Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Random Paranormal Tales of 2018 Part 11

Brian's Mate by Hollis Shiloh
Brian is the alpha of the least impressive pack of wolves at the whole Moon Ceremony. When a human is discovered uninvited in their midst, he bonds with the man to save his life.

Luke doesn't know about all this wolf stuff, but he’s starting to develop feelings for the gentle man who rescued him. Both Brian and Luke expect to quietly dissolve the bond later. But feelings intervene, and some bonds are not so easy to cast aside.

Building a life together as alphas will take love and hard work—especially when new wolves keep inviting themselves into their lives.

Gray's Shadow by KA Merikan
Kings of Hell MC #4
--- There can be no shadow without the man to cast it. ---

Gray. Lost his twin. Will never be complete. Works alone.
Shadow. Monster? Human? Exists to be Gray’s one true companion.

After losing his twin brother, Gray has devoted his life to the Kings of Hell MC. He will do anything to protect his family and that means anything.

Even sell his own shadow to the devil.

Following a fire that left him without one arm, Gray feels pushed to the sidelines. In order to prove to his club that he is still capable of completing dangerous tasks, he will have to team up with the strange creature from the Other Side. Tall, inhumanly strong, and menacing despite the handsome exterior, Shadow is just the tool Gray needs.

The moment Shadow lays his eyes on Gray, he wants to crawl under Gray’s skin and make the human his.

Gray on the other hand isn’t willing to get attached to a monster destined to do the devil’s bidding and disappear once his time is up. Rejected, Shadow has to do everything in his power to convince his human that they belong together.

But as the clock ticks away precious minutes of Shadow’s existence, Gray will have to choose between his loyalty to the Kings of Hell MC and responsibility for the creature he brought into this world.


“Do you feel me running through your veins?”
Gray nodded.


Themes: motorcycle club, alternative lifestyles, demons, monster, tattoos, secrets, crime, gothic, grief, mourning, enemies to lovers, forced proximity, fish out of water, opposites attract, demisexuality, gentle giant
Genre: Dark, paranormal M/M romance
Erotic content: Scorching hot, emotional, explicit scenes
Length: ~150,000 words (Book 4 in the series)

WARNING: This story contains scenes of violence, offensive language, and morally ambiguous characters.

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Kings of Hell MC by KA Merikan Part 1

Original Review August 2018:
Gray's had a bit of a rough time lately: he lost his twin brother, his arm, and made a pact with the demon, Baal.  Because of Gray's pact, Shadow has been given the chance to live inside a human form but does that make him human or monster?  Gray has devoted his entire life to the Kings of Hell but now with only one arm he finds himself having to prove he is still worthy of his position.  Reluctantly Gray finds that Shadow may be his chance to keep his place amongst his brothers but will he be willing to give his heart to him nowing the clock is ticking against Shadow?

OMG!!! I say that with complete honesty because I am so NOT an OMG-kind-of-a-gal.  I enjoy a good motorcycle club story but I'm the first to admit they aren't exactly what I'd classify as my go-to-trope so when I first had the opportunity last year to read Laurant & the Beast I thought it sounded interesting so I decided to give it a go.  It was amazing and one of the best books I read in 2017.  Each entry in the Kings of Hell MC series has been amazing and although I don't think any of the pairings quite reached me as much as Laurant and Beast, I have loved them all.  Well, Gray and Shadow are no different.

So lets take a look at our two main guys.  I knew Gray's story was going to be emotional just because he seemed to be a bit of a conundrum throughout the first four.  You could tell he had a warm loving heart but he was also ruthless and determined when it came to getting the job done.  Having formed that opinion of him already I knew he was going to be a tough one to find happiness especially with what he lost.  I wanted to hug him and tell him he was still the same Gray he always was and having lost his arm didn't change that but then I also wanted to kick his ass with how he first treats Shadow.  Okay that's not entirely true because Shadow is here because of Gray's pact with Baal and that makes him suspect and he does some not-so-good stuff but he's also new to his human form and needs guidance.  I guess what I'm saying is even though I wanted to give Gray a knuckle-rap to the head more than a once I also understand his thought patterns.

As for Shadow, well I won't give too much away but I will say that his innocence is endearing even if some of his early actions are not.  I have read vampires, shifters, demons of all kinds who survive on pretty much anything imaginable but I have never read a character(demon or otherwise) that survives on rats, creepy crawlies, and rotting, moldy food and still want to wrap him up in a huge bear hug because he's so adorable.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Shadow is adorable.  How Gray is able to stay away for so long is beyond me.

In Gray's Shadow, we get to see the characters that we have come to love in the previous installments, to see where they are and how they are adjusting to their situations which sometimes can take away from the main story but not in this series.  KA Merikan has created a world with Kings of Hell MC that is unforgettable and will grab you from the very first page.  If asked whether you can start with Gray's Shadow, I would have to say no.  Yes, each entry features a different couple with their own troubles but each one is a part of an ongoing journey but personally,  I would not recommend starting anywhere but the beginning, not too mention these are some of the most amazing and well written stories I've ever read, you don't want to miss them.  If you haven't started Kings of Hell yet but don't like to wait between books than you might want to wait until the concluding story, In the Arms of the Beast, is released but I highly recommend placing this series on your TBR list and near the top, but if you are like me and have been reading them as they come out then you don't want to wait another minute to read Gray and Shadow's journey. This is literally an edge-of-your-seat kind of story.


The Vampire's Protege by Damian Serbu
A sinister vampire offers Charon a choice he can’t refuse: play a deadly game of winner takes all, losers die.

Charon relishes the competition and molds himself into a sexy vampire who defies vampire law, savoring his power and embracing the role of villain. He also loves surrounding himself with hot young men. But when an alluring vampire stalks him and threatens to turn him into the Vampire Council unless he helps with a seemingly impossible task, will Charon risk his perfectly narcissistic life on the challenge? Does he have any other choice?

The Altered by Annabelle Jacobs
Lycanaeris #1
Twenty years ago the UK’s water supply was contaminated with an experimental pathogen, Lycanaeris, causing widespread panic across the nation. Terrorism was suspected but never proven, and when nothing happened--no epidemic, no unexplained illnesses--the whole episode was written off as an elaborate hoax. But Lycanaeris was selective. Only those of a certain age, and with a specific gene in their DNA were infected. Time would reveal the pathogen’s true nature, when those susceptible grew up Altered. 

Daniel is one of thousands forced to hide his altered status by living a quiet life. He’s not like the others, though. Daniel can’t help looking so distinctive or being able to see every altered for what they really are. To those abducting altereds, that skill makes him valuable. 

For Jordan, shifting from human to wolf means living under the radar to avoid unwanted attention. Meeting Daniel complicates matters. Daniel’s existence is a threat to Jordan and his friends, but Jordan can’t seem to shake the strange connection between them. When danger threatens, there’s little time for Daniel and Jordan to work out their feelings before lives are at stake. 

Thorns and Fangs by Gillian St. Kevern
Thorns and Fangs #1
Nate is caught between two dangerously hot vampires who can compel people to do whatever they want and a ruthless necromancer who wants Nate for all the wrong reasons—and that’s only the start of his problems.

Escort Nate prides himself on two things: his ability to please his clients and his normality – living in the monster capital of the world, ordinary is rare. Hunter, a darkly charming vampire with more charisma than is good for him, decides Nate is just what he needs. Nate’s sympathetic nature and skill in the bedroom are put to the ultimate test. But Hunter wants Nate for someone else – his brother, Ben. Nate is immediately attracted by the control with which Ben holds his sensitive nature in force. Too afraid of becoming a monster to allow himself to feel, Ben struggles to resist Nate’s generosity of emotion. As Nate’s normal world crumbles around him, and he desperately searches for a way to save Ben, Nate is becoming the necromancer’s latest victim.

Nate is forced to let go of and embrace powers he doesn’t fully understand. In defiance of Ben’s vampire sire and hunted by Department Seven, Nate and Ben finally learn to trust and rely on each other. 

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Random Paranormal Tales of 2018

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Part 5  /  Part 6  /  Part 7  /  Part 8
Part 9  /  Part 10  /  Part 12

Brian's Mate by Hollis Shiloh
Chapter One
“BRIAN,” SAID Leo Conway, sticking his head around the corner of the breakfast buffet. “We’ve got a problem. I think you’d better see.”

Brian Zonski, alpha of the Zonski pack (such as it was), put down his plate of bacon, eggs, and waffles, and followed Alpha Conway.

Zonski was the tiniest pack among the members of the Farn-Group New York wolves’ fraternity; at least, it was the tiniest pack that hadn’t merged with another pack. There were only his brother, sister-in-law, and two cubs besides Brian. And they weren’t here yet. Brian was pretty much the least-alpha alpha around.

The fact that Conway, a bear-shaped, jovial, powerful man with short hair, was seeking his help was something extraordinary. Brian followed him from the sprawling country hotel, out the wide double front doors, and into the green beyond. Around them, tents spread; not everyone fit inside, even big as the hotel was. As an alpha, Brian was assured a room of his own, but it was a tiny apartment near the back, and he could hear the maids getting fresh linen every morning before he was quite ready to wake up.

They hurried past the tents silently, eager not to wake anyone. The campfire dance and the stories, songs, matchmaking, and running through the woods the night before had been rousing, but exhausting, and many of them probably hadn’t dropped off till dawn.

It was, Brian had to admit to himself if no one else, pretty miserable being an alpha without a pack. He had nothing to do but watch. No ceremonies to perform. No introductions to make. No nothing, though he had gotten in some hunting last night, which was satisfying. There was nothing quite like eating rabbit fresh-caught in his wolf form.

“Down here,” said Leo in a whisper, treading quicker now, but silently, as the big man always managed to do. When he was younger, Brian had a bit of a crush on Leo.

They came upon a green clearing and stopped abruptly. Two of Leo’s men stood guard, looking even more worried than their alpha. They looked at him like he would have all the answers. And now, drawing closer, Brian saw what they were guarding.

A small man, seated on the ground in grass-stained jeans, with his knees drawn up to his chest. He had soft, pale-brown hair and a hunted expression in his huge, darting eyes. If he’d been a bit younger, Brian would’ve thought he looked about to cry. He was perhaps in his midtwenties, but no older. He had a slender build and didn’t look strong enough to possibly need two grown men guarding him.

“Leo?” asked Brian, turning to his friend. “What’s up?”

“This… man… was here this morning. Asleep. He must’ve snuck onto pack land somehow. He’s not one of us.”

“No,” agreed Brian, taking a deep sniff. He could smell it now: fully human. The man’s scent intrigued him, though. He clearly hadn’t bathed for a while, and his clothes carried his sweat and hints of his semen, too. But surprisingly, the maleness of the scent didn’t irritate Brian, as strong scents often did. Some humans went around reeking of hormones, but whatever this guy was leaking from his pores smelled damned good to Brian.

He moved closer without meaning to. A single step. The seated man drew his knees closer to his chest and shivered. He cast Brian a defiant look, despite his bloodless, frightened face. “Just because I’m not a Native American, that’s no reason to kill me! There are still laws here, you know.”

“Kill him?” Brian turned to Leo, surprised by the rush of angry protectiveness he felt. “What?” His words came out in almost a growl.

Leo grimaced. He raised and lowered his hand quickly, shushing him. “Keep your voice down. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He looked around furtively, and stepped nearer. “The laws say we have to kill any intruder during Moon Ceremony. You know that. That’s why we always have guards. I don’t understand how this guy could’ve snuck past them, last night of all nights, but he was clearly here—”

“I was taking pictures,” said the human, sniffing. “Is it illegal to take pictures in pretty wilderness areas now?” He started to move, then thought better of it, and jerked his chin toward a camera that lay on the ground several feet away, next to a dilapidated backpack and a pair of old motorcycle boots.

Brian looked down at the man’s feet, and realized he was staring at rather dirty, damp, once-white socks. He didn’t know why that gave him such a curling feeling of joy inside, just that he suddenly thought those small, smelly feet were some of the cutest he’d ever seen. He had to suppress a wildly inappropriate laugh at himself.

“It’s still on the books. It’s one of our more serious laws. He has to die. Unless….”

Brian couldn’t bear to see the man flinch again, or the dull fear replacing his defiance. Brian stepped in front of Leo. “Do you have to say this in front of him?” he asked, irritation adding a sarcastic tinge to his voice.

“It’s all right,” said the man in a shaken voice. “If you’re going to kill me, I at least deserve to know.”

“We’re not.” Brian spoke with absolute certainty. “Are we, Leo?” He turned back to his friend, eyes flashing.

Leo reached up and scratched at his short hair, clearing his throat. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. If anybody needs more pack members….” He looked embarrassed to be saying even that much, and he clearly wasn’t going to spell it out further.

Brian gaped at him as the plan became clear. It was ludicrously simple—and not simple at all. All he had to do was claim Leo, before the rest of the clans and the head alpha found out, and nobody could touch him. There would be no blood on anyone’s hands. He would simply have this man—this stranger, this human—as a part of his clan.

“You could undo it later, after Moon,” Leo said quickly, rushing ahead. “Just think about it. Do you really think the head alpha would bend the rules?” He snorted. “Not Farn. And my men found him. I don’t want to be party to any bloodshed, Brian.” He put a hand on his shoulder, looking deep into Brian’s eyes. “I can’t take anyone new. It would be too hard, with the expectant mothers. Too much upheaval, and our resources are already thin. You have room. You could look after him till after Moon.” He said everything but please, but his eyes said that, too.

Brian nodded. “Yes. Of course. Of course I will.” He reached up and gripped Leo’s shoulder in return, hard. Then he turned to the man crouching between two guards. Had they hurt him? Was that why he flinched when one drew a bit nearer, why he hadn’t dared move even to reach for his camera? Despite the situation, and the danger of an intruder finding out about their lives, Brian felt a slow surge of anger churn in his guts. The wolf in him had heard and decided; this man was his.

And nobody touched one of his pack.

Just then, wolves in their human form burst into the clearing. Leading them was the large-shouldered Race Ginsin, Head Alpha Farn Ginsin’s son and head enforcer. His father, slightly shorter and going gray, followed in his footsteps. Both had fire in their eyes.

Several of their men flanked them, all carrying weapons ranging from knives to guns and machetes. Ginsin clan always had had a fetish for weapons.

“What’s going on here?” demanded Race. “Someone said an intruder—”

“My newest pack member has arrived,” said Brian. He stepped in front of his new man, standing on guard. Race’s eyebrows shot up and he stopped in his tracks, blinking. His father elbowed past him and glared down Brian.

Brian was the same height as the barrel-chested Head Alpha, but wasn’t nearly as strong. Yet he faced the man levelly. “He is mine,” said Brian.

Farn took a deep, angry sniff, drawing his lips back like he was snarling. “Human. And you do not have my permission to add pack members,” ground out the head alpha in a slow, low growl. It sent Brian’s hackles rising, both literally and metaphorically. He kept his hands squeezed shut, to avoid making claws or raising angry fists. He was going there, was he? How dare he?

“I didn’t ask your permission. He’s my mate.”

Everyone gaped at that. Maybe Brian did a little, too. Farn even took a step back. Then his angry little eyes squeezed farther shut and he stepped forward again, pushing a finger against Brian’s chest and tapping him twice on the sternum, hard. Each rap felt like a blow, but Brian didn’t move.

“If he is your mate, you can’t have any other from among my wolves. Ever.”

Brian gulped, hard. But he didn’t back down. He knew what he had promised now, but the wolf in him would not back down, nor would the man. If Farn thought Brian would step back with this threat and allow him to kill an innocent, well, he had some serious issues that didn’t start or end with being an alpha. Even the Head Alpha.

“That’s your decision,” said Brian levelly.

“Then on your head be it. Men!” Farn turned around and muscled his way through the meadow, back to the encampment.

Brian stood there, with his fists clenched at his sides, his heart pounding and his adrenaline pumping.

Leo gave him a shocked look, all the blood drained from his face. “I am so sorry, Bry. Maybe—maybe we can get around… can fix this somehow. After a few months have passed.”

“No,” said Brian, surprisingly calmly. “He won’t forget, and neither will his son.” He shrugged. “It’s not like anyone’s been a good match for me so far. I’ll just… live with it.”

Leo touched his arm, a compassionate gesture, and then they both turned as one to the man shivering on the ground.

Brian felt some of his anger and sorrow drifting away at the sight of the man, his huge eyes and his chattering teeth. He felt his face softening into a rueful smile. “Oh, come on, Big Eyes. Let’s get you inside before you freeze.”

“Y-you’re not going to kill me, then?” said the man.

“Of course not. Didn’t you hear? You’re part of my pack now.”

Brian reached out, caught his hand, and tugged him to his feet. The touch was surprisingly pleasant. He tugged the man toward him, catching him against his side when he would have fallen on his own, either from hunger, fear, or just rising too quickly and unbalancing. He smelled his scent even stronger here, and it was an intoxicating smell.

“Your p-pack,” said the man.

“Yes,” said Brian calmly. “Could you tell me your name? Or should I just give you one, since I’m your alpha now?”

He was teasing, but the man just blinked at him in confusion. “I’m… your mate. You said it. What, um….” He looked away suddenly, blushing.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” promised Brian in a soothing voice, tightening his arm around the slim, shivering shoulders. “It’s just an official designation. Come on. Quick shower, big breakfast, you’ll feel a world of difference.” Giving him a reassuring pat on the arm, he led the reeling man away. Past the tents quickly as he could, not eager for anyone to see his mate in this vulnerable condition. Then into the building and toward his room just as swiftly. Leo followed, carrying the man’s gear. Brian would have forgotten it.

“What’s your name?” he asked again.

“Luke,” said the human, leaning against him, swaying heavily. He reached up, grabbing for something to hold on to as he nearly fell.

Without a second’s thought, Brian scooped the man up into his arms. He felt the pull in his muscles, but it didn’t deter him. He carried him the rest of the way. And instead of protesting, Luke hid his face in Brian’s neck, his breath hitching. He squeezed handfuls of Brian’s shirt, and Brian realized, from the soft hitches in his throat and from the feel of hot, damp wetness, that the man had taken all he could and was now crying.

He hurried the last few steps, keeping him turned away so Leo couldn’t guess. “Thanks, Leo. Leave the things here,” he said breathlessly, because Luke was rather heavy, really. The room was nice, with a big bed, a tiny kitchenette, and a private bathroom.

Leo set the things down, gave him a quick, compassionate nod, and removed himself, pulling the door quietly but firmly shut after him.

Brian hugged Luke tight for a moment, then regretfully put him down on the bed. “It’s all right,” he said gruffly. “I’ll look after you now. No one will hurt you, I promise.”

Luke looked away, biting his lip and shaking his head. He reached up to smear at his face. “What did…?” He cleared his throat. “What did he mean by ‘pack’ and ‘wolf’ stuff? Is that what you call this Native American stuff?”

“We’re not Native Americans,” said Luke. Then he snorted. “Well, I suppose in some sense, the wolves were here before men, but… nope. We’re shifters. You know, ‘werewolves’?” He could see he’d astonished the man, so he sat down on the floor, to make himself smaller and less intimidating. He smiled up at the tear-stained face regarding him warily.

“You’re joking,” said Luke cautiously. He sniffed again loudly, and fumbled at his pockets without success. “Damn it—”

Without a word, Brian pulled out his handkerchief and handed it over.

“Thanks.” Luke blew his nose loudly. “S-so if you’re a werewolf, prove it. I promise I w-won’t scream,” he said tremulously.

“It doesn’t matter if you do, though my ears are kind of sensitive in my wolf form.”

“Um.” He looked at Brian warily. “You mean it, don’t you? You really think you’re—”

Brian stood up, leaned closer, and kissed him on the forehead. “It’s all right. I’ll show you later.” He couldn’t stand to frighten Luke anymore right now. And the human did look relieved. “Come on, let’s get you a hot shower and some clean clothes, and I’ll get a big breakfast.” He helped Luke to his feet and held his arm, leading him gently to the small bathroom.

In the doorway to the small room, Luke pulled his arm free. “I can take my own shower, you know.”

“Prove it.” Brian leaned forward and gave him a wink and a quick, lopsided grin.

Luke gaped at him. Then he turned on his heel and went into the bathroom, shutting the door hastily behind him.

“I’ll leave you some clothes!” called Brian through the closed door. He moved away to find some things that might fit his new mate. Despite everything, or maybe because of it, he was whistling.

He didn’t want to leave Luke alone even for a second, but while the water was running, he hurried down to get breakfast for them both, piling two plates high from the buffet and carrying them on a tray back to the room. He was almost running. Still, the shower was done by the time he got back. And just as he entered the room, the bathroom door opened, and out stepped a gorgeous, trim, covered-only-by-a-towel Luke. His hair stood up in wet tangles, and his big, blue eyes looked shocked. He grabbed the clothes Brian had left for him and retreated quickly, slamming the door.

Oh my. His chest… his perfect, slightly hairy, slightly bowlegged legs…. He was just damned gorgeous.

Brian swallowed hard and told his cock to behave; it wasn’t time for that. He didn’t even know if Luke liked men. Except his wolf side said he did; said he’d already smelled it, knew it deep in his bones, and the bubbling gladness inside him was because this really was his mate, the man he wanted for the rest of his life. Even if he was human.

Gray's Shadow by KA Merikan
Shadow opened one eye, watching the water as if it were toxic waste, but in the end he followed Gray’s request, and stepped in with one foot. His slouching shoulders rose at once, and the ruby eyes glinted in wonder. “It’s warm,” he said and packed his massive body into the tub with no lingering hesitation.

Gray shut his eyes when scented drops hit his face. “Well, yeah. And it smells nice, doesn’t it?” he asked before mentally chastising himself for talking to the creature as if he were a child.

Shadow gathered the water into his hands and poured it over his head time and time again until his thick hair ran straight down and into the water. He seemed to love splashing about, but while soaking in scented water was a good start, he still needed a wash. “It does. I was scared it would be freezing like last time,” he said with a genuine smile.

Right. Last time. When Gray had blasted Shadow with an icy shower as punishment for the attack. Being alone with Shadow had Gray on pins and needles, but he had since decided Shadow’s behavior shouldn’t be measured against that of humans. Still, it was hard to comprehend that a creature who killed two men less than an hour ago could be ‘scared’ of a cold bath.

“Back then, I was angry at you. Needed you to cool off,” Gray said.

The red eyes were pinned to Gray’s face, hungry for knowledge. “Why?”

Gray leaned on the edge of the tub, watching the strands of hair float close to the surface. He was glad he’d chosen to use the bath milk, because it gave the water a tint that obscured details of Shadow’s anatomy that he shouldn’t be wanting to see.

The Vampire's Protege by Damian Serbu
Introducing Charon
Everyone thinks they adore the Vampire Council with its rules and regulations that allegedly govern all vampires and thereby ensure the safety of virtuous humans. People want to lose themselves in the tales of the Council members: Xavier and Thomas and their love; Anthony and Jaret and their guarding of humanity; Catherine and Harriet and their whims within a righteous vampiric empire. Most of all, the Vampire Ethic provides comfort with its guarantee that goodness protects an individual from a vampire attack, with its promise that all vampires defend innocence.

Vampires accept this reality because it gives them a collective soul. The ethic protects them from the stereotype of evil incarnate preying upon humanity. Or, in the least, obedience to it keeps them alive, lest the Council hunt them down and murder them for transgressions against it.

Humans desire the Council’s laws to maintain their fantasy of security from the supernatural realms. Who would dismiss a hidden force of vampire police that might swoop in at any sign of danger and annihilate the perpetrator?

Yet deep inside, so many long for something different, something that avoids this utopian trope and perfect world, all tied up in a pretty bow. Part of everyone, that piece so desperately stamped down and derided, seeks an alternative story.

To be sure, many will deny it. Fight against these words and honorably cast them out as the devil’s temptations. Yet no proof of Satan or such demonic forces presents itself. Because even those thoughts really stem from the inner being in everyone, that secretly locked-up atom inside a person that pines for freedom and seeks release, even as the goodness scolds it.

Still people contest these words. Deny them.

Yet a fascination with villains thrives in America. Think of the great antiheroes of history and their legendary fame. The Wicked Witch of the West. Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter. The Joker. The infamy of historic figures such as Adolf Hitler or Ted Bundy or the Son of Sam. The people who don the costumes at Halloween of Lord Voldemort, Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler because it empowers them for a night with beautiful wickedness. People laugh at Scar, Ursula, and even Mr. Potter. They read the tales of Lex Luther and Cujo, privately wishing they would eventually triumph over the heroes of the story and bring a bit of destruction to the globe.

Jack the Ripper lives through the ages because he successfully hid himself, true. But also because his perfect malevolence went unpunished. People want that for themselves. His legend draws them back again and again to that story with the hope of their own misdeeds going unchallenged.

Thus, whether admitted or not, people long to meet Charon. Yes, so many cry out for Charon and his story. People want him. Readers desire him, need him, really. The world will have no choice but to love him. All will embrace him as they have these other villains of history. They will celebrate his perfect treachery.

Unlike those obedient to the Vampire Council, Charon hardly worries about a bit of notoriety from time to time. Fear of retribution never enters his vocabulary. He need not concern himself with the Vampire Council and its regulations. Nor does Charon often fret over any other person or entity cracking down on his masterful empire.

Art Heist
31 January 2015
New York City, New York
Charon walked briskly through the darkening night as soon as the moon called to him. His mission hurried him past several tasty-looking young men, despite the hunger for their blood that lurked in his belly. He hardly paused to admire the New York City skyline as he passed the Empire State Building.

He reached into his pocket and reviewed the instructions one more time. It still bothered him that the man demanded that so much money be transferred into a Swiss account before he would provide this information. Naturally, Charon killed him as soon as he handed over the plans, but he nonetheless lost those funds, which now went to the gent’s family. Not that he needed the money with his otherwise vast wealth. It was the idea of the man somehow getting one up on him that disturbed him.

Charon crumpled the paper and threw it into a trash can, right before he turned down a darkened alley. Charon swiftly moved upon the security guard, twisted his neck, and shoved him aside. His vampire abilities recalled the instructions perfectly and shut down the museum’s entire security system without alerting outside authorities.

Charon ripped off his black outer garments and brushed off the John Varvatos suit, making sure he looked completely impeccable. The suit fit his muscular body perfectly, framing him into the most desirable twenty-something-year-old man in the city. He glanced in a window at his reflection to fix a strand of his short sandy hair before moving toward the front door of the Museum of Modern Art.

Tricia waited, as expected, at the front door and began to unlock it as he approached. Her conservative blue business suit hardly fit the tight body underneath, though the hose showed off an alluring calf, or at least Charon imagined it would be for those so inclined.

As she opened the door, she peered around nervously and nodded to a nearby guard before looking at Charon. “Mr. Haden,” she whispered, “I’m afraid we have to cancel our plans.”

“Blade, please.” Charon smiled brightly.

Tricia blushed. “Blade. Our security system went down. Or, at least it seems so from the front desk here. The guards are looking into it. But I don’t think I can take you into the museum until we get it back online.”

Charon’s shoulders slumped, and he pouted. “I leave early in the morning. I so wanted this private viewing. I hate to try to blackmail you”—he grinned—“but my donation was contingent upon seeing it alone with you.”

Tricia fidgeted with the keys in her hand. “Please, step inside so I can at least relock the outer door.”

Charon walked inside and nonchalantly brushed against her, making sure their hands touched ever so slightly. He hovered close and spoke in a whisper. “Is there anything we can do to change this? I’m in a hurry. Though I might be able to get a bite to eat afterward, to further discuss the art and my gift to the museum. If any charming and intelligent curator would join me, that is.”

“Let’s see what we can work out,” she whispered. Tricia giggled and looked around. “Come to my office.” She said this loudly, so the two closest guards heard her.

They moved toward a hallway and went around a corner, toward the small office where Charon had first negotiated this deal with the single woman in her thirties. He plied her with stories of his love for art, true enough, and then added the insinuations of a single man’s longing for a spouse and kids, all complete fabrications. She shared the same longing and flirted with him shamelessly. His initial check for a few thousand dollars, drawn from an untraceable account, convinced her of his trustworthiness, and here he sauntered, almost at his real goal.

While plenty of evidence revealed his first meeting, nothing would record his appearance here tonight.

Just before reaching Tricia’s office, she dashed down a side hall and picked up her pace. “If they know I’m doing this, they’ll stop me. Come on.”

“Aren’t you in charge tonight?”

Tricia pressed the elevator button three times. “Technically. But with this glitch in the system, not really. I’m too low on the totem pole, so to speak.”

Inside the elevator, Charon held his tongue because Tricia wiggled around nervously, and sweat broke out on her brow.

He placed his hand gently on her back. “Relax.” He patted her. “We’ll just take a peek and get out of here.”

She nodded, sighed, but then grinned at him. When the door slid open, she again scurried away with Charon in tow.

She smiled at the guard standing nearby. “Thomas, Bill wanted you to help him in the other wing with something because of the outage. I said that I’d watch over The Starry Night until you got back.”

“Why didn’t he call me on this thing?” Thomas tapped his walkie-talkie.

Tricia shrugged. “No idea.”

Thomas shook his head and walked down the hall. When he turned the corner, Tricia raced the last few feet to the painting.

She screeched to a halt in front of The Starry Night and stepped aside, motioning for Charon to stand in front of it. Charon scanned the area, but no guards were in sight.

“Join me.” He reached over, wrapped his arm around her waist, and pulled her close.

Just as Tricia began to resist, Charon latched tightly onto her, yanked her close, and leaned down and bit fiercely into her neck. Her warm blood flowed delightfully down his throat until her heart stopped and he dropped her to the floor. He hardly took notice as images of her innocent life passed through his mind because of the blood. Who cared about another lost and lonely soul?

“Aren’t you beautiful?” Charon asked the painting as he took hold of it.

Time for some vampire speed. Charon clutched the painting close to him and ran with supernatural speed through the building. Even pausing to unlock the front door with Tricia’s keys went so quickly that no one spotted him. He never slowed until safely back in his hidden lair, deep underground.

Charon placed the painting on a wall and sat back to admire it. “Exquisite!” He poured a Jack Daniel’s and Coke, deciding to stay in for the rest of the night and enjoy his latest acquisition. The boys back at his palace would love it. And Tricia, after all, satisfied his hunger for the night. He lost count of how many times he’d visited the museum to visit this particular Van Gogh, perhaps his favorite painting in the entire world. How delightful to add it to his private collection.

Thorns and Fangs by Gillian St. Kevern
I will never be the same again.

The premonition was a cold whisper against the back of Nate’s neck. It spread like frost, cool tendrils sliding down his shoulders to take root in his spine. Hard to shake off, even harder to ignore.

Nothing will ever be the same.

“So your regular doesn’t show. It’s not the end of the world, Aki.” Nate turned, but no one stood next to him. The mixologist polished glasses at the far end of the bar, and the couple nearest Nate were only interested in each other. He was alone.

Or as alone as possible in the most popular club in New Camden.

The house DJ had turned up the lights and music to fill the gap left by the live band, and the dance floor was packed. Nate only had to stretch out his arm to touch someone. Strobe lights caught the lingering dry ice from the stage show, and the teasing play of light on the insubstantial mist gave the dancers a hint of its incorporeal mystery. Nate loved that, loved the thrill as he stepped onto the floor, as if the dancers might vanish before he reached them. The warmth of the bodies brushing against him always gave him a rush of triumph.

Tonight, with the premonition clammy on his skin, it looked more like smoke. Nate glanced over the bar. The red emergency box resembled an ordinary fire alarm. It was only when you noticed that the contents included a string of garlic, a flask and a sharpened wooden stake that the words registered—In Case of Vampires, Break Glass.

Vampires. I’ve been here six months and haven’t even seen a single bat! Nate snorted, turning back to the dance floor. New Camden might be home to the biggest population of supernaturals in the world, but none of them were getting in without strict adherence to Century’s dress code. The club’s security system was better than some banks, thanks to its unique nature (and New Camden’s unique risks), but management believed “better safe than scandal” and for very good reason. The club existed only through a very careful balancing act. It had the respectability afforded by success, just risqué enough to titillate its clients without alarming them. Security was a selling point, from the uniformed bouncers, prominently positioned at the front of the house, to the plainclothes security guards who mingled with the guests, and the alarm built into Nate’s wristband that connected directly to Department Seven, the branch of law enforcement that dealt directly with supernatural threats.

“Dracula himself couldn’t get in here without a spot check.” Except for the occasional newspaper headline about an empty tomb or werewolf attack, New Camden was just another big city. And the sooner Nate kicked this weird feeling of danger and remembered that, the better.

“Did I hear ‘pick up for table three’?” Aki leaned against the bar beside Nate. “You’re never going to make your repayments slacking off like that. Look at me. A round of seven cocktails, and that’s only the start.”

Nate looked over his fellow host’s head to table three. A cluster of girls in evening dresses. A hen do, or maybe college girls on a rite of passage. “Sucks to be me. You with a table full of girls, and me with only one client to my score.”

Aki was instantly suspicious. “It’s not even been a half hour.”

“Forty minutes.” Nate smirked. “Blow job, bonus, and I got time left over.”

“No way.” Aki snatched Nate’s wrist. “Show me your band.”

Nate grinned, letting Aki see the wristband. The thin strip of plastic hadn’t left his skin since he’d started working at Century. Where Aki’s displayed a thin green line down the middle, indicating that he was available, Nate’s was a dull black, invisible in the dark. Until the internal timer finished its slow countdown, Nate was a free agent.

“Un-fucking-believable.” Aki dropped Nate’s hand. “I don’t know how you do it.”

Nate stretched, enjoying the tug of his tight clothing against his body. “I’m just that good.”

“Just that desperate.” Aki shook his head. “I have got to teach you standards.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my choice of clients.”

Aki raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow. “Would I have done the guy?”

Nate bit his lip. He’d seen the man at the bar, toying with his glass as he watched two of the other hosts grind against each other on the floor. His blond hair was so thin it gave the unfortunate suggestion of baldness, and he was short enough anyone could see it. The older hosts definitely had. They made a point of avoiding eye contact.

Nate had ducked his head as he approached the guy. He couldn’t hide his height, but he’d emphasized the country drawl he usually downplayed. His youth did the rest. Presented with a challenge within his abilities, the man eagerly proved himself. He’d gone for a blow job in a partially lit corner of the club, fucking Nate’s mouth with overcompensatory fervor.

Method and means left much to be desired, but Nate got a kick out of being on display. Secure in himself, he’d played up to the guy, getting him off with charitable ease. In return, Nate got a bonus and hadn’t needed all his allotted cooldown time to freshen up. He considered his remaining twenty minutes of freedom worth it. But Aki?

“Only if it was the end of your shift,” Nate admitted. “And it was a slow night.”

Aki drummed his fingers against the bar. “How did I know? From now on, only hot guys count to the tally.”

“So no drink orders?”

Aki gave Nate a sour look as the mixologist slid a tray of drinks across the bar to Aki. All he was going to get from his table was drink orders. “Fine. Reset from now,” he said, struggling to lift the tray. “And no poaching. I saw you looking at the girls.”

“They’re looking at me.” Nate placed a hand beneath the heavy tray to steady it. “What are you going to get out of them besides make-up tips? Customer satisfaction above personal kicks.”

“Don’t quote training at me. I’ve been here an entire month longer than you.” Tray firmly in hand, Aki started toward his table.

Nate grinned at his back. Bickering with Aki was one of the perks of the job. Only a couple of months younger than Nate, Aki used his status as a New Camden native to win arguments. He lived up to the fast-talking, irreverent stereotype of the city, hands and mouth constantly in motion—when he wasn’t looking at his phone.

He was also extremely easy to wind up. Nate settled back against the bar, feeling the most like himself since he heard the whisper. Leave it to Aki. And he still had fifteen minutes of freedom.

The chill went through him before the voice spoke. Nate stood before a force implacably deep, so powerful it would change his entire world. As he struggled to understand the warning, the voice. Rich, warm, and inviting, it spoke straight to Nate’s core, stirring instincts Nate didn’t recognize as his own. He stared at the speaker, all poise forgotten.

The man smiled. Like Nate, he was dark haired and athletic. His slate-gray shirt and dark jacket clung to his trim form with the intimacy of expensive tailoring, and he stood with a confidence that made Nate, tall and broad shouldered, feel shorter. Somewhere in his late twenties, he looked from Nate’s metallic studded T-shirt to his face. The smile deepened into amusement. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had a man buy you a drink before.”

Nate looked down to the two glasses on the bar beside him. A lime wedge and a generous splash of mint leaves marked it as his preferred on-the-job drink. “A mojito?” He deliberately leaned against the bar.

Nate realized his mistake at once. Hosts didn’t accept anything they hadn’t seen made. Century commissioned safety wards from the best magic-users in the city, but they were designed to combat hungry werewolves or starved vampires, not mundane threats like drugging.

How can I refuse the drink now? Nate looked up to find the man’s smoky eyes locked on his. Date rape drugs? This man doesn’t need to resort to anything beyond that smile. “Either you just read my mind or you’ve been watching me.”

His companion was as impressed as Nate should have expected. Not at all. “Watching you,” he said, white teeth suddenly bared as his lips drew back. “Or rather”—he sauntered closer—”watching this.”

Nate tensed a moment too late. The man’s hand was cool despite the thin fabric of Nate’s T-shirt, a confident pressure as he followed the curve of Nate’s back to grip his ass beneath his tight jeans and squeeze roughly.

Smile sharp at Nate’s discomfit, the man retrieved his own drink from the bar. “Finish your drink and join me upstairs.” His voice held the expectation of obedience. “All of it. I don’t want to taste your previous client.” Before Nate could react, he turned and strode toward the stairs.

“Easily avoided.” Nate raised the glass to his lips. He hadn’t just brushed his teeth; he’d changed his T-shirt, too. “Go fuck yourself.” If the guy thought the steep price of drinks included other compensation, he would be very disappointed.

People didn’t come to Century for a quick fuck. They came for an experience. A few years of legalization was not enough to remove the stigma of prostitution, but Century took the stigma out for a few classy cocktails, a change of wardrobe, and sent it home at the end of the night with a decent bill.

The result? A club that attracted attention—even in the city infamous for the largest population of supernatural creatures in the world. Its hosts were as much a part of the club’s successful branding as its location—a beautifully refurbished theater in the downtown area—or the music, the envy of many a festival planner. The air of exclusivity created by the steep entry fee extended to the hosts. They were attractive, came with a high price tag, and had full powers of veto. The man’s assumption of Nate’s compliance was an instant no.

And yet…

Now that the shock passed, Nate saw the possibilities. Century attracted those experimenting with something new. Nate was used to gently guiding. Someone so confident they rejected the niceties entirely? Not only rare, but promising.

Promising enough to overlook the guy’s attitude?

The central staircase was crowded with spectators watching the stage. The man parted them without effort. He didn’t gesture. He simply moved with his destination so firmly in mind that everyone else compromised.

Fuck. Confidence like that is as dangerous as it is hot. A sharp clink of ice drew Nate’s attention to the fact that his glass was already half empty.

Half empty? When had that happened?

Nate’s mouth twisted. Even aware of the man’s effect, he was not immune.

Nate threw back the last of the drink and shouldered through the milling crowd. This place is packed. God, how closely had he been watching to see my earlier client? The thought excited. Nate took the staircase—a beautifully restored relic of the building’s theater past—two ornate steps at a time.

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

KA Merikan
K.A. Merikan are a team of writers who try not to suck at adulting, with some success. Always eager to explore the murky waters of the weird and wonderful, K.A. Merikan don’t follow fixed formulas and want each of their books to be a surprise for those who choose to hop on for the ride.

K.A. Merikan have a few sweeter M/M romances as well, but they specialize in the dark, dirty, and dangerous side of M/M, full of bikers, bad boys, mafiosi, and scorching hot romance.

Damian Serbu
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel and The Vampire’s Protégé with NineStar Press. Coming later this year from NineStar: The Vampire’s Quest and Santa Is a Vampire. Keep up to date with him on Facebook, Twitter, or at website.

Annabelle Jacobs
Annabelle Jacobs lives in the South West of England with three rowdy children, and two cats. An avid reader of fantasy herself for many years, Annabelle now spends her days writing her own stories. They're usually either fantasy or paranormal fiction, because she loves building worlds filled with magical creatures, and creating stories full of action and adventure. Her characters may have a tough time of it—fighting enemies and adversity—but they always find love in the end.

Gillian St. Kevern
Gillian St. Kevern is the author of the Deep Magic series, the Thorns and Fangs series, the For the Love of Christmas series, and standalone novels, The Biggest Scoop and The Wing Commander's Curse. Gillian currently lives in her native New Zealand, but spent eleven years in Japan and has visited over twenty different countries.
As a chronic traveller, Gillian is more interested in journeys than endings, with characters that grow and change to achieve their happy ending. She's not afraid to let her characters make mistakes or take the story in an unexpected direction. Her stories cross genres, time-periods and continents, taking readers along for an unforgettable ride. Both Deep Magic and The Biggest Scoop were nominated for Best LOR story in the 2015 M/M Romance Groups Member's Choice awards. Deep Magic also received nominations in Best Cover, Best Main Character and Best Paranormal, while The Biggest Scoop was nominated for Best Coming of Age. 

Hollis Shiloh
EMAIL: hollis.shiloh@gmail.com 

KA Merikan
EMAIL: kamerikan@gmail.com 

Damian Serbu

Annabelle Jacobs
EMAIL: ajacobsfiction@gmail.com 

Gillian St. Kevern
EMAIL: gillian.stkevern@gmail.com

Brian's Mate by Hollis Shiloh

Gray's Shadow by KA Merikan

The Vampire's Protege by Damian Serbu

The Altered by Annabelle Jacobs

Thorns and Fangs by Gillian St. Kevern

Release Blitz: The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree by Selina Kray

Title: The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
Author: Selina Kray
Series: Stoker & Bash #2
Genre: M/M Historical Romantic Suspense
Release Date: October 30, 2018
Cover Design: Tiferet Design
When will She open Rebecca Northcote’s box?

Finding lost poodles and retrieving stolen baubles is not how DI Tim Stoker envisioned his partnership with his lover, Hieronymus Bash. So when the police commissioner's son goes missing, he's determined to help, no matter what secrets he has to keep, or from whom.

When a family member is kidnapped, Hiero moves heaven and earth to rescue them. Even if that means infiltrating the Daughters of Eden, a cult of wealthy widows devoted to the teachings of Rebecca Northcote and the mysterious contents of her box. The Daughters' goodwill toward London's fallen women has given them a saintly reputation, but Hiero has a nose for sniffing out a fraud. He will need to draw on some divine inspiration to rattle the pious Daughters.

Like weeds gnarling the roots of Eden's fabled tree, Tim and Hiero's cases intertwine. Serpents, secrets, and echoes from Hiero's past lurk behind every branch. Giving in to temptation could bind them closer together—or sever their partnership forever.

When will She open Rebecca Northcote’s box?

Hieronymus Bash contemplated the question posed by the long, red-lettered banner that blazoned over the otherwise quaint fruit and vegetable stall. A sharp tug of the arm from Callie, his ward, brought him to heel. He’d already been struggling to match her brisk pace, having been dragged from his early afternoon repose in the cozy climes of his study into, of all things, the sunshine, or what passed for it on this weak-tea day.

Rays of piss-yellow sun trickled down over the city, tinting the fumes that oozed up from the Thames. Clouds of smog blurred the distant Albert Bridge into an impressionist’s nightmare. A growing crowd choked the small stage erected just before the river’s edge, scuttling in from both directions of Cheyne Walk like ants over a carcass. A bald man with a white mustache that flapped out to his ears checked his pocket watch for the fourth time since Hiero and his companions descended from their carriage.

At the far end of the stage, a squad of low-rank militia struggled to keep a path clear for the Duke of Edinburgh and his bride, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, only beloved daughter of Tsar Alexander II. The newlyweds were, in the timeless tradition of royals everywhere, unfashionably late to the opening of the Chelsea Embankment, the third and final stage of the sewage system that had transformed London’s riverside.

“Look, it’s Bazalgette!” Callie tugged him forward, doing a fine impression of an excitable hound.

“While I admire your enthusiasm, I do wonder if it’s not a tad misplaced.”

Callie scoffed. “Only you would prefer the arrival of some dippy duke over the architect of this entire endeavor.” She threw her free arm out wide. “Can you not spare a moment to admire this feat of engineering? In the place of muddy banks, pavement has been laid, a fence with lampposts erected, with gardens and greenery to come. And running beneath it, the waste of London, and soon an underground train! How can you be so trout-mouthed in the face of such marvels?”

“Not your most persuasive argument, comparing the face that dropped a thousand trousers to a fishmonger’s wares.”

Callie sighed, relinquishing his arm to chase after her muttonchopped idol. Hiero watched her go, marveling at how much she resembled her Uncle Apollo, Hiero’s long-deceased lover who had charged him with her care in character and spirit. Theirs was an unconventional household, where the lady moonlighted as a detective, the servants were part of the family, and the lord of the manor—Hiero himself—was neither a lord nor owned the manor.

“Come now.” Han, his friend and self-appointed keeper, fell into step beside him. The rhythmic taps of his lotus-headed walking stick slowed their pace to a stroll. “You’re no longer catch of the day with Mr. Stoker about.”

“Perhaps if he were about, someone would defend my honor.” Hiero bristled at the mention of his fair-weather paramour, Timothy Kipling Stoker, a detective inspector with Scotland Yard who shadowed them when there was a mystery to solve but otherwise preoccupied himself with... well, finding them another mystery. His dedication to duty exasperated.

“Not likely.”

“No, I rather thought not.” Hiero pressed a lavender handkerchief to his mouth and nose. Mr. Bazalgette’s innovations would have to work much harder to filter out nearly a millennia of filth, the river being a cesspit into which the city had poured every conceivable kind of rubbish, from human to animal to otherwise. A place where sins had been cast off and bodies buried. A few of Hiero’s personal acquaintance.

“Where has your Mr. Stoker taken himself off to this—” Han considered the urinal murk of the embankment and found himself at a loss of an adjective. “—afternoon?”

“I do not presume to know what impulses rule that man.”

“And yet you are the one who rides his... coattails.”

“Only when he deigns to undress for the occasion. Otherwise...” Hiero huffed, his mood irretrievably spoilt by this line of conversation. “I cannot think where I’ve gone wrong with him.”

“No?” Han evidenced something close to a smirk. “It wouldn’t have something to do with meddling in his work affairs, compromising his relationship with his superiors, forcing him into our fellowship, risking everything he holds dear, and then sharing nothing of consequence about yourself, now would it?”

Hiero peered at him out of the corner of his eye. “Nothing of the sort, I’m sure.”

“Ah. Well, then, it is a mystery.”

“Coo-coo! Mr. Han!” a voice trilled at them from behind.

With a pair of heavy sighs, they turned to heed an all-too-familiar call. A hand waiving a white handkerchief fluttered up and down amidst a dense crowd. A grunt from Han parted the sea of surging revelers to reveal Shahida Kala, the latest of Hiero’s charity cases, hopping with the vigor of a spring hare. Her compact figure contained a carnival of personality.

The instant this bright light had beamed into his study on the arm of her father—who served under Apollo in Her Majesty’s Navy—Hiero recognized her for one of the rare people who could steal his spotlight. So he had relegated her to the least enviable position in the household, that of nurse to Mrs. Lillian Pankhurst, Callie’s permanently indisposed mother. But the long days of attic dwelling and reading Richardson’s Pamela ad nauseam had not snuffed a single spark.

Instead Lillian had transformed from bed-ridden depressive into a semifunctional member of the family. Every morning she and Shahida took a two-hour stroll. They cultivated a rooftop garden. Shahida had imposed an afternoon tea regimen on their household, always leading the conversation as Hiero, Callie, and Han plotted ways to return to their preferred solitary occupations. Dinners were always a family affair, but Shahida’s insistence on more healthful, nourishing fare that conformed to Lillian’s new diet had Minnie, their cook, weekly threatening to resign. Callie was the only other member of the household resistant to her charms.

Even Han, cynical, monkish, seen-it-all Han, danced to whichever melody she played. Hiero watched as he bounded over to her, biting his lip at the comical sight of a surly giant bowing to the whims of a pretty imp, but also to keep from emitting a growl of frustration. He glanced back to search for Callie, but the crowd had swallowed her. By now she’d likely clawed her way to the front of the stage and barked questions at a baffled, bewhiskered Mr. Bazalgette, which Hiero thought should be his formal title.

Schooling his features, he joined Han and Shahida’s conversation in medias res and was somewhat aghast to discover them talking about produce.

“... the plumpest, juiciest berries. Artichokes the size of a fist. Fat aubergines and cabbages and cauliflowers, and cucumbers as long as...” Shahida pressed two fingers to her mouth. Hiero didn’t miss how her eyes flickered down. “Well.”

Shameless, that was the trouble. As if she’d snipped the best pages from his playbook and then had the temerity to improve on his notes.

Han chuckled. Chuckled! Hiero hadn’t seen his friend so much as shrug in all the time he’d known him.

“A religious order, you say?” Han asked.

“The Daughters of Eden.” Shahida leaned in, gave him her most conspiratorial smirk. “And I think they might be.” She didn’t even have the grace to straighten when she spotted Hiero. “Oh, Mr. Bash! Mrs. Pankhurst and I don’t mean to spoil your fun. But if you wouldn’t mind, we’ll stay here for a while. We’ve discovered the most—”

“Impressive cucumbers. So I heard.”

“Mrs. Pankhurst is just beside herself. We’ve big ideas for our garden, but this...”

Hiero was unmoved. “And what is it you want?”

“We’ve done our third crate and could fill two more. The crowd is bit much for Mrs. Pankhurst, so I thought Mr. Han might take us back to Berkeley Square? We’ll send the carriage back for you.”

“As it is my carriage, I rather think it will return for me regardless.”

That got her attention. “Of course. If you’d like us to stay—”

“Let us see these berries from heaven.” With a sweep of his hand, Hiero directed them back toward the stall that had earlier piqued his interest. “Their Majesties will wait upon our leisure.”

A long line of enterprising vendors hawked their wares along the edge of Cheyne Walk, hoping to entice royal watchers to purchase a bit of refinement for their life. One stall lined up its dainty little bottles of oils and perfumes like Russian nesting dolls. A mini royal portrait gallery sold likenesses of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their progeny in a variety of poses. The gentleman scooping iced lollies for the children had his work cut out for him on such a tepid day, Hiero thought. The pub with a street-side stand offering hot tea and cider already did brisk business. A few watercress girls fought against the crowd’s undertow, but their wares looked shriveled as seaweed compared to the glorious bushels of the Daughters of Eden.

Even Hiero had to admit, upon inspection, the quality of their produce astounded. Fat and luscious, their fruit allured like the bosom of an opera diva, ready to smother and enthrall. Their vegetable stalks evidenced a virility that would put most molly-houses out of business. Little wonder their customers meandered around the baskets like lovestruck swains. Their bounty conjured images of orgies culinary and carnal. Hiero didn’t doubt there were more than a few serpents lurking about this tiny Eden, eager to defile a peach or two.

All of this was overseen by a trio of women dressed in immaculate white uniforms that somehow defied the city’s grime. Hiero drifted away from his companions to better observe these wyrd sisters. The tallest was also the least remarkable, a stout but cheery woman with farm-worn hands and hard-earned streaks of gray in her brown hair. She milled through the customers, answering questions and nudging reluctant buyers toward the register.

A skittish dove of a girl dutifully kept the ledger and the cash box, cooing her thanks before slipping some sort of pamphlet into people’s baskets. Her crinkly hair had been woven into two winglike braids that perfectly framed her heart-shaped face. A sprinkling of dark freckles contrasted with her pale-brown skin, all but disappearing when she blushed.

Which she did whenever the third sister glanced her way. “Willowy” did not do this petite, flopsy woman justice. A willow branch would look as leathery and stiff as a whip compared to her wispiness. Near-translucent skin and stringy cornsilk hair completed the otherworldly effect. Hiero almost questioned whether she was really there, such was the nothing of her regard. She appeared to have no occupation other than to pose under the sign in a demure attitude. The crowds gave her a wide berth, and little wonder. Nobody wanted to mingle with a possessed scarecrow.

Except possibly meddlesome not-detectives stuck on a boring outing with friends who had abandoned him for some phallic parsnips and a walrus architect.

Just as Hiero made to pounce, the waif leapt as if lightning struck. Eyes ravenous, mouth agape, hair billowing in an invisible breeze, she stared into the buzzing hive of customers. Transformed in an instant from trinket to spear, her astonishment gave color to her cheeks and heft to her bearing. She appeared somehow taller, bolder, a colossal spirit crammed into a compact package: a genie unleashed from its lamp.

All the better to bedazzle you with, my dear, Hiero thought.

Hieronymus Bash, professional cynic, knew a performance when he saw one. He read again the red sign that screamed above her head: When will She open Rebecca Northcote’s box? But there was no box he could see, and if this woodland sprite was Mrs. Northcote, he’d eat Han’s walking stick. These Daughters had lured in quite a crowd with their sensuous produce. Was she the serpent come to tempt them? And if so, to what end?

Hiero shuttered his natural radiance to watch the spectacle unfold. The pale sister glided, arms outstretched, into the maze of crates, eyes fixed on her prey. Hiero hissed under his breath when she stopped at Lillian Pankhurst. In a state of docile confusion at the best of times, Lillian continued sorting out a mess of string beans, oblivious to this starry-eyed suitor. Han, ever protective, moved to Lillian’s side just as the sister shrieked...

“Daughter! You are found!”

The woman at the ledger jumped to her feet. “Juliet?”

“I’ve heard your spirit call to us these long nights, and now you have come home!” Juliet continued at eardrum-splitting pitch, making herself heard to all in the vicinity and probably those across the Thames. “Welcome, Daughter, into Her grace and light! Welcome home!” She hugged a startled Lillian with impressive fervor for one so slender. Lillian, looking to Shahida for a cue, patted her on the back.

A frowning Han caught his gaze from across the way, but Hiero signaled he would play Polonius behind the curtain. Hopefully without the knife in his gut.

“Don’t fear, Daughter. You are among friends,” Juliet nattered on. “We have come to shepherd Her back to Eden through our good works, and, by your pallid cheeks and trembling hands, I can see that you are eager to play a part.”

“Oi!” Shahida hollered, shoving her way between Juliet and Lillian. “Mrs. Pankhurst gets three square a day, and her arthritis is much improved. I dare anyone here to say otherwise.”

“But her spirit, dear girl, droops like a flower too long out of the sun.” Juliet backed away a step to address the customers, every one of which stood rapt. “She knows how this frail woman has struggled. She has heard her prayers and her anguish. She has shone Her glorious light into her, lit her like a beacon for her sisters to find. She is a Daughter, called upon to continue Her good work and bring about a second Eden!”

Shahida let out a trill of laughter three octaves too high. It effectively pierced the balloon of hot air Juliet had been huffing and puffing.

“Angel with a flaming sword you’re not, ma’am. Sorry.” Shahida locked an arm around Lillian. “Stick to the fruit and veg.” A pointed look directed Han to escort their charge away.

“But I haven’t finished the beans...” Lillian muttered as they disappeared into the gaggle of onlookers.

“Shame!” Juliet bellowed, beseeching the yellow sky. “Shame! It is the burden of womankind.” The customers moved into the space vacated by his friends, and Hiero followed, curious as to how she would spin such a public defeat. “The prophet Rebecca Northcote warned against it in her great bible, The Coming of the Holiest Spirit. Too often we ladies wait upon the actions of others. Are made to feel shame and guilt and worthless when we do act. Allow others to lead us astray, away from the truth in our hearts. We pay the price for the sins of our fathers and brothers and husbands. But She... oh, She is coming to deliver us from these injustices, from our fears and torments. As our Holy Mother Rebecca divined, if we join together, Daughters, and build the garden, She will come to save us all. She will gift us with her light!”

“Amen!” the ledger-keeper cried, having abandoned her post to shove pamphlets into the hands of any who would take them.

“Thank you, Mother!” the other sister seconded, lifting a basket of golden pears for all to see.

Juliet scanned the crowd. “You reap of the bounty we offer, but you do not know of how we labor in Her name. To prepare for Her coming, our prophet Rebecca chose each of Her Daughters with care. And though a shame-filled few will deny Her, everyone is welcome to hear Her message and to contribute however they can.” Hiero swallowed a snicker as she gestured to the donation tin. So transparent. “If you are committed to peace and prosperity, if you would see heaven retake the Earth, then I invite you to heed our prophet Rebecca’s call. And She will shine Her light upon you for all the days of your life.”

Juliet seemed to resist taking a bow, but only just. She gave each customer a final angelic smile, then returned to her perch beneath the red sign. A few of the curious chased her with questions; a ragdoll sag and a vacant stare shut them out. Instead the ledger-keeper, who introduced herself as Sister Nora, gathered them around the donation tin before addressing any queries.

“And?” Han appeared beside him, sudden as Banquo’s ghost. “Showstopper or second-rate?”

Hiero rubbed a thumb over his knuckles. “Better than a pair of poncy royals cutting a ribbon, but only just.”

“Fit for a return engagement?”

“Perhaps. Their setup is commonplace, but she does have a certain je ne sais quoi.”

“Enough to en savoir plus?”

“Time will tell. You know how religion turns my stomach. But their focus on Lillian was...”

“Agreed. That Sister Juliet read her too easily.”

Hiero nodded. “Could have been instinct.”

“Or she saw a mark.”

They shared a look weighted by their years of friendship and experience, a partnership of equals who knew, without another word, how to protect their own.

Original Review June 2017:
Timothy Stoker, or as he becomes mostly known as "Kip", is a Scotland Yard detective who is pretty much on his last chance.  That's not to say he's a bad detective, quite the opposite but he's fallen on the wrong side of his superiors and if he fails at this case well, he knows they are just waiting for him to fail.  Hieronymus "Hiero" Bash, is a detective in his own right, well truth is he's more of a showman surrounded by those who do the detecting.  When Bash becomes Stoker's case another one falls in their lap that brings the two together.

The Fangs of Scavo has a little bit of everything including lovely detail to history, which is an important factor for me when reading historicals.  I won't touch on the mystery because I don't want to risk giving anything away but I will say that I loved how the case was at the center of the story but it didn't overshadow the relationship between Kip and Hiero, matter of fact it threads not only their relationship but other relationships together perfectly.  One thing I really loved was that despite the elements of the case, Stoker and Bash may be strong characters in their own right but its together that they really become the people their meant to be, even if they are reluctant to see it.  Sometimes when there is as much banter between the two main characters as there is with Kip and Hiero, it can take away from the chemistry but in Scavo it only heightens the connection between them, showcasing how comedy and mystery can go hand in hand when done correctly.

With The Fangs of Scavo, Selina Kray has become the newest author to go on to my authors-to-watch list.  I can't wait to see where Stoker & Bash go from here, I have a feeling this is going to be a fun and exciting new series with tons of potential that I look forward to visiting again and again.


Author Bio:
Selina Kray is the nom de plume of an author and English editor. Professionally she has covered all the artsy-fartsy bases, having worked in a bookstore, at a cinema, in children’s television, and in television distribution, up to her latest incarnation as a subtitle editor and grammar nerd (though she may have always been a grammar nerd). A self-proclaimed geek and pop culture junkie who sometimes manages to pry herself away from the review sites and gossip blogs to write fiction of her own, she is a voracious consumer of art with both a capital and lowercase A.

Selina’s aim is to write genre-spanning romances with intricate plots, complex characters, and lots of heart. Whether she has achieved this goal is for you, gentle readers, to decide. At present she is hard at work on future novels at home in Montreal, Quebec, with her wee corgi serving as both foot warmer and in-house critic.

If you’re interested in receiving Selina’s newsletter and being the first to know when new books are released, plus getting sneak peeks at upcoming novels, please sign up at her website.

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The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree #2

The Fangs of Scavo #1

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