Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Random Paranormal Tales of 2018 Part 2


The Haunted Heart: Winter by Josh Lanyon
Summary:
"Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only." --Samuel Butler

Still grieving over the sudden death of his lover, antiques dealer Flynn Ambrose moves to the ramshackle old house on Pitch Pine Lane to catalog and sell the large inventory of arcane and oddball items that once filled his late uncle's mysterious museum.

But not all the items are that easy to catalog. Or get rid of...

Since Alan died, Flynn isn't eating, isn't sleeping, and isn't spending a lot of time looking in mirrors. But maybe he should pay a little more attention. Because something in that 18th Century mirror is looking at him.

1st Re-Read Review September 2018:
Mirrors can be a person's worst nightmare because they often reflect what we really don't want to see: ourselves.  Well for Flynn and eventually Kirk, a mirror shows them something they never expected and its not themselves.  I love how The Haunted Heart: Winter is a near perfect blend of contemporary, historical, paranormal, mystery, and of course romance.  I have read scarier ghost stories but I don't know as I have honestly read any that blend all these parts evenly.  This may have been a re-read for me so there was a little lack of adrenaline rush that comes with the first time but I was still on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. 

There's just something about Flynn and Kirk that you can't turn away from.  I won't say much about Flynn's past that lead him to where he is and why but I have to admit, I'm glad we didn't see more of his parents because even though I know they love their son and want to protect him I really found them to be overbearing bordering on an obsessive need to be in control.  But their role is minor even though their influence may be larger it doesn't keep Flynn down, which only heightens my love for the character more.  This is a true gem for my October reading but its wonderful at any time of year.

Original Review October 2015:
There was just the right amount of mystery, paranormal, humor, and romance to make this story almost perfect. The only flaw I found was I wished it was longer because I wasn't ready to let go of Flynn & Kirk when I found myself looking at the last page.

RATING:

Gremlins are Malfunctioning by Susan Laine
Summary:
A year ago, supernatural creatures swarmed the earth—and ensured that human technology could no longer function without them.

Eliot Tate works for the Civilian and Environmental Protection Agency, so he's on the receiving end of customer complaints about their gas gremlins. Despite his efforts, though, he can't figure out what's wrong.

He gets help in the form of Alek Saroyan, an agent with the Mythkin Energy Research Facility, but right from the start the two men despise each other. With antagonism, the gas gremlin problem, and rising questions about mythkin sentience hanging over their heads, Eliot and Alek are going to have find their own balance if they stand any chance of restoring the balance that's been lost.

Unwanted Omega by Caitlin Ricci
Summary:
Mated against their will and forced to have a child, Thomas and Helena hope now that they've done their duty, their alpha will leave them in peace to heal, raise their child—and allow Helena to spend more time with her secret lover, who is also Thomas's sister. When that hope is shattered, they try to bow out by claiming they're too busy raising their first child to have a second.

In response, the alpha gives them an omega, Owen, to help ease the burden. Rather than cave to Abraham's demands again, Thomas and Helena are determined to fight back—but first they need to figure out whether or not they can trust Owen...

The Medium by Bonnie Dee
Summary:
To win a heart, he must risk his soul…

Cast out of his family for being a freak, psychic Justin Crump helps others find peace by using his ability. When he’s called upon to release a distressed soul from a haunted house, a child’s angry spirit draws him into a dark mystery. Equally intriguing is the skeptical homeowner, Albert. A man who has buried his sexuality deeper than the grave.

Albert Henderson humors his mother’s wishes by inviting the medium for a visit. While he doubts Justin’s gifts, he can’t deny one truth: the man stirs desire in him that Albert has spent a lifetime denying. Slowly, the walls of his proper life crumble. And when Justin proposes some emotion-free experimentation, neither imagines it might lead to love…and danger.

After learning the terrifying truth about the deceased child’s persecutor, the two men pursue a perpetrator of great evil. When they coax a confession from their quarry, the vengeful spirit unleashes power nearly beyond control. To free the earthbound ghost from the past that holds it shackled, Justin must risk his own soul. And Albert must find the courage to break free of the chains of doubt that will deny him and Justin the future of which they once only dreamed.

💥Warning: Contains mention of child sexual abuse.💥

Original Review July 2018:
Justin Crump, disowned by his family for who and what he is, uses his abilities to help others.  When he's called in to help rid a haunted house of a distressed spirit he finds himself pulled into a mystery he wasn't expecting.  Albert Henderson is skeptical of Justin's abilities but he humors his mother who is a believer.  Finding himself intrigued by Justin on multiple levels, will the pair find love among the danger once the truth to the spirit is discovered?

Followers of my reviews have long ago realized just how big a fan of historicals and paranormals I am and when the two are put together, well then I am in reader heaven.  Bonnie Dee has once again made history come alive, she has a way about her that makes even the paranormal element seem realistic without going over the top.  Whether you believe spirits, ghosts, and mediums to be real doesn't really matter, with this book the author has you believing in the possibilities.

Justin and Albert are such a perfect match, not exactly the "opposites attract" trope and not really "enemies to lovers" either but a little bit of both probably.  Justin is not your typical medium nor is he the typical con-artist that Albert believes him to be, he knows how the "upper class" works but he also knows the value of the "working man".   Albert's not lost to the ways of either as well but he isn't easily won over as he thinks his mother has been.  They both work for what they find and I really love that about both of them, it just adds to their chemistry.

As for the mystery part, I won't say much but I will mention that it will break your heart and just how Justin is able to deal with what he learns and continue on is beyond me.  I would most definitely want to find answers but I don't think I'd be able to bounce back so quickly to do so but I think that is probably down to Albert at Justin's side.  I will say that I certainly shed no tears when the mystery was brought to a conclusion 😉😉

The Medium is another prime example of the brilliance behind Bonnie Dee when she has her mind set on bringing history to life.  Throw in a little paranormal, a little mystery, and just the right amount of romance and you are looking at great entertaining fiction.  The title may be The Medium but the quality and talent that brought this gem to life is definitely The High.😉

RATING: 

Death and the Maiden by JI Radke
Summary:
Even the most lawless of creatures have laws, and for vampires, the sacrifice system is the most important. For every ten members of a coven, the sophisticated blood-drinkers have one “sacrificial lamb” to keep the worlds of the living and the Undead balanced.

August Prescott finds this fascinating—once he accepts the world is not what it seems. Kidnapped and kept in isolation, lack of memory troubles him but helps him fall into this society without resistance.

August befriends Theo, who may or may not be the only one August trusts, and when it’s Theo’s turn to drink from him in the “Sanctuary,” August could believe he’s in love. And so could fifty-year-young vampire Theo, because August doesn’t look at Theo like he’s a monster.

But Theo’s afraid of loving and must decide if he’ll waste eternity or welcome August into it. According to the Lamb, the chilling sovereign of blood-drinking Undead, that might be fate’s design. And if living forever means foregoing the comforts of humanity for Theo’s kisses, Theo’s arms, and Theo’s love, August is ready to turn.


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Random Paranormal Tales of 2017



The Haunted Heart: Winter by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One
I didn’t see him see until it was too late.

Even if I had seen him, I’m not sure it would have made a difference. My only thought was getting downstairs and out the front door as fast as possible. It turned out the fastest means was crashing headlong into someone bigger, and letting his momentum send us both hurtling down the staircase.

My… er… companion yelled and cursed all the way down the first flight. Well, in fairness it was one long yelp and a prolonged curse. “Yooouuu’ve gotta be fu-uh-uh-uh-uh-cking kid-ding me!”

We landed in a tangle of limbs on the dusty and none-too-plushy carpet. My elbow whanged one final time into the balusters and my head banged down on the floor. I saw stars. Or maybe that was just the dust, which had probably crystallized with age.

“What the hell was that?” moaned someone from the ether.

Good. Question.

What the hell had that been? It sure wasn’t a trick of the light. Though I’d done my best to tell myself that’s exactly what it was — and had kept telling myself that right up until the moment the figure in the mirror had tried to reach through the glass and touch me.

“Sorry about that,” I mumbled. His bare foot was planted in my gut, and I couldn’t blame him when he dug his toes in for leverage before lifting off me. “Oof!”

“What do you think you’re doing running down the stairs in the dark, in the middle of the night?”

I groped for the railing and pulled myself painfully into a sitting position. “I… thought someone was in my room.” Lying was second nature to me by now, but that was a stupid lie. I knew it, the instant the words left my mouth.

404-A — What was his name? Something Murdoch — got to his knees and gaped at me in the dingy light. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“I am saying so.”

We both turned to stare up at the wide open door leading into my rooms. My lamp-lit and noticeably silent rooms.

We looked at each other.

404-A was older than me, bigger than me, shaggier than me. He had a beard and shoulder length black hair. His eyes were dark and sort of hollow looking — that was probably the lack of sleep. He looked like those old posters for Serpico, but he wasn’t a cop. He was a writer of some kind.

And a lousy guitarist. Then again, I wasn’t anyone’s ideal neighbor either. As indicated by current events.
“You think someone’s up there?” He asked me slowly, skeptically.

I weighed a possible visit from the local fuzz, and opted for resident whacko.

“I did. But… maybe I was wrong.”

“Maybe? Maybe? Why don’t we find out?” He was on his feet now, yanking his red plaid flannel bathrobe shut and retying it with a couple of hard, businesslike tugs that vaguely suggested a wish to throttle something. Without waiting to see if I was following or not, he stomped up the flight of stairs. Guiltily, I noticed he was limping.

It was actually amazing either of us hadn’t been seriously injured or even killed in that fall.
“Coming?” he threw over his shoulder.

“Uh… ”

He muttered something, and not pausing for an answer, disappeared through the doorway.

I admit I waited.

He couldn’t fail to see the mirror first thing. It was as tall as I was, cartouche-shaped, mounted on an ornate, ormolu frame. It stood propped against a Chinese black lacquer curio cabinet. The slight angle created the effect of walking up a slanted floor to peer into its silvered surface.

A draft whispered against the back of my neck. I shivered. This old Victorian monstrosity was full of drafts. Drafts and dust. And shadows and creaks. All of them harmless. I shivered again.

Footsteps squeaked overhead. “You can come in now. There’s nobody up here,” 404-A called at last.

I let out a long breath and jogged up the stairs. The elfin faces carved in the black walnut railing winked and smirked at me as I passed.

I reached the top landing and walked into the jumble sale of my living room. My gaze fell on the mirror first thing, but the surface showed only me, tall and skinny and pale in my Woody Woodpecker boxers. My hair looked like Woody’s too, only blond, not red. Definitely standing on end, whatever the color.

“I guess I dreamed… it,” I said by way of apology.

“First time living alone?” 404-A asked dryly. He was standing right beside the mirror, his own reflection off to the side.

“Ha,” I said. “Hardly.” But come to think of it, he was right. I’d lived at home until college and then after college, I’d lived with Alan. This was my first time completely on my own. “Anyway, sorry about dragging you out of bed and knocking you down the stairs. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” He continued to eye me in a way that seemed a bit clinical.

Yeah. I got the message. Maybe I had dreamed it. What a relief to realize it was just a nightmare.

If only I slept.

“Come to think of it, you were already on your way up here,” I remembered.

He said bluntly, “I was going to ask you to stop pacing up and down all night. The floorboards creak.”

“Oh.” My face warmed at this rude but effective reminder that I wasn’t alone in the world. Not even this dusty and dimly lit corner of the world. “Sorry.” To be honest, I forgot he was even in the building most of the time. He was pretty quiet, other than the occasional fit of guitar picking, and it was just the two of us here at 404 Pitch Pine Lane. It was a big, ramshackle house, and we were neither of us the sociable type.

I glanced at the mirror again. Just me and the edge of my neighbor’s plaid bathrobe in its shining surface. The reflection of the ceiling chandelier blazed like a sunspot in the center, obliterating most of us and the room we stood in.

I looked more closely. Had something moved in the very back of the reverse room?

404-A glanced down at the mirror and then back at me. He said, “I have to work tomorrow.”

“Sure. I didn’t realize you could hear me.”

He unbent enough to say, “I mostly can’t. Only the floorboards. Mainly at night.”

“I’ll make sure to pace in the other room.”

“Great.” He pushed away from the cabinet and headed for the door. “I’ll let you get back to it.”

His reflection crossed the mirror’s surface, large bare feet, ragged Levi’s beneath the hem of the bathrobe.
“Night,” I said absently. I remembered to ask, “What’s your name again?”

“Murdoch. Kirk Murdoch.”

“Right. Night, Kirk.”

“Goodnight, Flynn.”

I watched the mirrored reflection of the door closing quietly behind him.

Gremlins are Malfunctioning by Susan Laine
“The gremlin in my car isn’t working properly.”

Eliot Tate suppressed a sigh. All cars had quite literal gremlins in their gas tanks. What was so special about this particular gremlin-and-vehicle combo? Also, was it possible for the customer to have given him any less information? Eliot plastered on his winning customer service smile. “Are you a returning customer, sir?”

“Yes. Here’s my CEPA card. It’s currently valid, I assure you.” The man was in his twenties and sounded obnoxious, judging by the smartass tone of his voice. He handed Eliot a card showing his membership in the Civilian and Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA), which was required of every man, woman, and child over the age of fifteen these days.

Eliot swiped his blond hair behind his ear and tapped on his keyboard, typing in Mr. Paul Smith’s client number. Information popped up in several columns but thus far none involving his vehicle. “Make and model, please.”

Clearing his throat, the man appeared both apprehensive and annoyed at once. “I…Yes, of course. Toyota Dash 2018. It’s a bright red SUV. Just bought it earlier this year.”

“Energy source?” Eliot asked on autopilot.

Mr. Smith harrumphed in obvious vexation. “Petrol, naturally.”

Eliot quirked an eyebrow. The customer paled and gulped, his gaze darting away. Exactly right. No one challenged Eliot in his own workplace. He returned to his original issue regarding the information Mr. Smith had given him. “There’s a problem with your gas gremlin? Please describe the issue to me in detail.”

“Well, uh…” Mr. Smith frowned, scratching behind his ear, as if buying time to search for the right words. “It’s growling a lot.”

“Gremlins always growl, sir,” Eliot noted, his light-green eyes narrowing.

“Yes, yes.” The man waved in frustration. “But, like, are they supposed to do that all the freaking time? Even when I’m driving perfectly normal, not speeding or anything?”

That was unusual, Eliot had to admit. “Is growling the only complication?”

Mr. Smith shook his head immediately. “No. God, no. When I’m on the freeway, the car starts to stall. I have to pull over. But the second I do, the car starts to work again.” He leaned over the desk, anger in his expression. “I think that damn gremlin’s messing with me. I demand to have it replaced.”

Eliot pursed his lips. “You are aware, sir, that CEPA does not do vehicle maintenance? I advise you to take the car to a registered Toyota brand repair shop.”

Smith snarled. “Yes, I fucking know that, goddammit. But I want to file a grievance.”

Eliot frowned. “Against whom, sir?”

The man blinked, his ire temporarily forgotten. “What do you mean? Toyota, of course. I need a car that works. They paired me with a faulty, vicious gremlin.”

“You claim that they did this to you on purpose?”

“Yeah, sure.” He hesitated, biting his bottom lip. “How much do you think I could get?”

“I suggest you submit that question to a lawyer, not a mechanic, sir.”

Mr. Smith banged his fists on the desk. “Why the hell do you think I’m here? CEPA has, like, legal counsel on staff, right? Ones specializing in prosecuting corporations, right?”

Eliot stood. Even before he glared down at him, the client backed up a step. Only then did Eliot speak. “Please don’t hit the counter, sir.” His voice was cool and collected. He’d dealt with belligerent customers before. Like kids, they needed a firm hand to rein them in.

The two security guards by the door were a secondary asset.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Smith murmured, his apologetic tone only half-genuine. “Emotions are running high, I’m sure you understand.”

Eliot sat back down. Instead of engaging with Mr. Smith’s words, he told the man, “I can give you three numbers for local law firms on retainer with us. Any one of them can help you, if you wish to pursue legal action against Toyota.”

In his head Eliot wondered why Smith bothered. Most big corporations were finished, gone down after the introduction of the mythkin into the world. Many of the world’s largest companies had been based around energy and its production or creating items that had become obsolete and futile. For example, who needed experimental hoverboards or futuristic urban transport pods when one barely had enough energy for a basic car? In some areas, technological progress had ground down to a halt.

Mr. Smith sagged in relief after receiving validation for his concerns. “Thank you.”

Eliot gave the man three calling cards. “Here you go, sir.” Then he refocused on the data collected. Maybe it would be easier to talk with him now that he had the information he’d come for “Is this the vehicle’s original gremlin?”

“Yes.” Mr. Smith did seem calmer now.

Eliot typed the information in and asked, “Is the gas gremlin digesting exhaust fumes and excreting petroleum in normal fashion and up to regular, acceptable levels?”

Mr. Smith hesitated, frowning, but finally nodded. “I think so. I mean, the instrumentation hasn’t shown any red flags. Should be okay then…right?”

Eliot held back a smartass retort. Car control panels weren’t a forte for every driver. Mr. Smith seemed quite unaware of the operations of his own vehicle. Then again, too many people he came across in this job were the same.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, sir.” Eliot added to the files that the dashboard hadn’t indicated any problems to the user. The control panel wasn’t wired to the gas gremlin, per se, but it detected aberrations in petroleum and exhaust levels. “When you take the car to a repair shop, Mr. Smith, will you see to it that CEPA gets copies of the issues list and the repair logs? That way we can conduct our own investigation and hopefully solve the problem before it reoccurs with other clients.”

Unwanted Omega by Caitlin Ricci
I woke up and turned in my big bed so that I could look outside and see the sunrise coming over the Colorado plains. Downstairs my sister was already singing to my son, Jonathan. Her girlfriend, Helena, who was also my wife, would be down there with her. It would have been a good morning, except that Helena and I were to see our alpha today.

Pulling myself out of bed, I stretched and dragged some pants on. I was barely functional as I came downstairs for some coffee, but I couldn’t stay in bed all day either. It was Saturday, and there was work to be done well before Helena and I made the trek to go see our alpha in Denver. We lived about an hour east, in Bennett, in a house he had provided for us when we were mated, and he lived on the west side of Denver almost to Lakewood. Helena and I didn’t enjoy the trip through Denver on the highways, but I knew our time was up. Something was happening. We were rarely called to him. Phone calls each week had been sufficient for a year now. But now he required us to meet with him and my stomach was tight at the thought of what he could want from us now.

When I came downstairs and went into the kitchen I found Helena and Lily together at the table, their hands joined as they leaned against each other.

Our son had cereal in front of him and he smiled at me as I came closer. I kissed his cheek and ruffled his black hair. When he squealed, the women in my life smiled at me.

“Sleep well, Thomas?” Lily teased me.

I went to the coffee machine and poured myself a cup. “Better than you two probably.” They kept quiet when they were together, for my sake, and also not to wake Jonathan. At nearly a year old he was much better about sleeping through the night and none of us wanted to jinx that.

“I don’t want to see Abraham today, but I know we have to,” Helena said with a sigh. She was angry. I knew that already. But we wouldn’t get into it in front of Lily again.

I wholeheartedly agreed with her, but I sipped my coffee instead. She didn’t need me to tell her just how much I wished that we didn’t have to go see him this morning. At least Lily was exempt. Our alpha, Abraham, didn’t like having babies around so Jonathan was to be kept away until he was able to control himself, in the alpha’s words. The longer I could keep Jonathan away from him, the happier I’d be. I wanted them all away from him. We would be better off as humans without someone over us, controlling every aspect of our lives. I didn’t know what Abraham would want from us right now. We had produced a child, like he’d demanded, and our work should have been done for a while.

Since this meeting likely had nothing to do with Jonathan, my gut said Abraham wanted to talk about Lily. She’d been mated, once, but hadn’t produced a child and the arrangement had been dissolved after a year. Helena and I had been lucky that way. Neither of us had wanted this mating, but we got along at least, and I was happy for her and Lily. It was good to see Lily happy with someone at last.

I looked at them both. My sister was worried. She always was whenever we had to go see Abraham. Helena looked annoyed with me. I knew her position on the matter, and how much she wished that I could be the alpha instead of Abraham, but that wasn’t the life I wanted for myself or for them. If I had my way I would have wished that we had all been born human, then none of this would have been pushed on us at all and we wouldn’t have this worry now.

“If you two want to take off for a bit, I can handle Jonathan,” I told them. He was just smiling at me and eating his cereal anyway.

“We’ll go out to the garden then. I’m sure there are some new weeds to pull,” Lily said. She tugged Helena along behind her and I went back to sipping my coffee. I heard them out by the apple trees and I knew they were arguing, but even with my werewolf hearing I couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying. I could guess it easily enough though. Lily and Helena wanted to be together. I wanted that for them too. I loved our son, but he was the only good thing to come out of our arranged mating.

I was done with my coffee so I picked him up, slinging him onto my hip as I put my cup in the sink and rinsed it out. He looked more like Helena than like me. She had big green eyes and dark hair, just like he did. I was never really sure what to say to him, this child neither of us had wanted but we both now loved, so I kissed him on his cheeks and carried him into the living room.

“Hey baby,” I said as I checked him, making sure his diaper was still good to go. Lily loved taking care of him. She was a great second mom to him, and had she been less assertive she would have made a fine omega. But my sister wasn’t meek, and her mothering nature only extended to the wolves she loved. Everyone else could go rot as far as she was concerned. I didn’t blame her for that attitude one bit since that was how I felt most days too.

I’d never pictured myself as being a father. I’d never really wanted to be either. But now that we had Jonathan, I was happy to have him in our lives. I just wished that it hadn’t hurt Helena so much to have him. She’d hated me for a long time because of what we’d done together, and I understood. We hadn’t had a choice in the matter. The alpha had put us together to have a child and so we’d made one. I’d never wanted to be human more than when he’d put us together.

The Medium by Bonnie Dee
The day Crump was to arrive, I could not concentrate on my work, even though the factory in York was faltering and I needed to review their finances. Our groom, Flint, had taken the pony trap to the Mewsbury train station to fetch the visitor. I kept drifting to the window to check if the trap had returned. I might have been a ghost myself, haunting the den where several generations of Kingman males had retreated for privacy. Fresh paint, new drapes, carpet, and furniture could not completely extinguish the odor of smoke from years of pipes or cigars. I imagined Sir Cyrus sitting at the fireplace with his cronies making plans for a fox hunt or to seduce a housemaid or whatever else their sort got up to for entertainment.

My father had sneered at the landed gentry who had run their estates into the ground through lack of any business or common sense. Father only believed in what he could own, bank, buy, or sell. He never let a penny lie idle and expanded his machinist father’s company into a conglomeration of businesses. But new Henderson wealth couldn’t buy the respect of our social betters. Father hadn’t cared, but of course, he’d never had to attend Eton as I had and suffer the snobbery of brats. Only breeding separated my tormentors from vicious lowlife thugs. Once one was appointed the role of victim, there was little hope to escape it.

I heard a noise and bolted up from my seat to make another trip to the window. My nape prickled as I waited for Justin Crump to arrive. Why did his imminent arrival affect me so? From the moment I’d looked into his pale blue eyes. I’d felt something akin to instant recognition, coupled with an electrical charge that set my body buzzing. It must be this magnetic personality that made him such an expert at winning converts. I could find no other way to explain why Crump influenced me so.

At last I heard the distant clip-clopping of hooves on the driveway and caught a glimpse of the pony and cart. I hurried back to my desk like a lad pretending to study when he’d been daydreaming the afternoon away. I stared at the quarterly spreadsheet for Drayton Ironworks, but listened for the sound of Lassiter’s footsteps in the hallway. After a light tap, the butler opened the door. “Mr. Crump has arrived, sir, and awaits you in the parlor.”

“Very good. Thank you.”

I forced myself to take my time putting away my pen set before walking casually toward the parlor. I refused to appear eager, although my pulse was racing as I entered the room and beheld Crump’s backside. That is to say, I beheld his back since he was facing away from me—not that I was staring at his arse.

He stood studying the large oil painting above the fireplace mantel, a pastoral featuring a forest at night with a full moon glowing between tree branches. He turned to greet me, the unusual light hue of his blue eyes stopping me short and stealing my voice.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Henderson. I was just admiring this painting. Quite an unusual scene, mysterious yet strangely welcoming.”

I looked at the artwork I’d hardly noticed before. Room decorations were not something I generally paid much attention to.

“One of Mother’s choices,” I remarked, wondering what he’d meant by welcoming. “She has greatly enjoyed overseeing the remodeling. Or she seemed to at first before this gloominess set in. Won’t you sit down?”

“Where is your dear mother?” Crump settled in the chair facing mine, his legs gracefully crossed. He had a gentleman’s way about him that told me he wasn’t some jumped-up sales clerk having a field day fooling the swells.

“She is resting and will join us directly. I wanted to take an opportunity to speak candidly. As I told you, I haven’t felt one iota of the negative energy in this house that my mother speaks of.”

“It’s not uncommon for most people to remain unaware of psychic disturbances which to others are as concrete as anything in this world,” Crump replied.

I cleared my throat. “At any rate, these negative feelings are very real to my mother. I’ve begun to fear she suffers from melancholia, but I would never send her to a sanitarium for treatment. The idea of cold-water baths or electrical stimulation jolting a person out of a dark mood is as nonsensical as believing in ghosts.”

If he felt insulted, Crump didn’t show it. “You’ve made your skepticism quite clear. I promise to do my best to dispel this darkness that haunts your mother, but it will be of great help if you refrain from using the term ‘nonsensical.’ She should feel she has your support.”

“She would see right through me if I pretended to believe, so I’ll simply keep mum.”

Crump glanced at the moonscape above the fireplace. “What can you tell me about the history of this house? Your mother mentioned it was built by more recent generations of Kingmans.”

“The ruins of the original structure are on a rise toward the north. Cyrus Kingman, the current baronet, could no longer keep the entail intact. I suppose some king granted the land and baronetcy to a Kingman forebear, but I couldn’t tell you the date or the king. I was far more interested in learning the condition of the masonry and roof than in historical details about the house.”

Crump’s smile formed crescent grooves on either side of his mouth. “You are a man who exists very much in the here and now.”

For an employee, he didn’t show much deference. I didn’t like the way his smile set off a skittering feeling through me like a dog trying to run on a polished floor. “It’s the sensible way to live. No good dwelling on the past, or in existing in a dream world. Such frivolity doesn’t affect the price of tea,” I snapped, sounding disgustingly like my father.

Crump’s smile died, and I immediately regretted my sharp tone. No need to start off on the wrong foot if he was sincere in his desire to help Mother, and I believed he was. He had a gentle, nurturing manner which might ease her troubled spirit.

I added, “There are estate ledgers in the library. Feel free to search the shelves for whatever might be of use to you.”

Crump did not reply. His eyes had grown unfocused, and I realized he hadn’t heard me. His mouth dropped open slightly, and his breathing grew shallow.

“Mr. Crump?” I prompted.

There was still no response, as if he could neither hear nor see me, and his chest rose and fell with shallow breaths. Was this the prelude to a seizure, or was he putting on a psychic show for my benefit, trying to draw me into his imaginary world?

“Mr. Crump.” I spoke louder.

He shook his head. “No. Please,” he murmured.

This was different from his display at the séance, when he’d pretended to speak for Lady Barton’s son. He’d used his own voice then. Now his tone was lighter and higher.

I shivered as if a cold gust had invaded the room. “Mr. Crump!” I shouted, determined to either draw his attention back to this world or demand he quit playacting.

His body began to shake, and I grew truly frightened. What was one supposed to do for an epileptic? If he fell to the floor twitching and frothing at the mouth, I had no idea how to help.

I lunged forward, grabbed his shoulders, and shook him hard. “Mr. Crump, wake up!”

I felt the solid warmth of his body under his jacket and inhaled a whiff of the pomade that slicked his wavy hair. Tears had escaped his eyes, one of them cupped like a diamond at the corner of his mouth. Something stirred in me at that detail, something protective, yearning, and inexplicable.

He shuddered and blinked, lashes fanning slowly. When he opened his eyes, I noticed the navy ring of the outer iris wrapped like a frame around the paler blue within.

I exhaled a pent breath. “Good Christ! Are you all right?”

He nodded. “Thirsty.” His tongue darted out to wet his lips, and another indefinable pang of emotion shot through me.

I released him and hurried to the sideboard to pour a glass from the pitcher. His hand trembled as he took the glass from me, and he drank it without a pause, his Adam’s apple moving up and down with each swallow.

“What happened to you? Do you often suffer from such fits?”

He smiled, and the tear caught at the corner of his mouth trickled down. “Not generally. Usually my contact with the other side is under my control, but this…” He shook his head. “I’ve never felt anything quite like the misery and fear of this entity. Its feelings became my own.”

I wanted to hit him! Here I was worrying about his physical health, and he was offering more nonsense. It was all an act designed to get me to buy in to his story. Either that, or he was mentally unbalanced enough to have gone into some sort of fugue state.

I folded my arms and glared at him, distancing myself from the proximity that had put odd notions of empathy and protection in my head. “Perhaps your presence here is not a good idea after all. I’m not sure my mother should have—”

“Mother should have what? Her fancies indulged?” Mother swept into the room, as self-assured as I’d ever seen her with none of her recent querulousness on display. “I am not a child, Albert. I don’t need to be either catered to or protected. I am not suffering the ‘nervous melancholia’ we women are supposedly prone to.”

“I didn’t say that.”

She gave me a hard stare, then held out her hand as Crump rose to greet her. “Good day, Mr. Crump. Lovely to see you again. I am so relieved you are here.”

“I’ve already encountered the entity you’ve described. The experience was not pleasant.”

She took his hand between both of hers and gazed into his eyes. A momentary thought flashed that I wished I were in her shoes, before I quickly squelched it. “I never considered myself receptive to the otherworldly,” she said, “but all this has made a believer of me. If I ever had any doubt that life exists beyond this world, it has been extinguished.”

“I hope, together, we may do some good for this tormented soul,” Crump replied.

The pair of them stood united, excluding me, the skeptic. They were of one accord. I could only watch and wish I’d put up more of a fight about bringing Crump into our home. The man disturbed me in ways I didn’t understand, and I wanted him out—probably more than Mother wished to exorcise her ghost.

Death and the Maiden by JI Radke
AUGUST ESCAPED.

Out the window and onto the attic roof while his little maid stepped away to empty the chamber pot.

It was only a handful of minutes, but it was short-lived eternity to August. He was sick; he knew he was sick. The fever raged in his veins. He could have lost his footing and fallen off the roof, surely, but it was blissful, momentary freedom.

The little maid returned to an attic full of cold air and smoking candles, leaded northern window shoved open as far as it could go, and August gone from his bed.

“Help!” she stammered, all panic and soft black plaits under her lace cap. “Help!”

August clung to a blackened chimney stack as the nighttime wind tried to pry him away like an ember from a hearth.This was a dream, surely. The air kissed his hot face cool, and the bruises too, and the clots on his throat and neck. The roof tiles scraped his bare toes. Vertigo rattled him with delicious chills. London sprawled out around the rooftop.

London.

He knew this area; he knew that square with its plane trees and Munro statue. Beyond, not too far beyond, was the West End, in all its nocturnal glory, and the shadows of Westminster clawing for the sky.

Inside the attic, the little maid still shrieked for help. August swallowed a deep gulp of fresh night air, hugging the chimney stack and closing his eyes. “Scream all you want…,” he hummed to himself, and he didn’t mean it out of cruelty. Maybe out of apology. He’d escaped. He could make his way across the roof to other roofs and monkey down on the vines of a house. He’d never done something like that before but he could probably manage it, and then he could run―find someone who could help him, a constable or some good stranger―that is, if the feverish wooziness went away—

“August!”

August opened his eyes in a flutter of lashes. A shiver twisted down to his bones and his grin of triumph crumbled away. Mouth hanging open, he looked around to the attic window.

Two faces beckoned him from the open casement. There was the little maid, her big gray eyes close to shattering into tears, and beside her one of them—the monsters, the kidnappers, the torturers.

One of the vampires.

The vampire had called his name.

August’s heart fell. “Go away!” he croaked. He didn’t want to think about how the vampire knew his name. Had he told any of them? The urgency to escape, to keep going and get away, slithered under his skin—but he couldn’t move.

The vampire in the window had caught his gaze. The vampire’s eyes were green, a sharp and charming green. They cut through August. They stirred him up inside. They made him blush.

“I know you,” August whispered, and the vampire’s expression twitched. But it was a curious thing, saying “I know you.” It was like talking while sleeping and waking up to one’s own words, the meaning and origin of which remained undefinable. The understanding was there and then gone again, like a bat in the night.

August felt stupid, suddenly, sick and stupid because of course he knew the vampire.

The vampire lived in the house.

The vampire fed on him like all the rest of the vampiresin the house fed on him and had been for the last few nights.

“Come back inside,” the vampire in the attic window called sweetly, tenderly, this vampire with the green eyes and the finger-combed hair and the silver-damasked high-collared waistcoat. He didn’t seem all that proud of begging the house’s human to come back inside, rather than the opposite as myth and folklore decreed, but he also seemed markedly distressed, reaching out for August, imploring August with all his undead charm to come back to the window, back inside.

The desire to flee faded away.

August stared. The wind buffered him, tugged at him. Suddenly escape couldn’t hold a candle to being back in the attic room with the vampire and the maid, back in bed safe and warm and ready to sleep. August sighed. It sounded more like a defeated moan than it felt. He was so tired. He was shaking. He needed to lie down. He was ill, remember? He was ill.

August edged back toward the window, clutching the chimney stack. He lost his footing but he didn’t fall. His nightshirt fluttered about his knees and he laughed at his brief loss of balance because it made his heart leap and his head spin, which was a delightfully ticklish sensation. Like a night well spent with the green fairy, or Turkish cigarettes.

The vampire was not so amused. He was impatient. In one smooth, decisive motion, he climbed up across the windowsill and out onto the roof with August. The maid cried out in horror. But the vampire navigated the Collyweston roof with a bold finesse, and drew August in against his chest without an ounce of resistance.

The vampire closed his arm around August’s waist. Like a dance partner, he hoisted August up ho-hum with that one elbow, enough that August didn’t have to stand on his own anymore. It was definitely a feat. August wasn’t all that much smaller than the vampire. The night sky was thick with smog and smoke beyond the vampire’s scowl.

And August thought that maybe this green-eyed vampire would be the only one of themthat he liked.

This vampire smelled like wine and sweet candles. He stormed out with a ferocious slam of the attic door as soon as he’d deposited August back safely in bed, but August didn’t mind one bit.

The vampire had saved him. Surely the vampire was his friend.

The little maid cried into her pinafore for a few moments, leaning against the closed window with shaking knees. August covered his head with the pillow and wished the room would stop spinning. He shivered. When the maid finally approached him, bitterly, he put down the pillow and said, “Sorry for scaring you….”

The maid glared and shoved a rather healthy dose of Daffey’s at him. August fell asleep quickly.

AUGUST KNEW nothing but the attic, the sunset, and his feverish, memoryless existence. It was as good as being dead.

All right, memoryless was a lie.

August remembered. A little bit at least—some things, important things, enough to piece together that theyhad taken him.

The vampires.

From some other place, some other time, some other life, some other him, they’d taken him, and those other details he couldn’t remember, but he was theirs and they kept him in the attic until they needed him.

And now the windows were nailed shut.

August knew a total of seven things for sure, if only because they were the immediate present.

One—his name was August Quincy Prescott, and he was a fresh young bachelor at twenty-three years of age.

Two—they’d come for him in the night because they were vampires. Logically it couldn’t be; realistically it was.

Three—he was there for the vampires to feed upon.

Whoever had started the rumor that vampires wasted a human in one deadly embrace was either quite the storyteller or had not met vampires like the ones in this house. These vampires had rules, it seemed, and some manner of regulation, and one of those rules or regulations was that the vampires did not sink their fangs in to kill once and for all. These strangely sophisticated creatures were like the men and women of some upside-down London, where monsters looked and spoke and dressed like everyone else but took turns drinking tiny sips of blood from the throat and wrist and sometimes even the fingertip of a young man they kept in the attic. Him.

Four—the world was not what August thought it was, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember details about the world as he’d known it before. This conundrum exhausted him. It was terrifying to be so suddenly empty of self—cold, hollow present divided quite manifestly from a past that felt close, felt multidimensional and important, but that held no shapes or names or colors to unfold.

And yet maybe it was also sort of freeing.

The other things August knew for sure because somehow they were flashes in the memorylessness that connected the empty, inhospitable before with the shocking reality of now, fleeting but indisputable, like shapes and shadows burned into his eyelids after staring at the sun. Enough for him to understand, but not enough for him to know more.

He remembered the hook-nosed vampire who’d snatched him out from amongst the finely dressed London crowds he knew so well, away from whomever his friends and family were. The hook-nosed vampire was not one of the vampiresin the house. He’d been a mess of flashy rags and a beardless face. Never mind thieves and beggars; in all the hypnotizing colors and sounds of the West End on a damp autumn night, with fingers like claws and a flurry of thrashing limbs, it was this monster who dragged August right into the nearest alley and knocked him out with one hard blow to the back of his head.

August also remembered being cold, very cold, and dizzy, and confused. He didn’t know where the hook-nosed vampire had taken him, but wherever it was, there were more like him. They gripped him with their strange hands, and their sharp teeth pierced his throat and his wrists like vicious little love bites. They lapped up sips of his blood and laughed when he screamed and wrestled. They were boisterous and rough like seedy men in a pub; they smelled strongly of dirt and something strangely metallic. Up became down and down became up and it was a blur of blood-stained strangers pawing at his hair and his clothes as he stumbled and swam amongst them, foggy and frantic as a drunk. Hell. He was in hell. They were not trying to kill him, he realized. They played with him as a cat played with a mouse, as if they were testing him, and then there was the cluster of narrow, filthy cells under the church.

What church, August didn’t know now, and he hadn’t known then. Vampires. They’re vampires. They’ve kidnapped me and they’re vampires. Kidnapped, yes, for ransom. His father had surely made some poor gamble or another—August was in trouble and it wasn’t even his fault, or something. That made sense. That suspicion felt clear and instinctual. The rest was a mystery. The sound of church bells drifted down through the earth like thunder, down into the almost-dungeon, as torches in ancient sconces cast long shadows across the bitter chill and disconsolation of dank stone and loose, dirt-covered ground.

There were others—young men; older men; pretty, crying ladies. Rationality receded and August gave in to cold, witless panic. Witless? Could a man even be witless if he hadn’t a clue who he was and from whence he came? His head ached; his joints were stiff. Every muscle sang sore songs and every movement was punctuated by the sharp, inhospitable clack and rattle of iron from the rusty shackle biting at his ankle, and a surge of irrational courage sent August charging for the iron bars of the cell only once, to shout hoarsely, “What’s going on? Where am I? Who are you? Where are you? My father’s going to bring the authorities, don’t you doubt for—”

He remembered the chain at his ankle jerking him backward roughly; he tumbled down in a knot of elbows and knees and it knocked the wind out of him with the interrupted words, a frantic moan of uncertainty. Others in neighboring cells hissed at him to hush up. Some begged to know whether it was true about his father. A boy in a dark corner of August’s cell hummed to himself as he impaled spiders with the pointed end of a pin from his shirt.

August believed in God and the devil, of course.

He believed in spiritualists even though they said not to. They said it wasn’t virtuous or enlightened. They—who? His father. His older brothers. Maybe. He was guessing now. Trying to summon names or faces was an uncomfortable tickle in his head, reaching, stretching, groping around with weak fingers for anything but finding nothing in the place of his identity. Never mind that; every man and woman on God’s green earth had fallen irreconcilably in love with darkness of various flavors—ghost conjuring, fortunetelling, tragedy, creatures of oddity and ghastly curiosity.

But oh, what would they all say if they knew the beloved fairy-tale monsters of penny dreadfuls were real? They were real. They were very real, and they’d taken August away—

He and the other humans were held hostage as prizes for an auction. August remembered that with stunning clarity.

In the moonlit dark, the vampire auctioneer had stood atop a vast hexagonal mausoleum of Portland stone and flint, the names of its inhabitants carved above granite angels, urns, and columns. Wandering past the graves and up the long hill, gathering under the mausoleum as if attending some great Season affair, was a large flock of strangers. More vampires. But they looked perfectly normal, nothing like drawings or books said. They were a horribly misleading bunch—ladies and gentlemen in furs and overcoats and dancing mufflers, pretty hats, bowler caps, glittering attentive eyes. They nodded, they winked, they whispered behind gloved hands together. Sharp little fangs flashed in their smiles. Hills rolled off into the distance from the churchyard, dotted by gnarled trees and broken fences. Little homes far away spilled warm light from their windows, strangers within utterly unaware of the auction in the country cemetery.

August remembered exactly the way the auctioneer had stood atop the mausoleum and made the sign of the cross upside-down across his chest, the way the vampires below emulated the gesture, and as if reciting a prayer or a hymn, or a pledge to royalty, the auctioneer’s voice had filled the cemetery, chillingly festive:

“My brothers and sisters, pay heed! ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul!’”

The crowd murmured a resounding elegy:

“To he who has been elected according to the choice of Christ, the Most Holy Lamb, blessed and sanctified by the blood of the Spirit―in sacrament and in honor, for salvation through sin, in the name of the Lord, the dead teach the living. In nomine Domini, mortui vivos docent!”

One by one, all the way down the rows of shivering, bruised, and bitten prisoners, the humans were auctioned off, hoisted high into the air with unnatural strength by a boorish dark vampire with silver and gold rings in his ears, then announced gaily by the auctioneer with his long coattails and ribbon-cinched hair. Tears and prayers and terrified shouts were one with the murmuring chorus of the vampires gathered for the sale.

August peered down from the top of the mausoleum at the milling crowd, unsure whether he should really be afraid or not. How could curiosity be so bold? He wanted to observe; he wanted to know what was going on. There in the auctioneer’s strong hand, ripped mercilessly and without cause or explanation from a life he couldn’t remember—a life meaningless and irretrievable—

August remembered feeling strangely empty of hopelessness.

Maybe it had to do with the absence of memories. Whatever it was, it was a little more comforting somehow. It was easier to know nothing. He guessed knowing something would have made it all unbearable. But everything beyond that moment seemed otherworldly and dreamlike as voices rippled and the wind tugged and clawed at him, and by the auctioneer’s proclamation he was reduced to a set of apparently appealing features.

“Tender age of twenty-three! Blond hair! Brown eyes! Fine in stature, strong constitution, immense pranic energy! First offer!”

An offer was made, confirmed, and finalized into a purchase, and the auctioneer pushed August over the high edge of the mausoleum.

A vampire caught him but August was still panic-stricken from the drop. He remembered thunder in the dark. It made him jump. He remembered very clearly that in the shadows of the church on the hill, he wobbled before the vampire who bought him. The vampire’s smile was cordial, softening the angular face of a veritable gentleman; his sharp penetrating eyes glinted in the darkness. A few threads of gray accented his neatly clipped honey-colored hair. Nothing about him screamed monster but for the flash of tiny fangs behind his full, normal-looking lips.

“I am the Alpha,” this vampire gentleman said, his voice deep and placatory, grosgrain. “And I own you now.”

THESE WERE the things August remembered. With the few hazy things he knew, what he remembered did not seem to make sense, but maybe that was because he had no idea how much time had passed since. Either way he did not want to forget. He thought them over and over like memorizing a poem, trying to carve them into his mind lest they go flitting away like family, friends, childhood, and the rest of him.

After the auction, there had been a dark, musty tunnel, the smell of dirt again, water dripping somewhere. Consciousness drifted in and out like a candle in the night. A set of broad, richly carved doors opened up before him and the Alpha with an old, inanimate yawn. Blinding white, white everywhere, cool air and white everywhere, and candles, the heady scent of blood and incense. Somebody touched August, took his wrist. The room spun, spun, spun.

The Alpha sank his teeth into August’s throat at some point, and August’s wrist throbbed, so maybe he’d been bitten there too. Testing. Tasting. Everything ached. He was soaking wet, he was cold, and he was confused. The Alpha brought him through a new place: coffered ceiling, cobwebbed chandeliers, giltwood angel faces. Lamplight shadows slithered on the Alpha’s face, around every smooth angle and contour.

It was the vestibule of a luxurious Georgian townhouse passing by then, candelabras ablaze, the shadows of dark furniture floating dimly above the floor. Up a set of splendid stairs, into the womb of the house they went. Carpeted halls and rosewood-paneled walls. Vases and urns and painted roses, thick dusty drapes with golden chains and tassels. A young lady peeked out of a doorway, watching curiously. She couldn’t have been very old at all, mint-colored tea gown dusting her toes and Caesar-inspired leaves perched in her blonde hair.

She caught August’s half-conscious stare and smiled cattily before she slipped without a sound back into the room.

The world moved around him and August felt as if he were falling for a moment, falling into a bed of cool sheets in an attic room―oh, he was—and it was bliss.

Here in this attic room, it was bliss until it was failed escape.

But the green-eyed vampire saved him from falling off the roof, and August knew that for sure.

“HE’S GORGEOUS, though,” Anastasia purred, which seemed only natural for the catlike expressions she wore so well.

She meant the sacrifice. August Prescott, Alistair had said his name was when he returned with him from the Buckinghamshire auction. And he was special, according to the Lamb.

God, Theo couldn’t wait until the adjustment period was through. He wanted to taste the new sacrifice again so badly. He wanted August Prescott’s blood blooming on the tip of his tongue; he wanted the shiver of August Prescott’s life under his fingertips as he had had it on the roof that reckless night last week, when the feverish sacrifice almost got away—

“But who left the window unlocked?” Laurel asked, sitting with a thumb pressed to one of his fangs, a habit recycled from nail-biting, and Theo tried to look as if he’d been listening the whole time.

Like a pleasant family or cozy colleagues, the vampires gathered in the lounge with hearth ablaze and candles dancing, lying about on fine upholstered seats, drinking the Baron’s Remedy.

It was always the Baron’s Remedy until the adjustment period was over—rationed blood on the nights the sacrifice was not brought to the Sanctuary. Thick, dark rationed blood from a jug supplied by a Blood Baron, fresh enough, of course, but far from the luxury of a regular coven sacrifice. As soon as this August Prescott was well enough, once his fever and delirium broke, yes, the adjustment period would be over and there would be no more wincing through quickly souring blood, wondering just from whence it came and how long it had already been in the jug before being delivered to the coven’s Berkeley Square townhouse. There would be blood every other night from a warm, sweet-tasting throat. There would be a heartbeat on the tongue. Not the occasional blood clot to spit out like a fruit pit.

Theo almost gagged on a long mouthful of the Baron’s Remedy. He’d spoiled himself pining for August Prescott even for just a moment. Stop, stop imagining it. He’d go mad.

August….Soft, wavy blond hair, even softer skin, with that vitality about him that was so sweet, so taut and supple, so typical of young men whose youth clung to their edges well into practical adulthood. He was strong but narrow, grown but tender still. Breaking through that flesh was like closing his mouth on a fresh peach. They had fed on him four times already, only four times in the past fortnight, and it was a sweet, sweet torture. Tiny sips, adhering to ritual so as not to destroy the man. Tiny, tormenting swallows that tasted like the sacrifice’s fear—no. Not fear.

Theo had tasted hatred and curiosity at once, and it took all his strength of will not to grab August Prescott by the back of the neck and kiss him hard when he was in Theo’s arms in the Sanctuary. Theo couldn’t say why. He blamed the hunger. The time between the last sacrifice and this new one had been too long, too long for certain. It made quite the desperate fatalist out of an Undead gentleman.

“I’m sure that damn girl did it,” Ishmael grumbled. They were still on the topic of the window, apparently. A wine glass of rationed blood hung daintily from Ishmael’s pale fingers. His face was too aglow with undying youth for his no-nonsense scowl; it was more like a contemptuous pout. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t she want to air the room out after Twenty-Eight died?”

“She did,” Owen confirmed with a nod.

Alistair, with his neatly combed hair and somber dark suit, reassured his coven, “She’s been punished. Adequately, I assure you. I’ve had the maids lock every casement in the house and turn in their window keys to me. The problem’s been fixed, simple as that.”

“It’s only the third time it’s happened in seventy years, Ishmael,” Pearle reminded him. Ishmael wasn’t comforted. He sat unmoving and unmoved. Anastasia giggled from where she perched atop the piano, wanting bosom very obvious at the rather racy neckline of her dress, an old gauzy Empire silhouette.

Alistair shrugged, raising his brows. “I find it quite amusing, actually. The sacrifice, escaping to the roof…. What a feisty one we’ve got! Thankfully our hero Theo acted calmly enough.”

“Theo? Calm? Ha!”

“Oh, our savior! Saint Theo!”

“We’ll nail the window shut, then. Satisfied?”

“Why haven’t we done that before?” Owen snapped.

“Well, I like to believe we’re a little more humane than that, Owen….”

Laughter rolled between them like thunder from one corner of the room to the other—simpering there, sneering here, Pearle’s sentimental chuckles and Alistair’s questionable smile. Yes, from one to the other, all of them, fine-looking gentlemen and their one lady, sharing their Baron’s Remedy ration of blood like coffee and sweets after dinner in the smoking room.

Our hero Theo, except not. Theo was just a miserable starving vampire who knew better than to let the coven’s transitioning sacrifice escape across the goddamn roof.

Gorgeous, Anastasia had said about the new sacrifice. Theo had thought so too, immediately. Alistair went to Buckinghamshire as the Lamb proposed; he’d returned with a bleary-eyed and bumbling new coven sacrifice properly marked and recorded, and Theo had watched from the music room with Anastasia, watched as Alistair half carried, half guided the bruised and bloodied sacrifice up to the attic where his maid would nurse him back to a healthy enough state.

It was a law, after all. For every ten vampires in a coven, there was one sacrificial lamb to feed upon. Feeding on any mortal outside the coven was grave criminality. Thus the Baron’s Remedy during adjustments and transitions between sacrifices.

Theo avoided the glances of the others, each quick and pointed but none cast his way at the same time. Surely none of them really thought him a hero; the word felt cruel and mocking, and Theo scowled down into his ruddied wine glass.

Pearle motioned for Alphonse to strike up the violin. Theo’s insides ached with the hunger. Alas, on the Baron’s Remedy it was never satisfied.

Owen leaned to Alistair and offered obligingly, “I’ll talk to that undertaker on Fleet Street. I’m sure he’s got some coffin nails to spare for the attic windows.”


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.

Susan Laine
Like Kathleen Turner's romance novelist said in the movie Romancing the Stone: I'm a hopeful romantic.

Susan Laine is an award-winning, multi-published author of LGBTQ erotic romance. Susan lives in Finland, where summers are wet and winters long. Thankfully, she's kept plenty warm by the spark for writing, which kindled when Susan discovered the sizzling hot gay erotic romance genre.

Trained as an anthropologist, Susan’s long-term plan is to become a full-time writer. Susan enjoys hanging out with her sister, two nieces, and friends in movie theaters, bookstores, and parks. Her favorite pastimes include listening to music, watching action flicks, eating chocolate, and doing the dishes while pondering the meaning of life.

Caitlin Ricci
Caitlin was fortunate growing up to be surrounded by family and teachers that encouraged her love of reading. She has always been a voracious reader and that love of the written word easily morphed into a passion for writing. If she isn't writing, she can usually be found studying as she works toward her counseling degree. She comes from a military family and the men and women of the armed forces are close to her heart. She also enjoys gardening and horseback riding in the Colorado Rockies where she calls home with her wonderful fiance and their dog. Her belief that there is no one true path to happily ever after runs deeply through all of her stories.

Bonnie Dee
Dear Readers, I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller guaranteed to frighten and thrill with macabre tales. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

As an adult, I enjoy reading stories about people damaged by life who find healing with a like-minded soul. When I couldn’t find enough such books, I began to write them. Whether you’re a fan of contemporary historical or fantasy romance, you’ll find something to enjoy among my books.

To stay informed about new releases, please sign up for my newsletter. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter @Bonnie_Dee.

JI Radke
Radke writes ghost stories, romance novels, and transgressive fiction. He specializes in nineteenth century Europe and Russian history.


Josh Lanyon
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EMAIL: josh.lanyon@sbcglobal.net 

Susan Laine
EMAIL: susan.laine@hotmail.com

Caitlin Ricci
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EMAIL: authorcaitlinricci@gmail.com 

Bonnie Dee
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WEBSITE  /  NEWSLETTER  /  B&N  /  KOBO
EMAIL: bonniedeeauthor@gmail.com 

JI Radke
TWITTER  /  WEBSITE  /  KOBO
iTUNES  /  GOOGLE PLAY  /  INSTAGRAM
TUMBLR  /  DSP PUBDREAMSPINNER
B&N  /  AMAZON  /  GOODREADS



The Haunted Heart: Winter by Josh Lanyon
AMAZON US  /  AMAZON UK  /  B&N
AUDIBLE  /  iTUNES  /  iTUNES AUDIO
KOBO  /  SMASHWORDS  /  GOODREADS TBR

Gremlins are Malfunctioning by Susan Laine
Unwanted Omega by Caitlin Ricci
B&N  /  KOBO  /  LESS THAN THREE

The Medium by Bonnie Dee

Death and the Maiden by JI Radke

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