Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Random Paranormal Tales Part 3

Ghost of a Chance
Dr. Mason Beaulieu thinks rival ghost hunter Haywood “Fort” Fortenberry is sexy but too credulous when it comes to the paranormal. Fort thinks Mason is attractive but too cynical. When they’re offered a chance to be locked up in reputedly haunted Wisteria Grove on Halloween night, however, both men jump at the chance.

Storms and mysterious sounds keep them busy during the night, and they discover a mutual respect for each other’s skills. As the investigation continues, Fort learns the truth behind Mason’s seemingly dismissive attitude, and Mason finds a new appreciation for Fort’s open-mindedness. But when an unexpected intruder derails the investigation, they learn that more than just hunting ghosts can offer them thrills and chills.

This was a great little novella for the Halloween season.  I loved the interactions between Fort and Mason, it was a little awkward at times which only heightened it's realism.  The ghost hunting was humorous, genuine, maybe not creepy but very enjoyable.  Overall, this is a great addition to my paranormal library.


A Different Breed by Angel Martinez
Josh hunts vampires to avenge his slaughtered twin sister. The only good vamp is a dead vamp, period. Richard destroys his prejudices in the first few moments of conversation and the sexual sparks ignite between them. Richard offers the stability Josh never had. Josh offers the healing Richard needs.

But an attack one evening leaves a friend in the hospital, Richard with a bullet through his chest, and Josh fighting to piece together what happened. Are Richard’s nightmare attackers real, or is Josh’s favorite vamp losing his mind? Is there a reasonable explanation or has the hunter now become prey?

The Haunting of St. Xavier by Carol Lynne & TA Chase
Justice comes to all in time.

Although empty for over fifty years, St. Xavier Monastery was still an awe inspiring structure and Jason Bentley thought he'd found the perfect location for his newest resort. Yet once construction begins to bring the magnificent building back to its former glory, odd events begin to occur. While the death of a stonemason shakes Jason, he decides to continue anyway. Everything changes the night Jason's confronted by a nun covered in blood on the fourth floor. Staring into the haunting eyes of a ghost rocks Jason's emotions. Unsure of where to turn, Jason seeks the advice of the local Catholic Church.

Deacon Ryan Christopher has decisions to make. While his mentor, Bishop Adler, presses him to commit fully to the church, Ryan has reservations. For years he's resisted his desire for male companionship and he can't take his vows until he makes a decision. Though struggling with personal issues, Ryan has also followed the events at St. Xavier in the papers. No stranger to things that go bump in the night, Ryan believes Jason and agrees to help him investigate the monastery.

The spirits that haunt St. Xavier have waited decades for justice and revenge, but who will be the recipients of their hatred?

Ink by Isabelle Rowan
Roman centurion Dominic drew his last human breath during the time of Hadrian. In the centuries since, he’s seen much of the world change around him, but the vampire finds himself held captive in Melbourne, Australia, by his fascination with young, passionate, fun-loving, and alive tattoo artist Michael Chapman. Unable to resist the lure of Michael’s beauty, Dominic finds himself entering the parlor to get a tattoo he knows will fade.

The attraction he feels only grows, and despite Dominic’s extreme reluctance to get involved with a human, he and Michael form a bond—a connection that all too soon attracts the attention of a dark specter from Dominic’s bloody past. Soon, a dangerous game of cat and mouse threatens not only the budding romance, but also their humanity.

This is an expanded novel based on the novella Ink originally published in the Desire Beyond Death anthology by Dreamspinner Press.

Crying for the Moon by Sarah Madison
Vampire Alexei Novik may have the teeth and the coffin, but he’s given up the lifestyle for an old fixer-upper in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Weary of his past, Alex plans to keep to himself, but it seems his sexy, new neighbor, Tate, can’t take the hint—a good thing, since it turns out he’s handy for all kinds of things around the house. Tate even gets along with Alex’s werewolf friends, though one of them pointedly reminds Alex that their friendship is a bad idea.

If a platonic relationship is a bad idea, the growing attraction between Tate and Alex is a disaster waiting to happen. Loving Tate will draw him into Alex’s dangerous world, and Alex is torn between having the relationship he’s always craved and keeping Tate safe. Tate won’t take no for an answer, however, and seems to handle everything Alex can throw at him without blinking. Just when he thinks things might turn out all right after all, Alex’s past catches up with him—forcing him to make a terrible choice.

Ghost of a Chance
“I’m not trying to get a rise out of you,” Mason said quietly. “I think you’re a very attractive, intelligent man, and I already know you’re gay. We have a lot in common, and I wouldn’t mind at all getting to know you better. I’ve always gotten the feeling you don’t like me very much. That’s the only reason I haven’t asked you out.”

“Only because I thought you didn’t have a lot of respect for me.” Fort watched Mason intently, his expression unusually serious. “Calling me Dr. Woody, all those times you tried to get under my skin, all the comments about LaPS.”

“I was teasing you, but I wasn’t trying to be mean,” Mason protested, rising to his feet and facing Fort directly. “Hasn’t anyone ever flirted with you before? I’m sorry if anything I said was hurtful to you. It wasn’t meant to be. I only tease people I like; no one else is worth the effort.”

“The men who’ve flirted with me before called me names I like,” Fort pointed out, although a smile tugged at his lips. “I wasn’t hurt. I assumed you didn’t really respect me or the group I investigate with, so you poked fun at us. I just let it roll off, because there isn’t any point in getting all riled up over a difference of opinion. If all you meant to do was tease, well, I’ll look at it in a different light from now on.”

“I swear, Fort, I was only teasing. I told you I was envious of you, didn’t I? I never meant you to think I didn’t respect you.” Mason smiled sheepishly. “I confess I do have reservations about the psychic, but if that’s the way you go about things, I don’t knock it. Well, I don’t knock it much and never to anyone outside of our little community.”

Fort laughed and reached out to clap his hand on Mason’s shoulder. “It’s fine. I know plenty of people think mediums are as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.”

Mason grinned, relieved that Fort wasn’t offended, and he was encouraged that Fort had actually touched him. Maybe he could talk Fort into going out with him after all. “My, my, I don’t think I want to be invited to your house for Christmas supper if that’s what you cook with.”

“If you’re invited to my house for Christmas supper, we won’t need a turkey to have something full of shit,” Fort retorted, but his voice held a lighter note than Mason had ever heard in his rejoinders before.

“Why, Dr. Fortenberry, are you flirting with me?” Mason batted his eyelashes playfully. “If you keep saying such sweet things, you’ll turn my head.”

Fort made a scoffing noise, but he smiled at Mason, and there was a gleam in his eyes Mason hadn’t seen before. “I’m just trying to figure out how to speak your language so we can have a meeting of the minds. Seems we’ve both been pretty far off the mark until now.”

Mason’s breath caught, and he turned more serious. “If you have any questions, just ask. I know I spout a lot of nonsense at times, but I can speak plainly.”

“I might have a few questions, but not right now.” Fort glanced at his watch and held it up so Mason could see the time. “We should start getting ready for the investigation.”

For the first time he could remember, Mason was annoyed at having work interfere with his personal life. Perhaps he was being overly optimistic, but after almost four years of crossing verbal swords with Fort, it seemed they might finally be ready to lay down their arms. He had no idea how this night would end up, and it was entirely possible he’d open his big mouth and say something that would alienate Fort again. He’d prefer to reach an understanding with Fort before that happened, but they had made a commitment on this investigation, and since other people were depending on him, he couldn’t screw it up.

“I suppose so,” he replied with a sigh. “Let’s get these microphones deployed. I think we should try to avoid the windows and not put them close to anything crystal or metallic that might resonate with the thunder.”

“Good idea.” Fort cocked his head, listening to the growing rumble overhead, and frowned. “That’s going to play hell with our audio. But it adds to the creepy atmosphere for the audience, so maybe it’s a good thing.”

“That’s what I was thinking earlier, actually. It’s less about the investigation and more about garnering interest for the town.” Mason returned his attention to the microphones, handing three of the rigs to Fort. “We have enough to cover every room and the hallways, if we can find places for them. The audio will stream back to the computer for time encoding and storage. I guess we’d better hurry if we’re going to have time to run a systems check and then eat before we go live.”

Fort took the rigs and headed out, pausing at the door. “Save room for the dessert. I brought banana MoonPies.” He gave Mason a smile and a little wink, and then he was gone.

Had Dr. Haywood Fortenberry actually winked at him? Mason stared after him for a moment, then shook himself and hurriedly gathered up the rest of the mics. He was far more interested in investigating this new understanding between him and Fort than any non-existent ghosts.

A Different Breed 
...Richard’s eyelids snapped open, his ears deafened by the thundering of his own heartbeat. Since the change, waking always ambushed him this way, the abrupt shift from not-there to painfully present like a tiger leaping on him from a tree limb above his head. Only when he had been gravely wounded or had neglected his feedings too long did the hard edges of waking soften to something more normal.

He hated it, that moment of doubt, wondering, once again, if he woke up secure. A few deep breaths calmed his heart. He lay still, taking stock. Bedroom. Yes. Which one? Sarasota…Portland…no, Ithaca. The house in the hills. A life stirred out in the hallway, a heart that beat to a familiar rhythm.

Confusion furrowed his brow. William? No, of course not…Josh. He smiled at the memory of those skilled hands on his skin, the ferocious, consuming need the little hunter exuded when aroused. God, what fire lay under the sarcastic exterior, what depths of tender passion roiled in that hard-muscled, compact body…

Wait. A second heart beat alongside the first outside his door, faster than the first, most likely out of fear.

Sorrow and rage welled up in his chest. Why had he been so quick to trust? To fall headfirst into the hunter’s trap of seduction? Now Josh had help. They waited for him to emerge. A man like that would want him awake and alert, of that he was certain. The revenge-mongers never want to take you in your sleep.

Fog-silent, he rose and eased to the steel door of his room. The hinges, hung on the inside, meant no one could get in with a screwdriver. The heavy bolt ensured that it would take a blowtorch and a good deal of effort to break in at all.

Richard slid his back against the wall beside the door, in case of missiles aimed at his bedroom. Without exposing himself to any would-be assassin’s line of sight, he shot the bolt open and flung the door wide.

No crossbow bolts flew. No shots rang out. No hunters raced through the doorway screaming for blood.

“Dude?” Josh’s voice floated to him from the hallway, tense and wary. “You’re, ah, kinda growling. You have a bad dream or something?”

Richard kept his voice low, but failed to keep the threat out of his tone. “Who’s out there with you?”

Josh said something half-audible. He almost sounded embarrassed.

“Kat?” Richard snarled. “Who is Kat?”

“No, not Kat. A cat. She was hanging around your porch and she looked kinda hungry…”

A quick dart of his head around the doorframe confirmed what Richard’s sense of smell would have told him if he had been calmer. The second heart beat so fast because it was felis catus, a little gray shorthair with eyes wide as saucers. Cat. Josh. No other scents lingered in the house.

He passed a hand over his face and came out to lean against the wall facing Josh. “Sorry.”

Josh snorted and put the startled cat down. “Not exactly all sunshine and flowers when he first wakes up, is he, Miss Kitty?” She raced down the stairs, tail fluffed like a bottlebrush. “I was just coming to kiss you good morning. Or good afternoon. Or whatever.”

“You were?”

“Yeah. You said six hours.”

Richard cleared his throat, as much a habit when he was uncomfortable as to clear the last remnants of growl from his speech. “I did. I didn’t think…I’m out of the habit of having company when I wake. Maybe best to give me some room until I’m accustomed to another life in the house again.”

“Got it.” Josh held up his hands with a crooked grin. “Some guys need their space first thing. Not a morning person. Hey, it’s cool. But you could’ve told me you have a case of raving paranoia.”

A weak chuckle got past Richard’s chagrin. “I think, my dear, that I have reason to be paranoid. It keeps one’s head attached to one’s neck.”

“Yeah. Nice head, too.” Josh had the audacity to wink at him before he swaggered after the cat.

With a view of the most desirable backside he had seen in several centuries, high, tight half-globes of muscle clad in clinging denim, Richard indulged in a long ogle before he pushed off the wall and headed to the shower. Not only had Josh not betrayed him, he had endured Richard at his most animalistic with humor and patience. Perhaps this would work after all...

The Haunting of St. Xavier 
Signing his name with a flourish, Jason fought the surge of happiness threatening to overwhelm him. After six months of negotiations, he finally had his hands on what could be the biggest venture of his life.

“Here are the keys to the doors and to the gate.” The real estate agent’s tight smile spoke of relief more than happiness over the huge commission she’d just made.

“Thanks. I appreciate all the work you did to help me get this.” Jason took the keys and shook the lady’s hand.

“Well, you were very determined, and the building’s just been standing empty since the sixties.” She shrugged. “To be honest, I never thought I’d find a buyer.”

“Why?” He turned to study the large stone building standing rather forlornly behind the wrought iron gate. “It’s gorgeous and absolutely perfect for what I’m planning.”

“The problem isn’t how the place looks. I think it has more to do with what it was used for, the tragedy that took place here and all the rumours surrounding it.”

Frowning, he shot a glance over at her. “Rumours? About what?”

She waved her hand dismissively. “All the usual ones about it being haunted by the nuns who were murdered. Strange screams being heard when there’s no one around. I’m not sure anyone has actually spent any time on the property, except for the man you sent over to appraise it.”

Jason doubted any of the reports were true. Abandoned buildings, especially ones with twisted pasts, tended to get a creepy reputation after a while. He didn’t believe in spirits or ghosts. Hell, he didn’t want to think about hanging around this world after he died.

His real estate agent seemed to shake off her melancholy thoughts. “You never did say what you were going to use the property for.”

The woman must not have done her homework. The Bentley Corporation, of which Jason was CEO and founder, was the premier builder of gay resorts, but this venture was all about sex. He planned on creating the world’s foremost gay erotic resort.

“I’m going to open a resort. The original building is big enough to offer a bunch of rooms, plus I plan on building smaller, more private bungalows around the grounds. I love the English garden, and I’ll bring in landscapers to work on getting it back into shape.”

“Oh good.” She checked her watch. “Well, I need to be going if I’m to get these forms filed with the county clerk’s office in time.”

Jason hid his smile. He could get carried away with his visions, and not everyone saw them as clearly as he did.

“Thank you again. I’ll keep your office in mind if I’m looking to pick up more land in the area.”

He watched her drive away, barely managing to contain his excitement and eagerness to tour the property on his own. He waited until her car disappeared from sight before strolling up to the huge iron gate. He studied it for a second, tracing the scroll work with his gaze. ‘St. Xavier’ was spelt out in iron as well in the arch over the moving part of the gate. He would keep that, though the rust needed to be removed and the scroll work repainted. He liked the old-fashioned feeling it gave to the grounds.

Inserting the key into the lock, he paused and it was like the entire world froze with him. Almost like every living creature held its breath, hesitating while he thought about opening the lock. The strangest sensation washed over him and his hands trembled. Owning the monastery and stepping onto the grounds at this moment seemed like the most important thing he’d ever done. His life was going to change, Jason could feel that, but he didn’t know if it would be a good change or bad.

The sound of a car passing by on the road broke the spell and he laughed at himself. Foolish thoughts. It was just the joy of taking this next step in reaching for that elusive thing called happiness. If he achieved his goal of creating the world’s most exclusive gay resort, then maybe he could silence all those voices in his head telling him he wasn’t good enough.

The key turned in the lock, and he shoved the gate open. The metal hinges screeched like a woman being attacked. Jason cringed and frowned. The agent had sworn all the locks, hinges, and doors were in working condition, as had the appraiser Jason had hired to look at the property. He’d ask the contractors to take a look at the hinges. He would replace them if it looked like they would be more work than he’d thought.

He considered getting his car and driving up to the imposing structure, but he wanted to soak in the overall ambience of the place. The trees hung over the driveway, creating an oppressive feeling of being trapped as Jason wandered along. Those would have to be cut back. He pulled out his notebook and jotted it down. The driveway itself was in good condition, though the grass seemed to have taken over. Made sense considering there hadn’t been many visitors since the monastery closed down suddenly all those years ago.

Chapter One
ANOTHER fractured line streaked above the cityscape, followed almost immediately by low, drawn-out rumbling. The air crackled with electricity. He could smell the first drops of rain as they hit the hot asphalt road and turned to steam. The humidity suppressed the noise and subdued the normally exuberant inhabitants of Chapel Street.

Dominic knew the street well; he had watched it change over many years. These days the geography of the street housed two very distinct cultures. Closer to South Yarra, Chapel was all trendy, upmarket boutiques and sushi bars, where pretty young things with glitter sprayed on their skin and too-high shoes hobbled their way into clubs and cocktail bars. Dominic always found the rundown Windsor end infinitely more interesting. Café culture had only begun to intrude, and you could still see storefronts with bondage corsets and adornments for the multipierced sitting comfortably next door to white orthopedic shoes for lawn bowlers.

A tramcar rattled past and gave its warning “ding” to an errant pedestrian; Dominic looked up to watch its progress. Tonight, as on many other nights, he sat at the outdoor table of a small café, where he could see the passing parade of people coming out of the tattoo parlor with their small patches of cling wrap taped to arms or ankles. Even when it wasn’t visible, Dominic could smell the newly broken skin. It sent a wave of hunger through him, but he ignored it. Not tonight; tonight was for other pleasures.

He paid for his coffee, which, as usual, sat untouched, and walked to the painted windows of the little shop across the street. Nothing could be seen from the outside. The entire shop front was a montage of demonic creatures and skeletal dragons, the name Ink taking up an entire glass panel. Dominic pushed open the door. Inside a man flicked through a photo album while another checked out the designs on the wall. Both glanced at him but quickly looked away.

Dominic stood quietly at the counter until a woman sporting a kaleidoscope of color work on her arms and a head of startling crimson hair came out from the back room. She smiled at him and asked, “Can I help you?”

“I have an appointment,” Dominic answered quietly.

She frowned, sensing something slightly off kilter about this man, but reached for the appointment book. “I don’t think so. It’s almost closing. Scott is with someone, and I’m sure Michael is finished for the night.” She opened the book and checked under each name to affirm what she’d just said.

“Look again,” Dominic said in a deceptively soft voice and pointed to a blank time slot. “There’s my name.”

This time she could clearly see the name printed under Michael’s, although the moment she looked away, she’d forgotten what it said. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll get Michael for you,” she mumbled, confused, and called out to the back room, “Mikey, you have a customer.”

A young man with dark curls and equally dark eyes walked through the curtained doorway with an almost sheepish grin and said, “Hey, sorry, I thought I was done for the night. Come through.” He turned and bid Dominic to follow him.

The back room had obviously been part of a previous owner’s home at some stage in the distant past. A high picture rail that would once have displayed much-loved family portraits barely managed to cling to the crumbling plaster, and the disused fireplace now housed an odd collection of movie action figures and battered metal lunchboxes. The walls of the room were painted a dark purple, although they were all but hidden by screen-printed posters advertising obscure industrial bands. The two workspaces, however, were a sharp contrast to the carefully composed chaos of the décor; the bench tops and ink trays were immaculately organized and clean.

Michael walked to the second workstation and sat on the small vinyl swivel stool. He indicated for Dominic to sit in what looked a lot like a leather dentist’s chair and smelled like it had just been wiped with antiseptic. Michael usually made small talk at that point to put customers, particularly first-timers, at ease, but there was something about the man that stopped him. Instead, he asked quietly, “What exactly is it you want?”

Dominic almost laughed at the question. What is it I want? But he answered, simply, “A design on my left arm.” Almost as an afterthought, he turned his face, stared directly at Michael, and added, “I’ll let you decide what.”

The vampire knew this scenario well: along with the spoken word went an echo in Michael’s subconscious that left him more than a little shaken. Dominic’s pale gray eyes locked him in place, trapping Michael’s breath until his chest ached.

They may have sat like that for a mere second, but to Michael it felt an age before he was released to look down at the location of the intended tattoo. “No, man. I mean, are you sure? Um, maybe something tribal would look good. You know, black work?” His eyes flicked briefly up to Dominic’s before he swiveled the stool around to the workbench where he could focus his attention on preparing his tattoo gun.

Dominic watched as Michael’s fingers fumbled with the elastic band. It took him several attempts to get it correctly placed, and then he slotted the needle into the tattoo gun. His chest rose with a deliberately deep breath, deep enough to calm his nerves a little but not enough to hide that he was rattled.

Michael’s reactions were familiar to Dominic because he’d grown accustomed to the discomfort of others when forced to share his space. He looked at the other workstation, where a teenage girl’s young skin was being broken by a man with long dreadlocks, some blond, some blue, and one with a bronze key sewn to its end. Even from that distance, Dominic could smell the girl’s blood, and his senses twitched at the sharp tang the ink added to the normally rich, earthy smell. He wondered absently how it would taste if he were to slide his tongue over the newly tattooed shoulder, red and black staining his mouth. He felt the hunger rise, but denying it felt good.

The sudden touch of Michael’s fingers through the linen of Dominic’s shirtsleeve pulled his attention back to the young tattooist.

“I’ll get you to roll up your sleeve or slide your arm out, and you can show me how big you want the design,” Michael said, beginning to feel more at ease as he slid into his comfort zone of routine.

Dominic carefully unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it down to fall on the back of the chair, then waited for Michael to begin. It had been a long time since Dominic had felt nervous, and it surprised him that he could still feel the flutter of anticipation. He watched Michael closely, not willing to let any part of the experience escape unnoticed. So intent was his focus on the movement of Michael’s hands that he was startled when the fingers actually made contact with his bare skin. Over the years, his heightened senses of sight and smell had become part of Dominic’s nocturnal life, but he had almost forgotten voluntary touch. Generally people avoided any form of physical contact; it was as if a primal survival instinct made them cringe away when he was close.

He closed his eyes. It was such a simple touch, fingertips marking out the boundaries of the proposed tattoo, but it sent a deep shiver through Dominic’s long-neglected body and sparked a different hunger. Michael felt Dominic shudder and shrugged it off, understanding that clients were often more nervous than they looked. He laid his palm flat on Dominic’s arm, spread his fingers, and asked, “How about this for size? It would be from the tip of my thumb to the end of my little finger?”

Dominic didn’t look. He merely nodded and said softly, “Whatever you want.”

Michael frowned. “Okay, man. It’s your arm, I guess.”

When there was no response, Michael shook his head, picked up the black marker pen, and began to sketch out a design directly onto Dominic’s arm.

The cool tip of the marker skittered over Dominic’s skin. With eyes still closed, he felt every slide and stop it made. He tried to see the image as it was drawn, through touch alone, but was constantly distracted by the heat of Michael’s hand and the puff of his breath as he leaned in to check his work. Dominic opened his eyes and looked down at Michael. The young tattooist was totally engrossed in his work. A slight frown of concentration creased his brow, and he chewed lightly on his bottom lip. While he drew the gently curving lines, his thumb stroked absently over the sensitive skin of Dominic’s arm.

It had been so long since Dominic had been this close to someone other than prey that the rush of sensations threatened to overwhelm him. The warmth radiating from Michael’s unblemished olive skin. The faint smell of his shampoo. Cigarette smoke and sweat. Human smells without the sharpness of fear.

Suddenly the hair on the back of Michael’s neck prickled, and he looked up to meet Dominic’s gaze. As Michael stared into the pale eyes, the vampire felt the long fingers wrapped around the cool skin of his arm tighten their grip. It was only then that Dominic broke the connection and looked down at the design coming to life on his arm, and Michael was able to murmur, “Is this the kind of thing you want?”

Dominic’s voice was quiet and tinged with a sadness that didn’t go unnoticed as he said, “That is what I want.”

Michael sat and looked at Dominic for a lot longer than he intended, then he gave himself a mental shake and turned to the workbench. He finished setting up the gun and pulled on a pair of fine latex gloves. Dominic smiled at the care the young man was taking. Unnecessary. I would catch nothing and pass nothing on to you.

“The outline usually hurts a bit, but your skin soon gets numb,” Michael said while he gently placed a steadying hand on Dominic’s arm.

The first touch of the needle bit the surface of Dominic’s flesh. Dominic watched the point of the gun glide along a section of the hand-drawn outline. The excess black ink bubbled out the edge. The pain was minimal, but it was enough to remind Dominic of things long absent.

Michael lifted the needle and wiped away the ink to check his progress. He glanced up and asked, “You doing okay?”

Dominic considered the question seriously and answered, “Yes, I’m okay, thank you.”

It surprised Michael at how carefully Dominic had answered what was a standard question. He blushed a little when he realized he was smiling at Dominic’s response and dipped his head to get on with the tattoo.

Normally, Michael chattered in a continuous stream while he worked, partly to distract the client, but mainly because it was his nature to talk. With Dominic, however, he barely spoke. There was something about the man that silenced him. Michael was too aware of the pale smoothness of Dominic’s skin, the rise and fall of his chest, and the way his eyes held you locked in place.

With a mental shake, Michael told himself to stay focused on the task. After all, it was just another inking, one of many he’d done that day. But when Scott finished with his client and headed over to watch, Michael realized he was actually irritated by Scott’s close proximity to his client. Although it was normal practice for the two friends to check out each other’s artwork, tonight Michael did not want him there. He clenched his teeth and tried to push away the feeling that Scott was somehow intruding on something intimate.

When he finished the outline, Michael stopped and looked up. “Listen, man, I’m gonna be a while yet. You head off, and tell Abby I’ll lock up when we’re done.”

Scott frowned. That wasn’t the usual way they operated. It wasn’t safe to be on your own with an unknown client that late, and something about the guy made his skin crawl. “Nah, it’s fine, mate. I can hang around until you’re done. Abbs and I have nothing planned tonight, just TV then bed.”

Michael was about to argue when Dominic said in a barely audible voice, “He told you to go.”

Something about the voice, rather than the words, convinced Scott that it was indeed time to go home. “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow, Michael,” he conceded, but he refused to take his eyes off Dominic until he was out the door.

Michael was also watching Dominic. There was something about him he couldn’t quite define. Clients usually fell into very distinct categories, but this one was different.

Once Scott had gone, Dominic gave Michael a small smile that instantly sent a flood of heat through the young tattooist’s chest and down to his belly. “Um, yeah… the outline is done…. It looks good,” Michael stammered as he began to gently wipe the excess ink and smudges of blood from Dominic’s arm. “Filling it in will feel a bit different.” He glanced up and smiled but quickly dropped his eyes back to the skin. As he ran his gloved fingers over the raised and reddened outline, the burn in his belly spread, and he felt his cock twitch within the confines of his jeans.

Dominic could smell the change in Michael and closed his eyes. This can’t happen with him. Why am I doing this to myself? But he knew. He was genuinely curious about the outcome of a tattoo on his inhuman skin, but the main reasons were his fascination with the tattooist and the desire to be touched again. It had been so long.

The pain of the coloring process was less sharp. It was more like a dull and insistent burn on his skin, yet it was no less intense. Dominic let his head fall back against the seat, allowing the smell of the ink and his blood to blend with the human scents while he listened to the steady hum of the gun. He told himself to enjoy the experience—and his time with Michael—but remain detached. This must not become more than it was. Dominic knew that, even though he walked among its people, he was no longer part of this world.

Michael had to force himself to concentrate, and although he took the necessary care, he frequently stole glances at Dominic. Knowing the man’s eyes were shut, Michael would take extra time wiping and cleaning the area so his gaze could flick to Dominic’s face and body. He could tell Dominic was older than he, but other than that, he could only guess Dominic was maybe early-to-mid thirties. His clothes were pretty conservative, bordering on old-fashioned, and he had no visible piercings. In fact, he could have been one of those people who would simply blend into a crowd unnoticed. Except for those eyes.

A trickle of sweat ran down Michael’s back as he filled in a swirl near the top of Dominic’s shoulder. He swapped the already soaked tissue for a new one and wiped away the last traces of ink from the unmarked surrounding skin. Though Michael was loath to admit it, the tattoo was finished. The problem was, he didn’t want it to end, and despite the fact it was well past their usual closing time, he didn’t want this man to leave. But Michael knew he could only drag it on for so long. He sighed and said, “It’s done.”

Dominic opened his eyes and looked first at Michael and then the fresh artwork. Melancholy seemed to hang in the air of the small purple room when he said, “You do beautiful work. Thank you.”

“Um, that’s okay,” Michael mumbled, suddenly more than a little flustered by the man’s attention. “Here I’ll, ah… I’ll put some of this on and get it patched up.” He fumbled under the counter until he found the tube of antiseptic cream and carefully smeared a thick layer over the raw inking. He held up the roll of cling wrap and taped on a square, ensuring it was completely covered while explaining, “There, that will keep it clean and protected. Try to leave it on for a couple of hours, okay?”

Dominic smiled at the way Michael had begun to babble and said simply, “Thank you. How much do I owe you?”

Just another fucking job, remember, just another inking. Dominic “heard” Michael’s thought clearly and cursed himself for unsettling the beautiful young man. The cost was disclosed, and they walked together to the front desk. Dominic handed over the money, thanked Michael again without making any more eye contact, and headed for the door.

A surge of panic instantly rose in Michael at the thought of Dominic leaving, and he quickly followed him. “Hey, um, I’m heading out for a drink if, ah, if you’d like to join me? Nothing special; I’m just going to the pub around the corner.” Michael had had no intention of going anywhere after work, but he needed just a little longer.

Dominic stopped and looked back at him, immense sadness evident in his eyes. He reached out to Michael and gently stroked his cheek before walking alone through the door.

Crying for the Moon
Chapter One
“WHO the hell is this?” Alexei Novik said when he saw the car turn into his driveway. He’d idly noted the presence of the car as it made its way slowly down the gravel road; there was little enough traffic up on the mountain that any vehicle stood out. Irritation flared when he saw it stop, back up, and begin the long descent down his driveway.

Behind him, Nick snorted. “Told you that isolating yourself up here was a waste of time.”

Alex threw him a sharp look. Nick merely shrugged. His dark sunglasses hid his eyes, but Alex knew Nick was laughing at him by the little smile hovering on his lips.

“Where’s everyone else?” Alex glanced back at the moving van, but no one was in sight.

“Duncan and Tish took the mattress set upstairs. We’re waiting on them for the heavy lifting.” Nick indicated the large rectangular crate sitting at the top of the basement stairs. “Peter went looking for something to drink.”

The fewer people this uninvited guest met, the better, especially if Alex wanted to maintain a low profile in the neighborhood. He cast a narrow-eyed glance at Nick, who was nothing if not memorable.

“Go find Peter and keep moving stuff inside. I’ll get rid of whoever it is.” Alex moved off to intercept the battered-looking Subaru Forester.

“No doubt you will,” Nick drawled, raising his voice slightly. “But remember, you’ve just moved in. You don’t want to be run out of town before nightfall, do you?” He ambled away toward the house with his usual easy grace, laughing as Alex quickly flipped him the bird.

The dark green car had mud splashed up along its doors and a dinged front fender. The personalized plate read PETVET. The driver came to a stop and pulled up the brake, unbuckling his seat belt as he opened the car door.

“Hello,” the man said cheerfully as he got out of the car. “My name’s Tate Edwards. I live at the end of the road.”

Alex suspected the first thing anyone noticed about Tate Edwards was his hair. Its vibrant russet color caught the late-afternoon light like the autumn leaves on the surrounding trees. The tousled curls reminded Alex of the cherubim popularized in paintings during the Italian Renaissance. No doubt the angled cheekbones saved Tate Edwards from having his cheeks pinched on a regular basis. The late-day stubble on his jaw was a deeper shade than the rest of his hair, making the contrast between the two striking. His eyes were an unusual shade of brown, so light they looked gold. If Alex had to describe either hair or eyes, he wouldn’t have been able to name their exact color. Tate had skin pale to the point of near-translucence and a light dusting of freckles that kept him from being downright gorgeous.

Pity he didn’t know how to dress.

He was wearing a blue nylon jacket over a shapeless tan sweatshirt. Mud caked the bottom half of his hiking boots, and Alex had to resist the urge to take a step back as Tate brushed clouds of dog hair off his baggy jeans while shutting the car door.

“Look,” Alex interrupted before Tate could continue. “I appreciate you stopping by, but I moved up here to be left alone. So if you’re the advance guard of the welcome wagon, thanks, but no thanks.”

“I can take my casserole and shove it?” Tate flashed a saucy grin that made his face look sly and foxlike. He had a slight Southern accent, mild compared to most of the locals Alex had met so far. “Relax. I’m not going to set you up with my nerdy cousin or make you join the neighborhood watch. I used to help out the elderly couple that lived here before and—”

Alex said abruptly, “That’s nice. I don’t care. Thanks for stopping by. Don’t do it again.” He turned back toward the house, only to see Nick and Peter approaching instead of returning to work. Bastards.

He supposed Nick couldn’t help himself. He probably thought the whole thing hysterically funny, seeing how Alex was determined to isolate himself up here. As long as it didn’t affect Nick’s own circle, he’d find the idea of Alex dealing with the neighbors priceless. Nick was odd like that. He could be charming in some settings and aloof in others. Alex had been surprised when Nick had volunteered his friends to help with the move when the subject had come up. Alex watched him now, walking up with a smirk firmly in place, and he reminded himself that Nick was off limits.

Alex noted Tate’s interested look of assessment as the two men joined them, and he blinked. Not the sort of reaction he’d have expected from any of the locals, to be honest. Certainly not from any of the local men.

Alex found himself looking at Nick with a stranger’s perspective, and he had to admit there was a lot to admire. Nick had to be one of the most beautiful people Alex had ever seen. With his Black-Irish coloring, his shock of unruly hair, and his perpetual three-day stubble, Nick was undoubtedly handsome. And dangerous. He had “bad boy” written all over him. An unfamiliar sense of amusement made Alex consider taking Tate aside to tell him he was barking up the wrong tree. Alex only just refrained from snorting aloud.

He shifted his glance to Peter, who was folding a slice of cold pizza into his mouth.

“What?” Peter said, with a raised eyebrow as he chewed. “I was hungry. First rule of having your friends help you move: you have to feed them. Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Peter was fair where Nick was dark, his sandy-brown hair cut close to his head, making him look more like a high school football player than the college professor that he was. His blue eyes glittered with the humor of the situation.

“He was just leaving,” Alex said.

“I’m Dr. Edwards. Call me Tate. Nice to meet you.” Interestingly, Tate did not step forward to offer his hand.

Alex sighed, giving in. “Nicholas Carter. Peter Mabry.” He indicated each of the men in turn, hoping that the brevity of the introduction would drive his point across once more. “I’m Alexei Novik. Alex.”

“As I was saying,” Tate continued with a wry note in his voice. “I noticed as I was driving by that it looks as though you’re moving this stuff into the basement.”

He indicated a stack of boxes and the large crate.

Alex frowned. “So?”

“So, it floods several times a year. Usually in the spring, though sometimes in the winter as well.” Tate was matter-of-fact. “I wouldn’t put anything valuable down there.” He patted his pockets and fished out a business card, holding it out to Alex. “Like I said, I helped out the Beasleys before they decided this place was too much for them. I know where all the bodies are buried, so to speak.”

Nick and Peter shared a glance, their expressions full of amused glee—like twelve-year-old boys who had just heard a fart joke.

Alex reluctantly took the card, conscious of the contrast between his own fingers with their neat, blunt nails and the grubbiness of Tate’s hand.

Tate’s smile lit up his face, as though rewarding Alex for accepting the card. He turned to leave, presumably before Alex told him again to do so.

“Oh, by the way.” He paused with a snap of his fingers as he was getting into the car. “There’s a population of semi-feral cats around here. Don’t feed them; it just encourages them. There’s one brown tabby that acts tamer than the rest. Don’t try to pet him; he’d bite you as soon as look at you.”

“Not to worry,” Alex said dryly. “I’m not the petting type.”

“I noticed.” Tate’s smile was distinctly sly again. “More’s the pity.” He got into the car and started the engine, backing up and turning around to head toward the road once more.

Alex pocketed the card as he watched the Subaru crawl up the drive.

“Yum. There’ll be some good hunting toward the end of the month.” Peter looked a little dreamy-eyed, the way he always did when speaking of food.

“I said you could hunt up here, but you know you guys have to be careful. I can’t have the locals on a witch hunt because you get carried away.” Alex kept his tone light, but they all knew what was at stake here.

“Hell, they’ll probably thank us for cleaning out the area of stray cats.” Peter had a crooked, impish grin on his face that normally would have made Alex smile in return.

“We’ll be careful,” Nick assured him, sounding like the leader he knew Nick to be. “What about you?”

“Me?” Alex asked, frowning.

“Yes, you,” Peter crowed. “I’m thinking the handsome neighbor and you will have plenty to talk about on the long winter nights to come.”

“Don’t be an ass, Peter,” Alex said sharply. “Are you two going to flap your jaws all day or get this stuff moved inside?”

“Remind me again: why’d we agree to do this?” Peter asked plaintively, stretching out his broad shoulders with a wince as he spoke to Nick.

“Free pizza.” Nick shrugged. “Besides, I wanted to see what Alex was signing himself up for this time.”

“Nothing,” Alex said decisively. “That’s the whole point. I’m tired of the Life; I want something different for a while.”

“Well, different you’re certainly getting.” Peter huffed a bit as he looked up at the old house and back at Alex. “I doubt seriously any repairs have been made to this place in the last fifty years. By the way, I put my foot through the back porch stairs when I went inside this last time.”

Alex closed his eyes briefly.

“Don’t worry.” Nick’s voice was suddenly warm. “We’ll help you fix it up, if you like.”

“Thanks, but part of the reason I bought this place was to give me something to do.” Alex smiled thinly at him.

“You could always get a job like a normal person. Or you could go back to school.” No one commented on the fact that despite his various degrees, the best job Peter could get was at the local college.

“Nah, I think he should be a model,” Nick drawled. “Gotta tell you, Alex, I thought I liked you better as a blond, but going dark suits you. I like the edgy, razor-cut thing with the hair too.”

“You are such a fucking metrosexual,” Peter said, giving Nick a disbelieving glance. “Though why you show an interest in fashion when all you ever wear is black is beyond me.”

Nick pulled down his shades to peer over them at Peter. “Black is easier to coordinate. Nothing to think about. Reach down, grab it, and pull it on. You’re just jealous.”

“Jealous!” Peter’s voice jumped up an octave. “You couldn’t pay me to be you!”

Alex felt a rush of fondness for his friends. They were part of the reason that he’d chosen to come to this area again. He knew deep down that his choices here were not entirely rational. It was just that he was tired of living as he’d done for so long, and even if he couldn’t really belong to Nick’s circle, he was ready for a change, for something different.

The image of Tate’s dark auburn hair flashed into his mind, and his brain supplied the word “titian” to describe it. Yes, of course. Titian. He could picture Tate in a portrait by the artist whose name had come to describe the hair color of his subjects. He wiped the satisfied smile off his face. It was just a shade of hair, for crying out loud.

“I’m just glad we didn’t haul the coffin down to the basement first,” Nick said, and Alex realized he’d lost all thread of the conversation.

“Right,” he agreed belatedly. “Well, I guess you’d better bring it into the living room for now.”

Peter snorted, mouthing “living room” at Nick, and Alex rolled his eyes to show him that he’d recognized Peter’s infantile sense of humor.

“Did you notice anything odd about that guy?” Nick said thoughtfully, indicating the driveway with a tip of his head as the three of them headed back toward the moving van.

“Aside from the fact that he looks like he buys all his clothes at the local hardware store? No.” Alex was already bored with the subject and wished Nick would just let it go.

Peter snorted again.

“He wasn’t afraid.” Nick was serious now. “People tend to fall into a handful of categories when they meet us: instinctively frightened, instinctively suspicious, or stupidly oblivious. He didn’t strike me as any of those things.”

“What did he strike you as?” Alex asked curiously. He picked up a heavy carton labeled “books” and handed it to Peter, who heaved a dramatic sigh when Alex reached for a smaller box for himself.

“Amused.” Nick said it as if he wasn’t sure it was a good thing.

NICK and his friends stayed until shortly after dark. Duncan got restless first, prowling around the empty rooms, the naked light bulbs in the overhead fixtures throwing his already impressive form into giant shadows on the walls. Of all the members of Nick’s group, Duncan was the one Alex felt he knew the least. The uneasy truce between him and Duncan was most evident when Nick wasn’t around, and Alex had often wondered what kept Duncan hanging about; it was so obvious the man was born to be an alpha himself.

Duncan had no other name that Alex knew. He spoke with a slight Scottish accent but, like Alex, years in the United States had blurred and smoothed his speech until the accent was only noticeable on certain words. He wore his light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and kept his beard neatly trimmed to frame his jaw line. Like the rest of Nick’s group, he never seemed to get cold, and even now, with the temperatures falling, he was in a sleeveless shirt. Tattoos marked his well-muscled arms; Alex was certain there was some symbolic meaning behind them. He had both ears pierced, as well as one eyebrow. An angry scar bisected the other eyebrow and curved around the left side of his face, narrowly missing his eye. Alex had gathered from Nick that Duncan was a bit of a brawler.

“I’m leaving,” Duncan said abruptly, catching Alex’s gaze upon him. Without waiting for his thanks, he turned to Tish. “You coming?”

The only woman in Nick’s group smiled at Duncan and checked her watch. “Yes, I should be leaving too. I’ll go with you.”

Leticia Howard came over to give Alex a hug. The easy contact made something contract inside of Alex and he felt an unusual sensation of tightness in his chest. Tish smelled both lightly floral and woodsy, reminding Alex suddenly of his mother. She smiled warmly at him when she released him from her embrace. Her sculptured cheekbones and rich, café au lait coloring gave her an exotic look that made her stand out among women in general, but among Nick’s friends, she was clearly the diamond in the rough.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come back later in the week and give you a hand? It would be my pleasure.” Tish’s suggestion made Alex smile.

“No. I’ll be fine. Thanks, anyway. Thank you, all of you. I know you didn’t have to come out here today, and I don’t know how I would have managed without your help.”

“Another way of killing time,” Duncan rumbled. He looked impatient to be off.

Tish shot a fondly tolerant glance in his direction. She gave Alex a quick squeeze on the shoulder. “If you change your mind, let Nick know.” Leaving Alex, she moved gracefully over to where Nick and Peter were now standing, giving each of them a brief hug goodbye.

Nick brought his hand up to the back of her neck, where her short, black hair curled at the nape. He cupped her head, bending to nip gently at her ear before she moved off with a smile.

Peter waved goodbye with the hand-flap gesture of a small child and took another swallow from his beer as Tish and Duncan left the house. A few minutes later, they heard the powerful roar of Duncan’s Harley as it rumbled up the driveway.

“We’ll help you clean up,” Peter offered. He and Nick helped Alex pick up the empty pizza boxes and plastic cups and place them in a garbage bag.

“We can hang around a bit longer, if you like,” Nick said when they were done. They stood in the kitchen, watching as Alex stepped out on the porch and quickly shoved the trash bag into the can outside. “Help you unpack, that sort of thing.”

“Speak for yourself,” Peter said with a snap. “I’ve got papers to grade.”

Nick leveled a long stare at him and Peter suddenly dropped his eyes to peel the label from his bottle of beer. “Fine. We’ll stay. No hurry whatsoever.” He sighed.

Alex took pity on him. “No thanks,” he said lightly. He took Peter’s empty bottle away from him as Peter grinned sheepishly and shoved the bits of label into his pocket. “You’ll put my stuff away with no logical order and then it will take me centuries to find it again.”

Nick chuckled. “You said you wanted something to do.”

Alex rolled his eyes and barely refrained from punching Nick in the shoulder. Nick smiled back as though he could read Alex’s mind. “Okay, but don’t be a stranger. You can come see us in town, you know. Or invite us back for something other than moving heavy furniture or hunting.”

Alex walked them to the door. Outside, the air was cool and crisp, tempting him to walk out into the night with them. Peter hesitated on the way out, standing in the light spilling out onto the porch. “Are you sure you’re going to be all right? Seriously, the papers can wait. I didn’t mean—”

Alex waved him off. “I’ll be fine. Go home, Peter.”

He watched as Peter and Nick left, taking the moving van back to town as they had agreed. The house felt colder in their absence and, as he shut the door, he wondered about their lives. Nick’s little group seemed devoted to one another. Alex wondered what it was like to have those kinds of bonds. Alex’s people were solitary by nature. One day, he’d have to ask Nick how his friends had come together. None of them were typical of Nick’s kind and yet the misfit little band worked somehow. He found himself envying the solidarity and affection they shared.

With a little snort, he brushed aside such sentiments. Yeah, like he’d ever envy werewolves.

HE SEEMED unable to settle down to any one task that evening. He would open one box and start to put the items within away, only to become sidetracked by something else. He quickly became annoyed at the fact that he was unable to complete a single objective. What’s your hurry? You’ve got forever. He shut the thought out as unproductive. That was half his problem. When you had all the time in the universe on your hands, it was difficult to stay on track. He was restless and bored and had felt this way for what seemed like centuries. It was why he sought out change, after all. He couldn’t get frustrated so soon. What happened to his sense of patience? His ability to work through a problem?

He wandered through the house, taking mental note of the things that needed repairs, and trying to decide how best to go about getting them done. Inexorably, his path led him to stand outside the small room upstairs that he had designated as a study. Turning the key in the handle, he opened the door to view his coffin.

He’d left the overhead light off, having enough light from the hallway to see the gleaming mahogany wood and ornate scrollwork on the coffin’s sides. He could feel the pull of the coffin from where he stood in the doorway, could feel the insidious tug of its call on his body and mind. He was so very tempted to give in and lie down; he felt suddenly weary and knew the delicious relief and renewal that such an act promised. If he stepped into the room and laid his hand on the wood, he’d be able to feel the warm pulse of Life it promised.

He closed and locked the door instead.

With a sigh, he headed back downstairs. The coffin wouldn’t solve his problems. It only made them worse. The more time he spent in it, the less he’d be able to move in the daytime world. It would have been easier if he could have stored it in the basement. Anything that put another small barrier between him and temptation was good. Upstairs, just down the hall from his bedroom, he could imagine it whispering to him. He thought about how very easy it would be to give in and use it again.

He paused at the foot of the stairs to stare at himself in the large mirror there.

Nick was right; the shorter, darker hair suited him. The razored edges, freed from their heavier length, stood up in careless disarray with only minimal effort on his part each morning. The cut also highlighted his features and accentuated his cheekbones. The rich, chocolate-brown color went well with his dark eyes and pale coloring. He leaned in, assessing his face carefully for signs of aging. He could pass for a guy in his early thirties. He knew if he wanted to maintain endless youth, he could sleep every night in the coffin, experiencing the renewal and regeneration of his body indefinitely.

Of course, he’d stop having a reflection in the mirror. He raised an eyebrow at himself in the glass as he moved on.

Yes, the coffin promised eternal youth, but those who spent a lot of time in it became less human and more vampire. Overall, Alex preferred being able to walk in both worlds.

Too bad Victor didn’t understand that. He won’t let you go that easily, you know. Like the siren call of the coffin, he pushed the thought of Victor showing up one day out of his head. No doubt, he hadn’t heard the last from Victor, but what could Vic really do to him anyway? It wasn’t as if he could force Alex to practice the Old Ways.

Stewing about Victor’s anger and disapproval was nonproductive. What Alex really needed to do right now was make a list of priority repairs and figure out what he needed from the local hardware store. He would ask around and find out who was the best person to get to fix the things he couldn’t tackle himself. Fortunately, he’d been planning this move for a long time and had the resources to see him through this cycle. His last role as a primo uomo had paid well and no one would recognize him now. He had time enough to decide what to do next; it would be years before his neighbors got suspicious of his perpetual youth and he had to move on again. He had too much fucking time; that was the problem.

He wandered into the kitchen, humming “Come to Me” from Les Misérables as he looked for a notepad and pen. Of course, he’d have to be careful. Maybe this time around, he should adopt for himself a persona that would keep him out of the public eye altogether. A reclusive artist, perhaps, or maybe a writer. He snorted at the thought of himself as a novelist. He’d heard that vampire fiction was very popular right now.

THE brown tabby was sitting on the back porch again when Alex opened the door and headed for the trash can. It was just after dark; the temperature was deliciously cool with a hint of frost to come. Alex could feel the woods call to him in a way he hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Maybe he’d take a walk later that evening, after the moon had risen. He recalled with a smile the advice given to him by the garrulous old man who worked at the little grocery at the foot of the mountain. Alex had stopped in to pick up some more light bulbs and the old man had warned him about walking the woods on the mountain at night.

“Something big and nasty out there,” he’d said, shifting his pipe from one corner of his mouth to the other as he rang up Alex’s purchase. “Some say bear; others say cougar.”

He’d smiled at the old man, thinking he’d been playing up the role of Local Wise Man for his benefit, and suspected the man had rightly pegged him for being somewhat of a city slicker. He’d been secretly pleased that when the next full moon came, no one would be surprised at the reports of some deer being killed.

The cat stood up as Alex came out the door with his plate to scrape the remains of his meal into the trash can. The cat gave him a baleful stare as Alex moved past him toward the can. He had to juggle the plate and knife in one hand as he opened the raccoon-proof latch, and the plate tilted as he did so.

Blood and the remnants of raw meat dripped onto the porch.

The young cat was on it in a flash, lapping up the spillage while Alex watched. After a moment’s hesitation, he set the plate down beside the cat.

Gleaming eyes glanced up at him before the cat moved over to the plate and began licking it clean. A loud purr reached Alex’s ears. He straightened, still holding the knife, watching with amusement while the cat ate.

“You wouldn’t give me the time of day before, but now I’m your best friend, eh?”

The cat ignored him. Alex wasn’t surprised. He’d spotted the young tom off and on ever since he moved in, but this was the first time he’d ever been able to get a good look at the cat. It was ostensibly a tabby, but the stripes blurred to the point of being almost like ticking instead. It had the coloring of a wild rabbit more than a classic, striped tabby. Its gold eyes were striking in an otherwise plain little face. The first time Alex had seen the cat, it had immediately slunk off into the bushes on making eye contact with him. As the days passed and he’d continued to ignore its presence, the cat had deigned to move when Alex came in and out of the back door, treating Alex with cool disdain.

He’d begun talking to it out of sheer boredom.

The cat would lie up under the bushes and watch him when he weeded the flowerbeds behind the house, and it had taken to shadowing him when he spent one long afternoon cleaning out the gutters. Alex liked to sing his favorite arias to pass the time while working. At first, the cat darted off into the fields behind the house, but now it would lie on its side nearby, flicking its tail with its eyes closed to half slits, always just out of reach.

It was nice to have the company. Alex knew he could have called on Nick and the others at any time, and he intended to invite them over at some point, but a part of him needed this time alone to figure out who he was again. Without Victor’s influence. Without being defined by the Life. Though he’d grown up in the Life, he knew there had to be more to it than simply feeding and sex. He wasn’t sure that there was anything of depth or substance to him anymore, and that was disturbing. Surely, someone who had walked the Earth as long as he had should have more to show for his existence than mere ennui.

The cat finished cleaning the plate and began winding itself around Alex’s ankles. “Beat it,” Alex said, as he started back toward the door. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll make yourself scarce by the next full moon.”

A noise startled them both and Alex looked out into the yard, where a large raccoon had emerged from the bushes. It paused at the sight of Alex on the porch, lifting its head to smell the air tentatively. The little bastard probably wanted his trash. He’d had to clean up the yard several mornings in a row before he’d purchased the new can with the locking lid. He was about to say something to run the animal off when a low, threatening growl reached his ears.

He looked down to see the tabby crouched in a menacing stance, ears flat against his skull, an eerie noise emanating from his body in a manner that sent a little shiver down the back of Alex’s neck. Before he could speak, the cat had launched himself off the porch at the raccoon, despite the fact it was twice his size. He landed on the raccoon with such force he bowled it over. When they both regained their footing, the fat raccoon ran at full speed toward the forest, the angry cat chasing it all the way.

“You little son of a bitch,” Alex said aloud to the night. He couldn’t help but admire the cat’s audacity. He hoped the cat couldn’t tell.

Author Bios:
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.

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.

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

Carol Lynne
An avid reader for years, one day Carol Lynne decided to write her own brand of erotic romance. Carol juggles between being a full-time mother and a full-time writer. These days, you can usually find Carol either cleaning jelly out of the carpet or nestled in her favourite chair writing steamy love scenes.

Isabelle Rowan
A black cat for a witch may be a cliché, but add a whole bunch of tribal tattoos and an intolerance to garlic (seriously), and you have Isabelle Rowan.

Having moved to Australia from England as a small child, Isabelle now lives in a seaside suburb of Melbourne where she teaches film making and English. She is a movie addict who spends far too much money on traveling… but then again, life is to be lived.

Sarah Madison
An avid reader as a child, early on Sarah was asked to decide between her creative and scientific interests. Believing that she couldn't explore both sides of her personality, she chose science, and made a conscious decision to shut away her creative nature. Though she loved her work, she always felt like something was missing from her life, but whenever she questioned that feeling too deeply, she convinced herself that a life without joy was simply the definition of being a grownup.

One day she discovered fanfiction online, and it was like waking  a sleeping dragon. Over the next three years, she wrote over a million words of fanfic, finally deciding perhaps it was time to take the training wheels off the bike and try her hand at original stories. Now an award-winning author of M/M romances, Sarah believes that if she can transport you to another world for a few hours, make you forget your bad day at work, or your chronic illness, or anything that hurts you--even for a little while--then she's done her job as an author.

Ari McKay

Angel Martinez

TA Chase

Carol Lynne

Isabelle Rowan

Sarah Madison

Ghost of a Chance

A Different Breed
B&N  /  KOBO  /  ARe

The Haunting of St. Xavier

B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Crying for the Moon
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

In Denver Series by R Colora

Series: In Denver #1-3
Author: R Colora
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Dates: Kennedy in Denver: June 6, 2015
Estelle in Denver: July 7, 2015
Katie in Denver: October 10, 2015
Cover Designs: The Graphics Shed

***Warning: These books contain several erotic love scenes, strong language, violence and
are intended for adult readers only. Book 2 may also contain triggers for abuse survivors.***

Kennedy in Denver #1
Kennedy Brennan was just about to start her life after graduating from the Barton Music Conservatory. She and her three best friends decide to have one last night out before the graduation ceremony the next morning.

Accepting drinks from a secret admirer brings her life to a screeching halt. After waking up from a coma and facing her attacker during a trial, she changes her identity and starts a new life in Denver. Finding an old run down building across the street from her favorite bakery, she plans to start a Music Conservatory of her own.

The only thing standing in her way is Billionaire Real Estate Developer and One of America’s Most Eligible Bachelors Easton Kerrigan.

Kennedy and Easton's Story is the beginning of a six book series involving The Kerrigan Siblings and Friends.

All books are standalone and have a Happily Ever After for the main characters.

These books will contain extremely dark subject matter and the couples face a lot of hardships before they find their HEA.


Estelle in Denver #2
Left for do you come back from that? You don't. Estelle has no choice but to start over. 

Enrolling in school for the first time in her life, and working for her best friend Kennedy is the start to her new life. 

She and Rhydian Kerrigan have been flirting for the last couple months. 

Rhydian tempts Estelle to forget the danger. Only with Estelle's past, things are never that easy. 

Her father wants the flash drive she carries around her neck the information on it could put him and his associates away for the rest of their lives. 

If it comes down to it, can Estelle kill her enemy before he kills her? 

After spending more than a year getting ready, Estelle is ready for anything that comes her way. 

Once things are settled, will she be ready to heal enough to learn to love and be loved in return? 

Estelle and Rhydian's Story is book two of a seven book series involving The Kerrigan Siblings and Friends. 

All books are standalone and have a Happily Ever After for the main characters. 

These books will contain extremely dark subject matter and the couples face a lot of hardships before they find their HEA. 

Some Scenes in Estelle's story maybe hard to read for abuse victims.

Katie in Denver #3
Katie Blackwell loved Michael Kerrigan from the first moment he stopped her at an outdoor festival. She was fourteen and he was sixteen. For two years Micheal and Katie were inseparable; they were each others first loves. They experienced all their firsts together. 

Finding out she is pregnant at sixteen was not part of Katie's plan. When she tells Michael, he informs her that he has been accepted to an ivy league school; he has no intentions of staying in Denver to play the role of teen dad. 

Scared and alone Katie has to decide if she is going to terminate her pregnancy or keep the baby she already loves. 

Nine years later Katie and Micheal will cross paths and past secrets will come to light. Can mistakes be forgiven? Can first love be rekindled, or will past heartache and betrayal be to much to overcome?

Kennedy in Denver #1
When the doors open, I see a giant of a man occupies it. He’s easily six foot five and takes up most of the height of the elevator. He has the same blue eyes and raven colored hair as Stacy. He looks up from his phone, and our eyes lock. A slow smile spreads across his face.

“Going down?” he says with a grin on his face as if he knows he is God’s gift to women.

“I will catch the next one.” I answer sarcastically.

He nods then lets the doors close. I finally take a breath. Holy shit! It’s my dream man, the lumberjack version of Ian Somerhalder. My heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest. The man in the elevator must be another figment of my imagination. Yes, that’s it. It's just like when I saw the girls in the theatre. After a few minutes the door dings and opens, I step forward but stop. The man is still in the elevator. I step back from the door. Nope, it wasn’t my imagination. He’s real, and he seems to like riding on the elevator. I look right then left for the staircase. This man makes me nervous.

“Are you going down, sir? I don't like being in confined places with strangers. Can you please just take the elevator down and get out. I will take the next one.” His gaze travels from my head to my feet and then back up.

His voice is deep and seductive. “Get in the elevator,” he says in a husky voice.

I take another step back as he takes a step forward.

“Easton.” I hear a voice behind me call. While he is distracted, I barely make it into the elevator as the doors close.

“Fuck!” he shouts, but it's too late. The elevator has already started its descent. Out on the street, I let myself feel discouraged. I pictured exactly what I wanted, but now that’s not an option. Okay, Kennedy, time to put your thinking cap on.

I make it into the parking garage when I feel a hand grab my shoulder. On reflex I slide my foot back, knock him off balance, then grab his hand and bend it back, applying as much pressure into his pressure point as I can before taking him to the ground in an arm bar. I hear footsteps, and I look up to see a security guard with a perplexed looked on his face.

“Mr. Kerrigan, are you ok, sir?” I release his arm and stand up brushing myself off.

“I don't like being touched. You shouldn't sneak up on women in parking garages.” Easton looks more angry than embarrassed. “I'm going now. Don't follow me.”

“Sir, do you want me to detain her?” the security guard asks.

“If either of you take a step toward me, I will snap your neck before you ever lay a hand on me!”

I turn around, get in my truck and gun it out of the parking garage.

Estelle in Denver #2
"Momma, can we go to the park tomorrow?"

"Mon trésor, I shall even buy you ice cream!"

"Really, Momma?"

"Yes, my love, now close your eyes and remember, my heart. Il n'est rien de réel que le rêve et l'amour."

"I love you, Momma."

“I love you too, Estelle."

Momma and Papa are yelling again.

"Please, Edwin, this does not have to be our life! We can go to France, or to Argentina, and have a life away from these men you have gotten involved with. Please, Edwin! I beg you, do it for me and Estelle." I hear Momma say.

"You don’t understand, Celine. I have power here—money and wealth! What, you think I will go back to Argentina to work for my father? Working in his fields, harvesting grapes? These are the hands of a businessman, not a farm hand. We can’t go back to France! You have no family, you will never dance with the Paris Ballet again, what would you have us do, Celine?" he yells.

"Anything but this, Edwin. You are becoming someone I do not even know! You come home with blood on your clothes, or smelling of liquor and cheap perfume. This is not a life to raise a child in."

"Celine, you see this beautiful mansion you call a home and the fine clothes you wear, the people that clean this house for you and cook your meals? Next time you go to your fancy shops you remember the blood on my clothes put that money in your hands."

"Edwin, please!" Momma says. I hear noises, Papa is hurting Momma again. I hear her begging him to stop, so I get out of bed and tiptoe out of my room. I see him hitting Momma with the belt. Papa turns around and I run back to my room.

"Mon trésor, wake up my love."

“Momma?” she has her coat on.

"I'm sleepy, Momma."

"I know, my love, but we must go! Come quickly!"

I take my Momma’s hand, but when we step out of my room, I see my Papa; he looks angry. "Celine, where do you think you are going?"

"I'm taking Estelle and we are going away. You can live in this giant house with your secrets and your whores, but my daughter will not be raised like this."

"Mon trésor, I want you to sit on your bed. I will come to collect you as soon as possible."

Momma closes my door and I hear the shouting, so I open the door and look. Papa grabs Momma by her coat and throws her down the stairs. I hear Momma scream, then I hear nothing.

I make my way out of my room to the stairs. I see Momma laying at the bottom of the stairs; she isn't moving and her eyes are open. I know she isn't asleep. I see my Papa on the phone, and a few minutes later two men come in with a blue plastic sheet. They put Momma on it and carry her out. Papa follows them out the door. I wait on the stairs for Momma to come get me, but she never comes back.

Katie in Denver #3
“Please come this way,” the nurse says. “We need to do an ultrasound to determine how far along you are. If you’re under nine weeks, you can choose to take the abortion pill but if you’re over nine weeks, then you need to have an in-clinic surgical procedure.” I can feel the panic starting to set in. The nurse takes my hand.

“Listen, you haven’t made any decision yet. You can walk out of here right now if that’s what you want.” I nod but don’t respond.

I just sit on the examining table in silence. The nurse instructs me to pull my shirt up, and she squirts some kind of gel on my stomach; it’s really cold. Slowly, she moves the wand around.

“You look to be about sixteen weeks so if you wanted to proceed today it would have to be a surgical abortion. I can explain the procedure, we have a coach that can come in and hold your hand while you have the procedure,” she says with a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.

I look at the small dot on the screen and then she turns a dial, and I hear it: I hear my baby’s heartbeat and everything becomes so clear to me.
She goes to turn it off when she sees the tears running down my face, but I grab her hand. “Please, I just want to hear it a little longer.” I reach my hand out and touch the screen. She is clicking buttons, and I see pictures coming out the side of the machine. I don't even ask for them, I just snatch the pictures from the machine and grip them for dear life. I want to remember this moment; I want to remember the moment I stopped living for me, and I started living for my child. I look at the nurse and start getting off the exam table. “I’m not doing it, can I please go?”

She smiles. “Yes, let me get you cleaned up and you can go. You have a few more weeks if you change your mind,” she adds.

“No, I know I want my baby even if no one else does. Thank you for being so nice,” I say before running to the waiting room.

Author Bio:
Writing a book takes a lot of energy not just the energy of the person telling the story, but the Editor, Proofreader, Beta Readers, ARC Readers, Cover Designer, Formatter, and bloggers or Promotional Team. You can't write a book for free an author has to pay for those words in a Plain Document to become something on your Kindle App or in your Hand.

As a writer, you don't expect everyone to LOVE or even LIKE what you write, but writers don't write to be praised they write because they enjoy it and it's satisfying. when your see something that was in your head transformed into an actual book the feeling is indescribable. I remember when I was young I use to think I would be a writer when I grew up up like most adults learn, Life happens and you have to put aside your childish dreams and work, provide, sacrifice. I live in this real world where every day is is struggle, so I made up a world of Billionaires and Superstars, in my books with all these characters beauty and charmed lives they still face semi-real life situation that is why I write fiction, it suppose to be over the top and unbelievable, if anyone has found any real life Werewolf or Bear shifters let me know!!!!

So with that said no matter how many one star reviews I get I will still keep telling my stories, you don't have to love them and you don't have to like them and I might be the worst author in the history of Amazon, but that's okay because I'm doing what I told my younger self I couldn't do.


Kennedy in Denver #1

Estelle in Denver #2

Katie in Denver #3

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