Sunday, October 25, 2015

Random Paranormal Tales Part 7

The Psychic and the Sleuth by Summer Devon & Bonnie Dee
Trusting a psychic flash might solve a mystery…and lead to love.

Inspector Robert Court should have felt a sense of justice when a rag-and-bones man went to the gallows for murdering his cousin. Yet something has never felt right about the investigation. Robert’s relentless quest for the truth has annoyed his superintendent, landing him lowly assignments such as foiling a false medium who’s fleecing the wives of the elite.

Oliver Marsh plays the confidence game of spiritualism, though his flashes of insight often offer his clients some comfort. Despite the presence of an attractive, if sneering, non-believer at a séance, he carries on—and experiences a horrifying psychic episode in which he experiences a murder as the victim.

There’s only one way for Court to learn if the young, dangerously attractive Marsh is his cousin’s killer or a real psychic: spend as much time with him as possible. Despite his resolve to focus on his job, Marsh somehow manages to weave a seductive spell around the inspector’s straight-laced heart.

Gradually, undeniable attraction overcomes caution. The two men are on the case, and on each other, as they race to stop a murderer before he kills again.

Warning: Graphic language and hot male/male sex with light BDSM themes. Despite “Descriptions of Murderous Acts” perpetrated by an unhinged killer, resist the temptation to cover your eyes—you’ll miss the good parts!

Robert and Oliver are such a great pair.  I don't know that I would classify this as a "enemies to lovers" sub-genre but they most definitely have the equal parts fighting and attraction down pat.  The author's warning says it best "Despite “Descriptions of Murderous Acts” perpetrated by an unhinged killer, resist the temptation to cover your eyes—you’ll miss the good parts!"  There are so many good parts mixed throughout the story, and I'm not just talking about "yummy" times, there is humor, sparring, fear, and of course murder.  By fear, I'm not just referring to the mystery, I'm also referring to Oliver's realization that he actually does have some psychic ability and Robert's same realization and having to admit that being psychic isn't an automatic conman at work.  This is the first time I've read either author or one of their collaborations but it definitely won't be the last.


The V Unit by Max Vos 
Only a select few in the human world knew of the existence of the V-Unit, a small group of highly trained Marines - who happened to be vampires.

And it would have stayed that way.

But when events in the vampire world, threatened the stability of the human world, the powers that be called for the unit's specialized services. An intrepid war correspondent, Bronson Rudan, who'd seen more than his fair share of fighting, stumbles across the unit by accident, and is drawn into their world.

Bronson has no problem with that, given that he gets to spend time with a hunky Marine Lieutenant, Sarge. Although he won't remember any of this when they're through.

At least, that was the plan...

Contains M/M, M/M/M and M/M/M/M

The Protector by Cooper West
Guardsmen are always matched in a bonded pair. The Protector can shift into a weredog, and the human partner is his Handler. They are incredibly rare and highly valued, but people also fear them for their mystical abilities. No Protector in living memory has outlived his Handler—until Alex Taylor.

Now a widower, Alex lives a lonely half-life and faces day after day of grief with no hope for happiness in the future. When he unexpectedly bonds with the young and vibrant Handler Marcus Stephanek, Alex is angry and unwilling to leave the memory of his former Handler behind. He pushes Marcus away and tries to distance himself from their bond. But then a mysterious villain who has been secretly shadowing Alex for years sets his plan in motion. Alex and Marcus must learn to trust their bond and love each other, or risk not only their own lives but the lives of those closest to them.

Forever Broken by Evangeline Anderson
As second wolf in the Lunas Locas pack, Paul Kraskowski has power and prestige. He also has a dark secret, one he hides and won't admit even to himself-until the night he meets Laurent.Born to one of the oldest families of his kind, Laurent Montcrieve is vampire royalty. He stands to inherit massive wealth and the title Viscount of the Blood. But he would give it all up to find the one man who can complete him-his Coeur de Sang, or Heart's Blood.Two worlds collide when Laurent and Paul meet and form an accidental blood bond. But the instant spark between them ignites a raging bonfire of conflict. Their people are enemies who would rather see them dead than together and Paul refuses to admit his attraction to another man. Now the clock is ticking as they agree to explore what lies between them. Their search may end in true love or death. But they must be careful...for if they sever the tie that binds them, the bond they share will be forever broken.

The Yearning by AJ Rose
Eric is a fiercely passionate ghost with a complicated after-life. He’s in love with Justin, a mortician who is very much alive and very much in love with someone else, his best friend Darren. Torn between desiring Justin for himself or wanting Justin’s happiness, Eric never expected his death to be harder than his life. When darkness threatens Justin’s soul, is Eric strong enough to enlist Darren’s help, or will Justin be lost to both of them forever?

This was recommended to me over a year ago, I didn't read it right away and then it just seemed to get buried in my TBR list but now I finally got around to reading it and WOW!  Loved Eric from the very beginning.  Justin and Darren are a great pair, course they don't both agree on what kind of pair they are.  This story has everything, ghosts, friendly and evil, friendship, romance, and hotness.  The Yearning captured my heart from page one and though I would have liked it to have lasted longer, the truth is I don't think it would be as powerful if the author had added a single word.  A true balance of hope and fear will have you on the edge of your seat, you really don't want to miss this great paranormal read.


The Psychic and the Sleuth
London, 1892
“I’m getting a name. I believe it starts with a W.” The young man in the checked jacket spoke in the sepulchral tone one expected from a Spiritualistic medium. Lush, dark lashes fluttered against his cheeks, and full lips parted as his eyebrows drew together in a frown.

He might sound the part, but his appearance was wrong, Court decided. His clothes, for one thing. Most mediums he’d observed wore dark, dignified clothing, as if to lend gravity to their incredible claims. Oliver Marsh’s scarlet waistcoat and checked jacket were too flashy by far for the role he was playing. Made him appear more like a fly-by-night salesman than a portal to the other world.

“Wilma? No. Winifred.” Marsh’s head cocked as though hearing an unseen voice whisper the name in his ear.

Court forced his eyes not to roll at the act. The young lady beside him gasped, and her limp, clammy hand gripped his tighter. “I have an aunt named Winifred. She died two years ago.”

The spiritualist inclined his head. “I’m getting the sense of her presence, a sense of great love and peace. She’s content on the other side, but she has a message she needs to deliver.”

Miss Abigail Fontaine leaned forward, eyes wide. “What does she want to tell me?”

Mr. Marsh’s frown deepened, and he moved his head slowly from side to side as though searching for a sound that came in intermittent bursts. “She says…” A long pause. “Don’t. There is something you are about to do, a big decision. She’s warning you against making the wrong choice.”

The redhead gasped again, and her grip on Court’s hand became almost painful. “Rodney? Aunt Winifred doesn’t approve of my fiancé, Mr. Pepperidge? But that’s impossible. Why not? Ask her why not?”

Court’s jaw tightened as he watched the medium play the young woman like an angler taking his time reeling in a fish. He didn’t know how Marsh had secured the details of the Fontaine woman’s engagement or why he would interfere. Perhaps her family or the Pepperidges didn’t approve the match and had paid Marsh to encourage Miss Fontaine to end it. Any scenario was feasible except for the possibility that Miss Fontaine’s aunt was actually transmitting a message from beyond the grave.

It was Court’s job to expose Marsh as a charlatan to stop him from taking money from gullible people. Posing as a believer, he’d observe the man until he was able to prove he’d fleeced a customer or coerced money from someone. Because he’d been too damned persistent on a case that hadn’t been assigned to him, Court no longer hunted murderers. It was some consolation to reflect that he would be stopping a predator. A man who gave false hope to the desperate was the lowest sort of scum.

He would maintain his cover so he could continue to interact with the spiritualist. Soon enough the false medium would be arrested, ending another shameful career.

Marsh paused and frowned some more, belaboring the effort it took to reach through the mists of time and space to reach the dead. “This spirit seems to feel your young man is not all he has represented himself to be. I’m getting two messages from her, a sense of deep love for you and a clear warning, but nothing more specific.”

Court had tracked another medium a few years earlier—that one had stolen works of art during weekend parties—and he’d been to enough séances now to know the routine. At this point, the medium usually snapped out of his or her trance, making a great show of weariness, and would leave the table. The excited guests would break for refreshments as they pondered his great spiritual gift and discussed the messages. In Court’s opinion, there was more thrill-seeking than actual spiritual resonance about these affairs.

But tonight the medium didn’t immediately open those long-lashed eyes. Instead, he held very still, and his face turned markedly pale. He caught his breath before he spoke again, and when he did, his voice was low and rasping, scraping up Court’s spine like a file. “There is another presence.”

Their hostess and fervent spiritualist, Lady Markham, was beside herself with excitement at the prospect of more messages from beyond. “Are you all right, Mr. Marsh?”

“Oh God.” Marsh grimaced as though in pain. “She is… She needs…” he stammered.

“Who? Do you have a name?” Lady Markham murmured, anxious not to break the medium’s concentration at this delicate moment.

“A flower. White. Not a daisy. She’s”—Marsh caught his breath and exhaled a name—“Lily.”

Court felt like someone had driven a fist into his stomach. Lily. The image of his cousin’s face came to him. God, he wished he could see a picture of Lily laughing, but no, he saw the moment of her death. Every detail from the blood oozing from the back of her head, to the anguish in her eyes just before they closed for the last time—he bit down on the inside of his cheek to stop himself seeing the rest. God damn Marsh.

“The man scared her. He said she’ll join the others.” Marsh’s voice was anguished and his expression contorted. It was quite a performance, and Court was having a hard time keeping his dyspeptic stomach from lurching. The medium must know he was a police inspector and his true purpose in attending the séance. But how had Marsh found out about Lily?

Marsh choked on a sob. “She’s looking at Robert.”

“Robert Littleton?” Lady Markham looked at the white-haired gentleman seated across the table from her.

“Not I, madam.” Littleton’s handlebar moustache twitched as he spoke. “There’s never been a woman named Lily in my life.”

Robert Court stirred uneasily. He hadn’t given his first name when he’d contacted Lady Markham about her interesting new protégé; he’d simply called himself Mr. Peeler, the name he often used for this sort of work.

What was Marsh’s goal? What did he hope to achieve by baiting him? Court wanted to let go of the sweaty palm of the man named Abernathy on his left and Miss Fontaine’s slender hand on his right to jump up and walk away from the table, but he mustn’t react to Marsh’s words. He couldn’t let any of them know who he truly was, and they would interrogate him if they thought the pronouncement from beyond held meaning for him.

“He said there were others,” the medium’s desolate voice continued. “Murder. Murder.”

“Oh my goodness.” The elderly woman beside Miss Fontaine broke the circle and reached for her handkerchief to dab at her forehead. “This is too much, Lady Markham. Entirely too much. I don’t wish to participate any longer.”

“Shh, Marjorie,” their hostess said. “A murderer’s identity may be revealed here tonight. What greater purpose could there be for these gatherings than to bring about truth and justice?” Diamonds flashed in Lady Markham’s ears, matching the sparkle in her eyes. Her ladyship was the type of woman who wore jewels even for an informal gathering with friends, overdressed and with too much time on her idle hands, but a caring person at heart, Court believed. She’d be appalled to learn she was the reason her good friend Mr. Marsh had come under the gaze of the authorities.

The relatively minor case of a spiritual medium had been handed to the serious-crimes officer because Marsh had begun to bilk the wealthy. Lord Markham disliked having his wife throw money at Marsh and had complained to Sir Bradford, the commissioner.

“Carry on, Mr. Marsh,” Lady Markham said. “What else does Lily say?”

Court studied the medium’s face, noting how his eyes darted back and forth beneath the lids. He was quite an actor, with a full arsenal of emotions in his quiver. Tears leaked from the corners of his closed eyes and rolled down his cheeks. Court watched in fascination as they dripped off that smooth-shaven jaw onto his crisp white shirt collar and felt a ridiculous urge to lean forward and wipe away the tears.

It’s all a sham, he reminded himself. Bits of facts stitched together with fancy. A swindler was adept at learning everything about the people he planned to cheat and then striking them at their Achilles’ heel. How Marsh had learned about the Lily Bailey case was all that mattered.

“He was stronger than I imagined. I didn’t listen to you about being careful, dear. I should have listened to you. Oh, Phillip,” Marsh whispered the words.

Court felt another blow to his gut, for only he had heard those words after he’d been summoned to the scene by the constable. She’d returned to consciousness for a few heartbeats, whispered the few garbled phrases, just as roughly as Marsh had, and no one else had been within hearing distance. Another thought came to him—there might be a simple explanation why Marsh might have been lurking so close. He could be the murderer.

The Protector
Three years ago
THE GERMAN shepherd snarled at them, curled low over the detective’s body. The man’s blood was heavy on the ground, thickening from exposure to the air. Officer Harris knew the stain had stopped spreading moments after Detective Theo Taylor died.

“We can’t get near him,” Officer Harris said into his mic.

“Just wait it out,” his superior, Sergeant Nykl, answered. Only someone who knew Nykl really well would hear the sadness in his voice. Not that Harris blamed him. One officer down, one cop dog to go—it was a dark day for the thin blue line.

Harris’s partner, a slip of a boy a couple of years out of the academy who barely had his feet under him, looked over at Harris in confusion. Behind them, Decker and Stevenson and about fifteen other cops worked on closing off the crime scene.

“Should we… do something?” Officer Zhang asked.

Harris shook his head. “No point. The Handler’s dead.”

He frowned. “This is the Guardsman?”

“Yep, our very own Guardsmen pair. Goddammit!” Harris cursed. In front of them, the dog continued snarling in between moments of licking at his Handler’s cooling body.

“Yo, Harris. No witnesses that we can find. Shoot-and-run, looks like. I’d say it was a hit if that weren’t crazy. It’s not like the Taylors worked vice or anything,” Ford said from behind him. He stepped up next to Harris, studying the dog. “How much longer?”

“Dunno. Not long, though. Supposed to be instantaneous.” Harris frowned at the dog.

They waited a few more minutes, but nothing changed. “Doesn’t seem too instantaneous to me,” Zhang said.

“Yeah, I’m getting that feeling too.” Harris turned on his mic again. “Sergeant? The Protector is still… well, he’s still guarding the body.”


“The Protector is still guarding the body of his Handler.”

“You mean, he’s still alive?”

“Pretty much. Snarling and everything.”

“Stand by, Officer Harris.”

“Yes, sir.”

They waited another ten minutes, Zhang fidgeting uncomfortably. “Isn’t a Protector supposed to die when their Handler dies?”

“Yep,” Harris said, feeling more and more uncertain about what was going on. The dog should have been dead by then; he was positive about that. Except that the dog wasn’t dead, not even close.

“So what should we do?” Zhang asked again. Harris gave the kid an annoyed look, and Zhang looked down at his feet.

Harris shook his head. “Damned if I know what to do. I don’t think this has ever happened before. He’s just supposed to die.”

Chapter One
ALEX TAYLOR did not want to feel old at thirty-two, but looking at the announcement that came in the mail, he did. It was parchment and tissue with fine calligraphy done by hand, as fancy (and expensive) as any wedding invitation.

He wondered if it was the same as the announcement that went out when he bonded to Theo thirteen years ago, but he had no idea what their invitations had looked like. Their bonding contract was artistically done, though, sitting framed over the fireplace in the living room. Alex assumed things hadn’t changed.

The difference was that he was older and receiving the announcement instead of being listed on it.

There were nine pairs that year, listed two by two down the parchment. A group photo came with the invitation, showing just how youthful and optimistic many of them were, smiling at the camera with broad grins and each looking like they had just won the lottery. Alex had been sixteen and Theo seventeen when they bonded, although it was another two years before their bond was officially recognized by the Institute. Most Guardsmen bonded in their teens or not at all, and in the case of Protectors such as Alex, that natural law was absolute. Handlers who were not bonded by twenty-five almost always remained unbonded to their deaths, although there were enough exceptions throughout history to make for very romantic epic poetry and, of course, Shakespeare’s comedy of errors, The Handler of Verona. In any case, Alex knew that most of the pairs listed on the invitation were probably very young.

The photo in his hands confirmed his suspicions: no one looked over twenty. Sighing, he shoved all the paper back in the fancy envelope and tossed it on the dining room table. For three years, he had avoided opening that announcement, which came like clockwork in April from the Institute. It made his heart ache to open it at all, but he figured that was some form of progress. Theo would be proud of him.

He was still staring at the envelope when the doorbell rang.

“Hey, Alex! Open up! Arms full here!”

Sighing, he realized he could not avoid the inevitable tsunami that was Officer Ryan Zhang on a mission. He opened the door, and Ryan stumbled in, hefting the box in his hands. Wobbling to the dining table while ignoring Alex’s offer to help, he dumped his cargo down with a whuff and only then tripped over his feet to bounce off one of the chairs.


Alex shook his head, wondering how someone so small, with the carriage and charm of a professional dancer, could have all the grace of a drunken moose.

Ryan rubbed his elbow, glaring at the offending chair. His gaze narrowed as he caught sight of the invitation. Alex walked over, knowing his own silence was revealing more to Ryan than he wanted to share.

Of course, he knew it all anyway.

“You opened it this year.” Ryan inspected the oversized envelope but did not remove any of the papers inside.

Alex nodded and shrugged, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

“You okay?”

“Eh.” He shrugged again. “My life’s over, theirs are beginning.”

Ryan clucked at him. “You’re alive.”

“And kicking, yada yada. The miracle of the Institute, the hope for the species, I know.”

Ryan set the envelope down carefully. “Nice redirect.”

“It’s all I’ve got.” Alex stopped, trying to figure out what to say next. It all jumbled up together: his work with the police and the Institute’s continuing study of him and his grief for Theo. He never said it aloud, but he did not consider surviving Theo’s death much of a consolation. There was a reason Protectors died in tandem with their Handlers, and that was because living with a broken heart and half a brain was too painful to bear.

Except that Alex bore it, despite the odds and despite all logic. He was an anomaly, something that Theo would have laughed his ass off about if he could. Alex thought that merely surviving, doing odd jobs for the department he used to actually work for and helping real-dog trainers by serving as an expert consultant, was a half-life.

“So what’s in the box?”

Ryan followed the change of subject, giving Alex only a short, suspicious glare before answering. “Files. From the Thompson case I was telling you about last weekend.”

“Hmm.” He frowned at the box.

Ryan lifted his hands in surrender. “Not my idea. Nykl says jump, and I jump.”

“Right. Okay, then, I’ll look them over.” He wondered when he had become Sergeant Nykl’s personal project. He had always gotten the impression that the man didn’t like him.

Ryan’s expression changed, his face scrunching up with guilt. “You’re the closest thing we’ve got to a warrior pair. I’m sorry, Alex.”

“Warrior pair” was the old term for them, the ancient description that many other nations still used, and Ryan’s slip revealed both his nervousness and second-generation status. Alex did not care about either term, but it still felt weird to have anyone call him that after being “Guardsman” or the even more specific “Protector” nearly all his life. When he was identified by the Institute, even his parents took to calling him “Protector Alex,” as if it was symbolic of a personal triumph on their part. Genetically, it was something of a triumph, and his parents had milked it for all the social status they could. They did not mention it as much after Theo died, which Alex accepted as a backhanded benefit, because although it was not worth the loss, it at least worked in his favor.

“I know. I get it. I’ll do what I can.” He looked inside the box at all the bagged items. It was a special kind of murder case, unusual because it was weighed down with both a corpse and a lot of evidence but no suspect. Ryan said that everything pointed to a killer known to the murder victim, one very pretty newlywed named Leslie Thompson, but everyone who might have been a suspect had cast-iron alibis along with absolutely no motive. Leslie was a popular person who lived a clean, Christ-centered life and did not even have a convenient stalker or two in her address book. Her family was almost Norman Rockwellian in its middle-class normalcy, and she had worked at the police station as a dispatcher and so had a lot of ties to the law enforcement community. Her husband had joined the police force just a couple of years before as an officer, and he adored her. He was documented at a church conference in another state when she went missing. Leslie’s murder was fast-tracking to the “cold case files” because the investigators hit brick walls of nothing in every direction they turned. The skin under her nails, proving she had fought back, did not genetically match anyone they tested, and that was just another in a long list of inconsistencies that were driving the police crazy. Given her job as a dispatcher, she was considered one of the police department’s own, and Alex understood both the drive to find her killer and the frustrations when they fell short. It wasn’t too far different from how he still felt about Theo.

In his other life, when Theo was alive, Alex would have been called in from the start, before Leslie’s body was even discovered. Instead, a real-dog search-and-rescue team found her, not Alex, and the investigators never even bothered the Protector about the case until Ryan walked through the door with the box of evidence. Without a Handler, Alex was not considered official or even useful, despite his limited abilities. It was a measure of how desperate the police were for help that the box was sitting in his house, and Alex was pretty sure that Ryan was probably the one who campaigned to give him a shot at helping them, no matter what he claimed about his lieutenant.

Ryan was staring at him, analyzing his reactions. Alex rolled his eyes. “I’m fine. I said I’ll do what I can.”

“Okay!” Ryan threw his hands up, unbalancing himself. Alex was really beginning to wonder if he had some kind of inner ear problem and decided to get around Ryan in dog form at some point to try and suss out any physical problems that humans, with their blunt senses of hearing and smell, would miss. “Anyway, I’m just here to drop this off. Still on the clock, and about a million things need doing.”

Alex put the top back on the box. “Go, do.”

“I will,” Ryan said as he headed for the door. “Call me if you get anything out of that mess.”

“I’ll work on it this afternoon and let you know.”

Ryan nodded as he walked out, already lost in thought to whatever else he had to do that day, so Alex watched protectively to make sure he did not trip on the sidewalk and break his nose. Again.

After Ryan was gone, Alex was still not ready to tackle the box, so he put his Charlie Parker jazz mix on his stereo and went to fix lunch. Thoughts about how to analyze the evidence occupied him more than heating up leftovers, though, so he sat at the dining table with his lukewarm stew, staring at the box as he ate.

With a Handler, it was easy. Alex would strip down, shift into his form as a German shepherd, and let his Handler lay out the evidence for him to inspect. The Handler would make notes. The Handler would wear latex gloves while touching things and bag items up once they were done. The Handler would keep it all documented while Alex sniffed out clues.

Alone, Alex was responsible for all of that, which was not something he could do properly in either form. It took a lot of energy to shift, so simply popping back and forth was not the solution either, not unless he wanted to end up in a coma before dinner. Doing an evidence analysis alone took planning and preparation the likes of which he never needed before Theo’s death.

He carried the box out to the renovated garage that Theo had turned into a workshop for his woodworking hobby. Three years after Theo’s death, it was essentially unchanged, although Alex had moved a few things in an attempt to do something other than keep it as a spooky memorial to his dead bondmate. But the floor area was large and not as contaminated with the smells of everyday living as the rest of the house. Mostly it still smelled of sawdust, various oils, Theo, and Alex himself. Alex knew those odors well, because there were many nights where he shifted form and curled up under the main workbench to sleep near the odors of the man he still loved.

He opened up the “work” cabinet and pulled out a new, sealed tarp. It would smell of plastic but little else, which was what he needed. After unwrapping and unfolding it, Alex laid out the tarp on the floor, then got a box of latex gloves. He brought a stack of sticky notes, along with a pen and notebook, from the house. In the notebook, he gave a page to each item in the box. There were sixteen things, all carefully labeled and coded. Alex put the inventory number on the pages, but nothing else. He copied the inventory numbers onto individual sticky notes and laid them out on the tarp in what he thought would be enough space for each item. He figured he would do this twice. Two shifts within a twenty-four-hour time span would not incapacitate him, even if it would be exhausting, and he figured studying eight items at a time was his upper limit. His memory as a dog was spotty, so overloading it was counterproductive.

Sighing, he went through the laborious process of laying out eight items, changing gloves after each one. The police knew he would be handling the evidence carefully, because Alex was trained in forensics procedures, but they also knew that every time anything was touched was a chance for contamination. Letting Alex near the evidence was another testament to how desperate they were, or maybe even proof that they had already given up.

He tried not to think about Theo as he stepped to a corner of the garage, stripped out of his clothes, crouched to the floor, and began shifting. The fastest he could shift was in under a minute, but that was only with the duress of a shock-shift. Taking his time in order not to overtax himself, it was ten minutes before his paws flexed on the cement floor and his tail thudded against the wall. He loved having a tail because there was a very simple and primal pleasure in wagging it, and for one blissed-out, dog-headed moment he jumped around in a circle to chase his tail. There was no pleasure as grand and joyful as being a dog at play, something Alex missed in his mourning. The idea of being a working dog again, even if only a half-assed one, gave him so much happiness that it was hard to mope. After a moment, though, his muted self-awareness kicked back in, and he looked over at the items laid out on the floor.

The key connection between a Handler and Protector was a mild form of nonverbal telepathy. With Theo to help him, Alex would have sniffed each object, communicating to his Handler the images or vibrations that the smells brought to mind. A Handler’s talent did not reside in their ability to control a Protector, as most lay people thought. Rather, a gifted Handler was able to translate the thoughts of a Protector in dog form into concepts humans could understand. There was even a small movement among the Guardsmen to change the terms Protector and Handler to “Investigator” and “Translator,” which more accurately reflected their true roles, but it was not gaining much traction.

Without a Handler, Alex was relying on the slim part of his self-aware human consciousness that was still in residence, hoping he would remember the thoughts brought to mind for each object. It was a long shot, and he knew it. Ryan probably knew it too. However, he had pledged to try, and somewhere out there was Leslie Thompson’s killer, getting away with murder because no one could tune in to what the evidence was saying.

There were important differences between a real-dog and a Protector, reflected mostly by their opposing limitations. Dogs, even those with some primal sense of duty or responsibility, did not truly grasp the concept of “consequences.” They were, as some Buddhist monks claimed, the ultimate Buddhas, always living in the present moment. Trainers had to be quick with rewards and discouragements and always remember that even the smartest dogs conflated “work” with “play” enough as to make the distinction worthless.

Protectors, on the other hand, always retained a portion of their human consciousness, giving them understanding of the importance of their work. Handlers served as a bridge between the worlds for Protectors, but crucial to the bridge was the self-awareness a Protector had even in a changed form. But a Protector could not survive alone, as a dog could. A Protector could not be transferred from one Handler to another, either. Protectors without Handlers were below the age of twenty or dead.

Unless they were Alex.

He turned his senses toward the evidence, not expecting much from any of it or himself. Walking carefully between the items, he sniffed each one, trying to notice something he might remember before moving on to the next.

Forever Broken
Chapter One
It was a night like any other in South Florida—muggy, damp, just beginning to be really hot—and the Lunas Locas pack was going vamp bashing. The moon was nearly full and the wolves were assembling around the Biscayne Boulevard edge of Bicentennial Park. You couldn’t really get out of the city—the urban sprawl of Miami stretched on and on until you hit the Gulf or the Everglades. But there were a few open places a pack could run under the moon and this was one of them.

Paul Kraskowski aka Krackskullsi aka Skulls to the rest of the wolves sighed and shrugged out of his damp T-shirt, revealing the pack tats he’d had inked back when he’d been jumped-in on his fifteenth birthday. A wolf howling at a crazy-faced moon decorated his muscular left shoulder and a blazing sun pierced by a stake covered most of his right pec. The tats sent a clear message to anyone who knew how to read them but by the time they did it was usually too late. He sighed irritably as he dropped the shirt carelessly on the seat of his custom-built motorcycle. He was already in a shit mood and the fucking humidity wasn’t helping one goddamn bit.

“What the fuck?” he snarled as someone covered his eyes from behind. The fingers were small and cold and the scent on them was bitter lime. “Hands off, Mercedes,” he snapped, impatiently turning to face her. “What do you want, anyway?”

She pouted prettily, tossing her long black hair over one slim shoulder. “Don’t be such a fucking killjoy, Skulls. Angel sent me—he said to tell you you’re leading the pack tonight.”

“What? Why?” Angel Chavez was packleader by blood and birth—he could trace his heritage all the way back to Cuba, which was something Paul, with his purely Polish ancestry by way of Chicago, couldn’t claim. He would never be packleader himself but he was second in command and closer to Angel than anyone else.

“Like I fucking know.” Mercedes shrugged. “He’s busy—family business. Not that you’d know anything about that.”

He’d taken enough shit for being the only blond-haired, blue-eyed non-Cubano in the Locas often enough for that not to bother him. But he didn’t like the fact that Angel was sending Mercedes to tell him the plan for the night had changed instead of telling Paul himself. He gave the girl a hard look. “So why’s he sending a little wanna-be like you to tell me his business, huh?”

She flushed. “I’m not a wanna-be now. I was sexed-in two months ago, remember?”

“Like I could forget.” As one of the pack’s veteranos he’d had to take part. He’d made it as fast as he could but he couldn’t make himself finish inside her. What if she’d gotten pregnant? He didn’t want any kid of his to have Mercedes for a mother.

“Well, I haven’t forgotten.” She reached between his legs and palmed his cock through the baggy jeans he wore. “What happened that night, anyway—you didn’t want to share me? Tonight you can have me all to yourself. You can even take me in wolf form if you want—I like to fur fuck under the full moon.”

Paul pushed her hand away, repulsed. “No thanks. I’ll take a fucking pass on that one.”

“What’s the matter with you, anyway, you don’t like girls?” Her delicate features were a mask of fury.

“No, I just don’t like pinche putas.”

“Cabron!” She spat on the ground, obviously pissed that he’d refused her again. Leaving his cum on her belly instead of inside her cunt was the ultimate sign of disrespect. It had damaged her status in the pack right from the start and Mercedes wasn’t likely to forgive him for it anytime soon—especially since he kept resisting her advances. Not that he cared.

“Fuck off.” He didn’t bother to keep the contempt out of his voice. There were other human girls who ran with the pack—it was a necessity since the were gene was hardly ever dominant in females. But none of them annoyed him as much as Mercedes who was constantly trying to sleep her way to the top. Paul wasn’t willing to be another rung in her ladder, even if he’d wanted her—which he fucking well didn’t.

Mercedes stuck a finger in his face. “You better grow some fucking manners, soon, Skulls. Look at my eyes—they’re green—witch green. I’m a bruja, you know. You mess with me I’ll make your pinga fall off.”

“Yeah, right. I’m shaking in my shoes.” He turned to go but she grabbed his arm.

“I know why you don’t want me—it’s the same reason you don’t want any girl. You’re a marricon.”

Paul looked down at her hand on his arm and then back to her face. “Get your fucking hand off me if you don’t want to lose it.”

“Yeah, right, I’m so scared.”

Paul growled deep in his throat, letting his eyes go from dark blue to wolf gold to add to the threat.

“You wouldn’t. You don’t hurt girls.” But the look in her poison-green eyes was uneasy and she finally removed her hand.

I don’t fuck them either. Of course, that wasn’t because he didn’t like females. He was just…picky. Very damn picky. “Run find Chulo to play with,” he told her. “I hear he doesn’t mind fucking you. Must have lower standards than me.” Chulo Chavez was under him in the pack structure—a beta who wanted to be alpha but couldn’t quite manage it. Still he was Angel’s first cousin, which made his status higher than it would have been otherwise.

Mercedes made an angry hissing noise almost like a cat. “Go ask Angel yourself why you’re leading the pack tonight. While you’re at it, ask him why he let a fucking faggot into the Locas in the first place.”

He should have slapped her for such an insult but she was right—he didn’t hit females no matter how much they deserved it. His stepmother, Lucia, had raised him with too much respect. “Go fuck yourself, Mercedes. Or have Chulo do it, if he’s not afraid you’ll chew off his pinga with your fucking pussy.”

Her eyes glowed in the moonlight. “Chinga tu madre, puto!”

“Yeah, I’d rather fuck my mom than you.” Paul gave her a snarl of disgust and some of the other wolves who had wandered over laughed. Mercedes looked like she was about to say something else but Paul had had enough of her shit for one night. He went looking for Angel himself.

After ten minutes of searching he found the leader of the Locas taking a piss against a palm tree. “Yo, mi hermano.” He clapped the other man on the back. Angel’s arms and chest bulged with muscle just like Paul’s but his skin was much darker, making it harder to see the pack tats.

“Paul the Skull.” Angel took his time shaking off before tucking his uncut cock back into the baggy denim shorts he wore. If he noticed Paul’s eyes lingering on his crotch, he didn’t show it. When he finished he turned to bump chests and gave Paul a one-armed hug.

“What’s doing? That little bitch Mercedes came and told me you want me to take point tonight.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Angel shrugged apologetically. Keeping one arm around Paul’s shoulders, he dug in his pocket and pulled out a joint. “Want some?”

“Sure.” Paul let himself lean into the one-armed embrace just a little. Angel’s skin was warm against his side and he smelled of smoke and clean sweat. “So what are you doing that’s so fucking important you can’t run with the pack?”

The packleader stuck the joint between his lips and flipped open a heavy gold lighter. He fired it up and took a long drag before answering. “Family business—you know. My uncle Rafael is in town and wants to do a sit down with me and my dad. So I have to run with the old farts tonight.” He made a face, the sweet-smelling smoke curling from his nostrils.

“Bad luck, man. You sure you don’t want me there to get your back? Could be trouble.” Angel’s uncle was the most powerful wolf in Cuba, which meant he trumped any were in South Florida status-wise as well.

“Nah, no trouble. Just the older generation trying to keep us crazy young lobos in line. But thanks anyway, man.” Angel gave his shoulder an affectionate squeeze and offered him the joint.

“As long as you’re sure.” Paul took a drag, feeling the warmth of the drug creep over him. Regular cannabis didn’t do much for weres but Angel had a supplier who had crossed it with some other plants to make a much stronger smoke. The hybrid would have been lethal to humans but it only gave wolves a pleasant buzz.

“Hey.” Angel looked at him seriously. “You know I’d tell you if there was trouble in the wind. How long have we been together, huh?”

Paul grinned. “Since fifth grade when Jimmy Rodriguez tried to take you down in gym class and I helped you kick his ass.”

Fifth grade had been the year when his father had decided his motorcycle business, The Chop Shop, would do better in Miami than Chicago. He’d moved them right into the middle of Little Havana where even the street signs were in Spanish and it had been sink or swim for Paul.

Back then he’d just been plain old Paul Kraskowski and he’d been drowning before he met Angel—before he helped him win the fight against the class bully. After that, Angel had taken him under his wing, taught him Spanish, helped him adjust. When they both come of age, he’d even wanted to sponsor Paul into the Locas. The other wolves wouldn’t stand for that, though—not with Paul’s lack of Hispanic heritage. He’d been jumped-in instead—six of the toughest wolves beating the shit out of him until he was bloody and bruised and it had been worth it. Every cracked rib and black eye—he would have done it all again if he had to. For the Locas. For Angel.

“Since fifth grade and you still got my back.” Angel grinned down at him. He was six foot to Paul’s five-nine but Paul didn’t mind the height difference. He was used to being on the short side and having people underestimate him because of it. They were always sorry after they made that mistake, but of course by then it was too late.

“Always got your back, hermano.” He nudged the other man affectionately, meeting Angel’s eyes in the moonlight. They were as black as his hair and hard to read but right now they looked calm and relaxed, at least to Paul.

“Lean back against the tree.” Angel nodded to a palm opposite the one he’d been pissing on. “I’ll give you blow-backs.”

“Sure.” Heart thumping, Paul did as his best friend and packleader ordered. The spines of the palm tree dug into his bare back but he didn’t care. What mattered to him was the look in Angel’s eyes as he took a long drag on the joint, holding the sweet smoke deep in his lungs. Then he leaned forward, his mouth hovering over Paul’s, and exhaled.

Paul breathed in hungrily, inhaling the smoke-laced breath with his eyes closed tight. He could feel Angel’s lips so close to his, just a hairsbreadth away. The heat of the other man’s chest, the scent of his skin, even the beat of his heart all flooded Paul’s senses. Unbidden, an image came to his mind. A picture of himself leaning forward just a little to close the distance between them. A fraction of an inch—that was all it would take to seal their mouths together. He wondered if Angel would taste as good as he smelled.

He wondered if the other man would kill him right away or let the rest of the pack in on the action.

Stop thinking like that. He tried to stamp on the emotions hard, to keep his feelings in check. It was wrong, feeling that way about another guy. Very fucking wrong. So why couldn’t he seem to stop?

After what seemed like an eternity Angel drew back a few inches. “Hey.”

Paul opened his eyes to see his friend studying him intently. “Yeah?”

“Just checking to see if you’re still with me. Your eyes get this glazed look sometimes, like you’re all far away and shit.” Angel traced a line under Paul’s right eye with his thumb as if to illustrate his point.

“Yeah, well…” Paul tried not to shiver under the light touch. God, Angel was always doing this kind of shit! He wondered if the other man knew how he affected him and hoped the hell not.

“You cold, Pauly?” There was an amused glint in the black eyes that seemed to say Angel knew exactly what he was doing and wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Paul had seen him treat girls who were trying to get into the Locas the same way. That teasing way he had of talking, the light touches that seemed to promise so much. He had them panting after him like dogs. The way he does me. But Paul couldn’t help it. At least Angel never treated him like this in front of the other wolves. He kept it strictly between the two of them, which made it worse in a way.

“I’m warm enough.” Paul shifted uneasily as Angel took a last drag off the joint and crushed it beneath his heel.

“I’m more than warm—I’m hot. Fucking horny.” Angel pulled back and leaned against the palm tree beside Paul’s. “I’d almost fuck that pinche puta Mercedes.”

Paul tried to laugh. “Yeah, right. She’s got fucking teeth where her concha should be.”

Angel grinned. “That’s why I said almost. Hey, remember how we used to jerk off together when we were kids?”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe.” Paul didn’t see how he could forget it. Those secret jerk-off sessions with his best friend had provided him with fantasy material for years.

“Let’s do it now—let’s rub one out.” Angel already had his cock out, gripping it loosely in his fist, his eyes trained on Paul to see his reaction.

“I don’t know…” Paul frowned.

“C’mon, I don’t want to have to sit in on this family mierta with a hard-on.” You can’t refuse me, said the look in his black eyes. Can’t tell me no—you never tell me no.

But Paul wanted to this time. He didn’t want to do this now. Didn’t want his friend to see how hard he was—how much being close to another man affected him. How could he explain his raging erection? How could he keep the hunger inside him, the fire that was threatening to burn out of control, in check with so much temptation so close at hand?

He was saved by a shout from one of the other wolves. “Vamps! There’s a coven in the woods. I fucking saw ’em!”

Paul and Angel were both immediately on high alert. Besides some drug running and protection, fucking up vampires was the pack’s main calling. Vamps were bloodsucking scum—unnatural, undead sons of bitches who didn’t deserve to walk the face of the Earth—even if they only did it during the night. But the worst thing about them was that they didn’t care who they fucked. Every last one of them was what Angel called “try-sexual”—they’d try anything with anyone, anytime.

The vamp’s fluid sexuality, more than anything else, was deeply offensive to the weres. The worst thing you could do to another wolf was to make him suck your cock. It was the ultimate shame—the most degrading insult reserved for outcasts from the pack.

Paul had seen Angel punish a few of the lower wolves that way before stripping them of their status. The packleader seemed to enjoy it, taking his time thrusting between the fallen wolf’s lips before filling his mouth with cum. Of course, if the wolf in question didn’t swallow every drop he was beaten. Paul had watched and wondered what it must be like to feel another man’s hard shaft pushing between his lips, wondered if it would be worth losing his status and becoming a lone wolf in order to taste another male just once like that.

“C’mon, let’s go see what’s doing.” Angel tucked his cock back in his shorts casually and loped off in the direction of the shout. Paul followed, not sure if he was relieved or disappointed to have been interrupted.

When they got to the center of the commotion, Chulo was trying and failing to get the other wolves to settle down and pay attention. “Come on, guys. Come on,” he kept saying but his reedy voice was drowned out by the excited clamor of the other wolves.

Angel had stopped a few feet away from the pack and none of them had noticed him or Paul yet. He gave Paul a look and then cut his eyes at his first cousin who was trying and failing to get the pack members in order. “Fucking weak blood in that one, man.” He shook his head. “Get their attention, will you hermano?”

Paul nodded and strode directly into the heart of the pack. The wolves and their females made way for him at once though most of them topped him by more than a few inches. Ignoring Chulo who was standing right beside him, he waited for a moment until all eyes were on him and then raised his voice slightly. “Listen up. Your packleader has something to say.”

“Thanks, Skulls.” Angel came forward and the wolves parted before him. Like Moses and the fucking Red Sea, Paul thought, with a mixture of admiration and resentment. “Okay, who saw the vamps?”

Chulo stepped toward Angel eagerly. “Gordo did. He came and said—”

“Yeah, I heard him yelling.” Angel’s eyes passed over his cousin like he wasn’t there. “Gordo, where are you, hermano?”

“Here, packleader.” A rail-thin wolf pushed in from the back of the pack. His name didn’t exactly fit him since he was one of those guys who could never gain weight, his lean frame all stringy muscle and bones. “I was out scenting for prey and I saw them right near the center of the park.”

“Good.” Angel looked bored. “Tell Skulls the details. He’s taking point tonight.”

“Why Skulls?” Chulo stepped forward, his dark eyes angry. He had some of Angel’s looks but none of his charisma—he would never be packleader and everyone knew it. Everyone but him.

Angel gave him a withering look. “Why do you think, numbnuts? Skulls is second wolf. If I’m not here, he leads. Simple as that.”

“But Gordo reported to me first.” Chulo’s chin jutted angrily.

“He reported to the whole damn park—Skulls and I heard him from half a mile away. We’ll be lucky if the entire coven isn’t gone by the time you fucking pendejos get going.” Angel looked at Paul. “You ready to go?”

“Always ready, packleader.” Paul took his cue from Angel and ignored the smoldering stare of hatred Chulo was directing at his head. He knew what Angel’s cousin was thinking. By virtue of his blood he should have been second wolf and would have been too, if Paul hadn’t been in his way. But since I have no intention of getting out of his fucking way any time soon, he better learn to deal.

“That’s mi nino.” Angel gave him a chest bump and then threw back his head to deliver a long, liquid howl to the night sky. The pack returned the cry, a hair-raising sound meant to strike fear in the cold dead heart of any bloodsucker stupid enough to be out after dark in Lunas Locas territory.

Paul howled with the rest, feeling at one with the pack and yet apart from them, as always. No matter how long he’d been in Miami or how close he was to Angel there was always the sense that he didn’t quite belong, that he wasn’t quite right. And it wasn’t just because he wasn’t Latino. As always, when the pack ran he vowed to change that about himself, to fix it. Because it wasn’t the pack that was broken—it was him. If he could just be normal…

“Go kill some fucking vamps!” Angel roared, shattering his resolutions. He clapped Paul on the shoulder and nodded. “Buena suerta, ’mano. Go kick some vampire ass.”

“You got it.” Surging to the head of the pack, Paul took point and headed out to do his duty.

Author Bios:
Bonnie Dee
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.

I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.

Summer Devon
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.

You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).

Max Vos
Max Vos is a classically trained chef with over 30 years of food service experience. After retiring in 2011, Max found himself with time on his hands and was urged to turn his talents to writing.

'Cooking English', a short story, was his first published work, and since then Ravenous Romance have published five more of his short stories. His first novel, P.O.W. was released October, 2013 with MLR Press. His second novel, My Hero was a best seller and has just been recently been released in French.

You will find everything in a Max Vos story. From sweet and sexy, even raunchy, to powerful, raw and gritty--something for all tastes.

Cooper West
Cooper West lives in Florida and wishes the weather was more like the Pacific coast, or maybe Hawaii, but currently works for the local university and is settled down for the moment where she is. She enjoys dancing, writing fanfic, and being curmudgeonly. Her cat thinks she's not attentive enough, which is probably true. West’s goal is to make a living writing stories that people love to read.

Evangeline Anderson
Evangeline Anderson is a registered MRI tech who would rather be writing. And yes, she is nerdy enough to have a bumper sticker that says “I’d rather be writing.” Honk if you see her! She is thirty-something and lives in Florida with a husband, a son, and two cats. She had been writing erotic fiction for her own gratification for a number of years before it occurred to her to try and get paid for it. To her delight, she found that it was actually possible to get money for having a dirty mind and she has been writing paranormal and Sci-fi erotica steadily ever since.

AJ Rose
It began with a Halloween themed short story assignment from a second grade teacher, and from then on, AJ Rose fell head over heels in love with writing. Even an active social life through school, learning to play the piano in a passable imitation of proficient, and a daring cross country move couldn't stop the tall tales about imaginary people that refused to be ignored. With college experiences came a change in perspective to romance and passion. A propensity to slash favorite TV characters brought AJ to today, writing mostly M/M for publication. But don't be surprised if the occasional ghost still pops up.

Bonnie Dee

Summer Devon

Max Vos

Cooper West

Evangeline Anderson

AJ Rose

The Psychic and the Sleuth

The V Unit

The Protector

Forever Broken

The Yearning

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