Thursday, December 22, 2016

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Part 11

Nicolas by Dianne Hartsock
Betrayed by a lover, Jamie rents an isolated cabin on Lake Huron, wanting only to be left alone. Instead, he is pulled from his solitary existence as an artist and tumbles headlong into the legend of Saint Nicolas.

As a young man, Nicolas accidentally killed a man intent on murdering three children, only to have the man's malicious spirit rise up against him. Fleeing through the centuries from the Krampus, the evil troll-like creature that dogs his steps, Nico finds refuge with the young artist who takes him into his home and bed. But Jamie has questions. Who is Nicolas, and why does the Krampus want to destroy him?

When the Krampus begins to torment and torture anyone Nico comes in contact with to punish him, Jamie’s life is put in danger. And Jamie isn’t sure whether he can help Nico defeat his nemesis or if he’s merely a pawn in the Krampus’s game.

If you are looking for something different from the happy, happy holiday reads then Nicolas is the one for you.  A delicious blend of good, bad, sexy, torture, mystery, paranormal, and well just about everything in between.  I first came across this one when I was doing my paranormal blog posts for Halloween but never had a chance to read it so I stuck it in my holiday folder and loved it from page one. Nico, Piter, & Jamie's connection keeps you enthralled all the way through, I just hated putting it down to eat, I've never rushed through a meal so fast to get back to my Kindle.  With the paranormal darkness elements I hate to touch on any specifics so I don't give away any spoilers but let me just say that I am already looking forward to re-reading Nicolas for many holiday seasons to come.


Snowbound in Nowhere by Andrew Grey
When a funeral calls his friend Martin away, sunbelt resident Chris is left alone in Martin’s cabin in the dead of winter—and in a blizzard to boot. When the power goes out, Chris thinks he’s going to freeze to death. Luckily, Horace drops in to check on him—and then runs out after a few kisses, leaving Chris upset and feeling used. Horace does come back with explanations, but is their time together keeping each other warm enough for them see they belong together? Or are these sudden emotions the product of being snowbound?

A wonderful holiday novella to warm the heart, as if I expected anything less from Andrew Grey.  I always love when an author shows respect for the winter weather from my home state of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, it can be dangerous on many levels so when a story is set here that is always a major factor for me and Snowbound in Nowhere respects it perfectly.  As someone who has lived here from the day I was born, I don't fear the snow but I do respect it's dangers and Chris, as a stranger to the white stuff, definitely fears it so when Horace appears the blend of fear and respect is almost another character in itself.  Now, that's not to say the weather is why I love Snowbound, oh no, I love it because of the relationship that develops between the pair.  This one is definitely one I'll be re-reading in the future.


Unto Us the Time has Come by Sean Michael
Last Christmas, Kenn Greyson gave husband Chris Martenson an ultimatum—spend more time with the family or we’re leaving. He never expected Chris’s reply would be “then leave,” but that’s exactly what happened, and Boxing Day took on a whole new meaning.

Separated for nearly a year now, both men are miserable apart and coping the best they can for the kids’ sake. With Christmas just around the corner, a new conflict arises: neither man is willing to forego Christmas morning with their children. Chris finally suggests they spend the holiday together at the house and, to his shock, Kenn agrees.

Armed with the knowledge that he’s been a stubborn idiot, but that perhaps he can change and begin to repair their relationship, Chris takes steps to win his husband back. He just hopes he can get Kenn on the same page before Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve. 

I have featured Sean Michael on my blog, many times and have a few on my Kindle but I have never actually read one.  Unto Us the Time has Come was a perfect place for me to start.  A great little holiday novella that warms the heart but also makes you just want to reach inside your ereader and knock Kenn and Chris' heads together.  Communication, communication, communication is key but then if they had the talk we all know will happen early on it would make for a very short and probably a bit dull one chapter long story.  Sometimes we have to step away to realize what we actually have and that's what Unto Us is about, the cliche "love conquers all" might apply but that doesn't mean this one reads as a cliche.  A great addition to my holiday shelf and a great introduction to the author, I look forward to reading more from Sean Michael.


Holiday Outing by Astrid Amara
It's been years since Jonah Levinson has seen his parents. But now he is going to spend Hanukkah with them in order to finally tell them the truth: not only is he gay, but he is a successful author of gay novels and not the struggling (and straight) writer they imagine him to be.

The holiday starts poorly. A record blizzard delays his flight. The snowstorm locks him and his loud, argumentative relatives in the house. The power fails. And, worst of all, Jonah has to share his room with his childhood rival, the perfect Jewish son, the one he spent his entire life unfavorably compared to: Dr. Ethan Rosenberg, son of his mother's mahjong partner, and apparently God's gift to the Chosen People.

If this isn't bad enough, Jonah has to interpret Ethan's strange new fascination with him. Is Ethan flirting? Or is this just another trick to break Jonah's heart?

But when a valuable family heirloom is stolen during the festivities and suspicion falls on Jonah, Ethan agrees to help prove Jonah's innocence. They have eight days to do it. But will they solve the crime before the cooking oil -- and everyone's civility -- runs out?

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual practices.

A Trip to Remember by Meg Harding
Colin wants to spend the Christmas holiday with his family, but a blizzard settles in and his flight is cancelled. Unwilling to accept this, he strikes out on his own and crashes his car. Where he ends up might be better than where he was going, though. 

Logan was content to wait out the blizzard and spend the holiday alone, but when a frozen-solid Colin ends up on his doorstep, he’s not going to turn him away. He takes him in and shows him Christmas spent with a stranger really doesn’t have to be awkward after all. 

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2015 Advent Calendar package "Sleigh Ride". 

Random Tales of Christmas 2016 Parts

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

Nicolas by Dianne Hartsock
JAMIE STARTLED awake. “What?”

He had trouble breathing, the crushing weight on his chest seeming to have followed him up from his dreams. But that couldn’t be right. He’d rented the cabin for its isolation. No one should be there. Did he still dream?

A warm breath brushed against his cheek, sending a shiver of dread and strange anticipation through him. “Easy, baby,” a silky voice whispered in the darkness. Sharp teeth nipped his earlobe and pleasure and pain sparked along his nerves. His eyes adjusted to the moonlight filtering through the sheer curtains, and he stared in amazement at the man gazing at him with wild green eyes, long pale hair, high cheekbones and a slender neck he craved to run his tongue along.

The stranger laid his weight on him, driving the air from his lungs and making Jamie struggle for every breath. Shifting position, the man sealed his full lips over Jamie’s, drawing a long groan from Jamie when an impossibly large cock slid against his. In sudden panic he reached to shove his unknown visitor away and touched hot skin and lean muscles. Of their own volition his hands roamed lower, following the curve of the stranger’s back to the rounded swell of his ass. He drew a quick breath and the man laughed into his mouth, pushed his tongue deep, thrusting inside to match the movement of his hips as he ground against Jamie’s aching dick.

Heat pooled in Jamie’s stomach. God, what was happening? The thing in his bed looked like a man, but his every instinct shouted otherwise. His skin was warm when it should have been cold from being outside. And how had he gotten in? All the windows and doors were locked tight against the winter storm. It was as if he’d just materialized in Jamie’s bed. “Who—”

He cried out when a hand pushed between them and grabbed their cocks, stroking them together until he lost the ability to think. So close! He grabbed the man’s firm ass and yanked him tighter against him, rising up to shove into his strong grip.

The triumphant hiss in his ear shot ice through his veins. “So naughty.”

“No!” Jamie struggled to sit up, scrambling back against the headboard. He blinked, finding himself alone in the room, only his ragged breaths disturbing the silence of the cabin. A forgotten anxiety knotted his stomach. Naughty. He hated that word, tossed about by the boys he once knew in school. The ones he’d suck off behind the gym, desperate for a gentle hand in his hair, balm against his loneliness. He’d been terrified his parents would find out he was different, that he liked girl things and found boys much more exciting than he should. They would know he was gay and there would be hell to pay for their freak of a son.

He scrubbed a hand over his face. God, that had been ages ago. The last shreds of the dream dissipated, and he reached for the bedside light, fumbling in the darkness for the switch. Low light stung his eyes and he blinked at the empty bedroom, unable to believe the attack hadn’t been real.

He flung off the heavy quilts and slid to his feet, clinging to the post at the foot of the bed as a wave of dizziness struck him. Laughter from the other room jolted him. Heart pounding, he bolted for the door and it crashed into the wall as he flung it open. The reddish glow from the banked fire on the hearth lit the main room of the cabin, though the kitchen area remained in shadows.

Jamie’s gaze swept the rooms, focusing on the dark corners. No one jumped out at him. Nobody sat on the couch. His coffee cup remained undisturbed where he’d left it on the hearth. Of course. The cabin was isolated, miles from the nearest neighbor. Who would bother to come way out there, especially with the threat of another snowstorm on the way?

He ran a trembling hand through his hair, pushing the sweat-drenched bangs from his forehead. Christ, the dream had seemed so real. The cold of the great room finally registered, creeping up from the hardwood flooring. Shaking, he crossed to the fireplace and stirred up the coals, adding another log.

With a sigh, he sank into the cushions of the worn couch and pulled the woolen afghan up around his bare shoulders. The log caught and the fire crackled, sparks dancing up the flue. Recalling his dream and the hard body against his, he shrugged when his cock perked up.

“It’s been a while,” he acknowledged, watching the flames lick at the oak log. He’d signed a year’s lease on the cabin, right after catching his boyfriend in the stairwell of their apartment building, making out with their neighbor. It hadn’t been the first time, either, though again Patrick had his apologies ready. That had been over six months ago, and since the cabin stood miles over rough terrain from the nearest town, he’d rarely seen another human being in all that time.

“Just the way I like it,” he told the indifferent fire burning its way through the wood. But the stranger’s lips in his dream had been soft, his thrusting tongue sweet in Jamie’s mouth. He hadn’t liked the violent aspect of the dream, but if that had been a lover in his bed? His dick pressed against his thigh, and Jamie reached under the heavy blanket, moaning when he took its heavy weight in his hand. Drawing lazy circles on his balls, he let the pleasure build slowly, lifting his cock while in his mind the stranger licked the glistening head, his pale gold hair a curtain of silk against Jamie’s sensitive skin. He moaned as the man slid his tongue down the thick vein on the underside of his cock.

His mind flitted over the question of whether the guy would fuck him or want it the other way around. Didn’t matter to him. He liked it both ways. Rolling to his back, Jamie continued to stroke himself while he tugged his tight balls, then pressed a finger against his hole. He remembered the lube in the nightstand drawer by the bed, but he wasn’t about to stop, and hissed when he pushed the finger inside. The man’s cock had been huge in his dream. What would it feel like as it stretched him open? Would it be enough to fill all the empty spaces inside him?

It was a moment before the tolling of a bell outside the cabin registered. What the fuck? Jamie sat up, trying to hear past the pounding of his pulse in his ears. His cock throbbed and he groaned in frustration, knowing he couldn’t chase his pleasure until he found out what was going on at the dock. The only one to boat in was the man who dropped off his monthly supplies, and he’d been and gone two days ago. Who else would be using the dock? Jamie had been isolated for months without anything disturbing his peace. But this night he’d had a wildly erotic dream and now this. What made tonight so special?

With a deep sigh, he got up and returned to his chilly room to dress. Thermal underwear was a must, along with snow pants and a wool sweater. Nights in Alpena, Michigan, averaged around twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit in early winter but could drop to the teens when sleet swept off Lake Huron. Stomping into his boots and sliding his arms into a heavy coat, he pulled on gloves and a hat and opened the front door. Freezing air struck his face, catching at his breath, and he almost returned to the warmth of the great room behind him.

“Dammit.” He pulled the door closed and maneuvered over the icy porch and steps. The bell tolled again, and he hurried through the pristine snow blanketing the yard and surrounding forest. Even if it was only an animal that had ventured onto the dock, if it had slipped on the icy surface into the lake, he had to try to save the poor creature. It could take only moments to freeze to death in the subzero temperatures of the water. The lake shimmered in the moonlight as he approached the bank, a wide expanse of silver stretching in all directions.

His heart stumbled when he spotted a form sprawled on the dock jutting from the snow-covered bank. A canoe lazily bumped into the wood planking, sending the bell chiming into the night. Forgetting the danger of the slick wood, he hurried to the man’s side, praying it wasn’t already too late. He knelt and peeled off a glove, letting out a held breath when the man’s clothing proved dry. Biting his lips at a surge of anxiety, he rolled him onto his back.

The man’s features hardly registered as he hastily loosened the stiff scarf and searched for a pulse. He leaned closer and relief washed through him when a faint breath warmed his cheek. “Thank God.” His gaze ran over the man’s large frame. “But I can’t carry you. Can I wake you up?”

A melancholy smile flittered across his face. “Talking to yourself again, Jamieson,” he muttered. Maybe he’d been spending too much time alone after all. “Well, let’s try to get you up.”

He slid an arm under the broad shoulders and lifted the man into a sitting position, resting the heavy body against his chest. He patted a white cheek and worry creased his brow. The man felt ice cold.

A shudder ran through the long frame and the stranger began to shiver in earnest. Thick lashes fluttered, and Jamie lowered his head to catch the words that whispered past blue-tinged lips.

“What? I can’t understand you.” The foreign language sounded familiar. Spanish? No. With the man’s olive complexion and the dark waves of curls brushing his shoulders, there was a chance he might be Italian. He sounded like the foreign exchange student from Italy Jamie had known in high school. “Can you stand up?” he asked, hoping the guy knew English.


Jamie helped him to his knees and heard the man’s deep breath before he struggled up, leaning a heavy hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Grazie. Thank you,” he said. The slightly accented voice sounded sexy even in the frigid air, and Jamie looked at him with sudden interest. Incredible hazel eyes met his gaze, dark with exhaustion and pain but also curious, stirring a small ache of pleasure inside Jamie. It had been a while since anyone took notice of him.

“Let’s get you inside,” he said, self-conscious as the man continued to stare as if intrigued with his face. Feeling the heat of a blush in his cheeks, he glanced aside. Sure, he was attractive enough. Freckles dotted his nose and cheeks, and at times his mop of red hair could be unmanageable. Previous lovers had called his lips deliciously full, kissable. Too bad that hadn’t kept any of them in his bed. But he had nothing to gain this man’s attention.

Putting aside the bitter thought, he left the man a moment to secure his canoe to the dock. The stranger leaned against the railing, head down as he waited, and Jamie swung an arm around his waist and nudged him toward the cabin, walking gingerly on the icy wood planking of the dock. He’d broken a path through the snow to the structure, but it was still a steep climb, the man seeming to grow heavier with each step. They reached the halfway mark before the stranger stumbled and dropped to a knee, breathing hard. Tremors ran through the large frame under Jamie’s hand.

“Please, it’s not much further,” he begged. No way could he carry him, and staying out here in the snow was unthinkable. The temperature had dropped lower and his face was growing numb. The man must be frozen through.

Muscles bunched under Jamie’s fingers, and the stranger heaved to his feet, a moan torn from deep inside his chest. The walk became a nightmare after that, each step forward a small triumph over pain and exhaustion. Jamie lost all sense of time. There was only whiteness and cold and the porch light promising heat and safety if they could reach it. At long last they stumbled up the steps and Jamie shoved open the door, coming close to dropping the man as they crossed the threshold into the stifling warmth of the cabin.

Slamming the door shut behind them, Jamie somehow managed to keep the dead weight in his arms from sliding to the floor.

“Couch,” he barked through frozen lips, and they staggered across the room, the man crumpling onto the cushions as soon as Jamie eased him down. Jamie looked at him, not sure what to do, then shook off the panic skittering along his nerves. He had to warm the guy up. He knelt, cupping the man’s cold face. “Can you sit up?”

A small grunt escaped the blue-tinged lips and Jamie helped him into a seated position. He removed the man’s heavy coat, then got to work on the snow-encased boots. The laces were impossible, and he tugged off his gloves to work on the knots, his fingers stiff with cold.

“Fuck,” he muttered, reaching over and grabbing scissors from the coffee table drawer and cutting the strings. He slid the boots off, then very carefully rolled down the socks, holding his breath while he removed them. The toes were white with cold but—thank God—no sign of frostbite.

He looked up, his heart clenching when he saw that his guest had fallen asleep. Pain lined the man’s face, and Jamie set his lips, knowing he still might be too late. He had to warm the chilled body and hope his heart was strong enough to survive the shock. And there was also the threat of pneumonia…. Shoving that fear aside, he began to undress the man, lifting the bulky sweater over his head. He tried not to notice the defined muscles of his chest and arms and strong thighs as he removed his jeans and thermals. The dark cotton briefs were dry, and Jamie left them on in relief, embarrassed by his body’s reaction when the man was plainly suffering.

After a brief hesitation, he searched the pockets for a wallet or anything to identify him. Not even a phone. Who was he? Didn’t matter. Jamie had to get him warm. He stripped down to his blue panties. Shivering, he stirred up the coals in the fireplace and added one of the thicker logs. That should keep burning for the rest of the night. He almost hated to disturb the sleeping man, but with some tugging and pushing, he was able to pull the blanket from under him. Stretching the long frame out on the couch, he lay down beside him and covered them both with the thick afghan. The man felt wonderful in his arms. It had been too long since he’d had someone in his bed, even if this man still shivered with cold. He should begin to warm up soon enough.

Jamie yawned as exhaustion caught up to him. He blinked sleepily, then fell into a heavy doze with the man’s warm breath on his neck.

Snowbound in Nowhere by Andrew Grey
Chapter One
“YOU said to come and spend Christmas with you so I wouldn’t be alone,” Chris whined into his phone after he’d set down his bags and closed the front door of the small lake house in the woods. “So I left Phoenix to come to northern Wisconsin in December.” Chris shivered at the thought, even though the house was warm enough. He was beginning to believe he’d truly gone crazy and that they were going to find him frozen solid come spring.

“How was I supposed to know that one of the few relatives I had left was going to die?” Martin said, and Chris immediately felt guilty. It really wasn’t something Martin could have helped, but the entire purpose of this visit had been so Chris wouldn’t have to spend the holidays alone. “The funeral is tomorrow, and afterwards, I need to meet with the executors of the will. I should be home in a few days, and then we can spend the rest of the next two weeks together. I promise it’ll be fine.” Martin sounded a bit frazzled, and Chris let his own angst and anger go. “I left plenty of food in the house, and you should have everything you need for a few days. I also marked one of the trees on the property for us to use as a Christmas tree. You can cut it if you want, and there’s a stand in the basement.”

“I don’t think so. There’s snow on the ground,” Chris said. Martin had been surprised when Chris had told him he’d never actually been in snow and appalled when Chris had told him recently that he would be spending the holidays alone. Apparently, even though Martin had very little family, and even less now, he had a group of friends who always spent the holidays together. So Martin had talked Chris into visiting for the holidays. More like cajoled and bugged until Chris had agreed just to shut him up.

“It’s not going to hurt you, but we can do that when I get back if you want. I have you in the first bedroom in the right as you go down the hall. You’ll find the bathroom, I’m sure. I set out warm clothes for you on the bed, and if you need anything, check out my closet. Like I said, I should be back in a few days.” Martin paused, and Chris heard voices talking softly behind him. “I have to go, but you know I love you and can’t wait to see you. I’ll get there once this is over.”

“Okay.” Chris held back a sigh. “I’ll see you then.” He hung up and shoved the phone into his pocket before looking around the small house. It had obviously been built as a summer cabin. Chris knew Martin had done a lot of work on the place so he could live here year-round, and it did seem rather cozy. It had a lake house feel, with big overstuffed furniture that looked amazingly comfortable, pictures on the walls of boats and people fishing, rugs spread over pine floors. There were huge windows that overlooked the tree-lined lake, which had what looked like mini-icebergs floating on it.

Chris sighed softly and let some of the tension that had built during his drive slip away. He had flown into Wausau and then driven almost two hours to get to Martin’s. The sides of the roads had been piled with snow. He was thankful it hadn’t been snowing during his drive because he wouldn’t have known what to do. Instead, the sun had shone and he’d had to stop at a wide spot to dig out his sunglasses because of the way the sun had reflected off the whiteness that hung everywhere. The sun had lasted until he’d approached the lake, and then gray clouds had obscured the sky. Chris had had to take off his sunglasses in order to see. As he stood looking out the windows, the first flakes of snow began to fall. Figuring he should experience everything he could while he was here, Chris found the bedroom Martin had indicated and spied a coat, gloves, and hat on the bed and a pair of boots by the closet. He wasn’t planning to traipse through the snow, so he left the boots alone, but put on the coat, gloves, and hat before walking back through the house. He unlocked and opened one of the patio doors and stepped outside.

The cold immediately braced his cheeks, but he was warm otherwise, so he ignored it and walked to the edge of the deck and stood still. The snow was falling faster and getting thicker. Standing stock-still, Chris listened. He’d never have expected snow to make a sound, but it did: a soft underlying hum that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Through the increasingly thick falling snow, the lake and trees seemed to slowly retreat, getting father away as they were obscured by the swirling flakes.

The wind shook the branches of the surrounding pine trees, sending cascades of snow billowing around. Chris shivered as the chill went right through his clothes, and he turned and hurried inside before closing the patio door behind him with a resounding thud, as if to shut out the wind and the cold it brought. “Why did I come visit the cold? It’s beautiful,” he said out loud to try to fill some of the empty space, “but it’s so damned….” He shivered. “Cold!”

Chris found the thermostat and turned it up a few degrees, listening until he heard the soft, reassuring hum of the furnace. He took off the outside gear and placed it in the closet before deciding it would be best to hunt up something to eat. Martin was true to his word, and Chris found everything he could want. He made a salad and broiled a steak, then opened a bottle of wine and sat in front of the television to eat. His improving mood lasted until he found out there were only six stations, but at least Martin had Internet access, so he booted up his computer and found something to watch on Netflix.

The wind rattled the patio door, and Chris shivered again, but he was warm; the furnace’s sound reminded him of that. He had his feet up, his belly full, a glass of wine, and something to watch. He was fine. He could do this. Chris set his glass on a coaster before carrying his dishes to the sink. He rinsed them and looked around for the dishwasher. Not finding one, he placed the dishes in the sink and cleaned everything up before returning to his spot on the sofa. The wind whistled around the corner of the house, and Chris got up to find a blanket before curling under it on the sofa. Everything was fine; it was just the wind. After a while, Chris found the switch for one of the outside lights. He turned it on and peered through the window. All he saw was snow blowing and swirling in the circle the light created. He couldn’t even tell where the ground began. Chris turned off the light and sat back down on the sofa, returning to his movie.

The credits had just begun to roll and Chris was about to close the window when the house went dark, the glow of the computer screen the only light, and the howl of the wind sounding more and more like it was trying to get inside with him. Chris used the light from the computer to find his phone and called Martin.

“Hello,” Martin said.

“The power went out, and I’m going to freeze to death,” Chris said in a hurry, burrowing deeper under the blanket. “The wind is rattling everything, and I can only see snow outside. I’m going to die, and it’s all your fault.”

Martin laughed and Chris almost hung up. Only the fear of a slow, freezing death kept him clutching the small, glowing lifeline. “Don’t be a drama queen. There are flashlights in the closet near the front door. There’s wood in the box near the fireplace and more at the base of the porch steps. Build a fire to keep warm once you’ve found the flashlights. The storm won’t last too long, and then they’ll get the power back on. It’ll probably be back by morning, so don’t panic.”

Chris got up and used the light from the phone to find the closet. He turned on a battery-operated lantern, and then at least there was enough light to see around the room.

“There are matches in the kitchen and some fire starters in a plastic bag with the wood,” Martin said. “You’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, sure,” Chris said, not convinced one bit.

“I’ll call you in the morning,” Martin promised before he hung up.

Chris set the phone next to his laptop and closed the lid to conserve the battery before going in search of the matches. He found them and the fire starters and wood where Martin said they would be. He pulled away the screen and set one of the fire starters and some smaller pieces of wood on the grate. He was about to light the match when the phone rang.

“Don’t forget to open the flue or you’ll get a room full of smoke,” Martin said as soon as Chris answered.

“I’m not stupid,” Chris said, and Martin hung up. He fished in the fireplace and found a lever. After pulling it, he felt cold air come down the chimney and into the room. He lit the match and touched it to the fire starter; it flamed and began to burn. Chris waited, but it didn’t do much—the air from the chimney blew around the small flame. Chris found his computer bag, pulled out some old papers, and started feeding them to the flame. They burned and the flame grew, catching some of the small pieces of wood, which popped and crackled. He fed in more wood, and soon the flow of cold air stopped, and Chris began to feel warmth coming from the small fire. He put larger pieces of wood on the flames, and they caught. Eventually he set a larger log on the flame, and the little fire continued to grow. Chris placed the screen in front of the fireplace and looked around, wondering what he should do next. He had more wood in the box, so he hoped he wouldn’t have to go digging for more until he could see outside.

He moved some of the furniture around, placing the sofa in front of the fireplace. Then he picked up the lantern, found some blankets, and grabbed a pillow off the bed. He spread everything on the sofa, burrowed down under the covers, and watched the flames.

He only got out of his cocoon of warmth to add more wood to the fire, and eventually, after placing large logs on the fire, he finally fell asleep.

When he woke later, Chris got out of his nest of warmth, shivering as he built up the fire again before climbing back under the covers. Thankfully, it hadn’t gone out, and the flames were soon blazing again. He closed his eyes, immediately falling to sleep.

Chris woke again with a start, trying to figure out where that sound was coming from. He peered out the large windows to blowing snow and heard the wind whipping around the house. A banging made him jump, and Chris realized someone was at the door. He got up and wrapped the blankets around his shoulders before walking toward the front door and peering out, only to see an abominable snowman peering back at him. Chris jumped back, lost his balance, and went sprawling on the floor. Swearing, he got up and collected his wits before slowly opening the door. “Yes,” he said, the wind whipping the blankets, and he immediately began to shake. “Come in, quick,” he added, and the man stepped inside. Chris threw his weight against the door to get it closed against the wind.

“I saw your car and the power’s out,” a low, rumbling voice said from deep inside a hood. Chris watched as the man pushed it back, and stared at blue eyes and a face with a red beard and a shock of bright red hair going everywhere.

“Yes. I’ve been living in front of the fire,” Chris said, curling the blankets around himself. The floor was cold, and the chill seeped through his socks. “My friend Martin owns this place, and he was supposed to be here with me, but he had to go to a funeral,” Chris explained. He didn’t want the huge shithouse of a man to think he’d just wandered in here or something. The big man began shucking off his coat, revealing a plaid shirt stretched over his upper body. “He said the power shouldn’t be out for very long.”

The other man shrugged. “In a blizzard, it could be days,” he said.

“Days.” Chris stepped back and nearly fell flat on his butt once again. “I’ll freeze,” he said, pulling the blankets closer. “This can’t go on for days. They have to get the power back.” He knew even as he said it that it very well could snow for weeks if it wanted to and there was nothing he could do about it.

“No one can get out in this storm,” the man said.

“Then how did you get here?” Chris asked.

“Snowmobile,” he answered.

“I’m Chris Fellows,” he said, remembering his manners. He extended his hand, and the man took off his glove. His hand was warm in Chris’s, especially since nothing about him was warm right now.

“Horace Anderson,” the big man answered. “I was stopping to make sure you were all right.”

“I’m freezing to death, but other than that I’m fine.”

Horace walked to the wood box and lifted the lid. “You will freeze if you don’t bring in more wood to warm.” Horace pulled back on his gloves and coat. “Do you know where the wood pile is?”

“Martin said it was at the base of the deck steps,” Chris answered, pointing toward the deck door, and Horace strode over to it and pulled the door open. Chris stared for a few minutes and then peered into the wood box. There were only three or four pieces of wood left, and he lifted one out and put it on the fire.

“Take the dry stuff out and set it to the side,” Horace instructed as he lumbered back inside, closing the door with his foot. Chris did as he was told, setting the logs beside the box, and Horace set the load of new wood in the box before heading back outside. He’d obviously done what he could to knock off the snow, but most of the logs had snow clinging to them that was already melting. Horace came back inside again and filled the box with a huge load of wood. He shut the lid on the box and looked around the place.

“You need something to warm up,” Chris said, remembering his manners. He hurried to the kitchen and found a pan. He turned on the water and filled it, the water pressure waning toward the end. Then he set it on the gas stove. He had to light it with a match, but he at least was able to heat water. He began looking through the cupboards, where he found two mugs and some instant coffee. “I only have instant, but at least it will be hot.” Chris spooned some of the granules into each mug and poured in some water once it was heated. He found spoons and carried both mugs into the living room.

Unto Us the Time has Come by Sean Michael
“DADDY, NO! I don’t want to go to Da’s! I want to stay here and go to Holly’s for her birthday!”

Jesus fuck, six-year-old girls could scream. Kenn’s head was going to explode like an overripe melon. Just boom. “Honey, your Da has you this weekend. It’s not up to me.”

“But he won’t take me! He has to work on his ’puter, and Holly lives here in the ’partments!”

“Sarah Jane, enough! I will talk to your da, okay?” Because that was his favorite thing on earth, talking to his ex. His soon-to-be ex. Whatever.

“Promise?” Just like that, the sunshine shone through the thunderstorm. “Oh, Daddy. Thank you!”

“I said I’d talk to him. No promises. Micah, get your backpack. It’s time to go to your Da’s.”

“Good. Da has the big TV. This one sucks.”

Ah, eight going on thirty. What bliss.

“I know, son. I’m sorry, huh? This was what I could afford.” Being a starving artist was way more romantic when your husband was paying all the bills and fronted the cost of the studio. Now he had two part-time jobs and a two-bedroom apartment where he slept on the sofa.

Amazing what an ultimatum could cost a guy.

“Whatever. It’s cool, Dad.”

It’s cool, Dad. So casual, so easy. Micah was growing up so fast.

The knock came at the door, and Sarah went screaming past him. “Da! Da! Da!”

God, he hated when Chris came here. He had to be at work in an hour, though. The coffee shop counted on his weekend hours, and he counted on them too.

Sarah’s dark curls bounced everywhere, the wild mass as untameable as his daughter was. She threw the door open, wrapped her arms around Chris, and squealed. “Da! There’s a party at Holly’s!”

“Right now?” Chris asked, giving Sarah a bear hug and making her squeal again.

“No, silly Da! Tomorrow! Daddy, tell him.”

Kenn looked into the deep dark eyes he’d fallen in love with fifteen years ago. Chris was still the finest man he’d ever seen. He resisted the urge to smooth his hair. Not that it mattered. Chris wouldn’t even look at him for more than a second. “Tomorrow at three. It’s here in the complex. I have the invitation. I told Sue, Holly’s mom, we were a maybe.”

Chris sighed, and Kenn refused to notice the dark bags under Chris’s eyes—he wasn’t the only one who was tired.

Holiday Outing by Astrid Amara
I was pleased to hear that, due to inclement weather, my flight was delayed.

For some people, the prospect of spending the holidays marooned in a plastic chair with rigid arms in a vacant hallway of vending machines in a regional airport with one toilet sounds like a nightmare. But for me it was a very reasonable -- one might say even attractive -- alternative to enduring Hanukkah with my parents.

Before I'm judged too harshly, it is important to point out that my parents, Leonard and Helene Levinson, while decent, law-abiding folk who have never murdered or even skimped on their taxes, are surprisingly terrifying human beings. Especially when you are their only son.

I love my parents. I'm grateful that they raised me. I just wish they would stop raising me and let me get on with my own life.

I had successfully avoided my folks for four years. I moved to Seattle specifically to be as far away from them as the continental United States would accommodate. I concocted excuses every year not to return home to Connecticut. But the long arm of guilt stretched across the country and stoutly slapped my face. My mother muttered of various polyps and varicosities. My father was surely inhaling his last breath. I had to come home, I was their only child.

And so I agreed, but mostly because I had another reason.

I had turned thirty that November, and I figured it was time to put an end to the forwarded JDate personals and curtail the habitual haranguing regarding so-and-so's beautiful unmarried or recently divorced daughter and the chronic reminders that my child-rearing days were sunsetting.

I had to break it to my parents that I was gay.

And not only gay; I actually made money being a gay fiction writer.

All they knew was that I wrote. They thought I was unsuccessful. How could I tell them my last novel, Nautilus, won a Lambda award and was a bestseller available through their local gay bookstore?

Did Hartford even have a local gay bookstore?

Was I really going to do this?

Well, the delayed flight gave me a respite. I settled into a molded plastic chair, bent my neck at an unreasonable angle in an attempt to "rest" my head on my shoulder, and closed my eyes. Problem solved. No large family scene, no sighing over the now lost theoretical grandchildren, no rows about the fact that I would not be passing on the family traits (heart disease, geographic tongue, a knack for finance, and high blood pressure).

To my dismay, the damned airline efficiently found me a replacement flight, and before long I shuffled onto a touch and go, turbulence-prone commuter flight, then another, and another, until I arrived in Hartford much worse for wear and unprepared for the fourteen inches of snow that had fallen since morning.

My bag was missing. This wasn't as much a surprise as an inevitability, given the flurry of last-minute airline transfers. This meant I would be living the next twenty-four hours out of my carry-on. All my presents were in my checked luggage, along with my clothes, my razor, and, I'm pretty sure, my balls. Because the second my feet stepped out onto the frigid landscape of New England, I felt like an insecure teenage boy again.

Other than my carry-on, the only item I had with me was a small but heavy vinyl suitcase stuffed full of copies of my books, including my latest bestseller, which my agent forced me to schlep across the country for a book signing in Bridgeport. Upon landing, the first message I received on my cell phone was that the book signing was canceled, due to snow.

Now all I had to give my family for Hanukkah was twenty copies of Nautilus.

I sniffled in the frigid air and braced myself. Against all odds, I was here. The world outside Bradley International Airport turned the color of bone. Everything merged in a blurry flurry of snow. I knew the weather was particularly treacherous when I saw even taxies driving slowly.

I looked around for my parent's beige Lincoln Town Car, but could not see it.

There was no way they forgot I was coming. I'd called them from my last transfer and they said they would pick me up.


I turned, and my expression -- my entire ego -- sank.

Standing before me -- towering over me, actually -- was Ethan Rosenberg, looking attractive, wealthy, successful, and smug.

Excuse me. Dr. Ethan Rosenberg, the acclaimed physician, son of my mother's mah-jongg partner, kid I grew up living next door to. The boy who tormented me in high school. The crush I had that could never be expressed. Damn him. Damn, damn, damn. Mr. Perfect himself was at the airport.

Ethan had a boyish handsomeness that only improved the more he aged. His light brown hair ruffled in the breeze. His hazel eyes sparkled with amusement. He was tall, did I mention that? His clothes broadcast the number of digits in his bank account. His tweed scarf matched his leather boots. The REI tag was legible on his warm-looking gloves. I had a sudden, overwhelming urge to stick my hands inside of them and feel Ethan's heat.

Or just heat, really.

"Hi, Ethan," I said, teeth chattering, squinting through the whiteout of snow for my parents. "And here I thought the chill in the air was just the blizzard."

Ethan smirked. "Nice to see you again."

"Picking up a relative?" I said casually, hoping he didn't notice me checking out his arms, which looked sculpted even through layers of wool and down. "I'm surprised you didn't call a limo service. I heard you make millions now."

"That's an exaggeration," Ethan said.

"Oh? My mother still keeps me posted. I get all your newspaper clippings. Congratulations on finding your lost cat last month, by the way."

Ethan frowned.

I realized I was running off at the mouth, as usual. Always so attractive when coupled with uncontrollable teeth chattering.

"So who are you here to pick up?" I said, attempting a semblance of civility.

"You, actually." Ethan lifted an eyebrow at my bag. "Where's the rest of your luggage?"

"En route to Zanzibar." I narrowed my eyes. "Where's my dad?"

"He's back at the house, but didn't want to drive in the snow so I volunteered to get you." Ethan was already walking toward his car. He effortlessly plucked the suitcase full of books from my hand. "Let me get that for you."

I yanked it back, masculine pride rising up in me. "I can carry it fine, thank you."

Ethan shrugged. "Suit yourself."

I slipped and stumbled through the snow as I followed him toward the parking lot. How did he walk so unerringly on ice? Maybe he was a secret visitor from some cold intergalactic planet. He certainly couldn't be human. There was no way his hair could always be mussed in such symmetry without the influence of superpowers.

Why did Ethan have to be here? For that matter, why was he here anyway?

"Why were you at my parents' house?" I asked belatedly. I slipped on a patch of ice and Ethan's hand shot out, grabbing my elbow, steadying me.

He smiled. "I'm staying at their house over the holidays."

I felt my throat go dry. "Why?" I croaked.

Ethan let go of my arm. "My dad's in the hospice unit. I came home to see how he's doing, and your mother offered to let me stay with them for a few days."

I almost asked about his mother, and then remembered another clipping, earlier this year, announcing her funeral.

So Ethan had lost his mother. And unless "hospice" was a fancy new term for "recovery ward," it sounded like he was about to become an orphan. Even if he tormented me in high school I couldn't help but feel sympathy.

"I'm sorry," I mumbled. "About your mom. And your dad."

"It's okay. He's pretty out of it. At least he isn't in a lot of pain."

We reached his car. It was a massive SUV, the kind that my people in Seattle would denounce, and I wanted to hate him for it, but then I realized, it probably handled well in snow and I should be grateful.

"All the rental company had, unfortunately," Ethan said, as if reading my mind.

"Rental car?" I fumbled with the frozen door handle. "You don't live here anymore, then?"

"I moved to Seattle," he said, and I felt like I had been sucker punched.


One beautiful part of living in Seattle was the fact that my upbringing and my adult life could never intertwine. Seattle was for the adult Jonah Levinson, the confident, openly homosexual, successful writer who had friends and a great apartment overlooking Lake Washington and a kayaking obsession.

Dr. Ethan Rosenberg belonged to the Connecticut version of Jonah Levinson, a person full of self-doubt and guilt and incomprehensible urges, unnaturally focused on the one boy who showed him up and humiliated him. Ethan himself.

I fumbled at the parking gate for my wallet but Ethan was way ahead of me. He paid the attendant and gave her one of his customary flirtatious winks.

"I'll get you back for that," I told him.

"Don't worry about it. It's really good to see you again." Ethan shot me a dashing smile and then appropriately turned his attention to the blizzard enveloping us.

It's really good to see you again.

Did he mean it? How could he mean it?

We ran into each other around the holidays when I returned to Hartford. Our parents had been friends since before we were born, and we shared two high school buddies in common who still lived in the area. We had even found ourselves at the same house parties on occasion.

I would watch him from afar, pointlessly torn between desire and a seething hatred. After all, Ethan was the only guy from my neighborhood who had played on the intramural soccer team. He was the basketball team captain, the guy who girls swooned after, who was Homecoming King, who had perfect grades, who got into Harvard Medical School, who worked at a homeless shelter on weekends, delivered the paper every morning, was an apprentice cantor at the synagogue, who fixed my mother's sink and rototilled her garden every year.

He also won the state spelling bee in sixth grade.

His mother loved him and talked about him incessantly. And because his mother and my mother spent every waking moment together when I was growing up, my mother ended up constantly rehashing the pro-Ethan monologue.

"Why can't you get a summer job at the synagogue?" my mother would demand. "Rabbi Oblat told Ethan that he can clean up after shul and make a little extra money."

Or, "Ethan got a scholarship to Harvard, Jonah. Maybe you should consider getting a scholarship to Harvard."

As if the only thing between me and a scholarship to Harvard was sheer will.

So I resented him for being everything I wasn't -- beautiful, talented, popular. His parents took pride in him. Which was more than could be said for my own parents, and understandably so.

In high school I was awkward, all limbs. I did poorly in team sports and I was almost cripplingly shy. And as I would walk home, I would see Ethan with his friends, confident and laughing and beautiful, and I wanted him, I wanted him almost as much as I disliked him.

Even now, he made me nervous. He smelled so good. He looked so handsome. He had such easy confidence about himself. Even in a blizzard he drove one-handed.

I asked him to pull over at a convenience store. Inside I bought myself a pack of cigarettes and a lighter to replace the one airport security had taken from me. Ethan raised an eyebrow as I stuffed the pack into my inside coat pocket, but didn't say anything. He turned back onto the snowy highway.

"When did you move to Seattle?" I asked.

"Last month," he said. "I still don't know my way around very well. I'm hoping you can take me to a few good restaurants."

Take him, as opposed to tell him about? Interesting choice of words.

I gulped. "Why'd you move? Can't be for the weather."

Ethan laughed. "People keep warning me about the weather but I tell you what: I'll take three dreary weeks of rain over this." He squinted into the blinding nothingness.

"So why did you move then?" I asked.

"Maybe I just wanted to see more of you." Ethan flashed me another confusing smile, which sent a chill down my spine, and I shivered.

Ethan, always the gentleman, turned up the heat.

A Trip to Remember by Meg Harding
THE CITY was blanketed in snow. The roads were slick with it; the cars parked along the side nothing more than large lumps of white. Snowflakes continued to fall from the sky in an endless stream, buffeted about by a not-so-gentle wind.

A blow-up Santa went sailing down the street, borne away on a particularly strong gust. Candy canes lawn ornaments barely poked through the snow. The flickering of lights could hardly be seen through the thick veil of white.

It was the picture of winter; Christmas spirit in all of its glory.

Colin hated it.

A blizzard, the lady from the airport had called to say. No flights were coming in, and none were departing. “I’m sorry, sir,” she’d said. “We can call to let you know when flights resume.”

He then made the mistake of asking when she thought that would be.

“Not for another three days, at least,” she’d said. “It’s a bad storm.”

It might have been rude, after all the weather certainly wasn’t her fault, but he’d hung up then. Three days. In three days it would be the day after Christmas, and he’d have missed the holiday.

He peeked out his window at the sea of white, cursing it up and down. The lights in his living room flickered. “No,” he pleaded, “no, no.” The lights went out, and his fan slowly wound to a stop. He banged his head against the window and then did it again for good measure.

After letting the blinds fall shut, he retreated to his bedroom, shedding his clothes along the way. It was six in the morning; he’d get some sleep, and maybe when he woke up the snow would have miraculously stopped, and he’d have power again.

He wasn’t holding his breath.

Lying down in his cool sheets (which would soon be very cool indeed as the heating ceased to work), he found he was unable to sleep. All he could focus on was what a disaster this was. He didn’t want to spend Christmas alone. He wanted to spend it with his family at their fancy ski cabin in the mountains, where he could relax and see people he hadn’t seen since the Christmas before.

Did the weather not know how much it was inconveniencing him?

Author Bios:
Dianne Hartsock
After growing up in California and spending the first ten years of marriage in Colorado, I now live in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon with my incredibly patient husband, who puts up with the endless hours I spend hunched over the keyboard letting my characters play.

I have to say, Oregon’s raindrops are the perfect setting in which to write. There’s something about being cooped up in the house while it pours rain outside, a fire crackles on the hearth inside, and a cup of hot coffee warms my hands, which kindles my imagination.

The intricate and fragile nature of the mind is always fascinating. Having worked with the public through various careers I’ve come to respect the resilience and strength of the human spirit. I’m always trying to capture that spirit in my writing.

Currently, I work as a floral designer in a locally-owned gift shop. Which is the perfect job for me. When not writing, I can express myself through the rich colors and textures of flowers and foliage.

Andrew Grey
Andrew grew up in western Michigan with a father who loved to tell stories and a mother who loved to read them. Since then he has lived throughout the country and traveled throughout the world. He has a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and now writes full time.

Andrew’s hobbies include collecting antiques, gardening, and leaving his dirty dishes anywhere but in the sink (particularly when writing)  He considers himself blessed with an accepting family, fantastic friends, and the world’s most supportive and loving partner. Andrew currently lives in beautiful, historic Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Sean Michael
Often referred to as "Space Cowboy" and "Gangsta of Love" while still striving for the moniker of "Maurice," Sean Michael spends his days surfing, smutting, organizing his immense gourd collection and fantasizing about one day retiring on a small secluded island peopled entirely by horseshoe crabs. While collecting vast amounts of vintage gay pulp novels and mood rings, Sean whiles away the hours between dropping the f-bomb and persuing the kama sutra by channeling the long lost spirit of John Wayne and singing along with the soundtrack to "Chicago."

A long-time writer of complicated haiku, currently Sean is attempting to learn the advanced arts of plate spinning and soap carving sex toys.

Barring any of that? He'll stick with writing his stories, thanks, and rubbing pretty bodies together to see if they spark.

Astrid Amara
Astrid Amara lives in Bellingham, Washington. She's a former Peace Corps Volunteer, an advocate for animal rights, and a bureaucrat by day. After work she can usually be found writing, riding horses, hiking, or else sleeping. Her novel The Archer's Heart was a finalist for the 2008 Lambda Literary Award.

Meg Harding
Meg Harding is a graduate student, currently studying MA Publishing in the UK. She's an editor and a lover of fanfiction. When she isn't writing she enjoys the theatre, concerts, and lazing about in front of the TV. Meg Harding is a graduate of UCF, and is completing a masters program for Publishing in the UK. For as long as she can remember, writing has always been her passion, but she had an inability to ever actually finish anything. She’s immensely happy that her inability has fled and looks forward to where her mind will take her next. She’s a sucker for happy endings, the beach, and superheroes. In her dream life she owns a wildlife conservation and is surrounded by puppies. She’s a film buff, voracious reader, and a massive geek.

Dianne Hartsock

Andrew Grey

Sean Michael

Astrid Amara

Meg Harding


Snowbound in Nowhere

Unto Us the Time has Come

Holiday Outing

A Trip to Remember

Silverwitch by Tamara Grantham

Title: Silverwitch
Author: Tamara Grantham
Series: Olive Kennedy, Fairy World MD #4
Genre: Adult Fantasy Romance
Release Date: December 19, 2016
Publisher: Crimson Tree Publishing
It’s Faythander’s legend of King Arthur. And it’s not for the faint of heart.

Olive Kennedy, Fairy World MD, isn’t ready to go back to work. But when her dragon stepfather shows up on her doorstep with bad news of the world-ending variety, that’s exactly what she’ll have to do. He wants her to stop the elven queen from obtaining seven weapons of King Arthur fame, and he wants her to break into a dragon’s vault to do it.

One problem. Silvestra, the silverwitch of Dragon Spine Mountain, guards the weapons. And she’s not willing to give them up. With the help of Kull, her newly reunited, half-crazed Viking boyfriend, she’s hopeful they’ll stand up against the dragon. Plus, she’ll have the help from Kull’s warrior princess sister and a professional thief.

But Olive has never had great luck. What starts as a routine quest quickly turns into a life or death fight. And one of her companions won’t make it out alive…

I only fear one thing.

Being tortured, starved, beaten, burned, and left for dead should have broken me. Instead, I became stronger. I no longer fear those things. Not anymore.

I only fear one thing.
The mountaintop’s icy wind chapped my skin as I stabbed my knife through the wraith’s hide. Blood spattered on my breastplate. Again? Did this creature have any idea how long it took to polish silver? The monster spun around with my blade embedded in its back and snapped at my face, making me jump back, slip on the frozen pond, and land on my backside.

This was not my best day.
“Maveryck,” I yelled at the man fighting alongside me. “I need a weapon.”

Maveryck fought two beasts at once. He was a professional thief, not a fighter, which made me wonder how he’d managed not to die yet. It helped that he wielded a magical staff with ridiculous amounts of power. Gripping the staff tight, he knocked both of the monsters back, but one of the beasts grabbed him and pulled him to the ground.

Wrestling the beast away from the staff, he darted a glance at me. “Can’t you see I’m busy? What happened to all your weapons?”

“They’re stuck in the monster’s hide.”

“Then pull them out!”

I growled under my breath. He was useless. Had I been fighting alongside my brother, we’d have killed the monsters hours ago and been drinking mead by the fire.
He looked at me, his eyes dark and brooding. Maveryck was a man I did not understand. He had too many secrets and he wielded magic—in my experience, those two traits created a deadly combination. Despite being handpicked by the sky king to retrieve the lost staff, he’d proven himself to be a poor thief. He was also far too pretty to be a practical fighter—his eyes were a deep silver with flecks of amethyst, and his full, seductive lips seemed to hold back a secret. While his appearance was almost pretty, he was also entirely male, and I had no doubt he could fight if he put in the effort, which he didn’t.
“I fail to see how we’re lucky. We’re trapped in an unfamiliar world with no way of returning home. The staff is gone, and I have a suspicion that if we find it, we will not live long enough to return it to the sky king.”

Maveryck gave me a condescending smile. “Perhaps you will not live long enough,” he said as he stood, and without further explanation, he limped away from me and down a narrow hallway. I hesitated before following him. Navigating alone through a tomb like this would be suicide, so I reluctantly trailed him, barely keeping my temper in check.

“Where are you going?” I demanded.

“To find a way out of here.”

“What then?” I asked. “Where will we go? How will we find the staff? How will we return home? Have you the magic to create portals?”

He rounded on me, his jaw clenched. “First, and listen very clearly, I’m not in the habit of answering questions—not from you or anyone else. Second, I’m not your friend, nor am I trying to help you. For the time being, we share the same goal, so I will work with you in order to bring the staff back. After that, our partnership will be dissolved. I’ve never lost an object before, and it won’t happen now. If you impede me in any way, I will aid you no more.”

“Have you forgotten who my brother is? Should you return to Faythander without me, what do you think the king will do to you?”

“I don’t care.”

“You might care when you’re rotting in the Wult dungeons.”

“I doubt he would throw me in the dungeons for leaving you. In all honesty, I believe he would reward me.”

Now he’d pushed too far. I’d had an ill feeling about this man from the moment I’d met him, and I would tolerate his superior attitude no more. I shoved him against the wall, pressing the weight of my body against him, making the stacks of skeletal remains rattle behind us.

“Enough,” I hissed. “I will not tolerate being spoken to in such a manner.”

Instead of shying away as I expected, he clamped my wrists in his hands. He used no magic, but the calculated look he gave me sent shivers down my spine. “And I,” he said, “will also not tolerate being spoken to in such a manner.”

Fear made my heart beat wildly. Who is this man? It was at that moment I realized how very little I knew about him. Where did he come from? Where did he live? Who were his kin? His gaze locked with mine, and sparks of purple danced in the gray of his irises. I knew he possessed magic, but he’d led me to believe his powers were limited. Had he lied?
As the sun dipped lower toward the horizon, Maveryck still had yet to procure money or shelter of any kind. We neared the city’s center, where a square-shaped tower that tapered to a point rose above the other buildings.

“That’s an odd building,” I said. “What do you think is its purpose?”

“I’m not sure of its purpose, but I do know the Earthlanders call it the Eiffel Tower.”

I shot him a questioning glance. “Eiffel tower? How do you know that?”

“I’ve read about it.”

“Have you read about everything?”

“Of course not, but I have an interest in Earth Kingdom, and so naturally, I’ve read about it.”

“If you know so much, then tell me, how are we to obtain money?”

“I’m working on it.”

“Are you?” I asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“How do I know you aren’t saying that just to appease me?”

He stopped walking and gave me his hard stare. “Enough,” he said. “How am I to get anything done with you constantly questioning me?”

“So far, you’ve accomplished nothing. I would be better off alone.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, it is.”
We passed a large ornate building, and the sign over the doors read Banque de France.

Maveryck studied the building and then turned to me. “I’ll have to enter alone.”

“Why can’t I come in?”

He glanced at the blood drying on my now-tarnished breastplate. “I think it’s best if I enter alone.”


“Because this building is where the Earthlanders keep their money, and they tend to be frightened when people carry weapons and wear bloodstained armor into their financial institutions. We would most likely get arrested, spend the rest of our journey sitting in one of their dungeons, and never make it back home.”

I hated to admit it, but he had a point.
“How are you going to obtain their money?” I asked.

He gave me a sly grin. “Have you forgotten my profession?”

He was a thief. Right.
I remained lost in thought until something touched my arm and a wisp of magical energy flowed through my shoulder. I grabbed my knife and spun around, but I saw no one. Scanning the crowd, I looked for the person who had touched me, but only saw a few people with frightened expressions as they focused on my knife.

I sheathed the blade but kept an eye out for danger. I was being careless. What if the wraith was following me and waiting for any moment of weakness to attack? Cursing under my breath, I vowed to be more vigilant.

As I stepped into the courtyard, quiet footsteps echoed behind me.

Again, I grabbed my knife. This time, the intruder wouldn’t elude me. I rounded and readied my blade but stopped when I saw Maveryck approaching me.

I almost didn’t recognize him. He wore Earthlander clothing—a gray shirt that fit snugly and hinted at his defined chest muscles, dark pants, and leather shoes that looked more expensive than anything he should have been able to afford. The wind tousled his long locks of dark hair, and the faint, heady scent of his cologne filled the air. He looked even prettier than he had before, and my heart fluttered, a feeling that both annoyed and confused me.
We stopped at a large ornate building made of white stones and surrounded by decorative iron railings. Old trees with long, sprawling branches grew inside the courtyard, their limbs creaking in a quiet wind as soft white lights made their leaves shimmer.

“What is this place?” I asked.

“Our shelter.”

My mouth gaped.

“Maveryck, how were you able to obtain sleeping arrangements in a palace like this? It must have cost a fortune.” I narrowed my eyes. “Exactly how much money did you steal?”

He sighed, seeming annoyed. “I never said I stole it.”

“Then how could you afford this?”

“I have many talents. Not every situation requires theft—not when negotiation and tactfulness will work. Now, we really should get inside the hotel.”

He turned on his heel and walked through the gate overshadowing the courtyard. I watched him before following. He hadn’t answered my question. I was beginning to trust him even less, if that were possible. Plus, he was overly aloof and dangerously pretty—I was no longer sure either of us would survive this quest.
I stood alone in the room, staring at the dress as if it were a venomous serpent. Across from me, a mirror hung on the wall. My reflection stared back.

Blood dried on my forehead, sticking to my dark hair. My braid had come loose, and strands of hair stuck out in all directions. I rubbed at the now-crusted blood smeared on my skin in an effort to clean myself up, but nothing but soap and water would remove it completely.

Was this really how Maveryck had seen me?

The thought horrified me more than it should have. Why was it that I couldn’t stop thinking about him and his pensive gray eyes, the shape of his lips, the strong curve of his jawline, or the seductive scent of his cologne?

Was I attracted to him?

Surely not—well, perhaps a little—but any woman would be; he was a breathtaking specimen of male perfection. But was I attracted to him? And if so, did it mean anything?

I glanced back at the dress.

If I wore it, would it mean he controlled me the same way I’d been controlled before?

I traced my fingers along the jagged, puffy scars covering my hands and arms. I’d promised never to fall in love again, and although I had to admit I was attracted to Maveryck, it meant nothing. Wearing the dress meant nothing. It was simply a tool to aid me in my attempt to blend in, and that was all.
He gave me a bemused smile, as if he knew something I didn’t. “I suppose I’ve thought of it from time to time, but I’ve always felt more comfortable on my own. Someone with a reputation like mine can’t afford too many attachments.”

“Because you’re a thief?”

“Because I’m dangerous.”

It was my turn to smile. “Hardly.”
I avoided meeting his gaze. The truth was I wasn’t sure I could trust anyone ever again. I’d seen too much and heard too many lies. Someone like Maveryck would never understand.

“I will never trust you,” I told him. “I can’t.”

“You can’t or you don’t want to?”

I shrugged. “Maybe both.”
“You fight like a demon. You’ve got a godlike reputation in Faythander that’s only rivaled by your brother’s. If I had to guess, there are some who wouldn’t believe you to be mortal. So, do you feel pain? Did you feel pain when you got those scars?”

Author Bio:
Tamara Grantham is the award-winning author of more than half a dozen books and novellas, including the Olive Kennedy: Fairy World MD series and the Shine novellas. Dreamthief, the first book of her Fairy World MD series, won first place for fantasy in INDIEFAB’S Book of the Year Awards, a RONE award for best New Adult Romance of 2016, and is a #1 bestseller on Amazon in both the Mythology and Fairy Tales categories with over 100 reviews.

Tamara holds a Bachelor’s degree in English. She has been a featured speaker at the Rose State Writing Conference and has been a panelist at Comic Con Wizard World speaking on the topic of female leads. For her first published project, she collaborated with New York-Times bestselling author, William Bernhardt, in writing the Shine series.

Born and raised in Texas, Tamara now lives with her husband and five children in Wichita, Kansas. She rarely has any free time, but when the stars align and she gets a moment to relax, she enjoys reading fantasy novels, taking nature walks, which fuel her inspiration for creating fantastical worlds, and watching every Star Wars or Star Trek movie ever made. You can find her online at website.



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