Friday, October 27, 2017

Random Paranormal Tales of 2017 Part 10

Lost Mate by Dirk Greyson
Wolf shifter Falco Gladstone knew Carter McCloud was his mate when they were in seventh grade, but school and the foster care system tore them apart. Years later, Falco is second in command of his Michigan pack, serving under an uncle who cares more about his own power than the welfare of their people. The alpha orders Falco to marry and produce offspring—but Falco’s already found his mate, and mates are forever.

Carter’s lonely life is turned upside down when he detects a familiar scent on the wind. The mates might have found each other, but their happily ever after is far from guaranteed. Falco’s commitment to Carter puts him at odds with his uncle’s plans, and when one of the alpha’s enforcers starts shadowing the couple, something must be done—something that will either cement their relationship or destroy it once and for all.

The first time Falco Gladstone saw Carter McCloud he knew he found his mate but circumstances took Carter from his life now many years later once again Carter walks back into his life.  Problem is that his uncle is the new alpha after defeating the previous alpha because he had a male mate.  Will Falco be able to create a life with Carter or will he follow his alpha's order to marry and further the family line with plenty of offspring?

Lost Mate is a quick read, not because there is not much to the story or even because of its shorter length.  Its a quick read because its fun with just the perfect blend of romance, drama, paranormal, and plenty of heart.  Don't get me wrong, when I say its fun I don't mean there isn't heartache and tension.  Trust me Falco has enough on his plate with his uncle's homophobic bigotry and his uncle's enforcer's wanting to be beta, but it all meshes together brilliantly.

This is the third story of Dirk Gentry's that I have read and it won't be the last.  Who's to say Lost Mate wouldn't have been even better had it been a full length novel as opposed to its novella status but for this reader I found it to be just right.  Lost is also one of those stories that you know where its going to end up before you even finish the first chapter but as I often say, as in life it isn't always where you end up but how you get there and that is exactly what Falco and Carter's story is about: the journey.  A great little addition to my paranormal's shifter library.


The Magician of Dustville by Hollis Shiloh
Magic, danger, and love in the Old West

A small yet powerful magician moves to Dustville. He's prickly about his height (or lack thereof) and extremely private about his past.

Magician meets sheriff, also private about his past and quite firmly in the closet. It is, after all, the only safe place to be in the little almost-town of Dustville.

Attraction blossoming between them promises pleasure, and possibly more. Can this become what they both truly want — a real relationship?

And can they survive cruel villains, dark pasts, and a grave magical danger that will test them both to their limits … or beyond?

Original Review August 2017:
Magic, historical, good guys, bad guys all wrapped together in a lovely Hollis Shiloh bow. What's not to love? I'll admit I didn't fall in love with The Magician of Dustville as much as I have with Shiloh's other work but I still enjoyed myself from page one to the last.  What I loved the most was the "every-day-ality" of John.  Okay, you don't usually think "every day" when dealing with magic and paranormal genre but John is not the typical fictional tall and suave guy that is so often depicted, he's short, quiet, but proud and determined which is where my "every-day-ality" label figures in(and yes I know it's not an actual word or label but I don't like using the phrases "normal" or "normality" when referring to people-real or fiction).  As for Sheriff Henry, I loved his desire for life and for John and how he never lets what others might think factor into his heart.  As I said, Dustville might not quite level up to the previous reads from Hollis Shiloh that I've sampled but I was still sucked in and satisfied when the last page was turned.


Love Wanted by John Inman
When it rains, it pours. Not only has Larry Walls been evicted from his apartment, but his hours have also been cut at the department store where he works, leaving him facing homelessness.

Meanwhile, Bo Lansing, a total stranger to Larry, toils at a dead-end job as a fry cook while attending night classes to become a certified chef. When the school closes its doors without warning, leaving Bo in the lurch for thousands of dollars in tuition, his dream of becoming a chef is shattered and his financial troubles spiral.

Desperate for a new beginning, each man answers an ad for live-in help posted by a wealthy recluse, and wonder of wonders, they are both hired! Just as their lives begin to improve, a young Kumeyaay Indian named Jimmy Blackstone joins the workforce at the Stanhope mansion.

When Mr. Stanhope’s true reason for hiring the young men is discovered by one of the three, a fourth entity makes its presence known.


With all these players vying for position in a game of intrigue orchestrated by one lonely old man and a mischievous ghost, can a simple thing like love ever hope to survive the fray?

The Supers by Sean Michael
Hunting ghosts and finding more than they bargained for.

Blaine Franks is a member of the paranormal research group the Supernatural Explorers. When the group loses their techie to a cross-country move, newly graduated Flynn Huntington gets the job. Flynn fits in with the guys right off the bat, but when it comes to him and Blaine, it’s more than just getting along.

Things heat up between Blaine and Flynn as they explore their first haunted building, an abandoned hospital, together. Their relationship isn’t all that progresses, though, and soon it seems that an odd bite on Blaine’s neck has become much more.

Hitchhiking ghosts, a tragic love story forgotten by time, and the mystery of room 204 round out a romance where the things that go bump in the night are real.

Familiar Angel by Amy Lane
One hundred and forty years ago, Harry, Edward, and Francis met an angel, a demon, and a sorceress while escaping imprisonment and worse! They emerged with a new family—and shapeshifting powers beyond their wildest dreams.

Now Harry and his brothers use their sorcery to rescue those enslaved in human trafficking—but Harry’s not doing so well. Pining for Suriel the angel has driven Harry to take more and more risks until his family desperately asks Suriel for an intervention.

In order for Suriel to escape the bindings of heaven, he needs to be sure enough of his love to fight to be with Harry. Back when they first met, Harry was feral and angry, and didn’t know enough about love for Suriel to justify that risk. Can Suriel trust in Harry enough now to break his bonds of service for the boy who has loved his Familiar Angel for nearly a century and a half?

Lost Mate by Dirk Greyson
Prologue—12 years ago
THE BELL rang, hurting Falco’s ears. He usually anticipated it, but today the raw clang that shook his eardrums took him by surprise. He already had his things together and left his last Friday class in a huge hurry, looking forward to a weekend of running with the other boys in the pack. At thirteen, those his age weren’t ready for their first shift, but Falco could feel his wolf beginning to push toward the surface. Of his packmates, he had always been the one to experience everything first. Being the biggest and strongest, he’d developed faster than the others, which was both exciting and frightening. But he had his dad and uncle to help show him the way, and they knew just about everything about being a wolf shifter—at least, that’s what Falco thought.

He reached the hall, put his things in his locker, and grabbed his jacket and the one book he’d need for homework—thanks, Mr. Collins, Falco growled under his breath, his throat rumbling. Then he looked around, closed his locker, and headed out for the bus to take him home.

Falco reached the door to the middle school as a commotion caught his budding wolf hearing. He was still getting used to all the things his increased senses provided for him. The bell making him want to howl eight times a day was one of them, but those senses also warned him of trouble, like now. The early spring breeze, usually fresh and clean, carried the tang of abject fear.

Falco scrunched his nose and shoved his book into Missy’s hands. “Carry this on the bus for me?”

“What is it?” she asked innocently.

“I’ll be right back.” He raced toward the back of the building and turned the corner to where two other boys—Falco knew their exploits well enough—had a smaller blond-haired kid up against the wall.

“Just leave me alone,” the kid said forcefully, standing defiantly against the brick, staring back at both of them.

Falco had to give him credit—the kid had guts.

“What’s going on?” Falco asked in his best commanding voice, emulating the pack alpha as he stepped forward. He watched as the kid’s eyes widened and the smell of fear became more pungent. His uncle had told him once that sometimes fear was necessary to keep the order that a pack required. Falco had seen him put that into practice on a few occasions, but this was different.

“We’re just having a little fun. He’s a newbie, and we thought we’d see how fast the rabbit here could run before we brought him down,” Jason said with a vicious grin that indicated he was planning a lot more than just playing.

“Your fun’s over. The buses will be leaving soon.” Falco placed his hands on his hips, already tired of both of them.

Peter wheeled around as though he were going to fight, but stopped, eyes widening, and then he took a step back.

“Go on. Get out of here.” Neither of them was any match for him, and they both knew it. Falco was stronger than both Jason and Peter, and even together, Falco would clean their clocks, especially since his fingers and teeth were already tingling, preparing for a shift that he wasn’t ready for. “Go!” he growled, and they took off at a run.

“Thank you,” the kid said, holding his books over his chest. “It’s my first day, and—”

“They decided to welcome you to the school.” Falco stepped forward, and the breath zipped from his lungs like he’d been punched in the gut. Except there was no pain, only heat, warmth, the most amazing scent ever, and a total stiffy in his pants that he hoped wasn’t visible. The wolf inside him was now fully present, just like that, awake and pacing, pushing to get out.

“Yeah, I guess.” The kid shifted from foot to foot.

Falco tried to concentrate on what the kid was saying. He saw his lips move, but his mind floated elsewhere, a haze surrounding him. Falco blinked and shook his head. What the hell was happening to him? He wanted to step back, but the kid’s scent drew him closer. Hell, he wanted to rub himself all over the kid, just to get his scent on him. He needed to mark him as his, but that was completely stupid.

“I should go.”

Finally Falco’s brain kicked in. “We need to get to the bus.” Falco motioned in that direction, and the kid broke into a run, with Falco jogging behind him. They stopped outside adjacent buses.

“Thanks for your help. I’m Carter.”


The driver honked the horn, and Falco turned to climb onto the bus. He took the seat next to Missy, who handed him his book, and watched as Carter got on the other bus, his blond head moving above the seats until it disappeared once he sat down. Then they were moving and he lost sight of Carter.

“What happened?” Missy asked as they rode.

“Jason and Peter were being dicks to a new kid.”

Missy grinned up at him. “I always knew you were really a nice guy.” She elbowed him lightly in the side, and Falco rolled his eyes.

He’d always been told that alphas needed to be strong. Nice had rarely figured into the equation, at least as far as his uncle was concerned. Falco and his father didn’t talk much about things like that. As alpha, Dad was busy running the pack, so he let his brother take care of the less important things, like raising his son. That initial realization had hurt the first time it had occurred to him, but now it was just the way things were.

He and Missy talked a little, but his thoughts were on Carter and what his weird reaction meant.

When Falco got home, he walked up to the large pack house and went inside. His mother was in the kitchen, and she had food ready for him, which he devoured quickly. Falco was always hungry.

“How was your day?” she asked, wiping her hands on her apron as she turned around. Then she frowned. “Hey, what’s wrong?” She could always read him. His dad and uncle said he needed to get better at hiding his feelings, but he suspected that no matter how good he got, his mother would always be able to tell. She pulled out the chair next to his and sat down. “Something’s changed.”

“I know.”

“I mean, you smell different, like….”

“I can feel my wolf, Mom. Just like that, he was there, and… I don’t understand.” His heart rate had returned to normal and the tingling had subsided, but the intense thoughts of Carter remained. He could almost still smell him.

“You’re young to discover your wolf, but it happens. You need to tell your father so he can help you through your first shift. You’ll be ready soon.” She smiled proudly.

“Mom,” Falco asked as a wave of uncertainty he rarely experienced washed over him. “Can I ask you… what does it feel like to find your mate?”

She chuckled, stood, and went to the stove. “Well, it’s like the world stops for a few seconds and there is nothing but her, or in my case, your father.” Her eyes turned wistful as she leaned against the counter. “Your mate will have the best scent, perfect for you—one you can never get enough of for the rest of your life. Everything will click, and you know there will be no one else for you as long as you live. That will be it. Your wolf will want no one else.” She sighed and turned back to the stove. “You have plenty of time for that later.”

Falco nodded, but he knew he’d already found him. A guy—his mate was another boy. He wasn’t sure how the pack would feel about that. Not that it mattered; he was only thirteen, and no one was going to believe him anyway. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Sure, sweetie. Go finish your homework so you can talk to your dad later.” She continued her work, humming softly to herself, and Falco went to his room. He meant to do his homework, but his thoughts wandered to Carter and refused to let go. He’d found his mate, at least he thought so, and now all he had to do was make sure.
OVER THE next week, Falco managed to run into Carter at school on a regular basis, and each time his wolf grew stronger and more insistent, not to mention the way his body reacted when he got near. God, it was like he was on fire. The more he was around Carter, the more he was convinced Carter was his mate.

It took almost two weeks for Falco to become sure that, at thirteen, he’d found his mate, something some wolves never do their entire lives. He was thrilled and vowed to spend more time with Carter, become his friend, and really get to know him better.

The following Monday, Carter wasn’t in school. Falco figured he was sick and looked for him each morning, but Carter never showed up in school again.

Two weeks. He’d met his mate, and two weeks later, he was gone.

Love Wanted by John Inman
THE MANSION is situated on a lonely mountaintop in the high desert outside San Diego, California, just a handful of miles from the US/Mexican border. Piercing a stuccoed exterior, the delving eye of our camera pans inward through burled walnut paneling, up a long winding staircase, past sconces and portraits and diplomas long yellowed with age, until we come to a damask-wallpapered bedroom on the second floor where Roger David Stanhope sits at his desk, staring down at his wizened old hands.

They are arthritic and unsteady, those hands, weak now and speckled with age spots. They had not always been so. He could remember those same hands in his youth. They had been lithe and strong once, firmly fleshed and sprinkled with golden hairs. He had taken them for granted back then as they chopped wood, deftly spanned chords on a piano, stroked a lover’s skin.

In his youth, he had enjoyed a passion for carpentry. He remembered the feel of wood on his hands, be it the bark of a living chestnut tree or the smoothly sanded plank of cherrywood he had incorporated into a china cabinet to be proudly displayed in the dining room downstairs.

He had absorbed an entire lifetime through those very fingertips. His hands had not been palsied and hesitant in his youth. They had been skilled and exact, either gentle or strong, depending on the moment. They had not ached in the night or lost their grip holding the lightest of objects or grown numb for hours on end in cooler weather. They had served him well for decades, those hands. He had grown to trust they would be there for him to the end.

Which made their betrayal now all the more annoying.

Even the simple task of unpeeling a stamp and applying it to an envelope was a major undertaking. If it hadn’t been so pathetic, he might have laughed at himself. For even at the ripe old age of ninety-three, he still had a few laughs on tap. They were dispersed rarely these days, but they were still there, stored away, ready to toss into the air like confetti at a moment’s notice.

Before stuffing the letter inside the envelope, Roger David Stanhope perused it one last time. As he did, one of those hidden laughs, a mere chuckle really, sputtered up from his throat and bounced off the burgundy walls of the suite of rooms he rarely left these days.

His bedroom boasted an antique four-poster bed and other heavy, ornate pieces that had been fixtures in this house for more than a century; more than two centuries actually, having been delivered here by Roger’s great-great-grandfather following a long sea voyage packed in the hold of a brigantine out of Liverpool. The same seaport would later launch the first and final voyage of the ill-fated Titanic. Happily, the brigantine had not suffered the same fate as the doomed ocean liner. The furniture it carried had been antique already when it safely crossed the Atlantic, rounded Cape Horn, and threaded its way through the Straits of Magellan before heading due north to San Diego Bay.

Today, while the brigantine was long gone from the face of the planet, the furniture was still here, and undoubtedly priceless.

But that did not impress the man holding the letter. He had wielded wealth far too long for anything with a high dollar value to hold sway over him now.

Remembering the Titanic, however, brought forth his second chuckle of the morning. He was the Titanic now, he suddenly realized, still a-sea upon his own maiden voyage. His own first and final adventure. He was about to meet his own fucking iceberg, whatever it might turn out to be. But he had a chore to accomplish before he let those metaphorical waves flood over him, inundating his holds, dragging him down into the cold dark depths where he would never be seen again by living eyes.

Well, not a chore, really. It was more of a larkish good deed. Thinking of it now, his old face crinkled into a merry smile that, had he a mirror handy with which to study it, might have brought forth the third chuckle of the morning. In that merry smile could be seen glimpses of the handsome young man he had once been. The business tycoon, the explorer, the lover of one man and one man only, who had shared Roger’s life for seven decades, but who had slipped beneath his own waves two years earlier.

That parting had not been a sad one. Not really. Jeremy had been ill for several years before the cancer finally took him. He had suffered enough. And as Jeremy himself had said on the very morning that would be his last, eighty-nine years on this incredible planet, most of it spent in the arms of one wonderful man, was more than anyone deserved.

By the time that fateful morning rolled around, Jeremy had become a mere shell of the beautiful, swashbuckling rascal he once was. On that day, he had lain in the same four-poster bed where Roger now slept and taken Roger’s hand for the very last time. His final speech came in fits and starts—it was such a torture for him to speak—but he finally wrested the words into existence.

They were words Roger would never forget. Nor would he forget the anguish Jeremy bore to utter them.

“We were lovely together in our time, Rog. Both of us handsome and strong and madly in love. Looking at us now, no one would ever believe how dashing we once were. I can still close my eyes and taste your beautiful young cock. I can still feel the heat of your juices spilling across my tongue. Your strong, sculpted body thrumming beneath my hands. And oh, how you relished me. Do you remember, Rog? Do you remember how well we fit together? How unconditionally we craved and savored each other?”

On that fateful morning, which was to be their last, Roger had squeezed the old hand he cradled. He was lying beside Jeremy in the bed, his head on Jeremy’s chest. He lifted his head and pressed his bloodless lips to the throat of the man beneath him.

“I remember, Jeremy. I remember it all. Every day. Every moment. You made my life worth living.”

“And you mine,” Jeremy had answered, a gentle smile softening his mouth even as he tried to fight back the cough that rarely left him these days. It was in the very midst of that smile that his blue eyes dimmed and the breath slowly leaked from Jeremy’s cancer-riddled lungs, leaving him at long last still and lifeless in the bed. His old fingers slowly relaxed in Roger’s hair. The house grew silent around them but for the ticking of the Regulator clock in the hall. The bedroom, for the first time in decades, echoed with the beat of one heart instead of two.

Sensing that great silence settle around him, Roger had sadly smiled. It was the same gentle smile that Jeremy now wore in death. Pain free at last, his misery ended. Thank God.

“Good-bye,” Roger had whispered softly into the silent air, his words lying listless in the space between the damasked walls. “Until we meet again, my love.”

Later the tears would come, but at the moment of their parting, Roger felt only blessed relief to see Jeremy’s beloved face calm and untortured by the traitorous body that had held it ransom for so long.

And now, on this morning two long years later, with the house still silent about his head, Roger wrenched himself from the memories and stared back down at the letter in his hand, his heart once again jovial, eager to begin this final chapter of his life. This final escapade. Hand-printed on the paper was the suggested wording for a help wanted ad. That’s what the letter contained. Nothing more, nothing less. It would run in the San Diego Union-Tribune the following Sunday if all went as planned.

A simple ad. But not so simple either.

Roger’s sweet old smile returned, once again casting youthful shadows over his weathered face as he read the letter one last time before slipping it into the envelope and sealing it shut.

Later, Mrs. Price, the old woman—and friend—who did for him, at least for a few weeks longer, would carry it down to the door and deliver it into the hands of the mailman, who would cart it away, thus setting the wheels of Roger’s final adventure in motion.

And oh, what a splendid adventure it would be!

A flurry of hammering in a nearby room told him the technicians were still hard at work installing the cameras. Just a few finishing touches, they had told him, a few tweaks, and the system would be up and running. He had to give the tech guys credit. Not once had they asked the purpose behind installing hidden surveillance cameras in every room of the mansion, nor of the control panel with an array of monitors, which had been mounted in what had once been Roger’s massive walk-in closet. Behind the high-tech installation sprang a tangle of fiber-optic cables and cathode-ray tubes, glisteningly new and shooting off to various parts of the mansion, concealed in baseboards and crown moldings. By manipulating a computer mouse, each high-resolution camera could be swiveled left or right, panned out to display an entire room, or pulled in tight for a close-up that filled an entire screen. The room housing the monitors was just off the master bedroom, not six shuffling steps from where Roger now sat in his silk brocade dressing gown with his white shock of hair still ruffled from sleep, surrounded by countless photos of Jeremy and himself, which were hanging on every wall and perched on every shelf.

As he sat, he softly hummed a tuneless song and turned the envelope over and over in his hands. Waiting for Mrs. Price to come and fetch the outgoing mail. Waiting for his final adventure to start.

While he waited, the smile never left his face.

Chapter 1
IT WAS an unassuming ad placed deep in the Help Wanted section of the Sunday issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Larry Walls spotted it while desultorily plodding his way through a breakfast of stale hamburger buns slathered with peanut butter, because he couldn’t afford bagels and cream cheese, which would have been his preference. Well, no, actually his preference would have been to drag his ass down to the Denny’s on the corner and scarf up a platter of waffles and sausage patties, but waffles and sausage patties cost money. And money was something Larry was a little short of at the moment.

Nothing new there, of course. Larry was always short of money.

Because of that, it was the first two words in the ad that had snagged his attention. Those two words really stood out, especially when glimpsed by someone like Larry Walls, who didn’t have fifty dollars in the bank and who still had a week to go before his next paycheck would come along.

The two words, in all caps, were EASY MONEY.

Larry liked the sound of that. Not only did he have less than fifty bucks in the bank, the actual newspaper he was browsing through was stolen from the coin-operated kiosk down the street. Well, not stolen actually. The kiosk was faulty. Every time someone legitimately purchased a paper from it and closed the flap of the kiosk behind them, the next person to come along could open the flap without inserting any coins at all. But it only worked once, at least until the next person came along to stuff money into the slot.

This morning Larry had stood on the street corner for less than five minutes before a gentleman strolled up, stuck his two dollars’ worth of quarters into the slot, and snagged a paper. Less than five seconds later, Larry moved in and snagged his own paper, free of charge.

So okay, if you wanted to get technical about it, Larry told himself, maybe the paper really was stolen. But hey, was it his fault the Union-Tribune people didn’t keep their equipment in proper working order? And really, how much of a loss would the newspaper suffer by doling out a free Sunday paper to Larry Walls once a week? It wasn’t like he stole a paper every day. Only Sunday. He liked the New York Times crossword puzzle, see. And the colored funnies. And sometimes the book reviews. Those things only came out on Sunday. The actual news in the newspaper was of very little interest to Larry. His own life was in too much turmoil for him to worry about what a mess the rest of the world was in.

Larry Walls slathered peanut butter over another stale hamburger bun and tore his eyes from the newspaper long enough to study the eviction notice propped against the saltshaker in front of him. He was behind on his rent. Again. Apparently, this time a simple apology wouldn’t be enough to get him off the hook. While his manager liked him, she had also warned him that the owner of the apartment building was far less forgiving than she, and the next time Larry was late forking over the rent, he might very well be evicted.

She was right. And here in front of him was the eviction notice to prove it. He had found it hanging on his front door when he left that morning to run up the street to steal a paper.

Larry tore his eyes from the notice because it made him a little ill to look at it. It wasn’t like he wasn’t trying to pay his bills on time. It’s just that the department store where he worked kept cutting his hours. He had tried to find another part-time job to fill the dead time, but when the store continually shifted his hours around as if on a whim, it was almost impossible to hold down a second job.

Weary of thinking about it, Larry tried to push everything from his thoughts, refocusing on the ad instead. And an intriguing ad it was too.
EASY MONEY. Wanted! Two gentlemen needed. Live-in.
One to cook. One to run the house. Must be single and
unattached. Need no references other than a ready smile and a gay, romantic heart. Kindness a must. Need for new
beginnings a plus. Hunger for life an absolute necessity.
Interviews one week from today at the address below.
Larry stared at the ad so long his eyes began to ache. What the heck did “gay, romantic heart” mean? Was the hirer actually looking for gay men, or did they simply mean “gay” in the “cheerful, happy-go-lucky” sense? Was this some old man or woman expecting sexual favors along with cooking and a little light housekeeping? Or was the ad legit?

But “live-in”! Now there was a delightful phrase. “Live-in” would mean no rent. And for Larry Walls, no rent at the moment was a very appealing prospect indeed.

At twenty-three, with a mere high school degree and no college courses under his belt, Larry’s prospects weren’t exactly stellar. This ad could be the break he needed. It could help him get on his feet. It might also be a good way to keep his mind off Daniel, who after a six-month affair had just broken Larry’s heart by dumping him for a barista, for Christ’s sake. You know you’re at the bottom of the slag heap when you’ve been replaced by a barista. And it wasn’t even a barista at Starbucks. It was a barista at some shit-hole coffee shop on the wrong side of town with a B rating in the window and probably mouse turds in the muffins. Jesus.

Larry hadn’t even known Daniel had left until he went to get something out of the closet and found all of Daniel’s clothing gone. What kind of a lover would leave without saying a word? Or at least chucking something at your head as they stormed out the door?

Larry slumped in his chair, the hamburger bun in his hand forgotten. He closed his eyes and absorbed the silence in the apartment. The lonely, lonely silence. He had loved Daniel. He had. He had even been foolish enough to believe Daniel loved him back. At that embarrassing realization, Larry’s throat tightened and tears sprang to his eyes. He tried to swallow away the urge to drop his head to the table and bawl like a baby. He was an adult. Adults don’t do shit like that. Instead he sat there ignoring the tears streaming down his cheeks and stared out the kitchen window until the need to weep was vanquished.

A book Larry read in sophomore literature class suddenly came to mind. The Scarlet Letter. Larry wondered what tattoos cost, because he had just about come to the conclusion that he wanted a big scarlet A tattooed on his frigging forehead. Not for adultery, but for abstinence, which was how Larry was pretty sure he wanted to spend the rest of his life. Abstaining. Yes, at the ripe old age of twenty-three, he had already come face-to-face with the fact that being in love sucked. And being hurt by the people you love sucks even more.

Angry at himself for feeling as miserable as he did, but unable to do anything about it, he stuffed the rest of the hamburger bun in his mouth, thinking that might take his mind off his misery. Which it didn’t.

“Fuck it,” he said, rebelliously spewing the words out into the silent apartment on a cloud of peanut butter breath in an attempt to ease his pain, not unlike delivering a dose of antivenin to a snakebite. Then he upped the dosage. “Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it.”

And with that rather feeble attempt at asserting his authority over life’s miseries, he made a vow to himself. Never again would he fall in love. His heart was now off the market. Forever.

Larry sniffed up a wad of snot and studied his reflection in the dented, jelly-smeared chrome toaster sitting in front of him. Waiting for another hamburger bun to pop out, he eyed his red hair, which was in need of a cut and at the moment was sticking up all over the place because he had just crawled out of bed not thirty minutes ago. That was just before he stole a paper and returned home to find an eviction notice thumbtacked to his door. His blue eyes, warped in the chrome as if in a funhouse mirror, were bright enough. And since he wasn’t wearing a shirt, or anything else for that matter, his bare shoulders were also reflected rather fetchingly in the toaster. He looked handsome enough to still reap some attention in the gay bars he occasionally frequented, when he could afford it. He supposed he wouldn’t be frequenting them anymore, however, since abstinence was the game plan from here on out, or so he had resolved less than five seconds earlier.

He was sitting at the kitchen table naked, see, because once he returned home with the stolen newspaper in one hand and tore the eviction notice off the door with the other, and after coming to terms yet again with the fact that his lover had dumped him without even having the decency to say good-bye, for God’s sake, he felt so hemmed in by the restraints of his miserable existence that he couldn’t stand any further restrictions, not even clothes. They were currently scattered across the kitchen floor where he’d flung them in a fit of pique, which he had been throwing a lot of lately, now that he thought about it, which was another reason to abstain from men forever.

At that moment, the awaited hamburger bun popped out of the toaster. Larry smeared it with peanut butter and lazily gnawed away at it as he turned back to the ad.

The address in the ad was unfamiliar to him. He reached over and dragged his secondhand laptop off the counter. After punching a few keys and waiting for it to boot up, he was finally able to log in to Google Maps and see where the job interview was taking place.

Holy cow! It was way the heck out in the middle of nowhere, up on a mountainside south of the city. He ran his cursor over the little yellow man waiting patiently at the corner of the Google Map page and walked him up to the address displayed.

The screen opened up and there it was. A mansion! Larry leaned in closer. It really was. An honest-to-God mansion. With brick and brown-stuccoed walls and a confusing patchwork of gables and sloping adobe-tiled roofs and tall leaded windows. Flagstone chimneys poked up here and there off the roof, denoting, Larry assumed, fireplaces scattered throughout the edifice, and all of it surrounded by desert landscaping, with boulders and cactus and a gravelly macadam driveway leading to the house from the county road half a mile away.

To the left of the secluded mansion stood a greenhouse, with glass walls and a glass roof, it too tucked in among the boulders and cactus. The greenhouse stood in the shadow of the main house, like a poor relation cowering behind the skirts of a formidable old aunt. No glimpse of blossoms sprinkled colors behind the transparent greenhouse walls. The building stood empty, bereft of life and care and flora. Its glass panes, especially those on the roof, were yellowed with grime, as if a good rain had not swept them clean for many a long year. The glass structure appeared forlorn. Neglected. Sad.

Larry walked the little yellow man across the computer screen to see if he could catch a glimpse of what lay behind the mansion, but the little yellow man refused to go that far.

Since Larry was no five-star chef—his breakfast of hamburger buns and peanut butter was a good indication of that—he had to figure he would be applying for the caretaking part of the ad, not the cooking part. Judging by the mansion he could see on the computer screen, if he should turn out to be the only caretaker on the premises, he would have his hands full. Keeping the windows clean alone might well prove to be a lifelong vocation.

But surely there would be other servants around. Maids, maybe. Butlers. That would be interesting, Larry decided. He had never seen a real butler in his life, only the ones on Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. He wasn’t sure how well he would fit in with the snootiness of a household boasting butlers, but for free rent he was certainly willing to take a stab at it. And Larry wasn’t afraid of a little work. He never had been. He could work like a pile driver when he set his mind to it.

He turned away from the computer screen and perused the ad one more time. While he studied the newsprint, he tried to decide what to wear for the interview, which more than anything told him he wasn’t waffling anymore. He had decided to go for it.

The thought of waffling reminded him of the waffles he couldn’t afford. With a sigh, because he still missed his lover who was most certainly never coming back, and since he was still as naked as a jaybird because he hadn’t yet dressed to go to the job he hated at the department store, Larry slathered the very last glob of peanut butter in the jar over the very last goddamn hamburger bun and chewed it to a pulp.

While he chewed, he decided he’d wear his one and only suit to the interview.

At least in a suit he wouldn’t look homeless, and homeless was what he’d be in exactly—craning his head, he checked the calendar on the wall—fifteen days.

Things were suddenly fairly desperate here, he realized. Perhaps he should even squander a portion of his last fifty dollars to spring for dry-cleaning the suit.

Oh God. How could his life so suddenly have gone spinning out of control like this?

Larry Walls closed his eyes, trying to shut out the day ahead, but it didn’t work. When he opened them, the day was still there, waiting for him like a spider.

Resigned, he slouched off to the bathroom to shower and dress for work.

The Supers by Sean Michael
Chapter One
“OKAY, MRS. Michaels. I have two pounds of tomatoes, a bunch of spinach, and some okra. You want anything else?” The heat was hanging on today, the sun beating down on the makeshift building that was the official King and Franks Farm Stand, named after his mom and dad’s families.
“No, Blaine, honey. That’s it. How’s your mom?”

“Good. Good. The chemo is done, and she’s recovering. She’s a stud.” And Dad was Dad—working his ass off on the organic farm that kept them in quarters. One day Blaine would go back to college, get a job that helped out, but for now they needed him here, working the stand, hawking veggies.

It was a good life, really. He hated being cooped up, hated being trapped under fluorescent lights, and the idea of a cubicle made him gag.

And this way he got to work with the Supers on the side. Well, at night really, as that’s when they tended to do their thing. They hadn’t had a gig in a few weeks, but then they hadn’t had anyone doing tech work since Jill left. She’d moved from Port Hope to BC with her girlfriend.

Jason had found someone new, though, had promised to bring him by today to meet Blaine.

His folks teased him about being a spirit chaser, but they indulged him. Hell, he was a grown-up; they didn’t have the right to tell him no, but still….

The guys were important to him. They believed him—mostly.

He hoped the new guy wasn’t too much of a skeptic. It was hard to find tech guys who believed that ghosts might be real. They’d discovered when they’d first banded together that most tech guys were there to prove that ghosts didn’t exist.

The huge van pulled up, Supernatural Explorers written on the side of it. The thing fit all their equipment, six people—though there were usually just four—and in a pinch a couple of them could sleep in there too.

Jason, who ran the group and got them gigs and stuff; Darnell, their cameraman; and Will, their, well, roadie for want of a better word, all spilled out, with another guy in tow. He had to be the new guy, and he was handsome. He didn’t look much like a scientist. More like a football player. Tall, broad-chested, with dark curls that spilled around his face in an unruly manner, the guy was quite handsome.

Blaine knew what he looked like—a dishwater-blond hippie with dirt under his fingernails and torn-up clothes. He was a child of the earth, after all.

Jason was skinny as a rail, had an acne-ridden face, and wore glasses. Darnell was a stud, milk-chocolate skin accompanied by the most amazing dreads, while Will looked like a biker and had the muscles to move any equipment they brought with them. They were a scruffy crew who didn’t quite look like they belonged together, but they were ghost hunters—they weren’t exactly hired for their matching attire, and not a one of them was interested in wearing a uniform.

Jason gave Blaine a wide grin and waved at the new guy. “This is Flynn Huntington, potential com tech. Flynn, this is Blaine, the guy who has the final say on whether or not you’ve got the job.”

Flynn held out his hand and gave him a friendly smile. “Nice to meet you. So you’re the leader of this motley crew?”

“Me?” He’d never led the guys anywhere but into trouble. “I’m not the leader. I’m just the flashlight guy.”

Blaine was the one who tended to see something if there was something to see. He heard them—the ghosts—talking to him, but it wasn’t clear. It was like a constant, crazy murmuring.

“Like I said, he who leads.” Flynn winked, and when he reached out and shook Blaine’s hand, a flash of something sparked between them. Flynn must have felt it too. His eyes widened, his mouth opening on a soft gasp.

A rush of heat and pleasure and a jolt of something dangerous, and this had never happened to Blaine, ever, so it couldn’t be real. Had to be the heat.

It wasn’t until Flynn dropped his hand that Blaine realized he’d still been holding it. Flynn’s smile seemed warmer this time.

“We all grilled him and gave him the okay, but now it’s your turn,” Jason informed him, looking around. “I’ll man the stand if you want to take him to the side or something. I don’t mean to press you, but we’ve got a gig this weekend.”

“Just watch the cash, okay?”

Jason gave him a hurt look. “Dude, how many summers did I work here?”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re right.” This was the first summer, though, where it felt a little like life and death. They needed every penny they could scrape together to pay the fucking hospital bills.

Flynn followed Blaine to a quiet corner, and Blaine was overly conscious that as tall as he was, Flynn was taller. Seriously, he hadn’t known they built scientists in extrastudly.

“So, why us? Why this? Tell me everything.” He grabbed a plum from a basket and tossed it over.

Flynn grabbed it easily and rubbed it against his shirt. “Thanks.” He took a bite, the juice running down from one corner of his mouth.

Blaine was struck with the urge to lick it away. He forced himself to look into Flynn’s eyes instead.

“I want to prove that ghosts exist, and you guys had an opening in my area of expertise just as I graduated. Kind of seems like fate.”

“What’s your area?” Blaine liked Flynn’s attitude already, though. He wasn’t going into it predisposed to disbelief. He wanted to prove ghosts existed, like Blaine.

“Electromagnetism, biology, and computers. I’ve written a few programs to crunch the data for temperature changes, etc. And they can totally be tweaked as needed. Plus… well, I guess you guys are the ones for whom this is a pro not a con, but I’ve experienced ghosts before.”

“Yeah? When?” That wasn’t particularly unique. Ghosts were everywhere, and people also got spooked by things that weren’t ghosts all the time.

“Most of my life, actually.” Flynn held his gaze for a long moment, and Blaine felt like the guy was testing him. He must have passed because Flynn continued. “My parents died when I was five. Car accident. Every now and then, when I really need her, my mother comes to me.”

“I’m sorry, man. Honestly.” Blaine knew the fear of losing his folks. He lived in terror of losing his mom, especially now.

Flynn shook his head. “It was a long time ago, and like I said, I still have my mother when I really need her.” This time his grin was self-deprecating. “Of course I learned early not to tell people about it. I’ve experienced other phenomena too, that I know were from beyond, so I want to prove it.”

Prove I’m not crazy.

Though unsaid, Blaine was pretty sure he could hear that in Flynn’s thoughts.

“I get that. I don’t need proof. I know like I know chairs exist, but I’m the guy in the group the spirits seem to flock to.”

“That’s got to be scary sometimes. I mean when it’s a place where people were murdered. Or a prison or something.”

“Sometimes. Lots of times. Mostly it turns out to be nothing—creaking buildings or animals—but sometimes….” At least Blaine thought so. He was pretty sure.

“Yeah, I imagine there’s a lot of dead ends.” Flynn stopped for a moment. Then he laughed, the deep sound finding a place to settle in Blaine’s belly. “Pun not intended, but damn, it should have been.”

Blaine began to laugh along, and suddenly Darnell appeared. “So, he’s in, huh? Cool.”

“That quick?” Flynn asked.

Darnell nodded, his dreads flopping enthusiastically. “Dude, you made him laugh out loud. That’s a thing.”

“I didn’t even do it on purpose!” Flynn looked pleased, dark eyes lit up and twinkling.

“We’ll give it a try. I think we’ll manage,” Blaine said. And if they didn’t, who cared?

“That’s great!” Flynn grabbed Blaine’s hand and shook it, and again there was a jolt, a sharing almost of… spirit?

Lord, he was getting crazier as the day went on.

Flynn finished the plum as Darnell called the others over. They all shook hands, and nobody else seemed to feel anything special when they touched Flynn.

Huh. Well, maybe Blaine was imagining things. It happened. A guy could start reading into everything.

“We should go out to celebrate,” Darnell suggested. “Have supper, a couple of beers, and get to know each other before we go to work this weekend.”

“Sure. I’m free,” Flynn noted.

“I am too, unless something comes up with Mom,” Blaine agreed.

“Your mom?” Flynn asked.

“She’s battling breast cancer.”

Flynn winced. “I’m sorry, man. That sucks.” Flynn slid his hand over Blaine’s, squeezed.

“Thank you. She’s going to make it. I have faith.” And Dad needed her.

“That’s half the battle, isn’t it?” Flynn gave him a sympathetic smile.

“You ready to go now, or do we need to meet you at Bennie’s?” Darnell asked him.

“I have to close out, go home and change, shower. All that shit.”

“So we’ll meet you there. Promise I won’t let Jase and Will get too shit-faced before you show up.” Darnell winked and popped Flynn in the arm. “Let’s go, man. First drink is on the newbie.”

Flynn chuckled. “How come I feel like I’m being shaken down?”

“If they offer to buy you a cement mixer, say no!” Blaine called.

Flynn frowned, and the last thing Blaine heard was Flynn asking, “What’s a cement mixer?” followed by Darnell’s cackling laugh.

Oh man. He was going to have to hurry, or they were going to eat Mr. Flynn Huntington alive. He started closing out, trying not to get distracted by the memory of Flynn’s dancing eyes.
Chapter Two
FLYNN HAD refused the offer of a “cement mixer,” silently thanking the still-absent Blaine for the heads-up. He had bought the guys two rounds already but barely started on his own second beer. He hadn’t eaten all day, aside from a plum, so his tolerance was lower than usual. Once Blaine got here, they were going to eat, and then he could indulge.

He didn’t want to be shit-faced tonight, not with his new… coworkers? Team? Let him prove himself capable first, then he could let it all hang out.

The guys were a hoot, honestly, and seemed to be decent, genuinely interested, and basically all-around good guys. They were clearly friends, which was nice. For the kind of work they did, it was important everyone got along, cared.

Things could—at least so he hoped—get odd and intense in their investigations. He wanted powerful and magical and strange. He wanted to prove that ghosts were real. That death wasn’t the end.

Yeah, he liked the guys, and he really liked Blaine. Well, he’d been attracted to Blaine—he wasn’t sure he knew him well enough yet to like him. He hoped to, though. Not that he needed a boyfriend at the moment, right? Now he needed to work, to focus on the science and find a job that would support his interests.

The guys all shouted out, “Hey! Blaine!” And Will added, “About fucking time, man. You’re starving us to death.”

“Mom needed me to help her with a few things. You know how it is.” Blaine’s hair was freshly washed and loose, the long mass wild and free now, making him look even thinner and more otherworldly than ever.

Flynn’s body tightened, and he forced himself to ignore it. He got up with the others as they moved from the bar to a table. The guys all clapped Blaine on the shoulder, and Flynn offered his hand again; he wasn’t one of the gang yet, not really. Not until they’d gone through a job together, he imagined.

That thing that had happened back when he’d first met Blaine rushed through him again as their skin made contact. Like a connection to the other side. Like something in him was responding to something in Blaine. Flynn swallowed and smiled, told himself to shake it off. He was a scientist, not a romantic; he needed to keep his head straight.

Flynn hadn’t had anything to eat yet. That’s what this was. He grabbed his menu, focused on it.

“I’m starving, guys,” Blaine said. “Starving. Let’s eat!”

Flynn had to smile—looked like he and Blaine were on the same wavelength.

“You’re starving?” Jason shook his head. “We’ve been waiting for you to show up to eat, man. You don’t get to pull the starving card now.”

“Sorry to interrupt, guys, but are you ready to order?” a waitress asked, pen and pad in hand.

“I want a bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a Guinness, please.” Blaine grinned, unapologetic as hell.

“I’ll have the beef and Guinness stew,” Flynn decided. “And what the hell, I’ll have a Guinness too.” God, he was famished. “Can I have some nachos, please?”

Darnell laughed, and Will shook his head. “Nice one. You want anything else?”

Flynn shook his head. “That should do me.”

The other guys ordered, and everyone started talking, random snippets of conversation. Flynn sat back and watched, beginning to learn how they communicated.

Jason was the leader, no question, heading the conversation in different directions, making the best jokes, the wittiest comments.

Will was mostly quiet, putting in a few words here and there, while Darnell brayed with laughter on a regular basis.

Blaine watched, eyes wandering the crowd, searching.

Flynn found his own gaze following the same pathways, trying to find out what Blaine was looking for, what he’d seen.

He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Nothing at all. It was a bar and grill—mostly young, middle-class people out for a drink.

Flynn wondered how long the place had been here, what stories it held. Maybe that would explain what had Blaine’s attention. Hell, maybe the guy was just checking the place out because he was tired and not into the conversation. Flynn didn’t know. He really did need to learn these people.
“So, Blaine. How long have you seen spirits?”

“My whole life. I don’t remember ever not seeing them, I guess.”

“Cool. Was it scary at first?” It hadn’t been for Flynn, though he’d never seen his mother, only felt her presence. It had been comforting that first time, not scary.

“No. No, it wasn’t scary until I got older, I think. It took me a long time to sense my first malevolent spirit.”

“Yeah? Were you trying to feel one? Or, I mean, waiting for it to happen? Or was it a shock?”

“It was a shock.” Blaine shrugged and gave him a sheepish grin. “I got better at it.”

“I can’t decide if it would be easier to know or not to know. I mean, if you know it’s there, you can try and defend against it. But if you don’t know it’s there, you’re not scared. And will it hurt you if you don’t know it’s there? I’m guessing yes.” Flynn shrugged. “Sorry, I don’t mean to interrogate you.”

“You’re the scientist. I assume that means data, right?”

Flynn grinned and ducked his head. “Yeah, I guess that’s how I operate.” He did like to get as much information as possible before he made any kind of decision.

“Then that’s cool. We want to be as thorough as possible. We can’t get a TV deal if we aren’t professional about this.”

“Is that the goal?” Flynn didn’t need to be a TV star. He just wanted to prove that ghosts were real. He hadn’t thought much beyond that, honestly.

“It’s where we can get funding, huh? At some point, my folks want this to be something more than a hobby if I’m gonna keep doing it.”

Flynn chuckled. “You mean they want you to be able to support yourself? Shocking.” He gave Blaine a wink. Truth was, he’d love to have parents who bugged him about what he was doing with his life.

“Yeah. Dad’s losing patience. Fast.”

“I’m sorry. You’re helping out at home, though, aren’t you? I mean if you worked a ‘regular’ job, you wouldn’t be able to be there for them while your mother’s going through this.”

“Yeah. Totally. I run the store, and I help out at the farm, but… you know. Dad’s a farmer, salt of the earth. Work at dawn, crash at dusk. No ghost chasing.”

“Unless it’s bringing in cash, huh? Well, hopefully we’ll get a deal, then, and he can relax and let you be.”

“It’ll happen. We just have to do honest work.”

“I’m all about data and tracking everything, doing it right.” God, he was a dork too, talking about shop when they were out for supper so they could all get to know each other better. Which he’d already done with the other guys while they were waiting for Blaine. “So are you dating?” Christ, that was subtle. And possibly not entirely appropriate, either.

“Nope. I’m not really looking for someone at the moment. Things are so busy, so weird.”

“Yeah. ‘I see ghosts’ makes for a good movie, but not a good opening line, eh?” Flynn got that. He’d learned to keep the fact that he believed in ghosts, had in fact had firsthand experience with them, to himself. His aunt hadn’t wanted to know, and, it turned out, neither had his lovers.

“Not as a rule,” Blaine agreed. “I’m already the hippie-dippy weirdo with the farm stand.”

“Some people like that type.” Flynn didn’t have a type. Well, aside from guys of course, but he’d dated all sorts.

“It’s a rarefied type, for sure.”

“Some of us like unique and weird and rarefied. We’re all here for the ghost hunting, after all. Normal isn’t exactly our thing, huh?” Was he flirting? He didn’t think so, but he couldn’t seem to stop this line of questioning.

“I like that, man. That totally works for me.”

Familiar Angel by Amy Lane
“EDWARD! FRANCIS! Are you here?”

Harry McTavish prowled around the clearing by the Sacramento River nervously. He’d barely managed to elude Big Cass, Golden Child’s most fearsome enforcer, and his breath came fast in the chilly November night. Oh, of all the times to make their escape—but it couldn’t be helped. Conrad Ames, railroad tycoon, gambler, terror of the brothels—even Golden Child, which catered to a specific type of taste—had finally set his sights on Francis.

Francis was barely fifteen.

Edward and Harry—they’d been around a year or three. Long enough to both have the pox, long enough to know their days were numbered. Harry’s mother had died whoring at Golden Child, and Edward’s had wandered in, delirious with pneumonia, a few years later, and they’d been bending over to stay alive long enough to feel a thousand years old. But Francis—he was young. Young and gentle. They’d spent the last two years protecting Francis, keeping him out of sight of the customers and Big Cass, making sure he had the jobs no one wanted to touch. Cleaning an outhouse was a filthy vocation, but it beat bending over and trying not to scream by a hot mile.

But Conrad had seen him, and Mistress Bertha would do anything to turn a coin.

Harry was the oldest. It was his job to protect the littler ones. That’s what his ma had said before she’d died, after she’d managed to earn the coin to send his little sisters back east, to their gran. Didn’t bother him that she’d had to do it on her back, and that he’d had to stay alive that way after. Fucking was just another trade, best he could see. But Francis’s mother had died in the brothel, a used-up whore who had begged Bertha to please, for the love of God, send her little boy to an orphanage, a relative, anything.

Bertha had promised her just so she’d shut up and die.

Harry and Edward had heard, though. Edward hadn’t been whoring by that time, but they both knew it was coming, even then. Edward had the square jaw and lush mouth of a cowboy angel—wasn’t a bugger on the planet who wouldn’t have wanted to bend Edward over. Harry was plain and serviceable, but by then he’d learned to suck cock like a dream, because that way he got tips, plain and simple, and then the cock would be wet when it got shoved up his arse.

Together, they’d made a sort of silent pact to get Francis out of Golden Child before he had to clean more than toilets.

“Harry?” Edward sounded breathless and worried. “Harry—Big Cass almost got us.” He burst out of the thicket of trees with Francis’s arm over his shoulder, his body bearing the bulk of the weight. “Big Cass was right there. He clocked Francis a good one, Harry. He’s out cold.”

Harry swore and snarled—and kept his shiver to himself. “Goddammit all, we need to get out of here—now. The cargo train leaves at twelve. That’s our way out of—”

A woman’s scream stopped them in their tracks.

“Who?” Edward whispered, eyes wide.

“Hide!” Harry had just enough presence of mind to grab Francis’s other side to help Edward pull him through the thicket of brambles that lined the river. Bleeding, dirty, breathless, they slid to a halt in a hollow between the blackberry bushes and the hill, lying on their stomachs, Francis sandwiched between them. Francis, who had received a terrible scratch from the corner of his mouth to the corner of his eye, moaned in pain. Harry shushed him, and Edward placed a gentle hand over his mouth.

A woman, clothed in blinding, glowing white, burst into the clearing with a man—man?—draped over her shoulder. His clothes were red velvet, and thick curly hair grew all over his face and large skull, like a goat’s.

His back feet were cloven.

“Leonard,” she begged. “Leonard… darling. Wake up. Wake up. I need your help.”

Leonard—the thing… man—rolled his head, much like Francis had done, and moaned. “Emma, leave me. If they find me with you… if they find Mullins here….”

“Mullins!” the woman whispered. “Mullins—I’m losing him. Oh please—Mullins, he’s losing himself again.”

“I’m losing myself again!” came a terrible growl, and another Leonard-like thing stepped into the clearing—this one very obviously glowing red. “Emma, we need to do the ritual. I can’t….” The monster thing, Mullins, let out a horrifying series of snuffling grunts and growls. “I’ll turn,” he said, sounding tearful—if a beast could be in tears. “I’ll turn and gut you both.”

“I understand,” she whispered. “You’ve been very brave. Here.” She set Leonard on the ground then and started to pull items from a leather satchel across her shoulder. “We’ll do it right now.”

“This isn’t the ceremonial place!” Mullins said, sounding despondent. “It’s not cleansed, it’s not prepared—”

To Harry’s surprise, Emma put a tender hand on the beast’s cheek. “My sweet boy, you’ve been too long in hell. We don’t need the trappings of the spell—although the things in those hex bags should help us focus. We just need ourselves, and our good intentions, and our desire.”

Mullins’s grunt was self-deprecating. “The road to hell is the one paved with good intentions,” he said gruffly.

“That’s only because the demons trying to get to earth walked that path first,” she said, sounding cheeky. In their quiet interaction, Harry got a better look at her. Not young—over twenty—but not old either, she was beautiful in every sense of the word. Straight nose, even teeth, perfectly oval face, and blonde hair that streamed, thick and healthy, to her waist, she was what every boy should dream about when he went to sleep hoping for a wife.

Harry didn’t dream about girls, but he could look at this one and know the appeal.

But it was more than the physical beauty—and she had it all, soft hips, small waist, large breasts—there was the kindness to the beasties. The gentleness and calm she radiated when Mullins had threatened her.

Suddenly Harry had a powerful yearning for his mum, when she’d been dead for nearly five years.

“Here,” Emma said, breaking the sweetness of the moment. “Take the hex bags—there’s ten. Make a pentagram with me and Leonard in the center. I’m summoning an angel, love. You may want to leave when you’re done. I’ve no guarantees he’ll be friendly to you.”

“That’s not news,” Mullins said dryly and began his task. “Do you…. Emma, I know you’re powerful. You summoned my master for knowledge on power alone. But all else you have done, you have done out of love.”

“Including persuade you to our side,” she said. While he set the hex bags, she was stretching Leonard out before her, stripping his shirt with deft, practiced movements. The skin underneath the clothes was smooth and human, and Harry felt nauseated at the abomination of beast and man.

But Emma seemed to care for him.

“It would be worth any torture,” Mullins said softly, pausing in his duties, “to know Leonard will live.”

“Come with us!” Emma begged. “I may not love you like I love Leonard, but you’ve been a good friend to us. Please—”

Mullins shook his head. “It’s not enough to break me free,” he said, and his bestial smile would haunt Harry and Edward for years. “Someone would have to love me enough to sacrifice for me, and make no mistake, Emma. This will come down to your sacrifice. You will be stripped of your power, your youth—are you sure you want to do this?”

Emma let out a sigh. “I would live a mortal lifetime without worry,” she said softly. “But I do not want him all alone without me. ’Twould be cruel.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and then—

Harry gasped and heard Edward do the same.

She was looking right at them.

“I’m about to do something very wrong,” she said, great conviction carrying in her serenity. “But I think something very right too. Carry on, Mullins, but run as soon as you are done.” Her voice dropped. “Please, my friend—I’ll have enough weighing on my soul for tonight’s doings as it is.”

Mullins continued to bustle, and as he set the last hex bag down, Emma began to chant. Mullins traced a circle in the dirt around the outside bags, and then, when the circle ends touched, he pulled out a knife.

Emma nodded unhappily at him and then bit her lip as he cut a line on his palm and let the blood drip on the sealed ends of the dirt line. He and Emma looked at each other again, a strong friendship locking their gaze, before he turned and lurched away, his gait awkward and crippled on his cloven hooves. Harry felt some compassion for him then, poor beast, good friend—but his gaze didn’t linger.

He was too busy watching the white light around Emma grow larger, filling the space inside the pentagram like a bowl.

The light exploded outward, filling the clearing itself, and then one more time, just a few feet more.

Harry and Edward stared at each other, terrified.

They were in the light circle as well.

“Glory!” Edward whispered, and Harry was too shaken to quiet him.

Francis stirred between them and opened his eyes slowly. For a moment Harry feared that he’d startle and scream—Harry certainly would have raised a bloody great hue and cry—but then, Francis wasn’t Harry.

He parted his bruised lips and smiled.

“An angel,” he breathed, and Harry turned his attention back to the center of the clearing.

Where an angel appeared.

Harry’s heart stopped in his throat. Tall—because of course, right? An angel would be tall. Clothed in robes that glittered like diamonds, whiter than pearls he was. His hair was a marvelous flame-gold color, red like a sunrise or an ember. His face was more handsome than sin—bold, straight nose, full lips, a square jaw, eyes of warm, solid brown.

Harry’s groin gave a painful throb, and he almost wept. Those things—those dirty, filthy things that were done to him by rough miners and haughty bankers with gold in their grubby fists—those things were not right here.

Not with an angel.

Not with this angel.

Harry’s eyes burned with the perfection of this angel.

“Suriel,” Emma breathed. Her voice held the same note of kindness, of friendship, that she’d had with Mullins. “How are you? Are your studies treating you well?”

Suriel looked away, and the face he turned toward the three interlopers in the brambles held such bleakness that Harry did weep. Not his angel, please. Not that despair for his angel.

“They are,” he said, his voice resonant with a thousand church bells. “Emma, this thing you’re doing—I’m not even sure God can make it true.”

“Of course he can,” she said, her voice rippling like water. “It’s all about love, Suriel. And belief. Don’t tell me all your laws forbid love!”

“I can’t see anymore,” Suriel said gruffly. “I am bound so tightly to every rule, to every law. Emma, I cannot even see my master’s hand in the events as they unfold.”

Emma dashed away a tear—but Harry let his fall.

“Then help me break this rule,” she whispered. “I love him. I summoned him for knowledge, for healing. He was supposed to kill me—investigate my use of blackest magic.”

“That’s not what you practice,” Suriel said, sounding puzzled. “You couldn’t—”

“I couldn’t talk to angels with a black heart.” She smiled. Harry thought maybe she was much older than she looked—decades older. Centuries. “He learned that, in our time together. His protégé told me that….” Her chin wobbled, and for the first time Harry saw something besides serenity. “They suspected. His superiors suspected he’d been… tainted. He was supposed to bargain for my soul, and we spent hours just talking, with no bargain in sight. We….”

Suriel tilted his head, as though looking at something from a great distance. “You fell in love,” he said, sounding surprised.

“We did.” She dashed the back of her hand against her cheek. “His protégé and I barely got him away. Leonard was in my summoning circle, and the claws of the damned began to shred him. I pulled him and Mullins from the circle, and we were heading for the church, but—”

“This is your church,” Suriel said, looking at the little patch of privacy in the wilderness. “I understand.”

“I have the human power of sorcery, Suriel. Given me through my bloodline and decades of study. All I ask is for your divinity. We have the three of us here—divine, profane, and human, the mix of the two. We can cure him of his wounds—and set him free.”

Suriel frowned. “You would give up your immortality?”

Emma bit her lip and winked, as bawdy as a dance house girl. “Now I didn’t say that.” Abruptly she sobered. “Now, Suriel—it needs to be now. A mortal is about to crash through our little church here—and not a nice one.”

Harry and Edward looked at each other.

“Big Cass?” Harry asked, and Edward shrugged, nodding. Oh hells.

Suriel was cupping Emma’s cheek. “I shall miss our talks,” he said formally.

Her grin, bright and impish, spoke of such kindness. “We may still talk,” she told him. “I won’t lose it all in a rush. I’ll be here for a while.”

Suriel shook his head, and the stoicism, the worry that had beset the angel lightened fractionally. “Emma, I’m not even going to ask.”

“Good.” She sobered. “It’s not altogether a heavenly thing I’m about to do. But I’m going to by God do it.”

Suriel took her hands. “Shall we?”

Together they began to chant, a language Harry had only heard when he passed the Catholic church during mass. Their voices rose, then fell, then rose… then rose and rose and rose… reaching a pitched crescendo, leaving the air around them in the brilliant bowl of light, ringing like a bell.

The light grew too bright, the sound too great, too terrifying for mere mortals, and all three of the boys closed their eyes and cried out.

In an explosion of glory, they felt great things change about them—inside them, around them, and just when Harry thought his heart would stop with too much magic, the world around him went abruptly silent.

And then Francis and Edward meowed.

Harry spat and hissed, surprised, but Edward, a ginger tomcat with green eyes, sat abruptly down on his haunches and whimpered piteously, a lost kitten in the rain.

Francis—a cross-eyed Siamese—batted his paw in front of his eyes continuously, like harrying at an imaginary spider.

And Harry realized what had happened.

He darted out of the bramble bushes, hissing furiously, intent on ripping that woman’s robes to shreds until she turned him and his friends back.

“Hush, hush, puss.”

A strong hand grabbed him by the ruff and pulled him into equally strong arms. Harry struggled for a moment, but that hand, pulling at the fold of skin at his neck, oh, that was immobilizing.

But even more so was the strong arm wrapping around his body and holding him still—not cruelly, just… still.

He growled, anger a vicious turn in the pit of his stomach.

“Hello there, my little spy,” Emma said softly. She was still on her knees by Leonard, who had… changed.

In place of the bestial head and cloven hooves were the long, plain features and big, clumsy feet of an average man. He groaned softly, and Emma whispered, “Stay still for a moment, my love. We have some things we need to do.”

She stood heavily, and Harry got the feeling that, whatever she’d done, a great deal of her energy had gone into the result. Peering at her through his cat’s vision, he saw that some of her brilliance had faded. She was still beautiful—and still glowing faintly.

“Welcome,” she said softly, scratching him behind the ears. Harry hissed and batted out a black paw, but she dodged neatly. “Yes, you’re our fighter, aren’t you? I could feel you in the bushes, the three of you. You probably want to know what I’ve done.”

Harry snarled. Oh, he knew what she’d done. He was a cat. He twitched his tail angrily, still growling, although Suriel’s hand kept up an even, gentle stroking that soothed him in spite of himself. Being held kindly, firmly—this was a touch, a kindness, Harry had never experienced.

“I’ve made you my familiars,” she said. Then she bent at the knees and called softly. “Puss, puss, puss… come to me, my pretties. We won’t hurt you. Oh yes. Look at you, you handsome boys. Oh, our strong defender, kind and sweet.”

Edward, you pushover! Look what she’s done to us!

But it didn’t matter. Edward sat stoically, accepting her scritches behind the ear with grave sobriety.

“And you. Oh… oh, so much affection.”

Harry watched as Francis wrapped himself around her wrist. She picked him up—a delicate, small-boned cat—and he burrowed against her immediately, purring and nuzzling the crook of her elbow.

She smiled, a kind, maternal smile, and looked beseechingly at Harry. “I can give you a home,” she said softly. “I can give you food and clothes. I can teach you to read and give you a purpose. I just ask that you hold my power, be my familiars, use my magic to change your shape and do no harm. I….” Her voice broke, and reluctantly Harry admitted that the poor woman had used a great deal of strength and so very much compassion in the few moments he’d seen her. “I just didn’t want to leave him, you see. If I hadn’t stored my power in the three of you, I would have aged and died right here, and he would have awakened in this world to live a long life alone. I’m sorry. I know it was wrong—so wrong—to not ask you. But please… won’t you please forgive me enough to let us care for each other?”

Harry’s growl ceased abruptly, and he melted into Suriel’s arms in spite of his best attempts to hold on to his anger.

Strong arms—such a place of tender haven. For a moment, Harry remembered what it was like to be protected and loved. His heart bled and ached, and wed to Suriel’s warmth…

It healed.

“She’s very kind,” Suriel told him, the words low and seemingly for Harry and Harry alone. Harry let out the cat version of a sigh and licked a line up Suriel’s wrist.

In that moment of quiet, he realized the itching, the sickness he’d felt in his stones, his arse, his throat and gut was gone for the first time in a year. His lungs had been rattling—pneumonia, the pox, who knew?—but he could breathe free and easy now. He looked unhappily at Edward, who began to lick his paw philosophically, and looked again at Francis, who was begging Emma for more affection.

She could give them things Harry could not.

She could give Harry things he’d never dreamed of.

He turned his head and searched out Suriel’s gaze. I trust you. You’re so beautiful, and you are holding me so safely.

Suriel smiled and held out a smooth finger, devoid of human lines or roughness. Harry rubbed his whiskers against it anyway.

Please say you’ll be there to guide us? Please, Suriel.

“Emma,” Suriel said in sudden urgency, “there’s a human coming this way. I can distract him, but you need to take Leonard and the boys to sanctuary.”

Emma nodded and pulled Leonard to his feet with the hand not holding Francis. The very plain, very serviceable-looking human reached down humbly toward Edward. “Young sir,” he said, voice formal, “may I carry you?”

Edward allowed himself to be borne aloft, and Suriel held Harry to his chest. In that moment, Harry was as surrounded by safety, by love, as he could ever imagine being.

“You’ll walk on your own,” Suriel said, a thread of humor in his voice. “You wouldn’t have it any other way, would you, young master?”

Harry rubbed his whiskers against Suriel’s robe and then pushed out of his arms to land lightly on the sparse grass of the clearing.

“Do you know where you will go?” Suriel asked urgently.

“The church first,” Emma said, her earlier vulnerability forgotten in their need. “Then I have some train tickets to San Francisco. I do believe I shall be carrying some very unusual bags.”

A part of Harry jumped excitedly. They were going to travel by train after all. And they didn’t even have to stow away in a freight car.

Emma and Leonard started off through the trees, but Harry paused and turned around. Suriel had already begun peering in the opposite direction, looking for the approaching threat, and Harry was forgotten.

He didn’t want to be forgotten.

He meowed imperiously, because dammit, how dare this man—angel—show him affection and kindness and then tell him to be on his way.

Suriel turned briefly. “Go, young master. I do not doubt we shall meet each other again!”

At that moment a familiar figure crashed through the woods, and Harry hissed. Big Cass, enforcer, bugger, hard-handed cock—he’d been the bane of the boys’ existence for years. A shaft of terror shot through Harry’s breast, and he chittered, simultaneously driven to attack and driven away in fear.

Improbably, he felt Suriel’s kind hand along his back, soothing him, and he let a bit of fear and pain from previous encounters with Cass slip through his mind.

Suriel’s howl of outrage shook the trees.

“Run!” he shouted. “An angel’s justice is swift!”

Harry gasped and ran, but not before he saw, growing in stature and brilliance, Suriel’s true form unfurling.

He was enormous and angry, a terrifying figure of retribution.

With a bellow, he raised his shining fist to the heavens and smote the burly, once-frightening body of Harry’s biggest fear.

Big Cass screamed—and disappeared, the remains of his mortal flesh scattering across the clearing like thick crimson water thrown from a bucket.

At his back, Suriel vanished.

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Random Paranormal Tales of 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4
Part 5  /  Part 6  /  Part 7  /  Part 8
Part 9

Dirk Greyson
Dirk is very much an outside kind of man. He loves travel and seeing new things.

Dirk worked in corporate America for way too long and now spends his days writing, gardening, and taking care of the home he shares with his partner of more than two decades.

He has a Master’s Degree and all the other accessories that go with a corporate job. But he is most proud of the stories he tells and the life he's built.

Dirk lives in Pennsylvania in a century old home and is blessed with an amazing circle of friends.

Hollis Shiloh
Hollis Shiloh writes love stories about men, also called gay romance or m/m romance, with the preferred genres of contemporary, historical, and fantasy. Hollis's stories tend towards the sweet rather than the spicy. When not writing, the author enjoys reading, retro music, and being around animals.

John Inman
John has been writing fiction for as long as he can remember. Born on a small farm in Indiana, he now resides in San Diego, California where he spends his time gardening, pampering his pets, hiking and biking the trails and canyons of San Diego, and of course, writing. He and his partner share a passion for theater, books, film, and the continuing fight for marriage equality. If you would like to know more about John, check out his website.

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.

Amy Lane
Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her website or blog, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.

Dirk Greyson

Hollis Shiloh

John Inman

Sean Michael

Amy Lane

Lost Mate by Dirk Greyson

The Magician of Dustville by Hollis Shiloh

Love Wanted by John Inman

The Supers by Sean Michael

Familiar Angel by Amy Lane