Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October Book of the Month: Push & Pull by Brigham Vaughn

When is it time to stop living in the moment and think about the future?

Brent Cameron has been dreaming about a road trip around Lake Michigan for years. When his best friend, Nathan, ditches him to spend the summer with his boyfriend, Caleb, Brent is pissed. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, he reluctantly agrees to take Caleb’s best friend, Lowell Prescott, instead.

Brent is a former hockey player and recently out of the closet. Lowell is an in-your-face gay guy who rebels against the limits people put on him. Tempers fly and sparks flare as they hit the road, which leads to a hot night they both regret in the morning. Despite the rocky start, Brent and Lowell slowly begin to realize they have a lot in common. As the miles disappear behind them so does their animosity. Casual hook-ups aren’t Brent’s thing, and Lowell doesn’t do relationships, so they agree to focus on their friendship.

By the time they make it to the shores of Lake Superior, their feelings have deepened past simple friendship, but neither of them have the guts to admit it. When the past intrudes, will it derail the trip and the possibility of a relationship?

Brent and Nathan have been long planning on a final summer vacation after graduation but at the last minute Nathan decides he needs to spend the summer with his boyfriend, Caleb.  Furious, Brent sees his summer plans and money slipping away but Nathan and Caleb have a backup plan: Lowell Prescott.  Angry but unwilling to lose everything he already stuck into the trip, Brent agrees and off the two virtual strangers go.  Will a road trip around Lake Michigan be what Brent was hoping or will it be a disaster?  And will these two go from strangers to more or will they go their seperate ways once the summer is over?

I absolutely fell in love with Lowell(and Brent but not as deeply) in Bully & Exit and was hoping he'd get his own story.  Now as much as I would have loved to read their journey sooner than 3+ years, I would never expect an author to bring a story to print before they are ready.  Lets face it, to us readers characters are just that, characters, but to authors they are real voices and if they aren't ready to tell the writer their story than the author has to respect that.  So three days or three years matters not to me, Lowell and Brent were finally ready to tell Brigham Vaughn their story and now we get to enjoy it too๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜‰.  So onto Push & Pull.

These days I have only one daily guilty pleasure and that is to watch one soap opera, the British made Emmerdale and on there is a character who has spent years looking for someone who can make her rich quick but this past year she finally found someone who showed her more than "rich quick".  I mention this because of the way I am always describing the partner: "Vanessa is the perfect blend of snark and cuddle to keep Charity on her toes".  Well, that is the best way I can describe Lowell and Brent too: snark and cuddle.  Neither men are looking for that something or someone special but in each other they find that blend of snark and cuddle that helps put all the pieces in place.

I won't say any more because the truth is, you really do need to experience their journey to fully appreciate the characters and the story as a whole.  I will say that I found Push & Pull to be less angsty than Bully & Exit but no less entertaining.  Watching both Lowell and Brent learn to give and take, was frankly just pure fun, that's not to say there is no drama because there is its just not only drama.  Some might have seen Lowell as the "comic relief" in Bully and he definitely brings humor to their summer road trip but we get to learn there is more to him than he lets people see which is why I think the blend of drama, humor, friendship, and love is pretty darn near perfect.

Do you need to read Bully & Exit first?  Probably not.  Will you be lost if you start with Push & Pull?  No.  Do I personally recommend reading book one first? Yes.  There are some points that are mentioned or referred to from Bully that I just felt the whole story flowed together better having known Nathan and Caleb's journey first.  But as Push is Lowell and Brent's journey than no you won't be missing huge chunks that don't make sense if you start here.

I will finish by saying I am missing these intriguing fellows already.  Brigham Vaughn's Midwest series may not make my annual re-read list but they won't get too dusty waiting to be revisited.  I may live on the opposite side of Wisconsin but having a book with some "local flair" is always a huge treat for me and just added a little something more to connect with.


“Do you really mean to tell me you don't want to get to know me in all sorts of ways? I don't believe that. I’ve seen the way you look at me." Lowell reached out and dragged a finger across the black fabric of Brent’s T-shirt before circling his nipple. Brent flinched again, backing away, even as the skin tightened and his nipple hardened to a pointy little nub.

Flustered and irritated by the reaction, Brent pushed Lowell’s hand away and crossed his arms. "You're nuts if you think I'm taking you with me on this road trip."

Lowell's lips curved upward in a playful smile. "Oh, sweetheart, that's what you think."

The smile and words only served to make Brent angrier. He looked back at Nathan, feeling used. “Have you all just been cooking up this plan while I’ve been gone?”

“We’ve been talking about it for a couple of weeks, yeah,” Nathan said softly. “Trying to figure out the best solution.”

“What the FUCK? You couldn’t be bothered to mention this when we talked?”

Nathan’s uneasy look deepened. “I thought it might be better if we could discuss it in person.”

“You could have fucking called me and said, ‘Hey, can we meet in person? I need to talk about the trip with you.’ Don’t I at least get a say in what happens with the next two months of my life? Jesus, you guys are unbelievable.”

Nathan opened his mouth but Lowell spoke first. “Look, Brent, I get that you’re pissed, but you don’t have a lot of options at the moment. Frankly, you’re between a rock and a hard place right now, and I’m your only solution. Either you cancel your trip and lose money, which sucks. Or you change your plans and go by yourself, which also sucks. Or you take me. I also suck, but in much more enjoyable ways.” Lowell winked.

Brent gaped at him for a moment. Lowell stepped forward and put his finger under Brent's chin. "Unless you’re offering to do something useful with that gorgeous mouth, I suggest you close it."

Brent snapped his mouth shut fast enough to rattle his teeth. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Lowell's eyes twinkled. "Well, there's this thing gay boys do, it's called—"

"I know what sucking cock is," Brent yelled, confused and annoyed by the pretty twink with the big eyes who always made him feel off-kilter and out of control.

"Good to know, sweets, good to know."

“And make all the jokes you want, but this isn’t fucking funny. My whole summer is ruined.” Brent turned to Nathan. “And you. You’re a complete traitor. You’re right though, I have no choice but to put up with him.” He jerked a thumb to indicate Lowell. “So fuck you, Nathan. If you think I am going to forgive you for saddling me with that cock-hungry twink for two months you have another thing coming!”

Nathan made a sound of protest. Brent scowled and held out his hand to Lowell, ignoring Nathan completely. “If I’m stuck with you, then we’re taking your car. And hand over the damn keys. I’m driving.”

Author Bio:
Brigham Vaughn is on the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga.  She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.

Her books range from short stories to novellas. They explore gay, lesbian, and polyamorous romance in contemporary settings.



Random Paranormal Tales of 2018 Part 12

Halloween is Murder by Josh Lanyon
When his enigmatic partner takes off on an annual fishing trip, City of Angeles gumshoe Barry Fitzgerald is left to handle an All Hallows’ Eve kidnapping case on his own.

The victim? A murdered millionaire’s penny-pinching son and heir. The culprit? That’s where it gets tricky. According to the missing man’s sister, vampires are behind Patrick O’Flaherty’s disappearance.

Barry doesn’t believe in ghosts, goblins or vampires, but when the case goes—literally—to hell…well, who you gonna call?

Original Review November 2017:
His partner leaves town on a fishing trip,, he's kept his attraction to said partner to himself thinking it is but unsure if its reciprocated, a kidnapping case comes through the office door, oh and did I mention its nearly Halloween.  What could go wrong for private detective Barry Fitzgerald?

I just want to start by saying that Josh Lanyon has done it again!  Halloween is Murder may just be a short story/novella but it is packed to the brim with everything that has put her on my "goto-one-click-must-read" author list. There's mystery, there's humor, there's passion(even without a love/lust scene), there is even vampires.  That's right I said vampires!  Now I know that not every reader today will know who Barry Fitzgerald the actor was but as a classic film fan I love that Josh Lanyon added this tidbit, it just goes to show the love and respect the author has to historical references.

As for the obvious mutual attraction between Barry and Mike, even if its not obvious to them, well most might not call it passion because there is no sex but I found it to be just oozing with lust with the potential for so much more.  Sometimes its what is hinted at off-page that gets the reader's blood pumping.

I use to take away a half a mark automatically for short stories but in the past three years since I started Padme's Library I have come to find a healthy respect for the smaller length tales that I no longer do so.  I completely rate my reading on content and heart, whether a story is 5, 50, or 500 pages makes no difference.  If its well written and kept me intrigued from beginning to end than I am a happy reader.  Halloween is Murder made me a happy reader and although I don't believe there is any future plans right now for Barry and Mike, I know that if Josh chooses to create more cases for the duo I will be first in line to read.


Nightfall by John Inman
Joe Chase and Ned Bowden are damaged men. They each bear scars from surviving the world they were born in. Deep scars, both physical and emotional.

When fate offers its first kind act by bringing the two together, suddenly their scars don't seem so bad, and their lives don't feel so empty.

Yet that kindness comes at a price.

Just as Joe and Ned begin to experience true happiness for the very first time, the world turns on them again.

But this time it turns on everyone.

Be it fate, destiny, or just chance that brought Joe Chase and Ned Bowden together as neighbors quickly turning to friendship.  Each bear scars, physical and emotional, that keep them from admitting to each other that what they feel is deeper than friendship.  Having finally taken that first step towards more they find the world has another hurdle to overcome: first the redness came then the darkness and with the dark comes a new evil.  Will Joe and Ned find happiness or has fate and the world have other plans?

HOLY HANNAH BATMAN!!!  Frankly, the world John Inman creates in Nightfall could use Batman, the entire Justice League, and Marvel's Avengers combined, not that there would be anything they could do to change the predicament this story faces but they could go a long way in fighting the evilness that the dark brings out.  I'll admit, this story may or may not really fit the "paranormal-ity" that embodies Halloween-time but the publisher has labeled it science fiction and I love a good sci-fi tale every October so I can't think of a better time to delve into Nightfall.

I won't really reveal too much of the plot but I will say this, it reminded me very pleasantly of the classic television show, The Twilight Zone.  The amazingly scary John Inman has created a situation that may never happen(fingers crossed because otherwise I would be hunkering down in my basement if I ever woke to this) but at the same time, it is not completely outside the realm of thinkable possibility.  Frankly, I don't know what had me on the edge-of-my-seat, nail-biting, creeped-out, and a hundred other cliches more: the idea of complete darkness or how quickly the evil within man comes out?

As for Joe and Ned, how can you not love them?  They both have their scars but they also have each other and its probably the only thing keeping them sane.  Some might question the realism of how they can find moments of romance in such horrible conditions but not me.  If we can't find solace with our loved ones in times of darkness than what is the point of life?  What is the point of fighting to survive?  John Inman has created characters that, okay may not be your garden-variety-everyday-next-door-neighbor but they are very real and very human and put them in a situation that is definitely not everyday but watching them fight to survive is certainly scary but I also found to be uplifting.  Nightfall is a case of someone opening Pandora's Box, letting all the evils of the universe out and Joe and Ned represent the one thing left at the bottom of the Box: Hope.


Jack of Thorns by Amelia Faulkner
Inheritance #1
Florist. Psychic. Addict. 
Laurence Riley coasts by on good looks and natural charm, but underneath lies a dark chasm that neither heroin nor lovers can fill. Sobriety is a pipe dream which his stalker ex-boyfriend is pushing him away from. Luckily, Laurence has powers most can only dream of. If only he could control them. 

Aristocrat. Psychic. Survivor. 
Quentin d'Arcy is the product of centuries of wealth, privilege, and breeding, and is on the run from all three. A chance encounter with an arresting young florist with a winning smile could make him stop. Laurence is kind, warm, and oddly intriguing but Quentin's wild telekinesis and his fear of sex make dating a dangerous game. 

When opposites attract, they collide. 
Desperate to fix his rotting life, Laurence prays for aid and accidentally summons a fertility god who prefers to be called Jack. Jack is willing to help out for a price, and it's one Laurence just can't pay: he must keep Jack fed with regular offerings of sex, and the florist has fallen for the one man in San Diego who doesn't want any. 

If they're to survive Jack's wrath, Laurence and Quentin must master their blossoming feelings and gifts, but even then the cost of Laurence's mistake could well overwhelm them both. How exactly are mere mortals supposed to defeat a god? 

Jack of Thorns is the first book in the award winning Inheritance series and contains mature themes and events which may be distressing to some readers.

Unhinged by Rick R Reed
Horror. Romance. The two seem at odds, yet in provocative author Rick R. Reed’s hands, the pair merge like a match made in heaven ... or hell.

Prepare for a dark journey into an unhinged world populated by ordinary and extraordinary monsters. Unhinged brings you sometimes chilling, sometimes romantic, sometimes hilarious, but always thought-provoking tales.

Among them you’ll find a chilling and redemptive ghost story, a most unusual and shocking first meeting for two lovers, a story revolving around one of the 20th Century’s most horrific serial killers, and a darkly comic take on the vampire mythos. This collection will make your heart race with passion ... in all its forms.

Contains the stories: Echoes, How I Met My Man, The Man from Milwaukee, Sluggo Snares a Vampire, The Ghost in #9, and Incubus.

With a collection of short stories such as you find within the covers of Rick R Reed's Unhinged, there is a little something for everyone who loves the "out there" genre of spooky-ness.  I won't touch on any one story but as a whole this might not be something you want to read in the dark or while you are alone in the house depending on your personal fear factor.  This is a collection of oddities when it comes to storytelling from paranormal to horror.  That's not to say there isn't any humor or heat, because there is but it is no spoiler that the main flavor is all things scary.

Each story begins with a little addition from the author telling where his inspiration came from and knowing that most of them were inspired from reality just makes each one that much more scarier for me.  As a Western Wisconsinite, Chicago is hours away but Unhinged is steeped in upper midwest flare that certainly puts this in my personal library's "local shelf", which only heightened the enjoyment for me.

Just want to add that as much as I've talked up the scare factor in this collection, if you are not a real fan of true horror, don't let my "spooky-ness talk" put you off.  Yes, Unhinged will get your heart pumping in fear it will mostly get your blood going in great storytelling.  Considering this is a collection of short stories, I think it shows the author's talent best for spinning a good yarn by getting the old adrenaline going in so few pages for each tale.


Wolves of Black Pine by SJ Himes
The Wolfkin Saga #1
An ancient civilization long hidden from humanity is on the brink of chaos and war.

Peaceful for thousands of years, the wolfkin clans are mysteriously losing packmates, kidnapped and killed by unknown foes. Among the dead is Luca, youngest grandson of the two most powerful wolves in the Northern Clans, but he is forced into a half-life, hidden in the far northern wilds of Canada and cut off from his kind. Those who raised him have no idea the creature they harbor in their midst, and name him Ghost. He begins to lose himself over the long years, and though he barely recalls his true name, the one wolf he never forgets is Kane.

Heir to the wolfkin clan Black Pine, Kane is charged with hunting down the traitors who betrayed their kind to the humans. Years fly by, and more wolves are dying. He refuses to give up, and he vows to never again fail another of their kind, as he failed young Luca years before. His heart tells him Luca lives, but his mind tells him that it’s foolish hope, his guilt eating him alive.

Fate and magic change the course of their lives, and the two wolves long separated by the years find their paths intertwining, though the reunion does not come without cost...

150,000+ words, contains graphic sex between men, dubious consent, mentions of abuse. Contains gore and violence. Mature readers only.

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Random Paranormal Tales of 2018

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Halloween is Murder by Josh Lanyon
In a way, it was Mike’s fault.

It was his big idea to go out of town. Who the hell went fishing on Halloween? But Barry would have gone along with it. Partly because he’d started thinking he wouldn’t mind some time alone with Mike—and if he had the wrong idea about things, well, it would be better to find out in the middle of nowhere where nobody would notice a black eye. Or two.

He didn’t think he had the wrong idea, though.

Partly he’d have gone fishing with Mike because he knew this was a bad time of year for him. Nobody knew better. Barry was the one who’d pulled Mike off the railings of Suicide Bridge three Halloweens earlier.

They didn’t talk about it. Hadn’t talked about it since the night they’d met. If “met” was the word. More like collided.

Barry had been driving back to the office after a demoralizing interview with the Grand Duchess of Hillcrest Avenue AKA Mrs. Andrew Millar. There was the matter of a missing pearl necklace. Barry had traced that necklace to young Andrew Millar the Second who was in hock up to his shell-like ears to a certain bookie by the name of Griggs Malone. Instead of being pleased to have her missing necklace located, Mrs. Millar had been royally irate at the implication her weedy offspring was a crook. Not only had she not paid Barry, she’d threatened to sue him for defamation of character.

That’s the way it went sometimes.

Anyway, it had been a real witches brew of a night. Not fit for man nor beast, as the poets—or maybe it was the weatherman—said. The rain had been coming down in buckets, buckets of glinting needles—stinging, biting, blinding rain—and he’d had been hunched over the steering wheel of his Ford Crestline, trying to peer through the fogged-up windscreen, when all of a sudden, he’d seen a vision straight out of Central Casting: a man—at first glance he’d looked like a gargoyle—hunched over and poised to jump from the Colorado Street Bridge. White-faced, wild-eyed, soaked to the skin...

Barry had yanked the wheel, car brakes screeching as he pulled to the side of the road. He’d jumped out, and raced back in time to stop Joe Doe from going over—and been socked in the nose for his trouble. Mike was a big guy and that wallop had nearly set Barry on his heels, but Barry had been Glendale College’s lightweight boxing champ for two years running, and he knew his way around a difference of opinion. Besides which, Mike was very drunk. Soused. A hard shove would probably have done the trick, but Barry had piled into him and then dragged a stunned and stumbling Mike to his car and taken him for coffee, eggs and bacon at Bob’s Big Boy on Riverside Drive.

“Why’d you do it, buddy?” Barry had asked when Mike had dried out a little. Dried out physically and figuratively. Barry watched him mop up the last bit of fried egg with a corner of toast. Mike’s fingers were white with the cold, nails ragged—but clean. “What drives a guy like you to pull such a dumbass stunt?”

Mike had stared at him for a long moment. “Demons,” he’d said briefly, bluntly. The way Mike said everything, as Barry was eventually to learn.

That night he’d been willing to accept Mike’s answer since it was demonstrably true. Every man had his demons and Mike Cathan’s had driven him to the edge. Anyone could see that.

Some things you could fix for a guy. Some things you couldn’t. Mike needed a job, and Barry had been able to throw him some work. When Mike came through for him, Barry had put more work his way. To say that a friendship sprang to life that night would sound corny, but yeah, they had grown to be…well, it was hard to say.

Close was maybe not exactly the word. Barry was pretty sure no one was close to Mike. What did that really mean anyway? He liked Mike though, and Mike had saved his life once or twice (three times, according to Mike—but really you couldn’t count the time Vince Mezza pushed Barry out the window of the Astoria Hotel Apartment since he’d mostly landed on the fire escape) so Mike probably liked him back. Or just found it hard to line up a real job.

Barry liked Mike so much that he’d even considered bringing him on as a partner at the agency. At the moment that would be more like asking him to buy shares in the Keely Motor Company. But maybe one day.

Or maybe not.

Being inclined the same way, he’d recognized the truth about Mike pretty quick—he often wondered if that was what had driven Mike to climb up on that rain-slick railing Halloween night. If Mike had ever broached the subject, Barry would have been happy to give him pointers on how to squelch such feelings—he considered himself an expert, having had the devil of a fight to get his own impulses under control. (Mike didn’t even have the excuse of a Catholic school education.) But Mike had never broached the subject, though he must surely have recognized what was in Barry too.

Nor was he a guy you could offer advice to. Even Barry, who was prone to offering unsolicited words of wisdom, knew better than to try to tell Mike what to do. For one thing, Mike was older than Barry. Not so much in years. Mike had been with the Marines on Iwo Jima. He didn’t talk much about it, but that first night he’d admitted to Barry that he’d enlisted when he was only fourteen years old. Because he was tall, had a muscular build, and even back then weighed 180 pounds, he’d managed to convince the Marine Corps Reserve at Norfolk he was seventeen. He’d forged his mother’s consent and was sent to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, where he qualified as a sharpshooter.

Barry was a little jealous of Mike’s military service. It would never have occurred to him to try and lie his way into any branch of the service, and he’d been too small and skinny to have succeeded anyway. He’d been with the Army National Guard, the “Sunshine Division” when Korea started, and had been deployed to Japan for training. But his tour of duty had ended before his division shipped out to Korea. He’d come home safe and sound and enrolled in college while a lot of his friends had ended up dying at Heartbreak Ridge.

College had not worked out for Barry. He didn’t miss the army, but civilian life was a little too tame. He’d quit school to become an “apprentice” to Sam Bell at Bell, Book and Cannon Investigations. Cannon was long dead by then, there had never been any partner named Book—Sam just thought it sounded classy. Anyway, Sam died two years later leaving the business to Barry.

Barry had been working overtime to keep things afloat ever since, but still, he’d have taken time off for Mike, if Mike had come up with a good reason—or any reason—why they should suddenly leave town.

“It seems kind of sudden,” Barry had said, when Mike proposed a three-day weekend trout fishing at Crowley Lake. “We’re still in the middle of the Rothman case. And the Ciciarelli case.”

Mike had shrugged.

“Any special reason it’s got to be this weekend?”

“It’s a good time to get out of town,” Mike said.

“Sure. But the Rothman dame will be at that Halloween party Saturday night, and we’ll get the goods on her then.”

Mike made a face. He did not like adultery cases. Well, who did? But beggars couldn’t be choosers. He liked getting a paycheck, didn’t he? He sure as hell liked eating.

The expression of haughty distaste on Mike’s rough-hewn features should have been funny, but it stung Barry.

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to clear the decks here first and then take off? The fish aren’t going anywhere, are they?”

Mike said grimly (which didn’t mean anything, because he said everything grimly), “This is not a healthy time of year. Not for me. Not for you.”

“What does that mean?” Mike was being even more cryptic than usual.

Mike shrugged.

Barry wanted to go with him. It was the first time Mike had ever asked him to come along on one of his fishing trips, and Barry couldn’t help thinking—hoping—that maybe it signaled a kind of turning point in their friendship. Over the past few months he had started thinking of Mike differently—he wasn’t even sure when or how that unsettling change in feelings had crept over him—but he wanted to believe it was something to do with sensing a change in Mike. Because with Mike…well, everything would be probably okay. At least, that’s how he’d been thinking lately.

“Do you have something in mind?” Barry asked. “Something specific?”

Mike looked at him like he was trying to make his mind up.

Barry said tentatively, feeling kind of silly putting it into words, “Is it to do with what happened…that other Halloween?”

Right then he’d seen Mike’s face close up like a slammed door.

Mike rose. “I’m taking some time. You’re welcome to come,” he said. “Or not.”

The take-it-or-leave-it tone naturally put Barry’s back up.

“So you said. And like I said, I can’t just flit. I’ve got responsibilities. Clients. Cases.” Few enough of ‘em that he couldn’t walk out on the handful he still had.

 “It’s your funeral,” Mike said, which seemed a little somber given they were only talking about fishing.

Weren’t they?

The door had closed softly after Mike.

That was how Barry Fitzgerald (that’s right, wise guy, his mam had a fondness for “the flickers”) came to be sitting in his office at Bell, Book and Cannon Investigations the Saturday night before Halloween. He was drinking bourbon and feeling a little sorry for himself when Margaret Mary O’ Flaherty showed up.

The wrong place at the wrong time.

Miss O’Flaherty said she was looking for a shamus.

Maybe she meant shaman.

Nightfall by John Inman
Chapter One
ON JUNE 24 at 1400 hours Greenwich Mean Time, all aircraft flying above 26,000 feet were diverted to lower elevations due to a sudden bombardment of high-energy charged particles into the uppermost tiers of the atmosphere. These high-energy charged particles, brought about by disruptions on the surface of the sun, created dangerous levels of cancer-inducing radiation that could penetrate the fuselage of a plane as easily as microwaves piercing a TV dinner.

This was not the first time a solar storm had caused commercial and military flights to be rerouted, nor the first time satellite reception worldwide was disrupted, consequently requiring extensive recalibration to correct the damage incurred by such an event. Little mention was made of this in the news or in scientific circles, since after all, while rare, a solar storm is not an unheard of occurrence. And who, after all, did it truly inconvenience other than several thousand airline passengers? A few pilots and air-traffic controllers perhaps, a handful of satellite maintenance personnel.

Consequently, this was not the first time scientists would blithely ignore the potential for destruction generated by such a storm in space.

It was, however, the first time they would come to regret that decision.

THE FULL moon hung low in the summer sky, bloated, pale, and somehow oddly tinged with pink. It shone through the shifting treetops like a watchful, bulging eye staring down the world below. It radiated evil intent, that damnable moon, and Ned Bowden, for one, was tired of it hanging over his head. It was like the red-rimmed eye of a hawk, that moon, poised to attack at the least sign of movement. And Ned was the poor, puny bunny rabbit trembling in the weeds, cowering among the shadows, waiting for the stab of talons and the first terrifying sensation of flight as those piercing claws dragged him skyward, kicking and screaming, toward a slow, devouring, blood-drenched death.

On the other hand, Ned was standing in a forested canyon, and the moon provided the only light by which to navigate, so he kept telling himself he should be thankful for its guidance. Otherwise he would be tripping over logs, banging his head on low-hanging branches, or tumbling down embankments as he followed a nearly invisible path through the trees—as he followed a path toward the only spark of happiness his miserable little life was offering at the moment.

That spark of happiness was named Joe. Joe Chase.

As the path began to climb again and Ned eventually crested a hill, he whirled toward a sound on the dusty trail behind him. Was it the echo of his own footsteps, or was it something else? Someone stalking him perhaps? A predator?

Shuddering, Ned pushed that thought away as quickly as he could.

He gazed around. From here he could see the shimmering San Diego skyline, winking at him through the pines. He stood motionless, a little breathless from the climb, the dead pine needles still crunching under his feet as he nervously shifted his weight. He leaned forward and tipped his head to the side, listening.

But for the distant hum of late-night traffic, Balboa Park was as still as death. Not a promising simile by any stretch of the imagination.

The screech of a howler monkey split the darkness, and Ned jumped. Then he laughed. Just past the trees and across the Cabrillo Freeway, which threaded a path through the valley below, sprawled the San Diego Zoo and its one hundred acres of imprisoned wildlife. On a night such as this, when the dew-moistened air lay still upon the earth, their cries could be heard for miles around. The screeching laughter of hyenas, the howl of dingoes, the piercing roar and wail of the big cats—all carnivorous beasts who would never see their homelands again, feel the spring of natural grass beneath their paws, or experience the joy of stalking their own twitching dinners. Poor things.

And again Ned laughed. He laughed because only moments before he had been thinking he might become some creature’s twitching dinner.

Joe was right when he teased Ned about being a city boy. Ned was a city boy, through and through. Even a late-night stroll across Balboa Park in the moonlight to meet his best friend was enough to leave him a quivering pile of jangled nerves. Bunny rabbit indeed.

Ned stood on the shadowy path, barely able to see his hand in front of his face. Behind him, through the trees, still shone the diamond sparks of the city skyline. In the other direction hovered that beautiful, scaryass moon.

He froze, as off in the trees to his left, he heard the crunch of footsteps again. His heart did a somersault because this time they most certainly were not his own. Maybe it was some homeless person. Maybe it was some homicidal homeless person. Yikes.

“Joe?” Ned whispered—a tremulous hiss. “Is that you?”

No answer. Standing as stiff as a fence post, he waited a minute longer. Still no answer.

As silently as he could, Ned turned and resumed his walk, as much to continue his forward progress as to evade those encroaching footsteps. It wouldn’t be the first time Ned Bowden had found himself running from shadows. It wouldn’t be the first time he felt niggling fingers of fear creeping up his spine.

Something about the darkness had begun to bother Ned lately. He couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. He hadn’t mentioned it to Joe, of course, or anyone else for that matter. Good grief, Ned was twenty-eight. The last thing he wanted Joe to think was that he was afraid of the dark.

Even if he was.

Ned had other things in his life bothering him too, but those were happier things. Astonishing things. Those were things he could barely tolerate to think about because they filled him with such a rush of joyous hope. It was an uphill battle keeping them tamped down enough to prevent himself from grinning like a sap and breaking into song every five minutes. Ned didn’t need that. People thought he was crazy enough.

Ned followed the hiking trail down another slope, this time toward the deep canyon that cut the park in half from one end to the other. Eventually, he burst through the trees and stepped out onto the footbridge spanning the canyon and the freeway below. A few scattered cars were whizzing by underneath, as if scurrying past with their tails tucked beneath their legs, knowing they would catch it when they got home for staying out so late.

Ned almost giggled at the thought.

The footbridge was walled and roofed with heavy mesh wiring, totally enclosing the structure to prevent sad people from jumping off. Every time Ned stepped out onto the bridge he cast a gentle prayer skyward, thanking the person who had decided to do that. Because frankly, before the astonishing, happier things began to dwell in Ned’s damaged little brain, he thought he might have been one of those sad people who would be tempted to take a swan dive into the traffic below.

Happily, his days of thinking such thoughts were now past. Ned touched the scar hidden among the waves of blond hair at the side of his head and gave it a squeamish prod. The scar had been there for years, but still he treated it as if it were new, as if it had only recently been carved there, as if he could still feel the scabs and stitches of his long recovery from it. Nowadays, of course, it was simply an old wound, one that had reluctantly released Ned from its pain long before. Why he treated the scar as if it still carried the potential to hurt him, Ned wasn’t quite sure. Respect, maybe. And a touch of trepidation, possibly, since who knew when the damaged nerve endings might decide to roar back to screaming life like a sleeping volcano shaking itself awake if Ned didn’t treat them with the proper humility.

Still, that was doubtful, wasn’t it? The injury had occurred so long ago. Back when he was sixteen. Back when he was still in high school, a dozen years ago.

The memory of his injury, like the scar itself, Ned also treated with respect and a touch of superstitious fear. And shame, of course. Always shame. He never talked about it. Even Joe didn’t know the story behind the scar. Not only did Ned never mention it, he tried never to think about it either.

Sometimes he even succeeded. For a while.

Ned glanced at his wristwatch and saw that he was early, so he dallied on the footbridge. He leaned his forehead against the cool wire mesh and stared down at the cars zooming past below. Standing there made him feel like one of the animals in the zoo, peering out through the bars of its cage. Longing to be a part of the world outside. The world it used to know. The world it used to own.

Ned had once felt caged in that world as well, although he had to admit he was enjoying his freedom more and more since he took the tiny ground-floor studio apartment on Kalmia Street and struck up a friendship with his next-door neighbor, Joe. Well, actually, he hadn’t struck up the friendship. Joe had. And that, Ned only recently decided, was the most astonishing item of all on that long list of wondrous things Ned found himself contemplating so much these days.

With his forehead pressed to the cool mesh, and his gentle, prodding fingertip still idly stroking the scar at the side of his head, Ned closed his eyes and listened to the bombarding sounds of life flooding over him. The whoosh and roar of traffic. The keening wail of another dingo somewhere off in the distance. The hushed rush of his own blood sluicing through his veins. The lazy patter of his heartbeat thumping beneath his ribs. The rattle of the wire mesh surrounding him. The way it thrummed against his skin when a big truck zoomed past below. The sound of the night breeze merrily rustling pine boughs at either end of the bridge, like cheerleaders waving their pompoms high above their heads.

And oddly enough, the sound of the darkness. It was so deep, so profound, it could almost be heard as well. With that thought, Ned bit down hard on his fear and forced a smile. His smile widened when he remembered a short conversation uttered only hours before.

“Are you sure you want to meet me after work and walk me home?”

“Sure, Joe. Why not. I like our walks.”

“Well then, where shall we meet? On the little footbridge in the trees, in the spooky, monster-riddled darkness of the woods, or up above on Cabrillo Bridge, where the streetlights will keep you safe from all the boogeymen hoping to gobble you up because you’re just so damned tasty.”

Ned had rolled his eyes, hoping he looked brave. “There are no boogeymen, and I’m not that tasty. I’ll meet you on the path. Down by the little footbridge.”

Joe had given him a teasing wink with one of his beautiful hazel eyes. “Well, if you’re sure. Wouldn’t want you to be scared now.”

“Ass,” Ned had muttered, blushing, while Joe howled with laughter.

So here Ned was, waiting for his friend on the shadowy little footbridge like he said he would. And while he waited, he watched the cars slide past below like antelope fleeing a predator that was hot on their heels, coming to snatch them into oblivion.

Ned would have felt braver on the big bridge up above, in the safety of the streetlights and the traffic, but there were always people there. These moments when he met Joe after work on the silent paths meandering through the trees and hillsides in Balboa Park were more intimate. They had each other to themselves.

Here on the dusty trails in the darkness under the trees, Ned didn’t have to share Joe with anyone.

That thought filled Ned with such a rush of longing, he actually clutched at his heart and squeezed his eyes shut so he could savor the feeling.

Then, slowly, he opened his eyes again. Lifting his head, he studied that fat, creepy moon up above. It hung there like a big fat BOSU ball slathered with cream cheese. The Cabrillo Bridge loomed overhead too, massive, its masonry a century old, cracked in places, flooded with lights, dwarfing the shadowy little footbridge below. Dwarfing Ned as well.

Just as Ned felt dwarfed when he stood in Joe’s shadow. After all, Joe was six two. Ned was a squirt next to him, barely topping out at five seven. To see Joe’s smile, Ned always had to tilt his head back and look up. Not that he minded. Nope. He didn’t mind at all. And sometimes when they laughed together, Joe would reach out and stroke a warm hand through the hair on Ned’s arms or brush the nape of Ned’s neck with tickling fingertips. Ned didn’t mind that either.

He glanced at his watch again. Should he wait here for Joe, or should he climb the next hill toward the back fence that bordered the zoo, where Joe would slip through at the end of his shift?

San Diego’s Balboa Park was only a hundred acres smaller than the 1,300 acres of Central Park in New York City. Ned knew this because he had googled it with the computer at the public library. And like Central Park, Balboa Park was tucked neatly into the very heart of a great city. The apartment complex where Ned and Joe lived side by side stood at the western edge of the park. Back before Joe had entered his life, Ned had spent long hours standing at his apartment window on the first floor, observing the trees and the strolling passersby, feeling lonely, feeling as if he didn’t belong to the world he was forever gazing out upon.

But Joe had changed all that. Joe was his friend now. And Ned still couldn’t believe how much Joe’s friendship had changed his life.

Sometimes Ned wondered if maybe Joe was a little damaged himself. He didn’t have a scar on his head like Ned, but maybe Joe’s damage was deeper, hidden down inside where it couldn’t be seen. Why else would he have sought out a friendship with Ned? Joe was handsome and strong and tall and kind—brave too, since the darkness didn’t scare him at all—and Ned was forever puzzling over what Joe might have seen in Ned that made him want to be friends. Not that Ned was complaining. Apart from the day the scar was etched on his head, the day Joe reached out to Ned in friendship was the single most seminal event of Ned’s life. And Ned damn well knew it. There were days when he thought Joe knew it too, and that thought made Ned happy. He wanted Joe to know how much it meant to him they were friends. Even if Ned did live in terror that Joe would find out the other thoughts that had gradually burrowed into Ned’s brain. The more personal thoughts.

The sexy thoughts.

Ned stood with his forehead still pressed to the wire cage surrounding the footbridge. He squeezed his eyes shut to better allow the clean night air to cool his senses. After all, those sexy thoughts always brought heat with them. Heat that sometimes avalanched over Ned like a flurry of embers, drenching him from head to toe with searing splashes of fire. He could feel his ears burning even now as he stood in the darkness with his heart thundering in his chest and his fingers woven through the wire mesh—the mesh that kept the sad people safe.

With that thought, he stepped back and rubbed his forehead to erase the lines the brittle strands had left on his skin. The sudden infusion of heat through his body began to dissipate too as Ned tried as hard as he could to push those other thoughts—those sexy thoughts—away. He listened again to the night sounds around him. The cooing of a pigeon somewhere. Or was it an owl? The chitter of a squirrel, maybe chattering in its sleep. The gentle stirring of the treetops. The rustle and creak of pine branches shifting in the wind. The occasional patter of pinecones, jarred loose and tumbling to the ground with a teeny thud.

When the fear of darkness started to creep back in, Ned began to whistle a tuneless little song. Tuneless because since the day his scar was carved in the side of his head, his whistling had been atonal. As had his singing. Somehow he could no longer carry a tune to save his life. But Ned didn’t care. He whistled anyway.

And in the distance, he heard someone whistling back!

Suddenly he forgot the darkness completely. Along with his fears. In fact, those fears seemed pretty silly now. Silly and immature. Ned’s face twisted into a grin. He leaned his back into the wire mesh, letting it cradle him while he waited for the sound of familiar footsteps on the path ahead, leading down from the back of the zoo. While he waited for the whistling to approach even closer. The melody of it was far more pleasing to the ear than his own had been, because Joe managed to whistle on key.

Before Joe appeared through the darkness, Ned barked out a merry laugh that rolled off into the trees around him. It was joined by another laugh coming down the hill. A laugh and a familiar voice.

“Good Lord, Ned!” the voice bawled out. “Standing in the middle of the park laughing by yourself in the moonlight? People will say you’re nuts!”

“Maybe I am nuts!” Ned barked back. “So what?”

Any second now, that bodiless voice would burst from the shadows onto the moonlit trail ahead, and there he’d be. Smiling, happy, handsome. Joe. Ned’s favorite person in the whole wide world.

Even Ned’s fingers tingled with anticipation as he brushed at his clothes, trying to make himself presentable.

Unhinged by Rick R Reed
I worked my finger into a loose edge and tore open the top of the envelope. I was right -- there was a card inside. But it wasn’t a birthday card. At least I don’t think so. I pulled the card out and stared at it.

People always say, in books, things like “a chill ran up his spine” but I’ve always questioned that. While of course I have had occasion to experience fear and even terror in my thirty-two years, I have never actually felt a chill “creep” up my spine, let alone run its “icy fingers” up and down it.

Until today.

The front of the card was a simple black and white photograph of a long curving black feather on a dark background. Most likely, this was an ostrich plume. So why did something so innocuous give me the creeps? Why was my first thought that this was an image pulled from a nightmare? Maybe because it was just weird. There was nothing printed on the front and the photo -- so simple -- seemed somehow foreboding. If it didn’t sound melodramatic, I’d say it seemed like a warning.

Its starkness was eerie. I fought an urge to just drop the card on the floor and run upstairs, leaving it there for someone else to find. The feather -- pardon me for my flight of fancy -- did indeed look threatening. Don’t ask me why. I imagined that if I did leave it on the floor it would be waiting right outside my apartment next time I opened my door.

The color, the shadows ... I don’t know, they seemed to add up to death.

I know, I know. That sounds over-the-top, but did I mention that it wasn’t until I actually opened the card that I felt that shiver of fear run up my spine? The one that I had hitherto never experienced?

Written on the inside of the card, in the same, feminine hand that the envelope bore were five simple words:

I’ve been inside your house.

It was a simple sentence, almost homespun, but it struck a chord of terror deep within me. It made my heart race. It caused me to look behind me. My hands trembled, just a little bit. And a queasy nausea rose in my gut.

I stared down at the plain sentence. Like the feather, there was something ominous in its simplicity, a veiled threat. Why would someone go to the trouble of sending me a card simply to say they’d been inside my house?

I glanced down at the envelope again, just to make sure my eyes hadn’t deceived me, hoping against hope that this bizarre missive had been stuck in my mailbox by mistake, perhaps it had been intended for one of my many faceless neighbors, for whom a picture of a black feather would conjure up some rapturous memory -- or something like that.

But no. The card was for me. There was no getting around it.

Wearily, I started toward the stairs. Somehow, the odd card and its message had sapped the good mood I had begun my hours off work with, and I knew it would eat at me all evening. Who would send this to me?


Josh Lanyon
Bestselling author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance, JOSH LANYON has been called "the Agatha Christie of gay mystery."

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan's annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place on the list).

The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the Goodreads M/M Group (which has over 22,000 members). Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist for Gay Mystery, and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and they live in Southern California.

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.

Amelia Faulkner
Amelia Faulkner was born in Thame, Oxfordshire, and sprouted upward in short order. The ground around Thame is reasonably mucky, especially in the winter, and she can’t be blamed for wanting to get away from it.

Raised on a steady diet of Star Trek and Doctor Who, Amelia stood no chance in not becoming a grade-A geek. She has sat on the board of the British Fantasy Society, contributed fiction and fluff to various published roleplaying games, and written non-fiction for SciFiNow and SFX Magazines. For every positive there is an equal and opposite negative, and Amelia is forced to admit that she loves Wild Wild West.

In her spare time she enjoys travel, photography, walking her Corgi, and trying to convince her friends to replay the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game with all the Goblins decks.

Rick R Reed
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed draws inspiration from the lives of gay men to craft stories that quicken the heartbeat, engage emotions, and keep the pages turning. Although he dabbles in horror, dark suspense, and comedy, his attention always returns to the power of love. He’s the award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction and is forever at work on yet another book. Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” You can find him at his website or blog. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA with his beloved husband.

SJ Himes
I'm a self-employed writer who stresses out about the silliest things, like whether or not I got my dog the best kind of snack and the fact my kindle battery tends to die when I'm at the best part in a book. I write mainly gay romance, erotica, and urban fantasy, with occasional forays into contemporary and paranormal. I love a book heavy on plot and character evolution, and throw in some magic, and that's perfection. My current series are: The Beacon Hill Sorcerer, Bred For Love (as Revella Hawthorne), The Wolfkin Saga, and the epic fantasy romance series Realms of Love. My last two novels in the Beacon Hill Sorcerer won 3rd Place in the Gay Fantasy category for the 2016 Rainbow Awards.

I live in New Orleans, where the personalities are big and loud and so are the bugs! New Orleans is rich in cultural history, and the flavor and music of the City is impossible to hide. Before that, I lived all over the United States: Tampa, Western Massachusetts, Indianapolis, and on and on.... I'm a nomad, and I've yet to find a place that calls to me strongly enough to become home. My faithful travel companions are my dog Micah, the numerous voices in my head who insist they all get put on paper, and the wind at my back.

Josh Lanyon

John Inman

Amelia Faulkner

Rick R Reed

SJ Himes

Halloween is Murder by Josh Lanyon

Nightfall by John Inman
Jack of Thorns by Amelia Faulkner

Unhinged by Rick R Reed

Wolves of Black Pine by SJ Himes