Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Random Paranormal Tales Part 8

Spirit by John Inman
Jason Day, brilliant designer of video games, is not only a confirmed bachelor, but he’s as gay as a maypole. One wouldn’t think being saddled with his precocious four-year-old nephew for four weeks would be enough to throw him off-kilter.

Wrong. Timmy, Jason’s nephew, is a true handful.

But just when Timmy and Uncle Jason begin to bond, and Jason feels he’s getting a grip on this babysitting business once and for all, he’s thrown for a loop by a couple of visitors—one from Tucson, the other from beyond the grave.

I’m sorry. Say what?

Toss a murder, a hot young stud, an unexpected love affair, and a spooky-ass ghost with a weird sense of humor into Jason’s summer plans, and you’ve got the makings for one hell of a ride.

Beneath the Neon Moon by Theda Black
Zach and Mal have never met, but one summer night finds them in desperate trouble together, kidnapped and trapped in darkness. The moon's rising high and full in the sky when Zach notices something's changing in Mal, growing volatile and wild. And no matter how quickly the bond between them grows, Zach's afraid he won't survive the night.

Blood Sacrifice by Stormy Glenn
Being a demon isn't always fun. Being a demon summoned to a satanic ritual is downright miserable. Isaac Braden spends most of his time being a rich recluse but every so often he's introduced to someone new when he's summoned… a blood sacrifice. And tonight Jory Daniels has been chosen to be that sacrifice.

In a satanic ritual summoning gone bad, Isaac finds himself eternally bound to Jory. He has to have the man's blood in order to survive. But when Jory wants something in return, can Isaac submit enough to allow it or will his demon nature take over and cause him to lose the best thing that ever happened to him?

Previously published by Noble Romance Publishing

The Gravedigger's Brawl by Abigail Roux
Dr. Wyatt Case is never happier than when he’s walking the halls of his history museum. Playing wingman for his best friend at Gravedigger’s Tavern throws him way out of his comfort zone, but not as much as the eccentric man behind the bar, Ash Lucroix.

Ash is everything Wyatt doesn’t understand: exuberant, quirky, and elbow deep in a Gaslight lifestyle that weaves history into everyday life. He coordinates his suspenders with his tongue rings. Within hours, Wyatt and Ash are hooked.

But strange things are afoot at Gravedigger’s, and after a knock to the head, Ash starts seeing things that can’t be explained by old appliances or faulty wiring. Soon everyone at Gravedigger’s is wondering if they’re seeing ghosts, or just going crazy. The answer to that question could end more than just Wyatt and Ash’s fragile relationship—it might also end their lives.

At first I didn't think I was going to be able to get into this book right now, I have been in a historical setting mood lately. But before I reached chapter 3, I was hooked. This has everything I love: romance, erotica, mystery, paranormal, and history. Even with the present day setting there was plenty of history in the form of research and ghosts. Ash adds that bit of fresh, fun, and want that Wyatt has been lacking and probably didn't even realize he was looking for. Wyatt brings a mix of similarity and opposites attract element to Ash's life that he both longed for and was wary of. Together with their friends they form a tight little group that faces something they never expected.


Touch of a Ghost by LM Brown
What if you could only touch your lover one night of the year? Halloween night is all you have when in a relationship with a ghost.

Drew Jessop wants a life without ghosts. He doesn’t want to see, hear, or talk to them. Ignoring them should be relatively simple. But Drew soon finds that Benji Richards, an eternally gorgeous ghost from the fifties, is not so easy to ignore.

Halloween night is approaching and both Drew and Benji know what it could mean for them. From sunset to sunrise, it is the one night of the year when a mortal can feel the touch of a ghost.

CONTENT ADVISORY: This title is a re-release title.

This is a fun, romantic, and just plain lovely read.  It is short and because of that, sometimes it feels rushed but that did not diminish my enjoyment I felt and glad I took a chance on it.  Drew's wish for a normal life doesn't last long but eventually he realizes that being able to communicate with ghosts is what normal is destined to be.  Benji has finally found what he's been looking for when Drew moves in but waiting to see if they can make it work is sexy, romantic, heartwarming, and fun.


Chapter One
SALLY’S SUITCASE was dusty rose with little Alice-blue primroses on it. Very pretty. It was also big and bulky and weighed a fucking ton. I grunted like a caveman and broke out in a sweat simply hefting it into the trunk of the taxi. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I felt a couple of sinews in my back snap like rubber bands.

“What do you have in here? A dead body?”

“Oh, pooh,” Sally said, slapping my arm. “You gay guys gripe about everything. Just suck up the pain and try to be butch. Fake it if you have to.”

Since butch doesn’t always work for me and since I was never very good at faking anything, including maturity, I stuck my tongue out at her instead. “Blow me, Sis.” Since I knew it irked her, I cast a critical eye at her ash-blonde hair. It was bleached to within an inch of its life, and it had been that way since high school. “And stop bleaching. One of these days you’re going to wake up bald.”

She flipped her long hair back off her shoulder. “I don’t bleach, I tone.”


“Jason, you’re such a brat.” She smirked, sticking out her own tongue and waggling it around in midair, just as she had when she was nine and I was six and she was trying to freak me out. My sister could even now, at the ripe old age of thirty-one, touch the tip of her nose with her tongue. I had always admired that remarkable ability. Being a gay man, I’ve used my tongue extensively over the years in a number of scenarios, and in a number of dark moist places, but I still haven’t acquired that skill.

“Bitch. Floozy. Slut,” I mumbled under my breath, making her smile.

During this exchange, the cab driver stood way off to the side glowering, smoking a cigarette, and looking worried that someone was going to ask him to lift something. Since I had dealt with cab drivers before, I knew better than to ask.

The driver was a stodgy old guy who peered out at the world through a perpetual squint, or maybe he was just trying to keep the smoke out of his eyes. In any case, he now made it a point to stare at his wristwatch and clear his throat as he stomped out his cigarette underfoot.

“Time to roll,” he seemed to be saying. “Things to do, places to go.”

Sally and I gave each other a perfunctory peck on the cheek, and only then did we gaze around, wondering where Timmy had gone. Mother of the year, and babysitter extraordinaire, we weren’t. I quickly realized I hadn’t seen the kid in over a minute. He could be in Texas by now.

With a sigh of relief, I spotted my four-year-old nephew on his hands and knees by the foundation of the house, trying to peer through one of the tiny ground-level windows that looked into the basement. He had his little hands on the glass, with his face stuck in between them to shut out the glare, and he was talking to himself and snickering.

“Look, Sally,” I intoned. “The kid’s insane already, and you’ve only had him four and a half years.”

She slapped my arm again. “Oh, shut up.” Glancing at her wristwatch, she said, “Where the heck is Jack? He said he’d be here by now.”

“Jack comes when Jack comes.” I rolled my eyes when I said it. I didn’t much care for Jack.

Sally gave me a devilish grin. “Don’t get pornographic.”

“What? I didn’t mean it that way!”

But Sally wasn’t listening. We were already traipsing across my tiny front yard to fetch the kid. Since I got there first, I scooped Timmy into my arms. His hands and face were muddy brown where he had pressed them against the dirty window.

Sally stuck her fists on her hips and scowled at him. “You look like a miner,” she said.

“He is a minor,” I said. “He’s only four.”

“Oh, shut up,” Sally said again.

Timmy stuck his dirty finger up my nose and laughed. “You guys are funny.”

Sally stared at the two of us as if wondering what she had been thinking, bringing us together like this. “You’re going to ruin him, aren’t you, Jason? When I get back in four weeks, I won’t know my son. He’ll be lost to me forever.”

I shrugged and snapped and snarled and tried to bite Timmy’s hand off, which made him laugh even harder. “That’s the chance you take, Sis. Free babysitters don’t come cheap, you know.”

Sally just shook her head and headed back to the cab, mumbling under her breath, “That makes a lot of sense.”

A car horn in the distance snagged our attention. It was Jack, barreling down the street in his stupid MINI Cooper with the British flag on the roof. Jack was about as British as an Ethiopian famine. He gave a cheery wave out the window and pulled up to the curb with the warbling of a coloratura wailing from his tape deck. Jack liked opera.

I set Timmy on the lawn, and Sally and I watched as Jack jumped from the car, suitcase in hand. Sally was smiling. Remember when I said I didn’t like Jack? Well, Sally did.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” she asked the tree beside her. She couldn’t have been asking me. She knew perfectly well how I felt about the twit.

Although I had to admit, Jack was immensely easy on the eyes, with his tall, hunky frame and broad shoulders and wavy black hair. I also suspected he was a homophobe, though, since he couldn’t say two words to me without making a snarky comment about my being gay.

“Hey, Sally!” he called out to my sister. “Hey, Rosemary!” he called out to me.

He thought that was funny. I merely turned and scooped a surprised Timmy off the ground and held him in my arms so I wouldn’t have to shake Jack’s hand.

Did I mention I didn’t like Jack?

Jack tossed his bag into the back of the cab beside Sally’s, overflexing a few muscles while he did it just to prove he could.

He walked up to Timmy, who was firmly perched on my arm, and tweaked his nose. Me, he ignored.

Timmy said, “Ppffthh!” and turned away from the guy. He didn’t like Jack either.

Jack didn’t even notice. He gave Sally a smooch on the mouth and said, “Ready, babe?”

The driver tucked himself in behind the wheel and started the engine, all the while making a big show of buckling his seatbelt and fiddling with the meter like he was the busiest guy on the planet. He hadn’t even closed the trunk, so while Sally and Dipshit climbed into the backseat, I set Timmy down on the edge of the lawn for the second time, laid a finger on his nose, and told him to stay put. In a brilliant flash of insight, I realized he wouldn’t do any such thing, so I immediately snatched him up in my arms again. Then I slammed the taxi’s trunk lid closed myself—one-handed, I might add, since Timmy was dangling from my other arm like a wiggling stalk of bananas.

Jack’s hand came out of the window and pointed across the roof of the cab. He clicked his car keys at the MINI Cooper at the curb, which beeped in response and locked itself up tighter than a drum. Sort of like the Batmobile.

“Don’t tip the driver,” I whispered, as Sally leaned out the other window to give me a final good-bye peck. Timmy laughed. He had his finger up my nose again.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Sally said, stretching her neck out a little farther to give Timmy a good-bye kiss as well. Then she took one look at the kid’s filthy face and settled on a friendly pat atop his head instead. She wagged a finger in his face. “You be good. Obey your uncle while I’m gone.”

Timmy really laughed at that. “Yeah, right.” He giggled and, squirming out of my arms, he took off running back to the basement window, where he once again dropped to his knees and peered inside.

“Maybe he got my brat gene,” I said, not entirely joking.

Sally didn’t even pretend to find that statement untrue. “No maybes about it,” she said, ruffling through her purse, making sure she had her money, her plane tickets, and whatever else women scramble around for in their purses when they’re trying to be efficient.

I stepped away from the cab, molding my face to look trustworthy. “Don’t worry about the kid. I’ll lock him in the closet if I have to.”

“Just don’t scar him emotionally. I spend enough money on my own therapy.”

“Very funny.”

Then Jack chimed in with, “Don’t turn him gay either. We can’t afford all the makeup you boys use.”

I blushed. Had he noticed I’d used a cover stick on a zit that morning, or was he just talking out of his homophobic ass again?

I couldn’t help myself. I leaned back in the window and crooned, “Don’t worry, Jacqueline. I’ll try to restrain myself. And we won’t listen to opera. I promise. I read that a lot of closeted gay guys listen to opera. Oh, and we won’t use napkins when we eat either, and we’ll blow our noses directly onto the ground just by pressing our thumb to the opposing nostril and blowing the crap out that way. Either that or we’ll wipe the snot on our shirtsleeves. You know. Like you do.”

Sally giggled, Jack turned away unamused, and the driver gave the lot of us an odd look in the rearview mirror, which made me blush again. Sally didn’t give a crap what the driver thought, and Jack was too busy being a prick and trying to look important to notice. He was studiously ignoring me as he checked his airline tickets, plucking them out of his pocket, flipping them open, perusing the contents. They weren’t going to Mars after all. It was just a four-week vacation. After a week in New York to catch a few shows, enjoy a few restaurants, and gain a few pounds, they were then going to diddle up and down the Eastern Seaboard on a train. Several trains, in fact. Personally, I would rather set myself on fire than trap myself in a rumbling metal tube for three weeks with Dipshit; but hey, that’s just me.

Sally reached out, patted my head like she had Timmy’s, then poked it back out of the window with the heel of her hand.

“Stop causing trouble,” she said with a merry sparkle in her eyes. Then she turned to the driver and said, “Airport.”

I heard him mumble, “Well, there’s a surprise,” as the cab backed out onto the street.

I waved, watching the yellow cab hustle off into San Diego traffic, and when I turned to find Timmy, he was gone again.

Holy crap! The kid was a gazelle. What had I gotten myself into?

His disappearance was solved when I found him around the corner of the house in the backyard, peeking through a different basement window. Jeez, he was like Gollum, seeking out the world’s deepest, darkest places.

When I scooped him into my arms, he sang out, “Daddy!”

And I thought, Well isn’t that sweet.

I HAD toddler-proofed the house as best I could. The basement door was securely latched so the kid couldn’t tumble headfirst down the flight of stairs leading into the bowels of the house, snapping a myriad of youthful bones along the way. Electrical wires were safely coiled and taped up and tucked under furniture in case Timmy got the inexplicable urge to chew on them. Electrical outlets were covered. All breakable knick-knacks were raised out of reach and all dangerous objects securely stashed away—switchblades, rolls of barbed wire, plastic explosives, bobby pins. (Just kidding about the bobby pins. I’m not that nelly.)

My dog, Thumper, who was a mix of Chihuahua, dachshund, miniature poodle, and quite possibly a three-toed sloth, was no threat to Timmy at all. The poor thing was almost twenty years old and hardly had any teeth left. I hadn’t heard her bark in three years. She only moved off the sofa to eat and go potty, and once her business was done, she stood in front of the sofa looking up like the Queen Mother waiting for the carriage door to be opened until I scooped her off the floor and redeposited her among the cushions. Poor thing. (I mean me.) She lay there all day long watching TV: Channel 9, the Mexican channel. Don’t ask me why, but that was the only channel she would tolerate. Couldn’t live without it, in fact. The one benefit to this annoying habit of hers was that, while I didn’t understand my dog at all, I was pretty sure I was beginning to comprehend Spanish.

Timmy was at that happy stage of child rearing where he could pull down his own pants and climb onto the commode without any help from squeamish gay uncles. He had brought an entourage of toys with him that would have kept an orphanage entertained. The first thing I did after finding a trail of little black skid marks on my new oak flooring was to confiscate his tricycle, allocating the thing to outdoor use only, which Timmy accepted with stoic resignation, although I did hear him mumble something about chicken poop and peckerheads. I’m not sure if his watered-down-obscenity-strewn mumbling was related to the tricycle announcement but fear it was. While the kid might have gotten my brat gene, there was also little doubt he had inherited my sister’s sarcastic-foulmouthed-snarky gene. God help his teachers when he started school.

With his mother and his mother’s twit of a boyfriend safely out of the way, Timmy and I settled into a routine. The routine was this: he ran around like a cyclone, and I ran around behind him trying to keep him alive. It took my nephew a mere two hours to wear me out completely, and while I dozed for five minutes on the sofa to recoup my strength, using Thumper for a pillow (she did have a few uses), Timmy managed to find a screwdriver somewhere and proceeded to climb onto a chair in the kitchen and remove the back panel from the microwave. Don’t ask me why. What took him five minutes to take apart took me thirty minutes to put back together. I’m not handy with tools. Timmy, on the other hand, seemed quite proficient. If I hadn’t been afraid he might actually succeed, and consequently make me feel even dumber than I already did, I would have asked him to change the oil in my Toyota.

In the middle of the afternoon, Timmy and I found ourselves in the backyard picking oranges off my orange tree for the next day’s breakfast. (Well, I was picking the oranges. Timmy was stuffing them down his shorts. Who knows why?) He was squealing happily and running around with oranges dropping out of his trouser legs and rolling merrily across the yard. I was busy trying to be masculine like a proper hunter/gatherer, climbing up into the orange tree to get that one beautiful orange on the tippy-top limb that I couldn’t quite reach to whap with the broom handle, when I was suddenly stunned by the sound of silence. God, it was lovely. Lovely and suspicious. I peeked through the foliage toward the ground and saw Timmy sprawled out like a dead thing, sound asleep in the grass.

I could only assume it was naptime.

Being the ever-conscientious uncle, I climbed quietly down the tree, gently scooped the kid into my arms, and carried him into the house. The moment I laid Timmy on the bed in the guest room upstairs—since Thumper was hogging the couch—Timmy popped his eyes open and stuck his finger up my nose again. In two seconds flat, he was wide-awake, tearing through the house and screaming like a banshee.

Note to self. Next time the kid goes to sleep, no matter where it is, leave him there. Edge of a cliff? No problem. Middle of the street? Don’t worry about it. Just put up a couple of safety cones to redirect traffic and let him be.

Timmy was making so much noise, and his voice was so annoyingly high-pitched, that Thumper had buried her head under the sofa cushions. I longed to crawl under there with her, but being the adult in charge, God help me, I couldn’t. I rummaged through the mound of clothes Sally had supplied for Timmy’s four-week stay, hoping to find a tiny straightjacket and a soundproof muzzle in among the T-shirts and shorts and Daffy Duck underpants, but she must have forgotten to pack them, dammit.

For my headache, which was quickly blossoming into an epic doozy, I popped four aspirins and chewed them dry. How’s that for butch? And to distract Timmy from doing whatever the hell it was he was doing, I asked him if he’d like to help me fix dinner.

“What are we having?” he asked. There was a rope of snot dangling out of his nose that looked like a bungee cord. I watched, fascinated, as he sucked it back in. A moment later, it made another appearance, flapped around for a minute, then he snorted it back up again. It was a fascinating thing to watch. Fascinating and disgusting.

“Salmon and green-bean casserole,” I finally answered, trying not to barf.

He made a face. “Blechhh! I want hot dogs.”

“Hot dogs.”

“And ’roni.”

“What the heck is ’roni?”

“With cheese,” he said. “’Roni and cheese.”

“Oh. Macaroni and cheese. No way. Do you know how many calories are in that? I have to watch my figure.”

Timmy giggled. “Jack says you’re like a girl. He says you even like boys.”

“I do like boys. But not that one. Jack’s a twit.”

Timmy giggled again, but it was a crafty giggle. “If you make ’roni and cheese and hot dogs for dinner, I won’t tell him you said that.”

“Ever hear of extortion?”

“No,” he said, “but if you make hot dogs tonight, we can have ’stortion tomorrow.”

“Fine,” I said. I wasn’t a complete idiot. I’d serve him salmon tomorrow and tell him it was extortion. The kid was four years old, for Christ’s sake. He’d believe anything I told him, right?

With the uneasy feeling I was in over my head, I stuck the beautiful slab of salmon back in the fridge for another day and rummaged through the freezer until I found a package of hot dogs buried under the edamame and brussels sprouts. The hot dogs had been there since some long ago Fourth of July celebration. Wonder of wonders, I found a box of macaroni and cheese in the pantry off the garage. Gee. I didn’t even know I had it. Maybe the kid was not only annoying, but psychic as well. That was a scary thought. A prescient four-year-old.

Later, while sitting at the kitchen table consuming our 50,000-calorie dinner, Timmy didn’t shut up once.

“The man in the basement is nice,” Timmy said around a mouthful of hot dog.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I said.

“He said to tell you he’s glad you live here.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m glad he approves.”

“He hates Mommy.”

“Well, she can be annoying sometimes. Don’t tell her I said that.”

Timmy shrugged. “Can I have another hot dog?”

“You haven’t finished the one you’ve got.”

“I only like the middles. The ends taste funny.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

“Thank you.”

“How’s the ’roni and cheese?”

“Good, but it needs more butter. Mommy uses two sticks.”

It was my turn to shrug. “It’s making my ass grow as it is. I can feel it ballooning underneath me in my chair even as we speak. Both cheeks. Mommy’s ass will be ballooning soon too. Watch if it doesn’t. One day she’ll wake up and she’ll be all ass. No head, no arms, no bleached-blonde hair, just ass, with maybe a few toes sticking out. And if you count the man she’s with, it’ll be two asses.”

Timmy giggled. “You’re funny.”

“And you’re nuts,” I said, building him another hot dog. “Mustard?”



“It’s good. Here, try it.” He leaned over the table and squirted ketchup on my hot dog.

“Jesus, kid, you’re killing me here.”

“Eat it,” he said.

I took a bite of my ketchupy hot dog. Damn. I liked it.

Timmy grinned at my expression. “See?” he said. He scooped up a big ladle full of macaroni and cheese and glopped that on my plate next to the teeny pile I had placed there myself.

“Eat,” he said, sounding like every overworked mother of every finicky-ass kid that ever walked the face of the planet since the beginning of time.

So I ate. Every noodle. Every fat-saturated glob of cheese and margarine. Then I had another hotdog. With ketchup. And two glasses of chocolate milk. I hadn’t drunk chocolate milk for fifteen years. Damn. I liked that too. Blasted kid.

Tomorrow I’d diet.

When we were stuffed to the gills, Timmy stood on a chair and dried the dishes while I washed. I didn’t own a dishwasher. Timmy seemed slightly astounded by that fact.

“Is this how they did dishes in the old days?”

“Yes,” I said. “Later we’ll take the laundry down to the river and beat it on a rock.”

“Oh, goody. I like rivers.”

“That was a joke. I have a washing machine just like Mommy.”


“Watch your mouth.”

“There’s a scary movie on TV tonight, Uncle Jason. If you’re good, I’ll let you watch it.”

“Screw you, kid. I’ll let you watch it.”

Timmy clapped his hands and almost dropped a plate. “Yay, we’re watching a scary movie!”

I stared at my nephew for about fifteen seconds. Had I just been tricked into telling him he could watch a scary movie? He wasn’t that smart, was he? Good lord, I’d have to be on my toes for the next four weeks or this kid would be leading me around like a poodle on a leash.

Speaking of which. “Wanna help me walk Thumper?”

Timmy’s eyes got big and round. “You mean the dog?”

“No, my pet anteater. Of course the dog.”

“Can she walk? I thought she was dead.”

“She’s not dead. She’s just old.”

“But she hasn’t moved all day.”

“Like I said, she’s old. One day you’ll be old and you won’t move all day either.” And God, wouldn’t that be a blessing.

Timmy craned his neck back and looked through the kitchen doorway into the living room, where even now I could hear Thumper snoring like a sawmill.

Timmy stood there on the chair, the plate forgotten in his hand, his face agape with wonder like one of the shepherd kids in Fatima, Portugal, eyeballing the Virgin Mary popping out of a stump. “I wanna see her walk. Are you sure she’s not dead?”

“Yes,” I said, molding my face into a phony smile, a la used car salesman trying to sell a clunker to anybody who’d listen. Shooting for camaraderie, I waggled a finger in Timmy’s ribs. “And just to make it more fun, it’ll be your job to pick up the poop.”

Timmy turned and stared at me. Then he guffawed. It’s a little disconcerting when a four-year-old guffaws. “She’s your dog,” Timmy said, his face scrunched up in concentration while he dug a booger out of his nose. “You pick up the poop.”

Damn. I thought I had him that time. I handed the kid a tissue, plucked the plate from his hand, and tossed it back in the dishwater in case it had a booger on it—and decided on the spot if Timmy ever managed to stay alive long enough to grow up, he’d probably be president. Two terms. Hell, even I’d vote for him. Both times.

Timmy seemed properly astounded that Thumper truly was alive. He even insisted on holding the leash as we traipsed out into the night. Of course, we were traipsing at a snail’s pace since Thumper’s arthritic joints were not conducive to scampering.

“She’s awful slow,” Timmy whined.

“When you’re old, you’ll be slow too.”

“Then I won’t get old.”

“Fine, Peter Pan. Just walk the frigging dog.”

The night was gorgeous and balmy. It was June, and June in San Diego is perfect. With a younger dog, we might have enjoyed the evening for hours, but with Thumper, we barely got around the block. In fact, we didn’t. We were halfway around the block when Thumper gave out and insisted on being carried the rest of the way home.

“Will you carry me too?” Timmy asked.


“Can I wear the leash?”

“Sure,” I said. I unclipped the collar from Thumper’s throat and clipped it around Timmy’s neck. He followed along behind me on the leash like a good little puppy until we passed Mrs. Lindquist, who lives down the block. She was walking her Pomeranian, and when she spotted me with the kid on a leash, she felt it her duty to intervene.

She bent over Timmy and patted his head. “Is this man hurting you?” she asked.

“Woof!” Timmy said.

Mrs. Lindquist straightened up and nailed me with a piercing stare. “Is he normal?” she asked.

I smiled and said, “Define normal.”

Mrs. Lindquist simply shook her head and walked on, dragging the poor Pom behind her. Lucky bitch. At least her dog could walk.

Back at the house, we deposited Thumper in among the sofa cushions, and she promptly fell asleep, worn out completely by all the excitement. Timmy didn’t want to take the collar off, so I merely unhooked the leash and left the collar in place around his scrawny neck. He looked like a tiny submissive, waiting for his Dom to come along and whap him with a whip.

I ran a couple of inches of warm water into the tub and laid out a towel and my favorite rubber ducky. Don’t ask.

“We have twenty minutes before the movie,” I said, handing him his pajamas. “Go take your bath.”

“Mommy only makes me take a bath once a month.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Nice try, Timmy. Get in the tub.”

He glowered and snatched the pj’s out of my hand. “Don’t watch. I know you like boys.”

At that, I laughed. “Jesus, kid, just go take your bath, and I’ll make us some popcorn for the movie.”

He brightened up. “With butter?”

“No. I thought I’d just dip it in lard.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Timmy skipped off to the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

He skipped back out of the bathroom three minutes later. His hair was a little damp, but that was probably just for show. If any other body parts had seen moisture, he couldn’t have been long about it. Unfortunately, I was too worn out to care. His pajamas had little rocket ships on them. I found myself sort of wishing I had a pair.

We settled onto the sofa on either side of Thumper and tuned in to the movie, switching the sound from Spanish to English. Thumper raised her head and growled, so I switched it back to Spanish. Timmy thought it was funny, watching the movie in Spanish. We had English subtitles of course, but he couldn’t read them. At least I didn’t think he could. Still, he didn’t seem to mind.

The movie was so bad I found myself giggling halfway through it. Then it got scary, and I found myself chewing on a cushion and squinting through the gory parts, trying not to look. Timmy and Thumper both sat there wide-eyed and breathless, taking in every spurt of blood and every dying moan from the poor helpless citizens of Burbank being devoured by zombies on the screen.

The movie wasn’t yet over when Timmy doubled over like a pocketknife and fell sound asleep. This time when I oh so carefully carried him in my arms up the stairs and deposited him in his bed, he stayed there.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

I toddled downstairs, as happy as I had ever been in my life, poured myself a healthy dollop of scotch, and settled in to finish the movie. Thumper was still watching it. I guess she liked it too. Her tail was wagging. Or maybe she was just as elated as I was that Timmy had finally crashed.

“What did I miss?” I asked.

Thumper ignored me. Too wrapped up in the movie to respond, I supposed.

After three scotches and the demise of upwards of a hundred movie extras, all torn to shreds and devoured by the scary-ass zombies, I was ready for bed myself.

I peeked into Timmy’s room to make sure he was still sound asleep, and he looked like a little angel lying there in his rocket-ship pajamas. Of course, I had spent the day with him. I knew better.

I brushed my teeth, then switched on the newly acquired baby monitor I had bought myself before Timmy’s arrival and which now sat like a tiny guardian angel on the nightstand insuring me a little peace of mind that Timmy wouldn’t dismantle the house while I slept. The baby monitor exuded a comforting fuzz of sound, filling up the shadows quite nicely. I rather enjoyed hearing it. I tucked myself naked into my bed, since it’s the only way I can sleep, then tucked Thumper under the covers beside me like a hot water bottle. I lay there all snug and secure with the crackly sound of the baby monitor and those three or four scotch and waters coaxing me into dreamland. Thumper rested her chin on my leg and was snoring in less than a minute. It took me a little longer. Just before my eyes and brain happily shut down for the night, a thought hit me in the head like a line drive, jarring me awake.

I bolted straight up in bed, suddenly remembering what Timmy had said at dinner.

“The man in the basement is nice.”

I blinked.

What man in the basement?

Beneath the Neon Moon
“Talk to me.” Mal’s fingers were dead white, digging into the dirt.

Zach rubbed his forehead. “I’m fine.”

“I hate people who say they’re fine whenever you ask how they’re doing.”

“You don’t hate me,” Zach said softly. “And I am—” he huffed, exasperated, then slumped a little. “I’ll be all right.”

“It’s just a way to shut people out,” Mal said, jaw stubborn as if he hadn’t heard the partial concession.

“Why so friendly with this guy, Mal?” Aaron asked, standing up as he did.

Mal jerked his head up to look at Aaron. “Unless you intend to tell us what we’re doing here and what you’re planning, fuck off.”

Aaron smiled. “Wouldn’t want you to get too attached, that’s all.”

Mal looked Aaron over, contempt clear in his face, then rose and took a swift step toward him, heedless of the chain.

Zach pushed himself up with his hands and scrambled after Mal. “Shit. Will you stop?”

“You better hope I don’t figure my way out of this, because if I do, I’ll tear you apart.” Mal’s voice was low and uninflected.

The smile vanished off Aaron’s face. “I know. There’s a reason why your chain’s so thick. You’ll feel differently later.”

“You think so?” Mal snarled, face etched in hard lines and taut fury. He ducked his head and took another step forward, then another. The chain yanked tight between him and Zach.

“Jesus. Stop it!” Zach tried to close the gap between them again.

Kane stopped him, clamping a hand over Zach’s shoulder. “Let’s see how far he takes it.” Aaron stepped back hastily as Mal advanced. Kane grinned, then glanced down at Mal’s ankle. He winced. “Man, I know that’s got to hurt.”

Mal’s head lifted and his nostrils flared. He breathed in deep, his eyes going dark as he stared at Aaron. “I smell him on you. What you did to him.” He stepped back as if to turn away, then suddenly lunged forward. The wall chain extended to its limit, but Aaron didn’t realize it. He stumbled back, fear flitting over his face.

Kane whistled, looking down at Mal’s feet. “Damn, brother.” Blood rolled over the dirty white of Mal’s sneaker into the dirt.

“Shut up,” Aaron snapped, and Kane laughed outright.

“This is nothing compared to what you’re going to feel for hurting him.” Mal’s gaze flicked over Aaron. He turned to look at Kane. “Both of you.”

Kane took his hand from Zach’s shoulder and pushed him forward. He stumbled to Mal’s side. Kane nodded at Mal, eyes narrowing. “You’re already feeling it. Like you want to climb the walls. Hit something. Run. Tear something up.” He flashed a glance over Mal’s body, then back up to his face, giving him a lopsided grin. “Or someone. Like me and Aaron, currently.”

“You’ll understand after tomorrow night,” Aaron said.

Mal’s upper lip cocked, showing his teeth. “By tomorrow night *you’ll* understand.”

Aaron studied him a moment. “We’ll see. Fun’s over—for now.” He glanced at Kane, who nodded, and they headed for the stairs. At the top they looked back, two featureless shadows backlit by the light from the doorway. The light narrowed and disappeared as the door closed.

Mal grabbed Zach’s arm and backed up a few steps, then sank to his knees, panting, head falling forward. Zach went to his knees beside him. He grabbed him by the shoulder. “What the hell are you doing, Mal?”

“How bad did they hurt you up there?” Mal’s voice was low. Zach felt him trembling beneath his hands.

“I’m not the one bleeding, dammit.”

“Did they hurt you?”


Mal looked up into Zach’s eyes. “You’re lying.” His voice was deep, ragged. His dark hair was damp with sweat.

“Answer me, Mal. What do you think you’re accomplishing besides tearing yourself up? There’s nothing you can do.”

“I told you to go with them. Just go with them, Zach, they’re taking you to the bathroom. Fuck.” Mal looked sick.

Astonished, Zach said, “This isn’t your fault, idiot.”

Mal made a sound that was supposed to be a laugh, short, unhappy explosion of sound. “I told you it’d be okay. I *told* you that.”

Zach shook Mal’s shoulder, a quick, hard shake. He leaned closer, making sure Mal made eye contact with him again. “I am okay. Back with you now.”

Mal’s mouth twisted. “Yeah, just where you want to be.” He rubbed his face and leaned back, his upper body curving into itself.

Zach took a deep breath. The brutality of what he’d just seen Mal inflict on himself on top of everything else had sucker-punched him. He breathed out and leaned in, touching his forehead to Mal’s. “Hey. You don’t know what I want.” His heart raced, fear and something more.

Mal’s hand came up hesitantly, touched Zach’s forearm, then wrapped around it finger at a time, taking it slow. He closed his eyes. “I wish you weren’t here,” he breathed. “You’re in trouble because of me, aren’t you?”

Horror wrapped in some sort of macabre humor squeezed its way up into Zach’s throat. He swallowed it back, trying his best not to open his mouth and blow everything.

“Why do you do that? Take the blame for what’s happening? They kidnapped us. You didn’t do anything. You don’t even know them. I’m the one who went with them last night.”

Mal pulled back, eyes narrowing, studying him. “Did they tell you anything?”

“I’d have told you. Now stop staring at me and let me look at your ankle. You know I’m not thrilled with this nursemaid duty shit, so stop doing this crap to yourself.”

“No, I don’t know that. That’s all you’ve been doing, clucking over me.”

“Fuck you, I don’t fucking cluck,” Zach grumbled, hiding a smile when Mal snorted. “Grab the water jug. Ordinarily I wouldn’t think this needs saying, but after what I just saw—stay close, okay? No more pulling. I don’t ever want to see shit like that again.”

“I didn’t think you talked a lot. Guess I was wrong.”

“You aren’t wrong. I just talk to you more.”

“Why? You just talk more when you’re nervous?”

“Is there something to be nervous about?” Zach said wryly. “Stop with the twenty questions. I know you’re hurting like hell. Shut up and let me see the damned leg.”

Mal threw him an irritated look and muttered something under his breath. Zach ignored him. They both settled on the packed dirt, side by side. Zach pushed Mal’s jean leg up and examined his ankle.

It was hard to make anything out because the white light from the window made the shadows black. Even after his vision adjusted, he couldn’t tell anything because of all the blood. He poured water over Mal’s ankle and saw multiple gouges shredding the flesh, skin swelling grotesquely tight around the chain. Blood welled in the cuts again as Zach watched. But for some reason it was the blood, dark and thick against Mal’s dingy white sneaker, that affected him the most.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening to Mal. Zach understood the shit that happened to guys like him, but Mal had family. He was going to college. He was smart and funny, sarcastic and goofy and generous. He was supposed to lead the good life.

Zach finally gathered the courage to look at Mal’s arm. Stared at it. Didn’t touch it. The wound there had shrunk, the area in the center rough and reddened but no longer raw.

Mal had been bitten less than twenty-four hours ago on campus. Not by a dog. By a wolf.

Zach’s fingers shook. His fingers rubbed compulsively at the blood on the sneaker, smearing it. Thinking. They’d told him the truth upstairs. Even some details.

The first change always came with the waning moon. Chaining the whelps was a ritual that the pack followed whenever possible. The chains provoked their anger and accelerated the change, with the first prey there for the taking.

It all sounded crazy, easy to deny, but a part of him had believed from the minute they’d told him. And here was proof, or something near enough. Mal’s arm would be completely healed in another twenty-four hours.

He didn’t know what to do. People wore their humanity like a coat of armor as if it guaranteed rationality, civility, but he’d seen plenty of monsters beneath the facade. Even his father. Especially his father. Zach barely knew Mal, but he trusted himself, his instincts. He believed with everything in him that Mal wasn’t a monster, that it would kill him to become one.

“Damn.” Mal frowned, held up his uninjured arm. A small brown spider huddled just inside the crook of his elbow. He squashed it between the fingers of his left hand and held them up, absorbed by the blood spot. “It bit me. I barely felt it.” He looked at Zach, tried to smile. “Think it was radioactive?” He stared down at his hands, thinking. “I smell them on you,” he said softy. “God, I wish I didn’t. It makes me crazy. I’m—something’s happening to me.”

Zach poured more water over Mal’s ankle. Blood threaded and twisted in the water trickling to the earthen floor. He pulled the leg of Mal’s jeans back over his leg, then sat back on his haunches and look at him. “Tell me. What is it, Mal?”

Mal ran a restless hand through his hair. “I’m—I’m wired. Like I took a hit of speed or something. My skin’s crawling, too. Jumping, like there’s something in under it. Makes me want to scratch it out. And my senses have gone haywire. Even the air tastes, fuck, I don’t know how to describe it—*fresher* since they opened the cellar door. Lighter. More life to it when it moves over my tongue. And I’m thinking crazy things.” He swiped a forearm over his face. “Shit, this isn’t making any sense.”

“What crazy things?”

Mal faced him, eyes wide. He looked torn and guilty and very young. “Doesn’t matter.” He hesitated. “I heard you upstairs. You and them.”

“Well, yeah. I hear them moving around sometimes.”

“I heard more. I heard you with them. Mostly like ... a murmur, low and indistinct, so that I couldn’t make it out. And movement. Like I could hear the energy of it, or sense it. But there was this big hole, this silence from you. You weren’t making noises like they were. Like you were gone, or dead, but I knew you weren’t. That’s when I knew they hurt you. I wanted to kill them.” He clenched his fists. “Want.”

Zach looked away. “They didn’t hurt me. It doesn’t matter, okay.”

“It does. I would have stopped them if I could.”

“Listen to me. Don’t let whatever this is take you over, Mal. Don’t let it make you do things you don’t want. Look at me.” Zach put a hand on Mal’s arm. His skin was scorching. “So okay, something’s changing in you, but you need to remember what’s important. This crazy stuff in your head isn’t you.”

Mal climbed to his knees again and put some distance between himself and Zach. The chain lifted off the floor and hung in a curve between them.

“Cut it out.” Zach moved closer again.

“Don’t. Move back.” Mal’s voice was rough.


“I don’t want to—just move back.”

“You know I didn’t want to be with them,” Zach said softly. He raised himself on his knees at an angle in front of Mal.

“I know.” Mal looked down miserably, hair hiding his face.

Zach leaned forward, raised a hand to Mal’s shoulder and rubbed, firm muscle beneath his hand, then touched his face and felt the hard, high curve of cheekbone beneath skin. “C’mon, Mal. Look at me.”

Mal raised his head slowly. His skin was so hot. Zach rubbed it, felt stubble beneath his hand. This close, he could see a freckle by Mal’s nose, saw the dark pinpricks of stubble, the dryness of his lips. Zach leaned closer and brushed his mouth over Mal’s. It was electric.

Mal leaned back, breaking contact, chest heaving. “Stop.”

“I didn’t want them, Mal. I want—”

Mal stared at him. “If you say it, if you tell me that, I don’t know if I can stop.”

“I don’t want you to stop.”

“Aren’t you listening? Something’s wrong with me. It’s getting worse. I might—fuck, I might do something.”

“Do what? Can you fight it?”

Mal didn’t answer.

“Don’t you want—”

Mal’s gaze settled on Zach’s mouth, his eyes heated and dark. “You fucking know I do. It’s burning me up but I can’t. I can’t.”

“Didn’t want them. Want you.”

“Fuck—” Mal cursed, deep and jagged. “No.”

“I don’t want you to say no to me. I’m not afraid of you,” Zach breathed, leaning in, touching his mouth to Mal’s again. Mal made a sound, something wretched and wanting, and his body pushed closer, heat and want pulsing from him so strongly it felt like something physical.

Mal pulled away. “I might hurt you, okay? I might hurt you.”

“You wouldn’t, Mal. Not me.” Zach’s body curved into Mal’s as he leaned close and whispered in Mal’s ear. “I want you to get their smell off me.” He kissed him again, pressure light. Asking. Mal opened his mouth against him, slowly, as if he were still trying not to, and Zach pushed a little closer, the kiss deepening. His hand cupped Mal’s arm, moving down, feeling the swell of muscle beneath skin, soft hairs brushing over his palm.

Mal put a hand to the small of Zach’s back and pushed his thumb against his spine, rubbing back and forth, moving slowly upwards. Zach shivered. Mal gripped the back of his neck, forcing him to look Mal in the eye. “You don’t know. It’s bad, it’s fucking insane. I’m losing my mind.” His voice broke.

Zach couldn’t move away from the vise around his neck if he tried. “No you’re not,” he whispered. “Being with me, that’s what you want, that’s nothing but you.”

Mal’s grip loosened. Zach moved so that his body touched Mal’s from shoulder to knee, long line of heat. He breathed against Mal’s exposed neck, mouth lowering. Felt the tension there in bone and muscle. Flicked the skin with his tongue and tasted salt. He sucked a bruise there, then bit down.

Mal stopped breathing. Everything seemed to stand still when he turned and looked at Zach, eyes too slanted, pupils too wide, black, something savage in his face, the bones gone sharper, leaner. He gripped Zach’s head in his hands and slammed his mouth onto Zach’s, pushing inside with his tongue. Zach’s breath damned up somewhere in his windpipe, felt only the need and heat beating into him from Mal’s mouth. He pushed back and their teeth clicked together. His lip stung.


Blood Sacrifice
Isaac stared at the human hanging from the ceiling hook with a mixture of curiosity and remorse. There were times when he truly hated being a demon. This was definitely one of them.

Being summoned wasn't so bad. He'd been summoned hundreds of times over his long life. It was being summoned and forced to accept the blood sacrifice offered him that he hated so much.

And Isaac could tell from the man's naked form and the blood trailing down his chest, that the man was meant to be a blood sacrifice. He'd heard the summoning words and knew what was about to happen.

The guilt Isaac felt at what he would be forced to do to the unsuspecting man weighed heavily on him, like a pile of rocks in his gut. He had no recourse, no way of refusing. It was the nature of his kind.

Once summoned, if the words were spoken properly, Isaac would be forced to follow them until released to go back to his life. Unfortunately, the memories of what he did while being conjured didn't stay behind. He took every last damn one of them with him when he returned to his life.

As the spell directed, Isaac approached the three men hanging from the ceiling. He sniffed one, then the other, finally coming to stand in front of the man hanging in the middle.

This man intrigued him. His looks were pleasing to Isaac, even in his demon form. Long, muscular legs fell almost to the floor, a smooth gleaming chest that Isaac ached to touch, and a groin devoid of hair.

Isaac almost rolled his eyes at the sight of the man's hairless groin. He never understood why spell casters did that. They seemed to think demons preferred it that way. He didn't mind it personally, but it wasn't required to make the spell happen.

Isaac took a deep breath to calm his outrage at what he was being forced to do. He knew he needed to choose one of these men to be his blood sacrifice. His immediate choice would be the man in the middle. Isaac was most drawn to him.
He just didn't want to.

"Choose your blood sacrifice, O Mighty One."

Isaac turned his head slightly to the side and growled. "I know my duty, mortal. Do not think to command me before the bargain is done."

Isaac looked back at the three men hanging from the ceiling. All were gorgeous men. In any other circumstance, Isaac wouldn't have even thought about choosing one of the men. He would have chosen all three. That just wasn't an option at this point.

Just to be sure he made the right choice, Isaac leaned over and sniffed the men that hung on either side of the one he really wanted. One smelled of dirty breath, the other of rotting flesh. Neither suited his needs.

The one in the middle, however, smelled sweet, succulent. Isaac growled low in his throat as he sniffed at the man's neck. He grinned when he felt the man tremble as his breath blew out across his naked skin. Despite the situation they were in, the sexy man was not immune to Isaac. That helped.

I am sorry, little one, Isaac thought to himself as he made his decision. He leaned back and stared into the man's deep green eyes. I wish I could spare you this.

The Gravedigger's Brawl
Chapter 1
Dr. Wyatt Case sat at his desk with his eyes closed, listening for the sound of footsteps in the outer office. His assistant had orders to stop anyone trying to see him with as much fanfare as possible so he’d have time to prepare for the confrontation. Or hide. But she was on her lunch hour and Wyatt was on his own for the moment.

The outer door creaked open and his entire body began to tense as if anticipating a physical blow. There were two voices—one male, one female—discussing his whereabouts. Wyatt slid out of his chair to his knees and crawled into the kick space beneath his antique desk.

He wasn’t ashamed, either.

It had been a stressful week and Wyatt wasn’t used to that kind of thing. His mind wasn’t built for strain, and his museum ran smoothly for the most part. But the trustees had been at him all week, jabbering about how the construction of the museum’s new wing was hurting attendance and they needed a fresh exhibit to draw in the crowds.

Wyatt hated to tell them, but the only crowds the Virginia Historical Society would be drawing this time of year were screaming schoolchildren and die-hard history buffs who would come to the museum regardless of construction or new exhibits. In late September, the summer crowds were all gone, and the weather was nice enough that people were still trying to squeeze life and fresh air from the outdoors.

There was a curt knock, and the door to his office opened.

“Now where in the world could he be?” Edgar Reth, the acting president of the society, grumbled.

Wyatt closed his eyes, putting his hand over his mouth. One snicker and he was done for.

“It is almost lunchtime,” a woman said. Emelda Ramsay had sat on the board since before Wyatt was born. She was old Virginia money, concerned with nothing but the welfare of the museum and the historical society, rising above the politics and financial pressures that many trustees had fallen to over the years. She had been a key proponent of Wyatt’s when he’d been brought to Richmond to take over the museum and Wyatt considered her a friend and mentor. It was certainly bad form to be hiding from her beneath the very desk her grandfather had donated, but that was life. He was tired of her having to defend him from Reth, who was a pompous ass, but had clout. If Wyatt couldn’t please the trustees, not even Emelda could save him.

Emelda’s sensible flats echoed on the hardwood floors as she walked toward the desk. “I’ll just leave him a note,” she said as her feet came into view.

Wyatt rolled his eyes. This was ridiculous. He crawled out from under the desk, and Emelda gasped as he appeared at her feet.

“Dr. Case!” She pressed her hand to her chest.

Wyatt stood, dusting off his sleeves. “My apologies, Emelda, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Dr. Case, what in the world were you doing under there?” Reth demanded.

Wyatt glanced at him, schooling his features into innocence. “Pilates.”

“You do Pilates under your desk?”

“You don’t?” Wyatt asked, eyes going wide.

Emelda cleared her throat and smoothed a hand over her smart blazer. “Indeed.”

“What can I do for you?” Wyatt asked as he looked between them.

Reth waved a file folder at him. “Have you seen the most recent numbers?”

“Why yes, Dr. Reth, I believe you emailed them to me. Three times. And had a courier deliver them to me. At my home. Which . . . wasn’t creepy at all.”

“Dr. Case, do you realize that we’re talking about your future here at the museum?” Reth asked. Wyatt could practically see the steam rising from his head.

Wyatt rubbed a finger across his eyebrow and nodded. He’d given them idea after idea, exhausting his mental stores as he laid out plans for all the possible exhibits they could create with the artifacts they had on hand. They couldn’t get any artifacts of significance on loan in the short period of time before the new exhibit was due, they couldn’t purchase or barter anything new, and they couldn’t pull magic out of their asses.

If they had listened to Wyatt and his subordinates when the plans for the new wing had been pushed through, they could have been prepared. Wyatt had tried to show them the cost of the remodel, and not just the monetary cost. He’d been overruled, though, and now they seemed shocked by the drop in attendance.

Reth tossed the file onto the desk. “If a solution is not presented to the board by the end of the week, you’re done here, Case. Is that clear enough?”

“Crystal,” Wyatt said through gritted teeth.

Reth turned on his heel and stormed out of the office. Wyatt sighed and turned to Emelda, who was shaking her head and frowning.

“He’s going to ask for your dismissal next month if we don’t have something spectacular to show the trustees.”

“I know.”

Emelda patted his arm and smiled encouragingly. “I have faith.”

Wyatt couldn’t help but laugh. “In what?”

She raised her eyebrows and cocked her head, surprised. “In you, Dr. Case.”

Wyatt smiled weakly as she walked away. She shut the office door behind her, and Wyatt sank to his chair and held his head in his hands. After a few minutes to compose himself, he glanced up at one of the framed posters on his wall, a copy of an original Thurston show marquee. It advertised “the Great Magician” and pictured Thurston at a desk, bent over a large tome being held up by red imps. The Devil leaned over him, reading over his shoulder and holding his oil lamp for him.

Wyatt glared balefully at the imps. He kind of knew how the man in the poster felt, his work aided and encouraged by evil.

What he needed was inspiration. Or somewhere better to hide than under his desk. As the head curator, such nebulous things as new exhibits, attendance, and public interest were Wyatt’s responsibility, and he would take the fall when the numbers showed hard losses over the construction. But every single suggestion he’d brought forth had been shot down as being too staid or not capable of drawing in the younger crowd. Virginia at War. Lincoln’s Private War. The World at War! The only one the trustees had really liked was How to Tell Your Curator to Stick It up His Ass.

Wyatt was prepared to tell them that if they wanted a younger crowd, they were going to need a younger curator. At thirty-eight, he didn’t consider himself old, but he was out of ideas and out of touch with the target audience.

That was one good thing about his line of work, though; historians never went out of style. In theory. But Wyatt knew you couldn’t force an interest in history on people. You couldn’t manufacture a love for it out of a few interesting baubles and trinkets being put on display, no matter how cleverly they were presented. It had to be organic, a spark of knowledge put into the mind. All you could do was offer the truth to the masses and hope they found it as fascinating as it was.

Another knock at his door made him wince, but he didn’t have time to duck beneath his desk before the door opened.

To his eternal relief, Noah Drake stuck his head in and grinned at him. “You’re hiding from the suits, aren’t you?”

Wyatt sighed. “They caught me even though I just spent two minutes crouching under my desk.”


“There’s a disturbing amount of head room under there.”

Noah grinned wider and nodded as he stepped inside. “Some people pay big money for that.”

“Wildly inappropriate.”

Noah laughed. “Come on. We’re going to lunch.”

“We are?” Wyatt asked with a hint of dread.

The last time he had let Noah drag him somewhere, he’d wound up in Virginia Beach without a car and mysteriously missing his socks and boxers. Noah rode a motorcycle to work and his long hair was often pulled into a ponytail as he lectured. Like Wyatt, he was openly gay. And God help the poor soul who made a derogatory comment, because while Noah may have had an Ivy League degree, he also had several Krav Maga belts at home.

Noah laughed as Wyatt frowned at him. “Don’t look at me like I’m about to eat your canary. Come on, I promise nothing untoward will happen.”

Wyatt sighed and then allowed himself a small smile as he stood and grabbed his coat. He was already placing bets on whether or not the bartender was going to have sleeves. “I assume I’m driving?”

“Actually, we’re walking. I heard about this great place in the Fan last weekend.” They stepped out into the hall and Wyatt turned to lock his office door.

The Fan District was an aptly named neighborhood nestled across the street from the museum, called that because of the way its streets fanned out from its center. The Fan District was one of Richmond, Virginia’s lovingly restored historic districts, full of converted condos, restaurants, and used books stores. It was a history buff’s dream, an emo kid’s hunting ground, and getting trendier and therefore less authentic all the time. He thought they’d hit every restaurant in the Fan, but it seemed like new ones popped up every week. Wyatt had no problem wandering into the area for a little lunch.

He did have a problem with the mischievous glint in Noah’s eyes, however.

“What’s the catch?” he asked.

“No catch.”

Wyatt stopped at the outer door and gestured for Noah to peer around the corner.

“This is escalating quickly,” Noah said, but he humored Wyatt and looked around the corner for any trustees on the prowl.

Once he gave the all clear, they made their way to the employee exit. Lately, Wyatt felt like he was in a live action version of Spy vs. Spy, and it was only getting worse.

“This is some dive that serves heart attacks, isn’t it?” Wyatt asked.

“Wyatt, I promise, there’s no catch. Just a nice walk and some lunch. Why,” Noah asked with a narrowing of his eyes that didn’t camouflage the mischief. “What have you heard?”

“They have a hot bartender or waiter or something and you’re dragging me there as cannon fodder so you can flirt with some buff guy in cutoffs.”

“Hardly!” They nodded to the security guard at the staff entrance and stepped out into the chilly autumn afternoon. “He’s not really buff.”

Wyatt snorted.

“And I doubt he wears cutoffs. I like them a little more—”

“Please, spare me any details.”

“Closet case.”

“Flaming whore.”


They stopped at the streetlight and waited to cross the busy street named simply Boulevard. The boundary between the Fan and the boutiques of Carytown, Boulevard was lined on each side with turn-of-the-century houses, most restored, others still languishing as rundown condos with bikes and Christmas lights hanging off their once-splendid balconies. It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been in its glory days, though.

Wyatt grinned and shook his head as they crossed the four lanes and wide grassy median at a jog. The wind whipped at them and sent dried leaves skittering across the road at their feet. It had been a mild mid-Atlantic summer and was cold now at the end of September. Wyatt wasn’t complaining, though. He would much rather bundle himself up in a jacket than suffer through the sweltering summers and warm falls the Eastern seaboard was accustomed to.

They walked down the sidewalk, shoulders brushing. “So, tell me about your latest conquest. And then tell me why you need to drag me along.”

“I figured you’d do anything to avoid Reth,” Noah said wryly.

“A fair assumption.”

“So play wingman for me and stop complaining. I met this guy at the shop. He’s got this great World War-era bike,” Noah said.

“I see.” Wyatt pulled the collar of his coat up against the chill. “One or two?”

“He’s only got the one.”

“World War I or II,” Wyatt asked.

“Oh. Irrelevant to the story, but II,” Noah answered. He was wearing a stupid grin, not going into further detail about the bike because he knew Wyatt neither understood nor cared about any more of the particulars. Noah spent a lot of his spare time at the motorcycle shop on the seedier end of Boulevard, the one right next to the tattoo parlor with the checkered floor. Wyatt sometimes suspected he owned part of the place.

“He told me he tended bar at this place in the Fan and that I’d like it, so I checked it out this weekend. It’s got great ambience.” Noah gave a dramatic flip of his hand.

“Ambience. People only talk about ambience when there’s nothing else good to say, Noah.”

“No, Wy, you’re gonna love it. The food’s pretty good too.”

“Uh-huh. And since you’ve already got an in with this guy, you need me why?”

“Because I think you’d really like the place.”

Wyatt stopped short and turned to glare at his companion. “This guy doesn’t have a friend, does he? Are you trying to set me up?”

“I’m sure he’s got no friends. No friends at all.”


“No friends, I swear!”

Wyatt narrowed his eyes and glared for another moment, but Noah’s innocuous stare never wavered, so Wyatt turned and began walking again, smiling grudgingly. He had the very distinct feeling that he was being set up with some random guy Noah had found at a bike rally or something. But there wasn’t much he could do about it if he wanted to duck the trustees, which seemed the greater of two evils just now.

Wyatt didn’t date seriously; he just didn’t have the time or interest in it. He had always been happy on his own. But he would have fucked a polar bear if it meant not being bothered by Edgar Reth today.

When they got to the bar, Wyatt found a beautifully restored Victorian with a carved wooden sign hanging outside that read Gravedigger’s Tavern. A chalk marquee on the sidewalk indicated the day’s specials in a pleasant scrawl, and below that, Olde Richmond Towne Ghost Tours was permanently advertised in paint.

“Fun,” Wyatt drawled. “Do you have to be wearing eyeliner to get in?”

“Don’t read too much into the façade,” Noah said as he took Wyatt’s elbow and pulled him to the door.

It wasn’t all that crowded because they were behind the lunch crowd, and it looked like the few patrons inside the tavern were regulars. No one sat at the tiny booths that lined the walls of the long, narrow room. Instead, the four people in the establishment were all leaning against the bar that covered the length of one wall, talking with each other and the man serving. One patron wore a long black trench coat. A young woman wore red and black striped tights under a leather miniskirt. Two others wore work vests and had orange hard hats on the stools beside them. An eclectic assortment, to say the least.

Wyatt gave the surroundings a wary glance. It wasn’t dirty or greasy like he had expected from a place an acquaintance of Noah’s worked, but it looked . . . well-used. In fact, Wyatt liked the vintage feel of the place. The walls were dark and rich, covered with black and wine-colored brocade fabric, and there were antique sconces along the walls that filtered soft light into the room. The ceiling sported tin tiles, and all the woodwork in the place seemed to be original to the old Victorian structure. At night it would probably be quite intimate. The dark wooden floor appeared to be original as well; it was smooth and dull from years of use, any wax or lacquer long worn away.

Noah waved to the bartender and slid into the nearest booth. The man nodded at Noah and smiled as he wiped out a glass with a dishrag.

“Is that the guy?” Wyatt asked as he sat across from Noah and shifted on the leather seat. It was real leather, he was surprised to find, worn and smooth from age and use.

“That’s Ash. He’s hot, right?”

Ash was a good-looking guy: dark curls, darker eyes, tall and wiry. Wyatt tried not to smile. “Not what I was expecting.”

Noah raised an eyebrow.

“Big muscles, braided ponytail, goatee with beads in it.”

Noah snorted and rolled his eyes, looking away with a smile and shake of his head.

“Sleeveless leather vest and patches that say ‘The bitch fell off’ on the back.”

Noah laughed, holding out his hand to make Wyatt stop. “You have a low opinion of my taste in men.”

“Not low. Just . . . you know, leather-bound and hairy.”

“You suck,” Noah said as a woman with purple hair came up to take their orders.

She must’ve caught Noah’s words, because she grinned at Wyatt and said, “You’ll be popular in certain circles then.”

Noah threw his head back and cackled. Wyatt could feel himself blushing, thankful for the low light and the heavy curtains on the windows.

“What can I have Ash make for you?” the woman asked as she rested her hands on the edge of the table.

Wyatt fought the urge to lean away from her. She had piercings everywhere: in her eyebrow, in her nose, one in the side of her lip, and so many in her ear that she probably picked up NPR on clear nights. Her long hair was done in a beautiful array of old-fashioned curls and loose braids, only it had royal purple streaks and white feathers through what appeared to be natural black. She was wearing a corseted dress over fishnet tights, outrageous heeled boots, and velvet gauntlets on her wrists.

“What’s good?” Noah asked, unperturbed. They hadn’t been given menus.

“Oh, you’re fresh meat?” the waitress asked with something like unholy glee as she turned and pointed them out to the bartender. “Hey, Ash, is this the guy?”

The bartender nodded and pointed a dirty glass at them. “1951 tan Indian Chief. Hey, Noah.” He offered them a small smile.

Noah nodded in return, the smile on his face threatening to become permanent.

The waitress whistled and looked back down at Noah, impressed with the mention of the motorcycle. Wyatt felt distinctly out of place, and he took up his customary post in the background as he listened.

“I’m Delilah Willis,” the waitress said. She offered her hand to Noah, then crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the side of Wyatt’s booth. “Nice to meet you. You got it with you?”

It took a moment for Wyatt to decide that she was asking about the motorcycle.

“Not today.”

“We better make sure your food’s good enough to get you to come back. That means I’ll be cooking it,” Delilah said, loud enough for the bartender to hear.

“We’re not up to fire codes right now,” the bartender replied.

“Caleb’ll cook it then,” Delilah said without missing a beat.

Wyatt couldn’t help but smile. Noah always managed to find some real characters. God only knew how.

“What would Caleb recommend?” Noah asked.

“You want meat, non-meat, or other?”

“Cheeseburger?” Noah asked.

“Meat, gotcha.”

“Club sandwich?” Wyatt ventured.

“Other. Coming right up,” Delilah promised, and turned away.

Wyatt frowned at Noah, who was laughing silently. “How is a club sandwich ‘other’? What have you gotten me into?”

Noah waved him off and shook his head, still chuckling.

Wyatt watched Delilah as she headed for the little door at the end of the bar that led to the kitchen. Another waiter came almost at the same time, nearly running her over. He was at least a foot taller than she was, broad in the shoulders and lanky. He grabbed her and spun her around to keep from toppling her over, then smacked her on the ass as she continued into the kitchen.

“Dammit, Ryan, every time you do that I end up with a hand print on my ass for a week.”

“You love it.”

“I know I do,” Delilah said before disappearing behind the swinging door.

Wyatt couldn’t help but stare. He found the casual attitude fitting in the quirky establishment, but it still shocked him. He was also shocked to find that he was feeling more at ease, despite this not being his type of place.

Ryan the waiter waved at them both. “This the guy?” he asked Ash, and the bartender nodded.

Wyatt would never say anything, but he thought the burly waiter was much more Noah’s speed than the man behind the bar. Though both had dark hair and eyes and the same easy way of moving and smiling. Wyatt wondered if they might be related somehow.

Ryan came over and shook their hands. “Ryan Sander, nice to meet you. Talk later.” Then he left for the front door and the patio.

Wyatt found Noah looking at him with a crooked smirk.


“What do you think of the place?”

Wyatt narrowed his eyes. He leaned over the table and pointed his finger in Noah’s face. “I don’t want to be set up.”

“He’s your type, though, right?” Noah asked with a glance at the bar.

“Are you kidding? I don’t go for guys more than half a foot taller than I am, thanks.”

Noah barked a laugh and shook his head, edging closer. “I’m talking about Ash. The tender.”

Wyatt’s brow furrowed, and he risked a longer look at the man behind the bar. Ash was leaning both elbows on the bar top and talking with one of the men seated there. He wore a long-sleeved white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to his wiry biceps, with black suspenders and pin-striped black trousers. His eyes were lined in heavy kohl, and when he spoke, Wyatt caught glimpses of metal on his tongue. His black hair was slicked back, long enough that it ended in riotous curls behind his ears and at the nape of his neck. He looked almost like an Old West bartender in his getup. As unusual as the total package was, it was appealing on that particular man in this particular setting. There was something very pseudo-Victorian about the whole thing.

Was it a uniform or just personal style? Ryan had been wearing something very similar, sans the suspenders and tongue ring.

Wyatt studied it for too long, and when he looked at Noah, he once again found his companion grinning. “Your type, right?”

“I don’t have a type.”

“Yes, but if you had a life, he’d be your type, right?”

Wyatt rolled his eyes. “I thought we came here for your eye candy.”

“We did.”

Sure we did. “If that’s the guy you came to see, why are you trying to set me up with him?”

“I met Ash a few weeks ago, just like I said,” Noah said quietly, leaning closer. “We hit it off, but he’s not my type and I’m not his. He told me he wanted me to meet the guy he worked for and I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll toss him Wyatt in return.’”

“Real stand-up of you.”

“He’s a sweet guy. Don’t let the gaslight bent throw you off.”

“The what?”

“Gaslight. It’s like steampunk without the steam. Or the punk. Victorian throwback, gothic without the emo?”

“Are you speaking English right now?”

Noah laughed.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“He’s quirky and he likes things like suspenders and top hats and riding crops. And I didn’t tell him you’d be coming to meet him so you can play it . . . however it is you academic types play it.”

“Noah. You are an academic type.”

Noah waved that off with another mischievous grin. “But I’m the awesome kind who tends to get laid a lot.”

Wyatt pressed his lips together, trying not to smile.

“If you don’t like him, you don’t have to do anything. Just eat with me and we’ll go back to work. But if you have the hots for him, then I think maybe you two would get along pretty well. And here’s your perfect chance to get to know him.”

Wyatt glared at him.

“Did Delilah get y’all’s drinks?” Ash asked from behind the bar, and Wyatt and Noah both jumped guiltily. The patrons at the bar had all left.

Noah glanced at Ash and then back at Wyatt, giving his head a jerk as he slid out of the booth. He walked up to the bar and reached over, shaking Ash’s hand.

Wyatt followed, uncertain of how he would handle this. If he blew off the informal introduction, Noah would poke fun at him for the rest of the day for being a prude or antisocial or any number of other things that were partially true, and then he would forget it and life would go on. Noah was anything but overbearing or nosy. Usually. But the bartender—Ash—was an attractive man who seemed to have earned Noah’s approval. And it took a lot to earn Noah’s approval.

“What can I get you?” Ash pulled up two glasses and set them on the lower shelf on the inside of the bar.

Noah slid onto a stool. “What do you have on tap?”

“Sarsaparilla.” Ash had a nice drawl that Wyatt thought may have come from the Gulf Coast, dulled by years away from home.

Noah sighed in mock disappointment and shook his head.

Ash filled up one of the beer mugs with what did appear to be root beer, straight out of one of the taps. “You’re educating the city’s youth, you can’t drink until noon.”

“It’s past noon.”


Wyatt claimed a stool. “Is that really root beer? On tap?” he asked, despite his inner filter telling him to keep quiet and observe rather than interact just yet.

“Best in town,” Ash said with a hint of amusement. “Make it two?”

“Sure. What sort of bar serves root beer on tap?”

“The kind that encourages designated drivers,” Ash said wryly. He nodded his head at Wyatt. “Who’s the critic?”

“Oh! Shit, I’m sorry. Ash, this is my colleague, Dr. Wyatt Case. He’s the head curator at the museum. Wyatt, this is Ash Lucroix. Gravedigger extraordinaire.”

Wyatt and Ash shook hands, then Ash placed the two glasses of root beer in front of them and smiled crookedly.

“Gravedigger?” Wyatt asked with a hint of wariness. He wasn’t certain he wanted to know the story behind the name, but he just couldn’t help himself.

Ash nodded. He popped a stirring straw into his mouth and grinned.

“Is this some sort of slang I’m not aware of?”

“As opposed to slang you are aware of?” Noah teased.

“Touché. Is it?”

“No,” Ash said. He pulled the straw out and gave Wyatt a disarming smile. He had beautiful teeth, save for a small chip in one of his canines that gave him an impish quality. It was the only imperfection on his otherwise stunning face. “The barkeeps are all called Gravediggers here. The current rumor is that it’s because we make the best drinks in town.”

Wyatt shook his head. “I don’t get it.”

“Their drinks are so good that people stay until they can’t go home,” Noah said.

Ash smiled. “Something like that.”

“Is that where the place got its name?” Wyatt asked. He could never help it; history always pulled him in.

“No.” Ash leaned his elbows on the bar. “It was originally called Fossor’s Tavern. This house was built by a family called Fossor.” He pointed over his shoulder at the back of the bar. Most of the wall was lined with shelves, but near the center was an old marble fireplace, just like many of the other houses in the Fan.

The mantle was well polished and empty, and Wyatt wondered why they didn’t use it as a shelf to store bottles or glasses on, or at least some sort of decoration. The gilded mirror above it was showing signs of age, with black spots and the occasional crack around the edges. It was clean, though, and appeared to be original.

Etched into the marble of the fireplace beneath the mantle was the name Ash had mentioned: Fossor.

“When Caleb bought the place, he called it Fossor’s as a tribute.”

“And this Caleb person knew that fossores were what the Romans called gravediggers?” Wyatt ventured with a knowing smirk.

Ash cocked his head and blinked, his story derailed. “Yeah.” He laughed, looking back at Noah. “Museum set, huh?”

Noah shrugged immodestly.

“Well. Anyway, Caleb knew what the word meant and he called us his gravediggers. Most people didn’t even get why the tenders were called that, but they went along because that’s what people do. It got so popular that we changed the name of the tavern a few years ago.”

“Fascinating,” Wyatt said in earnest.

Ash smiled and nodded, still looking like he was a little thrown off his game. When he turned to begin putting away the glasses he’d cleaned, Noah waggled his eyebrows at Wyatt. Wyatt snorted.

Delilah stepped back through the narrow door beside the end of the bar and planted her hands on her hips, glaring at Ash as the man restocked glasses on the back wall. The motion drew Ash’s attention and he did a little double take that Wyatt found kind of adorable.

“What?” Ash asked when Delilah didn’t say anything.

“Did you bang on the wall again?”

“No.” When Delilah’s eyes narrowed, Ash held out his hands, each clutching the handles of four beer mugs. “No!”

Delilah glanced at Noah and Wyatt and both men shook their heads in silent answer. She muttered and disappeared back into the kitchen.

“What’s that about?” Noah asked as soon as the door had stopped swinging.

“I think she’s trying to freak me out in retaliation for scaring her with a broomstick last month. She’s got the others in on it, I can feel it.”

“Scaring her with a broomstick?” Noah asked, laughing.

“It was elaborate and brilliant.”

“If you say so.”

Ash finished setting the glasses up on their shelves and turned back around. Wyatt admired the way the wiry muscles in his shoulders moved under the thin white shirt. The suspenders were . . . intriguing.

“The place is supposedly haunted, but I’ve worked here five years and I’ve never seen anything. They’re trying to make me think there’s a ghost.”

“So, what, October comes calling and they’re trying to get you all spooked?” Noah asked with obvious enjoyment.

Ash flopped his dishrag in the direction of the beautiful Victorian glass door. Outside, the chalk sign advertised ghost tours. “October is our bread and butter. Have you heard of the Gravedigger’s Brawl?”

Noah nodded, but Wyatt shook his head.

“It’s . . . huge,” Ash said, obviously struggling to find a better word. “Hottest Halloween party in town every year. Costumes are required; it goes until dawn. Caleb rents all these props and gets pros to come in and do our makeup.”

Wyatt nodded, smiling at Ash’s obvious excitement but inwardly cringing at the thought of such a crowd. “Sounds . . . awful,” he admitted with a laugh.

Ash began to grin crookedly. When Wyatt looked into his nearly black eyes, his stomach did a little flip.

“Anyway,” Ash said with a sigh. “I think they’ve got some sort of scheme brewing, ’cause they won’t stop talking about hauntings and seeing things and hearing noises upstairs. They’re using me as the guinea pig ’cause ghosts freak me out.”

“How do you know the place isn’t just haunted?” Noah asked.

“Because I refuse to be scared at work.”

“Mind over matter,” Wyatt said.

“Technically,” Noah countered, “it’d be mind over non-matter.”

Wyatt shook his head, trying not to laugh.

Ash leaned against the opposite shelf of the bar and began cleaning another glass. The panel that held the mirror above the fireplace lifted up with a swishing sound, and Noah and Wyatt both jumped. Through the hole where the panel had been, they could see the gleaming stainless steel kitchen on the other side of the wall. That explained why they didn’t keep anything sitting on the mantel.

The panel hit one of Ash’s cleaned glasses that he’d placed on the mantel and sent it tumbling off the shelf. Ash caught the glass as it fell, flicked his wrist, and let the glass roll up his forearm to his elbow, where he popped it into the air and caught it again. He placed it on the proper shelf and then turned around to peer through the open panel.

Wyatt and Noah gaped.

Delilah was leaning over, smirking through the panel from the other side. She pushed two plates of food through the opening. “Soup’s on.”

“Evil bitch,” Ash singsonged. He set the plates down in front of Wyatt and Noah and the panel whooshed shut again.

Wyatt stared, mouth ajar, as Ash walked to the far end of the bar and grabbed some rolls of silverware. He cut his gaze to Noah, who was looking at him with wide eyes.

“Wow,” Noah mouthed to him.

Wyatt nodded and glanced back at Ash Lucroix. He wasn’t just attractive. He was interesting.

Ash pressed his lips together and watched them for a moment. He had the distinct look of someone who wanted to say something but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Noah looked up at Ash as he picked up his hamburger and then glanced at Wyatt.

Wyatt poked at his sandwich, wondering if he should excuse himself to go wash up or take a piss or something so Noah and Ash could talk about the man Noah had come to meet.

“It’s okay,” Noah told Ash. “Wyatt’s been oblivious to all things sex-related for like fifteen years, you can talk about it.”

“I have not.”

“Too busy for all things sex-related then.”

“Fair point.”

Ash looked him up and down and raised an eyebrow. “That’s a shame.”

Wyatt met his eyes, unable to look away as the heat of a blush crept up his cheeks.

Noah cleared his throat, breaking the spell. Wyatt tore his eyes away and Ash shook his head, then leaned against the bar again.

He looked at Noah and dropped his voice to a whisper. “So? Still want to meet Caleb?”

Noah grinned. “Got nothing to lose, right?” he said with the typical Noah Drake joie de vivre.

“Oh, you’ll love him,” Ash drawled with a hint of mischief worthy of Noah himself. “Come back tonight, he’ll be around and able to talk.”

“Will do.”

Ash smirked and glanced at Wyatt. “Come with him, Wyatt. I’ll serve you something besides root beer.”

Wyatt smiled crookedly.

Ash looked away and stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth, patent disbelief on his face. “I cannot believe I said that. I’m gonna go clean the bathrooms.” He gave a mock salute and walked away.

Noah and Wyatt both snickered. Wyatt watched him until he disappeared through the kitchen door.

“So?” Noah whispered.

“I like him.”

“I’m a genius,” Noah crooned before biting into his hamburger.

It was with great regret that Wyatt found the lunch hour dwindling. He and Noah lingered as long as they dared, chatting with Ash, Delilah, and Ryan whenever the trickling stream of patrons died down enough for them to be able.

They left with promises to return that night, and on the walk back to the museum Wyatt had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning like a fool the entire way.

Chapter 2
“I don’t like being set up,” Caleb Biron growled through the opening of the wall. He spoke with a cultured British accent. It was well after the lunch hour and the tavern was empty, save for a few regulars sitting in the booths and reading or doing work on their laptops.

Ash bent over, peering through the opening as he rested his hands on the back bar. “You don’t like much of anything.”

“I like being left the hell alone.”


“Ash,” Caleb mimicked, his voice high and whiny as if Ash were nagging him.

“Come on, Caleb.”

“I won’t be nice to him.”

“If you can’t be nice to Noah, then you can’t be nice to anyone.” Ash narrowed his eyes and bent closer to the opening in the wall. “Although from what I’ve seen, that’d be pretty par for the course.”

Caleb growled and pulled the stick that held up the hidden panel. It came crashing down on the back of Ash’s head with a dull thwack. Ash winced and jerked back, rubbing the back of his head as he glared at the now solid wall. Stars skittered to the edges of his vision and disappeared.

“Fuckwad,” he grumbled. When he turned around, Ryan was standing at the bar. Ash huffed at him. “What?”

“You got a grudge against this Noah guy? He seemed pretty all right to me.”

“No! I just think they’d hit it off.”

Ryan cocked his head and looked at the spot where the partition opened. “Yeah. They’re made for each other.” He reached over the bar and grabbed Ash’s neck, pulling him forward and making him bow his head so he could look at where he’d been hit. “Do you have a confusion?”

Ash swatted Ryan’s hands away and straightened back up. “It’s a concussion.”

Ryan smirked. “Sounds even worse.”

“Shut up. Go do something productive.” When Ryan turned away, Ash frowned again and rubbed the back of his head.

He glanced at the clock and took a deep breath to settle the nervous flutter in his stomach. It was nearly five o’clock. He hadn’t asked when Noah and Wyatt got off work, but he assumed it was around five. But then, he had no reason to think that, other than because it was when everyone else got off work. He didn’t even know when the museum closed.

He tried to tell himself that the butterflies were due to the dread of introducing Noah and Caleb now that he was sure Caleb would be a bastard about it. It was partly true, anyway. But the moment he’d seen Wyatt Case walk through the door, he’d been intrigued by the man’s aura. Confidence mixed with uncertainty. Intelligence countered by naiveté. Smoking hot swimmer’s body camouflaged by khakis.

As the grandfather clock near the entrance began to chime the hour, Ash exhaled slowly. The crowds would be in soon, and then the fun would begin. Gravedigger’s had become infamous in Richmond for being the first bar in the state to introduce flair bartending. They added in magic tricks and sometimes even performances on the bar. Other establishments had tried it since, but Ash and Ryan were still considered the best in town.

Hopefully he would be too busy to be nervous or even think about Wyatt Case.

By dusk Ash was up to his elbows in drink orders and laughing, carousing patrons. It was Thirsty Thursday and Gravedigger’s was packed, and would remain that way until midnight.

Noah and Wyatt had failed to show, but Ash still glanced at the door every time he heard it open. He didn’t want to admit that he was disappointed, but trying to deny it was beginning to get distracting, and it was dangerous to be distracted when you were flairing. Ash had more than once been hit in the head with a flying bottle of booze in the early years.

The door opened again as Ash tossed a bottle of gin in the air and caught it behind his back. He managed to glance over, and a rush of relief and renewed nerves swept through him as Noah stepped into the bar, followed closely by Wyatt.

Ash rolled the bottle over his wrist and held it upside down, pouring as he nodded at the two academics. Wyatt met his eyes, a smile playing at his lips as he gave a bashful nod. Ash couldn’t help but grin. The guy was cute as hell. His sandy blond hair was cut short and neat, allowing him to run his fingers through it without mussing it. He had beautiful sea-blue eyes that looked like they could cut glass. He was about the same height as Ash, maybe six feet tall, and had that whole bumbling academic with pent-up sexual frustrations vibe going.

Ash was lucky that what he did was second nature as he watched Wyatt work his way through the crowd. He’d have been sure to get another bang on the head otherwise.

He mixed one more drink to finish out the bottle, let the empty roll down his arm, and then popped it with his elbow to send it flying into a receptacle at the rear wall. He set his other bottle down and held up his hands.

“All right folks, that’s all for me!” The people lining the bar, two rows deep in places, waved bills at him and called out; others applauded and whistled. Ash leaned over the bar, taking the tips and nodding his thanks as Ryan set up behind him.

“Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week,” Ryan was saying as the applause for Ash’s work died down.

When Ash had gathered all the tips and taken one little bow, he sidestepped out from behind the bar and tried to make his way through the crowd to Noah and Wyatt.

“Hey!” Noah shouted above the din.

Ash took the hand he offered and shook it, pulling their clasped hands to his chest as he hugged the man with one arm. “Thought you’d chickened out,” he said into Noah’s ear. It was hard to hear above the music and cheering and general merriment. Ash had always loved the chaotic atmosphere of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, but it made it hard to converse.

“We got held up. Museum emergency.”

“Right.” Ash patted Noah on the back and let him go. Wyatt was looking around and trying not to watch them too closely. Ash stepped toward him and held out his hand. “Wyatt, good to see you again.”

Wyatt looked down at his hand in surprise and then gave that adorable, bashful smile as he took it. Ash pulled him close and hugged him in the same manner he had greeted Noah. It was how he greeted everyone he knew, but when he pulled Wyatt closer, it made his chest flutter and his breath catch. When he pulled back, his heart was pounding just a little faster.

It had been a long time since he’d had that reaction to someone he’d just met. He enjoyed the rush of the sensation, the exciting prospect of new territory to explore.

“Y’all want a drink?” Ash offered. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Ryan.

“We’re good right now. Work in the morning, you know,” Wyatt said, just loud enough for Ash to hear.

“Museum emergencies,” Ash repeated, amused. He nodded toward the door to the kitchen. “Come on then, it’s quieter in the back. Hey,” he said as he pulled Noah closer and they began to force their way through the crowd. “Caleb’s cranky. If you want to tell him to go fuck himself, I might have to blow you in the alley out back as a thank you.”

Noah cackled, his eyes shining with good humor. “Interesting offer, but I’ll pass either way. Cranky, huh?”

Ash winced. “You said you like a challenge.”

“I love a challenge.”

Ash opened the door and ushered them in. The kitchen was much quieter than the outer bar, although the music still filtered in through speakers in the ceiling, and the two evening cooks argued constantly as they worked. Ash looked around and found Caleb sitting on one of several empty crates in the corner near the back door. He was smoking a cigar and letting the fan next to him blow the smoke out the open door.

“Caleb, these are the health inspectors I forgot to tell you about,” Ash said, deadpan.

Caleb glared at him and then gave the other two a salute as he blew thick blue smoke out his nose. “I don’t want to be set up, and this little git knows it.”

“Ash said you were a cranky bastard,” Noah said. He stepped past Ash, knelt in front of Caleb, and took the cigar, examining it with a critical eye before taking a slow drag.

Ash watched in stunned silence, holding his breath as they waited for Caleb to respond.

Noah handed the cigar back and blew a perfect ring of smoke past Caleb’s face toward the door. “Cubans, huh?” he asked with a cheeky smirk.

Caleb stared at him for a long moment, mouth ajar, the trail of smoke from the cigar slithering up into the air between them as Ash and Wyatt waited, tense and silent.

Caleb finally tore his eyes away from Noah to look up at Ash. “I like him.”

# # #

“Looks like you have an eye for matchmaking.”

Wyatt and Ash sat at a booth in a quiet corner of the bar. The boisterous crowd had died down just before midnight, when Ryan’s shift ended. Most of the people in the bar now were there for the calmer, more intimate atmosphere.

Ash raised his glass and grinned before he took a sip. “I’m a freaking magician,” he drawled.

“We’ll just call you Thurston.”

Ash raised one eyebrow and grinned. “Greatest magician to ever live. More popular than Houdini in his time. I’m impressed.”

“If that sort of knowledge impresses you, then I like my chances,” Wyatt said, and Ash laughed. He raised his hand to call for two more drinks.

Caleb tended the bar for the last two hours of the night most nights to wind people down from the shows Ash and Ryan put on. Tonight, Noah sat at the end of the bar talking to him whenever he was free. They hadn’t stopped flirting for five hours, and they were getting along even better than Ash had expected. Most people could only tolerate Caleb for limited periods of time. He was blunt, rude, grumpy, and possessed a rapier-like wit that he wasn’t afraid to use, all topped off like a cherry by that damned British accent that made you feel inferior. Ash, Ryan, and Delilah were, as far as Ash knew, the only people he was even marginally civil to.

When Ash had met Noah, he’d known that not only would Noah be able to match wits with Caleb, he’d probably enjoy it.

Ash looked back at Wyatt and smiled. Wyatt was watching him as if the rest of the bar didn’t even exist. “You always this . . . intent?”

“Only when I’m fascinated.”

Ash raised one eyebrow in disbelief. He usually read people well, but he hadn’t expected the shy museum curator to be so forward. He liked that Wyatt could surprise him.

Wyatt laughed and shook his head, looking down at the table. “I’m sorry, I don’t drink much. It makes me braver than I really am.”

“Does it?” Ash planted both hands on the table and leaned forward, pinning Wyatt with his gaze. “I’ll just go hurry those drinks along then,” he murmured before smirking and sliding out of the booth.

The drinks he brought back were stronger than they should have been, but he was feeling daring tonight.

“So tell me what exactly a museum emergency looks like.”

Wyatt groaned and ran a hand through his hair. As he told Ash about his problems at the museum, the playful air faded from him and the worry lines seemed to grow deeper. Despite trying to make a joke of hiding under his desk that morning, Ash could see how deeply troubled Wyatt was by it all.

“So you see my dilemma, right?” Wyatt asked, motioning pleadingly with his hands. Ash was torn between watching those hands and watching Wyatt. “I mean, I’m lost. If I can’t come up with something, I’ll be fired.”

“Doesn’t seem right. They should have known construction would hurt business and planned ahead.”

“Thank you!”

Ash couldn’t help but laugh at Wyatt’s sincerity, though he did feel sorry for him. He seemed so stressed now that he’d gotten on a roll speaking about it. Maybe that was why Wyatt had allowed Noah to drag him here when it was so obviously not his scene: he needed a release.

“So you’re here researching a new exhibit?” Ash ventured. “Or is it stress relief?”

“Neither,” Wyatt said with the honesty of too much alcohol. He gulped down the last of his drink.

Ash cocked his head and bit his lip against a smile. “I could probably help you with one.”

Wyatt’s blue eyes met his with intense interest, but then his expression softened and he leaned forward. “You already have,” he whispered, the sound conspiratorial. They both laughed as if it had been a joke, and continued talking and drinking as the night wound down around them.

Another hour and Ash realized that perhaps he’d made those drinks too strong. He could hold his liquor, but it had been a long week and he was exhausted on top of being drunk. Caleb agreed when Ash tried and failed several times to sit on one of the bar stools, and promptly took his keys from him.

“That’s so unnecessary,” Ash grumbled as he leaned against the bar.

Noah and Wyatt were the only ones left, and Caleb had already locked the door and turned off the outside lights.

“I don’t drive to work, Caleb. Remember?”

“Do I trust you to walk home by yourself when you’re sober? No. Do I trust you to stumble home alone tonight? Hell no.”

“I could drive him,” Noah offered as he flicked his keys in his hands.

“I’m fine.”

“I can walk home with him,” Wyatt said, voice soft and gruff as he leaned against the bar.

Caleb glared. “You’re more sloshed than he is!”

“But less likely to wind up sleeping in the street,” Wyatt countered with a goofy grin. Ash smiled at him. There wasn’t a chance in hell he’d get through the night without falling into bed with this guy.

“Oh, Christ,” Caleb grumbled before ushering them all out of the bar, where they were no longer his problem.

# # #

Wyatt wrapped his coat around himself and they turned the corner, walking down the side of Gravedigger’s and away from the heart of the Fan. “How far is it?”

“About six blocks. It’s usually not such a bad walk when you’re going in a, y’know, straight line.” Ash waved his hand in front of him, trying to illustrate said straight line without weaving.

Wyatt glanced at him and smiled. Ash was wearing a black pea coat and a lime green scarf, the only bit of color on him. He was hunched against the wind, head resolutely down to watch his footfalls. Wyatt reached out and slid his arm around Ash’s waist. The contact sent a thrill through him.

“Two drunks are better than one,” he said to excuse the brazen move.

Ash snorted and slid his hand into Wyatt’s coat pocket. Wyatt bit his lip to hold back a foolish grin. They were both unsteady on their feet, but leaning against each other did have its benefits. It kept them warm in more ways than one, stoking that hint of excitement that came from the touch of someone new.

And it kept them from falling over.

The walk to Ash’s building on the very edge of the Fan wasn’t a short one, but when they reached it, Wyatt found himself regretting that it hadn’t been longer. He stood with Ash at the massive glass door to his building and searched for something even mildly appropriate to say. He wanted to come in with Ash, wanted to spend more time with him, wanted to see what sorts of things he held dear in the condo upstairs, ask if maybe he could see him again. But it had been so very long since Wyatt had even had a passing interest in someone else, he couldn’t decide how best to vocalize any of those desires.

“You don’t think I’m going to let you walk back to the museum alone, do you?” Ash asked as he slid his key into the lock, flicking his wrist and pushing in with practiced ease as he opened the door. He stepped into the foyer and reached for Wyatt, pulling him by the lapel of his coat. Wyatt glanced around the building distractedly, his nerves making it hard to meet Ash’s eyes as the man helped him down the couple of steps into the building’s foyer. The walls were exposed brick and the stair railing was ironwork that looked like it might have been original.

“Eighteen twenties?” he asked.

“Yeah, how’d you know?” Ash sounded breathless as he let the massive door fall closed behind them with a loud clank.

“Museum,” Wyatt grunted. He realized that Ash was taking much of his weight, and he straightened up and cleared his throat. He overcompensated and almost lost his balance.

Ash grabbed him, but he pushed at him instead of pulling, slamming him against the wall at the base of the stairs to keep him from falling. Wyatt couldn’t tear his eyes from Ash’s; their dark brown depths were nearly black in the low light. He could feel Ash’s breath on his lips, the scent of beer and something more earthy, like sandalwood, assaulting him. Wyatt’s entire body tingled.

Then they began to laugh. They tried to remain quiet so as not to disturb the neighbors, but it swiftly degenerated into the simultaneous snickering and snorting and hushing that always manifested when drunks tried to be quiet.

“Please tell me you can walk up the steps,” Ash said with a hushed giggle.

“How many floors?” Wyatt looked up the narrow, winding stairway.

“One little flight,” Ash whispered, his voice low and tantalizingly intimate. He slid his arm around Wyatt’s waist again and pulled him away from the wall.

Wyatt turned into him and kissed him hard. Ash stumbled, and his back hit the wall as Wyatt pressed into him, his body thrumming as Ash returned the kiss.

The bang of a closing door several floors above them forced them apart to look up. They stood frozen, panting against each other’s mouths as they waited. The door closed again and all was silent.

“Okay,” Ash whispered, nodding as if he were agreeing with something. “Okay.”

“Stairs,” Wyatt murmured against Ash’s lips. Ash nodded once more before Wyatt kissed him again.

They climbed the stairs together, staggering and gripping the railing. As they neared the top where the stairs curved around, Ash bent over and began crawling. Wyatt leaned against the wall and laughed as Ash reached the landing and sprawled on his back in front of the first door, but his laughter died away as he let his eyes drift appraisingly over Ash’s body.

“That your door?”

Ash managed to nod without lifting his head from the floor, and held up his keys as he lay on the landing, his legs still on the steps. Wyatt leaned over him, bracing his hand on the floor as he took the keys. He pressed his body down onto Ash’s and kissed him.

Ash’s arms wound around his neck and Wyatt growled low in his throat, rolling his hips against Ash’s groin. He couldn’t quite believe he was being so reckless, but the combination of the drinks and his intoxicating companion was too much for his inhibitions or common sense to combat.

With a great deal of effort, Wyatt pushed himself back up and stood, pulling Ash to his feet. Ash took the keys and hastily unlocked his door.

They said very little as they made their way across the living room. Ash shed his outer layer of clothing as he led Wyatt toward the bedroom, and Wyatt gave the condo a cursory glance as he followed. It was clean and neat, with large pieces of dark wood furniture that had the strange effect of making the small rooms look bigger.

The bed in Ash’s bedroom was large, too, and unmade—an endearing quirk amidst an otherwise tidy home. Wyatt was sure he’d appreciate it later, when he didn’t have more pressing things on his mind.

He reached for Ash’s suspenders and used them to pull the man closer. Ash grinned as Wyatt looked him up and down.

“These things come in handy,” Wyatt said as he slid his fingers up the coarse material.

“They do have their uses,” Ash purred. He slid his thumbs under the suspenders and pulled them off his shoulders, backing away from Wyatt’s grasp with a wicked twist to his lips.

Wyatt followed, entranced.

Ash flopped onto the end of the bed, pushing his trousers to the floor as he slid up into the middle of the bed and lay out on his back. Wyatt dropped his jacket and reached for his belt.

“Do you make this a habit, Dr. Wyatt?” Ash asked as he pushed his boxers down his hips.

Wyatt took a deep breath, enjoying the free show. “Not really.”

Ash smiled in the half-light that filtered through the blinds, his eyes shadowed and unreadable. “Me either.”

“Good to know.” Wyatt pushed his own pants to the ground, yanked his shirt over his head, and climbed onto the bed.

Ash reached for him. Wyatt settled between his spread legs as they kissed messily, and Ash pulled a knee up and slid his leg over Wyatt’s hip. He grinned as Wyatt gasped against the kiss. “You like the tongue stud, right?”

Wyatt nodded.

Ash kissed him again, then whispered, “Kissing’s not the only thing it makes more interesting.”

“Oh, Jesus.” Wyatt’s cock jumped against Ash’s thigh, stirring an intense desire deep in his gut.

Wyatt loved the way Ash writhed and whimpered when he stroked his fingers down his thigh, the way he curled around Wyatt in an impressive display of flexibility. He loved the way Ash’s skin smelled of cigarette smoke, liquor, sweat, and sandalwood, a heady combination that evoked thoughts of taboos and forbidden territories. He loved the way Ash tasted like something new and unexplored, how Ash’s tongue ring made each kiss something he’d never experienced.

Ash’s hands dragged over Wyatt’s skin, tugging at him, digging in as they rutted against each other, nails leaving burning trails as Wyatt kissed him. Finally, he pushed at Wyatt to make him sit back on his knees. Ash was stunning, spread out on the bed, legs wrapped around Wyatt’s waist.

He was even more stunning when he had Wyatt’s cock in his mouth a few moments later, lips sliding against skin, tongue doing unspeakable things that made Wyatt curl over him and grab a handful of his hair in warning.

When Ash pulled back and smirked up at him, Wyatt could hardly breathe. Ash made sure to lick him up and down one last time, leading the way with that piece of metal that seemed designed just for this sort of thing, before crawling across the bed to stretch for a nearby drawer.

Ash tossed a condom and lubricant to Wyatt and turned over to his hands and knees.

Wyatt rolled the condom on, his entire body thrumming for more intoxicating exploration. Ash moaned, long and loud, when Wyatt gripped his hips from behind and worked his cock into him.

Wyatt lowered his head and groaned, his entire body swamped by lust and alcohol and an unusual feeling of being in a different atmosphere. He promised himself he would analyze that feeling later, when he didn’t have his cock buried in the most fascinating, alluring man he’d ever met.

When he began to move, he groaned again, louder this time. His thrusts were slow at first, to give Ash a chance to adjust, but Ash gasped and pushed back into him demandingly. Wyatt bit his lip and sped his movements, unable to close his eyes for the need to watch the way Ash’s lithe body moved against his, the way his cock spread Ash apart and pushed inside him.

Ash reached up and grabbed the headboard of the old wrought-iron bed, preventing it from banging against the wall as Wyatt thrust into him harder and harder. As orgasm threatened, Wyatt bit his lip and stopped moving, gasping as he fought it. He pulled out of Ash with the greatest of care and crawled backward, yanking at Ash’s hips. Ash rolled onto his side, and Wyatt slid off the bed, standing at the edge and holding Ash’s hips, forcing himself to wait, letting the pressure in his gut die down as his cock throbbed.

“Come on.”

“Wait,” Wyatt gasped.

“I don’t care, I just want you back in there,” Ash said as he arched his back and pushed up with his hips.

Wyatt slid his hand down the middle of Ash’s back and pulled on his hip, pushing into him again. The mattress recommenced its creaking as Wyatt thrust into him, but the headboard didn’t complain any longer. Wyatt grabbed Ash’s shoulder, fingers digging into the skin as he held Ash still and pounded into him. Ash gasped desperately, threw his head back and arched, pushing into Wyatt’s thrusts. Wyatt reached with his other hand and grabbed a handful of Ash’s damp hair, panting as he rode him.

Ash cried out again and Wyatt released his hair and reached around to fist his cock. Ash bucked against him, writhing wantonly, groaning as he spilled himself into Wyatt’s hand. Ash’s pleasure seen to, Wyatt pushed him all the way to the mattress, holding him down flat and fucking him without mercy until he came with a stifled shout.

He continued rocking until he was spent, his breath coming in gasps against the back of Ash’s shoulder. He made certain the condom came with him when he pulled out, and he flopped onto the sheets, rolling onto his back, gasping for breath.

Ash grunted and turned his head. He was breathing heavily, skin damp with sweat, hair mussed and eyes still lined with the heavy kohl. How it wasn’t spread all over his face by now, Wyatt would never know. He looked completely debauched with the rumpled cognac-colored sheets as his backdrop.

Wyatt stared at him for a long time, breathing hard and letting his body recover, stunned by how such a sordid night could feel so fucking beautiful.

Ash closed his eyes. “Jesus, that was fun, Wyatt.”

Wyatt kissed him, a long, languid play of lips and tongues that banked the residual heat between them.

When they finally parted, they sprawled sideways across the bed. Wyatt stared at the ceiling as uncertainty and incredulity flooded in with the cool air of the open window. What had he been thinking? He didn’t even know this man, had spent a mere five hours with him getting drunk and pretending not to be intimidated by his perfect face and his unfamiliar lifestyle, and now here he was in his bed? He never behaved this impulsively.

“I need water,” he grunted as he pushed himself off the bed.

“Ash didn’t move or open his eyes.

Wyatt huffed as he padded into the tiny bathroom, his mind spinning with thoughts of his next move. He stayed in the bathroom long enough to calm his racing heart. The encounter had been incredible, but rather than tiring him, adrenaline was racing through him, burning away any remnants of the drinks that had fueled his initial bravery and foolishness.

He looked at himself in the mirror. What the hell should he do now? Was he brave enough to face someone like Ash in the morning, when all the liquor and sexual tension was gone and there was nothing left between them but an awkward morning after?

When he poked his head back into the bedroom, Ash hadn’t moved. One arm cradled his head and one knee was cocked to the side. His other foot hung over the far edge of the bed, just as Wyatt had left him when he’d come inside him. He was sound asleep.

Wyatt licked his lips and swallowed hard, letting his eyes linger. Then he began quietly gathering his clothing.

# # #

Ash cracked an eye open and managed a tortured groan as the morning light streamed through the blinds of his bedroom. He was still sprawled sideways on his bed, naked and freezing despite the blanket that covered him.

The place was silent as a grave. Not even the floor above creaked with the footsteps of his neighbors yet. He raised his head carefully and looked around, pleased when it didn’t make his head hurt or make his stomach revolt. He knew instinctively that he didn’t have to waste his breath calling out for Wyatt Case. Wyatt had covered Ash with a blanket before he’d left, but he was long gone.

Ash pushed himself up and winced at sore muscles and a crick in his neck. “At least it was a good time,” he grumbled.

Despite his attempt at a cavalier attitude, he couldn’t help but be disappointed. And pissed off. He knew better than to bring someone home from the bar. For some reason, a sweet museum curator who had spent the entire night talking to him hadn’t struck him as the type to fuck and duck.

Ash sighed and shuffled into the bathroom. He stood in front of the toilet and looked out at the street through the bathroom’s window. It was the last week of September, but the house next to his building was already flying a Halloween flag at its stoop. A ghost with goggle eyes grinned stupidly at him as orange and red leaves fluttered across the road behind it.

October at Gravedigger’s meant big business, and Ash would need to go in soon to help with prep. He had no time to mope about being left alone in bed by a virtual stranger. He huffed and looked down, muttering as he flushed the used condom left in the bowl.

Touch of a Ghost
Six weeks of freedom from ghosts! Andrew 'Drew' Jessop wanted to mark the occasion. If it weren't for the fact that his calendar was still packed up in one of the lingering boxes from his move, he would have recorded the date, circling it in red ink. Several times.

Drew smiled to himself as he placed his shopping bag on the counter and went in search of the remote. He eventually found it down the side of the sofa and switched on the football match, eager to watch his favorite team's game. The game hadn't yet started, and the commentators were discussing the opposing team's star player who was unlikely to play following an injury. Figuring he had enough time to quickly put away his groceries, he hurried back to the counter. He tossed most of the groceries into the cupboard, fridge, and freezer without much thought. His mother would never have put up with such untidiness, but this was his place and he took pleasure in rebelling in even the smallest of ways.

When nearly everything had been put away, he grabbed the last remaining items. He tossed the contents of a jumbo packet of crisps into a bowl. With a beer in hand, and more cooling in the fridge, he was ready for a nice, normal night in front of the telly.

Food--check. Beer--check. Ghost--check.

Drew almost swore out loud when his mind caught up with what his eyes had already seen. He stopped himself just in time. The building had been built during the Second World War, but he hadn't seen a ghost in his flat until now. He shouldn't have been surprised.

The young man looked to have been in his early twenties when he died, maybe even younger. Judging by his clothes, the James Dean wannabe had clearly been lingering on the ghostly plane for a while.

Just ignore it, Drew silently ordered himself. This would be his first real test in his new home. The unwelcome spook had obviously settled down for a night in front of the television, and Drew couldn't let on that he could see it. Once a single ghost learned he had psychic abilities, word would get around, and his life of normality would be over faster than he could say ectoplasm.

Drew carried the bowl of potato crisps and beer over to the coffee table and set them down. He made sure he didn't look directly at his uninvited guest and took a seat at the opposite end of the sofa.

"Looks like it's going to be a good match," the ghost said conversationally.

Drew knew the spook didn't expect him to answer. Ghosts tended to talk a lot; it seemed to be something of a habit. They didn't expect mortals to hear them.

The match started, but Drew found his concentration hindered by his ghostly guest. His gaze kept drifting to the right, much as it had done back in school when he found himself in the presence of a boy he fancied.

The ghost had black hair with a messy fringe hanging down over his eyes. His clothes were from the fifties, yet his hairstyle didn't seem to be from the same era. Or maybe he simply didn't have access to the hair products he needed to keep the style? Drew snickered to himself at the idea of a ghost needing tips on hair maintenance. Chances are, he'd just been having a bad hair day when he'd died and was now stuck with it for eternity. Drew had witnessed worse fashion disasters from the ghostly realm, but permanent bedhead always made him chuckle. A little perseverance on the part of the ghost could fix the mess but only for as long as he held his concentration. Had the ghost known Drew could see him, he'd no doubt have fixed his wayward tangles before visiting.

Bad hair or not, Drew couldn't help admiring the handsome young spirit.

He wondered what this ghost would think about his sexuality and then chided himself for even caring. Just because he found the ghost attractive, he couldn't lose track of what was important. He wanted to keep his life as normal as possible, and that meant keeping his libido under control. Thinking with the wrong head had already got him in enough trouble.

The ghost chattered on, giving additional commentary on the match. Drew tried his best to ignore him and concentrate on the game. On reflection, the ghost's earlier comment had been correct. The match looked to be one of the best of the season so far.

By halftime he realized his companion wasn't bad company. They supported the same team, and under any other circumstances--if the ghost had been just another resident in the building--Drew suspected he would have invited him over anyway.

Despite his best intentions, Drew found himself a little curious about his ghostly guest. He didn't even know his name. The spirit was handsome whatever his expression, but, when he smiled as he did each time their team took possession of the ball, his face lit up, and Drew's breath caught in his throat. If he hadn't been so busy drooling, Drew might have worried about his reaction.

Drew walked over to the kitchen area to retrieve another beer from the fridge. He had just reached inside when a second voice came from the direction of the television. The door hadn't opened, he'd have heard it. He didn't know anyone in town well enough for them to let themselves into his flat without knocking, and the female voice was unfamiliar.

Drew peered around the corner of the fridge. He tried to look casual, taking in the scene, while making it appear he couldn't tear his eyes away from the television. A woman--another ghost--stood right in front of the television set, her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. She had the same dark hair as the other ghost and similar enough features that Drew immediately guessed they were related.

"Benji, I've been looking all over for you," the older woman scolded.

Benji? Drew gave his guest another quick glance, contemplating whether he looked like a Benji or not. He stopped himself and shook his head in annoyance. This wasn't a good sign at all. A nameless ghost would be much easier to ignore.

"Ma, you're in the way," Benji complained, waving her to one side. Benji's words confirmed Drew's suspicions.

"Isn't this old Foster's place?" Benji's mother commented as she stepped to the side and looked around the room. "Whatever has he done to it?"

Author Bios:
John Inman
John Inman has been writing fiction since he was old enough to hold a pencil. He and his partner live in beautiful San Diego, California. Together, they share a passion for theater, books, hiking and biking along the trails and canyons of San Diego or, if the mood strikes, simply kicking back with a beer and a movie. John's advice for anyone who wishes to be a writer? "Set time aside to write every day and do it. Don't be afraid to share what you've written. Feedback is important. When a rejection slip comes in, just tear it up and try again. Keep mailing stuff out. Keep writing and rewriting and then rewrite one more time. Every minute of the struggle is worth it in the end, so don't give up. Ever. Remember that publishers are a lot like lovers. Sometimes you have to look a long time to find the one that's right for you."

Theda Black
Theda writes about men in love with other men, but she's not your usual LGBT romance writer. She's interested in edgy situations, intense relationships, passionate events and no safety nets. She explores the emotional and sometimes physical limits of her characters, particularly involving what they can and will endure for the sake of love. Often that involves darker story lines than normal.

She also writes as Klaudia Bara, favoring alternative, dark, gothic, sensual horror.

Stormy Glenn
I'm a writer of Erotic, Contemporary, Elf, Fantasy, Futuristic, M/M, Ménage a Trois, Paranormal, Sci/Fi, Shifter, Suspense, Vampire, and Werewolf Romances. I'm currently published with Siren Publishing, Torquere Press, and Ellora's Cave.

I create stories, romances, and dreams because that's what I believe in. I also believe the only thing sexier than a man in cowboy boots is two, or three men in cowboy boots. I believe in love at first sight, soul mates, true love, and happy endings and that's what I like to write about.

For upcoming releases, blurbs, excerpts, contests info and more, stop by my website. 

Abigail Roux
Abigail Roux was born and raised in North Carolina. A past volleyball star who specializes in sarcasm and painful historical accuracy, she currently spends her time coaching high school volleyball and investigating the mysteries of single motherhood. Any spare time is spent living and dying with every Atlanta Braves and Carolina Panthers game of the year. Abigail has a daughter, Little Roux, who is the light of her life, a boxer, four rescued cats who play an ongoing live-action variation of 'Call of Duty' throughout the house, a certifiable extended family down the road, and a cast of thousands in her head.

LM Brown
L.M. Brown lives in England, in a quaint little village that time doesn't seem to have touched. No, wait a minute- that's the retirement biography. Right now she is in England in a medium sized town that no one has ever heard of, so she won't bore you with the details. Keeping her company are numerous sexy men. She just wishes that they weren't all inside her head.

John Inman
EMAIL: John492@att.net

Theda Black
EMAIL: valwp@yahoo.com

Stormy Glenn
EMAIL: stormyglenn@hotmail.com 

Abigail Roux
EMAIL: abiroux@gmail.com

LM Brown
EMAIL: lmbrownauthor@gmail.com

B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Beneath the Neon Moon

Blood Sacrifice

The Gravedigger's Brawl

Touch of a Ghost