first a soft reconnection, then forcefully enough to have them both gasping for air. It was always like this, incendiary, instant, a passion so quick to ignite it burned them both. They kissed again, but this time Methulan gentled the taste and twisted his hands into Reuben’s long, unruly curls. Anchored this way they kissed for the longest time, with Reuben desperate for more.

They pulled apart at some unspoken agreement, and Reuben glanced at Methulan’s plump lips, swollen from their kisses. His lover hadn’t changed much apart from his hair, which used to be dark and thick and short. Other than that he hadn’t aged and there were no scars, so he looked as perfect as the very last minute before he died. His white-blond hair made a veil around his face and his beautiful eyes focused only on Reuben.

“Where are your friends?” Methulan asked softly.

Reuben cast a look up the side of the incline. “You knew I came with someone?”

Methulan nodded. “The incubus I sent to Joseph and the wolf I showed the name of this place to. I knew their curiosity would mean they’d accompany you, and I could see you.”

Reuben felt an irrational burst of temper. “You’ve been watching me,” he stated with heat. “How long? Where have you been? Why couldn’t I see you?”

Methulan gripped his hands tight—he looked broken, devastated, and so sad. “Please don’t be angry with me,” he pleaded.

“Why didn’t you find me?”

“I can’t help the connection we have, but it’s the only thing that kept me here for a thousand years.”

Methulan wasn’t answering the question at all. In fact he was being deliberately vague about everything.

“I saw you die,” Reuben repeated.

Heaven Can't Wait by Eli Easton
Chapter 2
Rain. Dark. Brian was on the sidewalk outside of Cole Hall, the dorm where Chuck lived. He could see students walking by in a hurry, heads down, bundled up, so it had to be cold. But he felt neither the cold nor the rain.

No one seemed to see him, even when Brian waved his arms, even when he yelled, Hey! It was creepy. It made Brian feel small and insignificant.

Shit. I’m really dead. They’re all still moving on with their lives and mine is over.

That sucked. Hard.

Before Brian could get too freaked out, he saw a guy approach in a hooded sweatshirt under a parka. Kevin. Immediately, Brian’s fear turned to motivation. Whatever he had to do to save Kevin, man, whatever. He was not going to that red place, no way. The white room wasn’t that bad. Maybe with some manna and some communion wine, a vestal virgin or two, and a lot more of that sweet light, he could deal. No aches, no pains, no finals, no having to earn a living. He could work with that. But, going to hell? That was not on.

He had to nail this. Saving Kevin was the most important thing he’d ever had to do.

Kevin had a backpack on and was carrying some kind of dorky music case. His shoulders sagged and his steps were slow, as if he was loaded down by more than what he was carrying. “Kevin?” Brian said as Kevin walked by. Kevin didn’t look up.

Brian followed him. He followed Kevin as he trudged up three flights of wet stairs like they were Mount Everest. He followed as Kevin pushed through the stairwell door into a hallway. He followed as Kevin trudged down the stained carpet to his room like he was taking his last walk on condemned row. As they reached the door, Brian noticed it was open a crack. A loud voice came from inside the room, and Kevin paused as he reached out for the door handle.

“Look at this! A purple shirt! Holy crap, Kevin is such a fuckin’ flamer.”

Brian recognized the deep voice. It was Randy, one of his and Chuck’s friends, being dickwaddish. Then again, that was Randy’s singular duty in life.

“Stay out of his closet. Christ. What’s wrong with you?” That was Chuck.

“Gay,” Randy said, accompanied by the sound of sliding hangers. “Gay, gay, oh, fuck that is so gay.” Laughter.

“Just close it, will you?” Chuck snapped. “For fuck’s sake. What are you, twelve? Are we playing Halo or not?”

Kevin’s hand dropped from the door handle and he turned on his sneakers, silent as a ninja. That allowed Brian to get a good look at his face. Kevin stared at the wall, his jaw clenched. His nostrils flared as he took in a shaky breath and there was a resigned pain in his eyes. Cold, wet, and rather funky, truth be told (Brian still had his sense of smell), Kevin turned away from his room and headed back toward the stairs. He paused at a door and looked around. There was no one in the hallway except for Brian, and he apparently was the invisible man. Kevin opened the door—it was a supply closet—and stuffed his instrument case under the bottom shelf, hidden from view.

It was such a natural move. Kevin had clearly done that many times before. He returned to the stairwell, wiped his face with the back of one wet sleeve, and pushed through the door. The squeak of his sneakers pounding down the stairs echoed through the hall.

Brian stood there, feeling like shit. Actually, shit would be like log-shaped gold compared to how he felt. But what was he supposed to do about it? It’s not my fault, he thought. Why do I have to fix this?

A small screen blinked into existence in front of Brian’s face, scaring the crap out of him. He looked around, but there was no sight of Peter or Brutus or anyone else–human, spirit, or otherwise. The screen flickered to life. Brian saw himself and Chuck walk into Chuck’s room. It was the day Chuck moved in, back in August. Brian was helping Chuck carry up some boxes.

“Oh, hi!” Kevin said, getting up from his bed where he’d been sitting organizing CDs. He wore a large, welcoming smile. “One of you must be Chuck. I’m Kevin.”

Chuck stood perfectly still and stared at Kevin as if he’d been zapped by a paralytic ray. On-screen Brian scanned Kevin’s side of the room with a smirk. Kevin’s single bed was made up with a worn red comforter and his white pillowcases had a frill on them. Above Kevin’s bed hung a Teen Wolf calendar and a poster of a whale leaping into a sunset. Then on-screen Brian turned a look of contempt on Kevin himself. He was thin and wore too-new, too-blue skinny jeans and a plaid button-down shirt with pearl buttons. His hair was white-blond, straight, and long enough to curl into a flip on his shoulders like a girl’s. He had big blue eyes and his face was delicate and fey and pretty—or it would have been if not for the bad case of acne the kid rocked. To put the nail in the coffin, Kevin’s voice was soft and high.

On-screen Brian burst out laughing. Chuck dumped the box he was carrying on the unmade bed and looked at him with a frown. “Shut up.”

But Brian laughed harder and nodded his head toward Kevin, his hands full. “Oh, God. Chuck!”

“Knock it off,” Chuck said weakly, shooting Kevin an apologetic look.

Kevin was blushing and watching them with a frown.

“I’m Chuck,” Chuck told Kevin gruffly, not meeting his gaze. “C’mon, Brian, just put the box down, okay? There’s more shit to carry up.”

Brian dumped the box on the bed and Chuck pushed him, still laughing, out the door. As they exited the room, Brian snorted. “Awesome! You have to room with a fag all year! Wait till I tell the guys. Where ya’ gonna change your clothes, huh? Gonna drop trou and give your roomie a free show? Whoo!”

“Shut the fuck up,” Chuck said with a growl. He gave Brian another little push toward the stairs. He looked uncomfortable, like he wanted to disappear. It was an interesting look on Chuck, since he was a big, tough-looking guy. But Brian had seen it on him plenty. Chuck was easily embarrassed.

Brian and Chuck walked off, Brian still hooting and Chuck ignoring him. But the replay went back into the room where Kevin stood, his face red, his eyes bright, and his fists clenched. He actually cried, or, okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but he wiped his eyes furiously and got a bit blotchy.

Brian remembered what happened later that day. He and Chuck had met up with a bunch of the guys for pizza and Brian had teased Chuck mercilessly about his gay roommate. After that…. Yeah, after that, all the guys liked to go over to Chuck’s room to give him shit about Kevin.

The video playback stopped, and the words “You Started It” flashed on the screen three times then vanished, along with the screen itself.

Damn. That was… incredibly awkward. Brian felt exposed, like he wanted to roll up and vanish too. In retrospect, he did look like a big fat jerk. It wasn’t much fun to see yourself like that, not to mention being called out on it by, oh, God, or whoever Peter represented. Yes, Kevin was the kind of guy who deserved being made fun of a bit. Or at least, Brian had always thought that way. If you were going to look like a total dork or a loser or a fag, then how could you expect people not to notice? Not to comment on it, or tease? He wasn’t blind. It wasn’t like he would have hurt the guy. He wasn’t the kind of person who would push someone’s head in a toilet or anything like that. And he didn’t care if people were gay as long as they were gay over there somewhere. It had just been an opportunity too rarified to miss, to tease the hell out of Chuck for having to room with one. That didn’t make Brian a terrible person.

Right?

But justify as he might, it didn’t make Brian feel any less craptastic, not after seeing that look on Kevin’s face, not after seeing the kid chased away from his own room today by Randy’s obnoxious words.

“I get it. I was wrong! Okay?” Brian said it loudly, but his voice sounded hollow and insubstantial to his own ears. “I’m sorry!”

There was no reply.


Click to Check Out Previous
Random Paranormal Tales of 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4
Part 5  /  Part 6  /  Part 7  /  Part 8
Part 9  /  Part 10


Angel Martinez
Angel Martinez currently lives part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head. She has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.

Angel's alter ego writes the all-ages science fiction - Sandra Stixrude.

Kari Gregg
Kari Gregg lives in the mountains of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia with her Wonderful husband and three very Wild children. When Kari’s not writing, she enjoys reading, coffee, zombie flicks, coffee, naked mud-wrestling (not really), and . . . coffee!

RJ Scott
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn't with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn't like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

Eli Easton
Eli Easton has been at various times and under different names a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, an organic farmer, and a long-distance walker. She began writing m/m romance in 2013 and has published 27 books since then. She hopes to write many more.

As an avid reader of such, she is tickled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, two bulldogs, several cows, and a cat. All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest fiction writing.


Angel Martinez
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Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists by Angel Martinez
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Stray by Kari Gregg
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Kingdom Volume 1 by RJ Scott
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Kingdom Volume 2 by RJ Scott
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Heaven Can't Wait by Eli Easton
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