Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Random Paranormal Tales of 2017 Part 6

Dangerous Territory by Cari Z
With his father barely in the ground and his sister married to a scheming bastard, Carter is on the verge of losing the family ranch. His only chance at holding onto his inheritance is to get his cattle to market before his brother-in-law. That means braving Mason Canyon, which on top of being snake-infested and easily flooded, is also shifter territory. Most clans would just as soon shoot humans as look at them.

His only hope of making it is to trust the shifter who's agreed to help him, and pray that Rani won’t double-cross him. If Carter doesn't go he loses everything, and if he doesn't make it there his family is as good as dead.

The Vampire's Dinner by TJ Nichols
For vampire Charles Redfort, Christmas is a bitter reminder of the day he was killed by a werewolf. After fleeing the vampire army he was created to serve in, he has lived in exile in England. Once a year he allows himself to tell the truth about his life over dinner. Then he eats the man he’s hired for the night.

Blake Wells is an engineering student by day and escort by night. He works Christmas because he doesn’t want to see his father, and his mother doesn’t want to see him. When he meets Charles, he thinks he’s gotten a bonus present that he can’t wait to unwrap. But as the truth is revealed, Blake will have to think fast to live until morning and convince Charles to give up his lonely life.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2016 Advent Calendar "Bah Humbug."

Original Review January 2017:
Vampires at Christmas? What is this madness?  Well, The Vampire's Dinner is a beautiful story of finding something you didn't even realize you were missing.  Paranormal, Christmas, and heart makes this a wonderful addition to my holiday shelf.


Out of the Ashes by Ari McKay
Asheville Arcana

In their differences, they’ll find strength—and love.

Alpha werewolf Eli Hammond returns from a fishing trip to discover a nasty surprise—five members of his pack murdered and the rest missing. He needs help locating and rescuing his pack mates, but the supernatural council in Asheville, North Carolina, turns him away.

Except for one man.

As they work together, Eli is stunned—and not especially thrilled—to discover half-elf Arden Gilmarin is his destined mate. But as Arden and his friends struggle to help Eli in his quest, Eli surrenders to the demands of his body—and his heart. They’ll need to bond together, because the forces opposing them are stronger and more sinister than anyone predicted. The evil has its sights set on Arden, and if Eli wants to save his mate and the people he is entrusted with protecting, he’s in for the fight of his life.

Thirsting for More by Claire Cray
Cal's seven years as a vampire haven't been so bad. After being turned by a horny immortal he never saw again, he got used to things pretty quick. The aphrodisiac venom has been an unexpected perk, keeping him supplied with beautiful boys who double as meals. 

There's just one thorn in his side: for this entire seven years, Cal has suffered a painful unrequited crush on the vampire Ira. Cool, narcissistic, and loudly straight, Ira drifts in and out of his life as he pleases, soaking up Cal's attention when he's around and then leaving him alone with his hopeless desires.

After Ira's latest departure, Cal has decided to get over him for good. But now Ira's back with a shocking proposition that threatens to change their dynamic forever...

Thirsting for More is a great little short story.  What it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.  I will say that I would have loved to have seen more of Cal and Ira's history as a novella or novel length tale but as a short story it's just the right blend of paranormal, lust, drama, love, and friendship.  Oh, and did I mention the heat? There's the want to bang their heads together and shout "TALK TO EACH OTHER!" but where would the fun be in that?  If you're looking for a short read that will get the heart pumping in a multitude of ways than Claire Cray's Thirsting for More is a must.


En Memoriam by Tami Veldura
Paul has seen Victor before, he just can’t remember where. The rush of fear in his stomach when Victor glances his way is familiar. Paul knows the slant of his smile. There’s nothing safe here, but when Victor offers to meet over coffee, Paul is swayed by this sense of knowing. Victor’s touch feels like an old lover. His hands have been here before.

Paul is sure he once learned something Victor is trying to hide. His hair stands on end whenever Victor gives him attention, like his body reacting to danger that his mind can’t recall. He’s not sure uncovering more is a good idea but he craves what Victor might give him. 

Paul wants to know why he longs for Victor’s voice. He dreams about conversations they’ve never had. He desires a darkness he’s never seen before. They met only once, but this longing is too intense. Victor is keeping secrets, Paul just can’t remember them.

Expanded from Mile High Vampire, a reader favorite flash story previously published in the collection Fanged. En Memoriam stands alone. 

Dangerous Territory by Cari Z
Carter Bly stared blankly at his father’s tombstone, so exhausted now that he couldn’t spare the energy to think about why he’d forced his way out to the cemetery in the middle of a dust storm, too tired to think of anything except his own failure. One month his pa had been in his grave. One month was all it had taken for everything to go to hell.

The wind blew dry and hot this time of year across the Oklahoma Territories, stinging the skin with sand and filling every crevice of skin and cloth with dirt. Carter was aware, absently, that he looked a damn fool out here, battered felt hat clenched in his fist, dust marking out the premature lines in his face, carved after decades of squinting into the sun. He’d worked his whole life with his father on the ranch, worked to make it bigger and better. More animals, better feed, the finest cattle west of the Mississippi. Cattle that would command a great price at auction. Cattle that would give him and his sister an easier life than their parents had.

Carter’s eyes ached, red-rimmed and gritty from sleepless nights and never-ending frustration. He ran a clumsy hand through his hair, felt the strands clump thick and greasy against his palm. His mama would have switched him something fierce if she could have seen what he looked like right now.

He glanced over at his mother’s tombstone, five feet away. It was a little rounder about the edges than his pa’s, but the engraving was still clear. Caroline Bly had been dead for five years, and Carter had never thought of that as something to be thankful for before now. As it was, he was grateful she’d been spared the pain of seeing everything she’d worked for fall to pieces.

Well, not everything. From one way of looking, Millie had done more than all right for herself. Carter knew that was how his sister saw it; how she had to see it if she was going to live with herself. Both Carter and Millie had taken after their father, and while in Carter’s case that made him a fairly handsome man, tall and long-legged and strong-featured, Millie had ended up a gangly, raw-boned, and strong-featured woman, which no woman wanted to be called. She’d been convinced she’d live and die a spinster before their little town had unexpectedly become a stopping point for barges heading downriver to the big trading cities. Before Percy.

“Carter.” A heavy hand clapped his shoulder, shaking him out of his reverie. “Come on back to the big house now, son.”

His eyes prickled painfully at the word ‘son’, but any moisture was soon swept away by the wind. “I will not sleep in that house while he’s under the same roof.”

“Half of that roof is yours,” his company pointed out. “You should claim it.”

“I can’t.” Carter shook his head, the freshness of his misery finally resurfacing. “I can’t, Keena. I’ll punch the man in the face before he says two words, and then who knows what his fancy-pants lawyer will be able to bleed outta me? I can’t go back there, not…” Not broken. Not like this. Not while all I can think of is everything that I’ve lost.

“Then come home with me,” Keena said gently. “Gertrude wants to get her hands on you anyway; she’s convinced you’ll starve to death without a cook around up there.”

“Percy has provided his own cook,” Carter sneered. “Calls him a chef, actually. Boy from the Loozy-Do who can’t even make biscuits without burnin’ ’em. Covers perfectly good steak with sauces, and he actually brought gator sausage with him. Throws it into the grits and ruins the taste. Gator. Who in the hell eats gator?”

“Come home,” Keena repeated. “You can get a bath, get some food, some sleep. Tomorrow is soon enough to figure out the rest of it.”

Carter wanted to argue, wanted to say that there was nothing to figure out, he was pure and simple screwed, that was all, screwed out of his inheritance by his besotted sister and her snake-eyed husband, but he knew Keena didn’t want to hear that. The old man had worked on this ranch since before Carter was born, and he was the closest thing to family that Carter had now outside of Millie. Hell, he and his wife Gertrude might have been Carter’s closest thing to family including Millie, what with how she’d behaved of late, like some prissy, weak-minded debutante who wouldn’t even breathe without asking for her husband’s permission first. That wasn’t the sister he knew. Nothing was familiar anymore, nothing except…

“C’mon now,” Keena coaxed him, and Carter let himself be led away from his father’s grave. There was no comfort to be had there, anyway.

Keena and Gertrude had a small place about a half-mile from the big house, where they’d lived ever since they’d first married and Pa had put Keena in charge of the herd. Carter used to run back and forth between the two homes on a daily basis, delivering food or gossip for the women, carrying plans and whiskey for the men. Gertrude and Caroline had been friends their whole lives, and Caroline had been one of the only people not to shun Gertrude after she’d married Keena.

Keena was half shifter, and that sort of intermarriage was still frowned upon by polite society. Fierce shifter clans were a large part of the reason that early efforts to make this new land into one united country had failed so spectacularly; the colonists might have had better guns, but they couldn’t track a hawk through the sky, or a wolf into the mountains. Many attempts at inroads into shifter territory had been made, but the cost was usually so high for whomever tried it that an uneasy peace had gradually settled over the land. Shifters gave up territory they didn’t much care for to whomever could grab it first, and with no central government that made for a lot of small, insular communities.

Apart from the original thirteen colonies back east, who got their land in part by passing along illness before shifters got wise to it, the continent was a patchwork of claims. Various shifter tribes, the Oklahoma Territories, the Dukedom of Louisiana, the People’s Republic of Texas… It was a wild place, this part of the world. Hardscrabble lives made it difficult to trust outsiders, and Keena was shunned by both groups. The Blys had provided him and his family with a sanctuary, and now even that might be taken away.

Keena pulled Carter to the small barn outside his home, opened up a rain barrel that had nearly gone dry, dampened a handkerchief, and then passed it over. “Better clean up some first, or Gertrude will take one look atcha and send you right back outside.”

Carter took the cloth and ran it numbly over his face, shutting his eyes for a moment and letting the cool water wash some of the grit away. God, he was so tired… It was tempting to keep the thin cotton draped there, easing the harshness of his breaths and taking away some of the pain of reality for a while, but Carter knew he couldn’t hide from his troubles. He had tonight, and only tonight, to figure out a plan that would keep him independent, or he’d have to give in to Percy’s demands. There was too much at stake for him to be obstinate now.

The Vampire's Dinner by TJ Nichols
SNOW WAS falling and settling on the footpath that ran through the center of the park. He wanted to be able to appreciate the swirling flakes before they melted away, but he couldn’t. The beauty was transient and would be ugly brown slush tomorrow.

Lights of every color had been strung from the trees. The tree in the center was lit up so bright he wondered if it would catch fire. He half hoped it would just so he could see the humans watching the carolers scurry.

His cane tapped on the ground as he walked, his leg stiff from the old injury. He could’ve skirted the park, but it would have taken him longer. However, as the voices of the choir carried toward him, he wished he had. Their overly saccharine songs and Christmas cheer made his fangs ache—although that could be hunger.

A snowball hit the back of his leg, and he stumbled, caught himself on his cane, and put too much weight on his bad leg. He turned, ready to growl. The kid who’d thrown the snowball smirked even as his mother apologized.

There were too many people around, and they were all here having a good time. He curled his lips in something that approximated a smile and kept walking. Christmas. He hated the cheer and the goodwill. Mostly he hated being reminded of the day he died.

The gleaming lights of the hotel greeted him from the other side of the park, and he quickened his pace. He checked his watch. He had half an hour until his evening plans would begin. If everything else went smoothly, that was plenty of time, but today had been full of delays.

Heat hit him as he walked through the hotel door. He didn’t spare a nod for the man standing there bundled up against the damp London cold.

The hotel concierge greeted him with a perky attitude that bordered on obsequious. “Mr. Redfort, we are so glad to have you back this Christmas. Your suite has been prepared. Will you be having your usual meal?”

“Yes.” He hadn’t been able to eat in over four hundred years, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to sample roast duck and Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. “That would be delightful, Peter.”

He’d made the effort to read the man’s name tag. People liked that kind of thing, and he had learned if one was very polite to the staff and left a large tip, one could literally get away with murder.

On Christmas that was exactly what he did.

Out of the Ashes by Ari McKay
Chapter 1
“EVENING, ARDEN. You want the usual?”

Arden Gilmarin nodded at Gus, who both owned and tended bar at the Rainbow Room, Asheville’s favorite watering hole among the gay supernatural community. No matter how tired or stressed he was, the atmosphere in the bar helped Arden relax and unwind. The alcohol didn’t hurt either, of course, but Arden had wondered on more than one occasion if Gus paid someone in the local coven to keep a soothing charm on the place, since he’d never known of any fights in or around the bar, not even between factions of the community who didn’t always get along under the best of circumstances.

Gus drew up a pint of a deep golden ale and passed it across the polished wood of the bar. “This one’s called ‘Waking the Dead,’” he said, then nodded toward the rear of the big, brightly colored room. “Your partner in crime is already here, in case you were wondering.”

“Thanks, Gus.” Arden picked up the frosty glass and took a small sip, then smiled in pleasure as the rich, yeasty brew tickled over his palate. “This one’s a keeper, I think,” he said. He and his best friend, Whimsy Hickes, had a tradition of meeting at the bar on Wednesday nights to indulge in a pint or two—or more—of whatever local brew Gus had on tap. Asheville had a number of breweries, both magical and nonmagical, so there was always something new to try.

He glanced around the bar, nodding to the regular patrons he knew. But he didn’t really want to get bogged down in socializing, so he took himself off to the rear booth where he and Whimsy usually sat. They liked to people watch, so they usually claimed a seat that commanded the best view of the room.

He could see Whimsy had already settled in, and he smiled as he slid into the opposite seat. “Hey, Whims. How’s things? Blown up any cauldrons so far this week?”

“Very funny,” Whimsy said, his dark eyes crinkling in amusement as he tossed his waist-length black hair back over his shoulder. It was glossy and sleek, and Arden knew from experience that it felt as soft as it looked. Whimsy had inherited his Cherokee mother’s dark hair, eyes, and skin, but his unusual name and magical ability came from his father. “How was the meeting? Or maybe the better question is, how many of those are you going to need?” he asked, pointing to Arden’s glass.

Arden huffed, but his annoyance had nothing at all to do with Whimsy. “A few, probably. The meeting was even worse than usual,” he replied. As both a business owner in Asheville and a half-elf, Arden had been corralled into taking part in the informal “council” that oversaw the interactions between the various factions of the supernatural community. They were respected, even if their authority was limited. There were times when he wanted to flounce off in disgust at some of the inanity, but he felt compelled to stay as a voice of reason among the often fractious membership. “I simply can’t believe how there can be so much squabbling over things that matter so little.”

“The battles are never so heated as when the stakes are low,” Whimsy said, offering Arden a sympathetic smile.

Arden rolled his eyes. “Unfortunately true. Would you believe that someone introduced a motion to adopt a leash law for familiars? Can you see us trying to tell the mages and witches they can’t take their toad or rat for a walk without a leash?”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” Whimsy said. “Percy wouldn’t have put up with it.” His last familiar, a gorgeous black cat, had died over a year ago, and he hadn’t gotten another yet because he still missed Percy too much.

Arden smiled apologetically, reaching across the table to hold Whimsy’s hand. “It definitely would have offended his dignity. But it gets worse, if you can believe it. There was also a motion to install waste bags in public parks in the supernatural neighborhoods for werewolves. The person who brought that up said it was the responsibility of people to pick up after themselves, no matter what form they’re in.”

Whimsy almost choked on his beer at that. After a brief bout of coughing, he stared at Arden incredulously. “How—? What—? They don’t have opposable thumbs in that form! What are they supposed to do, leave a little flag and come back in the morning?”

Shrugging, Arden sipped from his glass. “Logic doesn’t exactly figure in these kinds of discussions,” he said. “When you get situations where the witches are yelling at the shape-shifters, or the Human Equality League starts in on their diatribe about ‘incentivizing resettlement of supernaturals into normal communities in order to promote understanding,’ it just all breaks down into chaos.” He sighed. “As if that weren’t enough, we’re reconvening next week to hear from ‘expert witnesses’ on the subject. I didn’t even know there were witnesses for poop.”

“I don’t see how you do it.” Whimsy shook his head. “I sure couldn’t.”

“Sometimes I don’t know how I can do it either,” Arden replied. He frowned down at his mug of beer, tracing patterns in the condensation. “But someone has to, right? I mean, we do all have to get along somehow, and from time to time issues that are actually important get brought up. Like when we had to deal with that rogue vampire who was frightening humans, or helping put together the support system for orphan shape-shifters. The problem is that when there aren’t real problems to deal with, the stupidity level goes up.” He paused, smiling wryly. “Sometimes it makes me wish we had a real problem to deal with, like a demon or something, just so that people would work together instead of at cross-purposes.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” Whimsy said, wagging his forefinger at Arden. “You know words have power.”

“You sound like my father.” Arden raised a hand and made a warding gesture against the evil eye, a gesture picked up from his wizard sire. Not that he was any kind of a mage himself, but the habits of three centuries were hard to break. “But you’re right. I don’t really want a demon to show up. I just wish we weren’t wasting time on idiocy instead of doing things that really mattered.” He worried his lower lip between his teeth as he considered. “Maybe I should resign. I could spend the time planning another resort. Or at least having sex.”

Whimsy studied him closely. “Is it the aftermath of a tedious meeting getting you down, or is something else going on? Divination isn’t my thing, but I’m getting a vibe.”

“A vibe? From me?” Arden shook his head. “You know me, Whims. I’m the life of the party, right? It’s probably just the meeting getting to me. Or the lack of big, buff supernaturals to lust over in the last couple of weeks. Even Julian is off on one of his periodic antisocial jags.”

Julian Schaden was a vampire, and he and Arden had been “friends with benefits” for over a century before the term had been invented. After meeting Whimsy several years before, the three of them had become an informal ménage. There was no jealousy involved, since it was all just fun between friends, and no one minded if two of them hooked up without the third. It was safe and easy, and it meant that Arden usually didn’t have to go looking for other partners if he felt lonely or horny. Still, he did like looking at newcomers, at least.

Whimsy sat up straight and flexed his bicep with a playful smile, but he wasn’t that much taller than Arden, and while he was well-toned, his build was lean, not buff. He was also no more of a top than Arden.

“Maybe Julian will emerge from his funk soon,” he said. “Or maybe someone from Tharn’s pack will come to town.”

“Maybe,” Arden said, then shrugged again. “I’m not going to worry about it. Tonight is for us to drink and bemoan our dreary lives and dream of a brighter future, right?”

“Right!” Whimsy lifted his beer glass and held it out to Arden for a toast. “To good beer, buff men, and no meetings anytime soon.”

“Now that’s something I can drink to,” Arden replied. He lifted his glass and clinked it against Whimsy’s, telling himself to relax and enjoy the night. The Asheville supernatural community would take care of itself, just as it always had, and Arden would be right there with it, just as he had always been. This was his home, and every supernatural in the area was a part of an extended family. Like any family, they had their squabbles and their petty grievances, but when push came to shove, they always stuck together. It was, after all, the only way for all of them to survive.

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Random Paranormal Tales of 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4

Cari Z.
Cari Z was a bookworm as a child and remains one to this day. In an effort to combat her antisocial reading behavior she did all sorts of crazy things, from competitive gymnastics to alligator wresting (who even knew that was legal!) to finally joining the Peace Corps, which promptly sent her and her husband to the wilds of West Africa, stuck them in a hut and said, "See ya!" She also started writing, because some things she just thought she could do better. She's still climbing that ladder, but can't stop herself from writing, or from sharing what she creates.

Cari enjoys a wide range of literary genres, from the classics (get 'im, Ahab) to science fiction and fantasy of all types, to historical fiction and reference materials (no, seriously, there are so many great encyclopedias out there). She writes in a wide range of genres as well, but somehow 90% of what she produces ends up falling into the broad and exciting category of m/m erotica. There’s a sprinkling of f/m and f/f and even m/f/m in her repertoire, but her true love is man love. And there's a lot of love to go around.

Cari has published short stories, novellas and novels with numerous print and e-presses, and she also offers up a tremendous amount of free content on, under the name Carizabeth.

TJ Nichols
TJ Nichols is happiest with a bourbon in hand and a cat on the lap while plotting to take over the world… no, sorry that is TJ’s supervillain alter ego. TJ is an avid runner, martial arts enthusiast, and self-confessed nerd who does like bourbon, cats, and plotting to take over the world when writing. Having grown up reading thrillers and fantasy novels, it was no surprise that mixing danger and magic came so easily. After traveling all over the world, TJ now lives in Perth, Western Australia.

Ari McKay
Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who collaborate on original m/m fiction. They began writing together in 2004 and finished their first original full length novel in 2011. Recently, they’ve begun collaborating on designing and creating costumes to wear and compete in at Sci Fi conventions, and they share a love of yarn and cake.

Arionrhod is an avid costumer, knitter, and all-around craft fiend, as well as a professional systems engineer. Mother of two human children and two dachshunds who think they are human, she is a voracious reader with wildly eclectic tastes, devouring romance novels, military science fiction, horror stories and Shakespeare with equal glee. She is currently preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.

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

Tami Veldura
Tami Veldura is an enby/aro/ace author of queer fiction. Hir pronouns are sie/hir/Mx. Sie loves romance, fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal stories that push genre limits. Sie lives in California where sie writes full-time which means procrastinating as often as possible with video games. Dragons fascinate hir, a consistent schedule eludes hir, and sie makes a terrible housewife, just ask Mr. Veldura.

Cari Z

TJ Nichols

Ari McKay

Claire Cray

Tami Veldura

Dangerous Territory by Cari Z

The Vampire's Dinner by TJ Nichols

Out of the Ashes by Ari McKay

Thirsting for More by Claire Cray

En Memoriam by Tami Veldura

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